Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell - Spiders (Out of Your Head Records, 2020)

Alto saxophonist Tim Berne and pianist Matt Mitchell combine for an excellent album of duets on this live recording that sees them pooling their resources and combining energies in a very impressive and memorable fashion. Both musicians are powerful players in their own right with strong technique and personality, but their is no issue of ego or boasting here, and the five selection program shows how compatible they can be. Mitchell plays in one of Berne's regular ensembles called Snakeoil, in addition to their duo performances, so both men are well attuned to each other, but still willing to let their inquisitive nature guide them through this program of all new Berne compositions recorded just before the lockdown closed live music venues in 2020. They delve deeply into the meaning and connections inherent in the individual compositions, using these properties to guide their interactions and improvisations. The music unfolds and reveals its secrets gradually, with careful precision and articulation allowing the selections to build upon one another while leaving room for interpretation and a logically unfolding narrative. The musicians develop gradually and engage one another, building raw and exciting conversations which coalesce in a riveting, yearning series of performances that use light and shade dramatically and the music flows organically in a suite like formation. Spiders - bandcamp.com

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Friday, December 25, 2020

Charlie Parker - Bebop Live (ezz-thetics, 2020)

There were great plans to celebrate the centennial of Charlie Parker's birth, and most went by the boards in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ezz-thetics Records assures the year will go out with a bang however, releasing this double disc set of some of Parker's choicest live performances capping their own Parker celebration begun this summer with releases of Parker's key studio recordings for Dial and Savoy. Much of the music on the collection come from his prime period in the late 1940's with a core collection of like minded musicians, refining the bebop idiom to a sharply honed edge. The performances themselves are relatively brief, with many not exceeding the three minute length of the 78 rpm recordings of the time. But what Parker and his associates do with this time is frequently astonishing, such as taking the head of Dizzy Gillespie's "Be Bop" and blowing it into orbit at an ungodly speed, leading to a stunning section of Parker and drummer Max Roach trading passages. They did have a core repertoire that leads to several versions of certain songs being recorded. But it is also interesting to see how Parker will attack these tunes as the musicians and venues change around him. The aforementioned "Be Bop" and "Salt Peanuts" with its attendant vocal chant are among the most favored compositions along with Parker's own "Scrapple From the Apple" with a brace of all Parker compositions played at Carnegie Hall 1949. The album ends with three performances from the famous Town Hall concert in 1945 bouncing us back in time chronologically but placing Parker and Dizzy Gillespie together for an incredible blow. This music has been around the block a time or two in many formats, so the remastering is most welcome, and this is probably the best quality we are going to get out of these recordings without the benefit of time travel. Bebop was still the jazz avant-garde at this point, but Parker and his cohorts play the music with such wit and skill that it would soon seep into every facet of the jazz world. Bebop Live - Squidco

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Monday, December 21, 2020

El Intruso Critics Poll 2020 Ballot

I was invited to take part in the 13th Annual International Critics Poll of the web journal El Intruso, and these were my selections:

Musician of the year: Tim Berne, Matt Lavelle, Dave Rempis
Newcomer Musician: Immanuel Wilkins
Group of the year: Irreversible Entanglements, Broken Shadows, Ballister
Newcomer group: A Love Supreme Electric, Threadbare
Album of the year: Anna Hogberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020)

Composer: John Zorn, Brian Marsella
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love, Chad Taylor, Chris Corsano, Ches Smith,
Acoustic Bass: Eric Revis, William Parker, Brandon Lopez    
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow, Jasper Stadhouders,
Guitar: Henry Kaiser, Ava Mendoza, Hedvig Mollestad
Piano: Matthew Shipp, Matt Mitchell, Kris Davis,
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Craig Taborn, Jamie Saft,
Tenor Saxophone: Chris Potter, Sabir Mateen, James Brandon Lewis,
Alto Saxophone: Anna Hogberg, Tim Berne, Francois Carrier,
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan, Dave Sewelson
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Trumpet/Cornet: Jamie Branch, Nate Wooley
Clarinet/bass clarinet: Anat Cohen, Oscar Noriega, David Murray
Trombone: Steve Swell, Jeb Bishop
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Violin/Viola: Mark Feldman, Regina Carter, Mat Maneri
Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm, Tomeka Reid
Vibraphone: Joel Ross, Jason Adasiewicz, Patricia Brennan
Electronics: Craig Raborn, Jamie Saft, Rob Mazurek
Other instruments: Brandee Younger, harp; Cooper-Moore, diddley bow
Female Vocals: Moor Mother, Angel Bat Dawid
Male Vocals: Theo Bleckman, Dwight Trible
Record Label: Intakt, Pi Recordings, Tao Forms

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sabir Mateen - Creation (577 Records, 2020)

The great multi-instrumentalist Sabir Mateen stays entirely with tenor saxophone on this recording, performed along side Christopher Dell on vibraphone, Christian Ramond on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. This wonderful cascade of music was recorded in October of 2012 at the A-Trane in Berlin. This is a continuous fully improvised performance, beginning with "Creation (part one)" which has rapid and skittish drumming, interwoven with vibes creating an anxious setting, nervous, pulsing drums and vibes, always in motion, Mateen enters with a raw rending sound tearing across the backdrop in an unyielding manner, splitting the musical atom. Playing in very high register and then dripping down low for flurries of notes, settling into a powerful and explorative collective improvisation, he develops deep creative infusion with the rest of the group, saxophone and drums in brief all out battle, squalling and rumbling before slowing down but never letting up in the relentless quest for improvisational knowledge. The band moves to a quieter interlude with very fine bass playing, light drums and an exquisite shimmering vibraphone solo. Mateen reenters and builds the pace and volume for "Creation (part two)" gradually adding high register squeals, and longer harsher tones, joining them together with dashes of notes to create an impressive and ever evolving soundscape of total improvisation. This lengthy improvisation evolves organically with all of the musicians listening deeply and responding to each other, spontaneously creating in the crucible of a live setting. Mateen steps aside as the rhythm trio navigates a tricky passage, playing in a more melodic and accessible fashion, before Mateen's spoken scat singing breaks through followed by his powerful saxophone. A drum solo feature erupts, rambunctious and exciting, peaking in a glorious section of roaring saxophone and scouring percussion, before gradually devolving into a quiet afterglow that is equally interesting as the musicians are improvising at a quieter volume and more relaxed pace, almost like and extended coda. "Creation (part three)"  is a bonus track, available on the digital format,  develops as the rhythm section grooves in very nice simmering fashion for a lengthy lengthy section before the saxophone enters and gradually probes and builds to liftoff. The quartet improvises as a free jazz collective, with everybody adding to the fire, and the pressure builds eventually becoming a mind melting passage of collective extemporaneous group play that takes flight to cosmic levels where Mateen's saxophone reaches higher and higher planes of sound amid unrelenting rhythm section urging that allows them to slip the bonds of time and space and create on a truly extreme level. This is one of Sabir Mateen's best albums, he hooks up with a sympathetic and challenging group of musicians, and performs with exceptional focus, skill, and enhanced energy. Creation - bandcamp.com

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Friday, December 18, 2020

I.P.A. - Bashing Mushrooms (Cuneiform Records, 2020)

