Thursday, October 31, 2019

Gebhard Ullmann - mikroPULS (Intuition Music, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann's latest album was conceived as way to connect to the blues, the roots from which jazz grew, and to which all four members of the band feel connected. Those members are: Hans Lüdemann on piano and virtual piano, Oliver Potratz on bass and Eric Schaefer on drums. The album opens with "Flutist with Hat and Shoe," a midtempo track, featuring saxophone, leading patient quartet jazz, and incorporating a short graceful piano solo, then sterner full band improvisation. Collective improvisation then becomes more open and free, opening to a bass and drums interlude which develops interesting rhythmic ideas. Unaccompanied bass playing opens "Enge Bewegung," allowing spacious piano and percussion build in, before the saxophone enters late, sounding haunted and bruised. The music becomes dramatic, with flourishes of piano and saxophone, lush piano solo heavy chords and strong drum backing. Finally there is a full band ending sounding off kilter and stressed. "F.J.D." has Ullman employing an lonely and hurt sounding saxophone tone, until the band enters and picks up the pace, with rich supple bass playing and a crisp drumbeat provides a firm foundation. The saxophone sound echoes, and musicians are trading ideas freely and without judgement, interweave spontaneous thoughts, building a fresh creating a powerful collective improvisation that really strides forward with purpose. Quavering saxophone and piano create a soft and delicate duo on "Human Body Upgrade" before the bass and drums enter and stoke the fire of the performance. There is a choppy dynamic between sections where the drums pushing things inexorably forward and areas of space and drift, but the Schaefer really takes center stage, playing very well, and creating propulsion and drive that also encourages the saxophonist to take flight. "Tanz der Mikroben" hits the ground running immediately with urgent tenor saxophone and passionate drumming, pushing rhythmic boundaries, aided by strong piano comping and elastic bass holding everything together. Ullman's saxophone is blazing punctuated by overblowing and then winding down, leaving an opening for piano and percussion to develop a strong sense of swing, with the bassist getting in on the act as well. The finale "Zeit Lupe" is a beautiful ballad with lush saxophone, gentle piano, soft brushes and delicate bass developing a deep timeless groove. The band is weaving their instruments lightly together, and their sounds effortlessly coalescing into one gently flowing groove. Ullman and the group are using a microtonal approach to develop different sounds and approaches to their improvisations, as an experiment and intellectual challenge. This helps them to keep their music fresh and ensures that they are engaged in their music, which works well and is compelling to hear. Mikropuls -

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Made to Break - F4 Fake (Trost Records, 2019)

Made to Break is a very exciting modern jazz band that mixes electric and acoustic instruments in new and compelling ways. The current version of the group features Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet, Christof Kurzmann on electronics, Jasper Stadhouders on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. Whether they are working funk and groove rhythms into their music or delving into electronic tinged free jazz, this album remains a compelling and exciting edition to the bands catalog. "Aaton (For Orson Welles) begins fast and funky with electric bass and saxophone with drums. Sparks of electronics add elements of randomness to the music, as their collective improvisation gets more outre as the music evolves, and the electronics is the wildcard throwing glitches into the mix. After a few beats of silence, there is a quieter repetitive sound in open space, with Vandermark's clarinet moving cautiously, building a quiet complex free improvisation with electronics, bass guitar and percussion building and intense conversation. There is space for a rolling drums solo, met by ominous electric bass, lurking like a predator and bringing the full band back together, with Vandermark returning to tenor saxophone. The music here is raw and exciting, with deeply felt saxophone backed by dense slabs of bass guitar and deeply rhythmic percussion, before open electronic tones and quieter acoustic sounds lead to a spare and softer conclusion. An interesting bassline is woven through "Meccano Number 7 (for Julio Cortazar)" with light percussion and thematic saxophone working together very well at a medium up tempo. The playing gets fast and tight, and the band is locked in with electronics coming in along side the bass to add color and hue, splashing light and sound around the music and sending the other band members off in an entirely new direction. The music becomes more free and stoic, bass and saxophone driving forward relentlessly, with smears of electronic sounds and noise burrowing their way in to the music, changing the genetic code of the performance. With a few seconds of quiet, the the approach shifts to probing clarinet and percussion, with longer tones of electronic sounds rising and lowering in pitch as the bass moves in, developing a piercing and hypnotic sound. "Agora (For Zelia Barbosa)" is anchored by heavy distorted bass guitar with tenor saxophone leading to full out free jazz improvisation that is fierce sounding with electronics and acoustic instruments melded together. The music is visceral and potent, but dynamic in its uses of silences and open spaces. With an advanced technique bass solo slashing and scorching the air around it, the band builds back in and develops a more atmospheric sound. Clarinet and skittish electronics use the instruments as building blocks of sound in a constructive process. Stadhouders really shines on this track, anchoring, soloing, doing it all. Vandermark comes back on tenor saxophone, digging in deep and pushing the sound, as trumpet like electronics emerge adding to the overall quality of the musical sound. Electronics with bass and drums full band tenor electronics glitches, creating a soundscape that is unique to this group. F4 Fake -

