Friday, November 29, 2019

NPR / Francis Davis Jazz Poll Ballot

I was invited by jazz writer Francis Davis to participate in his end of year poll, hosted by NPR music. We still have a month to go before the end of the year, but the deadline for ballots was December eighth and he was asking for ballots to be returned sooner than later. The final results of the poll will be posted on the NPR Music around new years.

•Your choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.  

1. Dave Rempis / Brandon Lopez / Ryan Packard - The Early Bird Gets (Aerophonic Records, 2019)
2. Gerald Cleaver / Nels Cline / Larry Ochs - What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed, 2019)
3. David Torn / Tim Berne / Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019)
4. Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet - John Coltrane 50th Memorial Concert At Cafe Oto (Confront, 2019)
5. Brötzmann / Schlippenbach / Bennink - Fifty Years After... (Trost, 2019)
6. Made to Break - F4 Fake (Trost Records, 2019)
7. Matthew Shipp Trio - Signature (ESP-Disk, 2019)
8. Boneshaker - Fake Music (Soul What Records, 2019)
9. CP Unit - Riding Photon Time (Eleatic Records, 2019)
10. Teodross Avery - After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane (Tompkins Square, 2019)
(11). Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Efflorescence Vol. 1 (Leo Records, 2019)

•Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order

1. Sam Rivers Trio - Emanation (NoBusiness, 2019)
2. Eric Dolphy - Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance, 2019)
3. Albert Ayler - Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019)

•Your choice for the year's best Vocal album
Heroes Are Gang Leaders - The Amiri Baraka Sessions (Flat Langston's Arkeyes, 2019)

•Your choice for the year's best Latin album:
1. Poncho Sanchez - Trane's Delight (not reviewed)

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gorilla Mask - Brain Drain (Clean Feed, 2019)

Gorilla Mask is Peter Van Huffel on alto and baritone saxophones plus effects, Roland Fidezius on electric bass and effects and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums and percussion. They are a seriously talented modern jazz band who still remembers how to have fun and make enjoyable and provocative music, unafraid to meld their jazz with a generous helping of punk and metal. "Rampage" opens the album, with some predatory bass and drum action, leading to clusters of ripe saxophone notes, with the group developing a tight groove. The bass takes on different textures and colors with distortion interacting with splashy cymbals and raw horn, as they dig deep and push hard in a riveting fashion. The title track "Brian Drain" has a deep and subterranean bass sound with urgent saxophone, as they build a fantasia of sound with the saxophone echoing over the bass and drums, which plow ahead relentlessly. The bass and drums section is very fast and complex with rhythmic surprises and deep interplay, and the elasticity of the performance is very impressive. "Forgive Me, Mother" features fast bass and drums locked in, with the horn arriving and the trio carving a deep pocket. They construct a fast paced collective improvisation, they flip the script into an abstract mid-action, making the remainder of the music raw and immediate. Van Huffel lays down some funky deep baritone saxophone on "Caught in a Helicopter Blade" aligned with heavy, aggressive drumming to creative a forceful and propulsive groove, especially when the bass kicks into gear. The music grinds appealingly as the players stretch out with a tightly knotted bass and drums feature in the middle. Shrieking accents frame the saxophone as the band crushes it moving hard to the finish line. "AVALANCHE!!!" is a fast and intricate trio improvisation with the musicians working closely together to unlock this complex music. The sound has a free-bop feeling and clearly displays the level of technique the musicians have on their instruments. The fast grinding groove returns for "Barracuda" with a withering pneumatic theme building speed and potency through repetition and gradual change. They break out fast and loose with a collective improvisation that is quite compelling with the scalding saxophone meeting locomoting bass and drums. Finally, "HOSER" is a fun and fast paced track where the band sets a fast paced choppy theme and then gradually stretches out from there with great muscular drumming and riff heavy bass and saxophone, ending this excellent album on a fine note. Brain Drain -

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Ellery Eskelin / Christian Weber / Michael Griener - The Pearls (Intakt, 2019)

