Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Elephant9 - Greatest Show on Earth (Rune Grammofon, 2018)

The Norwegian collective Elephant9 consists of Stale Storløkken on organ and keyboards, Nikolai Hængsle on electric bass and Torstein Lofthus on drums and percussion. They are a very exciting improvising instrumental unit that draws from jazz fusion and progressive rock to create a create a fresh and modern amalgam. The album begins with "Actionpack1" which has fast, pounding drums, grinding bass and organ swirls, creating a powerful striving force, as synths frame the slashing drums and bubbling bass, growing even faster and more exciting, with layers of keyboards developing within the framework of the music. They shift gears to a more cinematic organ sound with runaway drumming and bass that holds the groove together, the trio keeps the pace moving briskly and it never gets bogged down, changing the manner of their improvisation constantly by altering volume, tempo and focus, developing a crescendo and breaking it off cold, then add a heavy, almost oppressive tag ending. "Farmer's Secret" is alive with bulbous bass and bright organ chords and bursts of percussion, with beats of space added in for tension, the music develops colorfully and brashly creating a fun and enticing atmosphere. Extra keyboards are added to fill out the atmosphere and push it further into fusion territory, with strata of organ and synth meeting bass and percussion and creating a dense and fervent performance. "Dancing With Mr. E" has a lurching heavy groove that sounds cool and bluesy, yet retro psychedelic simultaneously with crisp drumming and bass playing and punchy organ. They deviate toward a more modern sound, using smears of pastel tones that are juxtaposed against horror movie organ chords as the group dives into a complex uptempo improvisation. Fast drumming builds to a very impressive solo statement before slamming against a massive tsunami of keyboards swelling up and eventually overwhelming all it sees. The final track on the album is called "Freaks," and it develops a choppy, carnival like atmosphere that gets progressively darker, with huge organ chords and rumbling drums and bass leading into long tones from the keyboards and tight rhythm play keeping things moving along with multiple keyboard shadings adding to the funhouse effect as music seems to reflect from multiple mirrors in different directions. They return to a more traditional organ grinder setup although at top volume and speed, creating a thrilling performance, that belies the three piece instrumentation. Greatest Show On Earth -

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Ant Law - Life I Know (Edition Records, 2018)

Guitarist and composer Ant Law is in the thick of the very fertile London jazz scene, playing with the likes of Tim Garland and Trio HLK. This is his third album, recorded in November of 2017, featuring Ivo Neame on piano, Mike Chillingworth on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Tom Farmer on bass and James Maddren on drums. The opening track "Movies" jumps out of the gate with a very fast theme for the full band before settling down a bit and providing space for the instruments, the saxophone carrying the melody forward with some interesting rhythmic phrasing from the bass and drums. Law's guitar comes to the forefront framed by piano and increasing percussion, developing an impressive stinging solo that changes the character of the piece yet again, with the guitar and drums driving the music forward and the piano adding further color. The music returns to a deceptively serene conclusion, with a bit of a  jolt at the end. There is a vibrant medium tempo opening to "Aquilinus," with varied hues and shades of musical color, blooming into a vivid improvisation, with the instruments blending together well, swinging in a positive and progressive manner. Law strikes out for a solo that is laser focused and clearly defined. His tone has just a hint of alteration, allowing him to match what the improvisation calls for and he is accompanied by a cruising ryhthm team. Saxophone takes a turn, carrying the flame even higher, on an emotional and fast paced solo statement. "Introduction to Laurvin Glaslowe" has fascinating scatted vocalization, with overtones of Indian instruments and chimes making for an alluring and interesting lead in to the track "Laurvin Glaslowe" itself. Here, the band plays fast and loose with a collective improvisation that works very well, playing with a sense of urgency, especially Law who lets loose with a torrid guitar solo, followed by a rippling piano interlude, both of which are supported by pulsating bass and drums making for an overall powerful performance, with the vocalists rejoining the full band for a smashing conclusion. "Credits" has flowing guitar and bass moving languidly with the pace gradually increasing as the drums enter, and the bass is bowed, developing a unique rhythm and then carrying that forward, flowing as if being guided by a channel, finally bursting forth as as the saxophone and drums break out in an organic fashion filling out the volume and dynamic range, before falling back to a graceful finale. Life I Know -

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Ben Lamar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem, 2018)

