Thursday, May 30, 2019

Matt Mitchell - Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi-Recordings, 2019)

Pianist and composer Matt Mitchell is one of the most in demand figures in modern jazz, making this is fourth disc as a leader for Pi-Recordings in addition to many sideman appearances with the likes of Tim Berne, Caroline Davis and Anna Webber. On this album he has an excellent supporting cast featuring Miles Okazaki on electric guitar, Patricia Brennan on vibes on marimba, Kim Cass on bass and Kate Gentile on drums. The album opens with “Stretch Goal” which has a fast, loud and heavy sound which the group responds to with an elastic and stretchy sensibility that allows them the freedom to move as they please. The taut bass and piano meld with the percussion and shimmering vibes, but the drums become relentless once again and the whole team pulses and thrives in this situation framed by sparks of guitar as the band heads full bore to the finish line. Two short pieces follow, “Taut Pry” developing fast tones and textures revolving around the drums while “Zoom Romp” continues the thought with a slashing, complex rhythm. At nearly sixteen minutes in length, “Phasic Haze Ramps” is the centerpiece of the recording, open at a slower momentum and allowing space for the individual instruments to be heard. The music moves into a fractured concept, with the overall sound coalescing in cascading notes that fall in line and allow a cell of guitar notes to burst over accompanying vibes, splashing color as they go. Percussive piano weaves through the multi hued and multi rhythmic music that courses through a wide range of motifs. The midsection of this complex improvisation is a meeting of the minds on equal footing to hash out ideas, but still woven through with strands of melody creating a unique sound world and aesthetic landscape. “Ssgg” develops a stoic theme, with piano in space interacting with muted bass and drums. The feeling is sad, but then develops further moving forward and building a haunting and graceful movement, with smaller percussion instruments adding further flavor. The full band is present and accounted for on “Be Irreparable” taking a drum focused theme and elaborating on it in an excellent manner, as the instruments swirl and sway opening wide ranges of improvisational possibility, and pulling into a faster overall speed. Even heaver drumming increases the overall potential energy which is finally resolved by the band bursting out into a kaleidoscopic display of color to resolve the performance. Finally, “Mind Aortic Cicatrix” has a slow and gradual buildup with guitar gleaming amidst the percussion and building a framework for crisply played piano and vibes filling out the latticework. Gaining speed and complexity, they music becomes a very compelling group improvisation which takes the performance into even higher territory and ends this excellent album on an authoritative note. Phalanx Ambassadors -

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Sunny Murray - Homework (NoBusiness, 2019)

One of the most revered drummers of the progressive or free jazz movement of the late 1960’s to the present, Sunny Murray came of age in Philadelphia before moving to New York City as a young man. There he cemented his name is jazz history by playing in two of the most groundbreaking ensembles of the era, the early to mid 60’s bands of Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler. Murray freed the drummer from the time keeping role, and allowed the bands he led or collaborated with to be light, nimble and entirely unpredictable. This previously unreleased recording features Murray in the company of Bob Dickie on bass and bass clarinet and Robert Andreano on guitar. Recorded in Philadelphia in 1994, this album received a very limited release (22 copies!)  in 1997 before being remastered in 2019 for this compact disc version. It’s unusual and exciting to hear Murray amidst squalls of electric guitar, but that’s just what you hear on the sprawling opener “Homework” with the guitarist adding a bit of a Sonny Sharrock vibe to the proceedings, while still providing ample room for the textural improvisation Murray was known for, providing sections of quietly probing improvisation. The music moves organically, ebbing and flowing, picking up steam again as they approach the end of the track with deep rolling drums punctuated by cymbal blasts and taut thick bass framing the pointed guitar playing. There is a quieter groove established on “Swell,” patiently building from a hypnotic Murray motif, spare guitar framing and repetitive bass notes, then developing stylish variations on these themes. “Good Things” has Dickie moving to bass clarinet and the band developing a subtle and low toned performance, gradually picking up speed with gales of clarinet and Murray playing all over his kit in a dervish of sound. It’s interesting to follow how they use these bursts of speed and then fall back to more abstract sections, floating around the fulcrum of Andreano’s guitar. The wonderfully titled “Why You Need a Lawyer When Your Pants On Fire” is a feature of the drummer, who is truly at the top of his game, balancing rhythms and tempo using accents to develop textures that are just fascinating to hear. Dancing around the entire drum kit and using the cymbals to create a tactile quality that adds essence to the music, at whatever speed he chooses to play. “Memorial Day” has a strong sound with bowed bass joining the guitar and percussion and mining a rich vein of sound, braiding interwoven threads of music, leading to a powerful collective free improvisation with Dickie moving back to plucked bass and getting an elastic sound that binds the group together, before ending the album with the brief coda “In,” a short snippet of the band playing slash and burn free jazz at full volume and then leaving with a majestic conclusion which is a fitting end to this very interesting album that is justly getting wider recognition with this release. Homework - NoBusiness Bandcamp