I.P.A. Is a powerful collective outfit featuring Atle Nymo on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums. Much like another Scandinavian supergroup, The Thing, I.P.A. was influenced by the American iconoclast Don Cherry, assimilating his bold approach into their original works. “Go Greta,” presumably written for the courageous environmental activist, has a charming theme that wouldn’t sound out of place on Eric Dolphy’s heroic Out to Lunch LP. The horns and vibes are intertwined over crisp drumming before opening up to allow saxophone and trumpet to fly unfettered. The horns play together majestically and are supported well by rock solid bass and drums, with a vibraphone solo taking the music in a different direction, vibes and drums create a deeply rhythmic setting that allows both musicians to lock in and play well, and then return to the choppy and memorable theme. The title track, “Bashing Mushrooms” charges out of the vast with fast and urgent playing, particularly from the horns, leading to swells of sounds really developing  an undulating and creative opening. The musicians work together well, creating a very colorful palate, as the trumpet emerges to solo with spitfire intensity buoyed by thick bass and kinetic drumming. Saxophone emerges, playing in a very exciting fashion reaching far and beyond, framed by vibes and drums, he blows hard into the upper reaches and overblowing, giving the music all he has and more. A quick return to the choppy theme and out ends this intense and exciting performance. “Barnen” has swaggering bass and drums to begin, with the horns developing a cautious and weary approach to the music,  creating and interesting push and pull dynamic. Surging rhythm supports and confronts a raw and strong saxophone, shedding peals of sound amid spare drops of vibraphone. The saxophone is well developed and constructed, built with a dark tone and patient intent, returning to the fray for a complex section of full band interaction. Trumpet takes his time,  developing a fast soaring solo over equally rapid drumming, setting the pace for everyone to come back to the enigmatic melody for a safe landing. The north of Europe has long been a hotbed for progressive jazz, and this group stakes their claim to this legacy with this solid album. Taking their inspiration from the heroes of the past and melding it to the progressive jazz of the present, the band has hit on a winning formula. Bashing Mushrooms - amazon.com

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Monday, December 14, 2020

Film: Ivo Perelman: A Musical Storyteller (Leonel Costa, 2020)

A Musical Storyteller is a documentary about the life and music of Ivo Perelman, one of the most innovative saxophonists on the modern jazz scene. Over the course of an hour there are interviews with Perelman about a variety of subjects as well as interviews with many of the top musicians on the creative improvised music scene. Much like jazz hero Eric Dolphy, Perelman learned quite a bit from the natural world, particularly birds, and the film provides examples of his playing as the footage pans from an aviary to city scenes. He discusses his move to New York City and the energy that is brought forth by the musicians there, particularly his simpatico relationship with pianist Matthew Shipp. Shipp concurs during a brief interview, repeating that the process that Perelman brings to recording and performing is essential to his success. There is much discussion and performance footage of what he believes to be a formative performance with Flora Purim on vocals and Andrew Cyrille on drums. This was a very inside / outside meeting of the minds with interesting interview commentary from Perelman and Pruim putting things into context. This led him to  to re-investigate the music of his homeland of Brazil and there is some interesting footage of him sitting in with a traditional band while a local filmmaker discusses making a short film of the old meets new event. Further short interviews with well known musicians are presented, JoAnne Brackeen states that Perelman is a natural musician, who chooses compatible musicians to play with, using a unique voice. William Parker believes that spontaneous playing most important feature of Perelman's approach while another interviewee hears Ben Webster in his sound. An interview with his recording engineer in along side studio footage of Perelman with strings reveals his back to basics recording method into focus; playing freely, allowing the engineer to master the recording then picking the final tracks and pressing CDs. This simple method and his belief that musical partnerships become musical family, have lead to his prodigious output. Leo Fagin, owner of Leo Records has released over 50 Perelman CDs because he believes tthat the saxophonist never repeat, and always brings something new to the studio or stage. Furhter compliments from Whit Dickey, Joe Morris, Marilyn Crispell, and Gerry Hemmingway follow, interspersed with evocative footage of a solo dancer on a beach or in a studio accompanied by Perelman's saxophone. Summing up at the end of the film, he talks about the great saxophonists,  especially Ayler whom he feels a kinship with, and discusses  how he feels validated to be recognized, and the importance of the arts and its impact on the world and their struggle. This was an enjoyable and revealing film; so often we only know the musicians we are fans of by their recordings or social media presence, to have the time see them and to listen to them at length with their colleagues is a rare treat. Ivo Perelman: A Musical Storyteller - Leonel Costa

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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Chris Potter - There is a Tide (Edition Records, 2020)

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been difficult for all musicians, and Chris Potter felt it acutely as he was used to recording and touring by interacting with some of the best musicians in the world. So he decided to look inward, and to create a completely solo album, playing each and every instrument: saxophones, keyboards, guitars, drums, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, percussion and samples. Working in isolation it took him only six weeks to write and record this album, whose opening track, "I Had a Dream" shows the instrumental balance working, creating a light and airy sound with crisp drumming and lush keyboards and layered saxophones. The music flows cleanly forward, with a woven texture, until Potter steps out with a beautiful saxophone solo over minimal backing. He plays brilliantly, sculpting his feature to fit the landscape and to also be the key statement of the performance. The "full band" section has mixed reed instruments including some fine soprano saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, creating a memorable soundscape. "Rising Over You" develops a funky opening for bass and drums with some potent saxophone creating an interesting theme which gains speed and energy. The momentum builds, leading to a feature for Potter's clarinet, an instrument he doesn't often feature so it's a treat to hear him play and quite well within an arrangement that frames and supports him. Moving to tenor saxophone, he develops a more familiar steely tone, building an intricate and impressive solo using fast flurries of notes. Gentle flute introduces "As the Moon Ascends," adding the most gentle of accompaniment and reed instrument interplay as the song develops. The volume and intensity rise as drums and electric keyboards are introduced and the music develops layers upon layers of sound from soprano saxophone to bass and drums. Potter solos on soprano, slicing through the backdrop like a surgeon, and creating a very impressive and memorable feature for himself, before returning to the gentle melody for a graceful landing. This album works well, and it sounds quite positive considering the circumstances under which it was recorded. He arranges the compositions to flow gracefully and adds solos when necessary as they fit into the overall flow of the music. There is a Tide - amazon.com

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Friday, December 11, 2020

Mars Williams Presents An Ayler Xmas Vol. 4: Chicago vs. NYC (Astral Spirits, 2020)