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Efflorescence Vol. 1 (Leo Records, 2019)

Tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp have collaborated in many configurations during their careers, but on this four disc set, they really seem to have reached a new plateau in their performances. While Perelman states that they never have a concept beforehand, other than just going for it, and trying to be mindful and one hundred percent in the moment, the music captured here has a very lyrical and natural flow to it, where nothing is forced and they seem particularly well attuned to one another, allowing the music to evolve with an organic grace and symmetry. Each musician brings a unique approach to the recording, whether it is Shipp's powerful use of the lower end of the keyboard or Perelman's stoic flights into the upper register of his horn, but these are just parts of the tapestry that is woven over the course of the music. The duo makes use of a wide range of approaches, continuously varying the feel, appearance, or consistency of the surface or substrate of their improvisations. Creativity, in the way in which the textures, techniques and emotional resonances play out over the course of the four discs keeps the music from becoming stilted or stale and in fact this is one of the most listenable of the mutli-disc Perelman projects, with each of the relatively short pieces flowing logically and seamlessly into the next one, creating a synthesis that is easy for the listener to follow and be swept up in as they develop ideas and concepts that evolve in real time, allowing for conversation and a back and forth sharing of ideas and motifs. Originally, it was thought after the success of the Oneness album Perelman and Shipp released in 2018, there would be a break in action for the duo while they explored other projects. Fortunately, this was not the case, and the creative instinct struck hard and fast, leading these two musicians back into the studio for several days of recording, the remainder of which will be released shortly. They have a simpatico musical relationship where each complements the other in this duo setting, leading to one of their finest statements yet. Efflorescence, Vol. 1 -

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation, 2019)

With the repeated motifs of running like the wind, and memory being an unusual thing, composer and saxophonist Matana Roberts places the fourth entry in her ambitious Coin Coin series of albums in Memphis, city of contradictions. While the city had deep roots for African-American music, it had even deeper roots for slavery, racism and white nationalism which are explored on this timely album. She leads an excellent band, playing alto saxophone, clarinet and speaking and singing the dialog. “Trail of the Smiling Sphinx” is a fine example, with some wordless vocals and increasingly strenuous music becoming very powerful, with Roberts's saxophone taking charge over strong percussion and free sounding accompaniment. Dropping out to a spacier section of bass and guitar in a skittish duet, there are bursts of loud and chaotic free jazz from the full band bursting through in an exciting fashion, based around excellent violin playing. This leads them into a wonderful improvised section that gradually winds down, leading back to spoken vocals and narration about youth and spirituality. The narrative leads directly into “Pidding” a short burst of vibrant sound, with a torrent of percussion and violin joined by prickly guitar and saxophone, and the music is akin to something Alber Ayler developed at the Village Gate in the mid 1960's with an urgent and robust sound. “Shoes of Gold” adds vibes which shimmer in an almost hypnotic or disorienting manner amid shards of guitar and bass, taking the music in a new direction entirely. Saxophone and drums lean into “Wild Fire Bare” with the violin joining to give the music a fast and lean sound with a taut and true improvisation creating stoic and beautiful music, giving their music a spacious and free sound. Roberts saxophone is capable of harsh free playing as well as melodic turns of phrase, and she uses this talent wisely, playing wonderfully, reminding listeners of her talent as a saxophonist as well as a storyteller. Scatting, her loud voice urgent amid drumming, then a percussion and saxophone dialogue builds full band into “Fit to Be Tied,” a looser band segment, vague overtones lurching forward into cacophony then order is restored for saxophone and brass over an excellent drum rhythm, with voice. “All Things Beautiful” contrasts the beauty of the natural world with the narrated horror of a Klan attack and “In the Fold” the aftermath, the death and destruction. She ends the album on a defiant note, asking people to “live life out loud” and leads the band through a thoughtful and expressive section of the music that encapsulates the sound and the spirit of this poignant and brilliant album. COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Kneebody - Chapters (Edition Records, 2019)

