Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Anna Hogberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020)

The second album by alto saxophonist Anna Hogberg is as  blistering and inspiring as her first one. Leading a sextet that also Elin Forkelid on tenor saxophone, Niklas Barnö on trumpet, Lisa Ullén on piano, Elsa Bergman on bass and Anna Lund on drums, the music the group creates is a fresh look at modern and avant jazz. The opening track, "pappa kom hem" uses a long burst of deep saxophone to clear the decks for what is to come, with the other saxophone and bombarding bass and drums joining for a full frontal assault of extraordinary free jazz that sounds wonderful and bracing. "det är inte för sent" has chattering percussion finely textured with cymbals with drops of open percussion and piano. Barnö's trumpet arcs around the other two instruments, keeping the mysterious sound going, with other horns coming in to create a powerfully granular full band sound. Full bodied rhythm section with saxophone ushers in "dansa margit" where an excellent theme launches the musicians into a series of solos beginning with tenor saxophone backed with ripe piano, bass and drums, and then ditching them for a raw and exciting unaccompanied section. The band comes together for a withering collective improvisation that is uniformly excellent, including a return to the powerful thematic statement. "tjuv" uses manic piano, bass and drums to excellent effect, and the horns come swaggering in righteously with a quick memorable theme. A wild piano interlude backed with bass and drums creates a really out of sight trio improvisation, with the horns riffing along. The focus shifts to the horns without rhythm, improvising together in space beautifully, and this episodic performance then turns to the full band integrated and led by a fine alto saxophone solo that digs in grandly. A powerhouse collective improvisation evolves from here, with everyone pulling in the same direction and achieving outstanding results. Abstract inside/outside piano and percussion is used on "pärlemor," with the horns working together for a lush sound. Ullén's piano dances around bowed bass and skittish drums framed by horns. Finally, "äntligen" focuses on trumpet and thick bass, as strong delineated trumpet with sharp swarm of bass and drums play, followed by the full accompaniment a more stately pace, gradually slow things down, allowing room for individual instruments to be heard. This album worked very well and was a success on every level. The band played very well together and solos were exciting and invigorating. This prismatic burst of light and color is just what we need during these difficult times, and it stands as one of the best albums yet of this strange year. Anna Hogberg Attack - Lena - Bandcamp

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Brian Marsella - Gatos do Sul (Tzadik, 2020)

Brian Marsella is a powerful and imaginative pianist and composer who leads an octet on this recording to play a wide range of compositions inspired by Brazilian music. The band some of the best players on the modern jazz scene, and they make the most of the music with excellent ensemble playing and fiery solo sections. "Marakashtu" opens the album with complex and interesting rhythm from percussion and piano along with swooping violin, horns and flute adding a further layer of interest. There is a flute solo over bubbling percussion, as the pace of the music increases and grows more frenetic, with swaying violin and soaring sounds from the full ensemble. A quieter section for piano and drums takes place, building speed bit by bit, in a fluid and organic manner, flush with color and vibrancy with a billowing saxophone interlude adding to the fun. Gently opened with vocals adding a lush feeling is "Lamento," taken at a medium tempo, using subtle and alluring long wordless passages with accordion to create deep texture. A supple saxophone solo in the midsection leads back to the deep melodic nature of the theme with the full band weaving together very well. "Fire the Pandeiro Player" has sweet uptempo band playing with flute at the front, displaying a warm and witty sound, keeping the music flowing as does a cascading piano solo from the leader. The undulating rhythm section is also key to the success of this track, giving a firm foundation for the soloists to soar over, and then everybody hits a wonderful double time passage to conclude the song. Rippling piano and drums open "O Balanco Das Corredeiras" leading to an abstract section of sound dynamically swooping and dropping. A nice section builds for acoustic guitar and percussion creating a nimble sound, then a soaring saxophone breaks out with a majestic sounding feature over complex accompaniment, before a then a lights out speed run for piano, bass and drums. "Meu Doce De Abobora" develops complex percussion, with many instruments including piano playing in excellent rhythm, flute adding further texture and depth, creating a moderately fast and very interesting groove. Another beautiful flute feature takes place with a clear tone and sound rising above the powerful rhythm section. Swaying quickly and then dropping down to a quiet and graceful guitar interlude, "O Touro Choro" is gracefully played with brushed drumming and soft piano which takes a fine solo of its own all before returning to the simmering theme. "Gratidao" concludes the album with a return to vocals with piano, creating an intimate duet before the rest of the band gradually enters, the music is graceful with guitar accents alongside accordion. This album worked quite well and it is clear that this was a full meeting like minded individuals. The group traveled through different styles and traditions of Brazilian music, but also keep in mind the improvisation based nature of the jazz tradition. Gatos Do Sul - amazon.com

