Sunday, June 30, 2019

Steve Baczkowski / Brandon Lopez / Chris Corsano - Old Smoke (Relative Pitch, 2019)

This album is the result of the powerful trio consisting of Steve Baczkowski on saxophones, Brandon Lopez on bass, and Chris Corsano on drums performing live in Buffalo, New York during 2018. Over the course of several tight collective conversations they move confidently as the music dynamically shifts between torrid free jazz improvisations and sections that are constrained and reserved in feeling and technique. The opening performance is “Iron Ore” and they use this fuel to stoke their fire right off, developing a tense three way conversation with harsh and grating saxophone that is capable of getting a really withering and deep sound meeting thick edgy bass and booming drums playing in a dramatic fashion. They spool the improvisation outward without a hitch, keeping the excitement level high, before slowing as the trio moves into the following track, “Blast Furnace.” Building quieter and more ominous long tones from bowed bass and saxophone, the group creates drones that evolve hypnotically as the drums join edging the volume ever higher, devolving to solo bowed bass finale. “Bend in the Shore” has a spare and abstract beginning, with the instruments interacting quietly, before dropping into a fast paced trance inducing collective improvisation with rattling drums, elastic bass and saxophone that plays in rips and tears. There's an exotic reed tone to “Open Hearth” that is bracing, and gives the music a new sound, urged on by fast and compelling bass and drums, and lending a mesmerizing Middle Eastern shamanistic quality to the whole performance. Smears of disorienting sound are present in “Slag Heap” where bowed bass, flurries of percussion and massive gales of saxophone soon hit their stride in a powerful improvised section, one that has the group developing a multi layered sound environment that is very impressive. “Steel Wind” opens with a propulsive drum solo, evolving into a section of raw saxophone and drums in constant motion, playing at high volume and speed, creating a collective identity of sheer unadulterated power and providing free jazz overdrive at its most compelling. After a strong and physical bass solo, percussion joins in light but manic, along with weeping Ayler like saxophone, continuing into “Smoke Creek” which sounds like a Spiritual Unity outtake, with raw saxophone joined by rolling bass and drums driving hard and fast on this short coda like finale. The crucible of this music melts down the three members individual approaches to sound into a unified group path that is an unstoppable force. They harnessed this force to create one of the most compelling free jazz albums of the year so far. Old Smoke -

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Friday, June 28, 2019

OGJB Quartet - Bamako (TUM Records, 2019)

This collective of four improvisers with lifetimes of experience takes their acronym from their first names: Oliver Lake on alto saxophone, Graham Haynes on cornet, Joe Fonda on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums. They are well known as bandleaders and collaborators who push the limits of modern jazz, and each member of the group brings decades of experience to this recording. Opening with "Listen to Dr. Cornel West," dedicated to the author and activist, there is a dramatic opening, with the full band playing fast and loose, delving into a free sounding collective improvisation, getting a wonderful Ornette on Atlantic kind of feeling, before a lengthy bass solo emerges, ranging far and wide. The full band reconvenes, playing with a lighter touch and allowing sunlight in, leading to a strong section featuring cornet and swinging cymbal heavy drumming. The saxophone and bass come back in for a restatement of the theme and gradual glide to the finish line. "Be Out S'Cool" has sparks flying from the beginning, with a complex rhythm developing from the bass and drums, and Haynes gamely building a solo statement along side. Lake comes in with a raw and vibrant sound all his own, punctuating his feature with deep growls and high pitched bleats, using the full range of his horn to excellent effect. The horns burst loose on "Stick" with bowed bass and tight percussion, developing into a churning, roiling collective improvisation that is very exciting to hear. The music is very passionate with layers of percussion and long tones of bowed bass and swooping and diving horns. There is a more patient exploration based mode to "GS #2" with deft playing on the cymbals and collaborative horns building the tension. Lake's ripe and original sounding alto saxophone emerges to solo over medium tempo accompaniment, carving his way through a short statement leading back to the full band including someone adding whistle to liven things even further. "OGJB #2" is one of two spontaneous collective improvisations that end the album, starting out spaciously as they probe the openness, patiently developing the music and allowing it to breathe. The music flows naturally, with no one instrument forcing the issue, and everyone listening intently to one another. They burst into flame half way through the performance, developing a torrid free collective improvisation that is very exciting to listen to, leading to a frantic and exciting conclusion. This is the very model of a democratic group, with all four musicians respectfully leaving plenty of room for the others to react and respond in their own way towards resolving each composition or improvisation. Bamako -

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Be Known Ancient/Future/Music (Spiritmuse Records, 2019)

