Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Film: Blue Note Records -Beyond the Notes (Eagle Rock, 2019)

This is a film about Blue Note Records, which was founded in 1939 and despite a period of inactivity from the late 1970's to mid 1980's is still releasing jazz and some pop music to this day. This documentary moves back and forth between the present day (2018) with an all star band of younger musicians in the studio, playing and talking about the influence that the music of classic Blue Note Records have has upon them. We get flashbacks to the origin story of the label, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were jazz loving German Jews who fled the Nazis, settling in New York and putting out their first records in 1939. Excerpts from a radio interview with the two men fill in the backstory somewhat, and there is a nicely done section about the label's relationship with Thelonious Monk. There is some fine footage and audio clips of label legends like Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan, and one of the last interviews with the famous engineer Rudy Van Gelder. But this film is not designed to be a label history, in fact it seems stuck much like the modern label itself between promoting the current roster and their connection to modern hip-hop while fostering reverence for past triumphs. Bruce Lundvall ran the label for twenty five years and gets a short snippet about signing Norah Jones, while current label head Don Was spews platitudes throughout the program. There are some warm and revealing interviews with legendary musicians like Lou Donaldson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The musical highlight of the film was Hancock and Shorter sitting in with their younger colleagues improvising on a skeletal arrangement of "Masquelero." This is worth checking out with reservations, the musicians are always genuine in their comments, and these are genuinely interesting, but the film is disjointed and the direction seems uninspired: is this a historical documentary, a promotional film about the present day label, or a music film? Trying to cram all of the above into a ninety minute movie leaves it feeling strangely empty. Blue Note Records Beyond The Notes - amazon.com

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Monday, January 27, 2020

Kuzu - Lift to Drag (Medium Sound, 2019)

Kuzu is a wonderful free jazz band consisting of Tyler Damon on drums and percussion, Tashi Dorji on electric guitar and Dave Rempis on saxophones. This is their second album in three years, with the third one due out soon. The first of two tracks, "Spilled Out" has slow percussion building to absolutely fascinating balls out free improvisation with torrid saxophone, loose drumming and flinty guitar playing creating a wonderful soundscape. Huge raw peals of sound arch around the instruments and create a full collective improvisation that shakes the heavens with speed and fury. Raw and guttural saxophone playing tempered or encouraged by choppy and slashing electric guitar and ever present heavy drumming makes for a very exciting and continuously interesting recording. There is a drum solo that simmers and stirs, with flashes of guitar framing it the percussion lashes out before whinnies of saxophone add to the further emotional energy of the performance, thunderous drums and industrial clanking guitar turns to a hellbent three way burnout with overblown saxophone joining in. Slow squeaks probe the available ground on "Carried Away," gradually carving out ground, and the band soon is sounding like an angry hive of bees ready to attack. The music soon resumes it's deadly march but with Rempis achieving a sharper, steelier tone to his saxophone, one that cuts mightily through the potent drumming and jabs of guitar. A second Damon percussion feature shows him digging deep into the firmament of the sound the trio has built and unearthing undiscovered gems, laying the foundation for Rempis's saxophone adding a tart and sour sound to the proceedings. This is an excellent foil for bent and twisted guitar notes and harsh drumming that holds together a remarkable free jazz trio improvisation that tumbles downhill at high speed reveling in the danger. There's a spacier section toward the end of the performance where the individual sounds of the musicians just seem to hang in the air, transposed and juxtaposed against one another, with skittish guitar playing off long tones of saxophone while Damon makes use of his entire kit performing somersaults of drums and percussion, leading to the finale of a truly excellent album. This album's original cassette run is long sold out, but it is available as a "name your price" digital edition through Bandcamp. Be generous, this is the real deal.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land (Blue Note, 1966; CD re-issue, 2003)