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Friday, May 24, 2019

Rodrigo Amado / Chris Corsano - No Place to Fall (Astral Spirits, 2019)

Recorded in Lisbon in July of 2014, this excellent session is finally getting a well deserved release, as a limited edition CD, cassette tape and digital album. Lisbon based tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado is a linchpin of that city’s fertile jazz scene, leading many albums and collaborating with musicians from around the world including American drummer Chris Corsano who has a wide resume playing with luminaries from the jazz and experimental music spheres. “Announcement” opens this album with fast and true free jazz featuring dark toned saxophone and crisp and righteous drumming, sounding like they are tapping into a never ending stream of improvisational possibilities. They double down, getting deep into it, tearing at the musical firmament while at the same time clearly articulating their message of freedom on their instruments. Amado’s tone is cutting and true, able to cleave through the gales of percussion that Corsano conjures while accenting the music with well placed sharp squeals, both of them showing excellent stamina to relentlessly drive this tune to the finish line without fail. The title track, “No Place to Fall,” stretches out from some initial probing honks and squeaks, with Amado launching piercing long tones and guttural asides in equal measure. Corsano launches in after a few minutes, driving the music into a thrilling collective improvisation of shimmering drums and dark and powerful tenor saxophone locked in real time creation. The music accelerates to a relentless peak of excitement, with each musician pushing the other on to reach newer heights with brutal and pummeling drums cascading around the saxophone and receiving top flight playing in response, pushing for transcendence and delivering a spellbinding performance. “Into the Valley” opens the the musicians in sync together playing at a medium up tempo, allowing the music to flex in a strong and supple manner. The sound grows deeper and richer as the volume and speed of the performance increases, creating a powerhouse sense of unity where each musician and instrument is an extension of the other, and their improvisations are seemingly flowing from a shared synaptic link. They downshift to a more open almost bluesier section that suits their sound well, and also serves as an excellent launching pad when they decide to take to the skies with an uproarious and cacophonous section of this continuous improvisation. This album worked very well as a whole and it is clear that Amado and Corsano were well matched and made the most of their encounter. Hopefully they will be able to get together soon and pick up where they left off, creating excellent and exciting music. No Place to Fall - Astral Spirits Records

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sam Rivers Trio - Emanation (NoBusiness, 2019)

NoBusiness Records is inaugurating a series of releases by the great multi-instrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers with this album, recorded on June 3, 1971 at the Jazz Workshop in Boston. Rivers cycles through his full complement of instruments: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano in the company of Cecil McBee on bass and Norman Connors on drums. They play one seventy-six minute collective improvisation that is split into two parts on the title track “Emanation” with Rivers beginning on tenor saxophone, at first unaccompanied but soon joined by the rhythm team in fast and free interplay. The music is strident and exciting with the leader playing his instrument in a coarse and powerful manner, while still allowing shorter and more melodic sections to shine through, supported by Connors crashing drumming and McBee's subtle bass playing which create an excellent atmosphere for collective improvisation. McBee is featured in a lengthy and well articulated bass solo showing fluid and graceful technique, with Rivers returning on flute, skipping in a nimble fashion across the surface of the music of deft cymbal play and taut bass. This section of the album is played in a lighter and more delicate manner with the exquisite flute and bass (bowed and plucked) at times met by heavy handed drumming. Rivers moves to piano, creating music that is influenced by the Cecil Taylor Unit, whom he was a member of from 1969-71. His piano is rich and colorful, flowing with ideas and drama and creating a space for dynamic group improvisation as Connors adds bells to further the texture with McBee's swirling bowed bass bringing the initial track to a beautiful conclusion. “Emanation Part 2” Opens with Rivers on soprano saxophone, showing a wonderful exotic tinged tone as the bass and percussion fold into the music. They establish a tight connection and then lift off into a very fast paced performance, with McBee's bass as the anchor and Rivers and Connors shifting their volume and speed around it, even developing some interesting funky motifs at times, creating one of their longest sections at over twenty minutes. Rivers shifts back to flute, with the group at a medium tempo, soon building to a quick and nimble swirling improvisation that is very impressive to hear, with shimmering cymbals and fleet fingered bass supporting his excellent flute playing. He incorporates a slide whistle or a piccolo along with loud vocalizations, taking the music in an entirely new and unexpected direction, before returning once again to piano. Wide ranging chords and open ended notes create a wide soundstage for the final section of the performance, adding thundering chords and vocal screams and bellows from all three members of the group as they conclude this remarkable performance. Emanation - NoBusiness Records