Nothing makes me gag quite like the cloying faux sentimentality of Christmas music. With the exception of outliers like The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” The only holiday music that I can wholeheartedly endorse is the yearly installment of Ayler Xmas albums led by saxophonist Mars Williams. Wedding traditional hymns and carols to the exploratory free jazz of Albert Ayler is not as strange as it may seem when you consider that many of Ayler’s best known themes were built from simple folk and gospel melodies. As Williams Xmas conception grew more popular, he was able to add performances and this album features two specific group performances from the 2019 tour in Chicago and New York. The first four tracks are from the Chicago performances with a group that includes Josh Berman on cornet, Jim Baker on piano, viola, and arp synth, Kent Kessler on bass, Brian Sandstrom on bass, guitar and trumpet, Steve Hunt on drums, with guests Katinka Kleijn on cello and Peter Maunu on violin. This group is extremely powerful, and reminiscent of the band that was recorded for Albert Ayler’s Village concerts in the mid-1960’s. Launching into the concert with a thrilling medley “The Hanukkah-Xmas March Of Truth/For 12 Days Of Jingling Bells/With Spirits In Chicago” which takes one of Ayler’s most apocalyptic themes, “The Truth is Marching In” with its massive, ever increasing saxophone led theme and yoking it to holiday music and then exploding it all into a wonderful free collective improvisation ia an audacious act, but then incorporating Ayler’s spiritual jazz theme “Spirits” to cohere the lengthy performance together makes it all the more special. “Heavenly Home and Bashing of the Bells” combines two Ayler compositions “Heavenly Home” and “Bells” with some wonderful percussion playing to create a succinct and lively medley. When they move to New York, the band shifts to Williams on saxophones with Steve Swell on trombone, Hilliard Greene on bass, Chris Corsano on drums, Nels Cline on guitar and and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. This smaller, more nimble group is able to take the music in exciting new directions as they take a crack at “The Hanukkah-Xmas March Of Truth/For 12 Days Of Jingling Bells/With Spirits In NYC” stretching it out to an epic near half hour, as Cline and Lonberg-Holm create excellent textures on their instruments, while Corsano and Green are a rhythm team that are in constant flux and response, and Williams as the sole horn is erupting in cascades of golden sound. This group closes the album with “Noel Omega/Change Has Come For The Three Kings Who Lit The Tiny Candles In NYC” which again demonstrates how a modern approach to the Ayler method of free improvisations from the merest wisps of melody can allow players the wide canvas they need to create thrilling music with exciting ensemble playing and uplifting solo sections. This album worked very well, and may be the best yet of the Ayler Xmas offerings that Williams has produced. Albert Ayler’s shadow is vast, but the musicians her honor him, and take the true spirit of Xmas back from the corporations and politicians by generously giving us wonderful music when we need it most. An Ayler Xmas Vol. 4: Chicago vs. NYC - bandcamp

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Love Supreme Electric - A Love Supreme and Meditations (Cuneiform Records, 2020)

In the early 2000’s guitarist Henry Kaiser was in a fascinating band called Yo Miles that revived the great music that Miles Davis made in the early 1970’s. This group brings the same electrified approach to two of John Coltrane’s most famous jazz suites: A Love Supreme and Meditations. In addition to Kaiser, the band consists of Vinny Golia on tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones, John Hanrahan on drums, Wayne Peet on Hammond B3 and Yamaha YC-45D organs and Mike Watt on bass. The group offers up generous readings of both suites, maintaining both a reverential and deconstructionist mode, beginning with “Acknowledgement” from A Love Supreme where the memorable theme and chanting of the title are retained, but the soaring use of electric guitar and bass take us to another plane entirely, leading into the meditative nature of “Resolution” which is anchored by excellent bass playing. Golia plays some extraordinary tenor saxophone on “Resolution,” developing a churning and dynamic feature statement, urged on by scouring electric guitar and drums, creating an early high point for the album. A brief and graceful performance of the closing track “Psalm” is well performed, built from a humble beginning to a soaring full band conclusion. The Meditations suite is when John Coltrane turned to full force free jazz with a new lineup and seemingly a new mission. This band captures that urgency and the frenetic pace of the source material, allowing the organ to develop a droning sound, which adds further texture and dynamics to the opening track “The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost” as guitar meets squalls of saxophone and kinetic drumming to push the music forward. The organ and guitar are reminiscent of Coltrane influenced progressive fusion like Love Devotion Surrender and Love Cry Want, as the music moves into the more dynamic sections of “Joy” and particularly the sprawling exciting performance of “Consequences” and the hard won beauty of the “Serenity” finale. The band was really dialed into this, including reprise versions of “The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost” and “Acknowledgement” which shows the they see the wealth of possibilities in Coltrane’s music, developing variations of their main performances that take the music in even further unforeseen directions. This album worked very well, the musicians clearly revere the music that John Coltrane created, but they are willing to make their own path and use their instrumentation to create a unique statement. A Love Supreme and Meditations - amazon.com

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Monday, December 07, 2020

Cortex - Legal Tender (Clean Feed Records, 2020)

Cortex is one of the best progressive jazz bands on the jazz scene anywhere, melding the power of free jazz with the accessibility of melody and thematic performances. The band consists of Thomas Johansson on trumpet and percussion, Kristoffer Berre Alberts on saxophones and percussion, Ola Høyer on bass and percussion and Gard Nilssen on drums and percussion. "Anthem For The Uneasy" opens the album with quietly ominous drums rolling along side funerary horns. The music gains intensity as the drums become thundering then the saxophone breaks out. A raw and open section for saxophone, bass and drums galvanizes the group, becoming faster and more frenetic, before the full band returns to stormy theme. The full group theme on "Standby" has a strong bass and drum undercurrent, with fast and snappy playing, leading to a saxophone solo over crisp rhythm. Rough and potent sounds undulate among the ever changing bass and drum work, with trumpet adding punch to the theme restatement, and the band creating a high energy exit. "GTM" has a very fast swirling theme, Ornette like, leading to the first trumpet solo, fueled by rapid fire bass, both sounding exciting. The tune stretches out with collective improvisation from saxophone, bass and drums as well. Excellent drumming, both solo and in support throughout the performance. A well constructed thoughtful trumpet solo is the centerpiece of "I-95" with generous and firm support from the bass and drums. It all builds to a heavy payoff, but Johansson is still in control, though the massive drums are unrelenting. "10-4" is a real surprise, unaccompanied trumpet fluttering super fast creating an abstract solo of unexpected blowing sounds. The band comes on somber, setting up more excellent trumpet vocalizing over bass and drums building another fine feature, then a ripe full band send off. Høyer supplies a beautiful solo bass introduction to "Blue Gromka" meshing well with brushed percussion. Low key swing develops with trumpet soaring overhead, building a clean brassy sound. Alberts's saxophone solo is in the conventional manner as drums move to sticks and add more oomph, stating the swinging theme and out. "Loose Blues" is the concluding track, starting subtle with hollow drums and a low quiet theme, then silence. After a lengthy break, like a hidden track, the music resumes as the percussion kicks in with an extraordinary rhythmic beat, buoyant bass and strutting trumpet. Saxophone adds to the full frontal assault as the band barrels toward the track’s true conclusion. The music on this album widely varied and thoughtful, with a flexible rhythm section and an excellent front line that are very meticulous in their themes and solos, leading to another finely constructed album. Cortex - Legal Tender - amazon.com

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Saturday, December 05, 2020

TEST and Roy Campbell (577 Records, 2020)