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was riding high in 1964, with a hit album in The Sidewinder and some advertising dollars in his pocket, he wanted to show people he wasn't just one trick pony. While not avant-garde by any means, this album was fresh and modern compared to the boogoloo jazz Blue Note was looking for and therefor sat on the sidelines for two years before being released. Morgan assembled an astonishing band of young musicians for a program of originals, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Grant Green on guitar, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums and proceeded to record a classic of post-bop jazz. "Search for the New Land" is a long and episodic performance, with an opening that evokes mystery, followed a beautiful Wayne Shorter tenor saxophone solo, Individual features seem to bubble up from the ether of the melody, such as Morgan's first solo, which is stoic and thoughtful, interacting with the rhythm section and showing a clear tone and purposeful approach to improvisation. Green's deliberately chosen notes soon build into a web of intricate guitar sounds, played with the utmost tact and dignity. The swinging yet restrained rhythm section percolates, leading the group into the final fanfare to close the piece. Led by a brash and proud theme that marches out of the gate, "The Joker" has Shorter emerging over swinging accompaniment to solo in an angular manner followed by Morgan, who sounds at the height of his powers blowing with strength and vision. The great theme surging in at the end to prompt a wave of sound from the whole group. "Mr Kenyatta" is an edgy and fast paced performance, with the horns building a complex theme and the drums boiling underneath. Morgan bobs and weaves like a fighter in the ring with quick jabs and longer punches of crisp sound. Shorter's response is nimble and fleet with a manic piano, bass and drums team goading him on. Grant Green picks his spots, but each is golden, as he adds just the right seasoning to this roiling strew and then solos by weaving through the horns and drums as does Hancock who follows. Slower paced, with brushes and a subdued theme, "Melancholee" is a ballad with the music seemingly hanging suspended in the air. The trumpet and bass engage slowly with brushed percussion, playing patiently and gracefully amid the open space. Hancock is perfect for this setting, adding ethereal asides and spare support for Shorter's tenor saxophone. "Morgan the Pirate" has a punchy and memorable theme and variation setup that works well, and the leader steps out for a bold sounding solo that is articulate and imaginative, playing with muscular grace. Green pokes through with his unique playing adding sharp needles of notes, that set up Shorter for a wonderful solo. Hancock, Workman and Higgins are the engine room that makes it all go, and for their disparate musical personalities they come up huge here, setting the table for Lee Morgan to make one of his finest albums. Search For The New Land - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Jeff Davis - The Fastness (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2019)

This is an excellent album combining modern jazz with elements of fusion led by Jeff Davis on drums and vibraphone, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Russ Lossing on piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond B3 organ and Eivind Opsvik on bass. They are able to conjure a wide range of sounds on this well paced album on tracks like "Go Away Glasses" where there is gradual buildup and atmospheric smears of electric piano and guitar and these instruments reverberate in space, creating a fascinating soundscape. Malaby solos on soprano saxophone, and the music retains a sense of mystery with sections of spaciness and collective playing that is strong and vibrant. "Obvious Nemesis" has upbeat tenor saxophone and drums framed by gritty sounding keyboards. The bass and drums really push hard, driving Lossing's keyboard forward and allowing him to achieve a unique sound and attack. The saxophone returns leading to a strong full band section with pulsating drums and scalding saxophone. Saxophone develops a yearning sound on "Wednesday Shirt" with the guitar adding atmosphere and the music turns menacing, as the full group comes together and breaks out into a roar. There is a loud and fast takeoff with an epic guitar and drum interaction, as organ and sax snarl together creating an epic ride. "Bird Monkey" takes the music in a different direction, with a fast complex acoustic piano introduction, using agile clusters of notes amid thick bass and nimble drumming. Tenor sax adds fuel to the fire the trio has created, completing a powerful and impressive acoustic improvisation and including a short crushing drum solo for the leader. The full band opens "New Good Brother" at a fast and dedicated clip, with shards of electric guitar breaking out and showering notes over the keyboard, bass and drums unit. This is an excellent feature for Goldberger's guitar playing followed by raw toned tenor saxophone that pulls the music into a tense spiral. The Fastness - amazon.com

