Saturday, December 07, 2019

Dave Sewelson - More Music For A Free World (Mahakala Music, 2020)

I jumped the gun a bit on this one, but the music is special, so it is worth it. Following up on their successful recording Music For A Free World, the Dave Sewelson Quartet -- featuring the leader on baritone saxophone, William Parker on bass, Steve Swell on trombone, and Marvin Bugalo Smith on drums create a powerful and memorable sequel. "Memories" opens with a freely improvised full band playing fast paced music, with rapid drumming, strong gruff tones of baritone saxophone and rippling trombone creating a ripe and hearty performance. Trombone and saxophone twist and turn organically like a double helix then open up some room for the bass and drums, before before the horns return, sounding heady and raw. Throughout the album, short solo or smaller groupings are woven into the overall narrative. The music writhes in intensity as a fast trombone feature with bass and drums morphs into a brilliant section for Parker's bass before igniting into a torrid collective improvisation. The saxophone feature is rough, guttural and very exciting, urged on by taut bass and drums before the band uses to the longer tones that signal the conclusion of the piece. Percussion followed by bowed bass opens "Dreams," as the music moves patiently forward, deeply intertwined and growing in complexity. Sewelson's raw saxophone sounds great next to the more fluid trombone with the bass and drums developing a free yet supportive structure. They move to a more abstract manner of playing, framed by slashing cymbals but always returning to the gutbucket earthy American style of free jazz that has its deep roots in blues and gospel music. There are echoes of Charles Mingus's music when the horns come together and push behind Parker's thick elastic bass, before returning to a looser setting that indicates completion. Finally "Reflections" develops from a solo saxophone beginning, enveloping bowed bass and puckered trombone, as the music coalesces into choppy horn playing and rapid drumming, with the bass holding it all together and long tones of saxophone and trombone and the use of space invoking freedom. This was an excellent album from a deeply empathetic band, whose music builds from an organic awareness of each other and the sounds they create. More Music For a Free World - Mahakala Music

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love - AMR (Catalytic Sound, 2019)

Released just in time for their lengthy tour of Japan, this is another excellent duet album from Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. They have an empathetic connection that ensures creative and exploratory music that comes through in this album, which is divided into four alphabetical selections. "A" opens the album with crushing drums and tenor saxophone, playing in an exciting and immediate manner placing the music right in your face. Dark toned and knotty saxophone and drums played with great commitment and trust, levelling the music to a medium up tempo with rhythmic exchanges and light pops amid the space. Vandermark uses a lighter sound along with bare percussion, which builds the tension like great storytellers, with Nilssen-Love's drums bursting into action fast and loud, given room to shine brilliantly. The tenor saxophone re-enters and their interaction is full force improvisation at its finest, the musicians are locked in and playing with passion and fervor. Spare and quiet, "B" takes the music in another direction, with Vandermark moving to clarinet and probing areas of space with high pitched sounds. Tumbling percussion meets the reed playing with jabs and parries, waxing and waning in intensity and using long piercing tones of yearning sound. "C" has the drums building tension, gaining speed like a downhill skier, and leading to a sound of near ritualistic percussion and Vandermark's tenor saxophone, which calls out into the void as the two musicians come together in a massive edifice of sound, with dramatic crashing drums and stoic tenor saxophone. They develop a deep interconnected freebop improvisation at the end of this section which is expertly played and continuously inventive. Vandermark returns to clarinet for "D" and twirls loops of sound in open space as the drums rumble in, sounding unfettered and free making the clarient strain as the two instruments grow deeply integrated in a focused conversation of free jazz, and ending with a dramatic flourish. This album worked very well and it seems no matter how many times Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love play together they are able to create music that is liberated from any cliche, as if they are released into the zone of creativity where they have the freedom to take risks and create fresh music with impunity. AMR - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Book Review: The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 2: 1964–1977: The Beatles, the Stones, and the Rise of Classic Rock by Ed Ward (Flatiron Books, 2019)

