Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity - To Whom Who Buys A Record (Odin, 2019)

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity is an excellent progressive jazz trio featuring the leader on drums and percussion, André Roligheten on saxophones and bass clarinet and Petter Eldh on bass. For this album, the group focused on dynamics, recording in one room without amplification, getting up close and personal. This allowed them to use a wide range of instrumental sounds and textures, exploring more a nuanced ways ways to play their instruments and improvise.

“Cherry Man” opens the album with fast and bouncy drums and saxophone, with fluid and viscous bass binding everyone to a swinging freebop groove. Roligheten's saxophone achieves a wide range of sounds and tones that make a vivid statement as the drums grow more aggressive. He digs in for a deeper, more feral tone as the drums push harder and the bass pulsates, resulting in trio improvising that is first rate, as rolling drums and strutting saxophone sprint to the finish. Wild and funky percussion opens “Masakrake” with short bursts of saxophone and bass joining in, creating an alluring groove. The very tight and exciting rhythmic playing from all three instruments is key to this track's success, followed by a break for hoarse toned saxophone urged on by insistent and unflagging bass and drum support. Nilssen's drumming takes this track to another level pushing the tempo even faster to a caustic conclusion.

“Omkalfatring” is taken at a medium up tempo, sounding urgent yet with a muted edge. The three musicians take this repetitive figure and push it to the breaking point. Turning it over, looking at it this way and that, but never altering it in any discernible way. The anticipation and tension waiting for the release gets overwhelming, but the group never lets go and rides that groove off into sunset. Fast elastic bass and drums form a tight pocket for “Rat on a Skateboard” setting a fine foundation for some flashy saxophone playing very fast and true, and the group deploys a collective improvisation at a very high level. Thick steady bass anchors the group while the drums and saxophone are just steaming, yet still in complete control of their faculties.

“Less Dense” takes things in a different direction, with patient and fluid sounding bass setting the mood, soon joined by emotional and wrenched sounding saxophone framed by spare cymbal percussion. As opposed to much of the other music on this album, there is a palpable sense of loneliness to this performance, as the instruments are in orbit around or in engagement with one another. Fast and nimble percussion and saxophone burst out on “Botteknott,” with Nilssen developing some particularly cool rhythms anchored by Eldh's excellent bass playing. The band is tight and continuously pushing forward led by the percussion which has the cymbals and the drums intertwined together like a finely woven cloth.  Roligheten seems to blend both of his horns toward the end adding further color to the band's performance as the gleefully bulldoze anything in their path. The music on this album was fresh and exciting, with a powerhouse rhythm section and an excellent reed player making for the perfect combination which led to excellent music, whether playing solos or ensemble sections. To Whom Who Buys A Record -

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Philosophy (Clean Feed, 2019)

Mario Pavone's Dialect Trio is an excellent group the leader on bass, Matt Mitchell on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Together, they create jazz with a strong cooperative approach, which comes from the mutual partnership of the three musicians involved, and they way in which they engage one another in a highly cohesive manner throughout the length of the album.

The opening track, "8-18-18," has bouncy three way development, with bright piano chords, light and nimble percussion and deeply rooted bass. All of these sounds are well integrated and flowing, altering the pocket of the music as necessary without destroying the overall groove. A freer middle section is taken at a faster speed has the piano and drums unloading cascades of notes, raising the power of the performance up to the point where there is an opening for a brief bass solo. "Philosophy" has bass supporting bright and cool figures of piano, which are fast and nearly funky taking the band into a witty theme. The trio develops a fast paced and angular improvisation, bouncing from light and nimble with swinging drums to dark piano chords, providing cover for taut bass and drums. The thickly pulled bass and slapping drums meet the piano and carve their way to a driving finish. A bouncing medium up tempo evolves on "Two Thirds Radial" with great bass and drums holding aloft buoyant piano, making for a percussive feeling with riveting piano, rolling drums and plucked bass all played with great depth of feeling. Everything is tightly wound together and the trio swings grandly where the bounding piano and the elastic rhythm fit together so well.

This was a very well played album; the trio is tight and powerful in their playing and their improvisations are risk taking and adventurous, all of which use their extraordinary talent and selflessness to great effect. Philosophy -

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Nick Mazzarella Trio - Counterbalance (Astral Spirits, 2019)

