Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eric Alexander - Leap of Faith (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This album might surprise some people who have tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander pegged as someone whose comfort zone only lies within bebop or hard bop. On this trio recording, he incorporates shades of avant garde into his playing, allowing his playing to fly in an unfettered fashion. Playing in an open setting with Doug Weiss on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums definitely helps in this endeavor, because they are equally supportive and challenging in helping Alexander achieve his best possible performances. Recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York City, the album begins with the exciting, brawny “Luquitas,” which is a composition that is based upon a built upon and opened up from an previous Alexander original dedicated his son, “Little Lucas.” You get the sense that they had been listening to the classic Sonny Rollins trio recordings from the Village Vanguard, because the music that the trio gets works well in the same format, as the leader's saxophone has a gruff and arresting tone, taking an angular approach to the music that works well with the elastic bass and crisp open ended drumming. The performance is statement of intent displaying the nature of the trio’s limitless energy, lunging forward with fast paced momentum and keeping the narrative of the music interesting for a lengthy period of time. In an album that is filled with gritty burners are heard wrenching ballads, Alexander shows his lighter side on the track “Mars” which borrows the musical structure of a the Bruno Mars hit song “Finesse,” a favorite song of his children. So, in the great jazz tradition of taking a pop song and reinventing it as vehicle for improvisation, Alexander creates a mid-tempo swinging track that can appeal to adults as well as kids. While “Hard Blues” doesn't seem to allude to the Julius Hemphill performance of the same name, it does share something with that fellow saxophone master,  an impetus to push into some of the most raw and emotional playing, pouring a lot of heat into a short and sudden burst of great excitement. There are a couple of more excellent blowouts that really make this album one to remember. Label mate Blake’s powerful rumble provides the foundation for the blistering, volatile “Frenzy,” where Alexander tears down his tune to its base essence and allows the group to really take the music into a another gear where they experience a sudden feeling of excitement that allows the collective three way improvisation to meld together as Alexander's steely tone, Blake's slashing drums and Weiss's enduring bass create an excellent vision. They evoke the spirit of John Coltrane on the closing track, “Second Impression,” which invokes “Chasin' the Trane” and “Impressions,” tracks which Coltrane opened up and explored in the fashion that Alexander's group does here. The trio builds to a fast speed, playing confidently as Blake's open ended swing melds with Weiss's thick bass to create a powerful rhythm which Alexander can soar over or interact with at will. This album worked quite well, with Alexander and his band playing strong and powerful jazz that should appeal to a wide ranging audience. He is one of the first musicians to signed to Giant Step Arts. This is an non-profit group formed by Jimmy Katz dedicated to presenting unique performances and giving musicians total control of their artistic projects. Alexander owns his master tapes as well as rights to how the music will be distributed in digital and physical formats. Leap of Faith -

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Angelika Niescier - New York Trio (Intakt Records, 2019)

Highly lauded alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier is based on the European continent, but she has made excellent albums with American musicians that have borne fruit, creating consistently good small group modern jazz. This is another fine entry in her discography, where she is joined by Chris Tordini on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson on several tracks. Opening track “The Surge” has fast alto saxophone and drums with trumpet sounding good, with a choppy melody led by keen and fun saxophone and drumming, leading to a fast paced and lively performance. There is some swift saxophone and drum dialogue that sounds really hell-bent for leather, with thick bass in-between holding things together. This evolves into a collective improvisation with the addition of trumpet, then a short and powerful drum solo. They drive to the finish in a strong form led by the leader's excellent saxophone playing that can swoop from sounding like a clarinet to a buzzing saxophone. There is quieter and more intricate interplay on “Cold Epiphany,” using bowed bass and smeared percussion, adding a dark and foreboding sensation to the rhythm play. A light cone of saxophone opens up and spreads across, gaining speed with bowed bass and shimmering cymbals. "...ish" comes crashing in with cutthroat full group improvisation with saxophone, bass and drums playing at high speed the group does speed up even further, into bright and forward thinking jazz with wonderfully ripe sounding alto saxophone, active drumming generating power into a wide branching improvisation at a boiling speed. They race to the finish line, playing gutsy and spicy improvised music. Long yearning tones of saxophones open "Ekim" with a distinctive touch echoed by bowed bass and trumpet, playing emotional and patient music. The music matures from this opening tranquility, into a trumpet solo that emerges over plucked bass and cymbal play that is respectful to the end. "Push / Pull" has tough bass and drums with sharp alto saxophone that is brash and strong, tearing at the very air around it. A powerful three way improvisation develops with everything moving like clockwork with percussion and elastic bass leaving plenty of room for the saxophone and drums to drive the music forward, with Finlayson's trumpet entering late for shrill, yet exciting commentary. The trumpet solo is over bounding bass and crisp drumbeats sounds great, building complex and enjoyable improvisation. The musicians are excellent navigators, never lost, no matter how strong the storm. Drums crash in hard and unaccompanied on “5.8” soon joined by thick bass and light sounding alto saxophone creating a tight sounding performance that circles the music's event horizon. Faster plucked bass and energetic drumming and alto gain speed, and reach out into a powerful music that is energetic or highly spirited, digging deep and using varying rhythmic approaches that keep the music interesting. The album is closed by "A Truck Passing a Clock Tower" where soft saxophone and bass intertwine in open synthesis adding percussion, developing cells of freedom and a quick sprint to the finish. This album worked quite well, she has a unique and personal approach to jazz that has begun to integrate Niescier's interest in the American composer John Cage which will make her music very interesting to follow going forward. New York Trio -