TEST was one of the great guerilla bands of the 1990's and early 2000's, playing anywhere from the subways of New York City to improvised upstate performance spaces and the Knitting Factory. I saw them in person and can confirm the power and majesty of their live performances. The band consisted of Sabir Mateen on alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet, Daniel Carter on alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet and flute, Matthew Heyner on bass and Tom Bruno on drums. Joining them for this concert was trumpeter Roy Campbell who was a massive force of energy on the New York City progressive jazz scene, whether as a bandleader or as a member of exciting ensembles like Other Directions on Music. This concert was recorded live on April 16, 1999 at the Hint House, in Harlem, New York, and it is immediately clear that this isn't just a working band with special guest, but a truly synthesized unit that hits the ground running right away and doesn't let up for the length of one uninterrupted forty-seven minute performance. The music is revelatory, shocking really, when you hear a much loved band joined by another heroic musician who passed away far too young. The music is so fresh and alive, with the reeds of Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter in an act of continuous motion, swirling and creating a riot of color along side the flexible rhythm section of Heyner and Bruno who keep the music boiling at a simmering heat. Campbell is is the perfect guest, supporting the band with supple brass playing and soaring to the top with powerfully muscular soloing. The whole set unfolds organically and develops naturally and in a truly free fashion, it is a joy to hear these wonderfully talented musicians take flight and fearlessly paint the sky with unfettered sound. TEST and Roy Campbell - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

NPR Music Jazz Poll ballot

I sent in my ballot for the annual NPR Music Jazz poll, hosted by Francis Davis with assistance from Tom Hull. The usual caveats about me being a fan/enthusiast and not a critic apply. I'm going to miss some great records that have come out this year, but there has been some extraordinary music despite the calamities musicians have faced, so I am thankful for their efforts, and grateful for the chance to have heard them.

*Your choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases (albums released between last December 1 and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten:

1. Anna Hogberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020)
2. Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet - Believe, Believe (Clean Feed, 2020)
3. James Brandon Lewis / Chad Taylor - Live in Willisau (Intakt Records, 2020)
4. Larry Ochs / Aram Shelton Quartet - Continental Drift (Clean Feed, 2020)
5. Alexander von Schlippenbach - Slow Pieces for Aki (Intakt Records, 2020)
6. Matthew Shipp - The Unidentifiable (ESP-Disk, 2020)
7. Full Blast - Farewell Tonic (Trost, 2020)
8. Abbey Rader and John McMinn - Duo from the Heart (Abray Records, 2020)
9. Jon Irabagon - I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox (Irabbagast Records, 2020)
10. Raoul Björkenheim - Solar Winds (Long Song Records, 2020)

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

1. Sun Ra Arkestra - Heliocentric Worlds 1 and 2 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)
2. Horace Tapscott With The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra - Ancestral Echoes: The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree, 2020)
3. Sam Rivers - Archive Series Volume 3: Ricochet (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

*Your choice for the year's best Vocal album

1. Angel Bat Dawid - Live (International Anthem, 2020)

*Your choice for the year's best Debut album

1. Immanuel Wilkins - Omega (Blue Note Records, 2020)

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Monday, November 30, 2020

Keith Jarrett - Budapest Concert (ECM Records, 2020)

Since it appears that pianist Keith Jarrett's career has come to an end due to illness, these yearly archival releases take on an increased poignancy. This album is a solo piano performance from the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest in 2016. It is taken from the same tour as the prior Munich album, and he is really dialed in with everything he could ever want: beautiful instrument, respectful audience, acoustically favorable hall and he responds with enjoyably flowing and accessible concert drawing from jazz improvisation, classical technique and the forms of blues and standards. Jarrett spontaneously composes and improvises a twelve part suite that incorporates elements of jazz, classical and blues music into a daring and powerful performance. The music itself encapsulates and refines much of the music that he developed since the eighties when he began to focus solely on solo and trio recordings and performances. The first part of the suite is particularly arresting, as Jarrett spools out a fourteen minute improvisation, dynamically building and developing themes and motifs that would serve as a foundation for the remainder of the performance. The rest of the suite explores a wide range of territory from nearly free to spacey and patient ballad portions. He brings the suite to a close with a romping blues that is as surprising as it is welcome, swinging in a joyful fashion, it makes for a fine finale. Two standards follow as an encore, "It's A Lonesome Old Town" and "Answer Me, My Love" are played in a warm and melodic fashion, with Jarrett closely inhabiting the songs and presenting to the audience as a parting gift and completes the contract between artist and audience. There are a great many Keith Jarrett solo albums, and it will take a better fan than me to place this one in the context of his overall discography. But I can say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable album, where the music flows gracefully and is played by a master at a very high level. Budapest Concert - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Dave Gisler Trio with Jamie Branch - Zurich Concert (Intakt Records, 2020)

Almost exactly one year ago today guitarist Dave Gisler led his fine trio featuring Raffaele Bossard on bass and Lionel Friedli on drums in a live festival meeting with the fiery trumpeter Jamie Branch. The results were very good indeed, with the band creating profound modern jazz that was pulled in a fusion direction by Gisler and an avant or free direction by Branch, creating the tension and release that is the foundation of daring and exciting music. The group is dynamic, easily slipping from loud near progressive rock passages, to spare and haunting sections. "Intro" glides in mysteriously, with plenty of space and shimmering waves of brass and electric guitar. Excellent bass and minimalist percussion moves things along, with shards of guitar piercing the rhythmic flow, and developing into a coursicating solo. "What Goes Up..." comes barrelling out with rock guitar and drums pushing into the red and Branch playing spitfire trumpet, keeping pace the whole way. Complex guitar soloing from Gisler over a crisp backbeat, Branch playing wildly exciting trumpet, adding gales of brass to the proceedings. Her trumpet solo over over the backbeat sets up Gisler who dives in again off the top rope with scorching guitar to bring the piece to a close. "Rabbits of the Run" builds from expansive guitar and percussion interaction, setting up Jamie Branch for a powerful and evocative feature section over boiling bass and drums that is very exciting, as she is really pushing the limits whenever she picks up her instrument. The leader takes over and leads a very good collective improvisation for guitar, bass and drums, developing complex yet accessible music. The music is appropriately drifting out of phase with a cockeyed sense of rhythm on "Better Don't Fuck With the Drunken Sailor" with Branch adding slurred lines of brass along side the sharp fast hooks and jabs of the guitar and drums. The finale is "Dive" with a powerful bass introduction, and a funky drumbeat as Branch's trumpet rises up in the mix. Smart sounding interacting between the musicians drives this full band sensitivity forward at a fast clip, leading to a heavy, grinding flux of sound that proceeds to the conclusion of the concert. This album worked very well, the choice of Jamie Branch to be the guest of the trio was an inspired one as her powerful trumpet made an interesting acoustic foil to Gisler's amped up guitar. Zurich Concert - amazon.com

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Angel Bat Dawid and Tha Brothahood - LIVE (International Anthem Records, 2020)

Recorded during the 2019 JazzFest Berlin, with clarinetist, songwriter and singer Angel Bat Dawid and her band was fired up after being poorly treated by the festival hierarchy and the citizens of Berlin. They circled the wagons and gave a passionate performance, opening the album with a field recording of her being hassled while trying to play the piano and sing in her hotel, leading into an incantation like version “Enlightenment” which gradually leads us into her original music. The music becomes justifiably serious and intense with her songs “Black Family” and “What Shall I Tell My Children Who are Black?” The former is a beautifully proud declaration of strength and power of the family unit come what may, with Dawid repeatedly exclaiming “The black family is the strongest institution in the world,” with utter conviction. The latter is a slower and more poignant performance, an extraordinary feat of singing where Dawid implores the audience, the world and the universe for answers about what to tell black children about how young black men are hunted down and shot by the police, why the die in much greater numbers from COVID-19 and many other travails of modern life in a racially fraught society. “We Are Starzz” stretches the canvas wide for free jazz extemporization with David’s vocals and clarinet along with saxophone, powerful bass and drums. The final track "HELL" takes excerpts from Dawid's appearance at the festival's panel discussion, wrapped in a tsunami of electronic effects that exorcise the frustration she felt at the whole situation. Angel Bat Dawid is an extraordinary live performer who truly inhabits the music she writes and performs. Melding gospel, free jazz and defiant protest music she creates one of the most powerful and profoundly alive albums of this year. Live - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Elvis Costello - Armed Forces [Super Deluxe Edition] (UMe, 2020)