The Nick Mazzarella Trio is an excellent progressive jazz group with the leader on alto saxophone, Anton Hatwich on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums, and this band has been a fixture on the Chicago progressive jazz scene for over a decade. Gigs have been less frequent lately, since Rosaly moved to Amsterdam, but on a recent return visit this album was recorded live at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, for which Mazzarella composed a suite of six new pieces for the concert which commemorated the trio’s tenth anniversary. They lead off with “Phonetic,” which is a medium up tempo performance that features long held saxophone notes with open space surrounding them. Mazzarrella modulates the tones of his saxophone lines amid quick flashes of percussion and strong bass playing. Changing tack to fast flurries of raw and free sounding saxophone and drums making conversation moderated by the bass, followed by a collective improvisation that allows open space for bass and percussion, including a wonderful bass feature that is deftly played. The group then returns to the thematic playing, guiding the performance to a solid finish. “The Puzzle” follows, with choppy, fluttering saxophone and drums playing very fast with bass filling in the spaces, and with squeals of the fastest saxophone are thrilling, paired with supporting bass and drums. The crowd is really with them as the Rosaly moves into a drum feature with deep rhythmic invention turning space and time, before a blast of frebopping saxophone heralds a quick ending. The title track, “Counterbalance,” has bowed bass harmonizing with the saxophone, producing an excellent sound which is framed by skittish drumming. Mazzarella's saxophone has a yearning, keening sound, playing a mercurial melody that branches out into a stark haunting tone. This evolves to cello like jabs from the bowed bass, subtle percussion and slaloming saxophone, moving from gleaming upper register beams to low and gnarly growls, meshing with the bow and light touch percussion like a processional anthem and then returning to the austere harmonizing of the introduction, coming full circle for the conclusion. Counterbalance -

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Whit Dickey Tao Quartets - Peace Planet and Box of Light (AUM Fidelity, 2019)

Whit Dickey is a prominent drummer and percussionist on the downtown New York City progressive jazz scene, having played in the bands of Matthew Shipp and David S. Ware among others in addition to recording as a leader. This is an a excellent two disc collection of small group music, with Dickey leading two different groups filled with prominent contemporary musicians.

Disc one is called Peace Planet and Dickey is supported by Matthew Shipp on piano, Rob Brown on alto saxophone and William Parker on bass. "Seventh Son" alters darkness and light in an appealing way, using that to build considerable momentum with Brown's acid tongued alto darting ahead, and Shipp's percussive comping adding intensity to the music. There is a complex and intriguing interlude for piano, bass and drums that isn't loud or particularly intense but fascinating in the way that the music is kept in constant flow, and endless motion, with Shipp adding cascading notes over elastic bass and subtle percussion. Brown re-enters and the group patiently builds an open ranged group improvisation that allows plenty if room for movement, particularly for quick witted saxophone and crashing piano chords. Alluding to Ware directly, "Suite for DSW" opens with conversation for saxophone and percussion, both instruments coursing through the air in a taut improvisation, bass and piano entering two minutes in to fill out the sound. The rhythm team kneads at the music, shaping and folding it into new formations that can receive interjections saxophone, leading to a towering bass solo, where Parker seems to carve the very air around him. The middle section of the suite os very intricate with the players in close quarters playing a very tight improvisation that is woven from all of their focus and camaraderie. The music ebbs and flows in an unpredictable nature, rising up for tense sections of intense interplay, then dropping out for brief solos or quieter full band passages.

The second disc is called Box of Light, with Rob Brown returning on alto saxophone, Steve Swell on trombone and Michael Bisio on bass. "Eye Opener" is ripe and full of life, a short track with blustery horns interacting with supple bass and skittish cymbals. Swell blows forceful and vivid lines of trombone over the dancing cymbals and Brown adds peals of citrus flavored alto to the mix, the group creating an exciting blend of music that is very effective in introducing their group sound. More space is available on "Elipse: Passage Through" and the music stratifies in a interesting way with the alto flying free overhead and the bass and fractured drums building tectonic shifts into the music, along with strong and grinding trombone splitting the difference. "Ethereality" builds gradually with the musicians patiently allowing time for the sounds to develop, with strong bowed bass melding with trombone and percussion creating a stoic and deep sounding groove which is fascinating to hear, like they have tapped into some primal Earth sound and made it their own. Finally, "Jungle Suite" is a fast and exciting performance, everyone pushing ahead in a bright and tuneful improvisation, building a meta narrative of free jazz within a format of subtle arrangement and guidance. Moving from torrid free-bop to spacey interludes for percussion and bass and then back really give you a feeling for what this group is capable of.

This is a triumph for Whit Dickey, presenting his music and improvisational approach in two similar yet different formats, both of which are very successful. He is a generous leader and surrounds himself with just the right people to help achieve his goals and these groups both show how exciting and fulfilling spontaneous performance can be when everything comes together. Peace Planet and Box Of Light -

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Arashi - Jikan (PNL Records, 2019)

