Monday, April 06, 2020

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet - Believe, Believe (Clean Feed, 2020)

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet is an exhilarating band featuring the leader on electric guitar, Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Aaron Gonzalez on bass and Stefan Gonzalez on drums. Taking jazz and boosting it with the concentrated energy of punk and metal, they come out with a challenging and exciting piece of work. "Eddie Harris - Tranquilidad Alborotadora" has some raw and funky soulful saxophone, perfect for its dedicatee, with the band finding a groove and then exploding it into righteous improvisatory action. The collective improvisation is fast and fresh with excellent saxophone playing leading the charge, and then the music transitions to the other part of the performance with pointed guitar and fine drumming. The saxophone becomes much freer, loose from the blues grounding and developing a raw and fierce tone, and Lopes' guitar branches out on a powerful feature that lights up the music with electrical splendor. There is more open space on "Replicate, Pt. 1" which is gradually filled by the instrumentalists creating, in short order, a fast and vibrant improvisation with short choppy strokes that cascade and create a flow in a manner that the listener is swept up in. Fast pointillist notes of guitar and very rapid slashing drums meet sax and bass and then gradually ease out. "She" has a nice melody for sax and guitar with beefy bass and drums, gradually moving from blustery post bop into more daredevil free expression. Swirling phasing guitar adds excellent atmosphere as Amado digs in his feet and wails and the drums drive even harder. This group is very tight and focused no matter how far out they go as evidenced by Lopes scalding guitar solo that threatens to peel paint from the walls and is met by an equally ferocious saxophone and drum cacophony, before returning to the innocuous melody. Drums set the table for soaring saxophone and guitar on "Brainlust Distraction" with fast and knotty tenor saxophone playing which is deployed to very good effect as guitar and drums ride hard along side, and Amado is truly in his element making every breath count. Lopes leads the bass and drums unit to an equally fine trio section, playing complex and powerful music. Continuing on from the earlier track, "Replicate, Pt. 2" has a short theme that is soon made into a blistering improvisation, very free and open sounding, with all of the musicians creating and sharing within this space, weaving and flowing dynamically as the music develops of its own accord. This was an excellent record with the band perfectly melding modern and free jazz with just the right amount of thematic material. They play brilliantly as a group, and just as well as soloists, making for a consistently interesting and exciting album. Believe, Believe - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 04, 2020

Vandermark / Drake / Trovalusci / Ceccarelli - Open Border (Audiographic, 2020)

Open Border is a beautiful, truly collaborative project between Ken Vandermark on reed instruments, Luigi Ceccarelli on electronics, Hamid Drake on drums and Gianni Trovalusci on flutes. The music was recorded by Ceccarelli live at the Forlí Open Music Festival in October of 2018, and captures a gracefully flowing and exploratory performance. Musicians weave in and out of the sound tapestry, shifting from solo to full quartet sections, as the improvisations evolve from melodic to abstract freedom. There is only freely improvised track, "Open Border" which emerges slowly as the music has pops and clicks like a transmission from a far off world, Vandermark's clarinet meeting electronics and fluttering in open space, gradually gathering intensity with percussion and piercing flute entering the frame. Drake's masterful fractured free drumming and Vandermark's caustic clarinet further slip the boundaries, with sparse electronics adding to the action. Drake's solo drumming reverberates through the theater, as Trovalusci joins him on flute providing an ethereal sound amid swirls of electronic noise building an alien soundscape. The instruments can create a alarming buzzing motif, then change just as rapidly into with popping and chattering reeds in a nervous, yet fascinating section. Vandermark moves to tenor saxophone for powerful bursts of loud and stark playing, backed by Drake's excellent drumming, and swirls of electronic sound, creating a raw and vibrant section of the overall performance, and diving into an excellent collective improvisation with flute soaring and flowing amid the other instruments. Interplay between Drake and Vandermark stellar as always, as is the light and fluid section for flute and electronic sound, and graceful spoken vocalization leading everyone to come together for a elegant and memorable conclusion. This was a unique and very enjoyable album, taking three stellar instrumentalists and adding Ceccarelli to create electronic sound and process the other band members playing in real time creates a vibrant and rich performance that continuously moves in dynamic and spontaneous ways. Open Border - Audiographic Records Bandcamp

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Thursday, April 02, 2020

Large Unit - EthioBraz (PNL Records, 2019)

Combining elements of freewheeling avant-garde jazz improvisation with aspects of Brazilian and Ethiopian music with a dash of raucous rock and roll and dance, drummer and producer Paal Nilssen-Love has created an extraordinary multi-ethnic mashup that works seamlessly to create joyous and celebratory music. The combination of strong vocals delivering what sounds like both an incantation and an invitation to the swirling and scouring musical soundscape; and the music that was being developed with uniquely powerful rhythmic propulsion from Nilssen-Love and other members of the band that pushed the music faster and faster until the band reaches the middle of their performance. They are completely locked in with one another on the tracks "Shellele" and "Nargi" where the deep and passionate vocals meet the equally ripe and highly concentrated instrumental performance, with percolating rhythm, slashing guitar interjections, and glaring horns all coming together as the band reaches critical mass and achieves liftoff in an extraordinary fashion. This is fusion music of the truest form, where twenty-two musicians and dancers bring everything they have into the anchoring track, "Gonder," that develops over ten minutes of vocals and music becoming a whirling dervish of sound which have a wide range of hues and colors that give the performance a kaleidoscopic sound that encompasses music from around the world and brings it together into one pure gleaming sound. Paal Nilssen-Love worked for several years to bring this huge group together, touring Brazil and Ethiopia, making contacts, writing music for this special version of the Large Unit that invoked these influences, successfully melding them with the improvisation rich nature of the Large Unit's core sound. EthioBraz - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Oded Tzur - Here Be Dragons (ECM, 2020)

Tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur's studies of Indian music and raga have influenced the tone and approach he has developed on his instrument. Long round melodic lines of sound are aided by the presence of an excellent band, consisting of Nitai Hershkovits on piano, Petros Klampanis on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, and the group develops a well articulated sense of narrative flow. "Here Be Dragons" opens the album in a very mellow and spacious fashion, with a gradual buildup by the group and release to a fine bass solo with slight piano comping. Tzur develops long and emotionally longing lines of saxophone, breathy and gentle for the remainder of the track. Soft saxophone and piano with brushed percussion in open space lay the foundation for "To Hold Your Hand." Deft brushwork with restrained bass and piano are hallmarks of the rhythm section feature. Soft saxophone returns, weaving around the other instruments, creating an improvisation for the full group as the performance develops further. "20 Years" continues the meditative groove, with slow wafting sounds of saxophone and light touch piano developing at a glacial pace, building an elegiac feeling, with gentle droplets of piano and brushed drums. Soft and lilting saxophone reenters wafting above the rhythm team, gradually concluding with a mild and tender manner. The flow of the album is broken by three brief solo features, "Miniature 1, 2 and 3" short pieces for piano, bass and saxophone respectively. "The Dream" comes as a surprise,with the full band playing at a much more robust clip and a greater sense of urgency. Rippling piano playing along with forward moving bass and drums pushes ahead as the leader lays out. Tzur returns to engage with the bass and drums at a speed that is much more appealing. The band finishes the album with a version of the standard "Can't Help Falling in Love" which returns to the slow and quiet pace of their earlier performances. This performance is very melodic with the slow and stately tempo saxophone and piano are featured, melody is repeated over and over to the end. Here Be Dragons

