Saturday, May 23, 2020

Tim Berne - Sacred Vowels (Screwgun Records, 2020)

The circumstances with which spring 2020 has presented itself has allowed musicians more time to ruminate on projects that they have always wanted to tackle. For saxophonist Tim Berne, that has been a recording of solo saxophone, and he writes in a brief introduction on his Bandcamp page that he began writing some of the music as an exercise, but was always reluctant to make the actual recording. Berne has been a force for good in creative jazz and improvised music for decades in many settings, beginning as an acolyte of the great Julius Hemphill and developing fruitful relationships with John Zorn and the downtown scene among many others. His music was as accessible enough to get a major label contract with Columbia, and so restless that he had to form his own record label just to get his albums released and hope they get the attention they deserve. This particular record is deserving of much attention. Berne needn't have been reticent about recording a solo saxophone LP, because the the resulting music is impressive not only in its technical facility and his creative use of the saxophone, but in the beauty and sheer joy of the music that he creates. Taking forty plus years of experience and distilling it into just one man and one horn is a brave and intimidating prospect, but Berne rises to the challenge. The tone of his horn is honest and unique and the themes that he has written allow him to show the different aspects of his musical concept in and approachable manner. Berne has been releasing a great deal of work lately for a different bands and duos, but this album shouldn't be overlooked, it is a milestone recording from a remarkable and uncompromising artist. Sacred Vowels - Bandcamp

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Tim Daisy and Ken Vandermark - Consequent Duos: series 2a (System vs. Artifacts, 2020)

COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on recording and touring with artists responding in creative and courageous ways. Musician and label head Ken Vandermark is responding by releasing a series of new digital albums on the System vs. Artifacts imprint from his own label, Audiographic Records. This album was recorded in August of 2011 at the Hungry Brain in Chicago, and the music has a high energy feel that crackles in the spontaneous creativity of the overall sound. The music is nearly telepathic in nature as befits longtime collaborators, with Vandermark alternating between saxophones and clarinets and Tim Daisy matching him every step of the way  showing remarkable facility on drums and percussion. They lock in together and develop a series of long, spontaneous improvisation that are rooted in the new thing American free jazz of Albert Ayler and Marion Brown, but also explore the more intellectualized territory blazed by Jimmy Giuffre and Anthony Braxton. The first set consists of three numbered performances, the first one being a very exciting saxophone and drums duet where they are able to build a strong and powerful improvisation that leaps into action quickly and maintains the energy for the length of the performance, easing into some dynamic dips and peaks along the way. They move into a different area on set one track two with Vandermark moving to clarinet, employing some wonderful long looping tones and sweeping curls of sound leading to brief unaccompanied passages and stellar percussive additions to the conversations. Bass clarinet is Vandermark's focus for the first track of the second set, with Daisy using the depth and breadth of his drum kit to urge him into some really interesting places, as the deep hollow sounds of the bass clarinet allows him to achieve some remarkable sounds and musical textures. The second and concluding track of the second set is an extraordinary journey of over twenty minutes with undercurrents of saxophone and gradually building percussion leading to a towering section of scalding saxophone, which sends out massive peals of sound alongside thunderous drumming before gradually easing off with ultimate control, leading to a perfect touchdown. This was an excellent live album, very well recorded at one of the most important landmarks of progressive jazz and improvised music in Chicago. Live performance may be on hold as of this writing, but wonderful archival recordings like this keep the music fresh and allow fans to support the people who create this extraordinary music. Consequent Duos: series 2a - Bandcamp

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Monday, May 18, 2020

The MacroQuarktet - The Complete Night: Live at the Stone NYC (Out of Your Head Records, 2020)

