Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love - Screen Off (PNL Records, 2019)

Multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love have been playing together for many years in a score of bands and are especially potently as a duet, having completed many tours and albums including a multi-disc boxed set together. So instead of releasing another duo concert album, this one comes with a fascinating twist: the musicians teamed up with producer Lasse Marhaug who trolled through hours of recordings that fans have uploaded to YouTube, raw audience recordings, compressed and occasionally distorted by the web site's format. The took their ideas from experimental film directors to make a audio collage, using only about a two minutes from each source, stitching together a forty-two minute album filled with jarring jump cuts and witty handoffs. They use a musical version of a William Burroughs cut-up novel, by piecing the album together with the idea of creating a musical narrative at the forefront, so there my be snippets from different concerts even from different years sewn together, creating a cohesive flow for the music to follow. It works very well, one section tumbles into the next with gleeful abandon, twenty-one in all, demonstrating that the two musicians have a uniquely compatible relationship playing together, understanding their relationship in speed, tone, complexity and use of space and time. That fact is demonstrated throughout this project, as Nilssen-Love remains an ever-potent force on drums and percussion, while Vandermark deploys his saxophones with great facility. The entire album comes through like an imaginary concert of the mind, where powerhouse squeaks and crashes demonstrate the potency of the duo, making way for high pitched reeds and rolling drums, clearing the path for spacier sections which themselves only to take flight again, soaring high into the next gear shift. This album is highly recommended, but very difficult to explain, it really must be experienced to be fully understood. It is an interesting way to move forward for the music, using avant-garde techniques from other artistic disciplines and folding them into progressive jazz in a very thoughtful manner. Also, it is a collaboration with the fans, giving a nod to the audience who love the music and go to the concerts, recording them for posterity sharing their music with other fans who don't have the opportunity to see these great musicians in action. Screen Off - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

CP Unit - Riding Photon Time (Eleatic Records, 2019)

This is a smashing live album from the CP Unit: Chris Pitsiokos on alto saxophone and electronics, Sam Lisabeth on electric guitar, Henry Fraser on electric bass and Jason Nazary on drums and electronics. The music was recorded at the Moers Festival in Germany and at the Unlimited Music Festival in Wels, Austria in 2018. The opening track, "Once Upon a Time Called Now (excerpt)," begins with probing saxophone and drums, gathering steam with the saxophone tearing at the air with rending sounds. The guitar and bass bound in, livening the mood, thick bass and snarling guitar leading the music in a different direction, toward a free funk with squealing saxophone section that is very exciting to hear. Their collective improvisation is dynamic and multi layered, playing with time and space to keep the music unpredictable and compelling. "Positional Play" is a short and fast track with the group in a nimble full band sprint, playing full out with the saxophone sending swells of sound to play off against the choppy rhythm section that responds with jabs of bass and snorts of electric guitar, while the percussion is light, keeping an open and inviting environment. Funky bass opens "The Tower" with filigrees of saxophone and drums keeping things light while gaining speed as the guitar gradually folds into the mix. They are repeating a motif, getting stronger and stronger, kneading it, building from it and then finally using it as a launch pad for a deeper and more complex ending. "A Knob on the Face of a Man" has some interesting solo saxophone, with Pitsiokos playing super fast bebop like sounds that soon turn into a very happy sounding melody with thick buoyant bass and drums and bouncy and swinging cadence, almost like an island melody that Sonny Rollins would use. Laser splashes of guitar and blobs of bass rotate around the drums as flashy saxophone frames all of the action and the group convene for a stellar improvised section with Pitsiokos playing some absolutely blistering free saxophone howls. The juxtaposition between the jagged saxophone and the bright and melodic backdrop is jarring but fascinating and works very well. The delightfully titled "Dirt is the New Clean" bursts out of the gate with everybody playing fast and hard, coiled together like thick braided cable, and providing a taut focused full band performance. Guitar provides quavering lines above the scene like heat lines shimmering on a highway as the bass and percussion burrow into the ground for support and the saxophone powers through with grit and perseverance. The electronics really come into play here, taking the music and shape-shifting it into something unusual and interesting. "Orelius" has a strong guitar, bass and drum feature, going for it in a hard fusion style, before the saxophone enters and ups the excitement even further. Everyone comes together for a lightning fast over the to free jazz sprint which is very exciting to hear, weaving the instruments together allowing the dynamic to fade in and out and pushing the music to move continuously forward. Riding Photon Time - amazon.com

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Cat in a Bag - Cat in a Bag (Clean Feed, 2019)