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Jim Black Trio - Reckon (Intakt Records, 2020)

This was an album that takes the standard piano trio format and really runs with it. With Jim Black on drums, Thomas Morgan on bass and Elias Stemeseder on piano, their imagination is really the limit. Recorded quickly over the course of two days, it's clear that the band was inspired by the company and the content and it shows in the results. "Astrono Said So" features nimble, intricate bass and drums, where the piano enters gradually, building a close knit three way conversation, and develops a ever faster flow. The music becomes quite open and free sounding with thick elastic bass yoking the propulsive drumming and piano playing, becoming slightly frayed at the end, and returning to the original opening. Spare and subdued, "Tripped Overhue" offers music that floats with a gentle melodic sensibility, becoming gradually more forceful as the performance develops, waxing and waning with snappy bass playing, drumming and fluid keyboard playing. "Tighter Whined" has expressive drumming and bass playing in a very forceful manner with piano chords adding to the urgency of the piece. The sound builds from darkness into differing shades, flashing fast and exciting like an experimental black and white film. Gliding gracefully at midtempo, "Spooty And Snofer" works interesting tones with bass and piano notes falling like droplets from the sky, and an industrial, motorik beat underneath. This has the feel of a Bad Plus performance from when Ethan Iverson was in the band, eventually moving to a fine bass feature leading to a graceful conclusion. "Next Razor World" guides a crisp slapping beat against playing from inside the piano. Large bass notes frame this unusual and strange sound, very free and experimental, with strumming inside the piano building an almost West African sound then moving back to the traditional keyboard. Space, bass and inside playing are hallmarks of "Dancy Clear Ends" which suddenly flashes into light with a fast paced trio improvisation, where short cymbal crashes accent the fluid piano playing and bass pulses. The music becomes freer but still hurtles ahead leading to another excellent bass solo, and finale. "This One And This Too" uses slow motion sounds, picking and playing the piano dexterously, giving the music a much wider sonic palette, then darting around excitedly over a backdrop of solid bass and encouraging drums. There is a wildly exciting group improvisation takes them into the outer limits and back just as quickly, bringing them to the end of an album that was both engagingly accessible and courageous in its atmospheric experimentation. Reckon - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Muriel Grossmann - Reverence (Dreamlandrecords, 2019)