The collective group of Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums develop an interesting album that mixes interpretations of ragtime songs from the dawn of jazz with free improvisations that are as fresh as tomorrow. “Magnetic Rag” by Scott Joplin is a fast and jumpy tune with the group’s playing sounding happy and upbeat. Eskelin’s saxophone takes the lead, sounding gracious and accessible, playing in a lyrical fashion alongside witty bass and drums. Everybody plays the danceable song joyously, with these postmodern musicians playing this music from over a century ago without missing a beat, as they take the jaunty theme to a fine conclusion. Going in a different way entirely, “La Fée Verte” opens with spare percussion and probing bowed bass. They develop a moody vibe of bowed bass with cymbals as the saxophone enters melding their tones and twisting the music which gains density as the improvisation gets faster and freer. They weave a complex texture among the three instruments, as Weber changes to plucked bass, developing a hypnotic figure, and the trio advances an excellent collective improvisation that never falters. Jelly Roll Morton’s classic composition “The Pearls” expresses a lively, cheerful, and self-confident manner of playing, taken at a medium tempo with excellent brushed percussion. The band plays in a very tight formation, performing with great empathy and dignity. “Eccentric Rag” ramps the tempo up, cooking in a more rhythmic manner with a nice melody and crisp drumming. The final track, “Black Drop,” is a long abstract improvisation, beginning quietly with nearly silent percussion. Bubbling saxophone and probing bass enter the picture as the band gradually builds volume and speed to an imposing collective improvisation that eventually fades into the silence from which it came. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Beaver Harris’s From Ragtime to No Time and Air’s Air Lore, this trio is able to forge a link between the beginning of the music’s history and the present day without giving the listener auditory whiplash. Both the rags and the free performances are played with grace and humility and a great deal of skill leading to their success. The Pearls -

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Keith Jarrett - Munich 2016 (ECM, 2016)

Pianist Keith Jarrett has recorded many solo albums over the course of his career, it is a challenge that continually calls to him. This particular concert was recorded on the last night of a 2016 European tour in Munich, the hometown of his longtime record label, ECM. Jarrett spontaneously improvises a twelve part suite that incorporates elements of jazz, classical and soul music into a successful performance. Despite recent health issues, the pianist is clearly feeling strong and in his element. On "Part I" he comes out with his foot on the gas, building and coalescing form from a nebulous opening into showers of notes developing a complex web of improvisation. Like gravitational waves emanating out from this original burst, the music undulates and flows with its own unique language and logic. The music tumbles relentlessly forward with Jarrett making use of the entire instrument, kneading the lower end of the keyboard to produce darker chords mixed with bright fast single note runs from the upper end of the keyboard. "Part IV" has elements of soul and the blues which were present in his earlier playing and the music swings pleasantly, along with his raspy vocalizations. It's a short piece, but interesting in that it seems to be a personal one to him in that he is pushing his feelings into it , he raises the volume and the syncopation of the performance, really driving himself to the conclusion. By contrast, "Part V" is a spacious ballad piece, with the very notes hanging in the air, the music is gentle and patient and he allows the performance to develop in its own time. Jarrett gracefully develops it further adding more lush elements to what has become quite a romantic undertaking, but it never becomes cloying or sentimental, but dances gracefully to its conclusion. "Part VII" is very short but memorable, as he once again hits the ground running, creating on the fly at high speed, playing at a very fast pace, up and down the keyboard in a most impressive and exciting manner, but before you have time to catch your breath, its over. Returning to the more accessible swing "Part IX" shows Jarrett playing what amounts to soulful hard bop, perhaps a flashback to the music he made for Atlantic and with Charles Lloyd in the 1960's. Regardless, it's enjoyable, and moreover, he sounds like he's having fun, which is something that doesn't always come through on his albums. Rock solid bass chords underpin an exploratory right hand, creating good stuff. Rippling piano like waves of water or desert sand are the metaphor for "Part XII" played with great dexterity and facility, Jarrett keeps the music in continuous motion and played very fast, his skill in performing is undeniable, and his hands must have been a blur of motion. He finishes the performance with three with three rather sentimental standards, the finale, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" being particularly poignant as he gradually introduces the familiar melody playing on the razors edge of sentimentality with out tipping into mawkishness and closing this excellent concert in fine style. Munich 2016 -

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Avram Fefer - Testament (Clean Feed, 2019)