This is an unusual and inventive collection of music composed, performed and produced by the  Chicago-born, occasional Brazil resident Ben Lamar Gay: cornetist, composer, and vocalist, working from music he has made over the last seven years but never had the opportunity to release. His music is diverse, colorful and bold, somewhat reminiscent of drummer Makaya McCraven, with one track tumbling into the next. After the spacey psychedelic intro, "Vitis Labrusca," the track "Muhal" develops with a fast tempo, scatting vocals and electronics evolving into sly lyrics as horns provide texture for multiple singers, leading to a confident strut through the arrangement and a completely modern approach to the music, adding keyboards for further framing. "Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids and Fractals" uses an urgent instrumental progression of reeds pushing air like a pneumatic tube, feeding the data streams relentless hunger, while "Jubilee" uses pin-balling percussion and effects and punchy horns, beating, clanking and wheezing to life like an automaton. "A Seasoning Called Primavera" uses radio dial turning and static to lead into contemporary rhythm and blues vocals over electronic percussion, slinging out confident wordplay over an increasingly complex musical accompaniment. There is some strummed gypsy guitar with violin, on "Miss Nealie Burns" adding a surprising touch with atmospheric singing within the music, heading into "Me, Jayve & the Big Bee" with horns, saxophones being well handled in space, playing long tones. The middle section of the album is a fantasia of subtle electronics and gentle scatted vocals, with strings coming in to further add emotion to the atmosphere of the music, and smears of electronic sounds, building to a squall of discordant feedback, and evoking a sense of loss or of being lost as large chords pound down adding a further sense of oppressiveness. "Swim Swim" uses nimble guitar and crisp drumming, with half spoken vocals zipping in and out within the music, and a tight rhythm built on the drums and percussion. The vocals are framed by electronic flourishes as other voices join in as a chorus, bringing a powerful performance to a crescendo. A group of brief tracks pull together as the album nears conclusion using synthesizers to germinate a growing, unfolding soundscape, airy like looking at the sky as clouds drift across, moving directly into another section that adds chimes for a devotional, meditative feeling with a brief spoken word story accompanied by harmonica or squeezebox. Finally "Oh no...not again!" brings a full horn compliment, with guitar and chanted vocalization, grunting tuba and sparking cornet improvising well together and creating a fine piece of music. Crisp drums and wheezy accordion add further texture to the music along with insistent and repetitive guitar demanding forward movement, rushing headlong for the finish line. Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun -

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Sun Ra - God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be (Cosmic Myth Records, 2018)

This is a fascinating entry in Sun Ra's voluminous discography, a acoustic piano trio recording with Hayes Burnett on bass and Samarai Celestial (Eric Walker) on drums, one so unique that it is the only complete piano, bass and drums studio session in the massive Sun Ra discography and these songs would never be revisited. "Days of Happiness" is the opening track, setting an open ended medium tempo feeling, where the trio works very well together playing as a strong unit, improvising collectively and allowing the music to flow evenly. Ra plays across the top of the piano, giving the music a bright feeling and framing some solid bowed bass playing. The open nature of the music allows the dynamism to work organically, alternating crashing flows with quieter ebbs. "Magic City Blue" has a low down feeling with bluesy rolling piano, carrying the bass and drums in tow creating a deep groove and pocket. Ra develops a strutting swinging strut like something he would have played back in his Chicago days, storming across the keyboard while anchored by thick bass and nimble drums. Quieter and more relaxed, "Tenderness" calms the music down with a ballad feature, playing in a subtle and restrained manner, with Ra playing a pretty theme but also shading it with percussive asides on the piano. Lest anyone get too comfortable, Ra plays with the tempo and volume, not overwhelmingly so, but enough to keep everyone on their toes. "Blithe Spirit Dance" is the longest track on the album, moving briskly along with the band percolating together. The drummer is a little busy, but Ra is unflappable and plays spacey notes against his nervous percussion, allowing the band to draw from the contrast, and the leader bounces along grandly, adding stabbing chords and ripping runs up through the keyboard. He adds elements of the blues and boogie, and pulls out the rug for unexpected free improvisation on this very impressing performance. The title track "God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be" has a Monk like spare opening, aided by thick elastic bass and more patient drumming, the track evokes a sense of mystery, and Ra's delicate unique piano playing is at the heart of it. God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be -

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Kresten Osgood - Kresten Osgood Quintet Plays Jazz (ILK Music 2018)