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Joel Ross - KingMaker (Blue Note, 2019)

Vibraphonist Joel Ross broke through in 2018, playing in well regarded albums by the likes of Makaya McCraven and Walter Smith III, before releasing his debut album this year. This is a strong modern mainstream outing which also features Harish Raghavan on bass, Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Jeremy Corren on piano, Benjamin Tiberio on bass, and Jeremy Dutton on drums. "Prince Lynn's Twin" has a gentle opening, with a spacious and soft full band sound, bouncing up about a minute in to ripe full band playing. They develop a medium tempo featuring an interesting rhythm with vibes and percussion interweaving, aligning with rippling piano and taut bass. Ross solos, achieving a confident metallic tone that is crisply played, leading to an interesting section where the vibes sounding nimble and fast, trade phrases with the saxophone at high speed over tight bass and drums support. A yearning mid-tempo melody, "The Struggle Against Fear" develops haunting piano and feather light drums, along with vibes which have a crystalline quality, and saxophone sounding skittish and anxious, all of which add to the emotional quality of the performance. Ross' vibes have a sharper sound, playing fast as the band builds to an waxing and waning emotional feeling. "Ill Relations" ushers in a light toned theme from the group, but one that is nimble and quick in step, because the musicians can shift very quickly, in tempo or overall feeling, with Ross adding flurries of notes, then stepping back for the others to add their thoughts. Melding stronger drums and blustery saxophone with replies of lightning fast vibes in a call and response manner keeps the music moving briskly before downshifting to feature thick resonant bass which drives the group hard to the conclusion of the piece.There is a fast vibes led theme on "Is It Love That Inspires You?" with tight bass and drums in a nimble trio setting, developing a complex improvisation that is very interesting to hear. They are playing at a very fast speed and improvising on rhythmic interactions, allowing for freer drum play, soloing at length with hints of vibes, and the trio coming together for a fast finish. "KingMaker" Builds slowly with Ross' vibes resonating for a change instead of having that hard metallic sound, taking the band into a medium tempo setting, gradually building up emotion with the saxophone adding squalls of stark sound juxtaposed against the cleaner vibes and piano. The music sways nicely from melodic to deeply improvisational and clears space for solo features and an inspired full band conclusion. This was a strong debut from a talented musician; Blue Note has a history of breaking top flight vibes payers from Bobby Hutcherson to Stefon Harris, so hopefully they will provide Ross with the same well deserved support. KingMaker -

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Teodross Avery - After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane (Tompkins Square, 2019)