Alto and tenor saxophonist Avram Fefer is a well regarded member of the New York City jazz scene, having released albums as a leader and as a sideman for many years. For this album, he has assembled a stellar band featuring Marc Ribot on guitar, on Eric Revis on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. The opening track “Dean St. Hustle” has the full band jumping in with a great modern jazz theme which allows them to come out swinging hard. Fefer’s saxophone rides hard adding gritty asides along with fast drumming, sparks of guitar and elastic bass as the full group is just steaming at high speed. The saxophone lays out, leaving room for an excellent guitar, bass and drums section, where Ribot applies an appealingly jazzy tone and the bass and drums are deeply rhythmic and propulsive. The raw and emotional melody of “Testament” is taken at high speed, developing quickly with savage electric guitar and percussion interplay. The band plays loud and fast as Fefer weaves his saxophone through the thicket of pulsating guitar, bass and drums, and the collective improvisation they develop is scouring and very exciting. Ribot is amazing, snarling and hissing alongside the pummelling drums and relentless bass playing as he engages with the bassist and drummer to create undomesticated, yet beautiful music, that becomes even more minimal with an excellent bass and drums duet. “Magic Mountain” builds from open ended cymbal shimmers as saxophone and guitar intertwine, giving the band the light and nimble feeling of being uprooted. Their improvisation turns into a choppy freer improvisation, playing in a complex and forward thinking fashion, flowing and in the moment. Ribot shoots out laser like guitar tones over undulating bass and drums, creating a fine rhythmic feature. Gently played guitar opens “Parable” with everyone coming together in a ballad formation, featuring soft brushed percussion and gruff but kind tenor saxophone. The musicians gradually meld together gracefully and the music is played with tact and dignity, building in intensity until it becomes something grander as the raw, enveloping sound of the group fills the available space and pushes to a strong finish. This album worked very well, the compositions were well designed and the musicians are some of the best on offer. They take the material and shape and mold it in fascinating and invigorating ways, making for a fresh and exciting musical experience. Testament -

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Peter Brotzmann - I Surrender Dear (Trost, 2019)

Peter Brotzmann had recorded over seven hours of material for his solo album, and ultimately to whittle it down, so he decided to just focus on the tenor saxophone. He was looking for a connection to the past, standards he played while learning his instruments and still whistles to himself today and their ties to music and art that are being made in the present moment. Title track "I Surrender Dear" is played patiently and with great tact and subtlety. Brotzmann's unique tone is still there but dialed back to make room for the melody. The music is played in a very dignified and thoughtful manner, eventually adding some tactful high register accents. This moves directly into "Lover Come Back to Me" which sees Brotzmann improvising a little more freely, but "Lady Sings The Blues" is a marvel of economy and taste, as he keeps the notes to a minimum and the touch and feel of the music is deep and powerful. "Nice Work If You Can Get It" backs into the familiar theme and then uses it to develop swinging saxophone that continually refers back to the theme before starting to dissemble it. Quiet and understated, "Crurchsong" feels like listening in on Brotzmann during a quiet moment alone, as he plays music that is unadorned and quite beautiful. "Shumpin" adds some of the more raw and grating sound that people may be accustomed to hearing, he plays rising tones like a call to action, and then builds a questing improvisation off of this opening, wonderfully reminiscent of early sixties Albert Ayler. This rawness is also at the heart of "Brötziman" where he takes his saxophone and shows the unique tone and approach that he has built over the course of his career. The imposing serrated edge of his sound cuts through the air, and he creates a spontaneous improvisation of immense quality. "Love Poems Nr. 7 and Dark Blues" stretches out over ten minutes, building a moody and earthy beginning, and gradually picking up the pace with his overall sound getting wider and broader, and he will dynamically shift the softer more melodic portions and the harsher toned areas. The final piece is a second version of "I Surrender Dear" with this one developing in a more abstract direction than the first one, though its clear that this composition touches him and he plays in a sensitive  in both the theme and subsequent improvisation. While this may not be the typical Brotzmann performance (if such a thing even exists) it is the vulnerability that he shows on these tracks that make them so appealing. He is exposed in the solo format, but the openness suits him, allowing him to clearly present his approach to music for all to hear. I Surrender Dear - Bandcamp

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Marc Edwards and Guillaume Gargaud - Black Hole Universe (Atypeek Music, 2019)