Saxophonist Muriel Grossmann's latest album was influenced by the music of Africa, looking at the source of rhythm from the continent and it's implications in modern jazz. She is joined by Radomir Milojkovic on guitar, Gina Schwarz on bass, Uros Stamenkovic on drums and Llorenç Barceló on organ. "Okan Ti Aye" opens the album with rolling drums and percussion creating a deep and exciting layering of potential energy. Organ and guitar gradually enter with saxophone following adding a spiritual jazz flavor and the band is coming together with a common goal. Nimble guitar, sounding tightly wound, steps out, with a well played solo over the percolating band. Saxophone and drums drive forward keeping pace with one another and offering a strongly rhythmic presentation, stretching out in a very exciting manner. Bass and harp like strings with percussion set the stage for "Union" and Grossmann's soaring soprano saxophone. The music is very open and free sounding, moving over the available space patiently, framed by subtle waves of organ. It gradually gathers volume and intensity as the players develop a cohesive group improvisation. "Water Bowl" uses a quality guitar rhythm with swirling organ and saxophone to open a fantasia of possibility, light and flowing in tone as the music is in constant motion. There is strong saxophone soloing over a deep groove set up by the rest of the band, handing off to the guitarist who strikes sparks of his own against a crisp cymbal beat. Organ, bass and drums keep up the deep groove with some keyboard flourishes attached. Gentle harp like strings and soulful tenor saxophone open the ballad "Sundown" with some keyboard asides. Soft ballad tenor saxophone and gurgling keyboards with gently playing rhythm section moves ahead. But the track works best with saxophone and glowing organ and harp, providing echoes of Alice Coltrane. "Chase" has a much faster and urgent rhythm, drums and bass pushing, saxophone and guitar surging ahead fast and furious. Stamenkovic is riding the cymbals like a jockey and Grossman's saxophone is played with speed and grace. Their collective improvisation is powerful and full speed ahead, stopping on a dime for a more open section of strings and percussion. Steep percussion and dexterous guitar bring the group back out of meditation, and the leader joins back in and uses her saxophone to take the group to a strong conclusion. A nearly funky opening for the rhythm team sparks "Tribu" with strong ribbons of saxophone flowing forth across the base of the music and a ripe guitar solo that keeps the piece moving forward briskly. Long melodic lines of saxophone keep this performance accessible and enjoyable with everybody chipping in to keep the flow going. "Afrika Mahala" has stark heavy percussion and complex string playing, balanced by dark toned tenor saxophone, with Coltrane overtones. There is a darting guitar solo, played well adding shards of sound as notes break off and fly. The saxophone soars back in with slashing drumming along side for an epic duo focused section absolutely crushing it before returning to a full band segment to round out the piece. Finally, "Morning" closes the album with unusual percussion and string sounds giving an exotic flavor, then coalescing into a fine rhythm filled out with sound and deep pulsing tenor saxophone that sounds warm and whole, with elastic bass and thick rhythmic accompaniment. The music blooms organically with keyboards and guitar furthering the cause by adding ideas as the music ebbs and flows according to whim and wisdom. The music on this album is quite successful and is reminiscent of the African influenced records of the Seventies like McCoy Tyner's Sahara or work by Gary Bartz's Nu Troop. If you are a fan of that music, you will find a lot to like here. Reverence - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker – Little Common Twist (Thrill Jockey, 2019)

This is a very interesting and creative album from two musical free spirits, drummer Charles Rumback and guitarist Ryley Walker. Rumback is a first call percussionist in Chicago's excellent free jazz scene and Walker first made his name as a singer / songwriter, particularly on the wonderful Astral Weeks like album Primrose Green. This album was recorded in spontaneous sessions over the course of a few years, and works quite well. The opening track "Half Joking" uses acoustic guitar and brushes, sounding gentle and melodic, with percussion feathering around the guitar as they gradually build stronger cells of pace and volume. After "Self Blind Sun" uses space and probing brushes and guitar, "Idiot Parade" comes in, feeling more ominous, with Rumback using drum sticks, and Walker adding electronics or electric guitar drone sounding cool and almost ritualistic as the track builds to a soundscape of drone and crisp percussion."And You, These Sang" uses brushes along side dark somber sounding guitar, achieving a cinematic music vibe, while "Menebhi" unleashes a menagerie of different sounds layered upon each other, swaths of electronics, scattered drums and percussion, all of which are developing in an interesting and experimental manner. "Ill Fitting / No Sickness" displays Walker's excellent acoustic guitar playing, recalling Richard Thompson's virtuosity, playing very crisp and articulately, fast and propulsive. The drums enter midway through adding a complex rhythm and taking the performance to new heights. There is an abstract ambient opening to "If You're Around and Down," with cymbals adding to the sound and playing off against the soundscape with subtle drumming and shimmering cymbals, achieving a subtle overall sound of electronic ambient with subtle percussion."Worn and Held" fades in to shimmering guitar and framing percussion, with the music evolving patiently over time becoming louder and faster but remaining well controlled. it has an appealing atmospheric feeling that fills up the available soundscape with waves of guitar and percussion in a strong but not overpowering fashion. This album worked quite well, with the musicians working as equals and stepping away from regular rhythmic sensibilities to create an artistic statement that flows across genres and should have a broad appeal. Little Common Twist - amazon.com