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, Nels Cline - Music From The Early 21st Century (RareNoise, 2020)

The collective trio made up of veteran musical explorers Bobby Previte on drums, Jamie Saft on Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes and MiniMoog and Nels Cline on electric guitar and effects create an album of exceptional excitement where there are truly no boundaries. Recorded live during a short US tour, the music is for the most part freely improvised, but it goes beyond on the standard free improv model to draw on King Crimson like progressive rock and early seventies dark funk of Miles Davis's fusion combining them and then moving any direction they choose. "Photobomb" is vibrant with electronic sounds and drums creating an excellent sound world right off the bat, and then driving that further with keyboards, strong guitar and heavy drums. Slashing electronics creates a wild post/prog rock/fusion musical environment that is very impressive and fun to listen to with devastating guitar and drums buoyed by startling keyboard work. The music slows gradually and moves into "Paywall" which initially has a more spacious sensibility. The organ then begins to grind and the drums dig in for leverage as the track makes its move, with shards of guitar slashing across, creating a dark and ominous sounding performance. By the middle of the track things are dark and gritty with Cline carving out savage guitar lines amid over-driven keyboards and muscular drumming, and they bring it together into an absolutely savage improvisation. "Occession" opens with an oscillating drone varying in pitch, in a Krautrock-ish manner, with drums and guitar entering in as the piece begins to unfold. Massive smears and squalls of sound envelop the musicians, and the trio comes together into one massive forward moving all encompassing collective improvisation with bolts of guitar, slashing cymbals and massive undulating waves of keyboard, leading to an epic electric freakout with drums riding point. There are so much going on within each performance on the album, with the multitude of textures and hues that that Saft and Cline are able to coax from their instruments and the potent and complex rhythms that Previte meets them with, that their interaction within the music is a treat to hear. Music From The Early 21st Century - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem, 2020)

Irreversible Entanglements burst on the scene a few years ago with a fierce album of spiritual jazz that sounded like the best of the 1960's "new thing" time warped into the present. This album continues in that vein with impressive instrumental playing an thoughtful lyrics from this powerhouse band: Camae Ayewa on vocals and songwriting, Keir Neuringer on saxophone and percussion, Aquiles Navarro on trumpet and percussion, Luke Stewart on bass and percussion and Tcheser Holmes on drums and congas. "The Code Noir / Amina" opens the album with thick bass and horn riffs, clearing the way for the vocalist to enter. She speaks a bold declaration of the rights of all people, true civil rights as the music frames the her like a cloak, both urging her on and protecting her. Horns flare, drums boom, and Stewart's bass weaves everything together. The medley "Who Sent You - Ritual" opens fast with a crushing intro of horns and drums at maximum volume, before fading a bit to allow the vocalist move to room. Ayewa sounds great, demanding, angry, with the music fierce and free, she meets it with paranoid yet justified lyrics, and storming improvisation meets the imploring vocals head on. Squalling free jazz gradual trumpet and drums long fade, adding more abstract lyrics, with hand percussion and saxophone to close out this epic piece. "No Mas"shows the horns phased and building to a memorable theme, followed by the elastic bass and drums diving in, forming and absolutely killing full band section, where the bass is just epic. The vocals are upbeat, backed by brash trumpet, soaring as the music and lyrics become bold and defiant.There is a subtle fast rhythm on "Blues Ideology" with storytelling around a tight groove that is upbeat, using fast saxophones to swirl around her commentary pushing the narrative faster. Slagging those at the top as the band rages, speaking truth to power. The quiet "Bread Out of Stone" concludes the album with bass and percussion framing a light groove, clanking percussion taut bass providing the backdrop for a narrative of time and space before a gradual fade out. Who Sent You? - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Curt Sydnor - Deep End Shallow (Out of Your Head Records, 2020)

Keyboardist and composer Curt Sydnor was fascinated by the breadth of talent that was concentrated in Brooklyn in the mid Twenty-Teens. He developed this album as a fantasia, presenting a melange of all of the sounds and textures of the different styles and music scenes that a working musician would have experienced while living in that borough around 2016. Bringing together a talented and open minded band featuring Sydnor on keyboards and vocals, Caroline Davis on saxophone, Greg Saunier on drums and Aaron Dugan on guitar with some guests sitting in on various tracks. You see how wide ranging and adventurous the group is during the lengthy sections of bright progressive rock and jazz fusion influenced elements that carry a multitude of rhythms which keep the music moving briskly and then suddenly everything stops for an acoustic piano solo, "Fieldgaze Variations." Beginning in an elegiac fashion, then turning exploratory, Sydnor moves all about the keyboard in search of melody and beauty, building a sense of classical music to the music which unfolds like a recital. Then "Deep End Shallow" turns back into monster electro-jazz rhythm jam, with smears of keyboard and crushing drums. Davis's horn adds a freer more avant edge as disconnected voices are added to the thick mix. "Well of Stares" concludes the album with a base of funky avant techno electronic that allows the music to ebb and flow dynamically adding long drones to use as texture and gradually conclude. This album worked very well, the musicians are deeply talented in their ability to play in different genres and juggling multiple rhythms and manners of playing. The compositions were well designed and thoughtful, bringing the listener back to an important time in the composers life and career, while playing and improvising music that is completely alive and in the moment. Deep End Shallow - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Harold Mabern - Mabern Plays Mabern (Smoke Sessions, 2020)

Pianist Harold Mabern passed away last year after a productive and influential career in jazz playing swinging and soulful modern mainstream jazz as a leader and as an in-demand sideman. During the last decade of his career he cultivated a very fruitful relationship with the Smoke Sessions label and their associated stable of musicians, which leads to this posthumous release recorded live at the Smoke Club in New York City during January of 2018. He was performing with a state of the art mainstream jazz band; Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Steve Davis on trombone, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. These musicians were very familiar with one another and each had the utmost respect for their colleagues and the music they are playing, whether it is storming hard bop or a gentle ballad. The opening track, "Mr. Johnson" was written for the great trombonist J.J. Johnson who often employed Mabern in his younger days, and it is a track that allows the band to gradually grow in intensity, allowing space for a deft solo by their own trombonist, Steve Davis, and then finally working themselves into a fervor with a boiling alto saxophone in the concluding section. Eric Alexander wrote "The Iron Man" and Mabern adds wonderfully bouncy and percussive piano playing to set the stage for a potent Alexander solo followed by supple brass interplay. A Mabern dedication to longtime friend and saxophonist George Coleman forms the basis for the track "The Lyrical Cole-Man" which allows everyone to stretch out at length and the saxophonists to take lengthy solos with the riveting rhythm section churning underneath. After the maximum motion saxophone blowout there is a section for Farnsworth to plant his own flag with a fine drum solo leading to the conclusion of an excellent performance. Overall this was a very good album of mainstream jazz featuring veteran players that are still willing to push themselves to make the best music they possibly can, and it makes a fine memorial for Harold Mabern who was a master pianist and improviser. Mabern Plays Mabern - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Pharoah Sanders - Live in Paris 1975 (Transversales Disque, 2020)