Danish drummer Kresten Osgood brings a great deal of wit and energy to this very well played double album consisting of songs by American jazz and blues stalwarts. He is accompanied by a very talented band including Erik Kimestad on trumpet, Mads Egetoft on saxophone, Jeppe Zeeberg on piano, and Matthias Petri on bass. They open this collection with  "Gazzeloni" has the choppy Eric Dolphy melody played with verve, and nice raw and scouring saxophone solo with firm drum and bass support, followed by a rippling piano feature across the keyboard, jagged and focused. Horns return to the melody, lead to take the tune out, concluding a fine performance. The uptempo brisk swinger "La Berthe" has brawny horns strutting through the theme, leading to a crisp trumpet solo backed by tight cymbals and piano comping. Hand off to saxophone for a bright and nimble solo section, springy bass showing the way, allowing the saxophone to dig deeper and lead the full band back to the starting point. "Crazy Witch Game" has a modern hard bop feel, with rich bass and light percussion supporting a punchy trumpet section, and the  full band swings bright and shiny like a new penny to the quick conclusion. Monk's crazy quilt masterpiece, "Brilliant Corners," with its indelible teme, is played with a hint of darkness, and moved from there into a fast paced improvisation. Playing with time, speeding up and slowing down, using smart soloing from saxophone, expertly played bass and drums and fearless piano playing, to make up an excellent performance. "Waterbabies" uses piano, bass and drums create opening for striding saxophone and trumpet, giving the music a freer sound that is more open to experimentation, as piano lays out for saxophone and trumpet to play with bass and drums, then supplying bare chords to the mix. Spacey percussion provides room for "Reincarnation of a Lovebird" to jump into a full bodied swing worthy of Mingus, running through the theme, swelling and abating and allowing the melody to guide them, before the saxophone reaches out on a gritty toned solo statement. Thick and resonant bass grounds the whole thing, while it's the band as a unit that impresses the most swaying grandly on the memorable theme. "Tchicai in Heaven" dedicated to saxophonist John Tchicai, the music surges tidally forward with bright horns over a nimble rhythm section, launching the trumpet for the first solo, giving way to the piano, bass and drums for a sly feature of their own, with some particularly excellent bass playing. They close out the lengthy album, with a unique version of "Round Midnight," using unusual keyboard textures and allowing the trumpet the carry the melody, adding saxophone and subtle brushes as the keyboards frame the interesting reading of the tune. They move into a medium tempo improvisation with an inquisitive saxophone solo wreathed in eerie organ playing that becomes the centerpiece of the performance. Kresten Osgood Quintet Plays Jazz -

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Eric Dolphy - Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance, 2019)

This is a major reissue/historical release consisting of remastered versions of the Iron Man and Conversations LPs originally released by Douglas Records, along with eighty five minutes of previously unreleased recordings from the period. As is their wont, Resonance Records went all out, adding a one hundred page booklet of photos, analysis and reminisces to accompany the package. The music itself is staggering in its brilliance, and any opportunity to add more music by Eric Dolphy, master composer and improviser, virtuoso on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, trusted confidant of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and scores of others is a chance to be jumped at with both feet. Disc One contains the Conversations LP, with the Fats Waller composition "Jitterbug Waltz" leading off, an with the tumbling melody perfect for Dolphy's flute and some crunchy trumpet from a young Woody Shaw. "Love Me" is a beautiful solo saxophone performance, one that builds logically and where the vibrancy of Dolphy's playing style really pops out of the speakers. His simpatico relationship with bassist Richard Davis is demonstrated at depth on "Alone Together" and two previously unreleased versions of "Muses for Richard Davis." Hearing Dolphy improvise on bass clarinet along side Davis's bowed bass is particularly hair raising. Disc two is the Iron Man sessions, with a beautiful version of Duke Ellington's gospel standard "Come Sunday" from the Black, Brown and Beige suite where the music unfolds reverentially through the use of bowed bass and reeds which allows the melody and deep sense of feeling to come through naturally. "Ode to Charlie Parker" restates his bebop roots, and the advances had made barely eight years after Parker's death. His flute carries the virtuosity of bebop but moves in a different direction, using angles and ideas from birdsong that were visionary. The closing track, "A Personal Statement" is a wild card, recorded a year later in Ann Arbor with Bob James and a near operatic singer, creating a long and experimental track. The third disc is dedicated to previously unreleased recordings, alternate takes of the music heard on the previous two discs, but with the amount of improvisation at play, each version was unique. The swinging avant bop songs like "Mandrake," which seem to point the way toward further breakthroughs he would make the following year and the island flavored "Music Matador" which allow the larger group to come into play sit along side two more unaccompanied takes of "Love Me" and one more of the duet "Alone Together." There is a lot to digest here, but it is worth the effort, filling in some of the gaps between Dolphy's great 1960-61 Prestige recordings, and his 1964 triumph Out to Lunch. Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions -

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Joe McPhee / John Butcher - At The Hill Of James Magee (Trost, 2019)

The story of the enigmatic artist James Magee and his eponymous hill is a fascinating one, and it is easy to understand how it would draw musical iconoclasts like multi-reed instrumentalists Joe McPhee and John Butcher to make the trek to record there. Their performance out in the open at the monument, using two microphones and battery powered equipment at times sounds like well done field recordings, but in truth it is two master improvisers taking inspiration from another artist to create a wonderfully spontaneous work of art. "Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No" is a sprawling nearly twenty one minute lead-off track, featuring long abstract tones of saxophones in space, evoking the enormous landscape they are playing in, by separating themselves and playing in two separate buildings simultaneously. Each saxophone is represented in a separate channel and we hear the musicians walk about the monument improvising, with the assembled audience between the buildings, quite an audacious experiment in sound and recording different for the live audience and record listener. The next four tracks are alternating solo statements from the musicians and the finale is a duet. Solo perhaps alto saxophone "Mine Shaft" has slow and mostly high pitched playing that is very spare and patient and thoughtfully played. It is presented to the listener as a narrative, a thematic offering with a melodic center that is accessible and absorbing. "Paradise Overcast" uses pops against the reed echoing through the microphone and creating a very interesting sound, one that is percussive, followed by long raw sounds which move in an all together different direction. Short, but exciting "A Forty Foot Square Room" uses a rising and falling scouring and exciting solo that moves in and out, forward and back, creating a sense of continuous motion and doppler like effect. "Torcello" sounds like tenor saxophone with brief honks juxtaposed against fast filigrees of saxophone improvisation. Sandpapery toned sounding real like life and the sum of a life's worth of knowledge with the use of space and patience creating long tones of circular breathing spiraling out as relativistic jets of pure sound. The two regroup for the final duet "St. Ida's Breath (Less Her Neck and Teeth)" using fluttering sounds and quiet percussive pops, questioning tones and delicate stray squawks. They eventually raise their voices into song, breathing deeply together in a parallel formation that leads to a much deserved round of applause from the audience. At the Hill of James Mcgee - Bandcamp

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade - Stomping Off from Greenwood (Greenleaf, 2019)

Alto saxophonist and composer Greg Ward has a new group called Rogue Parade featuring Matt Gold and Dave Miller on guitar, Matt Ulery on bass Quin Kirchner on drums. The group had the opportunity to perfect their approach during a Chicago club residency and Midwest tour prior to recording and it pays off in a vibrant and colorful album of modern jazz that excels both in imaginative compositions and spontaneous improvisations. "Metropolis" opens with fast drums and bubbling bass and guitar, the two guitars taking different approaches,  and the saxophone joins pulling together a medium sized cauldron of roiling sounds. Colorful full band sounds and improvisation result, adding bounding to waves of louder sound that wash across the length of the music, guitars in each stereo channel propelling the music forward. Ward's more evocative saxophone tone is at odds with the hyper kinetic drumming and provides an interesting balance of light and shade. Tight bass and drums set the mood of "The Contender" as confident horn playing with guitars extend the music further, creating a punchy and uptempo thematic opening. Developing a lighter saxophone tone for a nimble section that is fully in command, Ward develops complex and exciting solo, against  a quieter backdrop of guitars, bass drums. The guitars intertwine amid complex bass and percussion, creating a collective quartet improvisation, with more prominent bass and drums building toward the conclusion of the piece, cementing the episodic nature of the performance. "The Fourth Reverie" is spacious, with a noir like cinematic vibe, adding eerie and spooky creepy plunks of guitar and bass skittish percussion and curls of saxophone which build to cries as the music ends. This leads into "Let him Live" where there is some cool funky rhythm section playing, insistent yet light and pliable. Ward's saxophone adds to the urgency of the sound with repetitive notes, before moving into a bright toned solo, waxing and waning from fierce to calm to keep the dynamics high, and adding fast complex eddies of saxophone improvisation to push the excitement level even higher. "Black Woods" opens with a very impressive bass solo, both plucked and bowed, band enters darkly over two minutes in, playing dark shaded tones, heavy velvet draped and complex forming a jagged piece of music. Guitars break out into space with the rest of the band following into a medium up improvisation, saxophone then guitar muscling into solo space, trading phrases in a quick and exciting manner. The fascinating sensations of "Pitch Black Promenade" include shimmering golden sounding music, all aligned into a milder group improvisation as guitars pick out bright points of light against the drumming, and a quieter section for saxophone is vibrant among the bass with soft guitar and percussion framing, growing more labyrinthine as the piece moves on, as the lengthy interwoven composition is continuously interesting. Stomping Off From Greenwood -