There is a charming story behind this impressive recording, where seasoned free jazz and experimental rock drummer Marc Edwards was contacted via social media by a hitherto unknown French guitarist named Guillaume Gargaud who asked out of the blue if they could perform and record together. Edwards was skeptical, but after learning that the guitarist was coming to New York soon and seeing a youtube clip of him in action, he decided to give it  a shot. It was a wise decision, after playing a live performance together that went well, a recording date was scheduled as they locked in well together, the live session flowed smoothly for the duo and they transferred their energy to the studio creating spontaneous creative improvisations, harvesting that energy they had discovered playing together live a few days prior. The music comes out white hot, beginning with "Volcanic Eruptions on Io" as the duo creates an exciting amalgam of free jazz and progressive rock that is played at a very fast tempo and demands great stamina and technical expertise from the performers. Both musicians are more than up to the task and engage with each other completely, exploring the available territory as Gargaud extends the playing field with guitar effects and rapid fingering and Edwards uses a wide range of percussion instruments in addition to a traditional drum kit to vary the texture and granularity of his sound. The title track "Black Hole Universe" takes us even further out moving from modern psychedelia to the spiritual jazz realms and resolving to a pummeling duet performance that doesn't let up. Eventually, the sound opens up and they played music using softer dynamics, on the track "Supernova Aftermath" which allows more space into the music and gives the musicians a chance to take their improvisation in a different direction, one that involves gradation of sound rather than full out squalls of noise. This works well as a change of pace, allowing this section to be characterized by constant change and progress, allowing them to set up for the final push to the finish line. "Electrical Acoustic Synapses" ends the album in excellent fashion, with increasingly developing music that is complex and intricate, inhabiting outer and inner space, gradually unfolding like a time lapse flower, with pulsating rhythms around the guitar and drums that evoke a sudden storm. The duo plays with frenetic abandon, in a wildly excited and enthusiastic whirling dervish like maelstrom of sound, creating magic seemingly out of thin air. This album worked very well, and it's hard to believe that the musicians had only played together once before heading into the studio to record this album. Things went so smoothly that their spontaneous performances from the recorded session are presented here in their entirety, without any editing. Fans of avant garde jazz or experimental rock music should definitely make time to check this album out, the music is fresh, the performers are deeply engaged and the results are very impressive. Black Hole Universe -

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

David S. Ware New Quartet - Theatre Garonne, 2008 (AUM Fidelity, 2019)

This entry in the David S. Ware Archive Series shows the great saxophonist at a crossroads. His legendary quartet had dissolved after a seventeen year run and he was also managing health difficulties, neither of which would keep him from making the music he loved. He convened a new group, keeping stalwart bassist William Parker and adding guitarist Joe Morris and percussionist Warren Smith. They recorded the music for the album Shakti on May 9, 2008, and then flew to France to present this concert of new material on May 24. “Crossing Samsara, Part 1” has a saxophone led theme with the guitar following Ware building into a collective improvisation with Smith and Morris adding a fresh approach and exciting new dimension to the Ware quartet. The music is potent and flexible, and the saxophonist mixes long bellows and quick filigrees of notes. Ware drops out, leaving space for the guitarist’s well articulated and prickly approach to combine with bass and drums playing fast but not very loud. The intricate mix of guitar, bass and drums allows complex rhythms to build back to the theme and conclusion. Ware develops an urgent new theme on “Crossing Samsara, Part 2” taking a long and unaccompanied solo that is very impressive, before the rest of the band returns to say their piece, playing faster and more complex, creating an intricate web of sound that constructs its own unique infrastructure. “Durga” is a slower paced performance that probes forward, gradually increasing in pace with subtle guitar, bass and shimmering cymbals. Ware uses a more raw and course tone on his instrument to excellent effect, weaving through Smith’s powerhouse drumming, digging in and wailing and leading a confident improvisation that pulls the band in on his coattails. Parker uses his bow wonderfully on this particular performance, adding an excellent sense of texture to the music as well. The drums and bass carry on their intuitive interaction on “Namah” with their communication building suspense in a subtle and deep manner. Saxophone and guitar enter, growing progressively more strident, Ware unleashing provocative and long piercingly held tones through circular breathing that are wonderful to hear. The performance wraps up with “Samsara (Reprise)” where Ware introduces the band and leads theme through a brief but enthusiastic instrumental finale. This was another wonderful entry in the Ware Archive Series, a timely reminder of what a titan the saxophonist was, and how he was always reaching for new sounds, new experiences and new ideas. Theatre Garonne 2008 -

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Nick Dunston - Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Heads Records, 2019)