Kahil El’Zabar began the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble over forty years ago, showcasing the wealth of talent on the Chicago music scene. The most current version of the group features  El’Zabar on drums, percussion, voice and composition, Corey Wilkes on trumpet and percussion, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone and Ian Maksin on cello. Combining jazz with African rhythms and percussive instruments gives the group its unique sound. "Little Sunflower - Percussion (For Freddie Hubbard)" features hand percussion and processional horns, sounding nicely layered as they develop a strong theme with along side scatted vocals. Nicely articulated trumpet and baritone sax mesh well with crisp percussion, creating a fine sound, developing into a baritone solo over percussion and chanting wordless vocals, giving the performance a hypnotic vibe, and the trumpet rejoins, appropriate for a Hubbard tribute as Wilkes plays with reverent spirit. Paying tribute to another great baritone saxophone player, "Blew It (For Hamiet Bluiett)" develops from crisp drumset playing and taut cello, with horn section riffing and setting up a fine propulsive melody. Baritone saxophone breaks out with a rich and lively solo, tearing at the fabric of the music with strongly swinging cello and drums providing ample support. A bowed cello solo enters, adding further texture, sounding lively and supple, leading to an excellent cello and drums interlude. Wilkes spirited trumpet joins the fray, adding quick bursts of color, leading the fill group back together for the conclusion of the piece. "Black is Back" mines a vein of deep and heavy hand percussion and cello with horns easing in, adding some scatted vocalese and baritone saxophone, and strong using a beat from a woodblock, they develop a fascinating sound. Bright and fresh trumpet arcs across the sky completing the sound, which is wide and proudly fresh, their collective improvisation draws deep from the well of jazz history, and also looks forward into the future of music. Percussion and plucked and bowed cello frame the vocals and scatting, echoing the title of the song as a mantra. Eddie Harris' classic "Freedom Jazz Dance" gets a fresh coat of paint, with some strong drumset playing and Wilkes intoning the familiar melody. They group riffs hard, building up momentum with the horns making grand statements and El’Zabar swinging mightily from behind the drumset while Maksin adds a wonderful sense of color sawing on the cello creating an expressive solo feature. This was a well done and accomplished album, and the most recent version of the EHE proves themselves to be a most accomplished band. With well written compositions and excellent performances they deserve to be heard widely and will hopefully gain an audience. Be Known Ancient/Future/Music -

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Henry Kaiser / Anthony Pirog / Tracy Silverman / Jeff Sipe / Andy West - Five Times Surprise (Cuneiform, 2019)

Prolific guitarist and recording artist Henry Kaiser is not one to let a good thing go to waste and when series of precipitous meetings led to the opportunity to make an album, he jumped at the chance. Pulling together a high octane group to explore the netherworld between jazz fusion and progressive rock, the band includes Kaiser on guitars and effects, Anthony Pirog on guitar, Andy West on bass, Tracy Silverman on violin and Jeff Sipe on drums. It's a lengthy and muscular album, a treat for electric guitar aficionados and those who appreciate the intricate nature of their craft. The music ranges from the powerhouse take no prisoners fusion of "Haboob" where the two guitars go for broke, taking as much ground as they can in tandem and in combat, like a couple of fighter pilots showing off everything they and their machines can do. "Slicer" throws a head fake, starting slowly before turning in its heel and going into overdrive with science fiction affects and snarling attitude to spare. Starting in the form of a ballad, "Earthshine" grows heavier by the minute as the guitars beat out sparks and bursts out long tones amid the dynamic shifts. "Twenty Four Liars" layers the strings in a manner that is quite effective, with thick bass and varying tones of guitar and violin, sending flashy coded messages that twist and grind, finally dropping into a spacier proggy section abutted by a drum solo. There's some great bass playing underpinning "Why Starfish, Why?" as jabbing guitars trade phrases that are short and scrappy, split into the two stereo channels as the drums carve right down the middle. At less than three and a half minutes, its one of the shortest tracks on the album and one of the most memorable. The album closer, "Maneki Neko" is jacked up to manic speed at takeoff, with taut bass and lightning fast drumming in support before the long track moves into a dynamic suite like formation of wide open ambient soundscapes with drums filling in, to burnout all-in areas for scratching violin and scathing guitars. Actually, that's not quite the end, there's also a bonus track that’s available to people who purchase the album directly and is also a part of the digital release. “Twilight of the Space Gods” is a forty minute long-form instrumental experiment, a performance with more jagged shifts in tone and volume and yet more hedonistic guitar playing. Five Times Surprise - Cuneiform Records Bandcamp

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit - April is the Cruellest Month (Blank Forms, 2019)

This album has a fascinating history: Masayuki Takayanagi, who began his career as a straight ahead jazz guitarist in the 1950’s before turning to free jazz and then uncategorizable free improvisation in the 1960’s and 1970’s was contracted to record an album in 1975 by the infamous ESP-Disk label. But the label went bankrupt before releasing it, and it only saw the light as a Japan only release in 1991. This remastered version should finally get the attention it deserves, because it is a walloping album combining the freest jazz, nascent noise rock and excellent musicality into a thirty seven minute sucker punch. Takayanagi’s New Direction Unit featured Kengi Mori on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Nobuyoshi Inoon on bass and cello and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums and percussion. Opening with “We Have Existed” with scraping cello and skittish percussion, adding flute and sheer breezes of guitar the group creates a strange and compelling landscape of sound. Scratching guitar and sawing cello develop a marked contrast to the soaring flute, as the drums roll between them. They create a fully formed performance from these elements, free but not too outre, with almost chamber like in some qualities. "What Have We Given" becomes louder with bass clarinet, thrashing percussion, bowed bass and guitar feedback. They weave in abstraction, crashing cymbals, clanging guitar, raising the volume and leaving Mori straining to be heard. Melding into a strong collective improvisation, wielding the volume like a tactile substance, before moving into the towering epic "My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart." This is just simply stunning, the speed and power of the group is astonishing, and Takayanagi's guitar relinquishes all ties to any past alliances and absolutely shreds in a manner it's hard to imagine anyone save Sonny Sharrock or Pete Cosey were approaching in 1975. Mori moves to alto saxophone and tries to get a word in edgewise breaking through occasionally, but it's only Yamazaki's manic drumming that can keep pace with the onslaught. Their collective improvisation is a thing of savage, overwhelming beauty, performed at a speed and volume that must be heard to be believed. There is depth and texture within the noise, gradations of sound and granularity in the way that it pummels into you so relentlessly, leading to a stark beauty that only true freedom can provide. April Is the Cruellest Month -