Cat in a Bag is an exciting new group consisting of Bruno Figueira on saxophones and effects, Duarte Fonseca on drums, João Clemente on guitar and magnets and João Lucas and bass and effects. They are not afraid to take liberties with their music, melding free jazz, fusion, progressive and experimental rock to their crucible. Much of their work turns out to deal in texture and hues, allowing the music to develop through exploration and improvisation. Often a track will begin in one direction and then shape shift and morph into an new beast entirely. The group works very well together, weaving their own instruments and individual approaches into a collective whole and then patiently allowing the music to percolate as it does in the opening track, "Smiling as a Rite of Exorcism" where the band develops a distinctive flow that leads them to a stinging payoff several minutes into the track that is surprising to the listener but also very exciting as they lash out and use forward moving dynamics to drastically move their sound ahead. "Obscure Objects" heads in the same direction, with guitar and percussion achieving an ominous clanking and ghostly rhythmic scratching, dragging chains like a specter across the sound of the track while the saxophone alternatively offers savage wails or pained asides. Starting with a thoughtful and pleasant melody, "Beauty Melted in Secret" builds to a more savage mid-section with stellar electric guitar playing ripping at the scenery and crisp but subtly played percussion keeping a chugging rhythmic line going throughout the performance. There are interjections of saxophone that add to the unnerving nature of the piece and tangled webs of melded instruments as if it were all some kind of collective dreamscape. "The Decay of Manners" is the lengthiest track of on the album, beginning with interesting juxtaposition between snarls of electric guitar and high pitched saxophone playing with active drumming making sure everything is on the move. They double down and really start to dig deep creating a very compelling collective improvisation of scalding guitar, bright saxophone reaching out for long wails and tones and stoic heavy drumming. Slowing down to an open experimental section of electronic tones weaving all around then blasting right into the following tune "The Blind Art Collector." Manic free jazz at it's most thrilling in interspersed with sections of open eerie electronic growling feedback. The electric guitar is clearly the focal pint here as the other instruments weave in and out of the sound stage, framing and engaging with this snarling beast. This album worked quite well, and this group has a unique sound and approach to the music they are building. Hopefully they will be able to stay together as a unit and produce more music soon. Cat in a Bag - amazon.com

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Stan Getz - Getz at the Gate (Verve, 2019)

Back in the United States after three years spent abroad, saxophonist Stan Getz found that the homeland scene in flux with the exploration of Ornettte Coleman and John Coltrane proceeding along side traditional swing and hard bop. Though he had just recorded his famous saxophone with strings album Focus, this album features his working quartet of the period: Steve Kuhn on piano, John Neves on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. When the group is focused, the results are very impressive – Getz is at his most forceful as the band powers through the upbeat performances, but remains his emotional and thoughtful tone for the ballads. The band gets a particular kick from Roy Haynes who is on fire throughout this concert, fueling the band, trading phrases with the leader and taking explosive solos. The music is very well recorded for the time period and the selections are familiar, alternating between jazz standards and pop standards from films and Broadway shows. After the band introduction, they launch into “It's Alright With Me” which sets the foundation for the performances to follow with a crisp reading of the melody, followed by strong and ripe soloing from the leader, and Getz sounds clear headed and deeply engaged, moving briskly through the tune and leaving room for the rhythm section to take their turn with some sparkling piano and drums before he comes back to lead everyone to a rousing conclusion. Getz announces a feature for the piano, bass and drums unit to be the Miles Davis tune “So What,” though this is listed on the tracklist as John Coltrane's “Impressions.” Perhaps the latter was based on the former, leading to the confusion, regardless there is a lengthy trio improvisation with solo sections for each musician. Getz rejoins the group for the following track, one of the highlights of the set, a storming version of Sonny Rollins' “Airegin” that shows the saxophonist throwing caution into the wind and producing a daredevil saxophone solo over roiling rhythm backdrop. While hearing Getz with Haynes isn't exactly Coltrane with Elvin Jones, there is still an generous amount of power at play, also shown on the bebop chestnut “Woody ’N You.” Haynes got in on bebop at the ground floor with Charlie Parker, and he is particularly explosive here, and the leader is with him the whole way playing with a speed and alacrity that might surprise people that only see him as a swing and ballad player. The second set starts to drag a little bit, livened up by a bright and exciting performance of “It's You or No One” with the band swinging together grandly and breaking out into solo and duet settings that work quite well. The final two standards “52nd Street Theme” and “Jumpin' With Symphony Sid” are a bit overlong at nearly fifteen minutes each with lengthy solos for all of the rhythm section that even Haynes can't rescue, but on the whole the concert was quite successful and provide an interesting historical look into jazz in the early 1960's. Getz At The Gate - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Trigger - Pull (Shhpuma, 2019)