Nick Dunston is a bassist and composer of some renowned, having received grants that have allowed him to compose the unique and genre-combining music found on this album. He is able to interweave intricate melodies with spots of freedom, full band interludes with exposed solo locations for each member of the band, and in doing so, craft a thoughtful and successful album that pulls disparate pieces into a cohesive whole. Aiding him in this endeavor are: Louna Dekker-Vargas on flute, alto flute and piccolo, Ledah Finck on violin and viola, Tal Yahalom on guitar and Stephen Boegehold on drums. The album is an intriguing mix of jazz improvisation, new music / contemporary classical and even some rock like passages. It opens with a spare section for violin or viola and percussion really building a mysterious and melancholy composition that takes this motif and uses it to explore different areas of slow, gradual progression. Other sections of the album see bowed bass or viola and flute in scouring sections of collective improvisation with free sounding percussion creating a whirling and kaleidoscopic soundscape, and other parts where gritty electric guitar can elbow in to the performance, carving sharp peaks and valleys into the flow of the music while also flaring out  long lines of neon hued sound. The sound of electric guitar and flute is unusual and creates a very appealing texture, reminiscent of certain iterations of King Crimson, weaving into a section for solo unaccompanied electric guitar, morphing into a complex improvisational section where the individual instruments and their notes and sounds reflect and refract like inside a funhouse full of mirrors, and culminating in a solo colorful and vibrant violin feature. Dunston sings on a track, developing a very effective vocal tone, low and laconic, keeping his tone and lyrics succinct amid the low violin and spare percussion. The final track is a full band blowout, very exciting and having effective and varied musical color and tone, with the musicians coming together to achieve a churning, writhing mass of improvisational excitement. Atlantic Extraction -

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Entr'acte - Soigne Ta Droite (Audiographic Records, 2019)

This bracing album is the first from a new large ensemble led by multi reed instrumentalist Ken Vandermark. It features some of the best improvising talent from America and Europe, including Nate Wooley on trumpet, Mette Rasmussen on alto saxophone, Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass and guitar, Terrie Hessels on guitar, Joe Williamson on acoustic and electric bass, Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Steve Heather and Didi Kern on drums and Dieb13 (Dieter Kovačič) on turntables and electronics. The music that this group creates over three long performances is a rich and exciting mixture of electric and acoustic music, blustery gales of reeds and brass, imposing squalls of guitars and electronics and abstract, spacey interludes for piano and reeds. "Perpetual Desk (For Ikue Mori)" dedicated to the no-wave drummer turned laptop pioneer comes barreling out of the gate, allowing the group to make a statement right away, mixing piano with raw sound and allowing the music to unfold gradually. Guitars intertwine to build a different texture and the music shifts, with the horns building in on top. Bright and immediate saxophone solos amid feathered percussion and bowed bass sounding wonderful, building to squalls of vividly colorful sound. The horns riff before letting loose another saxophone with exemplary rhythmic accompaniment, constructing raw and rending sounds. There is a spacey interlude, as synth sounds slink around in the dark, cut off by massive chunks of full band sound. Spare sounds open "Foundry (For Richard Serra)" growing into an imposing web of guitars and electronics, then drums crash in taking things way out in a thrilling and uncompromising manner. Horns fold in, filling out the sound to a massive gale, relaxing to allow piano to improvise with guitar and percussion. Invigorating and blustery horns fall in toward the middle of this lengthy presentation, playing together in a fine formation, before disgorging a saxophone for a powerful solo flight over vivid computer electronics and powerful drumming, creating an all out improvisation that is enjoyable to hear. Horns trade ideas with Harnik's piano in a witty section leading to her remarkable solo section, then the spaciousness comes back with bowed bass and long tones in eerie near silence, then adding instruments slowly as they close the performance. "Telegram (For Francis Picabia)" has ripe and passionate horns with thick bass and drums, and electronics adding further texture. The music is brash and swaggering, moving confidently forward, with a saxophone branching out for a piercing solo cutting through the accompaniment and sounding excellent with a penetrating tone and outstanding presence. The drummers take center stage with a laudable feature, stretching and pulling the rhythm to the breaking point, resolving to a full collective improvisation, praiseworthy and a lot of fun to hear. This album worked very well, it was exciting and deserving of respect and support. The compositions were well designed, allowing the band along with smaller sub-units and soloists excellent opportunities to shine and they made the most of it, deserving approval and admiration. Soigne Ta Droite - Audiographic Bandcamp

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Miles Okazaki - The Sky Below (Pi Recordings, 2019)