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Boneshaker - Fake Music (Soul What Records, 2019)

Boneshaker is a wonderful free jazz aggregation featuring Mars Williams on reed instruments and toy instruments, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion and  Kent Kessler on bass. The group has been together for eight years and this marks their fourth release, recorded live in January of 2017 in Chicago. The opening track, “Miakoda” has raw saxophone, taut bass and slashing drums sounding strong and righteous. The group develops collective improvisation at a fast speed and everybody all-in creating remarkable forward motion. Williams' saxophone sounds harsh and gritty, perfect for producing the squeals and squawks that punctuate his playing. Thunderous drums and grounding bass are perfect for the occasion, goading Williams to reach way up into the upper register of his instrument, barreling forward like an unstoppable force. They break out into a section of bowed bass with light percussion, a brief respite from the maelstrom, and Williams plays softly, before shockingly launching into high register screams and dropping back to the slow tempo as if nothing happened. The band builds back up to their former passionate improvisation with massive bellows of saxophone, before stepping aside and allowing the bass and drum team to develop and interesting rhythmic formation. “Lovin' the Buzz” shows saxophone and drums probing the open space around them, building to swirling saxophone with rolling drums as the bass enters to beef up the sound, and they are off on an intricate and complicated improvisation. The music sounds good: fast and well controlled with Williams developing a nasal tone to his playing that is striking, adding whinnying and laughing figures that add to the emotional value of the music. After a break for quiet bass and percussion meditation, the trio once again takes flight with excellent sounding bass launching the saxophone and drums into another daredevil improvisation. Everyone is really digging in and playing with an earthy hard won freedom before getting rowdy and truly caffeinated toward the end. The closing performance “Echo Clang” is something of an outlier, at least at the beginning, which is marked by spacey long tones of saxophone and percussion with some unidentified strummed instruments added for texture. The sounds resonate and gradually build as the musicians begin to improvise gently at first, then with greater fervor, as they fall into their accustomed roles. The music grows deeper and stronger, with the improvisation simply wailing out before adding a brief element of funk into the mix, before a blowout conclusion. The music of the band is bracing and highly successful, balancing roots in the American tradition of free jazz, as well as European freely improvised music. They walk a fine line, and they do it well. Fake Music -

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Yves Theiler - WE (Intakt, 2019)

This is a very talented trio consisting of Yves Theiler on piano, Luca Sisera on bass and Lukas Mantel on drums. All of the music are original compositions by Theiler, and he creates music that is well versed in modern jazz while looking forward, with an explorer's curiosity to see what's beyond the next hill. “Slush in Thaw” opens the album with a bouncing, bubbling theme and bright piano notes balanced with lower toned chords and tight drums. Some dramatic flourishes keep everyone on their toes, and the dark and light shadow tones of the keyboard are equally appealing. The group shifts into a three way improvisation, where thick bass and skittish drums free the wide ranging piano to explore with percussive jabs and quick runs. After a well articulated bass solo with percussion and spare keyboard framing, the group moves back into the original theme and it's dynamism, ending with more fine bass playing. A dramatic introduction of bowed bass leads the group into “No Rank, No Hill” which is spacious and haunting with bass swoops, brushed percussion and the group coming together for a fast paced trio section. Using hard charging dynamic shifts, this complex music is continuously interesting, rippling and cascading in an exciting manner. “Beauty in Space” uses soft piano chords, opening the music in a quiet ballad formation, as the group gradually fills the available space, gaining posture. Things really change as drums and huge piano chords crash and then leave windows of space in their wake held together by anchoring bass and little percussion instruments. The music develops a suite like formation as the trio evolves into a melodic cell for brushes, bass and piano, gradually developing a more muscular bent before falling back into a more meditative form. Thick sounding bass, dark toned piano set the stage for “The Visit of Mr. Lev,” also including clattering percussion which builds an interesting rhythm that the band builds upon, gaining speed and momentum at a thrilling pace, finally breaking out into a freer form with some very impressive drumming. The percussive nature to this improvisation is key as slashing piano and drums clear the thicket before them like explorers in the wilderness taking on a near manic bent. The music undulates as it moves forward, nearing the conclusion, building the speed and power indicative of the confidence the musicians have in their talent and the improvisation they are constructing, and a much deserved drum feature takes them out with a mighty slam. This album worked well, the band is a formidable unit, combining interesting compositions with open minded improvisations to excellent effect. WE -