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Moppa Elliott - Jazz Band / Rock Band / Dance Band (Hot Cup, 2019)

This is an audacious and successful project from bassist, composer and arranger Moppa Elliott, leading three bands on this triple album, all linked with high energy playing and top notch performing from the musicians involved. Elliott explores aspects of his musical personality that have only been hinted at in past releases, beginning with disc one, Jazz Band. “Oreland” develops a funky and soulful hard bop groove, with some free ranging brass over bouncing piano and drums. This is followed up by a strong and architecturally sound tenor saxophone solo and the rhythm section itself getting a chance to expand on the source material. They also set a strutting style to “St. Mary's Proctor” with an excellent syncopated groove and New Orleans feeling, as the horns orbit around the kinetic drumming. "Punxsutawney" and "Stone Hill" epitomize the Rock Band side of the equation found on the second disc, adding some booting saxophone to snarling electric guitar and pounding drums. Of course there is much more at play than some kind of Boots Randolph meets modern jazz, and it's Elliott's bass that is able to yoke these disparate elements together. The concluding disc, Dance Band, brings the intricate improvisation based sounds of the jazz band with the brashness of the rock band. So it is his arrangements that are the secret weapon here, allowing tracks like "Sparks" and "Bangor" to pack a large amount of musical information into compact nuggets, with powerful swinging rhythms and memorable themes. This collection worked very well overall, showing Elliott's multifaceted nature, equally comfortable performing overlapping genres, and creating an overarching narrative that exceeds the sum of it's already excellent parts. Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band -

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet - John Coltrane 50th Memorial Concert At Cafe Oto (Confront, 2019)

Over the past several years British saxophonist Paul Dunmall has taken a deep dive into the music of John Coltrane, particularly the freer or more avant garde music that he recorded toward the end of his life. For this album he formed a group to interpret the music of the Coltrane album Sun Ship, which was recorded in 1965, but released posthumously in 1971. The music was recorded live at Cafe OTO in London on July 17, 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane’s passing. Opening the album is the trio of Danish flutist Julie Kjær with two drummers, Mark Wastell and Ståle Liavik Solberg, taking inspiration from the from the 1967 Coltrane album Expression on "May There Be Peace and Love" beginning with a mantra of Coltrane's own recorded voice, leading into the trio who builds a beautifully imaginative lengthy improvisation. The concert may be dedicated to Coltrane, but it is the spirit of his confederate and dear friend Eric Dolphy who receives equal homage in this performance. After a much deserved round of applause, the opening group takes a bow and the core Sun Ship Quartet is introduced, containing Paul Dunmall and Howard Cottle on tenor saxophone, Olie Brice on bass and Tony Bianco on drums. They open their performance with "Amen" relishing in the freedom offered by the composition, further opened by their decision to have a second saxophonist instead of a pianist. Diving in fearlessly to the brief theme, and then a seething saxophone emerges to solo over roiling bass and drums. The volume and passion of the music is high and the emotion and excitement is palpable. The second saxophone has a darker and heavier tone, mining the depths of the massive pocket hewn by the bass and drums, placing the emphasis on group sound and collaboration. The urgent theme of “Sun Ship” is like a clarion call for their most unique approach to melody and rhythm, with Dunmall’s raw and scouring saxophone slashing brilliantly though a towering thicket of bass and drums. There is an intricate percussion solo, before the saxophones take hold of the sound again ripping at the very fabric of the music. After a set break, tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore joins the quartet, for a massive version of “Attaining.” Opened by a deft bass solo, leading to a strong section of steely saxophone interaction with crisp bass and drums, slowly easing the out toward the outer limits, handing off to a higher pitched saxophone who glides over the heavy Elvin like drumming, then slyly quoting the theme from A Love Supreme before moving into a more abstract direction. The three saxophone front line works well adding squalls and gales to abut the imperturbable rhythm section. The full ensemble including the opening group comes together for the encore of John Coltrane’s towering “Ascension,” playing quite grandly. Stating the short theme, and then stretching out from there into a massive group improvisation, and some wonderfully coherent solos emerge, especially from the flute and saxophones. The group keeps it short and sweet, reeling the music back into an introduction of the musicians, humble thanks to Coltrane and conclusion. This was a wonderful album, played throughout with compassion and dignity, ferocious energy and deep desire to honor the source material and use it as a launching pad for the musicians own personal artistic goals. John Coltrane 50Th Memorial Concert At Cafe Oto -

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

John Zorn - The Hierophant (Tzadik, 2019)