After three years of playing hardcore free jazz with John Coltrane and then spending the late sixties and early seventies trying to graft that sound to the nascent spiritual jazz movement, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had begun to diversify and alter his sound and approach to live concerts by the middle of the decade. While he was still capable of the fierce overblowing that was the hallmark of his early years, he was now willing to incorporate large swaths of mainstream jazz, elements of blues, R and B and ballads which gave his concerts a much more well rounded narrative sensibility. That is what is presented here, with a well rehearsed band featuring Danny Mixon on piano, Calvin Hill on bass and Greg Bandy on drums playing music that is accessible to all jazz fans beginning with the opening two-parter "Love Is Here" which allows the band to stretch out on a solid theme and improvise on it with lengthy spots for the leader's tenor saxophone and Mixon's piano soloing, and also vocal chanting encouragement throughout. "Farrell Tune" calls back to his given name and time growing up in Arkansas, creating an easy swinging groove for the rhythm section to build dynamically and lead into the centerpiece of the album, "The Creator Has a Master Plan." Easily Sanders' best known composition and the thirty minute anchor of his Karma LP, this version is much shorter, but it is really the only place on the record that he cuts loose with some of the raw honks and bellows that were the hallmarks of his earlier albums. But you get the sense that these were carefully placed, and done in a way that wouldn't offend those of a gentle disposition. Neither would the ballad "I Want to Talk About You" a longtime staple of the Coltrane songbook, where Sanders does his old boss proud with a beautiful reading of the melody, and a chaste performance of the song. They finish with the rousing "Love Is Everywhere" mixing vocal chant with uptempo jazz performance, percussive piano and strong saxophone creating an almost gospel fervor. Live in Paris 1975 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Joe McPhee / John Edwards / Klaus Kugel - A Night in Alchemia (NotTwo, 2020)

Quite a night it was, and although Joe McPhee, playing saxophones and trumpet, has recorded scores of album as a leader or co-leader, putting him in the company of John Edwards on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums makes for an extremely potent group and a very exciting album. The trio had been touring across Europe for over a year before they were captured performing live at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland in 2018 for this album. The musicians are playing very tight and interconnected free jazz that suits these veterans perfectly, they perform four lengthy tracks beginning with "Burden Of Proof" which shows them coming out of the gate and playing complex, yet accessible jazz that draws on their own unique backgrounds and shows just how compatible they are. This is most well represented on the massive twenty three minute track "At the Waters Edge" where McPhee moves through trumpet and saxophones in the most impressive fashion and Edwards and Kugel develop an ever shifting rhythm that is in constant motion and free from cliche. This was a fine album, an excellent snapshot of working band at the peak of their not inconsiderable powers. A Night in Alchemia - amazon.com

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Cream - Goodbye Tour Live 1968 (Polydor, 2020)

For all of the influence that they have spread over the course of fifty plus years of rock and roll history it's hard to believe that Cream only existed for about two and a half years. Though insanely talented, the group of Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals, Jack Bruce on bass, harmonica and vocals and Ginger Baker on drums was fraught with interpersonal problems; Baker and Bruce hated each other, with Clapton in the middle, unsure if the music is going in the right direction. They decided to go their separate ways during a 1968 spring tour of the United States, but stayed remarkably busy, recording an album, naturally named Goodbye, and struck out on a grueling "farewell tour" with twenty-two shows in the USA in the fall of that year, and then capping their association with two final farewell concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London in late November. This four disc collection consists of three concerts from the west coast swing of the US tour: Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego and their last concert (until their brief 2005 reunion) from London. The sound quality of the three American shows is very good, and the band seems really hot and genuinely appreciative of the audience. The setlists are similar for all four concerts, leading off with blistering versions of "White Room" and then slowing down for the groove based sounds of "Politician." The group stretches out in Oakland for a nearly seventeen minute version of "Spoonful" which bumps Baker's drum feature "Toad," out of the night's list, though it is well represented on all of the other concerts with the drummer bashing is way through ten to twelve minute solos, setting the stage for all self indulgent rock drum solos to come. Bruce's big solo section is on harmonica rather than bass, blowing gales of improvised blues on "Traintime," while Clapton's "Crossroads" may be the most interesting solo section, as he tinkers with the tune constantly, playing at a different tempo for each concert, and adding and taking away certain guitar inflections and ideas. The sound quality for the Royal Albert Hall show is a bit boomy, almost like a high quality audience recording, but it doesn't distract from the music as the band is going full out in what they assumed would be their final concert together. Digging into the deep blues that originally brought them together on "Spoonful," "Sitting On Top Of the World" finally closing with "Steppin' Out."  This was an excellent collection, creating a very good snapshot of the band's final weeks on stage, and it definitely rounds out fan's knowledge of their live sound. Twenty nine of of the tracks are appearing on disc for the first time, and nineteen of the tracks are previously unreleased in any form. There is also the requisite hardcover book with essays, photographs and discographical information. Goodbye Tour Live 1968 - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Raoul Björkenheim - Solar Winds (Long Song Records, 2020)

Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim meets a trio of talented Italian musicians on this very well crafted album dedicated to the memory of John Coltrane. Silvia Bolognesi on bass, Tiziano Tononi on drums and percussion and Emanuele Parrini on violin come together with the guitarist to create an album that melds fusion and free with great success. "Joy" has urgent bowed bass and percussion with jabs of guitar moving into a snarling interplay with the violin, creating a dynamic collective improvisation and letting loose a stellar guitar solo. There's room for a fine bass solo with percussion framing, leading to a shimmering full band finish. Solo bass opens "Transition," sounding deep and truthful, with the band eventually crashing in with slashing cymbals supporting intertwined guitar and violin. There is a swooping violin solo, over crushing drums, then Bjorkenheim's guitar joins, leading to flat out fusion excitement, and white hot collective improvisation. "Solar Winds" comes on faster, the band chomping at bit with potential energy, lifting off with torrid intensity led by a steaming guitar lead and pummeling drums. Over the top interaction at high speed leads to a more open section for violin and roiling drums in deep tension. Everyone returns for a surging full band conclusion. Stoic bass sets the table on "Saturn" for supersonic guitar soloing with massive drums not far behind. Björkenheim is fast and focused, setting the fascinating theme and allowing the bass and drums to have their say, as well as a swirling violin section. Their playing is white hot leading to an enthusiastic big yell of "yeah!" at the end. They slow down with "Peace on Earth," with a spacey feel spiritual jazz feeling, using shaken bells around searing spears of guitar, weaving in and out. This leads to the finale, "Volition" which uses deep bass and drum groove to support a pithy guitar and violin theme, where the sawing violin keeps the energy very high, guitar plpaying chords. The leader then takes over  with a passionate solo, presenting a kaleidoscopic burst of sound color. Solar Winds - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio - Nomad (Skirl Records, 2020)