Kneebody is a modern jazz band that also draws liberally from pop and world music. On this album, the core band consists of Ben Wendel on saxophones and effects, Shane Endsley on trumpet and effects, Adam Benjamin on keyboards and Nate Wood on drums and bass, and the group is joined on a number of tracks by guest musicians and vocalists. This fresh modern approach is shown on "The Trip," where guest Gerald Clayton makes his presence felt on piano and the group anchors a crisp, fast drumbeat with trumpet developing a fast and jaunty full band swing. The complex rhythm takes a step down for a spacier interlude, making way for a saxophone solo, and Wendel makes the most of it, developing a hard edged and steely tone and driving the full band forward over rippling piano. Keyboards build focus over ominous bass lines on "Hearts Won't Break" building a heavy electronic tinged groove with soulful vocals from Josh Dion who also adds synth bass and extra percussion. The music evolves into a horn driven motion, with hard riffing and a rhythm and blues tinged saxophone section backed by slashing drums. "Chapters" is given over to the core quartet with the horns playing along with urgent bass and drums, where the musicians deeply locked in together, so they can step back and push forward dynamically, led by keyboards and bass and a deeply punchy trumpet solo. The group is also able to develop an interesting texture on "Spectra" where the electronic keyboards lead the full band into a fast performance that also involves vocalizations, creating interesting and varied textures. The band is pushing hard with trumpet and electronics, allowing the waves of disparate sound to come together in one cohesive identity. The title Chapters refers to a reinvention and retrenchment of the Kneebody aesthetic marking a new beginning with a new line-up and a record label, but the commitment to the music remains the same. The addition of the guests and vocals provides a diversity of selections under the umbrella of their overall sound, showing the diversity and malleability that is inherent in their music. Chapters -

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Crosscurrents Trio - Good Hope (Edition Records, 2019)

Crosscurrents Trio is an excellent group consisting of veteran musicians Dave Holland on bass, Zakir Hussain on tabla and Chris Potter on saxophones. Holland and Potter have been playing together for many hears now in different configurations, and the addition of Hussain is a wonderful idea, jolting the music in a different direction, and giving each member of the band the freedom to try new ideas and concepts. The trio plays with a loose and elastic sound, grounded in jazz, but infused with near eastern music that allows them to go in many unique and interesting directions. The compositions are split nearly evenly between the band members, and solo flights are de-emphasized, in turn placing the focus of the recording on rhythm and the grooves that the players lock into together, digging into deeply and creating fascinating collective improvisational flourishes. Each of these musicians is a leader in their own right, but ego is placed aside for deeply hewn explorations, and subtlety is the key to many of the performances with Holland's deep and rich sounding acoustic bass is able to stretch and pull around the swirling hypnotic tablas which develop fast complex ever changing rhythms. All of these ideas and concepts come together to create a cohesive musical language, one that is inspired by creative good will, drawing each member of the band into the other one's orbit, until you have a Venn diagram of sound and projection. There is no ego at play here, the album as a whole is executed with high spirits, respect and goodwill, exploring disparate sonic territory with heartfelt bonhomie, bringing together creative musicians from different backgrounds and traditions in an open minded and thoughtful environment. Good Hope -

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reid Anderson / Dave King / Craig Taborn - Golden Valley Is Now (Intakt, 2019)

