Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sam Rivers - Archive Series Volume 3: Ricochet (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

Recorded live on January 12, 1978 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, the most recent addition to the NoBusiness Records Sam Rivers archive is a brash and exciting recording of the Rivers trio at its peak. The leader plays tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano with Dave Holland on bass and cello and Barry Altschul on drums. Sam Rivers opens the performance on soprano saxophone along side thick bass cymbals, as fast swirling bounding bass links everything together. Warp speed jazz, fast and free, with taut saxophone, nimble bass and slashing percussion is very exciting. Holland witches to cello, playing stoic lines of sound, yearning and branching out back to bass. There is inherent freedom in the music played here, and following an epic bass solo, Rivers moves to piano, playing with a melodic glide that meshes with cymbals yoked together with elastic bass before moving further afield. The music becomes more free, approaching Cecil Taylor territory, fiery percussive piano, deftly mixing melody and freedom. Holland plays cello amid spare piano and percussion, then Rivers gracefully moves to tenor saxophone. Strong shrill peaks of tenor against long arcs of cello are some of the most thrilling moments on this disc, stretching out for a potent segment of improvisation. Altschul takes a lengthy drum solo, one that is expertly played, and Sam Rivers states his approval with a defiant howl and takes up his flute for the final section. A piercing blast clears the air and then he soars in collective improvisation with the bass and drums at a torrential pace. He plays the flute with such speed and facility but still in a graceful and appealing manner then trades short and witty passages with his band mates. The music is one continuous improvisation and it is a testament to the group that their energy and inventiveness never flags through the near hour long playing time. This was one of the best bands of their era, and its great that their music is finally getting its due. Archive Series Volume 3: Ricochet NoBusiness Records

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Friday, June 26, 2020

New York Contemporary Five - Consequences Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2020)

This is an excellent disc serves an important historical purpose, bringing together two sessions by The New York Contemporary Five, an admirable and unheralded unit that pushed the boundaries of the "new thing" in jazz in the early to mid 1960's with some of the freshest talent of the era. The first half of this collection is called Consequences Revisited and it was recorded in August of 1963 in New York City, with Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Don Moore on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. "Sound Barrier" has raw and thrilling tenor saxophone and boiling drums, with Cherry's punchy trumpet building and intriguing statement. The music is kept at a hot uptempo throughout sounding unique and original, especially Archie Shepp, who sounds genuinely alive. A choppy rhythm introduces "We Wo" giving the music a free nature that makes the most use of the band's talented front line. Shepp responds with an emotional growling tenor solo, while John Tchicai's tart alto saxophone and Cherry's potent flight add further texture and depth to the music, leading to an excellent bass solo framed by shimmering cymbals. "Consequences" has a fast, fleet opening, very much like the Ornette Coleman music of the period, and Cherry makes the most of his tune with an explosive trumpet solo played at a super fast tempo. Shepp throws in a pop song quote and then dives in enthusiastically, with raw squalls of tenor. Tchicai's alto has a snake charmer's allure with a hint of Eric Dolphy, encouraged by agile bass and drum work. Shepp's "Rufus" has a complex full band theme, with very interesting rhythms, including thick bass woven through the drumming. The horns get plenty of of room to improvise in space, developing some very impressive solo sections with the less frenetic tempo. Part two of the disc, Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary Five were recorded in Newark in March of 1964 with Shepp on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket cornet on the final track, Ted Curson on trumpet on two tracks, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Ronnie Boykins on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. On tracks like Shepp's "Like a Blessed Baby Lamb" and "Where Poppies Bloom (Where Poppies Blow) you really see the that difference between the saxophonists is really one of the most fascinating aspects of this disc, with Shepp's large brash tone based in the blues and Tchicai who plays in a more angular and slashing manner. When they exchange solo sections it is a fascinating dichotomy, much like changes brought by the muscular trumpet of of Curson and the punchy, witty small brass of Cherry. This is a very distinguished compilation that shows the development of the jazz avant-garde at a time when it was evolving at lightning speed. Pulling from the music of the past and opening it up to the innovations of their present time ,while looking to the future allowed this group to expand the boundaries of jazz. Consequences Revisited - Squidco