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Monday, January 13, 2020

16-17 – Phantom Limb (Trost, 2020)

The Austrian label Trost is usually notable for bringing some of the finest in avant-garde jazz to the marketplace, but this album marks a departure for them. 16-17 began in Basel, Switzerland in the early eighties with Alex Buess on saxophones and bass clarinet, electronics and voice and Knut Remond on drums, experimenting musically by performing an abrasive distorted mix of dub, hardcore and free jazz before the band officially split up in 2000. The basis of this new Phantom Limb  LP was recorded in 1995 by a new line-up with Alex Buess, Damian Bennett on bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums. The band was additionally expanded by Eugene S. Robinson and Kasia Meow who added vocals and lyrics. "The Hate Remains The Same," perhaps a jab at Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" makes a statement right from the beginning of the album, with dark punk / hardcore male vocals slashing over grating bass and drums to maximum effect. After the skittish and haunting "Interruptus" the group comes back with a vengeance on "Words of Warning," where all sense of cautiousness is thrown into the wind for an all out hardcore meets free jazz meltdown which also mixes in crushing drums and both female and male vocals screaming and writhing in the mix. "Crash" begins appropriately with revving guitar, bass and drums with vocals and brass woven in and barely held together. The group flies in for a strafing run over the soundscape as the drum rhythm and guitar become complex, and phased horns and guitar distort into psychedelic configurations. This fast pace carries through into "Bender" with the vocalists spitting out the lyrics with venom over crushing drums and searing guitar. "Subliminal Song" moves in a different direction, taking a dark grinding doom metal approach, bringing their sounds up from the depths of some dungeon, along side crushing percussion and anguished vocals. The album ends in an edgy and ominous fashion on "Asia's Lullaby," with saxophone pops and spare electronic groans, adding unexpected chimes and spare curls of saxophone. Concluding in an enigmatic fashion, without the roar of their prior work, but with an eerie almost cinematic flair. This album is produced quite well, considering that the music was recorded in 1995 and the vocals in 2018. It is a hard to classify piece of work, melding elements of diverse genres into one ferocious whole. Phantom Limb - amazon.com

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Charles Gayle / John Edwards / Mark Sanders - Seasons Changing (Otoroku, 2019)

At eighty years of age, saxophonist and pianist Charles Gayle can’t quite summon the fire and brimstone fervor that he once presented on records recorded during the during the late eighties and early nineties, but as this album shows, the march of time may actually work in his favor. Placing him amid the open minded, empathetic and very talented bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders was an inspired idea, and leads to two sets of genuinely inspired free jazz that works well as a three way conversation. They perform two lengthy sets, each contained on a separate disc or file, and Gayle can work with tenor or alto saxophone with great facility, but the fact that he can’t quite squall and rage in the highest range of his horns any longer forces him to delve deeply into his individual technique for playing the horns, cutting and slashing, creating pithy phrases with shorter bursts that engage deeply with the complex and ever changing rhythm developed by the bass and drums. It’s this sense of teamwork, their collective improvisations that that grow and develop over the course of the sets that is the nature of the album’s success. Whereas in years past, Gayle’s stamina and savage power could bludgeon anyone performing with him into submission, in this case, his attack is fleet and dexterous, flowing with the bass, cavorting with the percussion. He is playing with the same passion, but has become self aware enough to temper with this with some hard won grace and humility that suits his music very well. Edwards has played with Gayle on other occasions and works mindfully with him, supporting the music and also take impressive strong and dexterous bass solos when appropriate, and Sanders acquits himself equally well, pushing and pulling along with Gayle’s unique and idiosyncratic timing, and using the totality of the drum kit to allow the maximum percussion input into the music. Gayle will move to piano a few times over the course of the album, he picks his spots well with his individual and distinctive keyboard touch adding just the right amount of seasoning to an otherwise saxophone dominated program. Overall, this album worked very well, Gayle was in fine voice, discovering a way to use the changing nature of his musical approach to lend a freshness that stimulated his playing partners and resulted in an admirable evening of music. Seasons Changing - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Bobby Bradford / Frode Gjerstad / Kent Carter / John Stevens - Blue Cat (NoBusiness, 2019)