Elvis Costello had really hit his stride by the time his third album, Armed Forces was released in 1979. Finding in The Attractions a backing band that could match his every move and creating some of the wittiest lyrics that echoed his mantra of writing about “revenge and guilt.” made the album truly memorable. Armed Forces has been re-released several times during the intervening years by the likes of Rykodisc and Hip-O, but this one is truly deluxe, with nine vinyl records including three 12-inch LPs, three 10-inch LPs and three 7-inch singles. There is a new 2020 remaster of the original album, along with a culling together of time appropriate B-sides, alternate versions and outtakes, demos, and many live recordings featuring unreleased live tracks taken from three different concerts, along with  an extensive booklet putting the package into perspective. The music is also available in lossless and lossy download formats, but I do not believe compact disc is available. Regardless, the music packs a powerful punch, as the remastered edition of Armed Forces kicks things off. This album has always been recognized as one of his finest, and highlights from it have entered the popular music zeitgeist like the brooding sneer of “Watching the Detectives” and the devastating critiques of Thatcher's Britain, “Senior Service” and “Goon Squad.” Always scouring in his writing about interpersonal relationships, Costello includes two of his most viscous takedowns, “Party Girl” and “Two Little Hitlers” before ending the whole album with a ray of hope with the unforgettable “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?” The rest of the material in the package, both live and studio, extend and reflect on the power of the album, sometimes taking interesting liberties like Costello playing a slowed down solo piano versions of “Accidents Will Happen” before they blast off into the punkish “Mystery Dance” and building delightful tension and release on the Hollywood High concert by balancing bruising rockers with more introspective ballads like his well known song “Allison.” The Attractions, Steve Nieve on keyboards, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas on drums deserve special mention as they whip the music into shape that allows the band to swell like a protean force through “Goon Squad” on the Europe ‘79 LP which also includes scorching performances of “(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea” and “High Fidelity.” Since Costello’s vetoed name for the album was Emotional Fascism, it makes sense that an LP of outtakes bares that name.  Hot versions of “Clean Money” and “Wednesday Week” are included among a few demos and a version of “My Funny Valentine” that foreshadows his later work. The singles of the albums are represented, they were looking for airplay from “Oliver’s Army,” “Accidents Will Happen” and a curio is included of the Costello adjacent Nick Lowe single “American Squirm.” All in all, it adds up to a little over three hours worth of music, documenting one of the most creative periods of Elvis Costello’s career. This collection shows how this immaculate music, constructed in the studio layer by layer, could also be taken on the road and turned into storming rock and roll. The album, live music and alternates give us the clearest picture of the artist working at the height of his powers. Armed Forces - amazon.com

 

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Albert Ayler - Spirits Rejoice and Bells Revisited (ezz-thetics Records, 2020)

Ezz-thetics Records continues their excellent work remastering and reissuing the music of the great avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. This disc presents two sessions from 1965, Bells and Spirits Rejoice, both originally released on ESP Records. Ayler was coming off of the album which would become recognized as his masterpiece, 1964’s Spiritual Unity, and he carried the carried that stunningly unique, personal and passionate approach to these deeply moving recordings. “Bells” is one of Ayler’s finest moments, recorded at Town Hall in New York City on May 1, 1965. In this concert, Ayler was accompanied by his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto saxophone, Lewis Worrell on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. Originally released as a single sided LP, he is building a larger group from the music that recorded the year before. Like much of Ayler’s music, “Bells” develops short, memorable themes throughout their performance with hints of folk sounds and spirituality. Over the course of nineteen minutes they take theme and variations into progressively freer territory until the group breaks free of any bounds and develop a collective improvisation that is ferocious and thrilling to hear, integrating solo sections with full band performances. On the Spirits Rejoice session, Ayler kept the expanded six piece format, this time with two basses (a configuration that John Coltrane was also experimenting with at this time) mixing plucked and bowed sounds that add to the texture of the music. Recorded at Judson Hall in New York without an audience, the band consists of Donald Ayler on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto saxophone, Henry Grimes and Gary Peacock on bass, Sunny Murray on drums and Call Cobbs guesting on harpsichord for one track. This album concentrates and consolidates the power that the larger group ad discovered during the recording of “Bells.” The key track here is “Prophet” where the band tears into a ferocious collectively improvised area that has everyone soaring and looking to really make a breakthrough in thrilling fashion as Ayler’s saxophone is alternately majestic and caustic, and the two bassists and drummers get a section for wonderfully abstract interplay along the way. This is a great disc, the music is remastered very well, sounding as best as possible and comes with a fine liner essay putting the music into historical context. Albert Ayler is at his peak in these recordings, and fans of free jazz should definitely investigate them. Spirits Rejoice and Bells Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Joel Ross - Who Are You? (Blue Note, 2020)

Last year, the debut album by vibraphonist and composer Joel Ross was met with great acclaim and he followed it up with strong appearances as a sideman and the recording of this fine follow up. His band Good Vibes brings together Jeremy Corren on piano, Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Jeremy Dutton on drums, Kanoa Mendenhall on bass and Brandee Younger joining on harp for some of the tracks. The piano, bass and drums trio open "More" with mid-tempo saxophone and vibes entering a bit later, and the full band setting the theme, with Wilkins developing a complex alto saxophone solo, followed by showers of piano notes amid opaque drumming lead to a sterling sounding vibraphone section. Ross plays a brief burst, leading to members of the band taking short solo sections before taking the tune out. John Coltrane's classic composition "After the Rain" is quite beautiful, melding vibraphone and harp in a patient manner that gradually works in the famous melody, with soft washes of percussion and well played saxophone. The music has a gauzy and spectral sense that hearkens back to the heyday of spiritual jazz without losing its modern grounding. "Varhta" has a complex weaving sense of interplay between the musicians which is stretched out over ten minutes allowing everyone a chance to explore the music. Wilkins once again plays a fast and nimble solo at lightning speed with immense control over his instrument, leading to another example of well played modern mainstream jazz that should entice any fan of the genre. Who Are You? - amazon.com

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Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Moor Mother - Circuit City ( Don Giovanni Records, 2020)