This is a veteran group of improvisers stepping away from their normal settings and letting loose into a wider palette of sounds, with Reid Anderson on electric bass and electronics, Dave King on acoustic and electronic drums and Craig Taborn on synthesizers, electric and acoustic piano. With the wide range of instrumental possibilities on hand the band is able to draw from particular shades of jazz and fusion along with progressive rock, electropop and synthpop from the late seventies and eighties that give their compositions and improvisations a interesting sound, creating a fusion of acoustic and electronic elements, and building themes and extrapolations that are uniquely characteristic to this band's sound. "Song One" has the dreamy slightly dour keyboards backed by a growing drumbeat and shards of synth, finally coalescing into a crushing heavy section with driving drums and highly pressurized bass about a third of the way in. The heaviness competes with with melancholy air that had pervaded on the earlier tracks, and provides a much needed kick and injection of bass and drum infused energy. The excitement is front and center on "High Waist Drifter" with some snazzy video game like keyboard sounds and locked in bass and drums powering the music forward. This song is short, catchy and memorable something that would have been played on the radio during a kinder time, with a spacey break toward the end, allowing the track ends with a graceful fade. "Polar Heroes" works as a nimble and tight trio improvisation with electronic drums providing an unusual brittle slapping and sound and off kilter beat while the electric bass is kneading its way through the song. Bass and drums also provide a rock solid beat for "You Might Live Here," with Taborn's synths and electric piano adding color and texture, he is a master of these instruments, using them to develop moods and synergies for the trio to groove on while not being heavy handed or overwhelming the overall feel of the music. The group develops a tight pocket, and uses the electronics to both enhance the groove but also provide themes and atmosphere. Overall, this album worked well, and it is something that will grow on listeners over time if they are not immediately put off by all of the electronics. Think maybe Lanquidity era Sun Ra meets Ultravox minus the vocals, it's really interesting stuff, probably music that could draw a wider audience if people knew if it was out there, and that's not a bad thing. Golden Valley Is Now -

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Jon Irabagon - Invisible Horizon (Irabbagast Records, 2019)

Saxophonist and Jon Irabagon's newest release is a challenging and very successful two disc set that represents an adventure into composing for contemporary classical music as well as a disc devoted to him playing the a solo recording of the unusual mezzo-soprano saxophone. Never one to stand on his laurels, he dives right into the first disc, entitled Invisible Guests, inspired by the game of Mahjongg. There is a six movement performance called The Invisible Guests Suite for the Mivos String Quartet and pianist Matt Mitchell, and then Irabagon performs on sopranino saxophone during bracketing opening and closing unrelated "Vignettes." The music is very impressive and moving, it is sweeping in scope with dramatic waves of strings moving through the suite giving the music a true narrative arc that is only improved when Irabagon or Mitchell add their distinctive musical personalities to the overall sound of the music. They never overwhelm the strings, but give the proceedings a little kick or nudge that make things even more interesting. Overall the music on this disc is quite beautiful but also provocative, with a lot of information being provided by the musicians and the distinctive arrangements. Irabagon's album of solo saxophone called Dark Horizon: Live from the Mausoleum is equally compelling, as he is able to pull so many distinctive sounds out of the instrument whether through long menacing growls, lengthy bellows or urgent peals of sound that reverberate with echo, and it is fascinating to hear him take the instrument and truly make it his own. The echo that is used in the recording is another key element in giving the saxophone its distinctive sound, allowing him to solo against or with the ghostly echo of what had just come before, and create a new and convincing approach to the instrument. The album was recorded in a Norwegian mausoleum which gives a natural reverberation and lengthy decay to the sound of the saxophone. He has recorded in a solo context before, but this is the most unique and personal setting to date. Overall this album was very impressive, demonstrating the boundless imagination and enthusiasm of Jon Irabagon, and his desire to ceaselessly push the boundaries of progressive jazz ever forward.