Ward's history of rock 'n' roll is an admirably inclusive one, albeit a American-centric high altitude flyover where even the name checked Beatles and Stones aren't the center of attention. He writes in an engaging manner, with a breezy tone that keeps the pages turning, beginning with the trade magazines getting rumors of four mop-topped musicians from Liverpool who were coming to America. But there was already a home made revolution on the rise, with the Tamla-Motown singles coming to dominate the rhythm and blues as well as the pop charts. Ward dives deep into the soul and rhythm and blues music that develops during this period, following Motown to it's heights with the likes of Marvin Gaye and then controversially moving the organization to LA and losing massive talents like Stevie Wonder. Ward's willingness to delve deeply into black music is to his credit, taking the long view of rock and roll and the influence of soul music whether it is from Stax in Memphis with Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MG's or the smooth sounds that came out of Philadelphia in the 1970's. He also takes a deep dive into reggae, moving well beyond the popularity of Bob Marley with rock musicians to show the development of the music and its many sub-genres from vocal groups to dub. Running in parallel with all of this is traditional rock and roll as most people would understand it, and Ward covers the San Francisco scene whether at Bill Graham's Fillmore or Winterland with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds and all of the other usual suspects, eventually moving into the Topanga Canyon scene with the singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and others moving into the 1970's. The major producers and executives are followed as they wheel and deal looking to cash in with MOR cheese like The Eagles, while underground in New York and Detroit the revolution was rumbling with The Stooges and The New York Dolls. The book ends in the mid-seventies, not with punk, but with the death of Elvis Presley, a watershed event even if he was a non-factor in this book while alive. Overall, this was a solid overview of popular music during this time period with particular praise due to Ward for showing how important the black music of the period was to the overall narrative of the time.The History of Rock and Roll, Volume 2: 1964–1977: The Beatles, the Stones, and the Rise of Classic Rock -
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Monday, December 02, 2019

Sam Rivers Quintet - Zenith (NoBusiness Records, 2019)

This is the second release in NoBusiness Records series of archival recordings by the great multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser Sam Rivers, the recording having been made in Berlin, Germany in November of 1977 with Rivers in the company of Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium, Dave Holland on bass and cello and Barry Altschul and Charlie Persip on drums. The music is uniformly excellent as they perform a continuous fifty-three minute collective improvisation called "Universal Message" with Rivers cycling through his instruments in nearly equal measures, creating a suite that where he moves from tenor saxophone to flute and finally to a mix of piano and soprano saxophone. The sound of the album is clear and transparent, allowing you hear all of the instruments, opening with River's raw tenor amid the bass, tuba and drumming creating a unique and fascinating soundscape. They build a caustic and exciting free improvisation with many layers that can be explored, with the drummers combining to create interesting rhythmic patterns and textures that push Rivers' saxophone into even higher realms as the music becoming witheringly intense at times. There is a brief abstract period for percussion and longer tones of sound, bass and tuba melding like molten liquid, and Holland taking a very impressive solo. Rivers moves to flute, beginning in a subtle manner with brushed percussion and Holland's thick bass for support, with the music gradually gathering steam, building to an inspired improvisation, the musicians playing at a breakneck speed without missing a beat. The sound of flute amid tuba, buoyant bass and double drums is daring and Rivers breaks into vocals exhortations that frame the visceral nature of this music. Holland uses his bow effectively engaging Rivers flute in a way that changes the nature of the music, allowing it to follow a different path, one that is quite melodic and beautiful. After an interlude of applause, Rivers moves to piano, beginning unaccompanied, developing his own percussive concept, as the band falls in beside him. He plays freely around Holland's stoic bass and the skittish drumming, creating a powerful atmosphere. The tuba takes flight for a very well articulated solo backed with rich bass and drummers playing cymbals along with spare piano chords, Daley has a lovely tone on the instrument, and is rewarded with applause from the audience. Rivers moves to soprano saxophone as the concert nears its conclusion, playing with sleek elegance, meeting urgent bass and drums with sharp peals of sound. The music undulates like a tempest as the drummers trade ideas in a titanic duet, with the band coming together for one final glorious sprint to the finish, ending this fantastic album with an excellent flourish. Zenith - NoBusiness Records

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