Amazingly, the great free jazz saxophonist and clarinet player Akira Sakata was born in Hiroshima in 1945. An essential figure in Japanese modern jazz from the 1960's onward, he has become an elder statesman, working with his countrymen as well as musicians from around the world. This album was recorded live in concert at Pit Inn in Tokyo during September of 2017, with the group Arashi, containing a powerhouse Scandinavian rhythm section of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Johan Berthling on bass. Sakara grabs you right from the get go on the opening track "Saitaro-bushi Arashi" when instead of using one of his instruments, he uses his voice. This is a feature of each of his album, a track of guttural moans, scat singing, and growling invective that are as focused as any instrument in his arsenal and riveting to hear as the bass and drums fall in, supporting him every step of the way. He lets his saxophone take flight on the following track "Jikan" producing great gales of scouring alto saxophone which are unaccompanied at first, and then aligned perfectly with the free flying bass and drums to create a soaring collective improvisation. The music has open space to breathe and allow its emotion to come to the forefront through rolling percussion and upper register saxophone playing. At the midpoint of the performance, the music becomes very intense with great throbbing bass and pulsing drums pushing and pulling against the gales of Sakata's saxophone and then taking a duet space for themselves, leading to an awesome Nilssen-Love drum solo. Sakata rejoins the fray and they have a white hot burnout for the finish line which is thrilling to hear. At over sixteen minutes long "Yamanoue-no-Okura" is the centerpiece of the album, with Sakara probing the open space solo on alto saxophone to begin, weaving in and out with bass and drums, building a soft/loud dynamic for the music to expand upon. Building louder and faster, the music grows in excitement as Nilssen-Love's drumming becomes a force of nature, cascading around the blazing saxophone and stoic bass playing. Their all out collective improvisation is completely in the moment and thrilling to hear, with everyone just going for it at peak intensity. The saxophone steps aside for a riveting, multi rhythmic drum solo that seems to be coming from all directions at one, soon joined by hyper fast bowed bass that adds further layers of texture to the music. Not to be outdone, Sakata takes to the microphone again, belting out bellowing screams and vocalizations showing outstanding breath control as he moves through the other instruments, whether using words or sounds. This was a fascinating album, and shows how jazz and free music can move across all cultural borders, as long as the performers and listeners have an open mind. Sakata has a wonderful approach to the reeds and a unique way of making vocals sounds and pairing him with this top notch bass and drums team ensures that spars will fly throughout the album. Jikan - PNL Records Bandcamp

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019)

Fire! began as a trio with Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werlin on drums, and this core group has released some excellent records, also with invited guests like Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi. Expanding to the large ensemble Fire! Orchestra allowed the group to broaden the texture of the music even further, leaving the constraints of jazz or free improvisation behind to develop their own unique music that drew from a wide range of sounds like progressive rock, contemporary classical, film scores and more and the wide scope of the band's remit allowed for plenty of experimentation. This album has a newly transformed collection of musicians, fifteen strong, turning their focus to an acoustic centered sound that features a strong attention on vocals, strings and clarinets.  The voices of Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg are at the front of the band and the weave in and out creating beautiful sounds as the instruments create layers and textures of sound that surround and frame the vocals, and then achieve liftoff for powerfully arranged segments of their own. The album is opened by the track “(I am a) Horizon" where dark strings and horns set the mood, leading to keyboards and vocals setting a mellower yet haunted vibe. The two vocalists work well together achieving an aching, yearning feeling aided by spare horns and electric piano. Strings swoop in to give the music a wider almost cinematic scope, as the singers step aside allowing for some abstractions from the reed players taking the piece to a eerie and unresolved conclusion. “Silver Trees” also see the horns creating an open space for interpretation with bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and upright bass creating an evocative soundscape. The vocalists enter gracefully with sparse instrumental accompaniment, their voices filling the available space along with organ and graceful brass. Strings arc across the ceiling of the performance, and the blending of the vocal and instrumental voicing is patient and thoughtful, as the piece develops at its own pace in an organic fashion. Low toned reeds and punchy brass with tight bass and drums up the tempo and the vocalists trade phrases quickly, and the stings sting dramatically, allowing the band to build to an epic collective improvisation. The closing track, the Chic song “At Last I Am Free” has voice and keyboards in an emotional beginning, filled with yearning and loss, further instruments gathering and both singers using wordless vocals to invoke a sense of freedom over a drumbeat and keyboard, leading to a mysterious and nebulous ending. This was a very well done album, the arrangements and performances on the album are first rate and the musicians make up some of the finest of the contemporary scene in Europe. Using vocals and lyrics to center the music also gives the instrumentalists freedom to experiment, and they embrace the new dynamic to create a cohesive overall work. Arrival -

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Josh Berman / Paul Lytton / Jason Roebke - Trio Correspondences (Astral Spirits, 2019)

This is an excellent meeting between three talented improvisers, Josh Berman on cornet, Paul Lytton on percussion And Jason Roebke on bass. The recording is a combination of two sessions, in Oslo and Padova, Italy in April of 2018.