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Matthew Shipp - Invisible Light: Live Sao Paulo ((ezz-thetics, 2019)

Pianist Matthew Shipp was recorded in a solo setting live at the 2016 Jazz at the Factory Festival in Sao Paulo, and he sounds very inspired, playing with a great deal of fire and agility. The music is a mix of original compositions and a few standards that have been completely re-arranged for this performance. The opening track “Symbol Systems” has a fascinating loud and soft dynamic tension, with fast and fluid stark sounding chords being hit hard, giving the music a relentless push to the edge. The concert is played without breaks and the music comes like a breathless rush with “Angel Eyes” adding lighter passages to the overall narrative flow, and using more space in between the fast run of notes. “Whole Movement” features heavy low-end percussive chords rumbling and sustaining their sound balanced by light and almost delicate high-end flourishes. This is the contrast at the core of the music that provides the fuel as does the almost orchestral use of the entire length of the piano. The standard “On Green Dolphin Street” is anchored by more thunderous low-end depth charges and lighter touches that create a dynamic juxtaposition that can be jarring. “There Will Never Be Another You” has bounding sounds from everything in reach as fast, racing lines of piano send notes forth in rolling waves, with the touch and feel of the instrument seeming just right, and completely dialed in. The epic performance “Blue in Orion” is almost twice as long as any other track from this concert and makes use of the extra space and time by playing long graceful medium tempo tones that have a beautiful crystalline sound and structure. The music is patient and reserved, gradually unfolding to build in more development like darker and moodier chords which brilliantly mix the power of Shipp’s left hand with the dexterity of his right. The remainder of the album consists of short capsule performances beginning with “Yesterdays” where he is powering though the beginning and then letting up into a series of bounding and descending chords. “Gamma Ray” feints with a light and almost bouncy opening before the percussive resonating takes over only to lead us to the concluding track, “Summertime,” which kneads and pulls at the familiar song, offering a hint of the melody before stripping it for parts. This was an excellent concert, with Shipp offering his unique take on a few standards and his own original compositions, and his fresh and bold technique on the piano, while the music was very well recorded and rewards careful listening. Invisible Light: Live in Sao Paulo - Squidco

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New (Cuneiform Records, 2019)

The Tomeka Reid Quartet consists of the leader on cello, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jason Roebke on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The group is an electro-acoustic hybrid with electric guitar alongside acoustic bass and cello, which creates a lot of very interesting textures and soundscapes beginning with “Old New” which has a fast and edgy energy with rapid drums, swaying cello and supersonic guitar. The music has a very upbeat and exciting pace, with thick and insistent bass and drums, which drives the music forward. Bowing cello creating swirling patterns along with nice drum work sets the pace on “Wabash Blues” as the band develops a nice medium tempo groove. There is a guitar solo that has Mary Halvorson's unique nimble and spidery approach, followed by a solid drum solo. “Niki's Bop” has bouncy rhythm supplied by the bass and drums, and swinging cello and guitar soaring over that cool beat. They separate, and fly about, creating a kaleidoscopic improvisation of color and hue. Chattering bass and cello play in an abstract and esoteric manner on “Aug. 6” eventually coalescing into a complex rhythm with guitar playing through and pushing the band to stretch out on a compelling collective improvisation. Nimble plucked cello opens “Sadie” with deep bass and light percussion, making way for a beautiful neon toned guitar solo snaking through the bass and drums with great agility. There is a bass feature that is played with a very appealing tone, and then a wonderful plucked cello conclusion. “Peripatetic” has cello with bass and drums and shards of guitar creating swathes of sound, very free sounding with thick bass and drums, snapping back to the theme and then whipping back into a wild full group improvisation in fascinating fashion. The final track, “RN,” has fast and mobile strings building a melody with a repetitive cello theme and some well played reflecting, reverberating guitar. This was a very good album; the music may have drawn its influences from places as far afield as early jazz, string band music and progressive rock, but Tomeka Reid sets her own identity on this album, and her band is with her every step of the way. Old New -

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Chris Lightcap - Superbigmouth (Pyroclastic Records, 2019)