Forward thinking jazz and world music seeker Gordon Grdina plays guitar and oud on this album, in the company of Matt Mitchell on piano and Jim Black on drums. The music carves a bold stylistic path that keeps it interesting throughout, beginning with the opening track “Wildfire.” On this performance, the group develops an intricate theme, working together with Grdina’s guitar surging over the slashing drums and lashing piano chords. This gives the trio a strong and vivid appearance that suits them well, as they build a raucous and exciting collective improvisation of grinding guitar, pounding piano and bracing drums. The music lightens up about three quarters of the way in, but remains complex, especially in the guitar playing, ending with a section of enigmatic quiet. “Nomad” has spacious guitar playing, soon met by rapid piano and drums giving the music a distinct forward motion. Dark cascading notes and chords fall from Mitchell’s piano met with excellent percussion from Black, making their short duet conversation a fascinating listen. Grdina’s guitar re-emerges and really puts things into overdrive, with a sharp scalding sound met by some heavy percussion to excellent effect. “Benbow” uses quiet guitar probing, with piano and drums slowly building into the overall sound, supple beautiful piano notes fall like a summer shower, as the music slowly gains power and speed as it takes shape. Mitchell’s piano is the key, guiding the music forward at an ever faster pace with the two other musicians moving in to create a fine and complex creative interaction. Skittish percussion opens “Thanksgiving,” gradually coalescing into a firm foundation, with the piano developing an interesting groove like figure that Grdina takes off from for a guitar solo that works well within the overall context of the track. It makes for a nice layered performance with the instruments within their own strata, yet in communication with one another. Everyone then melds together for a strong improvised section, where all of the musicians are reacting in real time and creating very exciting music in the process. This album worked quite well overall, all three musicians are capable of creating very colorful music and bringing their talents together for this project produced lively and exciting music. Nomad - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Charlie Parker - The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection (Craft Recordings, 2020)

Charlie Parker is one of the Mount Rushmore figures of jazz, revolutionizing the way the alto saxophone was played and reconceptualizing the very nature of the music through the evolution of bebop. These groundbreaking sessions were among his first as a leader, recorded between 1944 and 1948, with various musicians in accompaniment including future jazz heroes like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Bud Powell and Max Roach. There are many Parker anthologies available, but this one is notable for the quality of the sound, with newly restored and remastered audio achieved using digital and analogue sources which sounds remarkably clear considering the source material without overwhelming the music. Also the music flows very well from one track to another not getting bogged down by presenting multiple versions of the same track in a row as several anthologies do. Several of Parker's most well known themes are presented in this collection, including "Donna Lee" with it's bright and complex melody for alto saxophone and trumpet giving way to a wonderful Parker solo that swings gracefully with added bursts of energy added when needed. "Chasin the Bird" shows trumpet and saxophone intertwined swirling through the air before there are short bursts of fast saxophone notes amid supple rhythm. One of Parker's most searing performances is "Warming Up a Riff" with just him and the rhythm section going all out. The saxophone is out of sight, playing with grace and wisdom and unmatched fluidity, the music fades as they reach the limit of the 78 rpm disc, but it sounds like it could go on forever. "Thriving From a Riff" mines the same idea with but with trumpet leading off, when the saxophonist joins in he is in rare form dashing forward with flurries of notes that shine like beacons. He comes out playing at an absolutely blistering pace on "Klauntsance" playing with seemingly impossible speed and control, and 19 year old Miles Davis takes a gutsy solo of his own. "Constellation" is another beautiful high flyer, with the bevy of notes coming fast and furious, leaving the listener gobsmacked.  "Ah-Lu-Cha" is slightly more medium tempo with some very nice interplay for saxophone and trumpet in the theme, and Parker taking a dynamic solo that balances the melody with quick bursts of speedy saxophone runs. Overall, this set works very well, the attention to detail in the presentation is worthy of a master, and the music itself is simply the Rosetta Stone for the next fifty years of jazz history. The Savoy 10-inch LP Collection - amazon.com

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Monday, March 09, 2020

Francois Carrier / Tomek Gadecki / Marcin Bozek / Michel Lambert - Wide (FMR, 2019)

Recorded live on May 24, 2018 at MÓZG in Byrgoszcz, Poland, this is a recording of a thrilling free jazz concert with Francois Carrier on alto saxophone, Tomek Gadecki on tenor saxophone, Marcin Bozek on bass and french horn and Michel Lambert on drums. The music is very well recorded and presented, with the two saxophonists trading massive squalls of sound along side excellent bass and drums with Bozek acting as a wild card adding interjections on french horn. Their whole set unfolds beautifully like a flower in the springtime, revealing the passion for music and improvisation that the musicians have. Carrier and Gadecki make an excellent front line, and the contrasting tones of their individual instruments are ideal for creating shades of light and darkness and bold swathes of color. Three lengthy compositions allow them to explore the nature of improvisation at great length, beginning with the twenty-three minute track "Wide" which really sets things up for the group, who are clearly playing at a very high level. The level of intricate interplay between the instruments here and on the shorter "Radiancy" is very impressive with the sounds of the band flowing very naturally whether they are playing the harshest free jazz or the most spacious interludes. The concluding track "Leeway" in particular evolves episodically with a determined narrative presented by the musicians, complete with sections for spontaneous melody, slashing free improvisation and cells for quieter contemplation. Using a cohesive melding of modern jazz and free improvisation, the trio is able to develop an album that has both spontaneous and interconnected playing. The group develops a dynamic sound, characterized by constant change, but still remains accessible with the musicians in full support of one another. The music is exploratory and continuously evolving as it proceeds, successfully accomplishing its purpose. Wide - Francois Carrier Website

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Saturday, March 07, 2020

Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake - Without Deception (Dare2 Records, 2020)