The title may be cringe-worthy for Americans after the past few weeks, but this album is just too good to ignore. Trigger is an uncategorizable band featuring Will Greene on electric guitar, Simon Hanes on electric bass and Aaron Edgcomb on drums. They fell into John Zorn’s orbit, playing some of his original works and compositions, and then re-combining to form their own group which mashes up hyper kinetic jazz fusion, prog or math rock and experimental composition and improvisation into a very impressive and cohesive whole. The epic “Lockjaw” opens the album, with the group showing their chops by playing outrageously fast, building an intricate and explosive blend which may creak and groan at times but always bursts back to life under the weight of scalding drumming and guitar playing. Shifting rhythms and heroic clusters of beats keep the music from being a slog with the bass modulating up and slithering like a snake being chased by the drums and the snarling guitar overhead. Coded messages within the music broaden the sound and keep the overall approach mysterious and strange even when the trio is playing at their most over the top and outrageous. “Whiplash” throws a feint in the beginning, with some trippy dub like mixing, before then tossing everything into a blender, melding electronics like an out of control numbers station being crushed by pummeling drums. This sets up a wild and deep improvisation that goes way out into the open. The bass and drums team up, hitting hard as the guitar throws up sparks all around them, as their all out collective improvisation gradually slows down and returns to Earth. A scattered opening is quickly pulled together on “Gun Pharmacy,” with tough drums taking an active solo framed by the occasional electronic grind or spurt. The music coalesces in a proggy soup, building to a mind melding electronic stew with drums that grow more sharp and focused by the second. Sounds become a serrated and jagged improvisation with a steely edge where taut bass and drums engage flinty guitar in a stoic collective improvisation, building faster and stronger, flexing the muscular power and single minded and relentless drive that makes this music so impressive, finally building to a singularity and dissolving into silence. This album worked very well, and despite its violent connotations, there’s actually much more depth and complexity here than meets the eye. All three musicians have worked in a wide variety of settings and they bring this experience as well as a deep seated commitment to freedom and desire to explore to this project. Pull - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Simon Nabatov Quintet - Last Minute Theory (Clean Feed, 2019)

Simon Nabatov is a well regarded Russian - American jazz pianist who has made scores of records, primarily on the English Leo label, but here bouncing to the excellent Portuguese outfit Clean Feed for this meeting with American heavyweights Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones, Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The music was recorded in September of 2018 in Brooklyn and begins with "Old Fashioned," which has a deep and rich swinging sound, and medium tempo with some cascading piano and clusters of saxophone moving around thick bass and grounded drumming. Squiggles of guitar electronics break things up a little bit as the saxophone drops out and the piano trio takes off for a stellar feature. Malaby's saxophone returns along with the jolts of electronics giving the music a delightfully skewed nature while still remaining a strong identity of its own, as droplets of pure electronic sound rain down amid the saxophone, coalescing into a more recognizable electric guitar sound, allowing the full band improvisation to gain a more intense feeling toward the end of the performance grinding relentlessly toward the conclusion of this successful piece. Light and loose percussion and guitar give "Rickety" it's skittish sensibility in terms of rhythm, with and saxophone fluttering this way and that, sounding like one of the freest performances on the album. Malaby's tenor is deep and wide, providing a focal point for the music, abetted by snarls of guitar, clusters of piano and free floating percussion. The music gains a momentum that hustles forward in an impressive collective improvisation, where everybody has an individualistic sound, but is using it to pull in the same direction for exciting and unexpected results. The band develops a rich and colorful palate and uses this to create a wonderful spontaneously created performance. "Marching Right Along" uses a very interesting rattling drum solo to open the performance along a martial beat, with the rest of the band eventually falling in line for a melodic opening. Malaby moves to soprano saxophone, giving the music a more wistful sound, around the crisp drum centered performance. The group tumbles into a free improvisation of varied shades and colors between saxophone, guitar and piano, giving the overall performance a aura that is kaleidoscopic in nature, becoming very free as the drums add waves of cymbal play and the saxophone screeches. The drums finally call everyone back into line around the marching beat and then leads them off into the conclusion of the song. Last Minute Theory - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Loren Connors and Daniel Carter - The Departing of a Dream, Vol. VII (Family Vineyard, 2019)