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Stephen Riley - Hold ‘Em Joe (Steeplechase, 2018)

Stephen Riley is a mainstream jazz tenor saxophonist, who nods in the direction of the legendary Sonny Rollins by recording in an open ended format with only Jay Anderson on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. They play some of the music Rollins recorded in this configuration, along with a selection of American songbook and jazz standards, alternating between uptempo tracks and ballad performances. Riley has a confident and even tone to his saxophone, light and nimble and able to summon a range of emotional energies, beginning with "I Never Knew" which has a fast and breathy takeoff, soon joined by supple bass and crisp cymbal play. The music moves at a fast pace, but an accessible one, as the rhythm team creates a tight pocket, and Riley's improvisation is closely linked to the original theme of the song, with some excellent drumming sewn in throughout the performance, trading ideas with the saxophonist. The title track "Hold Em Joe" is a bright and happy sounding tune, with elastic bass and swinging cymbals supporting the well articulated saxophone playing, moving from the melody to a fleet extrapolation. A thoughtful bass solo, framed by cymbals and softly played saxophone holds down the middle, making way for a percussion feature that extends the rhythmic range of the music, before the group comes back together for a strong collaborative finishing statement. "Three Little Words" is fast and exciting track, with the band playing with a muscular grace that belies the lower volume. Bass and drums bubble and roil as the saxophone soars just overhead making for a solid collaborative improvisation that really cooks, but allowing tempo stop at the drop of a hat to make on the fly adjustments to the music and its constituent parts, keeping the dynamic range high and using it to stoke the engine of the overall tension of the performance. "Almost Like Being In Love" has melodic mild toned saxophone, joined by dancing cymbals, with flexible and adaptable bass playing allows the music to conform to any shape the musicians desire, in this case gently swinging medium tempo. The push the tempo a little higher and the music responds nicely, the improvisation developing in a way that is pleasing and attractive. A tune most clearly associated with Rollins, "I'm An Old Cowhand," has a more spacious feeling allowing the light tone of the leader to investigate the material around grounded bass and soft cymbal play. There is a bass feature in the middle, framed by percussion reminiscent of Shelley Manne's original playing, which gives them the energy to follow through to the end. Finally, "The Song is You" is a vivid and bold performance, with well defined bass and drums providing a firm foundation for Riley's light and agile saxophone to take a lengthy and high flying solo, also incorporating a drum solo and trading of phrases which shows readily imaginative interplay between the saxophonist and the drummer. This was a very solid modern mainstream jazz album, which makes clear its reverence for the past, while placing itself firmly into the jazz scene of today. Hold 'Em Joe -

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Andrew Lamb Trio - The Casbah of Love (Birdwatcher Records, 2018)

Andrew Lamb is originally from Chicago and briefly studied with AACM, before moving to New York and embarking on a very active career as a leader and as a sideman. On this album, he plays tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet and flute, with longtime collaborator Tom Abbs on bass and cello and Ryan Jewell on drums. The music begins with "The Casbah Of Love" featuring tart toned saxophone, soft but insistent percussion and tight bass, coming together for an excellent collective improvisation driven by the punchy saxophone attack which is fearless and raw. Drums shimmer and slide all over the sound of the recording, offering a large rhythmic area to explore, and firm grounding bass anchors everything as Lamb's saxophone has a stark and powerful approach. "Wonders of the Morning" is a solo saxophone performance, probing and gaining strength, repeating a circular motif to gain momentum and then embarking on a free and open improvisation with high pitched squeals juxtaposed against low growls. With a foundation of deep bass and drums, "Nights and Miracles" uses bellowing saxophone developing a strong and brawny sound, moving through the air in a physically strong; muscular manner. Lamb punctuates the music with high register wails, giving the music a hypnotic, kinetic sensation, as the drums roil and the bass takes root. They allow space to enter their sound, giving their individual and collective approaches more weight, and a haunting unresolved conclusion. "Intergalactic Parables" builds a bass heartbeat and interesting rhythm from the drums, while Lamb uses multiple horns or over blowing of some sort, to create an arresting sound. Tight bursts from the horns along the regulars bass pulse and drum sounds, sounding like their own on Sun Ra's music from the early sixties. Another solo feature, "The Third Shadow," opens the clarion call of the solo saxophone, a call to arms, deep and clear like a flowing stream which is able to change through improvisation in an elegant and graceful way. The sound of Lamb's saxophone is compelling, demanding attention and admiration, firmly holding the attention of the listener. "Embrace of the Twin Ponds" features beautiful gentle flute playing, a fluttering warm tone aligned with soft brushed percussion and light bass playing. The music moves forward in a quietly exploratory formation, offering plenty of space for the trio to examine their surroundings. Quietly rumbling bass and drums provide stark contrasts to the lighter toned flute and provider further energy to this lengthy and successful performance. The Casbah of Love -