The middle three tracks are the core of the album, and the music develops a deep textural interplay on the piece "Short Piece From Cafe Mir." Playing the cornet allows Berman to balance his unique and personal approach between brittle lines of sound and warmer, more fluid playing. The bowed bass and percussion are light and nimble, and that stretches the fabric of the music in an elastic manner, intertwined with the cornet, keeping the music in a constant state of heightened activity. Berman with spark sounds across the sky with the bass and drums quietly picking their spots, leading to a taut dynamic flow. "Ringing Out The Room" is a fine collective improvisation building out of some stoic bass playing, where each of the three instruments have a hand in developing a spontaneous composition in such a way that it plays to each of their respective strengths. Berman can call out long arching tones of puckered brass, adding emotional weight and heft to Lytton's percussion that is in constant motion, never overwhelming but pushing and pulling at the rhythm along with the the bass, that whether plucked or bowed adds texture and integrity to the music. Lytton is the focus of "Percussion Introduces the Theme" and his drum work is very interesting to hear, making the most of his whole drum kit and developing a multi-layered rhythm, sometimes sounding soft like the rustling of fall leaves, then ringing bells to call forth new ideas and leading Roebke and Berman into the performance. The music builds gradually from the bottom up, from the percussion to the bass and the cornet, building a solid foundation for the group to embark into a colorful and inventive improvisation, as the instruments dovetail with each other in a very impressive fashion. Berman is particularly effective sputtering and then punching through the rhythm with aplomb.

This is a brief album that works very well, the three musicians are well attuned to one another, and are able to construct improvisations that are both technically impressive and listenable. Trio Correspondences -

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mark Dresser - Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup and You (Clean Feed, 2019)

Master bassist Mark Dresser convenes an excellent septet featuring Nicole Mitchell on flutes and piccolo, Marty Ehrlich, clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Keir GoGwilt on violin, Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano and Jim Black on drums and percussion to interpret a swathe of original compositions.

While the record may focus on politically oriented material, it leads with “Black Arthur's Bounce (in Memory of Arthur Blythe) which is a wonderful memorial to the great alto saxophonist, opening with a crisp bass and drums back beat and swinging clarinet and trumpet. Flute, violin and bass cavort in open space, with the full band coming together for a joyfully swinging section. There's a wonderful stratified nature to the music with the flute fluttering over horns and violin while the bass and percussion hold up the bottom. A wonderful flute solo from Mitchell emerges over darker flavored piano comping and some rambunctious horns, driving home the fact that this is a wonderful, ever changing performance, like something that Blythe himself might have imagined for one of his masterpieces like Lenox Ave. Breakdown or Illusions. Another lengthy and continuously interesting performance is “Let Them Eat Paper Towels” opening for solo bass and slowly setting the scene by adding further instruments in an abstract format that is heavy on texture and allegory. Sad piano and violin focus the sounds with drums adding a steadier pulse, eventually building a heartfelt and compassionate theme with the music flowing gracefully along crosscurrents of flute, clarinet and piano. Brass adds a further level of depth to this ever evolving mix of sound, one that is gentle, yet firm in its convictions, giving way to flute and percussion in a complex and lovely conversation, leading the music to a fully fledged conclusion. The title piece, “Just a Little Cyber Coup and You” opens with darkly hued and ominous piano, with scalding bowed bass and violin creating a wonderful soaring sound, leading to a flute solo over bubbling percussion and piano that is powerfully performed with stellar improvisation bravado. Bright and nimble clarinet interacts with the sweeping violin creating a wonderful sound statement of creativity in the face of chaos, leading to a trombone feature that is ripe and potent powering the music forward, and a lights out section for the rhythm section.

The music takes on the politically charged nature of Charlie Haden's Revolutionary Music Orchestra, slims it down and repackages it for the modern American dystopia. Dresser's writing is witty and thoughtful, refusing to take rote answers to important questions and also provides ample space for his very talented group to make their voices heard. Ain't Nothing but a Cyber Coup and You -

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Ed: (7/18/2019) Fix title (duh.)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 Downbeat Readers Poll Ballot

I have grown increasingly skeptical of lists and polls, but with the lack of anything else to write about I decided to take a swing at the Downbeat Readers Poll (vote here) doing my best to shine a little light on the musicians that I have been listening to recently. I had to use a lot of write-in ballots, most of the nominees provided tend to focus on the mainstream and leave many worthwhile progressive musicians on the outs.

Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist: Dave Rempis
Jazz Group: Sun of Goldfinger
Big Band: Angles 9
Jazz Album (Released 6/1/18 - 5/31/19): Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness (Hopscotch Records)
Historical Album: Sam Rivers Trio - Emanation (NoBusiness Records)
Trumpet: Jonathan Finlayson
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier
Tenor Saxophone: Rodrigo Amado
Baritone Saxophone: Alex Harding
Clarinet: Peter Kuhn
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Piano: Matt Mitchell
Keyboards: Jamie Saft
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Jon Lundbom
Bass: William Parker
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: Jason Stein (bass clarinet)
Male Vocals: James Blood Ulmer
Female Vocals: Leena Conquest
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Moppa Elliott
Label: Pi-Recordings
Blues Artist: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: Willie Farmer - The Man From the Hill (Big Legal Mess Records)
Beyond Artist: King Crimson
Beyond Album: Paal Nilssen-Love - New Japanese Noise (PNL Records)

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

JD Allen - Baccaroon (Savant, 2019)

A barracoon is a type of barracks used to confine slaves, and choosing this word for an album title reflects JD Allen’s understanding of history in these troubled times, reflecting on the first arrival of slaves in the American colonies. Allen is aware of past and and present struggles which inform his music but never overwhelm it. The trio of Allen on tenor saxophone, Ian Kenselaar on bass and Nic Cacioppo and drums play music that is challenging but accessible, an up to the minute modern jazz that is shorn of any finery and played in a lean and unfettered manner.

“Barracoon” fast and loose with a deep and true tone from the saxophone intertwined with simmering drums and bass. Collective improvisation builds a strong and unflappable infrastructure for their music, which has an urgent forward motion. The heavy rolling drums and thick elastic bass of “G sus” create a deep foundation, with Allen picking his spots and then developing a wonderful solo statement, which is well integrated into the undulating rhythm. He boosts the speed, soloing with alacrity, turning on a dime and improvising with great dexterity. The full band plays together wonderfully with a great sense of timing and alertness, attuned to their band mates and their surroundings. “The Goldilocks Zone” has a fast theme allowing the group to get right into the action with a hard grooving track that makes the most of its short run-time by packing in a lot of information. Thick layers of bass and percussion are given room to move accentuated by bursts of saxophone.

“Beyond The Goldilocks Zone” takes things even further, allowing for a collective, nearly free improvisation to develop right from the start, with a fast and nimble sound that is very exciting to hear. The group seems unmoored from the firmament, and able to build an enormous amount of energy, particularly from drums and saxophone, with the bass being the glue that holds the thing together. “Communion” develops a long mid tempo bass and drum pocket groove, soon joined by rich sounding authoritative saxophone, patiently building a solo with architectural precision. The group comes together to take the music to a plane of higher volume and deeper intensity, with Allen digging in for a stoically beautiful solo, and the bass and drums are with him every step of the way.

Taken as a whole, this album was a wonderful performance, the trio steps outside of the theme and solos structure of most of today's mainstream jazz to to embrace pure improvisation, yet do it in a way that is accessible for both fans of that style or adherents of hardcore free jazz. Barracoon -

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bob Dylan - The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Legacy Recordings, 2019)

The music itself is released as a fourteen disc box set with a nice booklet, that provides a wide angle view of the tour. The first two discs give you a fly on the wall view of the group trying to bang together arrangements of the songs at S.I.R. Rehearsals in New York City. It can be a bit of a slog as they work through new songs from the upcoming Desire LP like the unwieldy “Joey” and complex tunes from Blood on the Tracks such as “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” But it is fascinating to hear behind the scenes content, and see the confidence of the group grow as the performances tighten, finally coalescing into a well played no breakdown set entitled Seacrest Motel Rehearsals.

Then comes the main event: ten discs of live performances, in small theaters November – December 1975, performed in Worcester, Cambridge, two shows from Boston and Montreal. The music is all good and frequently excellent, and Dylan keeps things interesting by constantly tinkering with the set list and playing songs from the length of his career as well as some traditional folk songs. The Montreal concert may be the best example of the live music and it is particularly energetic, beginning with a yearning acoustic version of the beautiful Basement Tapes track, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” before bringing the electric group around and playing some surprisingly amped up versions of  “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Scarlet Rivera's swooping and swaying violin is the centerpiece of some of his more recent narrative based music like “Hurricane” and “One More Cup of Coffee” and they even end with a singalong of Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.” The final disc consists of rarities recorded during the tour, like the biographical song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” performed at the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” recorded during a fundraiser for the Rubin Carter defense fund.

For dabblers there's a selection of tracks on the streaming services that give a glimpse of the music in the box set, and there's also an overpriced three LP collection that could have been a fine budget CD release, but I digress. Apart from getting bogged down a bit in the rehearsals, the music soars, Dylan is in fine mettle, with something to prove he sounds focused and pure, and the addition of guests adds variety to the mix without diluting its punch. Dylan fanatics can buy the big box without shame, the music within will pay for itself time and again. The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings -

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Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Bob Dylan's personal life may have been a mess in the mid 1970's but his professional life was at a peak not seen since the burst of creativity he put forth in 1965-66. He met one of the finest albums of his career in Blood on the Tracks with a bootleg trumping archival release The Basement Tapes. He toured arenas with The Band, and while the tour was successful and produced another excellent album, Before the Flood, he felt distant from the audience playing in the impersonal arenas. This led to the idea of The Rolling Thunder Revue, where Dylan can winkingly call himself “a song and dance man” and led a group of fellow travelers like Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Alan Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell among others. He also had a crack band of his own, poaching the excellent Mick Ronson from David Bowie's band for lead guitar, and sharing the front line with the violinist Scarlet Rivera who is a superb foil for the new material that was emerging on the tour like “Hurricane,” “Isis” and "Romance in Durango." So you have the makings of a really interesting story, it is very strange that the narrative is presented in such a strange way, adding fictional characters, presenting actors like Sharon Stone spooling out a script placing her amid the tour and linking the face paint the group used to the band Kiss, who was just emerging from the primordial muck of Long Island. There's also a mini thread of a actor trying to make a documentary within the documentary, creating an odd meta narrative that further bifurcates the story unnecessarily, as clips from Dylan's Rolando and Clara are dropped in apropos of nothing. It's a shame we can't bet the straight dope in the interviews, because there are sections where Dylan is sitting like a wizened sage, talking about how a person will only tell the truth while wearing a mask, while Baez glares at the camera with her bullshit detector in overdrive. What redeems the film is the concert footage, with a gritty seventies tinge and often using extreme closeups, zeroing in on Dylan in his strange white makeup and broad brimmed hat laden with flowers. He sounds great, singing with gusto, playing strong rhythm guitar and with the theater settings he does not having to strain his voice, allowing the band to sound organic and free. Apart from that, it is the little things that really stand out, like Joni Mitchell, looking absolutely stunning, playing a wonderful version of her then new song “Coyote” for Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, Dylan and Baez playing some of their older songs that they used to play together and proving that they could be just as powerful ten years later. So the film is a mixed bag with the narrative and interviews darting around in different directions, not all of them true, several articles online do the trainspotting, but Bob Dylan fans are encouraged to watch the film for the concert footage alone, because Dylan is in rare form, recorded well and it's a trip watching those ice blue eyes framed by pale white makeup, showing that he had sure come a long way. Rolling Thunder Revue - Netflix

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Abdulla Ibrahim - Balance (Gearbox Records, 2019)

The Balance first new album in four years from pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim and it is a memorable one. This features his long-time group Ekaya, whom he has been recording with since 1983. This particular collection was recorded in one day at London's RAK Studios during November of 2018. Apart from Ibrahim on piano, the group consists of Lance Bryant on tenor saxophone, Cleave Guyton Jr. on alto saxophone and piccolo, Andrae Murchison on trombone, Marshall McDonald on baritone saxophone. Noah Jackson on bass and cello and Will Terrill on drums.

The song "Nisa" has a gentle piano opening, with a fine baritone saxophone solo taken at a medium tempo framed by patient drums and bass. This is followed by a mellow feature for trombone, where the well arranged brass really shines, as the horns weave in and out of the center of focus along with occasional encouragement from the bright piano chords of the leader. Jackson chips in with a well thought out and performed bass solo, then the full group comes together for more willfully swinging conclusion to a fine all around performance. Potent and expansive bass and drums power "Jabula" along with the Ibrahim's piano and a warmly riffing horn section making for a colorfully upbeat performance as the drums and piano bounce buoyantally lending the music an airy vibe that is fun to hear. There are no solos to speak of but the interplay of the rhythm section is first rate. "Tuang Guru" has thick strong bass and fast cymbal play underpinning nimble piccolo to create an exotic and exciting sound. The music darts and bursts through the air, soon joined by Ibrahim's spare piano chords and some earthy baritone saxophone to provide further texture. Brass enters to add a further layer to this multidimensional performance that is in continuous motion, allowing each member of the band a short section of solo space within the larger group dynamic. The music coalesces into a fast collective improvisation, before falling back into the quiet beauty of its opening theme to close. Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" get's an inspired performance with piccolo on one end and baritone saxophone on the other bracketing a little big band that achieves a wonderful sound. Both Guyton and McDonald respond with truly inspired solo sections along with short features for bass and drums. Surprisingly, Ibrahim lays out, but he speaks through his arrangement of this classic song which is excellent.

In the liner notes of this album Ibrahim states that the group was looking to go beyond their comfort zones, striving for excellence in breaking down the barriers of ego. Listening to this album, it is clear that they have accomplished all of these goals, no one was resting on their laurels and the mindful nature of their jazz transcends any egotism. The Balance -

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Monday, July 08, 2019

William Parker In Order to Survive - Live/Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity, 2019)

Bassist and composer William Parker and his longstanding group In Order to Survive recorded this double disc collection of a very impressive linked suite and other new original compositions at the Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. Parker is joined by longtime colleagues Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano and Hamid Drake on drums. This group has been an ongoing concern since 1993, with a variety of drummers (Drake has been on hand since 2012) and their near telepathic ability to improvise and support one another takes the music on this album to a very high level.