This album is a new collection of compositions from John Zorn inspired by the allegorical tradition of the Tarot. Written for jazz piano trio, the music is performed by Brian Marsella on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The performances are thoughtful and varied, developing upon a wide range of approaches, themes and atmospheres. The album opens with the title composition “The Hierophant” which is fast and urgent as the three instruments bob and weave around one another and develop wonderful rhythms, particularly from the drums which take an impish delight in moving things along. The bass is taught and strong, playing the straight man between the bounding piano and whiplash drumming, but sounding just right. Marsala is a perfect fit, because he has interpreted Zorn before and is able to burrow deeply into these compositions and find nuggets that can be used for fine exploratory improvisations. “The High Priestess” follows with a touching introduction for piano sounding haunting and distant, and aided by subtle brushwork and fine bass playing. The music is nimble and thoughtful, swinging gracefully and encompassing a compassionate bass feature during the middle section of the performance. There is a splashing and wild atmosphere to “The Devil” with manic bowed bass and cascading piano and drumming creating a fantastic scene. Short stop and go passages twist tempo and time as the music curls back upon itself in trickster like ways before bowing out with an air of mystery. “The Hermit” is a piece for solo piano, carving out sound from the lower end of the of the instrument and allowing it to hang in space, contrasting those figures and phrases with short flourishes of brighter notes gives the music and emotional bent and fulfilling a cohesive whole. Sizzling bass and drums lead “The Hanged Man” into play with piano quickly following as the trio takes a very exciting and fast paced improvisation that flows with energy running with leaping strides as the music develops under their fingertips. Dynamics come into play with quick bursts of silence, and ever-changing cells of speed and volume. “Death” is appropriately sinister and a wonderful feature for bowed bass, played with dark tone and evil intent, yet the centerpiece of this performance and exquisitely played as the skittish piano and percussion move around the bass and act as a framing device. Percussive piano and drums are at play on “The Tower” sending out coded messages before embarking on another very fast and well played midsection of crisp bass and drums and rapidly flowing piano. They reach light speed, collectively improvising in a dazzling manner, bouncing back to the theme and then to the improvisation like acrobats performing spectacular feats. This was a very good album, the compositions from Zorn were very interesting and the playing and improvising from the band were excellent. The Hierophant -

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Alice Coltrane Sextet ‎– Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972 (BCT Records, 2019)

Five years after the death of her famous husband John, there could be no doubt that Alice Coltrane had grown into a unique seasoned performer with a voice all her own. She had a commanding presence on piano, harp and organ, a unique skill in crafting arrangements that hinted at the spiritual psychedelia of the time without pandering to the remaining hippies and was producing a series of memorable records. This album is a previously unreleased soundboard recording of her band which contained Charlie Haden on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Aashish Khan on sarod, Pranesh Khan on tabla and Bobby W(?) on tambora and percussion. It is a very powerful performance and one that definitely deserves attention from fans of Impulse era spiritual jazz or jazz / world music crossover. Alice Coltrane is particularly impressive on the Wurlitzer electric organ, which strikes a remarkable balance between the more mellow Hammond B3 favored by most jazz musicians and the Farfisa organ sound made famous by garage rock bands worldwide. This gives her the power to cut through the ensemble and make her presence felt throughout these lengthy performances (each of the four an equivalent to a side of vinyl.) They begin with "Journey In Satchidananda" which was the title track of the record she had released the previous year. Influenced by her travels in India and what was then called Ceylon, the music has an exotic and beguiling sound to it as the drums and percussion develop cross hatching rhythms and the bass and sarod offer a droning counterbalance, leaving a perfect setting for Coltrane to launch into a lengthy eastern tinged solo on the electric organ. They develop a raucous performance, a collective improvisation that stretches at the very boundaries of the piece without ever losing the overall plot, Alice herself laying out at one point for a hypnotic section of tabla and sarod playing at a whirling speed, and leading to her returning on harp which she plays a brief solo upon before finishing the performance on the organ. The perform a fascinating interpretation of the “A Love Supreme” suite, teasing the melody from a distance, then stating it on the organ with percussive flourishes, they gradually beginning to meld the familiar music in their own way with this interesting array of instruments, setting a deep groove and allowing sparks to fly. The music is fascinating, evolving into a wall of drums and percussion along with the rolling organ and strings creating an unstoppable improvising force, until the band steps aside for a massive seven minute bass solo from Charlie Haden, showing dazzling technique and endurance under the spotlight. “My Favorite Things” becomes a feature for the sarod, employed slightly like a guitar, but giving the music an unusual characteristic that when employed with the tabla creates a very exciting and powerful sense of flow. After this scintillating introduction, the organ, bass and drums charge in creating a fantastic full band setup driving the music forward and you can just barely begin to pick out parts of the familiar melody in their extrapolation. They end with an epic version of John Coltrane’s “Leo” beginning with a phantasmagoric opening sequence, really pushing for the expansion of consciousness with kaleidoscopic organ sounds, and wave upon wave of percussion and bass creating undulating rhythms and astonishing speed. Drums and percussion get a section of their own with Riley leading the way, very exciting and displaying great power and strength in his execution. There is another fine section for sarod and tabla playing with amazing speed and dexterity, everybody is getting generous feature time during this last track and making the most of it. The band comes together for a fantastic blowing section, doubling down on the free jazz intensity they had built previously and wailing with the utmost intensity and conviction. This is an excellent album and well worth tracking down if you can find it, Discogs lists it as an unofficial release, with a limited edition 750 LP copies from Germany, and there are grey market versions floating around the Internet. Regardless, this music is hot and deserves a well remastered official release, because this is the real deal.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Le Rex - Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform, 2019)