This is guitarist Miles Okazaki's fifth album of original compositions, coming after his ambitious 2018 project where he recorded the Thelonious Monk songbook for solo guitar. He is accompanied by Matt Mitchell on piano, Fender Rhodes and Prophet-6, Anthony Tidd on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums. "Rise and Shine" houses nimble guitar, subtle bass and piano, and as the drums enter the band kicks into gear with the full group developing a complex interaction. Mitchell moves to electric keyboard to interact with the bass and drums at a fast pace, and the guitar returns for a tight and well controlled feature, with Mitchell deftly moving back to acoustic piano and anchoring the closing section. Funky electric bass opens "Dog Star" with keyboards and slinky guitar creating an interesting groove, and the music drives forward with Okazaki's guitar leading the charge with the drums providing powerful accents. The band is really locked in and playing very well together, supporting the leader who is pushing headlong through the performance in a very impressive manner. "Seven Sisters" has acoustic guitar sounding bright and clear amid muted but active percussion, with Okazaki then moving to electric guitar in conjunction with electric piano, creating abstract sounds that seem to hang in the air. The music builds from the nebulous nature to something more solid with stronger electric guitar lines meeting crisp bass and drums. "Monstropolous" uses heavy drums, electric bass, manic electronic keyboards and guitar going all out in a collective fusion improvisation, which is very exciting and free sounding. The music is wild and rambunctious, and Mitchell and Okazaki t stretch out, reveling in the interplay and the freedom that the enhanced instruments allow. "The Castaway" mellows the mood a bit, medium tempo blending ideas from each of the instruments, with the guitar developing a more piercing, laserlike tone. This gives the performance focus and the guitarist crafts a fine feature, leading into a section of acoustic piano, bass and drums. There is a bouncier feeling to "The Lighthouse," with the band playing together closely on the theme in a very intricate pattern, Okazaki breaking out for a well articulated guitar solo and building it slowly and patiently creating an architectural marvel. Mitchell plays a lush and rippling piano feature over bubbling bass and drums, and the band returns together closing a wonderful modern jazz performance. "To Dream Again" is the closing piece that uses guitar and drums creating an atmospheric sound that gradually develops in unexpected ways. Sounds bend and twist with the guitar eventually becoming more prominent, with a pinched stinging tone cutting through the keyboards and muscular drumming. This was a very good album of modern jazz played by a band of thoughtful, open minded musicians. The music is complex but compelling and the performances that the band develop are consistently interesting and worthy of merit. The Sky Below -

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Wes Montgomery - Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance, 2019)

This new collection of recordings by the famous jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery is a series of previously unissued sessions recorded both live and in studio from his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. These recordings were made during the in the middle to late fifties by local piano player and arranger Carroll DeCamp. The first section of the collection features Montgomery with a pleasant piano, bass and drums trio, the perfect setting with which to display his talents. They play fine versions of some of his best known original compositions, "Four on Six" and "West Coast Blues." These are short and concise versions, with short statements of the theme and brief solos. Also recorded during this session were two Miles Davis songs, "So What" and "Tune Up," and a lengthy and moody performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" with some spacious patient playing using skeletal guitar lines. The next session covered places Montgomery among a Hammond B3 organ sextet with saxophone and trombone. The sound is a little cramped but the arrangements work pretty well, with a lengthy jam on the Montgomery original "Jingles" that stretches out well with horn riffs and brief solos and a fine feature for the guitarist. Also included are nicely soulful tracks "Ecaroh" by Horace Silver and "Whisper Not" by Benny Golson. The band develops a nice groove that percolates well with the guitar weaving between the horns and drums. The final session is from what they call a "Nat King Cole Style," a drummerless setting with Montgomery playing with just bass and piano. This chamber jazz group works well, with intricate interplay but still able to swing like mad, and these recordings make up the bulk of the overall compilation. This session consists of jazz and popular music standards, allowing for long developing performances of "It's You or No One," "Summertime" and "The Song Is You." This is a fine format for Montgomery, and it's a shame that he didn't get a chance to explore it more during the course of his truncated career. The extra space allows him to solo at length, clearly demonstrating the unique approach that he was developing to the instrument that would go on to influence generations of musicians. Resonance goes all out as usual in the packaging, with lengthy essays from scholar Lewis Porter and guitarists George Benson and John Scofield, along with excellent photographs and discographical information. It's a fine collection and fills in a gap in the recorded development of Montgomery's discography, presenting enjoyable music in the process. Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings -

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Thursday, November 07, 2019

Jamie Branch - FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise (International Anthem, 2019)