Saxophonist Teodross Avery was one of the “young lions” who made a big splash in the early 1990's recording a couple of albums for Impulse before lending his horn to a number of hip hop stars then turning to academia. His return to acoustic jazz is a very impressive one, playing music by or associated with John Coltrane in the company of Adam Shulman on piano, Jeff Chambers on bass and Darrell Green on drums. The opening track, “Blues Minor” has a classic diamond hard post bop sound, with a crisp melody launching into improvisation. Backed by bounding bass, Avery's dark raw tenor saxophone tone punches hard into atmospheric squeals of fiendish intensity, framed by heavy swinging drums and piano comping. Midway there is a shift to the rhythm section featuring tight piano, bass and gentler drums, followed by an exciting section of saxophone trading phrases with drums, then the band returning to the melody to conclude the performance. “Bakai” has a raw unaccompanied saxophone opening, before the group collapses into the rhythmic theme with excellent percussion meeting passionate saxophone playing to construct a firm foundation for this lengthy exploration. The group led by Avery builds a strong and majestic improvised statement, scaling higher and higher, then breaking out for an intricate trio section, and a thunderous drum solo. Avery returns for the remainder of the tune restating the melody, and guiding them in for a safe landing. There is another hard charging opening on “Afro Blue” with Avery playing soprano saxophone over some wonderfully heaving rhythm playing, featuring superb interplay between the piano, bass and drums. The swirling, exotically tinged saxophone returns leading to an intense collective improvisation with Avery like a whirling dervish playing in a trance of speed and excitement. The haunting ballad “After the Rain” is played with restraint, Avery returning to tenor saxophone with a deep enveloping tone, and patient, spacious rhythm framing of bowed bass gentle piano notes and cymbals. “Africa” is an epic with a foundation of strong bass and drums, and deep tenor saxophone and percussive piano, creating a powerhouse sound that drives forward leaning into stoic bowed bass and deeply honed tenor saxophone creating a wonderful sound, and the band is just playing lights out. Strong piano playing leads the rhythm section into their feature, a memorable one with deeply felt bass and deft cymbal play keeping the pace quick, and including a stellar bowed bass feature. “Pursuance” is taken at light speed with a short saxophone intro torrential outpouring of piano, bass and drums. Avery weaves in and out of the performance, playing very fast and articulating very well at high speed, then driving the band full bore including an excellent drum solo in a thrilling performance that encapsulates all of their energies on this excellent recording. After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane -

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Sun Ra - Space is the Place: Music for the Film (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2019)

In the early 1970's Sun Ra and the Arkestra were quite popular on the west coast, playing many gigs in California and points beyond and this culminated in two cultural landmarks. The University of California was under enormous pressure to diversify its classes and this led to Ra being given the opportunity to teach the course entitled Black Man in the Cosmos, the other was the Oakland based production of a feature film entitled Space is the Place. Most of the music on this album (originally released by Evidence in 1993) was not heard in the finished movie except in short clips, and confusingly, there is music in the film which is not on this album. Regardless, it is a crackling album, recorded at an unidentified San Francisco studio in early 1972 with the band in full flight, playing some of Ra's most well known tunes and some new classics as well. This is a fine edition of the Arkestra with Ra armed with a battery of electronic keyboards, and flanked by lifers Marshall Allen on alto saxophone, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone and June Tyson on vocals. Tyson is really the linchpin here acting not only as a foil to the instrumentalists, but leading the band on their "space age chants" like "Outer Spaceways Incorporated," "Satellites are Spinning," and "Space is the Place." There are a couple of excellent blowouts for the instrumentalists as well, "Blackman/Love In Outer Space" opens with Tyson singing a call to arms followed by an intense interlude of free jazz and percussion. A battery of percussion also fuels the exciting "Watusa" before opening into a fine Gilmore solo. This is a fascinating album, and one of the key records Sun Ra made in the seventies, touching on all of his high points, lyrical melodies, science fiction chants, and exploratory free jazz. Dabblers can dismiss the film and music as afro-futurist, blaxploitation camp at their own peril. Many of the themes in the film and the music that was recorded around the time of the filming were ones that Ra had been repeating for decades. The themes of discipline and self reliance, the understanding of the person as part of a greater whole have been part of the Arkestra message since the 1950's. They are given a particularly powerful boost in this case by the superb arrangements, ensemble playing and soloing. Space is the Place: Music for the Film -

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Sun Ra - Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (Cosmic Myth Records, 2019)