For almost two decades Loren Connors has been fascinated by the Miles Davis' epic performance "He Loved Him Madly" written and performed to mark the passing of Duke Ellington. in this case he uses electronics and guitar and is joined by the multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, using decaying trumpet drones and slashing sheets of electric strings. The music evokes the electric bands of Miles Davis, particularly on the emotional level, beginning on the first track where wounded trumpet will be juxtaposed against waves of almost industrial sounding noise, using grinding slabs of sound and then opening up for an uneasy moment of calm and peace. There is a cinematic moment where the mind camera focuses on the trumpet as if it is this beautiful flower that at any minute could be overwhelmed by the encroaching machine, crashing and grinding like an ever approaching maw of destruction, whether that represents industry, greed or avarice, there is a sense of lonely haunted fear that pervades the music. The second piece goes into more ethereal territory, with guitar and electronics and saxophone taking an artistic almost painterly approach to the music. Miles' electric music wasn't just a blowout of sound and fury, he maintained the lyricism that had been a hallmark of his sound all the way back to the Birth of the Cool Days. So when it came time to honor Ellington, he approached the color palate and tonal control of the maestro, while maintaining his supernatural patience and tonal control. There is a quiet moment for spare saxophone improvising purely is the moment with just the bares backdrop of electronics, evoking the beauty tat is possible in this context. This is what the second piece examines using guitar and saxophone, instruments that were important to the original Davis piece, but they go in a different direction, using the piece as a jumping off point for a surreal reimagining of the music, with gentle curves of saxophone and shades of colorful and flowing guitar creating a wonderful and evocative performance, they reach into the darkest areas of music and shine a light that fades behind the drones and decaying sounds of the music. Departing Of A Dream VII - amazon.com

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The Who - A Quick One (Decca, 1966; MCA, 1995)

The Who's second album saw them proceeding from the rhythm and blues roots of their first album and the Maximum R and B motto of their mod beginnings into a mixed bag that might not completely cohere, but was vital for the band's successes that lay right around the corner. The album itself was a top five hit in the UK, and the single "Happy Jack" (which was the name of the album in the USA, where the record company objected to the double entendre nature of the original title) was a pop hit in both England and America. And the group is definitely turning in a pop direction on this album, with most songs written by Pete Townshend, but the other members chipping in, particularly John Entwhistle, who contributed two of is best and most enduring songs "Boris the Spider" and "Whiskey Man." Seeing that the album was running short of material, Who co-manager Kit Lambert challenged Townshend to think bigger and extend rock and roll beyond the three minute song. The result was their "mini-opera" a tentative step that would eventually come to fruition wonderfully on future albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia, but at the time a suite of six short songs condensed into one nine minute narrative suite was virtually unheard of in pop music. It's a unique piece in their studio output, but one that would really come awake when played live, like the devastating performance on the Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus. The extra songs on the extended CD version of the album also show some of the band members influences, particularly Keith Moon's love of surf music in the band's versions of "Barbara Ann" and "Bucket T" as well as powering the band through a ripping cover of the Batman theme. They are developing a signature sound on "Disguises" and "So Sad About Us" that display emotional growth far beyond the primarily cover band of a year or two prior. They retain their muscular virility, but are produced well enough to make this powerful music palatable to the pop audience and playable on the radio.The end of the disc features some interesting curios like "I've Been Away," the B-Side of Happy Jack and "In the City" the B-Side of one of the great Who 45's, "I'm a Boy" featuring only Moon and Entwhistle due to a scheduling snafu. Finally, there's an unusual version of "My Generation / Land of Hope and Glory" that takes the music in a vivid, new direction. So you can see that what at first can be viewed as a hodgepodge of tracks is really the first step, however faltering, into The Who's glory years, as they work toward mastering the pop single and long form composition, with witty and distinctive songwriting. A Quick One (Happy Jack) - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Sounds of Liberation - Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (Dogtown Records, 2019)