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Francois Carrier / Michel Lambert / Rafal Mazur - Beyond Dimensions (ColyaKoo Music, 2018)

This exciting and spontaneously composed album was recorded live in May of 2016 in Romania by a group consisting of Francois Carrier on alto saxophone, Michel Lambert drums, and Rafal Mazur acoustic bass guitar. This trio has been performing together for years, playing with intuition and imagination in many settings. Their performance opens with the massive near half hour long improvisation "Open Dreams," it is a towering free jazz blowout, beginning with a stellar collective improvisation melding the sounds of caustic saxophone, bubbling bass and interweaving drum patterns building a complex and fascinating conversation. "Namagiri" is more subtle, with the acoustic bass guitar prominent creating an interesting sound environment for the performance which Carrier makes the most of building an exotic snake charmer type tone on his alto saxophone, giving the music an unusual spin that is very appealing. This leads into "Unseen" which is aptly named as the musicians focus their improvisations on the gradations of light and shade using brushwork that is deft and quick, allowing the saxophone to flutter around it in a birdlike manner. The bass playing is just epic on this track, developing a really interesting tone and attack that is complex and fits in naturally alongside the growing percussion. The title track, "Beyond Dimensions" wraps things up with another excellent episodic lengthy improvisation that evolves organically over a lengthy period of time. Loud and potent alto saxophone reaches out in an emotionally resonant manner, keeping in constant motion, kneaded by the bass and drums as they wax and wane and engage the saxophone in deeply empathetic interplay. The music can become a firestorm of depth and vigor with acid tongued saxophone and urgent bass guitar meeting skittish percussion. The music opens up to a section of lighter bass and drums stretching into a duet improvisation, the music developing a fluid feeling, and Carrier returning to add warm, melodic comments to the proceedings. The three pull together for the big push to the end where the elastic sounding bass stretches as needed and the drums are supple and agile, leaving the horn room to paint the soundscape in vivid colors demonstrating grace and vision. Beyond Dimensions - Bandcamp

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Wendy Eisenberg - The Machinic Unconscious (Tzadik, 2018)

Wendy Eisenberg is a guitarist who delves into a wide range of music from free to metal and she is joined by the equally open minded team of Trevor Dunn on bass and Ches Smith on drums. This album was recorded just this past summer in beautiful New Jersey, and is exemplified by a track like "Parataxis" that has funky bass and drums setting up the guitar, which develops a bright and metallic sheen, gathering steam for a powerful and searching solo. The playing is dynamic and fully integrated with the rhythm section, while throwing off scorching asides which keeps the performance moving continuously forward. Raw and grinding guitar is at the forefront on "Kiln" giving the music a deeply visceral feeling, driven by waves of sculpted electrical feedback. The bass and drums act as a fulcrum for Eisenberg to construct her improvisation, before the music opens up into a more intricate trio improvisation. The pace picks back up with long tones of guitar carried across the bass and drums, building to a strong crescendo and conclusion. "Dangerous Red" is the anchor of the album, a ten and a half minute powerhouse with snake like guitar tendrils and potent drumming and pulsating bass playing making for an epic improvised journey. The guitar slashes across the the soundscape of the music, driving deeper and deeper into the firmament, heading into freer territory, shedding sparks without weakening or losing intensity. This leads into "Kin Kin Diza," which is a short and exciting blast of noise, freely improvised between the trio, building enough energy to lift them airborne, in a fun and thrilling demonstration of their capabilities at full throttle. "Mycoaelia" has an open minded use of feedback and electronics to develop a large sound palate, giving the group a wide field of possibilities from migraine threatening sound pulses, through to psychedelic grooves that bubble up from underneath. "6J" has some heavy drumming that lifts Eisenberg's guitar skyward, allowing her to slash vibrant chords and devastating waves of electronic distortion, held aloft on waves of cymbals and some bass that's heavy in its own right. They make for a scalding trio, leaving notions of fusion, experimental and free at the door and revelling in making music for the sheer idealistic audacity of it. The Machinic Unconscious -

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Joe McPhee and Hamid Drake - Keep Going (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018)