Building off of their 2014 duet album The Art of Conversation jazz masters Dave Holland on bass and Kenny Barron on piano meet with the highly regarded young drummer Johnathan Blake for an album of performances of original compositions as well as covers of the music of other artists. Barron's "Porto Alegre" is a bossa nova that has a jaunty rhythmic feeling to it, with the band deeply intertwined at a medium tempo, and Holland developing a melodic and taut bass solo framed by piano and light percussion. Barron's playing balances bright runs with lower bass notes, playing the whole instrument beautifully, while Blake moves in and around the other two, supporting and making tasteful asides. The title track "Without Deception" develops a graceful and flowing form with bright and tasteful piano playing sparkling notes over swinging bass and drums for an extended trio section. Holland solos in a deft manner weaving his bass through a thicket of percussion and piano chords, while Blake trades crisp sections with the pianist and bassist to excellent effect. "Speed Trap" has a thick and propulsive bass line with drums adding further momentum, and Barron responding with a nimble start / stop theme that solidifies this jittery and caffeinated track. The trio improvisation is complex and exciting, with the three musicians playing in a tightly wound and effective manner. Holland stretches out for a bass solo, his sound kneading and undulating, finally giving way to a section for Blake to make his presence felt with a potent and imaginative drum solo. Holland's own "Pass It On" has an excellent percussion opening, with bass and drums falling in to create a medium up tune with a fine rhythmic foundation. The music has a well defined and appealing groove to it, with the group improvising in a colorful manner, and the composer stretching out for another excellent bass solo, one of many that define the sound of this album. Thelonious Monk's "Worry Later" has a bright and infectious theme that is fast and joyous, with Blake providing a fine percussive rhythm while Barron and Holland burrow deep into the song itself, completing a wonderful three way improvised conversation. Blake is the key here, again trading solo sections with Barron and Holland, he's not the least bit intimidated playing with these legends, he's more than up to the task. This was a well done album, the music flows very easily and nothing is forced, with the trio taking the time to explore each of the the pieces presented here, mining them for the best nuggets of melody and improvisational inspiration. Without Deception - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Avishai Cohen - Big Vicious (ECM, 2020)

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen grew up in Tel Aviv, but has made is mark in New York, finishing well in the Thelonious Monk competition and playing in the Mingus Big Band. He has built up a solid discography as a sideman ad this is his his third album as a leader. Relocating from the US to his native Israel, he adds effects and synthesizer to his quiver and forms a band with Uzi Ramirez on guitar, Yonatan Albalak on guitar and bass, Aviv Cohen on drums and Ziv Ravitz on drums and live sampling. They go in a fresh direction, taking direction from advances in ambient music and psychedelia blending jazz with elements of rock hip-hop and beyond. "Hidden Chamber" opens with clear sounding trumpet, adding some echo and skittish electronics, as the drums develop a steady beat for atmospheric guitar, trumpet and swirling electronic sounds. The music evolves gradually, moving further far afield, opening to a section of louder accompaniment for Cohen's trumpet, with the pulsating soundscape moving around his uncluttered sound and using some spoken word sampling. Tight bass and drums form a thick groove on "King Kutner" with snarling electric guitar and powerful swathes of electronics and trumpet giving the music a full and propulsive sound. The full band charges forth together, driving forward, dynamically shifting into more open passages where the electronic instruments hold sway. Everyone returns for the fully integrated dash for the finish line with powerful trumpet playing and crisp drumming. "Fractals" uses smears of sound which breathe and soar with trumpet and drums bubbling up from the mix in short burst of notes amid the ominous swirling electronic soundscape, while "This Time It's Different" builds crisp and sound drumming with guitar accents to set the table, followed by cool sounding electronic filigrees make room for a medium tempo making for an overall dance-able atmosphere. Cohen's trumpet punches gently, developing firm control over the instrument and developing an impressive albeit short solo, adding layers of long tones to meet shimmering electronics in a more trippy part of the song. The final track, "Intent" is an atmospheric ballad with some hauntingly beautiful trumpet playing along side spectral guitar accompaniment. Cohen's tone is pure and longing, and the percussion is subtle, framing his horn playing and the samples that make up much of the backdrop. This album worked well on the whole, Cohen has a strong and memorable tone on the trumpet and a clear conception of the music he is looking to make. He has chose his band mates well and they all make fine contributions furthering the success of this project. Big Vicious - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 01, 2020

Charles Lloyd - 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero) (Blue Note, 2020)

Legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd celebrated his 80th birthday in his adopted hometown playing live at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre. Performing with him on the standard release of this album is Julian Lage, on guitar, Gerald Clayton on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. There is also a superfluous deluxe edition with musical guests, CDs, LP's, a DVD and hardcover book. Lloyd and his younger charges are locked in from this get go, playing a lengthy version of the well known Lloyd original "Dream Weaver" which, after a crushing intro, leads to spacey sensation with subtle saxophone and drumming. Gentle melodic are phrases framed by the piano, gradually gaining momentum as an impressive full band improvisation takes flight. The rhythm section plus guitar really soars when Lloyd sits out, guitar solo, as powerful drums up ante. Clayton develops a piano solo, kneading the keys with a bouncy feeling, and Lloyd's saxophone eventually returns with strong tone engaging the group in complex improvised interaction. The group comes out in a ballad configuration for "Requiem," with soft guitar, spare piano and percussion, the leader sounding very good at this tempo playing longing and emotional ballad saxophone. Guitar and rhythm keep the mood while presenting their own spin, Lage's guitar solo adds a few flashy bits, then leading to abstract an piano section and deft bass solo before the band reconvenes for a mild and gentle send-off. "La Llorona" has emotionally resonant piano, sounding vaguely classical, with the guitar adding texture, finally drums and saxophone coming in quite late into the performance. Long soft tones of saxophone finally enter, developing a dramatic cinematic widescreen quality to the whole track. The final track of the standard version of this album is "Part 5, Ruminations" which begins with Lloyd's subtle breathy saxophone along side light complex rhythm making an interesting setting. Skittish piano and percussion percolate as Lloyd paints the edges of the improvisation in a delicate and indirect manner. He moves to center stage with a well articulated solo backed by strong drums and waves of piano and guitar. Choppy swells of electric guitar and cymbals keep the performance moving briskly in a steep duo conversation. Piano probes the open space, building a gently progressive section. Harland's drum solo is a kinetic and exciting feature that is played all over the kit in opposition to the often quiet and restrained music if this album. Lloyd re-enters to calm things down, weaving quiet slow horn playing over undulating rhythms, leading to a respectful finish. This was a very solid album, Charles Lloyd has a unique approach to music and improvisation, and the musicians he has playing with him are also given plenty of freedom to express themselves which keeps the playing fresh and natural. 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from The Lobero) - amazon.com

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Andy Bianco - NYC Stories (Next Level, 2020)

