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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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Glitter Wolf (Royal Potato Family, 2019)

This is the fifth album from drummer and composer Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom Ensemble, which features Jenny Scheinman on violin, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and bass clarinet, Todd Sickafoose on bass and Myra Melford on piano. Together they pool their experience and develop a communal and forward thinking approach to modern jazz that is very successful. "Congratulations and Condolences" opens the album with colorful piano chords, brass and reeds creating a unique atmosphere along side crisp rhythm. There is a vibrant and bubbling clarinet solo over undulating the rhythm section playing at speed which is exciting to hear, and powerful cornet arcing overhead like an arrow shot on high, drawing its strength from the percolating music below it. Melford contributes a complex and riotous piano solo, playing fast and furious but wonderfully thrilling in her narrative, and Taylorish in the scope and grandeur, with the rest of the group filling in for a kaleidoscopic conclusion. There is an excellent drum solo to open "The Ride," with the band falling in around Miller piece by piece, with rippling piano and rhythmic bass clarinet. This leads to a quieter section, punctuated by strong brass and piano leading the music back to a faster pace and a section for hoedown violin and percussion, creating an excellent texture with some vibes added for additional color. Tooting bass clarinet adds darker hues to the mix as the band gathers their forces, leading to a subtle conclusion. "Malaga" evolves slowly, but it is the percussive nature of the drums, piano, bass and gradually the clarinet that allow the music to build over time to encompass very interesting territory. The violin also plays an important if almost imperceptible role, either gently plucked or ever so slightly bowed, adding to the momentum. The clarinet has a beautiful light and free tone, swirling and swooping around the other instruments, but also engaged with them before handing off to the cornet, who takes a restrained turn of his own. Shining brightly, "Daughter and Sun," moves quickly with the horns and fluid piano and percussion, riding the ebbs and flows of this milti-layered composition. There's a majestic section for golden cornet and a well earned percussion solo, and a harmonized ending for clarinet and violin that is enchanting, framed by cornet and piano. "Welcome Hotel" has a punchy theme that is inviting, with some very cool piano added and witty cornet giving the whole performance a very fun and enjoyable vibe. A violin emerges to develop excellent interplay with the piano and the band as as a whole in a fine feature. The band delves into a very colorful and egalitarian collective improvisation that really displays their strength as a unit to close out this piece. The title track "Glitter Wolf" has bass heavy piano and plucked violin, creating a springboard for the band to create from in a wide range of patterns and matrices. Built around the spine of some wonderful piano playing, the music develops even further, growing even more colorful (Melford is just astonishing on this album) before breaking into a wonderfully cool percussion led section that is complex but fascinating in how it draws in whirling dervish like clarinet and cornet twirling the group in a vortex of sound. Glitter Wolf - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 03, 2019

Wayne Shorter - Super Nova (Blue Note, 1969)

Recorded near the end of his tenure as a sideman with Miles Davis and recording artist with Blue Note, Super Nova has been sort of dismissed as a transitory record, something that came between these stints and Wayne Shorter's tenure in Weather Report. Deeper listening reveals that this is an excellent record, one with layers of depth to be explored and a talented cast of accompanists including Miroslav Vitous, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock. The opening track "Super Nova" has way out open rhythm and sparks of electric guitar, with heavy drumming and snake charmer like soprano saxophone playing, as Shorter develops a pinched sound and uses it to further develop the sound of the unit. The group develops an otherworldly sound on "Swee-Pea" where chimes and light soprano saxophone create a neon hued soundscape that is a precursor to the work that Shorter would create with Weather Report, turning this track into a mysterious and yearning ballad. "Dindi" is a fascinating and multi-layered performance, beginning with chimes and tightly strummed strings with percussion creating a processional flair, followed by the introduction of Shorter's tenor saxophone, developing a repetitive figure, moving faster and faster in a jam with the percussion instruments. Unexpectedly, there is a opening for vocals of Maria Booker and gentle guitar of Walter Booker creating a quietly emotional section before the band returns with fast paced guitar and saxophone and hard driving drums pushing to the finish. "Water Babies" features gentle pastel tones of soprano saxophone from the leader, open ended bass and drums and a light touch of guitar as the group rides the thermals on a light and airy performance, Shorter taking center stage as his saxophone plays with passion and grace. Moody bass and drums usher in "Capricorn" and Shorter's soprano clashes with them like he is the captain of a vessel cursed by an angry sea. The drums and percussion crash and roil and the saxophone responds with mighty swirls of tone and range, leading to a dynamic tug of war between the reed and percussion framed by shards of guitar and resulting in a free jazz sounding experiment unlike he could could conduct under Miles's watch. The concluding track, "More Than Human" has a cool funk laced percussion and guitar theme, developing street sounding music around the guitar's chicken scratch that foreshadows the Davis street-funk of On the Corner by a few years. Shorter's soprano saxophone swoops and soars and leads the group into an excellent collective improvisation with deeply strung rhythm and saxophone that is both integrated and interloping. This is an very good album and it deserves more credit than it receives. It both stands on its own as a fine piece of work, and shows the path that Wayne Shorter would follow going forward on his long and mercurial career.Super Nova - amazon.com

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Friday, February 01, 2019

Atomic - Pet Variations (Odin, 2018)

The great Scandinavian jazz band Atomic has always carved their own path, staying away from fads and trends, and drawing inspiration from both American free jazz and European jazz and free improvisation. The band consists of Fredrik Ljungkvist on reed instruments, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Håvard Wiik on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Hans Hulbœkmo on drums. This marks the first time that they have recorded an album that focuses on the work of other composers, beginning with the "Pet Variations / Pet Sounds" medley to start the album, with Håvard Wiik's original giving way to the Brian Wilson classic, allowing the music to begin with a strong and dramatic feeling. The path of the music unfolds into the confident trumpet solo accompanied by crisp drumming, taut bass and spare piano chords. The music changes shape, to brushed percussion and quiet piano framed by horns, becoming complex, yet engaging. Saxophone and very fast drumming emerge and drive the music forward relentlessly with occasional percussive piano chords and trumpet asides, returning to the theme of a performance that encompassed a large area of ground. Carla Bley's "Walking Woman" has a short near bluesy feeling for tenor saxophone and piano, playing an emotional duet. Bass and trumpet join, and then take their own turn with a brief duet section, patient and unruffled, before the piano enters and the full band convenes on a strident collective improvisation. "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus" is a classical composition by Olivier Messiaen, opening with spare and haunting trumpet, joined by reverent piano, adding texture to the long quiet pastel tones that arc out from the brass as the remainder of the musicians in he group slowly join into this quietly unfolding performance. The music will gain volume slowly, but the pace remains slow and stately, focused on how the trumpet with add energy to a climbing motif over repetitive piano chording. "Inri" by Alexander von Schlippenbach uses skittish bass and drums to good effect, creating an open and inviting landscape for the band to launch into a powerful performance with barrelling horns creating a dramatic scene. Some excellent piano playing is added to the bass and drums as the horns stand aside and the rhythm team creates a powerful statement. Tenor saxophone joins in, creating a torrid improvisation, and finally the trumpet returns bringing the full band to boil, and adding a gritty, roiling solo of his own. Finally, "Karin's Mode" by Jan Garbarek ends this typically excellent Atomic album with tight brass playing on the theme, along with bright piano chords, nimble bass and drums. The music reaches out toward the listener particularly the horns, with a raspy emotional quality to them which is impressive, and enveloping. Pet Variations - amazob.com

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