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet - WHENUFINDITUWILLKNOW (Golden Records, 2019)

Something of a legend among fellow guitar players, Michael Gregory Jackson's interests go beyond jazz to include funk, rock and experimental music. All of these elements are at play on this fascinating album where he plays in the company of Niels Praestholm on bass, Simon Spang Hanssen on saxophones and Matias Wolf-Andreason on drums. “Clarity 6 (Dedicated to Fred Hopkins)” features funky bass and hyper active drumming which supports the heavy lifting as the guitar takes off and explores. The overall feeling is fast paced and exciting with guitar and saxophone jousting over the thick rhythm, building into a driving, squalling full band improvisation that is quite enthralling, blowing into a brief wicked fast shed section before retreating ever so slightly into brief cells if fast improvisation and then to the theme to close. “Spin (Dedicated to Baikida Carroll)” has thick bass and hollow drums setting the groove for Jackson's laser focused guitar to extrapolate a thematic statement, the guitar digging deep, while the drums and bass mine a pneumatic groove, and the guitar and saxophone perform an elaborate improved dance of funky jazz that recalls the seventies, but blasts them firmly into the Afro-futuristic realms of tomorrow. Hand percussion and slabs of bass keep the music simmering, and snarls of electric guitar bring it all back home. “Clarity 3” blasts off with all of the instruments setting a choppy and complicated theme, and then gradually picking it apart, as crisp drumming and well articulated bass playing supports Jackson's neon toned guitar as he spools out an impressive improvised statement. He adds further bite to the tone as the drums keep up an ever shifting and thoughtful narrative and the soprano saxophone enters the scene a little late, but providing an excellent foil for the guitar to grind and sting against, building to an excellent freewheeling full band improvisation as the group takes the time to really stretch out and play and ply their skills in a most productive manner. “Souvenirs (Dedicated to Jessica Hagedorn)” has another excellent full band introduction, before the guitar and saxophone emerge to swirl and fly in the air, doing daring maneuvers like stunt pilots at an airshow, supported by strong cymbal play and tight bass. Jackson lays it on the line playing his heart out and the group responds with some of their gutsiest playing on the album, creating a short but emotionally resonant track. This album worked quite well, Jackson honors his formative years playing with members of the BAG and AACM collectives with his commitment to fearless improvisation, tempered by solid teamplay and compositional forethought. Whenufindituwillknow -

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Johnathan Blake - Trion (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This is an exciting live recording led by drummer Johnathan Blake in the august company of Linda May Han Oh on bass and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. The music is alternately muscular and nimble, at once recalling the classic live trio recordings Sonny Rollins made in the 1950's while at the same times sounding completely modern and as fresh as paint. “Synchronicity I” is a re-imagining  of the music of The Police, arranged by Potter, led by his evocative saxophone playing, solo at first, finding the band gradually folding in for what becomes a grand exploratory improvisation. Crisp drumming and dark hued stoic saxophone playing revolve around deeply rooted bass playing in an arresting manner, and their collective improvisation, pulling together in the direction of sheer performative power is amazing, this is top tier acoustic jazz playing at its finest. Taking something as banal as The Police (sorry Sting fans) and turning it into a seventeen minute powerhouse of imagination is a major accomplishment for this group. There's a beautiful bass solo, deft and nimble in the playing of the instrument, and an explosive trading of phrases between Blake and Potter. Quick bass and drum work opens “One for Honor,” soon joined by saxophone, creating a solid medium uptempo three way theme. Blake's cymbal accents frame the bass and saxophone well, keeping the music clean and centered, as Oh makes bounding leaps and Potter is a man possessed, playing quick successions of notes with a steely grace that is very impressive. Everybody just goes for it, upping the tempo even further and playing a music that is just out of sight in terms of speed and volume and the amount of control and trust that three people can have when they are this talented. Blake breaks out on a very intricate drum solo, loud and incredibly complex, but still accessible and fun to listen to. “Good Hope” gradually builds from an intricate drum rhythm, building to a trio performance that is quick and light in movement or action; and agile in nature. Potter's tone has a pinched element to it adding further texture, over Blake's complex rhythms and Oh's acrobatic playing. There was a deeply collaborative spirit on this double disc set, indicative of the albums title referencing atoms combining to form a single compound, which is an apt description for this highly attuned group where the spiritual tenets of mindfulness and being completely in the moment meet the science of sound and cognition, and result in exciting and powerful music. Trion - Bandcamp