While the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was primarily known as a bandleader who much like Duke Ellington "played the orchestra" in terms of writing and arranging, it is also clear that when it came to the piano he was a formidable player. This contemporary re-release pulls together all of the solo recordings that Sun Ra made for his Saturn Label in 1966 and were later released piecemeal over the years. It's a fascinating collection in which to hear with Ra hinting at piano styles ranging from stride to free, as well as the manner in which he builds his compositions and then reconstructs them via improvisation. On "World Island Festival" he has a clear and patient approach, allowing the notes and chords to ring, developing a loping theme that is pleasant, balancing bright notes against darker bass chords, then allowing everything to meld together. Developing a medium up pace, Ra deftly builds from the source material into an interesting improvisation, never staying still, always evolving the texture and pace of the music in interesting ways. Open space greets "Calundronius" with some lush and nearly ornamental playing that gains a deeper and more entrenched momentum, expanding things and moving in unexpected directions. There is a narrative depth to this performance like Ra is performing in conjunction to a silent movie or theater play, he gives the music weight and heft and a visceral presence. Developing areas of fast cascading notes, with rumbling bass beneath them and creating a kaleidoscopic two handed performance that carries on to the conclusion. "Space Towers" has a bouncing heavy chord introduction, developing the sound of the music even further, building a very intense, emotional quality with thick booming low end piano, and quick repetitive phrases, that are folded into his improvisation. This strong manner of playing is continued on "Cognition" melding the sound of the recording to his will and developing a thoughtful arc from composition to improvisation sounding very free, using clipped notes from the highest part of the piano. Experimental opportunities present themselves as the music flows ever deeper into the unknown, with Ra investigating life through the medium of the piano, with the results ever changing, and never quite what they seem to be. "Monorails and Satellites" probes the available space, with deep thick notes that are firmly placed, and gradually gather momentum, maintaining the clarity and focus of the piece even as he begins to deconstruct it. Ra diligently moves forward creating a fast complex improvisation that uses the entirety of the instrument and draws on substantial technique as a pianist and as a musical thinker, using bursts of notes and unexpected pauses to create a living performance, completely of the moment. Monorails and Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vol. 1 2 3 -

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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Kuzu - Hilajiasuus (Aerophonic/Astral Spirits, 2019)

Kuzu is a wonderful free jazz band consisting of Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Tashi Dorji on guitar and Tyler Damon on drums and percussion. Damon and Dori have toured widely together over the past few years forming a tight bond, and the adding powerful horn style of Rempis to the mix pushes this music to the next level. The massive thirty-minute improvisation “Fontanelles 1 and 2” begins gradually, with spare echoing strums of guitar and then the full trio comes together and begins to take flight. Long tones of strong saxophone playing and massive high pitched squeals are met with cymbal crashes and fragmented guitar chords, creating a fraught but fascinating texture. The waves of intensity will wax and wane, but never for long as scalding feedback from the guitar and pummeling drums meet torrid squalls of saxophone in a very exciting and excoriating free improvisation that surely peeled the paint from whatever building they were recording in. The music has a stark sheer quality, as if everything that was inessential has been shorn from the music leaving only the core, transmitting morse code like sounds into the void and then following up with a pummeling bursts of sharp, piercing, and biting sounds, chopped guitar and tribal percussion with jets of high velocity saxophone billowing outward at relativistic speeds, creating a collective free improvisation of otherworldly wonder. Throughout the long performance there are cells of quiet, where bells can be heard against soft horns, with spare guitar notes shooting off into the distance, these provide context for the sections of the performance that channel pure energy. Excellent percussion is built past the twenty-minute mark, a complex but exciting rhythm that pulls in the saxophone and guitar and sets up a very exciting improvisation, where everybody is really bringing it with massive clanging guitar sounds, hypersonic percussion and scalding hot saxophone playing. The movement and progression of the improvisation is relentlessly forward, played in the most uncompromising manner. The second and final track is “Gash” which keeps the energy level high, with lean shards of guitar and bellowing saxophone performing an intricate dance, as ominous rumbling percussion and bells are felt underneath. They dig into this fertile soil deeply, playing music that is gradually built to a raw and harrowing all out free jazz imposition that is thrilling to behold, with scouring saxophone, crushing drumming and scorching guitar playing all taking place simultaneously, and then cruising to an excellent finish. This was an excellent album, free jazz played at the highest level by a group of like minded musicians with no egos involved. The music flows organically, in a stream of pure sound. Hiljaisuus - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Monday, May 06, 2019

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord - Harder on the Outside (Hot Cup, 2019)