Trumpeter Jamie Branch announced her arrival on the modern jazz scene last year with an excellent debut album. She extends on that foundation here adding spoken word and vocals to her quiver and the participation of an excellent band, including Lester St. Louis on cello and percussion, Jason Ajemian on bass, percussion and vocals and Chad Taylor on drums, mbira and xylophone. On the track "prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 and 2" they are joined by special guests Ben LaMar Gay and Marvin Tate on vocals and Matt Schneider on 12-string guitar. The track itself is a very impressive piece of musical social commentary, with Branch alluding to the faltering nature of contemporary race relations in America by bursting out with the words "they've got a bunch of wide eyed racists!" The rest of the group fills in with call and response vocals and further asides, while Branch and the band build the music to a loose yet powerful format that is reminiscent of some early work from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. "twenty three n me, jupiter redux" uses subtle electronics and bowed cello to set the tone, before the rest of the band bursts in with colorful trumpet, drums and keyboards. They work up an exciting fanfare, then open the floor for some collective free playing for trumpet, cello and drums that is thrilling to hear. Deep cello is also used on "bird dogs of paradise" harmonizing with Branch's horn for a stoic sound, that resonates deeply. The assertive drums move in and add motion as the piece really begins to take off. Vocalizations from the band up the ante and everything falls into place with punchy trumpet leading the band into "nuevo roquero estereo" where the core trio develop a wonderful rhythmic sensation between them. Branch's playing sounds great, bold and brassy, carving up the space between the locomoting cello and drums, as Dan Britney and Scott McNiece adding extra percussion and synth to this epic and explosive track. The concluding "love song" is an absolute riot, with Branch clearing the the decks with a scouring burst of brass while dedicating the song to "assholes and clowns" and adding some invigorating trumpet soloing over roiling drumming and tight cello playing, it ends the album on the perfect bite of anti-sentimentality. This was an excellent album, Jamie Branch consolidated the successes she made with the last record and continued to make progress by asserting herself and creating a compelling and powerful statement. FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise -

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Stefan Aeby - Piano Solo (Intakt Records, 2019)

The first solo piano album by Swiss pianist and composer Stefan Aeby isn't quite what you might expect from a young musician. It's an audacious melding of the acoustic piano (played inside and out) and inventive use of electronics that can move the music in exciting new directions. Erroll Garner's "Misty" is soft and spacious, with notes hanging in space and the melody gently hinted at, gradually developing into a patient and thoughtful improvisation. The music develops some more propulsion from the lower end, filling out the performance as the sound grows wider before fading back into the finale. Prepared piano and electronics come into play on "Dancing on a Cloud," where the sound of the instrument becomes radically changed, almost harp like at times. Electronics offer opportunities for delay and modification of the pitches and lags of the notes, creating an alien and fascinating soundscape, where acoustic piano can improvise over prepared or evolving electronics. "Flingga" has a bouncy piano opening, feeling lush and decorative, with percussive chords meeting lighter runs of notes, then diving deeper into a harder and faster segment before letting up on the gas for a pleasant parlor-like finale. The electronics and altered instrument return for "Singing Witches," a deeply atmospheric track, with the sounds oscillating and varying in pitches and frequencies and creating a disorienting effect. The overall sound is haunting and alarming, like something you might hear upping the anxiety level in the soundtrack to a suspenseful film or video game. "Subway Run" delves into the guts of of the instrument and then uses the computer to alter the sound even further to create large slabs of sound, that come zooming in from different angles. Lending the music to a late night dystopian vibe, trapped underground in the tunnels and frantically moving with this suspenseful music as company. Darting jabs of laser toned sound compete with the larger blocks of deep bass rumbling behemoths. Chattering electronics and plucked strings are used on "Mr. Pong" creating a unique and unusual electro-acoustic effect. Burbles of electronic sound, repeat and refract, as the sharp plucked notes come into play followed by the use of the altered keyboard like a mad scientist at work trying everything and getting a fascinating result. "Running Deeper" is a short track of frightening dark repetitive electronics with the occasional hammered piano note adding to the anxiety of the performance. The liner notes state that Aeby’s first this album is the product of three and half years of hard work. You can hear why when you imagine what would have been necessary, composing for the piano and the computer and combining the two organically in the studio. Piano Solo -

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Sunday, November 03, 2019

Bob Dylan - Travelin' Thru, 1967 - 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 (Sony Legacy, 2019)