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Dave Rempis / Brandon Lopez / Ryan Packard - The Early Bird Gets (Aerophonic Records, 2019)

Recorded in March and June of 2018 at Elastic Arts in Chicago, this is an excellent document of the working trio consisting of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Brandon Lopez on bass and Ryan Packard on drums and electronics. Beginning with “Crypto Vo Lans” the music quickly develops around the bass and drums, with the saxophone and drums whirling around the center of taut bass with squeals of saxophone and crisp drumming. They develop a fast and propulsive improvisation with a whirling dervish of sound, leading to a fine interlude of bass and crushingly rhythmic percussion. Rempis comes back with a tart, arresting tone from his saxophone, leading all three off into the sunset. Deep tuned saxophone saxophone with rumbling bass and skittish percussion open “Raho Navis” which drifts into a spacey slower section of plucked bass and cymbals. The pace changes with a snap as they burst into collective improvisation with sharp interplay of strong saxophone and cruising bass and drums. The trio's sense of dynamism allows them to be potent at any speed including a heavy hitting drum solo. “Archae Opteryx” uses long breathy tones of saxophone to set a mood, aside bowed bass and brushed percussion creating and abstract and haunting setting. Electronics add to the music developing huge slabs of sound that fly by framed by the quieter sections of brushes and spare bass. Heavy bass, crashing saxophone and drums usher in “Confucius Ornis” breaking out into a strong, virile and fast paced performance. After that statement of intent, they downshift, opening space for bass and spare cymbals before the pace picks back up and the gruff saxophone piles on at mid tempo. What's amazing about this group is how they can start and stop on a dime, with fast cymbals and driving bass pushing the saxophone to new heights, leading to powerhouse collective improvisation at its best. “Yan Ornis” has bowed bass scraping long tones soon met by squeals of deeply held saxophone tones creating an arresting sound that moves farther into freedom as the percussion enters. The dark toned tenor saxophone, sweeping bass and percussion work very well, building to a scouring three way improvisation that peels paint with searing saxophone and pummeling drums creating over the top goodness. The concluding track “Gansus” opens with excellent bass playing, soon joined by a swirling vortex of saxophone and drums. Their full band improvisation is out of sight and the band is like a fine automobile shifting through the gears. This is another example of the group's limitless power as the cascading drums, soaring saxophone and nimble bass playing becomes the hallmark of the trio and the music they makes. This was an excellent album from wire to wire, the musicians are at the top of their game and this album is sure to be under consideration when the best records are tallied up in December. The Early Bird Gets - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy (ECM, 2019)

Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan had an excellent run at the Village Vanguard in New York City in December of 2016, playing as a simpatico duet, performing standards, popular songs and originals before an appreciative audience. This part of the recording is based around the classic Thelonious Monk composition "Epistrophy," and they play a beautiful version of it, gradually easing into the familiar melody, and then unhurriedly branching out into a knotty improvisation, bobbing and weaving in a congenial manner. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is a medley that consists of "Wildwood Flower / Save The Last Dance For Me" where a gentle spacious melody is effortlessly stated at first before moving into the rhythm and blues cover that is unexpected but quite welcome. Frisell's guitar carves up the tune expertly, adding just the right amount of emotion and longing to an expertly performed suite of music. With everything on the table, part of the fun is the wide ranging setlist, where they can develop well articulated jazz standards like "Pannonica" and "Lush Life" into quietly blossoming melodic gems, and juxtapose them against a quirky yet very enjoyable romp through the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice." It wouldn't be a Bill Frisell album if they didn't dip into Americana themes on "All in Fun," "Red River Valley," before quieting down once again and wrapping up the album with a delicate and beautiful version of "In the Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" where their intricate interplay works well, as they can play slowly and quietly allowing the individual notes to hang in the air like tears from a broken heart. As a whole, his album worked quite well, and Frisell and Morgan are a formidable team, developing a close sense of empathy that allows them to create delicately spun music in this intimate environment. There may not be many sparks flying, but the melodic and thematic development of these songs and the craft on display in their performance more than makes up for it. Epistrophy -

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Cecil Taylor - Great Paris Concert (ORG Music, 2019)