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

John Scofield / Steve Swallow / Bill Stewart – Swallow Tales (ECM, 2020)

Guitarist John Scofield makes a barn burning straight ahead jazz album, performing the music of his friend and colleague, bassist and composer Steve Swallow, with the drummer Bill Stewart rounding out the trio. Spontaneously recorded in one afternoon in New York City during March of 2019, the trio makes these compositions come alive, and Scofield sounds absolutely inspired, playing driven and powerful solos. "Radio" is a sweet and swinging number with graceful bass and drums and a medium uptempo flavor. Scofield digs deeply into the theme of the tune, using the material to craft a short but memorable solo statement while Swallow's electric bass grooves along beside him, taking a brief solo of his own while Stewart plays lightly on his cymbals. There's a choppy introduction to "In F" with a lot of room for Stewart's agile drumming, and the band explores the territory in an interesting fashion, playing in tight formation, Swallow soloing while keeping low to the ground, and everyone returning to a fine sendoff. "Eidertown" was apparently Swallow's first composition, and they really go to town on it, stretching out with a powerful guitar solo from the leader where the overall interplay between the band members is very impressive and a fine drum solo is included to boot. There is a knotty theme on "Portsmouth Figurations" for the trio to work with, allowing them much room to move, with Scofield showering sparks on the flowing bass and drums. "Falling Grace" allows light and fleet movement throughout the melody then branching out, with Scofield adding shards of crisp notes that are very well articulated, as the bass and drums simmer too. He uses a wonderfully sharp and stinging tone at times that is a real attention grabber, as is Swallow's own solo stance patient and thoughtful, framed well by the two other musicians. "She Was Young" begins gently and in a touching manner with light brushes and soft guitar tone. The music gradually develops in pace and structure, as they stretch out their improvisation at a fine medium tempo that allows for a lot of creativity. This was an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, with inspired playing and improvising and superb communication and empathy between the musicians. Swallow Tales -

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Chicago Underground Quartet - Good Days (Astral Spirits, 2020)

Chicago Underground has assumed a number of guises over the years from duo to orchestra, all with cornet player and electronic musician Rob Mazurek at its center. This is an excellent entry in their discography, combining the accessibility of modern jazz with far reaching visions of free improvisation, synthesizers and electronics. This version of the band features Mazurek on piccolo trumpet, electronics and bells, Josh Johnson on synth bass, organ and piano, Jeff Parker on electric guitar and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion. The album was recorded in Long Beach in 2018 and 2019,  beginning with "Orgasm" a composition by Wayne Shorter's trumpeter brother Alan. The music develops a tight rhythm while allowing Mazurek's cornet to solo over the churning beat and create a powerful and far reaching performance. Thick bass and tight drums allow the cornet to reach out with the theme of the piece and then take off, gaining speed and agility as the performance develops into powerful improvisation, with scorching brass, and a free and potent response from his band mates. The music is rapid fire and bathed in electronics creating a wonderful and exciting sound.  "Batida" cranks heavy bass and light touch drumming to set the scene for soaring cornet, while taut guitar, thick bass and drums dredge out the bottom end. There is a light and agile beat to “Unique Spiral,” with flowing cornet along with guitar and space filling keyboards. The band creates a complex and alluring texture with rippling, echoing cornet, spare guitar and forthright sounding drums. The music arcs out under Mazurek's clarion call, soon answered by Parker's cool toned guitar along with fine drumming, keyboard and bass accents. "Westview" is a treat, one with slamming bass and drums along side harmonizing guitar and cornet. Parker's guitar shoots beams over the crisp beat, and the brass is gnarly and strangled by electronics, piercing like Dark Magus Miles, then riding on the loping bass and drums into battle. Taylor lays down a crushing beat, and Parker's guitar solo is well thought out, jabbing along side the heavy drum bombardment. These musicians have played together in different contexts for many years, and that sense of camaraderie and shared desire to explore imbues the strong and memorable music on this album. Good Days -