Trumpeters Herb Robertson and Dave Ballou have collaborated with a who's who of mainstream and avant-garde jazz musicians from the 1980's to today. Deciding that they wanted to play together and stretch out, improvising at length in a small group setting, they met up with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey to form The MacroQuarktet. This double disc set is a complete account of their first live performance from June 30, 2007; disc one is a reissue of the album titled Each Part Whole, originally released on Ruby Flower Records in 2009, while disc two is the second set from the night, released for the first time. The music unfolds in a series of lengthy long-form suites that are time stamped on the discs, though the music flows seamlessly and without interruption. Although the music may seem abstract on the surface, but deeper listening reveals layers of depth. The two trumpet players are capable of a wide range of sounds, textures and abrasiveness, playing together for a powerful punch or soloing individually to produce growing, pecking and hauntingly lyrical passages of music. The bass playing of Drew Gress is equally versatile, particularly when he creates bowed movements that allow the music to develop a different cadence and brings further emotional depth to the performance. As does the drumming of Tom Rainey, particularly the subtle majesty that he brings to his cymbal playing that can add a feeling of nervous energy to the music but also offer a aura of shimmering otherworldliness when combined with the processes mentioned above. The music is complex and challenging, but never unnecessarily so, the camaraderie that the musicians share an their skill at their instruments and the art and science of improvisation ensures that even the knottiest passages are accessible to the attuned listener. The Complete Night: Live at the Stone NYC - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Alexander Hawkins and Tomeka Reid - Shards and Constellations (Intakt, 2020)

Pianist Alexander Hawkins and cellist Tomeka Reid bring a rich history into their duet session, with each musician well versed in jazz, classical and freely improvised music. This makes for a surprisingly varied and intricate program of music, with each musician making the most of their instrument. Half of the performances on this album were developed completely through improvisation, employing differing measures of hue and texture in real time to create fascinating off the dome structures. Reid is a joy to hear bowing long hypnotic tones or short bursts of sound while also plucking her instrument to provide bass or guitar like accompaniment. She gained much of her experience after moving to Chicago and joining the AACM, so it is no surprise to hear two tracks by Association legends Muhal Richard Abrams and Leroy Jenkins secure pride of place on this album. Hawkins is an excellent pianist, adept at creating languid impressionistic soundscapes as well as diving into freely improvised sections and providing ample support for some of Reid's more daring flights. His development was something of a mirror image of Reid's receiving his post-graduate education so to speak playing with European avant jazz masters like Evan Parker, Jon Surman and Han Bennink. Together, Reid and Hawkins are able to conjure some delightful moods that range from a lilting, near spiritual ballad to more experimental fare that sees both musicians stretching themselves from mirrors within mirrors levels of abstraction to fast paced duo chase sections. Though they come from different scenes it is the pull of jazz and the lure of improvisation that pulls these two musicians together. Together they are able to create a very good album, one with a sense of adventure that looks beyond boundaries and heeds the call of exploration. Shards and Constellations - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Broken Shadows - Tower Tapes #2 (Jazzclub Ferrara, 2020)

Broken Shadows was originally an Ornette Coleman composition and the name of an album put out by Columbia, issuing previously unreleased material from the sessions that produced the epic Science Fiction LP, all of which later captured in The Complete Science Fiction Sessions. Taking this as their band name is a bold move, but considering that they are some of the best players on the modern jazz scene, the payoff is worth it. Consisting of Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums, the band has the firepower and the flexability to follow their muse however they choose. Inspired by the music of Coleman, Dewey Redman and Julius Hemphill the group began playing concerts in Brooklyn and eventually recorded a self titled debut album for the elite vinyl only subscription service which retails for $400. With the Covid-19 nightmare pushing all bands off the road and looking for alternate sources of income, Jazz Club Ferrara dipped into their recorded archives to create The Tower Tapes, sets of live recordings where the proceeds from sales will be equally donated to the musicians involved and to proprietor. The Broken Shadows performance consists of two generous sets recorded on February 1, 2020 clearly demonstrating that this is an important band whose music should be documented for all to hear. The music is adventurous and exciting, stringing themes together and using them as springboards for fascinating passages of collective improvisation makes this group sound like a true successor to the early seventies era Ornette Coleman band. The saxophones work in tandem beautifully as well, with Speed's lighter tenor saxophone tone an excellent foil for Berne's more tart alto as they bob and weave through the thematic sections and improvisations. Anderson and King are two thirds of the mighty Bad Plus and have been playing together for decades, bringing that unique sense of rhythm and structure to this album with Anderson especially featured on several excellent bass solos. This was an very good album and is highly recommended, each one of these musicians is busy with other groups, but hopefully we will hear more from them soon. Broken Shadows - The Tower Tapes #2 Jazzclubferrara Bandcamp

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Saturday, May 09, 2020

Sabir Mateen, Patrick Holmes, Federico Ughi - Survival Situation (577 Records, 2020)