Originally recorded in The City of Light during November 1966, this concert has been released on a number of labels over the years. This most recent one has been remastered by Infrasonic Mastering, and is presented across two 180 gram white color LPs, with photos and new liner notes. Regardless, it's an extraordinary entry into the great pianist Cecil Taylor's discography, including a great band featuring Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums and percussion. “Student Studies Part 1” finds the group playing against type, not quite the all destroying free improvisation behemoth that they were made out to be. The music is choppy and intricate with extraordinary bass playing that when plucked provides extra propulsion to an already powerful unit, but when bowed is done in a virtuoso fashion echoing that of a viola or a cello. There is space in this performance for Lyons to blow unencumbered and he adds thoughtful notions to this powerful piece of music. This is immediately followed by “Student Studies Part 2” which keeps the energy moving briskly with swirling bowed bass and lush piano playing, alternating between crushing chords and ripping runs up and down the keyboard. The saxophone muscles in about half way through, pushing hard and helping to develop a true full band improvisation that is wonderfully exciting. “Amplitude” is the most percussion focused track on the album, with a spare opening that uses a whistle and Art Ensemble like “little instruments” to set the mood. Soon lashing drumming takes effect with booming deep end piano and saxophone yearning for release in the cracks between the harrowing energy being developed by the piano and drums, but try as Lyons might it is the stark fascinating interplay between Taylor and Cyrille that is the centerpiece of this section of the concert. Finally “Niggle Feuigle” is the track that could be called “free jazz” in the expected sense, as the four members of the group collide right off the bat for a superior blowout that is a wonder to hear, as Lyons's horn wails alarmingly and Taylor kneads the piano with a great sense of urgency. As the piece develops, the piano and percussion cascade in a magnificent fashion, creating an epic sound world that is all encompassing and unflinching in its willingness to infuse all of their power and majesty into their music. Great Paris Concert -

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Berkman - Six Of One (Palmetto, 2019)

For several years now, pianist and composer David Berkman has been investigating the musical possibilities of a medium sized jazz band. The colors, hues and rhythms are  achieved in conjunction with his excellent band, consisting of Danya Stephens, Billy Drewes and Adam Kolker on saxophones, Chris Lightcap on bass, Kenneth Salters on drums with Tim Armacost on saxophone and Rogerio Boccato on percussion sitting in. This album begins with “Blowing Smoke” which has a classy and warm theme, with subtle piano playing and understated bass and percussion creating a nice pocket. Tenor saxophone glides in an builds a solo around the foundation built by the earlier sounds, soon joined by a second saxophone and crisply articulated drumming,then the group reconvenes to develop the robust theme around Berkman's piano outro. There is a more urgent melodic statement developing on “Cynical Episode” as the music undulates around deep bass clarinet and the horns riff before an electronic wind instrument drifts out unexpectedly, moving amid the bass and drums adding texture and depth to the performance. Deftly adding piano, Berkman leads the rhythm team though their paces at high speed, playing with grace before the horns return and split into solo sections first for clarinet and soprano saxophone swirling high in the sky as an exotic hand percussion rhythm develops beneath him. “Blue Poles” has a probing solo piano opening, leading the other instruments into the song as they develop a theme using ribbons of sound. There's a warm alto saxophone opening up over some fast paced drumming keeping the music fresh and foreword facing, and soon the whole band is playing very quickly and Berkman takes center stage with an excellent piano feature, building and cascading with waves of notes in a very impressive manner. There is a drum solo of merit, before the rest of the band cruises in for a mighty finish. Light and swirling horns are featured on “Billy” along with supple bass playing, meeting some jaunty support from the remainder of the band with well played soprano saxophone giving this springtime like ditty real lift. The leader takes over with a spirited piano solo framed by supple bass and drums allowing the music to grow in an organic manner. Darker saxophone takes a more pointed solo over the furrowed ground before coming back to the fold and helping to close out this short and sweet tune. “Kickstopper” has a swaggering melody right out of the gate, building intricate modern hard bop, then letting loose sweet saxophones to solo over supportive and fast rhythm which give the music a warm feeling. There's excellent contrast between the deep toned tenor and the light soprano as they joust for supremacy, finally fleeing the field for an authoritative piano feature set up with no nonsense support from the bass and drums. “Restoration” sets the theme on piano, and the saxophones glide out of the shadows adding to the narrative of the performance, lighter toned soprano saxes reach for higher vistas, and a fully formed piano feature that adds further emotional content to the song. This album worked very well, providing a wide variety of colorful compositions and spirited playing on behalf of the band. Six of One -

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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Prince Lasha / Eddie Gale / Marcus Shelby / David Boyce / Howard Riley / Darrell Green - 6x6 (Unsound, 2019)