Andy Bianco is a New York based guitarist and teacher who has played widely in the jazz and pop spheres. This album has a decidedly jazz approach balancing modern post bop, fusion and a hint of avant-garde. He is accompanied by Wayne Escoffery and Glenn White on tenor saxophone, George Burton on piano, Paul Wells, Allan Mednard or Wayne Smith Jr. on drums and Nathan Peck on bass and percussion. Inspired by Bianco’s empathy for those who suffer from addiction and mental health issues, “For Those Who Battle Demons” is a medium up tempo and propulsive track with guitar weaving an urgent theme with the rhythm section and saxophone falling in solidly behind. Bianco steps through with a taut solo, carving through the available space and using quick flurries of notes to mark his improvisational statement, stretching out to a very impressive creative length. There is ample space for a saxophone to probe and build, developing a complex and exciting post bop solo with strong fast drumming along side, keeping the pace high. A full band section leads to a percussion feature that develops slashing momentum into a hard stop. “Bottom Dollar” builds an interesting rhythmic foundation, with the guitar branching out building momentum through a repetitive figure and then launching into a graceful featured section with a distinctive tone. This is then handed off to a slinky and well articulated saxophone solo, which is played over really interesting drumwork and propulsive piano comping. “Politricks” has a medium tempo opening for the full band developing a subtle theme before branching out into a saxophone section backed by light percussion. Saxophone leads to nimble and pithy guitar playing, with sharply turned notes cascading over brisk drumming. “Get to the Chopper” has a lighter feeling adding wit to the proceedings with a taut post bop sensibility at play. Bianco’s solo is subtle, with a gentler feeling, shading around the edges of the tune with a colorful tone, gradually gaining speed and energy, becoming the focus of attention. Saxophone snakes its way through, building power and speed and stacking them together to conjure an excellent solo. After a fine cell for the rhythm section the full group reconvenes to conclude this fine performance. Overall this was a well played mainstream jazz album, the musicians played very well together on the ensemble sections and the solos were well done without going overboard. Bianco’s themes were well written and his guitar playing was consistently interesting. NYCStories - amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sun Ra Arkestra - Heliocentric Worlds 1 and 2 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

Sun Ra moved his Arkestra to New York City in the early 1960’s, recording this extraordinary pair of albums in April and November of 1965. While Ra was seen as a leader of the jazz avant-garde throughout his life, this group of recordings is unique for its use of extra, often symphonic percussion, and the stoic beauty of the performances. Volume One has seven relatively brief tracks beginning with “Heliocentric” which sets the tone immediately with it’s openness and the huge sound of Ronnie Boykins bass as the band falls in with assorted percussion instruments. This carries over into “Outer Nothingness” which is anchored by massive percussion and a wave of brass led by urgent saxophone and drums. The dynamism of the group plays with expectations as vivid sections of torrid collective improvisation give way instantly to lone bowed bass or long evolving tones. “Other Worlds” has Sun Ra using his electronic celesta to inject randomness into the proceedings with scattered notes leading to the group erupting into a rampaging full band blowout, with Ra subtly twisting the keyboard as the band rages around him. He stays on this electronic instrument with Boykins' bowed bass for accompaniment on “The Cosmos” developing intricate interplay as the band builds in and the tempo begins to increase. This sounds more like a El Saturn Sun Ra release, with percussive cymbals dancing around the electric keyboard and bowed bass and reverberating deep drums adding texture and context. “Heavenly Things” has the great tenor saxophonist John Gilmore doubling on tympani, adding a new dimension to the music as horns and flute swoop and dive over a thicket of brass and percussion. Volume Two opens with the epic track “The Sun Myth” where bassist Ronnie Boykins, the unsung hero of these sessions, plays and exquisitely mournful opening that is soon met by several band members with percussion instruments. The switch to horns keeps the emotion level high, with complex interactions developing between the saxophones, bass clarinet and trumpet. There’s a subtle arrangement that keeps things moving and avoids a pileup while allowing for wrenching dynamic shifts and a thoughtful deployment of musicians for maximum return. “House of Eternity” is a short piece showing Marshall Allen on piccolo and flute, juxtaposing him against the bass along with baritone saxophone and bass clarinet for a wide dynamic range. The album concludes with the lengthy “Cosmic Chaos” which hits the listener with a lot, opening at full volume, followed by a wonderful tenor or baritone saxophone saxophone solo encouraged by slashing drums and aggressive Ra piano comping. Huge slabs of full band power alternate with percussion sections, and a final dynamic shift from crushing volume to quiet bass clarinet and bowing. These albums were originally released in 1965 on the ESP label, and this re-issue is part the the HatHut ezz-thetics line with an excellent remastering job leaving the music sounding as good as anyone could reasonably expect. These records are integral to the development of American avant-garde jazz, and having them on this one disc remastered edition is a boon that should not be missed. Sun Ra Arkestra - Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1 and 2 Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Pat Metheny - From This Place (Nonesuch, 2020)

Guitarist Pat Metheny's newest album is his first album of all new compositions in some time and shows him joined by a very talented core band: Antonio Sanchez on drums, Linda May Han Oh on bass, Gwilym Simcock on piano and Luis Conte on percussion. This band is augmented on most if not all tracks by the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Joel McNeely, and there are special guests that join the group on a few tracks. “Wide and Far” is a performance which is focused on the core jazz group with an upbeat theme and improvisation, while “Same River” enters deeply melodic territory with evocative piano playing, Methey's own distinctive use of guitar synthesizer, while the performance stays rooted with bass, drums and percussion and framed by soaring strings, all of which give the music the majestic CTI / cinematic flavor that Metheny discussed in a recent Downbeat cover profile previewing the album. A ballad performance guest starring harmonica player Gregoire Maret, “The Past In Us,” presents him in lush surroundings for the core band and the leader on acoustic guitar. The music is quiet and meditative, but still has a filled in quality owing to the subtlety of the string arrangement, and the deft playing of band. “Everything Explained” is a fast paced jazz performance with a complex rhythmic structure especially from drums and percussion plus excellent solo features for guitar and piano who combine rhythmic strength and melodic energy in excellent fashion. “Sixty-Six” is built around Linda May Han Oh's bass playing with her graceful ensemble playing and excellent soloing, in a gradually evolving track that provides room for guitar playing and drumming which shows skill and cleverness. This album actually worked quite well, Metheny's new songs have strong melodies and the band makes the most of them, playing very well with inventive solos and ensemble passages. The strings were not overwhelming for the most part, except for a few ballads, and were able to add some color and texture that added to the music without smothering it. From This Place - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

John Zorn - Beyond Good and Evil: Simulacrum Live (Tzadik, 2020)