Disc one consists of the five part suite “Eternal Is the Voice of Love,” a set of instrumental compositions, played in succession leaving plenty of room for improvised flights. “Part One” is the lengthiest at twenty minutes, beginning gracefully and gaining unpredictable motion from Drake's rolling drums and Cooper-Moore's jagged piano. Parker's elastic bass is the fulcrum around which all this moves, and Brown adds peals of raw scouring saxophone as the music reaches further out. Their collective improvisation is bracing and very exciting to hear, as all four dig deep into the music and drive it relentlessly forward. There is a wonderful solo section for Cooper-Moore, whose idiosyncratic piano style is on full display, framed by excellent bass and drums. “Part Three” has a quiet swinging section, played by sensitive spare piano and brushes evolving into soft flute over fluttering percussion giving the music a haunting beauty. The music has an exotic sense of a processional scene or of a nature setting for a performance of restraint and pastel hued artistry. This flows into “Part Four,” where the quartet flexes and builds strength with percussive piano and biting citrus flavored alto saxophone chasing each other playing freely and creating a very exciting section. Parker's thick authoritative bass returns as does Drake's powerhouse drumming taking this performance into the stratosphere, creating a collective improvisation of dizzying speed and facility. Drake is given space for a solo and it is a dazzling one, using the entire depth and breadth of the drum kit to create a sparking percussion improvisation.

Disc two begins with another massive performance, the twenty three minute “Demons Lining The Halls Of Justice” which is initially given a bouncy sarcastic swing, moving from the theme to bombastic drumming and cries of saxophone. There is a complex section for piano, bass and drums after Brown's saxophone drops out, and Cooper-Moore adds Don Pullen like swaths of piano to Drake's towering drumming and Parker's stoic bass. The two of them get a couple of features and the results are magical with Parker's bass as the glue holding everything together as the piano and percussion continuously strike out for new vistas to explore. “Drum and Bass Interlude” is a logical extension and a perfect encapsulation of the music these two great players have been making together during the course of their careers. The rhythm is deep and wide and it is just something that a listener would just want to luxuriate in as these two masters create a groove for the ages. Parker will sing the words like a mantra throughout “In Order to Survive” in which they develop a powerful and soulful sound with tinges of deep blues and small group Mingus. Brown plants his feet and solos powerfully amid the piano chords and crushing drumbeat, and Parker provides a much needed message of hope and freedom for all.

This is a brilliantly performed set of music, which is highly recommended for all jazz fans. The compositions and improvisations are deeply felt and intense and the musicians are tight and  in tune with one another, showing great insight, understanding and creating modern jazz of profound wisdom. Live / Shapeshifter -

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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Al Foster - Inspirations and Dedications (Smoke Sessions, 2019)

Drummer Al Foster is a longtime veteran of the jazz scene, having served stints in the bands of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins in addition to having a vibrant career as a bandleader. This particular album offers thanks to family and colleagues in the company of Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Dayna Stephens on saxophones, Adam Birnbaum on piano, and Doug Weiss on bass. The great Herbie Hancock tune "Cantaloupe Island" leads off the album with its memorable melody leading into a fine saxophone solo that is nicely dug into the firmament of the groove, followed by Pelt's trumpet shooting sparks across some splashing drums. The section devoted solely to the rhythm section develops nicely between the heavy sounding piano and percussion and the thick ligaments of bass that bound them. "Ooh, What You Do To Me" uses heavy low end piano and horns to build a fast pace, with strong cymbal accented drumming pushing the horns even higher and encouraging the saxophone to develop a fast and raw sound that fits in well with the groups overall immediate punchiness. The trumpet has a bright and fluid sound and the rhythm section is loose and fast led by a rich and flowing piano solo before forming back up and heading out. This group is equally adept at playing ballads as can be heard on "Kierra" where lush ornamental piano is met by gentle brushes, whispered saxophone and melodic and easy going trumpet. Slotting in a section for restrained saxophone and brushed percussion was a great idea, the two musicians work with tact and wisdom developing excellent textures and a graceful improvisation. Another ballad, the brief "Our Son," features Pelt's trumpet and the leaser's very soft and tactful brushes playing beautifully as spare droplets of piano notes frame their dialogue. Picking the pace back up is the longest track on the album, the wonderful uptempo blowout "Aloysius." Opened with Foster's unaccompanied drumming providing a fluent but heavy and deep presence and is wide use of space, light and shade. The band soon rolls in on top of his welcome, building a performance for high speed undulating rhythm section and pumping horns. Stephens lays out an excellent solo for tenor saxophone with the drums hard and fast, then Foster changes on a dime to a nimbler touch to support the piano on a bouncing solo with a light Latin tinge. This is the band at their peak hitting on all cylinders, churning out epic post bop with some killing solos. Inspirations and Dedications -

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Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Tom Rainey Trio - Combobulated (Intakt, 2019)