The three musicians on this album, Sabir Mateen on saxophones, clarinets, flute, farfisa organ, and vocals, Patrick Holmes on clarinet and Federico Ughi on drums have traveled in the same circles for years, but hadn't recorded as a trio before meeting in Tuscany where Sabir Mateen has been living for the last few years. They created a freely improvised session, then took the tapes back to the studio for post production and crafted this album, which is strongly influenced by Sun Ra, whom Mateen played with in the 1980's. "Freedom of Souls" has long held tones of reed, with clarinet and ghostly percussion and organ; they soon pick up pace with swirling swooping clarinet curls, electric organ certainly recalling Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra. Combing for an interesting collective improvisation, Mateen adds mysterious echoed vocalizing, further provoking the atmosphere of this unpredictable performance. Smears of organ, electronically altered and channeled to provide a near psychedelic tinge give way to drones providing a baseline for reed and drums to improvise around, creating a very interesting trio improvisation that spools out to the conclusion. A subtly played opening for clarinet and the other reed begins "Souls," tangling and diffusing, circling and swooping. Drums enter and alter the pace, engaging with tenor saxophone, establishing a free sounding dialogue. "Layers of Sound" has flute and light saxophone stratified above and below creating an interesting dynamic, while the drums rumble quietly underneath. The drums move to engage the reeds, making for a more strident improvisation, mixing the gradients and adding a hint of the unexpected. Stark sounding clarinet pierces the proceedings, with jabs of overdriven organ seemingly at random keep things moving. Mateen's light sounding unaccompanied saxophone improvisation sounds great, opening "Clarifying" and the other instruments soon glide in as clarinet and percussion filling out the space. The drums create an interesting fractured rhythm, engaging the reed players, one moving to flute to nudge the improvisation in a different direction. Clarinet and flute are an interesting blend especially in the company of dynamic percussion that waxes and wanes in intensity. Mid piece there is a shift to saxophone and clarinet in open space, with Ughi's drums moving in to create crisp rhythm for a riveting saxophone solo, and then finally a powerful three way free improvisation. The digital bonus track "You Can’t Touch That Because It Didn’t Hurt" opens slowly with raw ominous saxophone and clarinet framed by cymbal accents, and drones of sound from one reed with the other jabs and pierces. There is a complex system of language and conversation between the three musicians which yields strong results, with three instruments boiling and simmering in close contact creating excellent music in this crucible of creativity. Survival Situation - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Shabaka And The Ancestors ‎– We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse, 2020)

A mainstay on the fertile London jazz sense, British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings leads a group of South African musicians on this interesting and forward thinking album. The band features Mthunzi Mvubu on alto saxophone, Ariel Zamonsky on bass, Gontse Makhene on percussion and Tumi Mogorosi on drums, along with guests on certain tracks. "They Who Must Die" opens the album with percussion, thick bass, vocalization and melodic saxophone which emphasizes a hypnotic theme. Tension and release allow intense and exciting percussion and saxophone with vocal encouragement. Loud - soft dynamics, repetition and release allow the group to stretch out providing their statement of purpose over the percolating rhythm. "Go My Heart, Go To Heaven" features taut bass, harmonizing horns at a medium tempo, vocals and complex percussion. The music flows together well becoming faster with insistent horn playing and an impressive saxophone solo. Spare electric piano droplets with light percussion usher in "Behold, The Deceiver" with soft and subtle horn playing, gradually building a powerful rhythm with percussion and saxophones. A saxophone solos with excellent bass support, flying high and soaring, while deep thick bass underpins all vocal samples and keyboard playing, pushing fast to the conclusion. "The Coming Of The Strange Ones" uses thick, elastic bass and drums with riffing horns develop a fast pace, easing into an urgent theme with everything bubbling and boiling quickly with purpose. Tart sounding saxophone breaks out for a fine solo playing off the excellent bass work for a scorching feature, stretching out, taking things to a higher level. Withering free sounding improvisation fades in on "Beast Too Spoke Of Suffering" creating a fast and exciting blowing session with torrid horns and percussion, coalescing around a raw theme which then leads to spare wounded sounds. "Til The Freedom Comes Home" conjures tight rhythm and saxophone with vocal chanting, building a deep groove, exuberant hand percussion music grows faster and more intense, with ripe saxophone accents channeling the music. Slinky saxophone groove is inciting on "Finally, The Man Cried" as the bass and drums fall in around and in support. Strong and gutsy performance moving forward, with vocalizing adding further texture to the music, leading to the finale, "Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable." Hutchings solo saxophone, breathy and calm, meets with piano to create a beautiful ballad to close the album. There is so much history between the South African and British jazz scenes with the likes of The Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath in the 60's and 70's and this fine group is continuing that cause of thought provoking spiritual jazz today. We Are Sent Here By History - amazon.com