After recording six studio albums in two years, John Zorn decided that his power trio, Simulacrum, was best heard and recorded live. This concert was recorded at Firehouse 12 in New Haven in July of 2019 and shows the band, John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar drawing on compositions from four different studio releases. It demonstrates how action packed and exciting that a live performance by these three very talented musicians playing the music of a maverick composer can be, blending heavy metal and jazz in the crucible of improvisation to create a interesting and successful live recording. The group leads off with the epic composition “The Illusionist” which unfolds episodically, with a grinding and ominous organ sound, met by crushing guitar and drums leading to the building of a massive edifice of riffing sound. Hollenberg alternates his crushing sound with intricate threads of notes, and Medeski adds bubbling organ sounds as the music breaks to slightly lesser volume. They alternate massive Sabbath like stomps with very articulate and intricate passages either for soloist or the unit as a whole, building to apocalyptic heights and then slowing to near silence, with perfect clarity. “Ravens” uses billows of organ to build the scene, with nimble guitar notes adding mightily to the nature of the music and subtle drumming keeping pace. The music grows a little greasy, nodding to the soul jazz roots of the organ trio even if they are miles away from it, with a scorching guitar solo lighting up the stage going over the top in a good way, leading to a fine drum interlude framed by organ splashes. There is an urgent theme hitting you in the face on “Plague,” which then turns to lead into a full band blowout that re-imagines early '70's King Crimson at their fiercest followed by the band  doubling down on the guitar pyrotechnics and sand blasting drum work. “Dark Pageant” jumps right off, powering into a fast and muscular groove. Swirls of organ add color to the gritty and grinding guitar and drums, which sound like heavy industrial machinery, before Hollenberg jumps ship on a starry eyed prog/fusion guitar solo with all of the trimmings. “Angelic Voices” picks right up with scouring guitar and drums barreling forward with no thought for health and safety before the music shifts to a more dynamic nature where the three instruments can interact with each other on a more level playing field. Medeski provides swathes of color, which is much needed amid the pneumatic grind of the guitar and drums, pushing a heroic tempo to the breaking point. The closing track, “The Divine Comedy” is another long and evolving performance, which suits the band well, not forcing them into a smash and dash short cell, but allowing the crushing heaviness to be eased by moments of graceful and melodic playing. It is the dynamic side of the band which is shown in this performance that is most compelling, where they are able to interact with one another and the materiel in thoughtful and creative ways. Beyond Good and Evil Simulacrum Live - amazon.com

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Dan Rosenboom - Absurd in the Anthropocene (Gearbox, 2020)

Trumpeter and composer Dan Rosenboom makes a bold statement, by combining a strong acoustic group sensibility with copious amounts of electronics, creating a powerful modern jazz collection that shows off the talent of the large amount of performers he has gathered around him. The album begins with "Mr. Lizard Said," which yokes grinding keyboard to heavy drums and punchy trumpet, all of which are played fast and well, the leader performing especially well with highly articulated trumpet playing amid the ground level synth and crisp percussion. "Lemonade" combines electronics, guitar and drums in a massive edifice of sound with rockish snarls of electric guitar snap through. Taking a different approach, "Pushed to the Edge of Ideas by Dispassionate Bias-Algorithm Bots" uses a more subtle approach with horns and percussion providing the driving force, creating a complex post-bop rhythm that get quite intricate. a well played trumpet and drum dialogue is eventually folded back into the full group demonstrating that Rosemboom is really pushing himself, followed by a loose and fast saxophone solo to keep things moving at a scalding pace. "Heliopteryx" develops smears of percussion which slide in followed by quicksilver keyboards and more starkly rendered guitar. Fast withering tones of trumpet join in firing quick rapid notes and longer tones into the mix, with raw peals of saxophone increasing the emotional content of the performance. Fast full band intro keeps "Apes in Rapture" sleek and futuristic sounding, with extra horns added to give the performance a big band / large ensemble feeling with tricky ensemble playing and nimble solo sections. Beginning with a twisting and turning saxophone nod, it's a lengthy and impressive section buoyed by crisp ensemble riffs. Rosenboom begins his own section slowly, gradually ramping up and crafting a majestic feature. "Forget What You Know" develops a crisp electronic and acoustic combined beat to set the table for the brass with the saxophone flying over the urbanized post-modern soundscape quickly. Rosemboom's gliding trumpet is framed by excellent drumming soon taking over, and giving the whole spectacle and action movie soundtrack vibe. Electric piano and yearning horns in unison converge over an understated beat on "Green Moon." The performance builds a dynamic drive between carefully constructed sections and moments of abandon, where the horns cry out and the drums push the action continuously forward. "Obsidian Butterfly" melds abstract electronics to meet crushing volume allowing the horns to enter and the stack to gather steam. Moments of uncomfortable rawness resolve into a gritty full band improvisation that grinds against the wheel and a heavyweight conclusion. Overall this was an impressive album, Rosemboom is a memorable trumpet player and writes interesting situations to improvise upon. He's equally comfortable in electronic fusion, post-bop or large ensemble work, and leads a cast of dozens with a keen hand. Absurd In The Anthropocene - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Albert Ayler Trio - 1964: Prophecy Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

Recorded at the Cellar Cafe in New York City in June of 1964, the music presented here is simply devastating, with the trio of Albert Ayler on tenor tenor saxophone, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums providing a foundational text that would go on to influence generations of musicians. This was originally released as a single LP in 1975 and according to Brian Olewnick's excellent liner notes, but Murray wasn't happy with that album, and had higher quality recordings of his own that eventually became this album with the full approval of the Ayler estate. Regardless, the music is otherworldly, and one can only imagine what it must have sounded like to listeners at the time. Ayler is playing his repertoire of themes that he stuck to for the majority of his career, short simple motifs that echoed early jazz, deep blues and speaking in tongues type spirituality. These themes are not only memorable but they also offered the best springboards for launching the band into the kind of unfettered free jazz that they were best known for. The group has amazing stamina, playing at their highest level for over and hour and a quarter on three versions of the extraordinary “Ghosts” where Ayler not only takes the memorable thematic statement and derives two different versions of the song as well as a reprise, but is able to build different improvisations from each performance of the song, with the theme providing just enough guidance for the group to take off and explore different dimensions each time. The trio plays together beautifully throughout the concert, with Peacock deftly moving between bowing and plucking the bass in a virtuoso manner and Murray’s drumming seemingly everywhere at once, but never overwhelming the music, proving that it isn’t just brute force that drives a free jazz band but empathy and generosity as well. Further proof can be found during their performances “Wizard” (twice) and “Spirits.” Where Ayler’s yearning and haunting control over his horn allows the music to take on a unique feeling, as the tempos become faster and the musicians converse on protean collective improvisations. This is a very special disc, presenting all of the music recorded that evening except for one track excised due to time constraints. The mastering is excellent giving the music a very immediate and visceral sound that perfectly matches the contents. 1964: Prophecy Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (Intakt Records, 2020)