Tom Rainey is one of the most active drummers on the modern jazz scene, playing as a sideman and a leader with a host of top flight musicians, two of which are joining him on this album, which was recorded live at Firehouse 12 during September of 2017. With Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mary Halvorson on guitar and David Torn providing "mastering and post production wizardry" it is clear that this is a special jazz album. Leading off with the massive near nineteen minute "Combobulated," the trio gradually builds into the performance, probing the available space, with gentle waves of guitar and drums and filigrees of saxophone. The music gradually fills in and becomes stronger while still retaining its overall sense of mystery, Rainey never plays a straight pulse, adding geometric angles and planes to the shimmering guitar and blustery saxophone. The interactivity of the group is fascinating, they seemingly emerge from different locations in time and space but meld very well, combining for a collective improvisation that is compelling to hear. They use dynamic  movements that keep the music interesting with Halvorson using edgy repetitive sounds, while Rainey is chameleon like, changing  his  sound  and  approach ever so slightly to keep everyone on edge. Two thirds of the way through he turns up the volume adding heavy beats under Halvorson's pedal rich guitar sounds, and the raw and earthy saxophone Laubrock produces. This section of the improvisation is fascinating and at odds with what came before it, the group playing raw and unfettered with wrenching saxophone, swirling guitar tones and slashing drums creating a maelstrom of sound pushing them relentlessly through to the conclusion of the piece. "Fact" has swirling and free sounding guitar and saxophone interacting gleefully in open space, soon joined by strong drumming leading to a wild configuration, guitar feedback bursts of percussion, leading to a more melodic setting. Mixing the loud with the soft in a dramatic fashion particularly from the drums and guitar makes this performance memorable, leading into a three way improvisation with slabs of raw guitar meeting fluttering saxophone and crisp cymbal play. They create an excellent collective improvisation with grinding guitar sounds abetted by jabs of saxophone and relentless percussion. Questioning saxophone opens "Splays Itself" playing unaccompanied and looking outward in a free and open manner, with Laubrock playing in a very impressive way. The guitar and drums join, jacking up the tempo considerably and creating a trio performance that is a powerhouse. Halvorson's guitar pops and sizzles, while Rainey is completely engaged in providing an ever changing percussive aspect to the music and Lubrock adds expertly timed bursts of saxophone that complete this excellent track. The expressive nature of the music has everyone at their most engaged, and all three of these musicians are at the top of their game here, playing completely in the moment and using the extent of their instrumental prowess on this finely wrought album. Combobulated -

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Monday, July 01, 2019

Noah Preminger - After Life (Criss Cross, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has been recording regularly recently for the venerable mainstream label Criss Cross and a number of other independent outfits. For this album he has pulled together a a talented band consisting of Jason Palmer on trumpet, Max Light on guitar, Kim Cass on bass and Rudy Royston drums to interpret a suite of compositions he wrote imagining a world that humans may inhabit when we leave Earth. “World Of Twelve Faces” opens the album with strong and supple acoustic bass playing, crisp drumming and mysterious sounding guitar. The horns arrive, filling out the sound, building a questing theme for the performance with Royston's deft percussion driving and then ebbing as the horns lift off over the rhythm section. Preminger glides out for a solo statement, taking his time and gradually building his ideas over thundering drums punctuated by cymbal crashes as the guitar gently frames the action, before taking the center stage. Light has a cool and well articulated tone, slotting in well with the bass and drums and providing context apart from the brass. The full band reconvenes for a group setting as the performance wanes to conclusion with sparks of trumpet lighting the way forward. There's a bright and upbeat melody to “World of Hope” with intertwined saxophone and trumpet and chiming guitar, but it is the dug in bass and drums that provide the launch pad for the horn players hitting the atmosphere, twisting and turning like a couple of stunt pilots, sounding like they are having a ball, trading spitfire phrases with one an other. Royston is playing all over the kit at great speed and the saxophone and trumpet respond with showers of notes before stepping aside and allowing the guitar to join the locomotive bass and drums in a muscular yet musical featured section. The horns retrain with their twisting, turning double helix sensibility to lead the performance to a close. “World of Hunger” has a strong opening right out of the gate with the group playing an urgent theme, one that demands attention. Horns push ahead and Preminger opens up for a passionate tenor saxophone solo over slashing drums that keep the emotional level of the music high. The two lock into each other driving faster and louder in a very exciting manner, leading to an intricate guitar solo played with speed and facility over undulating drums and bass. Royston is a master drummer, knowing when to dial things down just a little bit and when to drop the hammer. Palmer's trumpet is articulate and burnished, in his short feature playing fast in a controlled and intelligent manner. Everyone meets for the final push through to the end at high speed, true believers going the extra mile to make sure they are understood. This is a solid and memorable mainstream jazz album, Preminger's compositions and tenor saxophone playing are thoughtful and the drumming of Rudy Royston was simply herculean. The band as a whole played very well both as a unit and during individual solo sections. After Life -

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