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Hero Trio (Whirlwind Records, 2020)

Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has built an excellent career, leading the jazz program at Princeton University and releasing a series of fine LP's as a leader. This album is in a lean trio configuration with him in the company of François Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The trio plays an interesting mix of original music, jazz standards and pop tunes that allows them to make the most of the material and display some prime improvising along the way. The last time this group convened they made the impressive Charlie Parker based album Bird Calls and this one begins by nodding in that direction as well with "Red Cross" a post-modern reading of the Parker tune that has Mahanthappa blazing a complex and dynamic path that uses the original as a springboard to improvisation with a fierce rhythm section foundation. They move in a different direction with a version of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed," taking the slinky melody of the rhythm and blues tune and turning it into a soul jazz come on that works well, with lithe melodic bass and flowing drums working with the leader's graceful and flowing playing. "Barbados/26-2" yokes together compositions by two of the most influential saxophonists of the post-war era, Parker and John Coltrane. The medley works well with the trio taking the groundbreaking music of the twentieth century and giving it a decidedly twenty-first century boost. They return to the realm of pop music with a short version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," staying close to melody of the original Sun single and bringing forth some of that pathos and edgy energy into their performance. The band brings things back full circle with the concluding Parker composition "Dewey Square" sprouting from its bebop roots and playing a complex trio improvisation that uses elastic rhythm and chopping, swooping saxophone. The album works well as a whole, with it's roots in the fertile past, and the branches snaking in a number of more modern directions. They glance to the past while staying firmly in the moment, playing with an gregarious nature that flows in a confident and palpable manner, creating an accessible and enjoyable album. Hero Trio -

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Whit Dickey Trio - Expanding Light (TaoForms, 2020)

Drummer Whit Dickey has certainly paid his dues, woodshedding and playing in the bands of David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp, biding his time. After gradually building a small but impressive discography as a leader, he elected to form a new record label called Tao Forms, with the inaugural releases being Matthew Shipp's The Piano Equation, and this album. Joining forces with Rob Brown on alto saxophone and Brandon Lopez on bass, they create an explosive and highly successful album of modern and free jazz. "The Outer Edge" uses solo drumming to open the album, with tight pinched sounding alto saxophone, developing a wonderfully nuanced and searching sound, and the bass acting as the glue holding things together. Their music courses into a vibrant collective improvisation, taken at a fast and gutsy pace, with the music flowing forth in a highly imaginative stream of creativity. An unpredictable drum solo takes center stage, with the band eventually returning and Dickey adding strong cymbal accents to the music, keeping everyone on their toes. A soft gradual opening for deft bass and brushed percussion eases the group into "Desert Flower" with a building sense of urgency, developing into a deep and complex duo conversation. The saxophone folds in and gradually and builds in tone and tempo and the group coalesces into seemingly free and open improvised section, with frequently piercing saxophone and cymbal driven percussion. "Expanding Light" shows the trio jumping into action right away with a full bodied performance, their three way improvising is tight and invigorating with probing saxophone, slashing drums and bounding bass, coming together in one thrilling organic process. They downshift to bass and drums, creating imaginative rhythms and leading to a fine drum solo. Brown comes back with a strong push and as the trio barrels toward a fine finish. "Mobius" makes use of excellent bowed bass from Lopez along with shards of saxophone and drums to create an enticing and progressive track. Moving into a midsection of bowed bass, feathering cymbals and abstract waves of saxophone shows the depth the music is capable of, pushing to a darkly toned conclusion. The finale, "This Opening," makes use of excellent bowed bass and emotionally stark saxophone to develop a vivid and passionate performance. Raw peals of saxophone speak to the emotional depth of the music, aided by the excellent bass and drums in driving the band through to the conclusion of an excellent and memorable album. Expanding Light -
Whit Dickey Trio - First St. Green / Arts for Art 9/28/19 (YouTube)

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Dave Stryker with Bob Mintzer and The WDR Big Band - Blue Soul (Strikezone Records, 2020)