Bassist Chris Lightcap is one of the most interesting and thoughtful musicians on the current scene, with his last record with his band Bigmouth being my album of the year for 2015. Now he's back with a larger group, Superbigmouth, loaded with talent, including Craig Taborn on keyboards, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone, Jonathan Goldberger and Curtis Hasselbring on guitar and Gerald Cleaver and Dan Rieser on drums. “Through Birds, Through Fire” opens the albums with brisk momentum as the guitars keep and upbeat and positive motion along side nimble bass and drums. The sound of the music is fresh and invigorating, and the work between the instruments is intricate, developing a thick woven texture. Rippling keyboards shimmy across the surface of the music followed by the horns and the full band moves into a collective improvisation, with groove undercurrents. “Queenside” has a heavier and more urgent approach, with the guitars and horns really leaning in and the groove from the bass and drums sounding more insistent. The group creates a very vibrant and powerful sound, allowing Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone to break out and build a raw toned solo over thick electric bass and a heavy drum pulse, before handing off to guitarist Jonathan Goldberger who provides an explosive interlude blasting off into a scalding solo section, before returning to the fold as the the group pushes hard to the finish line. “Deep River” unfolds gradually over keyboards and persistent bass and drums. The guitars and horns play well together developing a theme and establishing an identity for the performance. Chris Cheek's saxophone breaks out of the pack back, supported by nicely feathered percussion, and develops a patient and narrative driven solo, gradually guiding and focusing the pace of the music like a master craftsman. The drummers are top notch, adding cymbal accents to an interesting keyboard interlude, powering the group as it comes back together, with everything running smoothly, keeping the tempo at a steady boil, and adding a drum solo/duo at about the three quarter mark of the performance, juggling multiple rhythms. “Quinine” has a slightly slower tempo, with a dreamy soundscape that gradually focuses with the horns working into and inviting theme, and then guitarist Curtis Hasselbring, steps out, testing the waters and then adding passionate flurries of notes over crisp drumming. The band plays together in a collective fashion in a very impressive way, allowing a variety of colors and rhythms to come to the forefront and then be subsumed as the music continuously replenishes itself with new ideas. This was a very well done album, the musicianship is out of sight, but there is no ego involved, everybody is playing in the service to the music and that is its greatest asset. The compositions are well written and continuously interesting, allowing for great opportunities for soloing but also for full band playing, as they make the most of the opportunities given to them. SuperBigmouth -

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell - Common Practice (ECM, 2019)

The Village Vanguard is one of the most hallowed venues in the history of jazz, so it is is the perfect place to convene a band that wishes to explore the history of genre in a small group context. Led by Ethan Iverson on piano, and featuring Tom Harrell on trumpet, Ben Street on bass, Eric McPherson on drums, this group developed a wide ranging program of standards, blues and a few Iverson originals. In the liner notes to the album, he states that part of the impetus of the session was to “support and challenge Tom Harrell in standard repertoire,” giving him space to express himself by improvising on familiar jazz compositions at a variety of tempos. (EPK) This setting bears fruit immediately with a beautiful ballad version of "The Man I Love" where you hear the decades of experience that Harrell has playing jazz, building a thoughtful and intricate solo alongside hushed and thoughtful accompaniment. The Iverson original "Philadelphia Creamer" is an exciting performance, taken at a medium tempo, with a great powerful and riveting trumpet solo that is rewarded with much deserved applause. McPherson provides classy drumming alongside Iverson's cool piano chords, and the whole thing just swings deeply. There is an even faster pace to the the Denzil Best bebop standard "Wee" with the band flying through the theme in a quick and punchy fashion, anchored by excellent bass and fast paced cymbal playing which keeps the rhythm boiling. There is an intricate percussion feature, and great trumpet led intros and outros, leading to a wonderful overall performance. The standard "I Can't Get Started" has the leader playing some thick, dark velvety piano creating a moody atmosphere. Harrell lightens the mood as he adds a more golden toned trumpet solo backed by soft and tasteful brushes. There is also room for a trio section of spacious piano with elastic bass and brushed percussion. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” has an emotionally resonant piano intro, perfect fodder for Harrell to pick up upon and build into a graceful woven solo feature. Iverson picks his notes with care, every one shines like crystal, and the trumpeter floats above it all with a light, pleasing approach. After starting at a bouncy medium tempo, the band turns over its motor for “All the Things You Are,” moving into a breezy fast paced full band improvisation that is a delight to hear, Iverson is sparse, letting the trumpeter play over the cooking bass and drums and Harrell sounds excellent in this format. He stands aside, letting the piano, bass and drums unit get a rippling feature that glides the performance in for a safe landing. This was an excellent  mainstream jazz album, Iverson's choice of songs and arrangements builds a compelling narrative arc through the set. The band as a whole was spot on, but Harrell stepped up as a featured soloist delivering some genuinely beautiful trumpet playing, which was warm and thoughtful and full of spirit. Common Practice -