Moor Mother is a singer / songwriter / activist who is most well known for being the vocalist for the wonderful modern jazz group Irreversible Entanglements. Musicians from that group join her here along side the Circuit City Band, a group that came together to perform a play of the same name, one that would present a dystopian future setting to raise well deserved points about issues we face today such as poor living conditions, the effect of media and the overall technological landscape. Moor Mother is the perfect vocalist for this project, here distilled as a song cycle, talk singing and projecting her voice which comes from deep down in her diaphragm and her soul, along with her ability to cut through whatever squalling instrumental accompaniment might be surrounding her. "Act 1 - Working Machine" has a wonderful instrumental opening for thick bass and powerful horn playing. Moor Mother enters with an anguished voice sounding manic and deeply in character. In one sense she is an actor in a radio drama, but one the other hand, she is turning the lyrics and focus to the suppression that black people have suffered in America. The group raises an almighty ruckus at times, rampaging like a whirlwind around her declamatory vocals but also able to produce a Sun Ra Lanquidity like setting for her duet with fellow poet / vocalist Elton Battle on "Act 3 - Time of No Time." The concluding track "Act 4 - No More Wires" has robust saxophone playing at the forefront, adding electronics and powerful vocals demanding the return of freedom and agency that has been taken. The instrumental section is over the top thrilling free jazz, leading to a massive percussion section and conclusion. This was an excellent and very powerful album, one that will grab the attention of any open minded person immediately and make them really think. Moor Mother is exceptional as a vocalist, speaker and singer, and the band is top notch throughout. Circuit City - bandcamp

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Friday, October 30, 2020

Sun Ra Arkestra - Swirling (Strut Records, 2020)

After Sun Ra left the mortal plane in 1993, the Arkestra carried on, eventually settling in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia under the able leadership of longtime member Marshall Allen. The band has conducted many tours, keeping the flame of Ra's music alight, but this is the first studio album the group has recorded in several decades. It is a wide ranging and very well played affair, over the course of two discs, the band hits many of the Arkestra high points from cosmic chanting to free jazz, deep blues and swing and some surprises along the way. What you learn right away from listening to this album is that this isn't some pale "ghost band" trading on the name of a long dead hero, but a vibrant, road tested unit that can play the full range of the band's huge catalog. Tara Middleton is a fine vocalist in the June Tyson mold and her singing leads the band into the opening medley "Satellites Are Spinning / Lights on a Satellite" which are examples of prime mid-period Arkestra material that the band cruises through, accenting the melodies and rhythms that made Sun Ra's compositions so intriguing. This is followed by the Allen original "Swirling" that makes use of the large reed and brass sections of the group to create a nostalgic and swinging performance anchored with excellent piano from Dave Hotep. As easily as they swing, they are able to move into more progressive material like "Astro Black" where once again the vocals ground the band before they take flight for a pithy improvised section. The medley of "Infinity / I'll Wait for You" with plaintive vocal calls and powerful instrumental swells also hits the mark demonstrating the quality of the arranging and the spontaneity of the musicians when given an open spot. A bit of esoterica from the Ra catalog is the surging tune "I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman" with Farid Barron's vocals framing a powerfully rhythmic performance. "Space Loneliness" is the longest track on the album gradually developing over some lush piano and horn arrangements, and delightful saxophone and electric guitar solos to add some spice. The album ends with the medley of "Door of the Cosmos / Say" with the much of the band chanting the melody and leading into a complex mix of acoustic piano and electronics that deftly encapsulates the band's link to the swing music of the past and the experimental music of the future. This album worked quite well, the new arrangements of Arkestra favorites along with surprising catalog choices combined with the talent and passion of the band make this a very successful project. Swirling - amazon.com

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Jon Irabagon - I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox (Irabbagast Records, 2020)

A wonderful blast of much needed cathartic energy in this virus addled and politically divided land is provided by the quartet of Jon Irabagon on tenor saxophone, Ava Mendoza and Mick Barr on guitars and Mike Pride on drums. The Nothin' But the Blues series have added musicians with each entry and it is very interesting to now hear two guitarists add their own unique approaches to the format. They sustain their fast paced high heat improvisation "I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox" for an full uninterrupted forty-seven minutes, and the invention never flags, while the musicians keep the proceedings interesting and exciting throughout. While the music may draw its grounding from the deep blues, an endless wellspring of musical inspiration, there is also a deep vein of experimental music and noise rock contained within it which allows for wide open imagination. Collective improvisation is the most important approach here, although any one of the instrumentalists could dominate the proceedings if they so chose, the results are remarkably democratic, with Barr and Mendoza creating fascinating and constantly changing textures through their guitar interplay, along side Pride's rumbling and rhythmically subversive drumming. Irabagon has proven many times that he has the stamina to match up at length with such heavy company, and his playing is typically excellent. Alternating muscular runs with Ayler-ish wails he completes the band like the final piece of a puzzle. This could be daunting to listen to, yet the album flows very well and there is no sense of the music having a very serious or gloomy expression. It is undoubtedly heavy, but like the best metal, there is a satisfaction that comes from the impact of the music and knowing the musicians gave it everything they had. I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox - Squidco.com

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

James Brandon Lewis Quartet - Molecular (Intakt Records, 2020)

Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis is one of the most exciting young players on today's modern jazz scene. For this album, he puts together an excellent band with Aruán Ortiz on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira. Inspired by science and biology, he produces a fresh and vibrant album. "A Lotus Speaks" opens the album with heavy bass and drums, followed by confident saxophone and piano accompaniment. Lewis's saxophone takes charge, rising in tone and playing powerfully with the rhythm group in support, and he branches out nicely as the drumming drives him forward until things slow down for the conclusion. A fast complex theme is developed on "Helix" with all hands playing briskly. Smeared saxophone sounds take the music in a more experimental direction, along side tough love drumming that really ups the ante. The tenor and drums interaction is fantastic, dropping down to a nervous sounding rhythm section feature, getting faster and more viscous, unleashing fine sounding bass and drum solos then a quick full band out. The title track "Molecular" starts slow and reflective, with a beautiful theme, loose and open piano, bass and drums are quite mellow, with a gorgeous piano feature. Lewis enters with a strident saxophone tone, gradually building the volume and speed of the piece with a steady hand. There is a dynamic slowdown and then up-tic keeps the music flowing with renewed energy. "Cesaire" draws on an interesting rhythm from the cymbals as saxophone blows across it, gliding over subdued piano and bass. Everybody joins in for the short performance, forming a fine theme and quick improvisation for Lewis over complex rhythm foundation. Rippling piano quietly opens "Neosho," adding bowed bass and percussion. As the temperature rises, Lewis playing with a longing tone that evolves as the elegant backdrop changes, like a drum solo wrapped in piano. Lewis returns with long dark tones of saxophone that reach out and grow in potency, with peaks of raw overblowing. The full band takes a choppy approach on "Per 2" growing tight, this one that really hits hard and then releases, the short running time working in their favor. Bright piano comping and solid saxophone playing make this a winner."An Anguish Departed" shows piano and drums developing a firm foundation, playing robustly, with the leader's tenor saxophone entering rather late, but building focus and developing a strong solo statement that is fresh and timely. Finally, "Loverly" has a mood that is quiet and spare, allowing the band a chance to take stock. A bass feature grounding the performance and adding a reflective air that Lewis confirms with his saxophone solo. Molecular - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - Free Hoops (Intakt Records, 2020)