Noted Detroit guitarist and author Dave Stryker teams up with tenor saxophonist and arranger Bob Mintzer and the famous WDR big band of Germany to create a bright and colorful program of pop songs and originals placed into a jazz setting that encourages crisp playing and creative solos. Stryker often records and tours in a more economic fashion, leading an organ trio, and it is the organ which infuses the classic Marvin Gaye tune "What's Going On." The song works really well in this context, retaining the subtle groove of the original while allowing room for spacious solos for graceful organ and guitar. They gamely try a take of Prince's "When Doves Cry" and while it it is certainly not unsuccessful, it lacks some of the snap and grit that made the original so startlingly bold. Nevertheless the horns add strong riffs, and Stryker builds a snaking and flowing solo to the mix. "Wichita Lineman" has dribbled out of AM radios for decades, and it's indelible and familiar melody gives the listener something tangible to latch onto while the leader is able to construct a guitar solo that stays within melodic boundaries, yet is able to able to explore the song's template within a jazz complex. The wide open and bluesy material at the end of the disc really finds everyone on common ground and playing very well together. "Shadowboxing" has a tight and nimble arrangement, playing at a strong up tempo with a functional arrangement that allows the band to shine and then focus their light on a well played tenor saxophone solo and Stryker's own solo which is is framed in the glow of the band's arrangement. The same takes place on the finale, "Stan's Shuffle," where Mintzer gets a well deserved moment to shine after all the hard work he put in behind the scene, with the full band playing grandly alongside the soloists creating the perfect fanfare for a sendoff. This was a very good mainstream jazz album, drawing from pop music, modern big band ideas and infused with jazz improvisation, there is something for everybody in this thoughtful, well articulated album. Blue Soul -

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Jazz Times Best Albums of the 1990's Poll

Jazz Times is working on projects to commemorate it's anniversary, one of which is asking for input about the ten best (unranked) albums of recent decades. I just caught up with this recently with the poll for the 1990's, where there are several suggested albums with check boxes, and a (too) small area for write in votes. These are the albums I came up with with a cursory off the cuff glance, with the results to be published at a later date.

Don Pullen - Random Thoughts (Blue Note, 1990)
John Zorn - Naked City (Nonesuch, 1990)
Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages (Axiom, 1991)
Bill Frisell - Have a Little Faith (Elektra, 1992)
Ginger Baker Trio - Going Back Home (Atlantic, 1994)
Franklin Kiermyer - Solomon’s Daughter (Evidence, 1994)
Gateway - Homecoming (ECM, 1995)
(Write-in) Thomas Chapin Trio - Sky Piece (Knitting Factory, 1997)
(Write-in) Sam Rivers - Concept (Rivbea, 1997)
(Write-in) Dave Holland Quintet - Prime Directive (ECM, 1999) 

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Dave Douglas - Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie At Zero Gravity (Greenleaf Music, 2020)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has made some interesting albums that were dedicated to other composers during his career like Stargazer for Wayne Shorter and Soul on Soul for Mary Lou Williams. On this set, he pays tribute to the great trumpeter and one of the founding bebop musicians, Dizzy Gillespie. Douglas plays original songs and Gillespie classics in the company of fellow trumpeter Dave Adewumi, Matthew Stevens on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass and Joey Baron on drums. "Mondrain" has a mellow opening with jabs of guitar and trumpet arcing across the soundscape. The brass sounds strong and agile amid rich complex piano playing and solid bass and drum providing rhythmic pulse. Trumpets reach and soar when given the opportunity, pushing the music skyward, then laying out for a well articulated bass solo, before the band comes together for the theme and ending. A Gillespie staple, "Manteca" is taken at a respectful medium tempo, clearly stating the melody, and Baron is excellent at creating a multi-faceted Cuban like percussive base for the performance. The trumpets make way for a pulsating guitar solo with surprising fusion overtones, then the horns really make their presence felt, doubling up and then playing off one another in a very exciting fashion. "Pickin' the Cabbage" has some raunchy old time trumpet playing adding an effervescent accent, coalescing into a punchy theme, and really featuring the brass players with minimal accompaniment, to which they respond very well. The focus shifts to the rhythm section who keeps things moving before unleashing the guitarist for a laser pointed solo feature. Baron is an old hand at this and gets a well deserved spot before the horns crash back in and lead the group to a rousing finish. "Subterfuge" has a full band melody that is brisk and modern, leading to a complex group sections that involve more lilting emotion and others of brisk swagger, arranged like a little big band for maximum effect. Overall this album works well, the band is well rehearsed and integrated, they are inspired by Gillespie, but make no attempt to imitate his musical conception, but assimilate his message across the years by playing their own unique music to the best of their ability. Dizzy Atmopshere: Dizzy Gillespie At Zero Gravity -