Le Rex is an up and coming Swiss jazz quintet with an interesting lineup of reeds, brass and drums: Benedikt Reising on alto saxophone, Marc Stucki on tenor saxophone, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, Marc Unternährer on tuba and Rico Baumann on drums. This may put you in the mind of a New Orleans marching group, and that is a strand of their DNA, but they run the length and breadth of jazz leaning into progressive and free sounds as well. The opener “Escape of the Fire Ants” muscles in with strong riffing horns and crisp drumming, with the tuba admirably developing a bass like sound and the other musical instruments becoming stratified above it. The horns play together in an admirable manner, developing call and response sequences and solo flights that are enthusiastically supported. The drummer develops a nasty funk beat under one of the soloing saxophones that is very exciting and propels the performance forward. The group allows dynamism to come into play with a more open section that allows for spacious and thoughtful playing, bouncing up to the opening riff to give the performance an exciting conclusion. “Alimentation Générale” is whimsical in nature, developing a colorful weave of instruments, and the sound is very nice with individual instruments emerging from each channel of the stereo, creating an immersive sound that is compelling to hear as the trombone and drums develop some really interesting rhythms for the other instruments to solo over, creating sparks between the players that lead to excellent improvised sections. “Harry Stamper Saves the Day” hits with raw and exciting tenor saxophone and splashy drumming that is quite enthralling, the rest of the group comes in with strong and invigorating riffs and motifs that take the music in a little more light hearted and swinging direction. A ripe and brash trombone solo framed by drums and tuba holds down the middle section of the performance. There is a low and burrowing groove on “The Funding,” with quick bursts of fanfare popping off and leading into a sweaty club scene where the band is digging in deep and playing with style. “Ballad for an Optimist” begins in a forlorn manner with the horns paying their respects in a humble manner, gradually picking up the pace to another fine trombone solo at a medium up pace with the tuba and drums nipping at his heels and saxophones framing the action. Everyone is working together well to build an exciting performance with a memorable melody and well structured arrangements and playing. Overall, this was a very enjoyable album by a band that bears watching. There is a fine consistency in the quality of their playing, creating music of substance that is capable of wide gradations in sensation and texture. Escape Of The Fire Ants -

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA - Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 (Dark Tree, 2019)

Pianist, arranger and composer Horace Tapscott is one of the great unsung figures in jazz history. A bandleader and community activist in Los Angeles with a career that spanned the late fifties to the late nineties he founded the large ensemble The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra which featured future legends like Arthur Blythe, David Murray and Butch Morris. This particular album shows the group in performance with a vocal chorus, The Great Voice of UGMAA.. The opening track “aiee! The Phantom” was also the title of a trio album that Tapscott cut for the Arabesque label, but here it is a deeply swinging large group track. There is a deep earthiness and connection to blues and gospel at hand throughout this album, on the instrumental tracks as well as the vocal ones, with three bass players, drums and hand percussion developing a sumptuous rhythm that will percolate and shift throughout the performance. Tapscott has a powerful touch to the piano, in addition to conducting the group that also includes saxophone and trombone making this a powerhouse track that just doesn’t let up. Their approach to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” is particularly interesting, perfect for the leader to add just the right touches from the keyboard as the maestro did, and it’s the basses and percussionists that provide the textures and exoticism that Duke (and Juan Tizol) hinted at and allow them to develop slowly, as the reed and brass stretch out over the massive rhythm section that is ebbing and flowing like the sands of the desert. The death of the great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti led to the composition of “Fela Fela” and this invigorating piece envelops the chorus and the band singing lyrics in short riffs that are integrated into the band, leading to an opening for an excellent solos for soprano saxophone and trombone alongside crashing drums. “Why Don’t You Listen” has a beautifully melodic introduction for piano and choir, before moving into very impressive intertwining of voices stating the names of many of the greatest jazz musicians of all times and imploring that people listen to their sounds. There are short instrumental breaks for saxophone and drum features, leading into the finale, “Little Africa.” Opened by some thoughtfully spare piano and solo male voice performing quite movingly for several minutes, then joined by the remaining voices, basses and percussion instruments. There is an excellent midsection for the instrumentalists, and solos once again for soprano saxophone and trombone before everyone returns to conclude the concert on a classy and joyous note. This is a wonderful recording and an important one, shining much deserved light on this unjustly ignored master. There is a first rate booklet included with the CD version of the album that has informative liner notes, song lyrics great photographs, making this an exemplary package all around. Why Don't You Listen? Live at LACMA, 1998 - Dark Tree Records Bandcamp

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out (Intakt, 2019)