In San Francisco during late October 2008, two of unsung heroes of progressive jazz entered a studio and met four up and coming members of the local scene. Each musician came up with their own piece of music for the group to collaborate on, with one full take, no overdubs or retakes. The band consists of Eddie Gale on trumpet, flute and piano, Pince Lasha on reeds and percussion, David Boyce and Howard Wiley on saxophones, synth and percussion, Marcus Shelby on bass, and Darrell Green on drums. Gale was prescient, predicting the upcoming election and providing a respectful nod on the opening track “This is for Obama.” He opens and closes the track with a chant honoring the president to be and in the middle is a very impressive and lengthy performance. The rhythm section is strong and true keeping this fast paced composition in constant motion and providing a launching pad for the solo flights. The horns work well together providing waves of deep sound, and then individual members take flight for logical and memorable solos, on tenor and soprano saxophones and Gale's trumpet plus a wonderful section for bowed bass and drums. “Kennedy's African Playground” is by bassist Marcus Shelby, with a warm sound incorporating thick bass and flute and delicate percussion, creating an alluring sound. The saxophones come in, deepening the sound of the music as a fine tenor saxophone emerges and patiently develops a scouring and enlightening statement over deep percussion and trilling flute. All of the instruments come together for a colorful and potent collectively improvised section, and then dropping out for some excellent bowed bass and flute framed by bells and percussion setting a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Shelby is a powerhouse here, plucking or bowing he is the engine a the core of this performance's success. “Sub Atomic Musik” offers bird sound like flutes and saxophone creating a unique atmosphere, settling into a series of tones, electronic synth playing off against the saxophones and drums with ominous vocalization leading us into uncertain and nervous territory. The music builds to a breakout free improvisation, with the saxophones wailing handsomely and Gale's trumpet powering though it all as the rhythm section chugs mightily. “Howard's Hues” kick's off with a blast as the full group comes out swinging with crisp drums and bass, and the horns building ever higher creating a solid edifice of golden sound. Gale takes a potent and strutting trumpet solo over surging bass and drums, handing off to tenor saxophone for a swirling, snaking turn in the open space, then the relay moves to a snake charmer soprano saxophone solo. It's a great blowing vehicle and everyone comes together with a strong full band statement, before there is another big tenor breakout leads the horns into a cacophonous jam that is very exciting to hear, before pulling it together for a fine conclusion. Sadly, Prince Lasha would pass away a few months after this recording, but he went out on a very high note because this is an excellent and highly recommended recording, everyone plays well, and it is wonderful meeting of the older masters and younger musicians on the rise, finding common ground in open minded jazz music. E-mail Eric M. for details.

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Sunday, April 07, 2019

Jon Lundbom / Bryan Murray - Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 (Chant Records, 2019)

This album is the result of a lengthy partnership between guitarist Jon Lundbom and saxophonist Bryan Murray. Murray acted as a modern day Teo Macero, sampling albums by Lundbom’s Big Five Chord band and building beats to which Lundbom composed new music. They then sent the tracks back and forth to record live performances of the new music, improvised solos, and accompaniment, with the final group consisting of Bryan Murray (aka Balto Exclamationpoint) on tenor, alto, soprano, and balto! saxophones, Jon Irabagon on alto, mezzo soprano, and slide saxophones, Jon Lundbom on guitar and beats by Balto Exclamationpoint. Leadoff track "Booberonic" has funky bass and drum beats which build with saxophones joining at a quick paced tempo, creating music that is complex but fun to listen to, with one of the saxophones breaking free to solo over bowed bass and choppy percussion developing a raw and real sound. The band really stretches out around the blowing, creating a very cool sound that is fresh and invigorating, with strong peals of sharp saxophone set against a buoyant backdrop. The saxophone drops out as the guitar glides in, building patiently and fitting into the rapid groove offered by the bass and drums. Lundbom digs in on a very impressive improvisation, shooting out sparks and beams across the entrenched rhythm team, adding high speed flurries of notes as they drift off into the fade. There is a loose groove on "Basic Bitches" with juicy saxophone weaving through it, then fluttering freely, taking to tune in a different direction, where loops are juxtaposed against raw scouring horn play. The pinched tone of the saxophone is arresting, taking a repetitive figure and then extrapolating from it with quick bursts of notes and raw sound, as the looping sounds inject a disorienting and psychedelic tinge. "Prednisone" develops a gentle opening with saxophones and guitar accenting the basic drumbeat. Horns playing together get an interesting texture that diverges in the mix as the horns separate, and the guitar arcs a golden tone across the top of the performance. Lundbom's sound is strong but accessible, performing a guitar solo that is powerful but not overly flamboyant, building a crunchy and searing sound that is a standout performance and one of his most memorable. After that, there is a searing saxophone solo, stark and potent, with a nasally sound that cuts through the relatively spare accompaniment leading to a looped finish. This process worked very well and produced an album of real value, regardless of the way in which it was produced. Hopefully this success will spur the musicians to further volumes and even more daring experiments. Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 -