Free Hoops is the third album by pianist and composer Sylvie Courvoisier and her trio mates Drew Gress on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Their music is complex but accessible, often developing into witty improvised sections, played with a sense of quality and exuberance. "Lulu Dance" uses subterranean piano phrases ended with distinct clinks like the end of line bell on an old typewriter. Taut bass and light drums keep the music well integrated, without pressure or force and Courvoisier makes use of the entirety of her instrument and becomes as much a percussionist in conjunction with more forceful drumming. There is a sharp break, opening a more spacious and free area, gradually building momentum with cymbals and flowing piano, building to a more buoyant and colorful finish. Dynamic and choppy piano quietly repeats a short theme during "Just Twisted," before becoming progressively louder and more percussive amid strong drumming and aggressive bass playing. The group plays in a joyous kaleidoscopic free manner before breaking for an excellent bass solo framed by percussion and spare keyboard. The music is quite complex in its rapid shifts of tempo and tone but the musicians are more than up to the task. "Requiem d’un songe" has spare percussion and bass opening the piece, paired with droplets of crystalline piano notes. The music is quite gentle and beautiful, as the musicians interact as if in a dance. After a few minutes there is a change adding more urgency from the bass and drums and complex piano sending coded information at a rapid pace. The narrative is constantly changing, moving into a bass solo with drum accents. The trio comes together at a very fast tempo, playing tightly wound, with a return to the spare reflective nature of the music to close the performance. Rippling impish piano weaves around the bass and drums on "Nicotine Sarcoline" quickly developing with large bright chords and slashing cymbals, before digging sown into some excellent bass playing, and a more controlled pace. The rippling, cascading piano is never far away, returning and taking the bass and drums for another wild ride, and leading to a brash and exciting conclusion. This album worked quite well, the always changing dynamic nature of the music ensures that nothing gets stale and shows that the trio is in a state of continuous growth. Free Hoops - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Brandon Seabrook with Cooper-Moore and Gerald Cleaver - Exultations (Astral Spirits, 2020)

This is a very high quality recording from a band consisting of Brandon Seabrook  on guitar, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Cooper-Moore on diddley bow. The trio is capable of a wide range of music from flat out power trio free improvisation to spacey drifting and maintains the listener's interest throughout. "Flexing Fetid and Fecund" fades in fast torrid drums and strong sounding diddly bow, with Seabrook's guitar amped up and skittish, adding nervous energy to their interplay. They develop a taut collective improvisation that is edgy and pure, leading to choppy guitar breaking out that adds shimmering sounds to offset the explosive percussion. Cooper-Moore's bow provides fulcrum for shards of electric guitar and strong drums on "Dark Bogs," while Seabrook takes a magnificent solo, spraying color all over the sound stage over a strong drumbeat. The group's trio improvisation is very impressive, allowing for breaks that change the overall direction of the music, flowing like estuaries into new and unforeseen directions. The drums and bow make a fine foundation for Seabrook who explores at length on this performance, making it a true highlight, as he plays knotty, slashing guitar throughout the piece. "Cudgel Majik" opens with startling guitar sounding heavily altered, playing with bow and drums right off the bat, gathering squalls of amped up guitar, piercing through the rhythm, and bombarding on all available fronts. This is very exciting and interesting fusion music with Seabrook alternating between growling effects and high piercing sounds. Cooper-Moore's bow and Cleaver's drums restore calm, reinforcing the rhythm for an extended duet that is complex and pure, followed by Seabrook returning, riding a massively distorted tone, that takes the track to its conclusion. Using the guitar to produce electronic shimmering along side diddley bow and drums, "Along Comes Diddley" enters into a strong and fast collective improvisation, with a very rapid pace, as the bow and drums providing an excellent rhythmic foundation and Seabrook paints the sky with wild electric guitar sounds. Slashing and chopping, the guitar playing is fantastic, leading to a stellar performance all around. This album was really well played, with a impressive range and a sense of exploration that made the most of the musicians and their individual qualities. Exultations - amazon.com

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - The Deceptive 4 (Intakt Records, 2020)

Snakeoil has become one of alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s most reliable bands, accompanied by Matt Mitchell on piano, Oscar Noriega on bass clarinet and b-flat Clarinet and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. This excellent new release consists of two discs, the first recorded live at Firehouse 12 in December of 2017 and the second from IBEAM and Roulette in 2009-10. The opening track “Perception” makes its case well with raw and rending reeds using high register punctuation and pummeling drums. The music evolves into massive collective improvisation at a feverish pace, with saxophone and drums in particular making haste, before the music slows down considerably allowing room for some beautiful piano flourishes. The group develops a complex swirl of colors on “Moornoats,” as the piano breaks out with Smith adding vibes for a delightful texture and the clarinet eases in with the volume and intensity of the music increasing. Deep howls of saxophone and clarinet build long tones of sound, with piano chords tolling underneath, and the drums returning to the fray. There is great intricate woven interplay between the instruments on “Deception” which becomes gradually more intense with heavier piano and drums interlocking for a great section of heavy chords and slashing cymbals. The music stretches out nicely with a generous saxophone solo and an exciting portion of reeds and drums dialogue, leading to a  sweet full collective improvisation at the end. “OCDC” has a fractured opening section with complex interplay between the musicians. This resolves into long horn tones piercing over rippling piano with the band showing great chemistry by playing such complicated music. The piano is low down and burrowing, leading back to the twisting and interconnected narrative, aided by crashing percussion. The lengthy medley “Spare/Cittá” has a very wide screen sensibility to it, with long tones of saxophone and clarinet moving into full bodied flowing full band music that sounds arranged, varied in textures and hues and played with a colorful flourish. The music builds an intense full band conclusion that adds a dramatic touch. In the final track “Hemphill” saxophone and clarinet combine beautiful tones and harmonies, as the piano cascades framing the special sounding reed duet in space. Drums enter as the horns urge a much more urgent full band performance, leading to a grand conclusion. This was a very compelling release, allowing fans to see a recent concert from the group as well as live music from their formation, when they were so new Berne hadn’t even chosen a name for the group yet. The Deceptive 4 - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Alexander von Schlippenbach - Slow Pieces for Aki (Intakt Records, 2020)

Pianist Aki Takase, wife of equally lauded pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach asked a simple question: does freely improvised jazz always have to be so fast and loud? The question stuck with Schlippenbach, who prepared for a year before going into a Zurich studio to record his answer at the piano, a meditation on slowness. The music itself is quite beautiful in a spare and haunting manner, the pianist is supremely confident in his technique and approach to improvisation, whether drawn from written composition and themes or spontaneous composition and freely improvised section. It’s hard to choose one performance that stands out, because this is an album that needs to be listened to and absorbed as a whole document. It can become a bit hypnotizing at times with Schlippenbach leaving behind the quick and strong hammered phrases that are the stark and startling hallmarks of his keyboard style when he plays with groups, particularly groups that feature strong saxophonists like Evan Parker or Peter Brotzmann. But that is not the case here and you get an entirely different view of this wonderful musician, music turned inward, fragile and introspective. The nature of the music is in the title, focusing on the word slow. These pieces approach a zen or minimalist approach at times, and by shedding anything ornamental or unnecessary, the pianist is truly able to bare his soul in an deeply personal album that is dedicated to his wife. It is a wonderful achievement, and highly recommended to any jazz fan. Slow Pieces For Aki - amazon.com

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Sun Ra Arkestra - Unity: Live at Storyville NYC Oct 1977 (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2020)