Sounds Of Liberation was a band formed in 1970 in Philadelphia, consisting Khan Jamal on vibraphone, Byard Lancaster on reeds, Billy Mills on bass, Dwight James on drums, Monnette Sudler on guitar and Omar Hill and William Brister on percussion. The group released one album, New Horizons in 1972, on their own label, then this five-song session of original music was recorded in New York City but lay unreleased for over forty years. “Thoughts” has warm vibes leading the group into the song, with guitar and percussion gradually filling in. The music has a quiet and steady groove that works well, supple bass grounding everything, even as the pace and intensity begins to increase. Guitar and bass have percussion dig in deep as vibes shade the performance with beautiful hues before taking on a more percussive tone as the music drives forward with a  greater sense of urgency to the fade out. On “Keno” flute and vibes are met by hand percussion and guitar creating a jaunty and upbeat full band performance. Vibes become prominent over scratching guitar lending a dreamlike quality to the music which still moves along at a pretty good clip. Solo section for nimble and fast paced percussion juggling rhythm and time before the flute returns leading the band back to the conclusion of the track with a restatement of the theme. “Sweet Evil Mist (Rib Crib)” definitely sounds of its time with some cool sounding funky effects scenting the bass and guitar with drums and percussion bubbling intently underneath the excellent flute and saxophone front line. The music becomes a heady and complex texture operating on several interacting levels, melding into a collective improvisation of merit. Lancaster's saxophone stretches out with an emotionally resonant solo framed by vibes and bubbling percussion as the horns flutter and shriek and the guitars bend like rubber bands allowing for the elasticity of the music to embrace both free jazz and groove jazz simultaneously. Opening fast and melodic“Badi,” has flute and vibes again taking center stage, and some excellent bass holding everything together. A flute solo with echo effect works well, flying free and some choppy guitar adding further texture. Rounded vibraphone notes sustain their tones and ring around the soundstage, sounding like chimes left out in the wind while the bass, guitar and percussion quietly yet feverishly work on rhythms and grooves. “New Horizons (Back Streets of Heaven)” introduces vocals, both male and female, singing in an appealing soulful style, while there is a strong pinched saxophone solo breaking free and bouncing vibes simmer over a tight and accessible rhythm, while the full band pitches in for a solid and lengthy performance. The singers return with their message of hope as the tune winds down with a funky and peaceful conclusion, aptly demonstrating the state of jazz in Philadelphia in the early seventies. Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

The Paranoid Style - A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life (Bar/None, 2019)

The Paranoid Style present some of the wittiest lyrics in music today, not really surprising considering that they are named after a famous article from Harper's in 1964 entitled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Led by the wife and husband duo of Elizabeth Nelson Bracy and and Timothy Bracy, their band of fast paced rock and roll music welded to tumbling and cascading wordplay works particularly well and despite some heady subjects it never comes out as stilted or pretentious, just good old rock and roll that just happens to make you think about the state of the world. The opening “Turpitude” mines some rockabilly, with a strong propulsive beat and lyrics that are a mash up of pseudo biographical memories and name checking music and political figures like Mojo Nixon and Leon Trotsky. There is a thoughtful look into history on “A Marked Man on a Marked Man Occasion” carried forth by a blasting rock and roll backdrop for a song about the Easter rebellion in Ireland in 1916, the guitars echoing the pulverizing violence and the resulting crackdown. “Murder: The Experience” rolls in mid story with the protagonist on trial, moving into what seems like a take down of the genre of true true crime with its endless podcasts and TV reenactments. And the fiery, bright rock and roll guitars enigmatic meaning “An Endless Cycle of Meaningless Behavior” are a genuine hoot to listen to as blasting blasting guitar bass and drums frame pouting ennui, recalling Alan Greenspan years at Julliard playing clarinet and saxophone with Stan Getz and even working in a wink toward The Jam mentioning All Mod Cons as the words and guitars go hurtling by at warp speed, before giving the boot to Ayn Rand and her objectivist nonsense. Taking the musical focus to its logical conclusion, “The Peculiar Case of the Human Song Generators” moves into hardcore territory with the words lost in the pile driving music which sends everything hurtling relentlessly forward, go faster and faster and all subtlety is lost amid the tumult.  The centerpiece of the album is the title track, “A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life,” which recalls a concert by The Who in Cincinnati, which resulted in a massacre of eleven patrons, killed in a scrum for general admittance seats, with the band not told until after the show. She raises other trial balloons about the rock and roll lifestyle adding in Neil Young at the Last Waltz and quoting "Tired Eyes" then using slower music to showcase the words and the hinting at lyrics of songs by The Who and other bands. All of these songs blaze by in a svelte thirty minutes, giving you the feeling of standing on a train platform as the express barrels down the track toward its next stop. Both the music and the lyrics are uniformly excellent on this album, and pure rockers will have a blast turning up the raucous guitar, bass and drums with splashes of organ, while  history trainspotters will have a ball picking out all of the references to famous or infamous musicians and dignitaries. A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life - amazon.com

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