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Saturday, April 06, 2019

Book: Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams by Bill Shoemaker (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017)

This was a very interesting book, one that will particularly pique the interest fans of free jazz or free improvisation, because it looks at the music through that lens, eschewing mainstream jazz and fusion almost completely. Shoemaker breaks the book down by year, with an introduction giving a thumbnail history of jazz to that point, focusing on the innovations of the 1960's, and a coda at the end which deals with the repercussions of the retrenchment of neo-conservativism in the music and the fractious nature of mainstream vs. avant-garde in the 1980s. In between are ten chapters, one for each year of the decade; and each will be centered upon a particular artist or group. After stating his intention to focus on a musician, for instance Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath for the chapter on 1970, the author will tell the subjects story regardless of time frame. While the first concert by the Brotherhood of Breath may have occurred in 1970, McGregor's mixed race group The Blue Notes fled apartheid South Africa in 1965, and they would be a vital force in jazz for decades to come. Chapters will alternate between European and American music as the cleft between "free jazz" and "free improvisation" continues to deepen, and Europeans, particularly Britons like Derek Bailey develop the belief that only unprepared, in the moment free improvisation is the true music. Meanwhile, in the United States, musicians like Archie Shepp were turning to music like rhythm and blues and gospel to create strong statements of civil right and racial unity on the albums Attica Blues and The Cry of My People. Multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton became a critical darling and nearly developed a following with some well distributed records through the Arista / Freedom imprint. A couple of accessible small group albums set him in good stead before the oil crisis crashed the record business and Braxton insisted on release of some of his most difficult music for multiple orchestras and two pianos (neither played by Braxton) saw budgets being slashed and him eventually let go. Shoemaker's work on the loft scene and particularly Sam Rivers (one of my heroes) was very interesting, as he talks about how the DIY scene took shape and became a real competitor to the bloated mainstream jazz festivals. Overall this was an excellent book, and whether describing how the music is made and the nature of the improvisations being performed by the musicians he's covering, or looking at the societal implications of the music, Shoemaker is a fine writer, composing an excellent narrative that is valuable to the overall history of jazz and improvised music. Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams

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Friday, April 05, 2019

Miles Davis / Gil Evans ‎– The Best Of Miles Davis and Gil Evans (Columbia / Legacy, 1997)

Miles Davis made several albums with the arranger Gil Evans during the 1950's and 1960's, placing his beautiful and evocative trumpet and flugelhorn sound into lush backdrops and emotional arrangements that led to some of his most popular and critically regarded work. During the 1990's, Columbia/Legacy re-released reams of Davis material on compact disc, including Miles Davis and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, a lavish slab of six discs with a nearly 200-page booklet that had an eye-popping price tag to match (since been re-released in a long box format, much cheaper but possibly OOP.) The budget option is this placeholder, a nicely chosen sampler from the sessions, giving you a wide range of selections from the Davis / Evans collaborations along roughly chronological order, beginning with "My Ship," "Blues for Pablo" and "Miles Ahead" from the album of that name, with the large band containing heavy hitters like Lee Konitz, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. The Davis / Evans reading of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess is quite beautiful, represented here by Davis's handsome overdubbed flugelhorn solo on "Gone," "My Man's Gone Now," an absolutely heartbreaking version of "Summertime" and "I Love's You Porgy." The two collaborators next built the album Sketches of Spain around their epic reimagination of the composition "Concierto de Aranjuez," an enormous performance of over sixteen minutes in length. It tasked their particular talents to the limits, in terms of taking this classical piece creating an epic jazz tone poem, but also the epic soloing of Davis on both flugelhorn and trumpet. Musically and personally Davis and Evans began to drift apart as the sixties dawned, but with the boom in Brazilian music and the bossa-nova craze hitting the USA they were able to cobble together enough music to build the album Quiet Nights, and "Wait Till You See Her," Jobim's "Corcovado" are represented on this disc. They are rather moody and quiet, exotic and alluring in their own way as is the final track, and excerpt from the lengthy track "Time of the Barracudas." Whether this is really the "best of" the music that Davis and Evans made during their period of close collaboration is a matter of individual interpretation. This disc does serve its purpose however, as a palate whetter for the curious and a stopgap for those who prefer Miles Davis small group and fusion outings. Best of Miles Davis and Gil Evans -

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Michaël Attias - echos la nuit (Out Of Your Head, 2019)