Sylvie Courvoisier is an award winning pianist, composer and improviser, and her husband Mark Feldman is no slouch either, playing violin in every imaginable setting, particularly when associated with the Tzadik label and the works of John Zorn. This duet album is quite interesting, investigating the melding of American and European forms and styles of music from a new angle at the intersection of improvisation, composition, tradition and modernity. The album was recorded at the Oktaven Audio Studio in New York during September 2018 and the music itself strikes a remarkable balance, shrugging off familiar references and searching for new forms of communication and expression. "Eclats for Ornette" has swooping and diving violin met by nimble and impish piano, in a light and delicate performance that develops short cells of ideas and strings them together into thought provoking phrases. They resolve into a fast and lithe collective improvisation, like a chase scene, building drama as the performance develops. The dedicatee, Ornette Coleman played violin at times during his concerts and on record, and Feldman retains some of the heart on the sleeve emotion that the Texan brought to his music. The title track, "Time Gone Out," is a massive, nearly twenty minute long performance, a trapeze routine where each musician having absolute trust in the other is required because there is no net below. The length of time allows the music to evolve gradually and explore a wide range of ideas and motifs, with notions from contemporary classical music and free improvisation, and patches of wide open space allowing for careful thought and spontaneous connectivity. It is clear by listening to how this performance develops that the two musicians have developed a unique and intuitive way of playing together, adapting to each other's style of improvisation and sense of dynamics along the way. "Cryptoporticus" evolves in a more abstract manner, with long lines of violin interacting with deep bass notes of piano, with sections of near silence, allowing the music to find its own level in a completely free manner, with a bright and swarthy section for solo violin, then icy tendrils of keyboard slowly growing like frost as the piano begins to dominate the performance, using shades of light and darkness to further carve out its own space. "Not a Song, Other Songs" has some of the most powerful piano heard on this album, chords blasting out and sustaining in a shocking manner, as the violin steps wearily around, like a fencer looking for an opening. The dynamics of the nimble midsection of the improvisation is fascinating with showered of piano notes and swaths of delicate violin, then Courvoisier drops one of those massive chords, just when the listener is getting complacent. This was a very well played and fascinating album, it doesn't seem to fit anywhere, is it jazz, or it it some type of amorphous improvised music? Once the idea of labels of released and the music is approached on its own terms does it really open up to the listener and present its gifts, and those are well worth the struggle necessary to get there. Time Gone Out -

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Elephant9 - Psychedelic Backfire I (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

The first of two live albums from the band Elephant9, consisting of keyboard player Ståle Storløkken, bassist Nikolai Hængsle and drummer Torstein Lofthus and guest guitarist Reine Fiske, with the music being recorded during a four day residency at the Kampen Bistro in Oslo. This is an excellent melding of open minded jazz and groove based psychedelic rock. Their use of loud drones and storming keyboards and rhythm work well, beginning with "I Cover the Mountain Top" featuring graceful keyboard and bass and subtle percussion, finally breaking out in a shocking manner driving the volume into the red and adding the guitar scouring across heavy drumbeats. The dynamism works in their favor, moving from moody and cinematic to overt rock quickly, and their psychedelia is not the incense and peppermints hippie variety, but a post-modern smearing of sound and technique to alter perception in a wholly different way, blasting the version of the Tony Williams Lifetime with Jack Bruce fifty years into the dystopian present. Heavy, slamming chords introduce "Farmer's Secret" using some dirty and raw organ playing and funky bass and drums to excellent effect, grinding out a deep and gnarly Root Down era Jimmy Smith groove. "Habanera Rocket" keeps a subtle ground level beginning, throbbing and bubbling along, flowing and pulsating as the music gradually gains volume and tempo in a trance inducing manner. The music becomes harsher and heavier of beat, flirting with progressive rock, but never giving into cliche. Laying massive keyboard chords and showboating runs, they have turned the formerly introspective piece completely on its head, to joyous crowd approval. Adding some cool echo effects to a guitar and keyboard feature keeps this eighteen minute monster from bogging down, driven with consistently excellent drumming to a mighty conclusion. This leads directly into "Skink/Fugl Fonix," played fast and loud, very powerful and brawny, with no nonsense muscular drumming and swirling keyboards and throbbing bass. The music played at this speed is quite thrilling, and even more impressive is that they are able to develop varying textures and hues from within the maelstrom, adding touches of exotica and calliope sounds for variety. "Actionpak1" hits hard with massive industrial bass and drums pulverizing moving into buzzing electronics and crisp beats at a very high speed, swooping and diving with cells of harshly driven keyboard playing against a relentless drumbeat. Closing with "Dodovoodo" the band unites to create a free and frenetic soundstage, with motoring bass and drums laying down a thick carpet for the keyboards and choppy guitar to explore at will. Long droning tones build atop one another shimmering over the percolating percussion, with shards of guitar accenting the sound. Psychedelic Backfire I -

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Hat in Hand

Apologies for taking a time-out for a bit of seriousness. As you might be able to tell from reading the last few months worth of posts, I have been going through a particularly difficult time. Financial difficulties have made it difficult for me to keep up with my regular visits to my health care professionals and timely renewing of prescriptions, and unwise juggling of bills have made my living situation precarious. I deeply regret being on the treadmill of shame, but if anyone is able to make a small donation, I would be greatly appreciative. ( link) Regularly scheduled blogging to resume shortly, hopefully with more coherent reasoning, not to mention grammar, syntax and structure. All the best -- Tim.