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Gary Bartz & Maisha - Night Dreamer Direct​-​To​-​Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer, 2020)

Legendary American alto and soprano saxophonist Gary Bartz and British world jazz ensemble Maisha combine for an excellent meeting of the minds. Playing two Bartz compositions and three collaborative performances, this album goes well beyond group and featured soloist to a truly integrated setting where the music evolves organically where age is no boundary. "Harlem to Haarlem" has bubbling drums and percussion that produces an infectious rhythm, with bass and guitar and finally horns folding in for a sweet and dynamic theme. Bartz has a light and agile sound that floats and weave around the group in an impressive fashion, with everyone locked in on a fine groove. He solos over keyboards with the band framing him, playing in a sly and genial fashion, spooling out a lengthy feature that works very well as the band keeps a feisty beat moving around him. A brief yet strong trumpet interlude rings true before everyone comes back to the alluring theme and concludes a very fine opening performance. The bounding and soulful theme of "The Stank" works very well to propel the music forward with interlocked horns and choppy guitar and percussion leading the way. Bartz breaks out with a joyful sounding solo leaping over the deeply rhythmic backdrop, everything is played in a bright and accessible manner that should entices jazz fans new and old. The guitarist comes to the forefront, adding sparks to the heavy percussion vibe, before lashing into a driving solo that fits in well with the urgent drumming before leading back into the theme that sees everyone returning for a safe landing. "Dr. Follows Dance" concludes the album with an abstract opening, closer to free jazz than anything else on the album, before everything falls into place with bubbling percussion and riffing horns and the music develops into a deep and funky feeling with guitar leading the way, developing a dynamic and expressive feature. The horns riff and joust over rolling hand percussion, Bartz solos in a genial fashion floating over the block party that has broken out underneath him and playing with spirit and grace. Everyone returns to a collective improvisation that fades out while sounding like it could go all night. This was a very successful project, hopefully one that can be continued in the future. The London jazz scene is so fertile with young jazz talent, pairing them with jazz masters from the US and beyond could only be a boon to both parties. Night Dreamer Direct-to-Disc Sessions -

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Sunday, June 07, 2020

Peter Brötzmann / Maâlem Moukhtar Gania / Hamid Drake - The Catch of a Ghost (i dischi di angelica records, 2020)

This wonderful amalgamation of free jazz and world music was performed live in Bologna, Italy in May of 2019, featuring Peter Brötzmann on tenor saxophone and tarogato, Maâlem Moukhtar Gania on guembri and vocals and Hamid Drake on drums and percussion. The melding the of European and American strains of free jazz and improvisations with the open ended and hypnotic North African sounds make for a beguiling and compelling album that stands as one of the finest of this blighted year. “To Catch a Ghost” is the opening track and stretches over thirty fascinating and trance inducing minutes, and the guembri played by Gania is a is a three stringed skin-covered instrument that can take the place of a guitar or a bass, anchoring the music and providing a deep rhythmic tone that pulses throughout the performance. Hamid Drake is totally in his element, having a lot of experience in playing reggae and free jazz around the world, he constructs free ranging rhythms, patterns and forms that dance around the music in a delightful fashion, engaging and reaction to the other two musicians. Brotzmann himself is remarkably inspired, focusing on tenor saxophone in this situation, playing long brisk and deep tones that integrate very well with the strings and percussion and the voice of Gania which has a yearning and reaching cadence. This is carried further on “Almost With The Sun” with Brotzmann laying down some withering lines of tenor saxophone with Drake providing a propulsive beat and Gania framing him with bass like lines and vocalizations. The music gets even more exciting and exotic on “Sound That Shimmers” when Brotzmann moves to the Eastern European reed instrument the tarogato which provides a sharp, pinched sound which is thrown into sharp relief when it is framed by the guembri and Drake's atmospheric percussion. Gania's strong vocalizations also a further dimension to this track, creating a multi-cultural delight that proves that jazz and improvisation truly know no bounds. After a resounding round of applause from the audience, the trio completes their performance with “Dip and Dive” where Brotzmann returns to the tenor saxophone and the three musicians perform a rousing collective improvisation that sums up a powerful and extremely successful performance that transitions well to a well recorded and timely album.The Catch of a Ghost -