Michaël Attias is very impressive on this album, playing both alto saxophone and piano simultaneously, with no overdubs. He is performing everything on the album live and the music is completely improvised. The reverberation of the room and the resonance of the piano strings also set a sympathetic environment for this ambitious project. “Echoes I: Mauve” opens the album, with piano and saxophone in a spare swirling formation, working together in space and providing a lonely late-night feeling. There is an attractive yearning tone to the saxophone, and it is capable of great emotional depth. Saxophone and piano probe together on “Trinite” gradually building blocks of notes, as the two instruments closely echo each other side by side, and Attias will also hold a lengthy saxophone note while playing piano underneath it, to excellent effect. “Autumn II” features sad sounding saxophone and piano becoming more open and brisker, as sound moves in the open air and provides a great deal of color, while adding touches of piano that are more reflective in nature. Piano notes in outer space open “Fenix III” where they are joined by breathy sounding saxophone that begins a loping solo, moving in a free and appealing manner, with an excellent tone that is punctuated by piercing tones and quicksilver flurries of notes, building an excellent narrative structure that is one of the highlights of the recording. Breathy saxophone builds a hypnotic repetitive feeling on “Circles” gradually building in volume and varying in textures of light and shade within the tone of the saxophone itself. “Rue Oberkampf” explores light and nimble saxophone movement, you are so close that you can hear the pads and keys moving adding an aura of quiet intensity to the proceedings. Attias is playing quite fast, but not loud and in complete control, extrapolating small motifs for further improvisation, adding louder and deeper tones for balance. The longest piece on the album is “Song for the Middle Pedal” which has soft saxophone playing long lines of sound, patiently allowing the music to develop and creating emotional shades that are accessible and approachable. Piano enters later in the performance, adding a further dimension to the music which is wistful but never maudlin. “Sea in the Dark” is awash in heavy sustaining piano, contrasted by lighter toned saxophone played at a slow pace. These long tones can match the sustaining low rumble that is continuously moving and developing. The album concludes with “Echoes III: Night” where haunted saxophone and barely touched piano offer up a noir-ish atmosphere, and the music gradually builds upon the opening structure to become more wide ranging and variable. This album would have been very impressive from a duo, but considering it came from one person it is remarkable. Attias draws on many threads from classical music to jazz and free improvisation, melding them creatively to create an album that is fresh and unique. Echos la nuit -

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Monday, April 01, 2019

Alexander Hawkins - Iron Into Wind (Pears From An Elm) (Intakt, 2019)

Pianist Alexander Hawkins is another one of the game-changing musicians on the burgeoning London jazz scene. He is a veteran of encounters with musicians like with Evan Parker, Wadada Leo Smith and Shabaka Hutchings, and has a number of recordings under his own name. This is a solo album that was recorded in Zurich in September of 2018, and it begins with “Song All the Way” which has droplets of medium tempo crystalline piano notes, sounding clear and crisp as they explore and probe the sound space. The music on “Congregational” is dark toned, slow and balanced against heartier chords that develop, allowing a dynamic to build and power the music forward. The tension that develops along with the percussive low-end chords resonates throughout the song. “Tough like Imagination” is open and spacey, with cascading light notes invoking thoughts of a spring shower, though the music grows gradually stronger and harder as Hawkins drives the piano into deeper and more intense territory, hammering the notes as the piece continues to evolve. Deceptively spare in its opening “Pleasant Constellation” gradually develops a low rumble, foreshadowing the tumult to come. Strong chords crash from the top down in a very dramatic fashion, where colliding slabs from the crushing bottom end meet cascading runs from the upper end of the piano. The music eventually breaks apart into free sounds that drift in space like wreckage from a cosmic collision. “Strange Courage” is a heavy tune from the beginning, with deep and loud notes and chords gathering pace and volume, and building block by block. The music rings in a strong and resonant fashion, vibrantly pushing a proud and strong message. Chords in space push “It Should Be a Song” down deep as skittish light notes rise up in response creating a broad and ravishing sound. The expansive nature of the piano creates a velvet curtain that hangs across the music which has a scent of classical music within. “Hard as Threads” comes on strong, heavy and fast like a rampage on the keys with hints of Cecil Taylor as Hawkins moves very quickly, developing rapid clusters of notes and swirls of dark low-end. They dynamic gusts of low concussions are the key foundation of this short but excellent piece of music. Light notes of quiet near whimsy are at play on “Tumble Mono” before things slowly grow louder and darker, and Hawkins develops a huge deep pulse, playing hard and heavy as the improvisation evolves. The way the music unfolds on this track shows a great control of narrative flow, taking the listener on a powerful and unpredictable voyage as it emerges. The concluding track “Etude” is a very impressive performance of high-speed technique, as waves of sound move out rapidly creating an anxious feeling, developing an over top pace that is powerful and ends the album with a flourish. Iron Into Wind (Pears From An Elm) -

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