Harder on the Outside is the ninth album by guitarist Jon Lundbom and his band Big Five Chord, featuring Justin Wood on alto and soprano saxophones, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto! saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. The album was recorded live in studio in New Jersey during the summer of 2018, marking Big Five Chord’s fifteen year anniversary as a band. The opener “People Be Talking” has squalls of windy saxophone evoking the title of the album, as the instruments thrust and parry making statements and asking questions. Lundbom's guitar solos over subtle bass and drumming with a quieter neon hued tone that glides through the music in a nimble fashion. There is a slow and guarded opening to “Basic Bitches” before one of the saxophones breaks out to take a raw solo over elastic bass and a bare drum pulse. Honking, burbling and dealing some raw funk, the horn's guttural drawl gives way to the guitar, whose solo develops and builds faster over tight bass and drums, never sounding flashy, yet seriously impressive as he really digs into a deep earthy groove. “Prednisone” shows the band swirling colorfully at medium tempo over a basic beat. After a saxophone probes the setting, Lundbom emerges, employing a much rougher and rockier tone to his guitar than before, using a grinding texture though a cool sounding fusionish solo accompanied by crushing drums and thick bass. One of the jazzier tunes on the album, “Booberonic” has a twin saxophone theme with the horns intertwining in a complex fashion, and the band improvising well with a tight, rippling saxophone solo with guitar comping and bass and drums simmering. Things get a little wilder with the guitar feature, beginning with sharp edged notes and developing through a fast and hard solo that really puts the boot in. “Fussing Blues” is a fast and hard full band free improvisation that is very exciting to hear, with snarling guitar and rending horns really tearing into their sound, reminiscent of the legendary band Last Exit at times. It is a short and sweet, almost punk like performance that is collective improvisation at its thrilling finest. Funky drums and slow saxophones build up “Three Plus” with guitar breaks adding a slinky tone to the proceedings, as the saxophones add fire by climbing in ascending patterns. Lundbom's guitar is slow and patient building to a strong statement of his own, placing each of his notes with care and and developing an epic solo framed by the channel carved by the rhythm team. Harder on the Outside -

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Sunday, May 05, 2019

Baba Andrew Lamb Trio - The Night of the 13th Moon (LFDS Records, 2019)

Saxophonist Baba Andrew Lamb led this excellent and exciting album accompanied by Yoram Rosillo on bass and Rafael Koerner on drums. Recorded live in Paris in June of 2018 the group played two sets of highly charged and stimulating free jazz beginning with "Set 1 A" which opens with subtle drumming and cymbal playing, before the bass player and saxophonist enter enter creating a sound that is strong and supple. They gradually pick up speed to a fast and powerful free jazz improvisation, playing in a vigorous and robust fashion, really hitting their stride with brilliant saxophone and deep rhythm. The group downshifts and Lamb sits out to give the bassist and drummer space for an intricate feature before returning with long held notes that call out and build an emotional solo statement which engages with his partners and drives for the finish line in an exciting manner. "Set 1 B" Opens with a long bass solo, and Rosillo plays with a great tone and control, soon aided by the drummer Koerner who adds further texture expanding the rhythmic base and providing a firm foundation for Lamb who enters several minutes in, bringing all of the disparate threads of the music together for a fine three way improvisation. He digs in deep and really sets out to explore the available territory, taking nothing for granted, soloing over fast and complex drums and bass and developing a collective improvisation at a very high level, as the saxophone and windswept rhythm sound unstoppable. Saxophone and rhythm churn right out of the gate on the finale, "Set 2 A," creating a very exciting performance. Their speed is very fast and the group tears through a complex improvisation with ease as Lamb's saxophone breathes fire and the percussion dances on cymbals and the bass stretches to accommodate all. As the improvisation reaches its peak, Lamb reaches for the upper register of his horn in a thrilling manner, then repeating small cells of notes to gather energy and burst out into another energetic and original solo. This album worked very well, and it is very inspiring to hear musicians courageous enough explore music to in its most raw and unfettered format, performing live and free without a net. Night of the 13th Moon - LFDS Records Bandcamp

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Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - We are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi-Recordings, 2019)