Angles 9 - Beyond Us (Clean Feed, 2019)

Angles 9 is the largest iteration of the wonderful Angles meta-band, one that has recorded very successfully in trio, sextet and octet forms as well as the nonet setting. Clean Feed compares the music to the likes of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and there is a lot of truth to these analogizes. But at their best, I hear them as a logical continuation of the music of Charles Mingus, with hearty themes and emotionally resonant soloing and full band playing. This allows them to develop a wide range of possibilities, from swing to free, like on the title track "Beyond Us" which eases in on a carpet of piano and vibes, followed by waves of horns broadening the soundstage along with deep drumming. Raw saxophone breaks out, juxtaposed against the crystalline vibes, as the riffing horns build a massive edifice of sound that allows them to use the textures of large ensembles while maintaining the nimble mobility of solo and small combo sections. The final selection of the album is the joyous composition "Mali" with bright and vibrant horn riffing and elastic rhythm that gives the music a lighter almost danceable air. Short and pithy solos, and powerhouse full band playing keep the music moving briskly to a very exciting conclusion. This was another good entry into the Angles series, also proving that there is room for an improvising modern large ensemble that isn't tied to recreating the works of a long dead great. Gathering a nice sized group of excellent musicians and letting them loose on interesting open ended compositions is an idea that never gets old. Beyond Us -

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Sunday, June 09, 2019

Mette Rasmussen / Julien Desprez - The Hatch (Dark Tree, 2019)

The duo of Mette Rasmussen on alto saxophone and Julien Desprez on electric guitar recorded this experimental duet album in France in September of 2016. (Live performance from same month) The music is raw and exciting, melding sharp cries of saxophone with alternatively percussive blasts and torn screams of guitar, creating sounds which are for the most part freely improvised, but still quite accessible and well rounded. Their approaches are diverse, yet complementary, as Rasmussen works within the realm of improvised music, drawing from a wide range of influences, spanning free jazz to soundscapes, she is free to take liberties exploring her instrument, expressing what extremes the saxophone can produce in terms of sound, both prepared and unprepared. Desprez in turn explores free form music in a physical manner, providing a synthesis of technique on the instrument itself and a wide array of effect pedals, taking inspiration from the performance of tap dance, it allowed him to approach the possibilities of the whole ecology of the instrumental system of strings and pedals in a novel way. “Roadkill Junkies,” the opening track on the album, demonstrates how their individual approaches to sound creation and manipulation are quite compatible. This piece begins the album in an approachable free jazz / free improvisation setting that works quite well, giving the musicians a place to stretch out at varying speeds and sculpt a piece that is tense without devolving to chaos and providing stability and a platform for the music that will follow. The following track, “Clay on Your Skin” shows that the duo is adept at developing textures and allowing them to work into the overall sensibility of the music, allowing them to grow and alter the forms they develop with greater variety, branching further afield as the improvisation develops. As this track broadens, they begin to use long droning sounds to push the music relentlessly forward, with the deep and scouring sound of the saxophone calling out fearlessly against the waves of electric guitar, tearing it apart into a chaotic wilderness. This was a gathering of like minded musicians that was successful in achieving its goals, creating spontaneous performances that integrated the aesthetic approaches of both musicians allowing them to take the initiative to make their own individual and collective artistic statements with a form and texture of their choosing. The Hatch - Dark Tree Bandcamp

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Evan Parker and Kinetics - Chiasm (Clean Feed, 2019)

English saxophonist Evan Parker remains a protean force in progressive jazz and freely improvised music. (hear him on a recent 5049 podcast) He was born at the tail end of the World War II and became enthralled by John Coltrane as a young man, building his name as a man to hear in the fertile experimental music scene in London. Since then his stature has only grown worldwide, allowing him opportunities to perform with groups like Kinetics which consist of Jacob Anderskov on piano, Adam Pultz Melbye on bass and Anders Vestergaard on drums. These tracks were recorded in London and Copenhagen in early 2018, and show that this isn’t a group with revered guest type of situation, but a setting where the musicians melded together and allowed their ideas to flow freely. “London, Pt. 1” opens the album with bowed bass and a fractured sound from the trio as the piano enters and the drums increase the pace and Parker comes in completing the construction of a killer collective improvisation. Deep plucked bass and drums play behind towering saxophone probing deep space, while rippling piano completes the scene. The group dips into a quieter section with flutters of saxophone and bass framed by spare piano and cymbals. Parker’s saxophone gradually rises in tone and volume as deep dark piano chords add an ominous touch along with anxious percussion. Anderskov unleashes a thunderous piano feature, harsh and scouring, before finally dropping off to a quiet finish. Swirling sounds from the group are heard on “Copenhagen, Part. 1” as they invoke a fast collective improvisation with everyone weaving their sounds together in a fast yet dynamic flow. Vibrant piano and drums are met by bowed bass and crisp passages of saxophone that cut the air in a pithy manner. “Copenhagen, Part. 2” uses probing piano with drumming both developing a percussive fast and splashy sound as Parker enters with quick flutters of sound as a fast and light improvisation ensues, moving in a nimble fashion, and the playing between the instruments is quite intricate. Parker turns to a loud and impressive repeated motif through circular breathing, a sound that is so arresting and unique that it draws in the rest of the group like the gravity well of a black hole. Finally, “London, Pt. 2” sees Parker offering tones and sounds that come together in an unaccompanied solo with more impressive breathing techniques as the piano builds in providing an almost drone like backdrop, creating an impressive and unnerving sound. The bass and drums enter building a full band performance that is dark and menacing before gradually heading off with cymbals and a sense of eerie calm. This was an excellent album, the match of the veteran saxophonist and the tight knit group ensured that sparks would fly and the air of mutual respect would fuel excellent teamwork. Chiasm -