Recorded in Chicago during February of 2018, this was the second duo album between Joe McPhee on alto saxophone and pocket trumpet and Hamid Drake on drum kit and hand percussion after 1999's Emancipation Proclamation on Okka Disk. Dedicated to heroic civil rights leaders, the album opens with "Keep Going" which begins slowly with Drake's reverential drum playing, and McPhee speaking the words of Harriet Tubman after a few minutes, his voice stoic and moving. He picks up his saxophone and plays long emotional lines of sound across Drake's percussion, as the music becomes raw and real like the harrowing search for freedom evoked by Tubman's message. The duo's improvisation is stark and  bare in appearance, stripped of any ornamentation, it speaks to the soul as McPhee further punctuates the music with verbal exultation. The title of "Lord Don't Let 'Em Drop Them Goddamn Nukes On Us Lord" may nod at Mingus, but the music is pure in the moment free jazz. McPhee stays on saxophone, and Drake is a whirlwind on the drum set, taking the music into a very energetic state, echoing the randomness of the modern world. McPhee digs in deeply, his saxophone full of life and energy, and Drake is his ideal partner, his arrangement of rhythm and pacing precipitates the ever changing improvisation. Each musician develops a solo track, and Drake's "Endangered Species" has subtle and gentle percussion, patiently evolving in an organic fashion, like a heartbeat, or waves lapping at the shore of a distant ocean. Drake's rhythm gradually fills in and becomes more complex and louder, but never unnecessarily so, developing a lengthy narrative over the course of ten eventful minutes. "Time Was (For President Barack Hussein Obama)" sees McPhee switching to trumpet and engaging Drake's open ended percussion in a thoughtful manner, using longer tones of warm sound and crisp drumming to make for a memorable performance. "Morning Star (For Lucy Stone)" is a powerhouse improvisation for alto saxophone and drum kit, with both musicians leaning into the urgent theme, dedicated to the prominent abolitionist, and suffragist, and developing into into a boiling Albert Ayler tinged saxophone led performance. Finally, "Makes Me Wanna Holler (For Representative John Lewis)" is a taut trumpet and drums creation, with McPhee adding scatting glossolalia, creating an exciting and moving ending to a powerful and impeccably played album. Keep Going -

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Ross Hammond - Riding Dragons in Winter (Prescott Recordings, 2018)

Ross Hammond is a guitarist who defies labels, having played jazz, blues and folk music before settling into an intensely personal type of American primitive playing, adding some beautiful slide guitar playing that would make Son House proud to music that harkens back through Jack Rose and John Fahey to Charley Patton. This is a solo album for steel and resonator guitar with the music written especially for his wife and daughter. The sounds meld the diverse musics like raga, delta blues and Appalachian folk, combining these disparate musical forms into a unique and personal sound signature. He opens the album with "Codes," a track that is twice as long as any other piece on the album, building slowly and patiently with golden toned notes bending and rising like the early morning sun. The music gradually gathers speed, lifting off from the proverbial back porch and developing an improvised nature that is very impressive, incorporating the aspects of raga which add a further exotic feeling to the music, and the melding of the raga to slashing blues and the improvisational possibilities of jazz is remarkable. "Lazarus" has the longing tones of a spiritual or a ballad, before breaking into a complex and fast section, with fast strumming meeting a picked motif in a song that consists of many different and connected parts, strung together in real time. "Shapeshifting in the Morning" has a strong and insistent theme that gains power through repetition, building faster and more insistent, adding slide to move the performance in a different direction, one that is always evolving and developing, leading to a section of choppy chords where the music is relentless in its forward motion, showing all of the tools that the guitarist has available to him in the purpose of the song. "How Old Is Your Face" has an air of earthy mystery to it, with thick dark notes setting the tone for the song, and sharper slide sounds arcing overhead, making for an appealing mix. The slide takes hold, showering the ground with sparks that are quickly met with the darker toned notes and chords, enabling the push and pull of the sounds to create a powerful and propulsive dynamic. "We're Coming For You Paul" has an ominous dusky tone with some beautiful slide guitar playing balanced by heavily rhythmic strumming allowing the tune to gallop away at a fast pace that is characterized by constant activity and progress. This was an excellent album, and anyone with even a passing interest in acoustic guitar music of any genre should make sure to check it out. Riding Dragons in Winter -

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Neil Young - Songs for Judy (Reprise, 2018)