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Monday, May 04, 2020

Decoy with Joe McPhee - AC/DC (Otoroku, 2020)

After a eight year wait, it is great to year from Decoy: the trio of John Edwards on bass, Steve Noble on drums, and Alexander Hawkins on organ, reunited with the legendary pocket trumpet and alto saxophone player Joe McPhee. This album was recorded on the closing night of his four day residency at Cafe OTO in May of 2019 and really catches fire in a bottle, as the four musicians come together to explore the entire history of post bop jazz over the course of eighty minutes. On the opening track "AC" you really get a sense of what the group is capable of, when they are branching out with McPhee playing punchy trumpet or strong postbop and free tinged saxophone. There are ballad and open ended improvised sections that wouldn't sound out of place on a 1950's Prestige blowing session or Blue Note modal jam, but the band only nods briefly in those directions, passing them on the highway to their true destination which is creating unique original improvised music. In that fashion, "DC" opens in a much more abstract manner, with bowed bass, skittish drums and droplets of molten lava lamp keyboards, setting an out of this world vibe that gradually builds to some enthralling free improvisation. Tightly wound tension and intense release involves exciting percussion and saxophone with vocal encouragement from McPhee driving the music ever deeper, moving to a wicked bass and drums duet improvisation at one point. Hawkins fits right in with these free jazz masters, adding hints of Love Cry Want and Lifetime, manufacturing bold waves of sound from the instrument that fit in well and encourage the bass and drums to evolve and adapt. McPhee sounds great on both of his instruments, attacking every opportunity for improvisation and using gradations of texture to develop the music and make for exciting listening. AC / DC - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 02, 2020

Gard Nilssen´s Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours (Odin Records, 2020)

Always on the lookout for something fresh, Norwegian drummer and composer Gard Nilssen formed this sixteen piece ensemble featuring three drummers, three bassists and ten horn players, most of them saxophonists. Recorded live at the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2019, where Nilssen was artist in residence, this album packs a powerful and exciting punch, straddling the line between composition and pure improvisation. "Premium Processing Fee" opens the album with a proud exciting blast off theme from the horns, providing a section of freedom resolving into a brazen opening for the saxophones. Taut driving solos over strong bass and drums are key, with riffing horns for support, creating an exciting powerhouse of a performance. A bold trumpet solo backed by raging drums emerges making the music simmer and boil with intensity, falling back to a cacophonous full band blowout. Their sound becomes abstract as the horns blow quieter sounds without the rhythm team, as the group eases into "Bøtteknott Elastic Circle," which moves in subtle waves before the drums and percussion crash in, sparking everything to life. Proudly riffing horns announce a saxophone soloist, who nimbly joins the excellent bass and drums to create a strong and rhythmically intense feature. "Teppen Dance" features an excellent lengthy bass solo to open, with the band slowly entering after four minutes. Stolid and defiant sounding waves of horns are constructed, as a provocative saxophone solo framed by towering horns and constructive percussion carves the air. Subtle percussion, becoming more complex, horns sway in creating a flowing sensation as "City of Roses" emerges. Light horns dance around, swelling into a more complex formation, then signing off. There is a subtle patient opening for basses on "Jack" with complex percussion added. Everything comes together with a potent rhythm that invigorates the horns, and tenor saxophone leaping out for a solo backed by the percolating rhythm, building to a fast and exciting collective improvisation with excellent dramatic playing from the whole group. Finally, "Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen" develops percussion filled with potential energy, building every faster as the horns slide in, leading to a storming section of swaggering brass in a wonderfully exciting concluding section. Their collective improvisation leads to an excellent conclusion of this very successful and well executed modern jazz album. If You Listen Carefully the Music is Yours - amazon.com

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