This is an excellent spontaneously improvised concert recorded during June of 1991 in Albany, London (not Albany, NY, alas) with a stellar multi-national band featuring Bobby Bradford on cornet, Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Kent Carter on bass and John Stevens on drums. I’m not sure if this was a regular touring unit or not, but they play very well together, warming to the lengthy “Blue Cat I” gradually with smears of brass and bass patiently evolving. The group slowly comes together and coalesces with ripe saxophone and increasingly focused drumming, adding Carter’s bass for a deep rhythmic center that allows their improvisation maximum leverage. Bradford takes over with a strong voice amid thick bass playing and loud drumming and the group sounds very focused and alive, leading to a textually driven bass feature. The full group emerges in a very exciting and complex cooperative improvisation that adds many shades of brass and reed to nimble drums and bass. Their music is very flexible, projecting this quality into a walloping Stevens drum solo. “Blue Cat II” has Bradford setting a stoic opening theme, with percussion and saxophone building up from beneath. The sound is ominous and atmospheric, recalling Ornette Coleman’s music, someone who Bradford knew quite well. The space that they allow in the music is telling, and the gradual filling of it as the four come together on a collective improvisation at a faster pace is most impressive. The music is riveting at this point, with simmering drums, broiling cornet and saxophone, plus propulsive bass. Spare sounds open “Blue Cat III” as the group spirals and dances, whirling and leading to a saxophone feature over feathering drums and bass, where Gjerstad leaps and twirls like a ballet dancer, developing a compelling solo. The band reforms to a quartet playing fast and free sounding jazz building to a formidable tempo and complexity, with Bradford’s engagement with the drums particularly memorable, before the band develops a soft melodic landing. This is a very well done archival release by a band that definitely deserved to be recorded for posterity as well as the enjoyment of the free jazz loving public. It was originally released as a limited edition vinyl record, and is also available as a digital edition.

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

June Tyson - Saturnian Queen Of The Sun Ra Arkestra (Modern Harmonic, 2019)

June Tyson may have been the only woman in the Sun Ra Arkestra, but she had big responsibilities. In addition to serving as the group’s worked as the band's costume designer, choreographer, and occasional violinist, she was most well known as the band’s lead singer. She served 1968 until her death in 1992 and left an indelible mark on the second and final half of Sun Ra’s career as a bandleader. Her singing style is strong and clear, and worked well on Ra’s original material, whether it covered spiritual, afrofuturistic or space related topics. The music on this album presents an excellent cross section of her work and unsurprisingly, also represents some of the Arkestra’s best work of the period. There are examples of spacey and haunting material that present her not only with the band playing, but with members of the band vocalizing along with her are present on the Arkestra standard “We Travel the Spaceways” and also the rare and nearly spectral performance “The Moors (AKA Moorish Nights).” Ra’s deceptively philosophical lyrics found a home with Tyson, whether on the twisting and turning cadences of  “Somebody Else’s World” or “Astro Black” which links the search for civil rights on Earth with the exploration of inner and outer space. The music itself is always fascinating, Sun Ra’s compositions, arrangements and lyrics were like nothing else at the time and cemented his role as one of the greatest explorers in American music. The bands themselves contained great soloists like John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, all of which could come together to either frame Tyson’s vocals on the quieter numbers or lift her voice to the stars on the uptempo performances. This is a well done compilation that sheds some much needed light on a very talented performer. The album includes previously unreleased tracks, and the physical version comes with a booklet containing rare photos and extensive liner notes. Saturnian Queen Of The Sun Ra Arkestra - amazon.com

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