Combining unreleased tracks, outtakes and false starts, this edition of Bob Dylan's seemingly bottomless Bootleg Series covers a brief period, 1967-1969, where he returned to action from some much deserved time off. This collection is a svelte three discs, much more easily digestible than the previous entries that have run near or over double digits. There is still plenty to pick over as well for veteran Dylanologists or casual fans alike, beginning with some fascinating outtakes from the John Wesley Harding album, where he plays with the word choice and arrangements of that subtle and beautifully enigmatic album. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" is particularly poignant today as the ghostly guitar and bass frame Dylan's voice, very strongly declaring lyrics that mix spite and compassion. The spiritual nature of that album's material also shines through on strong alternates of "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine" and "Drifter's Escape." The alternates and outtakes of Nashville Skyline that follow show Dylan taking a radical departure in his approach to singing, opting for a much smoother tone for the eventual hit "Lay Lady Lay" as well as tracks like the haunted "I Threw It All Away." The focus of much of the remainder of the collection is the session that Dylan did with Johnny Cash during February of 1969, where Cash sounds excited and eager during the sessions suggesting song after song while the pensive and perhaps nervous Dylan tries to keep up. At times the music get pretty fragmented since the two don't exactly share the same repertoire, causing Cash to call out for lyrics to be written out for songs, or for songs to just stumble to a halt. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right / Understand Your Man" is an early highlight, two men singing different lyrics to the same music, leading Cash to exclaim "we both stole it from the same song!" They play a mix of material, some ballads like "Careless Love" and a couple of versions of "I Still Miss Someone" along with rockabilly that tries to take off on "Matchbox," "Big River" and Cash's own classic "I Walk The Line" and Cash has a power hitter in fellow Sun Records veteran Carl Perkins on lead guitar. Later on, the scene shifts to the Johnny Cash Show, and while the audio from the old television program is not so hot, it is good enough to hear Dylan play strong versions of "I Threw It All Away" and "Living the Blues" and perform a solid duet version of "Girl from the North Country" with the host. This is followed by a couple of very interesting studio tracks, where Dylan takes an electric bass heavy rock band through Cash's "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" taking them far away from their austere beginnings. The collection is rounded out by Dylan sitting in with bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, slotting in well on "East Virginia Blues" and then listening as Scruggs rips his banjo across "Nashville Skyline Rag." All in all it is an interesting set, shedding light into some darkened corners, particularly the Dylan-Cash meeting, which had long been a desired collectible. Travelin' Thru, 1967 - 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 -

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Saturday, November 02, 2019

Gerald Cleaver & Violet Hour - Live at Firehouse 12 (Sunnyside, 2019)

Drummer Gerald Cleaver's band Violet Hour was first assembled a decade ago and features some of the finest musicians he had encountered, many having links to his hometown of Detroit. This talented group includes J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Andrew Bishop on bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophone, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Ben Waltzer on piano and Chris Lightcap on bass.  "Pilgrim's Progress" shows the full band playing a quick and exciting theme, with a fast rhythm section, spitfire trumpet and forceful drumming talking short solos in between features for the other instruments, especially trumpet and piano. Pelt's trumpet feature is excellent, flying high with rolling drum support, then Bishop's saxophone takes over equally fast paced, over the boiling piano, bass and drums, with the full band returns for the landing. Subtle rhythm section at low boil with horns building begins "Silly One," with trumpet at medium tempo moving deftly over piano, bass and drums. Soprano saxophone takes over, sounding, gaining a light and charming sound moving through the music and developing a complex solo in a featured section. Piano challenges him with rippled textures leading to interesting exchanges, then Allen takes over on tenor saxophone and gradually builds a complex interchange with the trumpeter and pianist, leading the group into a more exciting collective interplay. "Tale of Bricks" has a subtle opening for the piano, bass and drums unit with the music sounding deep and forming a wide pocket. Horns come in with a wide range from bass clarinet to trumpet, creating a taut theme and running with it. Pelt creates a golden toned trumpet solo over taut bass and drums, building to a scorching peak, leading to a bass clarinet solo that works very well playing off the light bass and drums and developing compelling patterns and waves of sound. Allen slides in on tenor saxophone which weaves through heavier more aggressive drumming, providing a sleek and powerful feature. Cleaver leads with a heavy, powerful drum solo on the closer "Detroit," deep and rhythmic, joined with bass and drums for an unbreakable unit, and horns pile on stating a strong theme, and working together well, creating a true band sound. Saxophone is played at a medium up tempo, taking strength from the elastic bass and tight cymbal play, creating a fine improvised statement. Trumpet weaves long lines of well articulated sound in a lengthy feature, and the rhythm section takes over with some fine piano playing, before the horns move back in. There is a swirling and lovely interaction between all of the instruments in a collective showcase, leading to a epic section of tenor saxophone and drums. A lot of people identify Cleaver as a free jazz musician, but he is much more rounded as his efforts as a bandleader and composer on this performance demonstrate. This album retains the energy of a free performance but is tightly focused into a theme and solos showcase that works very well. Violet Hour -

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