This is the sixth album by alto saxophonist Tim Berne's wonderful band Snakeoil, and the first one to add guitarist Marc Ducret to the ensemble. This rest of the talented group is rounded out with Matt Mitchell piano, tack piano and modular synths, Oscar Noriega on bass clarinet, b flat clarinet and Ches Smith on drums, vibes, glockenspiel and Haitian tanbou. "The Fantastic Mrs. 10" opens the album with a bouncy joyous horn theme, allowing the rest of band to storm in uptempo, as clarinet and piano engage with snarls of guitar in a very complex interplay. There are longer waves of saxophone amid thunderous percussion, then piano and strangled guitar electronics pushing a huge and impressive alto saxophone solo. Guitar and piano slow the pace across a dreamy soundscape that grows alternately harsher and more melodic. The full band finally comes together in a very colorful fashion, playing fast and true to the end. Spare piano with vibes alternating dark and light opens "Surface Noise," and the music becomes more complex as further instruments like saxophone are added. The speed becomes near manic, a cacophony of sound before gradually resolving into an excellent collective improvisation. Clarinet breaks out with guitar to slow things into an abstract setting, where sheer piercing electric guitar is met by reed responses, both saxophone and clarinet. The music is free and open with raw saxophone cries and dark piano chords, eventually regaining momentum and making a full on dash with the full band at very high speed. "Roto" uses a choppy theme that grows fast and intricate, and it's unbelievable how the musicians can stick together at such a fast tempo, before breaking out into alto saxophone and excellent drumming focus, an excellent duo throwdown. Mad sounding musical shards and dark piano figures, squalls of reeds, thick bed of rhythm creates a wild combination of sounds in the midsection. Piano and guitar develop interplay, opening up the music to breathe before closing with a bang. Percussion and guitar creates an abstract setup, and piano adds dark touches to "The Amazing Mr. 7" launching a vibrant improvisation; and the reeds fold in cleanly as the sleek and powerful full band song reaches full flight. Strong piano chords and hand percussion push Berne's alto saxophone into orbit, with clarinet close watch. "Third Option" is an epic track where reeds mix, twist and turn around each other, while piano and drums enter, swirling increasing complexity for fascinating full group interplay, sounding bright and fast. The music is very colorful and exciting with the electric guitar adding even more energy to the mix. There is then a shift into a spacier section snarls of guitar and imposing piano chords, sounding abstract and free with tumbling percussion added followed by raw gales of saxophone. The band has delivered another excellent album, using composition and improvisation, creating acoustic jazz with just the right jolt of electricity to keep things fresh and inspired throughout. The Fantastic Mrs. 10 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ross Hammond - Our Place On The Wheel (Ross Hammond, 2020)

This is a fascinating interlude between free jazz and deep blues that moves into a slipstream area beyond genre that is not so easily pinned down. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake is a wily veteran, one who has been through the BAG Collective in St. Louis, joining the World Saxophone Quartet and Trio 3 in addition wonderful solo career. Mike Pride is an excellent drummer and label head who is active in the fertile New York jazz scene, and the bandleader in Ross Hammond, a very talented guitarist and composer who can play jazz blues and music from around the world with equal skill. All of these elements come into play here for music that is full of adventure, based in the blues but ranging far and wide. “Mosaic” has beautiful slide guitar playing probing the open space, stretching and setting the scene as the percussion slowly enters developing a mysterious vibe. Lake's saxophone is naked and unadorned playing short lines and phrases, as the drumming and guitar become more urgent. The collective improvisation is torrid and then breaks dynamically into squalls of sound, then long longing tones of saxophone and slide, reaching out in and emotionally resonant manner. The title track, “Our Place on the Wheel,” builds gradually, with yearning, very human tones of saxophone giving the music a deep spiritual sound framed by Pride's chimes and Hammond's subtle guitar. Lake's tone is raw and haunting, cutting to the bone and fearlessly searching for the truth in his music. The music is patient and thoughtful, with each member of the trio adding just the right amount of sound to carry this unusual and spectral music forward, with Hammond's slide sounding otherworldly in this light, followed by long cries of saxophone and crisp drumming coming like a defiant cry against the darkness. “Gratitude” is shaded with spare slide guitar, quiet and comforting after the somewhat harrowing journey that made up much of the album, aided by soft cymbals. Then things shift to a sharper focus of shimmering guitar, long tones of saxophone that rise and fall like a defiant call, while shaken percussion that adds an excellent touch to the overall sound of the performance. The music takes off and really flies with gliding slide guitar, deeply rhythmic drumming and tremendous saxophone interjections leading to a soaring finish. This album has an unusual sound that may take you a few listens to get acclimated to, but when it does the music can give you chills. Hammond writes in the notes that the album's themes were built from the sounds of blues masters like Charley Patton and Fred McDowell, but melded into a jazz format. Everything was on the album was a first take with no overdubs, demonstrating the amount of trust that the musicians had in one another. It was a very courageous album to make, but one that paid very high dividends for all concerned. Our Place on the Wheel - amazon.com

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Drive-By Truckers - The Unraveling (ATO Records, 2020)

Over twenty years since their foundation. The Drive-By Truckers remain one of the finest straight up rock 'n' roll bands in the United States. This version of the band consists of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley on guitar and vocals, Brad Morgan on bass, Matt Patton on drums, and Jay Gonzalez on keyboards and  guitars. They have never been shy in the past about speaking out about social and political issues that have been controversial, and this album continues the trend, melding thought provoking lyrics to gritty rootsy rock music. The unusually somber opener, “Rosemary With a Bible and a Gun” incorporates subdued playing and a subtle touch of strings, as it looks at the American south, the middle and the working class, transient and on the move, name checking the great photographer William Eggleston who chronicled southern life, but where there once was hope now where is there is only unease and uncertainty as people look for the comfort of religion or even violence. "Armageddon’s Back In Town" is a blistering rocker, something you might expect for a gotcha leadoff track, with scouring guitars and powerhouse drumming. The sense of desperation in the lyrics is the key to the performance, the feeling of just barely hanging on by your fingernails and a feeling of guilt and shame for deeds done or perceived, and a foreboding sense that the other shoe is about to drop no matter what. The brutal retelling of the Parkland, Florida high school mass shooting that begins “Thoughts and Prayers” is strong medicine, and the words are spoken clearly against an acoustic almost folky / protest song backdrop. Linking the politicians who refuse gun control to flat earth theorists is witty, and the band clearly means business, although the song may lack in shading and nuance, telling politicians to stick it up their ass is gratifying, but an easy way out. “Heroin Again” is a tighter and more successful song, because members of the band past and present have either struggled with the drug or know people who have. The strong music and lyrics mesh well, referring obliquely to famous overdoses in the past, and asking the characters in the song if they knew the risk they were facing when chasing that drug's fleeting reward. Another political number, “Babies in Cages” refers to the internment camps on the US southern border where migrant children are kept in often appalling conditions. Short verses make for a pithy and effective song, laying out the frustrations and sense of hopelessness that citizens feel when they see these pictures on TV or the internet. This may not be one of their best albums, but it does deserve respect, few bands are so willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves in such a fashion and take chances with losing fans by taking such a political stance. The Unraveling - amazon.com

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