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Saturday, October 05, 2019

Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic Records, 2019)

Inspired by the natural world and it's dynamic nature, pianist and composer Kris Davis convened an all-star cast for her latest album. Drawing not only on jazz, but spoken word, hip-hop and experimental music, she has created a fresh and challenging album, developing relationships with fellow musicians, who build off of the music she created during her week long residency at The Stone in 2018. Inviting this large group of multifaceted musicians allow the proceedings to go in unexpected directions as the sparks fly in this excellent album. The opening track "Diatom Ribbons" uses the recorded voice of Cecil Taylor, backed by the dark and percussive piano of Davis. Taylor talks about the value of music and how it can save you, and the spiritual aspects of the sound. Horns by JD Allen and Tony Malaby frame the middle section, and then split off for some fine tenor saxophone solo statements. "Rhizomes" has the guitar of Nels Cline on deck, with some rhyming and scratching in the background along with excellent bass playing. Cline breaks out over a crushing Terri Lyne Carrington drumbeat and lays down some snarling tones, developing a deep and gnarly solo. Ches Smith is at the heart of "Stone's Throw" which is taken at a medium tempo with percussion, bass and piano along with Smith's subtle vibraphone. It is a subtle and restrained performance that works very well; Smith sounds great on that instrument and the rest of the group works very well with him. Esperanza Spalding adds spoken word to "Certain Cells" as a fast drum and bass rhythm grows, piano cords chime in as the music develops adding a mysterious air to the performance, and Nels Cline's quavering guitar moves uneasily just below the surface. "Golgi Complex (The Sequel)" has Marc Ribot upsetting the apple cart, throwing lightning bolts of electric guitar from the start in a thrilling fashion, along with a taut rhythm section, he is just scorching the earth. The music calms, held together with electric bass and excellent piano playing, and solid drums making for a fine three way improvisation. Ribot bursts back in like an unwelcome house guest, and is in rare form playing wild and unfettered guitar over the rest of the band. With both Cline and Ribot on hand, "Golgi Complex" starts out even wilder, with a free opening as everyone does their thing, creating glorious cacophony, from slashing guitars to bounding piano chords. This is free jazz of a higher purpose as everyone is working together to form a collective improvisation that is going to push the boundaries of what can really be done, and their creativity and imagination seal the deal. "Reflection" closes the album with a long jam, at twelve minutes at length easily the longest track on the album, with gracefully rising horns from Allen and Malaby and lush beautiful piano playing. The music develops episodically and gracefully building in solos for each of the horn players and allowing the full band to make its mark as well. This was a fascinating album filled with diverse sounds and approaches to composition and improvisation. But the music still remains accessible and lively, flowing well and making a coherent statement as an album. The CD itself is quite impressive too, with a full color booklet complete with excellent pictures, lengthy liner notes and discographical and scientific information. Diatom Ribbons -

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Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Book: All the Madmen by Clinton Heylin