This is a double album commemorating the foundation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and their groundbreaking trip to Paris to perform and record in 1969. Only two of the original members remain, multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Famoudou Don Moye, but on this album they are joined by a excellent group of fifteen fellow musicians who share the Art Ensemble’s principles. The music is jazz, certainly, but cut with contemporary classical, rhythm and blues, minimalism and world music, and this is especially brought to the fore on the title track “We Are on the Edge” where a spare and open beginning evolves into repetitive strings and the poetry of Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) who has a wonderful voice, laying down declarative statements that fit in well with the music. She is also key to the following track “I Greet You with Open Arms,” developing a narrative about freedom and unity in the face of adversity that is well framed by the dramatic and skittish backdrop provided by the strings and percussion with occasional brass and reeds. “Chi Congo 50” is the centerpiece of the first disc, evolving from a patient opening section into a wonderful collective improvisation for hand percussion and flutes. This massive percussive eruption is bound by excellent bass playing, that carries the group onward and captures this large version of the ensemble at their best, pulling together a summation of their history and conception as a unit. “Saturday Morning” also uses the strength of the percussion section to excellent effect, building to an improvisation that is akin to something the Sun Ra Arkestra may have developed, interwoven with strengthening threads of bass. Moor returns on “Mama Koko” where her spoken word soloing is accompanied by spiritual sounding flute and drums. Her lyrics are quite moving, as she speaks about the search for lost names and meaning leaning into aspects of afro-futurism while gentle percussion bubbles. Disc two consists of a live recording from the 2018 Edgefest, in Ann Arbor, Michigan and begins with a very long classically tinged piece “We are on the Edge/Cards” before moving into the quite beautiful “Oasis at Dusk.” This performance features alluring drums and percussion along with basses and other strummed instruments and flutes developing and exotic atmosphere. The music echoes throughout the concert hall, developing a voice like quality, building to a spirited flute and bass duet, and then a fine section for flute, percussion and bass framed by nimble strings. The cascading percussion of “Chi-Congo 50” leads into the epic “Tutankhamun” building from flute (Nicole Mitchell is an absolute superstar on this recording) and drums framed by riffing horns and tight bass, leading to nimbly plucked bass and cellos as the long performance takes on a suite like structure with improvisational cells opening up for moaning and chirping strings and expressive saxophones. “Mama Koto” balances sampled voices with mbira and trumpet over a light drumbeat, demonstrating that the group has always had its ear to the ground for worldwide sounds that could be incorporated into its mission statement of “great black music, ancient to the future.” Massive and loudly played percussion usher in “Saturday Morning” yoked together with thick bass, and horns which fall in for an epic free collective improvisation that makes for an exuberant performance. Roscoe Mitchell leads the group out with band introductions and and concluding statement of “Odwalla/Theme” which returns the group back to nearly the beginning. Although this celebrates the past, the music found here is no victory lap, and looks clearly toward the future. By inviting members of different generations of musicians influenced by the group to take part in this project, the surviving members are assured that the influence of the Art Ensemble of Chicago will reach far into the future. We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration -

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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Seamus Blake - Guardians Of The Heart Machine (Whirlwind Recordings, 2019)

Saxophonist Seamus Blake has had an extensive career which has included collaborations with well known jazz musicians and the recording of eight albums as a leader. This album places Balke in the company of some younger, up and coming French musicians: Tony Tixier on piano, Florent Nisse on bass and Gautier Garrigue on drums. The group toured through France and Spain and then recorded their album in Paris, combining elements of European and American styles of jazz in Blake's compositions. The opening title track "Guardians of the Heart Machine" builds gradually, with the rhythm team setting the pace and then Blake entering and patiently taking the music onto higher planes of improvisation. After leaving room for the trio to retrench, Blake plants his feet and firmly delivers an exciting and well articulated saxophone solo that moves through a logical narrative and makes for an excellent opening performance. "Sneaky D" also builds a strong melodic statement, joining forces with his rhythm section to create quite a thematic earworm. Percussive piano with crisp bass and drums keep things moving, with Blake returning to present a robust and steely toned tenor saxophone solo of his own, stretching out and really making his voice heard. The ballad "I'm OK" is quite beautiful and haunting, with Blake showing great restraint in using the the space to solo in an graceful manner. The rest of the band is up to the task as well with fine brushed percussion and dignified piano and bass playing. "Lanota" gets things moving quickly again, with a fast paced collective exploration right out of the gate. Blake is at his freeist here, opening up over bass and drums to a wide ranging and investigative saxophone solo, with quick flourishes of notes darting up and down the instrument. This is followed by an interesting samba, "Betty in Rio" which has some well played percussion setting Blake up for some wonderful sounding saxophone, where he achieves a bright and sunny tone that swoops and sways majestically in an splendid manner. Tixler provides excellent support, framing and trading sections with the leader, before uncorking Garrigue for a taut drum solo before everyone returns together for a dramatic and swinging conclusion. This was a very solid modern mainstream jazz album, Blake's themes and solos were fresh and interesting and his new French colleagues proved to be quite impressive. Playing with younger musicians and developing a cross cultural exchange can only enhance the music, so hopefully this will be a trend that continues. Guardians Of The Heart Machine -

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