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Monday, April 20, 2020

James Brandon Lewis / Chad Taylor - Live in Willisau (Intakt Records, 2020

Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and drummer / percussionist Chad Taylor certainly made the most of their closing slot at the 2019 Willisau Jazz Festival. Playing a mix of music from jazz masters and highly original music of their own they created combustible and exciting music that truly resonated. The opening track is "Twenty Four" which dives right into a rich and potent uptempo improvisation, with Lewis's raw toned saxophone well matched by Taylor's wide ranging drum work. The music has a strong and steely foundation allowing the two players to branch off into which ever directions they feel appropriate, while still being adequately supported. Taylor's drum solo is captivating and rhythmically compelling, taking the music in interesting new directions, which Lewis capitalizes upon as they link back up and drive to the finish line. "Radiance" begins slowly, building its momentum gradually, with Taylor creating a very interesting rhythmic base, and Lewis extrapolating upon it, building the music layer upon layer, gradually louder and faster, until they let loose into a devastating free jazz improvisation that is thrilling to hear. The dynamism of this performance is most impressive, moving from full throttle free to sections of thematic and rhythmic music which keeps the track fresh and moving consistently forward. "Imprints" cuts sharply through the air as the two musicians are locked in on a singular goal playing fast, complex music that is raw and captivating. Taylor's drumming slashes across his kit while Lewis digs in his feet and delivers deep scouring lines of sound, maintaining a deep level of interactivity. This track is where they seem to be channeling the John Coltrane / Elvin Jones dynamic and it works really well, the music is not derivative, but part reverential and part exploratory. "Willisee" has a choppy opening that the duo develops into a neat, slightly funky performance which incorporates some long bellows of saxophone and crisp drumming to create a powerhouse performance. This was an excellent album, capturing a hot live performance between two simpatico jazz musicians. Lewis and Taylor were at the top of their game on this night, and their brand of progressive jazz is wonderful to hear. Live in Willisau - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book: Mike Barnes - A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock and The 1970s (Omnibus Press, 2020)

This is an enormous review of the glory days of British progressive rock with some digressions into music on the continent and individual threads that the author wants to follow. Beginning with the question that has probably launched a million arguments, "What was the first progressive rock album?" which he precedes with an interesting look at the English psychedelic rock scene from which it grew. After deciding that King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King is the ur-text of British progressive rock, Barnes sets the scene for much of the remainder of the book a chapter or sometimes two for each of the major and eventually minor bands on the scene. Lengthy chapters of the main and most popular bands work quite well, as groups like Yes, Genesis, The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull were popular both live and on record in England and the United States. On the other hand the groups associated with the Canterbury scene: Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers' and Robert Wyatt's solo work, Caravan, were certainly more UK centered and started to become gradually more obscure within the country. Barnes breaks up the band profiles for "Divertimento" sections on various topics like drugs, sex and fashion that work as a palate cleanser at best and drive the narrative off the rails at worst. Diversions into the folk rock scene and especially the space rock scene that birthed fellow travelers Hawkwind are much more successful, and Barnes does seem to have an affinity for the underdogs like the experimental group Henry Cow, or the off the wall madness of Arthur Brown. He writes very well and you certainly can't fault his research, as he draws upon many original interviews conducted as a journalist over the years. This works best as book you dip in and out of, rather than try to gulp down 600+ pages of names and dates, and in this manner it will send you back to you your record collection or streaming service of choice to re-evaluate music that has been unfairly maligned. A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock and The 1970s - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Aruan Ortiz - Inside Rhythmic Falls (Intakt Records, 2020)

Oriente, also known as known as Santiago de Cuba Province in Cuba was where pianist and composer Aruán Ortiz grew up. On this album he looks to represent the rhythms of everyday life in in that area, with each of the tracks telling a small story. He is accompanied by Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera and the great jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille as well as a few guests. "Lucero Mundo" incorporates vocals into the percussion heavy framework for a hot performance, mixing Congolese rhythms and Latin ones to create an exciting performance and a true Afro-Cuban melding. The call and response male and female vocals keep things moving briskly. Deep percussive piano and drums provides the foundation for "Conversation with the Oaks" with the musicians cycling around each other like fighters in the ring, using the freedom to move and interact as they please. The pianist moves all over his instrument, using the breadth and width of the the keyboard to engage with the wily percussionists in this wonderful performance. "Golden Voice (Changul)" has light and swiftly moving piano and percussion, gradually moving faster as the piano notes, drums and percussion begin to tumble over one another, aided by Cyrille's agile dancing on the drum heads. The complex rhythms that the musicians produce become hypnotic in the ways that they ebb and flow and trade off of each other in a sense of constant motion, creating a collective improvisation of depth and spirited interplay. "Inside Rhythmic Falls, Pt. 1 (Sacred Codes)" fades into to some ferocious percussion and drum interplay taken at a very fast speed. Cyrille's drum kit plays off against the other percussion instruments and the clash of tones that is interesting and propels the music forward, with the exchange of ideas and rhythms flashing by in real time. The final track is "Para Ti Nengon" has hand clapping rhythm and male vocals with piano accents creating a memorable rhythm as Ortiz improvises around the chant and repetitive rhythm that is developed. He finds a space, framing the action and also commenting and adding to it, as the music fades out as if it went on and on. This album worked well, Ortiz is willing to experiment and is certainly not resting on his laurels after a couple of highly successful albums. Cuban rhythms have a long history integrating with jazz and Ortiz and his colleagues carve their own path in this direction with vigor and enthusiasm. Inside Rhythmic Falls - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Webber / Morris Big Band - Both Are True (Greenleaf Music, 2020)