It is often said that genius is close to madness and that is something that Heylin (author of many books dealing with Bob Dylan among others) delves into deeply. He looks into the careers of some of the most famous and in one case nearly forgotten British rock and folk musicians of the late 1960's and 1970's to see how their psychological trauma, both past and present affected their work when they were at the height of their careers. Beginning in 1967 with Syd Barrett, briefly on top of the world as the front man, lead guitarist and songwriter for Pink Floyd who had just released an excellent debut album and clutch of fine singles. Heavy LSD usage was making him undependable, but he has also the victim of in-group power plays that saw bassist Roger Waters kick Syd to the curb and take the helm of what would become a multi-platinum behemoth. After a few solo LPs Syd did succumb to schizophrenia, quietly living out his days until 2006. David Bowie made the most of the mental illness that ran in his family, referencing it in seemingly every interview of the period. But he became so infused by his on stage characters, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke predominantly, amplified by massive amounts of cocaine, that it nearly lead him to dissociative identity disorder. Nick Drake is the least well known of these musicians, a stellar acoustic guitar player and songwriter who made three albums during his lifetime that barely left a dent in the collective consciousness due in part to his crippling shyness and inability to play live, part of the severe depression he suffered from. Drake would take his own life only to surprisingly reach a whole new legion of fans decades later when the title track of his Pink Moon LP was featured in a Volkswagen commercial. Pressure, both self inflicted and from record companies and fans drove the two remaining rock stars to the brink. Ray Davies of The Kinks was riding high after a series of hits in the mid 1960's, but when tastes changed and the rock world went down the psychedelic path, Davies went in a different direction with songs that began to celebrate the joys of home and hearth, and eccentric Britishness. As brilliant as these late sixties albums were, the hits dried up, and Davies moved to the bottle, and a series of breakdowns began that would carry through the mid 1970's as his grandiose ideas fell by the wayside. Finally, Pete Townshend of The Who became a victim of his own success, when the rock opera Tommy became a massive success both in the record shops and on tour around the world. He felt that he had to go further, developing the Lifehouse project, a science fiction extravaganza that would encompass an album, film and live performances. But nobody could understand the story he was trying to tell, and Townshend drove himself to near madness before finally relenting and cherry picking the best of the songs for the Who's Next LP. This was an interesting and well written book that is well researched and uses a wide range of sources to support its thesis. The pressure and stress of being a popular musician would be enough to make anyone feel the the strain, but looking at these cases show when things truly got out of hand. All the Madmen -

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Marion Brown - Capricorn Moon to Juba Lee Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019)

Alto saxophonist and composer Marion Brown was coming into his own in the mid 1960's when these invigorating tracks were recorded. He played as a sideman in critical albums like John Coltrane's Ascension and Archie Shepp's Fire Music, and had recorded as a leader for Impulse! and ESP. Meeting a fellow traveler in trumpeter Alan Shorter, brother of Wayne, Brown made thinking man's free jazz, imbued with his interest in art, philosophy and architecture. The first two tracks, from November 1965 have Brown with Shorter on trumpet, Reggie Johnson and Ronnie Boykins on bass (first track only,) and Rashied Ali on drums. “Capricorn Moon” opens the album with excellent rhythm from the two basses and percussion which give the music extra drive, perfect for Brown, whose saxophone sounds tart, bright and alive. He mixes long tones and flurries of notes with the churning rhythm creating a supple improvised performance. The trumpet's soloing is strong and cogent over the hypnotic bass and drums, projecting a strong deep tone played with great control. The basses are featured in solo and duo adding some excellent bowing, leading to a storming drum solo and the return of the theme for full band that gradually fades out. Fast bass and drums urge on the horns during “Mephistopheles” with the band sounding a little more harsh, and Brown developing a more shrill tone at times. The rhythm team is pushing the tempo hard and the horns respond well, building a massive rolling improvised section. Shorter takes the lead, with more edge to his sound than the prior track, playing long stark sounds that come off as advanced hard bop rather than free, but works well nonetheless. An impressive bowed bass section for Johnson leads to a pummeling drum solo, and a brief restatement of the theme before a squalling end. The final two tracks, from November 1966, have a larger group of Brown with Shorter on trumpet, Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone, Dave Burrell on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass and Beaver Harris on drums. “Juba Lee” has a pretty, song like introduction for the full band at a medium up tempo featuring thoughtful trumpet and and drums. Shorter's trumpet sounds sunny and bright, calling out for Brown's saxophone to join in on the fun. The group collaborates well, with nobody forcing the action, when the saxophones join up with the brass the music becomes much freer, engaging with the bass and drums allowing a bass solo to bounce everyone back to the theme. The final track is “Itidus” which is slower and slightly ominous, with the horn section developing extremely loud or powerful in their sound, long tones willowy and withering evoking stark emotions of sad longing. The brass keeps the low flame alight with subtle drums underneath, and the energy seems subdued as space opens up for piano with light bass and drums leading back to the heavy and imposing theme. This was an excellent disc, reminding up what a protean force Marion Brown was in the music. A quiet, thoughtful man, perhaps he never got the due of some of the other musicians of the period, but he left a significant legacy that starts with these recordings. Don't miss the wonderful Instagram account carried out by the Brown family as well. Capricorn Moon To Juba Lee: Revisited -

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