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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn! (Columbia, 1965; re-issue Legacy, 1996)

The album's original liner notes talk about the troubled birth of this album, with take after take ad infinitum, and the added pressure of a couple of Beatles looking on from the sidelines for good measure. But that hothouse environment was worth it as the band avoided the sophomore slump with another excellent album of strong covers and a growing collection of original tunes to bring into the suddenly competitive California rock 'n' roll scene. At this time The Byrds were still in their original configuration with Jim "Roger" McGuinn on lead guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals, Gene Clark on rhythm guitar, harmonica, tambourine and vocals, David Crosby on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Hillman on electric bass and Michael Clarke on drums and the album was produced by Terry Melcher. The title song "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" was a capsule version of Pete Seger's reading of scripture, and by setting it to a soaring and immediately memorable melody with wonderful harmony, it became a number one smash hit in the United States and a minor hit overseas, propelling the band into the truly big time. The rest of the album is filled with quality material, with two interesting Bob Dylan covers, the more ballad focused "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" and poppier version of "The Times They Are a Changin'" that was originally intended as a single before being shelved. On this album Gene Clark really comes into his own as a songwriter, contributing three titles, with strong vocal performances and increasingly complex collaborative music. The Legacy re-issue is very well done with liner essays and period photographs included in the booklet along with seven bonus tracks that flesh out the sessions with singles alternate versions and mixes acting as the icing on the cake of a highly recommended album and reissue. Turn! Turn! Turn! -

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Monday, June 01, 2020

Whit Dickey - Morph (ESP-DISK, 2020)

The drummer Whit Dickey meets up with his frequent teammate pianist Matthew Shipp for an exciting and impressive two disc set, playing the first disc a duo, and then inviting trumpeter Nate Wooley for the second disc. The opening track "Blue Threads" has bright and engaging piano with crisp drumming, with both musicians comfortable and playing well at a swinging medium tempo. The music ripples and cascades in an appealing manner, with focused and thoughtful playing. Subdued percussion opens "Dice" along with skittish spidery piano playing, which makes the music feel free yet in control, light and agile. Massive crashing piano chords on "Thick" are met with a strong percussive response as the two musicians create an extremely powerful performance, one of withering strength and unity. They push the music forward, moving with great speed and ferocity on this memorable performance. There is a stoic presence to "Steps" with excellent use of cymbals and varying hues and textures of piano. The pace and intensity of the music picks up and falls as they use the full dynamic range of their instruments to excellent effect. "Morph" develops gradually, not rushing into the moment, building an open approach and placing meaning into music. Nate Wooley joins them beginning with "Noir 1" adding his energy and creativity to a fast and wide ranging improvisation, connecting together to send the music to a special place. Wooley adds raw guttural effects to the dark resonating piano to drive the music into an altogether deeper dimension. "Take the Wild Train" places raw scouring trumpet with spare percussion in a free sounding context, Shipp enters after a couple of minutes, adding further texture. The music becomes more rhythmic with strongly played piano and percussion squaring off, and Wooley's trumpet flying free over and around the piano and drums. This was an excellent set of music, showing Dickey's quality as a drummer and music conceptualist, truly coming into his own with not only this collection but his new label Tao Forms releasing albums by himself and Shipp. Morph -

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