Multi-reedists, composers and conductors Anna Webber and Angela Morris formed this large ensemble in 2015, using the traditional jazz big band instrumentation but exploring pieces that are influenced by genres as far afield as minimalism, noise rock and modern pop. The opening three tracks flow together effectively as a suite, with the lengthy "Climbing on Mirrors" featuring light and floating horns adding accents along with drums, crystallizing into a strong saxophone solo over active percussion and the riffing band framing the action. This is followed by the short interlude "Duo 1" that leads to the concluding "Both Are True" where an abstract connective section leads back to the swelling band for the finale. The short track "Rebonds" starts choppy, with swirls of sound, coalescing around raw guitar and heavy drums. Deep peals of saxophone add to the excitement, creating an urgent and potent mix. "Coral" is a slow, constantly evolving track, using long tones of sound that seemingly stretch to the horizon. The band shows great patience in the development of texture, where light percussion and raw guttural saxophone emerges unexpectedly, along with stronger drumming as the band asserts itself more forcefully. This is a very disciplined performance considering the length and gradual flow of the music. Complex sounds emerge on "And It Rolled Right Down" with horns weaving the theme, and extrapolating upon it. Swooping flute and blustery horns add swaths of color to the performance, pulling strands of the music in interesting ways. "Foggy Valley" emerges through a spare and abstract opening, as atmospheric horns clash against crushing percussion in an ominous context. Long emotional cries of reeds mark "Duo 2" leading to delicate interplay, flowing into the epic finale, "Reverses" where the horns continue from the previous track, with a greater range of tones and complimentary sounds. Drums and piano enter as the music becomes more focused, with the horns eventually playing with a modern jazz rhythm section, leading to a beautiful brass and bass section before the band comes together for a dramatic send off. This album worked well as a whole, the composers used their canvas of musicians in bold and interesting ways and those players responded with fine solo passages and ensemble play. Both Are True - amazon.com

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Liberty Ellman - Last Desert (Pi Recordings, 2020)

Guitarist Liberty Ellman is a musician of wide ranging talent, known for his work as a producer and in-demand sideman as well as a bandleader. Inspired by athletes who run ultra-marathons in harsh desert environments, he is accompanied by an excellent band, featuring Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jose Davila on tuba, Stephan Crump on bass and Damion Reid on drums. Opening track "The Sip" has light guitar and bass, as the rest of the band gradually enters, with an open and graceful sound. Well positioned brass sets the scene, followed by a tart sounding alto saxophone solo. Trumpet and tuba are a fine combination, opening "Last Desert I" with the sound filling out as dynamic tension arrives. Crump's strong bass, both bowed and plucked, is key here as the full band comes together, and Ellman leads with a fine cool toned solo, followed by clearly articulated trumpet. On "Last Desert II," Davila's tuba is used to great effect, then bows out for saxophone, guitar and drums. The music is knotty and complex, with Lehman adding exciting bursts of raw saxophone into the mix, with lines of tuba burrowing through as well. Finlayson also solos well over the group undulating below him. "Rubber Flowers" has a great sense of urgency with excellent rhythm playing, especially on the choppy theme. Lehman breaks out with an admirable solo, showing his roots in McLean and Dolphy, but a sense of originality and execution that is all his. Drums and trumpet get a volcanic section of their own as the music surges to its conclusion. Quieter well melded instruments are at play on "Portals," with another superb bass solo from Crump, and the band coming together around Ellman for a fine and enigmatic sounding guitar solo. Lehman ups the tempo and then hands off to the trumpeter for a fast trading of ideas and a very good round of collective improvisation. "Doppler" has a bouncy theme lent buoyancy by the wonderful tuba playing, with single instruments breaking out of the central hub for short solo sections. Finally, "Liquid"concludes the album with a punchy opening, complete with crisp drumming and horns. Ellman's nimble guitar weaves through the drums and bass, leading to an area of dreamy sounding horns. Blustery tuba solos amid drums and framing horns, before a short saxophone and trumpet finish. This was a very good modern jazz album, Ellman's compositions are fresh and thoughtful and the playing by the band is just top notch throughout. Last Desert - amazon.com

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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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