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Tuesday, June 04, 2019

John Coltrane - Coltrane '58 (Craft Recordings, 2019)

The great saxophonist John Coltrane had made profound strides by the time he entered 1958, conquering his addiction to heroin and learning much during a short stint with Thelonious Monk's band. Coltrane recorded several albums for Prestige in 1958, both as a leader or co-leader and the recordings are presented here in chronological order, each time moving a step leading closer to his ultimate breakthrough the following year with the epochal Giant Steps album. All of the recordings took place in New Jersey at Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio, created during a series of short but intense sessions. Coltrane was joined by several of the top players of the day on these sessions: Wilbur Harden, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd on brass, Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland on piano, Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes and Art Taylor on drums Kenny Burrell on guitar and Paul Chambers on bass. Since these were Prestige sessions and there was little to no rehearsal time, this led to the music taking place in the time honored informal "blowing session" that focused on a repertoire of standards, blues and ballads. The music is uniformly excellent, hewing to the hard bop methodology of the age, but beginning to strain again against it, as can be seen in the use of the Ira Gitler coined technique "sheets of sound" on tracks like the wonderful "Goldsboro Express" where Coltrane plays cascading and wonderfully exciting tenor saxophone, really locked in tightly with drummer Art Taylor and providing foreshadowing of the hand in glove saxophone and drumming sound Coltrane would produce with Elvin Jones some years hence. He plays standards quite beautifully, and this collection leads off with a lengthy exploration of "Lush Life" where he patiently allows the theme to develop, supported by bowed bass and elegant piano before a lengthy deconstruction ensues buoyed by some excellent brushed percussion. Although it begins at a medium pace, Coltrane pushes "Come Rain or Come Shine" into faster territory with his solo, adding quick bursts of notes that fly above the relatively staid accompaniment. "Nakatini Serenade" is a fast performance from a larger band with brass and strong drumming, but when Coltrane does break out, he carves up the music with a slashing solo that is very exciting to listen to. Louis Hayes keeps the fire going underneath him, but it is Coltrane's lengthy solo is compelling and a must hear. He is also scorching on the Rogers and Hart standard "Lover" playing at a seemingly superhuman pace that sees the excellent Hayes working overtime to keep up with. The excitement that the listener feels is carried on a torrent of notes that tumbles out of his saxophone in an astonishing fashion and leaves as perfectly good follow up solo by Donald Byrd seem pedestrian by comparison. Although these recordings have been around the block many times and are seemingly repackaged every few years, there is no denying their excitement and musical worth. John Coltrane was one of the titans of jazz and his music remains an inspiration to people around the world, and the music included on this compilation is an important part of that foundation. Coltrane '58 -

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Saturday, June 01, 2019

Rodrigo Amado’s The Attic - Summer Bummer (NoBusiness, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado’s group The Attic consists of Goncalo Almeida on bass and newcomer Onno Govaert on drums, and this album was recorded live at the Summer Bummer Festival in Antwerp in August of 2018. The track “Walking Metamorphosis” opens the show in a slow and languorous manner allowing space for dialogue among the instruments as long tones of slow burning tenor saxophone, buoyant bass and jabs of drums gradually build a deeper collective improvisation. Crisp cymbal play with leaping saxophone and deep anchoring bass set the pace for the performance. Amado lays out briefly allowing for a brief bass solo framed by drums before re-entering and coalescing the group into a spare and delicate improvisation. The group then shifts the dynamics of the performance, allowing the speed and tone of the music to increase, with upper register squeals from the saxophone adding sparkles of color to the proceedings, leading to squalls of raw sound building to a roaring climax and a drum fueled conclusion. The trio goes on a deep journey on “Free For All” as the bowed bass builds a compelling soundstage, meeting long tones of saxophone calling out into the void, buzzing in vivid color as the percussion stealthily glides in. They work with drones and extreme sounds of raw and rending saxophone and grinding bass that invokes feelings of dread but also a sense that there are no boundaries and anything is possible. The wonderfully played bowed bass continues to swirl as the drums and saxophone orbit, growing louder and more forceful, leading to a spirited free improvisation that concludes the piece. “Aimless at the Beach” is the final track, with slow and spare saxophone opening low and quiet, soon accompanied by ghostly percussive textures that allows the air to flow smoothly around their instruments. Thick and bulbous sounding bass completes the scene, soon moving to dexterous bowing as the drums pick up pace and drive the trio into a higher gear. Free range saxophone, with quicksilver bass and dynamic percussion make for a potent unit, pushing into faster and freer territory with scalding saxophone leading the three way blowout and summing up and excellent recording with power and dexterity. The dynamic range of the group's music and possibilities inherent in the textures that each member of the group can achieve are very impressive and lead to a very successful album. Summer Bummer - NoBusiness Records

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