This is an unusual and fascinating Sun Ra album with the Arkestra expanding to full big band size and committing themselves to mostly swing repertoire. This album was recorded live at Storyville jazz club in New York City during October of 1977, and it is really interesting to hear the band swing like mad, which must have silenced a lot of critics who looked down on their costumes and more free playing. After weaving gracefully through the standard “Yesterdays” things really begin to pick up steam with the inclusion of Duke Ellington’s “Lightnin” and Ra’s own “Lights on a Satellite.” But the highpoint of the recording comes when the band jumps into a couple of early jazz barnburners, “Yeah, Man” and “King Porter Stomp.” This expanded twenty member version of the Arkestra latches onto these big riffs and just doesn't let go. They get such an authentic sound that you can imagine them as a territory band blowing up towns in the midwest in the 1930’s with their massive hot jazz sound. Ra stitches together Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird” and the Miles Davis vehicle “Half Nelson” which have similar structures and allow the band some room to stretch out as does a version of “My Favorite Things” that owes more to John Coltrane than Julie Andrews. The program winds down with an excellent version of the Sun Ra original “Satellites are Spinning” with vocalist June Tyson leading the group through the vocal chant and then making way for an excellent improvised instrumental section. The album wraps up with a short version of Ra’s beautiful original “Enlightenment” that ends the concert on a thoughtful and beautiful note. This album was originally released on the Italian Horo label in 1978, and this digital reissue sounds very good, making this unique and high quality Sun Ra album widely available again. Unity - Bandcamp

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sangeeta Michael Berardi - Divine Song (New Pulse, 1979; CD re-issue, Sunjump Records, 2020)

This is a remastered CD re-issue of an album from guitarist Sangeeta Michael Berardi, accompanied on various tracks by an extraordinary lineup including Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Roswell Rudd on trombone, Mario Pavone and Eddie Gomez on bass, and Rashied Ali on drums. The opener, John Coltrane’s “Some Other Blues” has excellent blowing from Shepp’s saxophone, sounding lusty and upbeat, with Berardi’s guitar comping and fluidly soloing. Solid bass and drums provide a sound backdrop, while the trombone sneaks in to add further texture, and Rudd develops a section of his own before folding back in. “Dancing on the Crescent Moon at Dusk I” moves into a more post bop direction, with guitar, bass and drums playing medium fast, and the leader developing a commanding guitar solo. Cymbals and buoyant bass highlight a cascade of guitar notes, and a really fine trio playing all around. Sophisticated guitar and bass intertwine on Gershwin’s “Summertime” sounding mellow but intricate. They play a beautifully flowing version of the standard, with both players dialed in. The full group comes together for “The Fifth Heart String Sings” with guitar, drums, mysterious buzzing bowed bass. Shepp’s rich saxophone fills in the sound, raw saxophone and blustery trombone, with sharp threads of guitar, creating a powerful performance, a knotty improvisation stretching out, culminating in superb raw rending tenor saxophone, and a fine reed duet with trumpet. “Dreaming Coltrane” builds slowly from guitar, light percussion and bowed bass with lowering horns adding a dark atmosphere. Drums and regular bass take up the rhythm, as stark trumpet and guitar branch out, guitar solos of quality, becoming complex over splashy cymbals and stoic bass. Trombone weaves through again, providing artful foil for the wonderful guitar playing, each adding growls and trills to keep things fresh. The finale, “Dancing on the Crescent Moon at Dusk II,” features the base trio with trombone, at a medium up clip and playing tight, the guitar and trombone diverge while still swinging hard. Trombone and guitar playing off of one another in a spirited fashion, stretching out once again and trading solo spots in addition to tight interplay. This was a very good album and it is good to have it back in wide circulation. Berardi is a fine guitar player, with a strong tone and keen approach to improvisation, and he fits in well with the heady company he keeps. Divine Song - amazon.com

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Thursday, October 08, 2020

Albert Ayler Quartet With Don Cherry - European Recordings Autumn 1964 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler toured Scandinavia in the autumn of 1964 at the peak of his powers and in the company of an all star band: Don Cherry on cornet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. This two CD package contains tracks from Holland and Denmark as the group consolidates the triumphs of their spring and summer recordings of Spiritual Unity and New York Eye and Ear Control. "Angels" develops a yearning theme, using space as the horns separate and begin to free themselves while stoic bass and drums add stark peaks of sound. Peacock's bass is prominent, patiently filling the available space, including a fine solo, then the full band returns to the stark theme. A bit more punchy, "C.A.C." shows the full band jousting at a high speed, and Ayler developing furious circular motifs on his saxophone. The group roars into a complex full band collective improvisation that is quite fierce and loud, before coming to a dramatic full stop. The group leans into the well known "Ghosts" theme, with a potent smeared sounding improvisation from Ayler coming forth that is unique in sound and very effective, and Murray's ever shifting rhythm pushing him along. Cherry plays in a clearer and choppier fashion, locking in with Peacock's solid bass playing for an excellent feature. The bassist also gets plenty of solo space before the horns return to restate the melody and close out. "Infant Happiness" uses emotional sounding cries of sound as its theme, evolving into a free excursion with the horns integrating and communicating amid grounding bass and skittish drums. The horns combine in harmony, returning to the melody and then lay out for a bass and percussion interlude. A long open ended track, "Spirits" has moments of dynamic tension that rise and lead to a frenetic Ayler solo backed by bass and drums.  He uses the breadth of his instrument to make a very powerful statement, freely expressing himself in an awe inspiring way. Cherry follows in an equally unfettered manner, allowed ample opportunity to speak his piece over supportive bass and percussion. "Vibrations" is a strong melody, familiar from the Arista/Freedom release of the same name leading to inspired collective improvisation from the group, with everyone deeply engaged. The saxophone and trumpet are exhilarating together, with room filling bass and shapeshifting drums completing the scene. "Spirits" is a fast moving take, dropping theme quickly for sharply improvised section, with raw saxophone and patient bass levied by strong trumpet, repeating the theme and then blasting out on another short, caustic improvisatory quest. "Spirits" again, live club setting is interesting, Ayler doesn't hold back, pushing the narrative forward with Cherry alongside but Ayler is really in fire playing way up high and surging, seeking. Cherry playing in consort with the bass and drums with Ayler accents developing a unique approach and overall sound. Sharp ascending sounds on "Saints" keep the pace fast and hot with Murray's fierce drumming at full boil. Huge massive walls of grows are emitted by Ayler, they sound like nothing else, creating a stunningly artistic statement. This is Ayler at his best, in the crucible of constant creation. "Mothers" is amazing, with longer tones of saxophone, Ayler worrying at them, emitting wailing emotion that displays hurt, longing, pathos and the naked emotion is almost to hard to listen to at times. This is what people often miss when talking about Ayler, when they talk about on the speed and power of his playing when the haunting fragility and emotional honesty are just as important. Cherry pushes away from it with clearer but still serious sounding tones that take a step back from the brink. Building to a pulsating trumpet and saxophone blowout, "Children" uses dynamic playing throughout, leading to a very fast Ayler solo over storming bass and drums, building to a soaring high register flight, followed by a very short encore of "Spirits" brings everything full circle. This was an very good album, one that consolidates a lot of important and historic Ayler music. It illustrates what an excellent match he was with Don Cherry and gives a comprehensive view of their contribution to American free jazz. European Recordings Autumn 1964 Revisited - Squidco.com

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