Before this music was officially released on this recording, it was widely known in collector's circles as The Bernstein Tapes, a compilation of Young's solo recordings from a 1976 tour, where he was frequently stoned, very witty and playing at a wonderful level, performing audience favorites and several then unreleased songs with stark beauty. It was one of my prized possessions during my pre-Internet tape trading days in the 1990's, a frequent companion on late night drives, and snowbound schleps to work running the cash register at a bagel shop. This release cleans up some of the audio artifacts of the past forty years, but keeps the close intimacy of the sound, placing you in the audience for Neil's bizarre off the cuff rap "Songs for Judy (Intro)" that gives this collection its name, and his witty asides introducing and commenting on the songs will continue throughout the album. The setlist is wonderful, with just enough hits and familiar radio tunes to keep the punters happy, while adding deep cuts and rare/unreleased songs to please the trainspotters. He comes out swinging with a potent "Too Far Gone," sounding comfortable on stage alone with just his guitar and harmonica, moving into a choppy "Heart of Gold" that is met by raucous cheers by the audience. "While Line" is a real surprise, a forlorn road song that wouldn't appear in the public record until years later as n over-amped rocker with Crazy Horse on the Ragged Glory LP, then mixing in a few more rarities, the beautiful banjo feature "Love is a Rose" and the wonderfully quirky "Human Highway" which was also the title of a film he co-directed, it was a song he said he kept trying to record but events conspired against him each time. I never could get behind the misogynistic "A Man Needs a Maid," especially with the bombastic organ treatment, but it's inclusion is tempered by beautifully nuanced versions of the bleary eyed narrative tracks "Roll Another Number" and Journey Through the Past" and a version of "The Old Laughing Lady" that is particularly poignant given Pegi Young's recent death and the song's opening refrain "Don't call pretty Pegi / She can't hear you no more..." The album is rounded out with two tracks that capture much of Young's output during this period, "Pocahontas" would soon to be an anchor on the immortal Rust Never Sleeps LP shows his abstract approach to narrative and reverence of nature, while "Sugar Mountain" is a coming of age song appropriate for a man who just turned thirty-one at the time, looking back and forward simultaneously. Songs For Judy -

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Smells Funny (Rune Grammofon, 2018)

The Hedvig Mollestad Trio is made up of Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen on guitar, Ellen Brekken on bass and Ivar Loe Bjornstad on drums, and they deftly meld rock and jazz music from the most complex fusion to the heaviest of metal, with hints of free music and  psychedelia. This is their sixth album, and the music has been gaining confidence and complexity all the way, especially on this album which is very successful and should be accessible for both fans of open eared jazz and rock 'n' roll. "Beatsie, Beatsie" opens the album with raw rocking feedback, physical bass and tight drums, where riffs gradually build, almost architecturally, with guitar solos sparking off of them and taking flight, soaring over the powerful rhythm section, leaving streaks of neon colors in the sky. They really blast off near the end, driving the music hard and embodying the powers of nature, before returning to the original theme. Slashing guitar and percussion hit hard right from the opening, giving "First Thing To Pop Is The Eye" a foundation in violent sweeping movements, which propel the music around a fulcrum of taut bass. Tight repetitive themes build momentum, allowing them to explore at length, percolating bass and drums supporting long lines of bold electric guitar, which can still lash like a whip when necessary. They build to a blistering collective improvisation, playing as a full bore power trio, ripping apart the musical firmament with force and finesse, with a crushing drum led finale. On "Sugar Rush Mountain" there is a full and robust sound with excellent bass playing allowing the drums and guitar to really stretch out and go for it, with the leader's guitar emitting sparks of fire and electricity in a spellbinding solo over elastic bass and insistent drumming. The trio improvisation is excellent, the band knows each other well and this lends to a thrill ride of powerhouse playing at terrific volume and speed. "Bewitched, Dwarfed And Defeathered" combines grinding remousseless guitar and drums in a  thick sludge, oozing forward, with binding bass, and massive riffs like mountains to be scaled. Guitar snakes out with long sustaining snarls, and a much earned bass solo that is a powerful force in its own right. The guitar soon returns with over the top power and speed, shredding at a phenomenal pace, before gliding back into the heavy riffs that return the tune to the primordial soup from whence it came. "Lucidness" is the longest track, free sounding and spontaneous, building upon smears of guitar, nervous drums and bass, gradually gathering volume and pacing, with excellent interplay between the musicians as the complexity of the improvisation grows. The music takes on an exploratory bent, and the trio challenges themselves to dig deeper and push harder, reaching for a performance of transformative metamorphosis, where tags like jazz and rock fall to the wayside and all becomes one. Smells Funny - Rune

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