Sunday, April 18, 2021

Gary Bartz - JID006 (Jazz Is Dead, 2021)

Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz six decade career at the forefront of spiritual jazz, soul jazz, post bop jazz and fusion has led him to be on of the revered elders of a new generation of musicians. So it made perfect sense for Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to invite him to take part in the evolving Jazz Is Dead project where young players meet master musicians in the act of creation. The use of electronics and fusion textures calls back to to some of the great albums Bartz made for Milestone in the early 1960's. His tone has softened a bit with age, but it fits in well with with breezy synths and glistening background sounds used on this album. He has lost none of his gift for melody and improvisation, bringing a fresh look to everything he touches. "Spiritual Ideation" nods to the spiritual jazz of the past, but is a product completely of the present with modern electronics meeting up with the leader's saxophone. Some funky bass touches come to the fore on "Visions of Love" and vocals are added to the mix, filling things out and giving the music a wide open sound as the they develop from the edges with the saxophone in the center. "Black and Brown" uses more urgent saxophone and drumming to develop a faster paced tune with fender rhodes framing the action, while the core band plays really tight, even as electronics swirl around them, they stay the course, with a propulsive full band improvisation. Bartz brings a soft and light tone to "Day By Day" along side a crisp drum pattern,  strong bass and tones of electronics. The vocals return again to fill the available space, a wordless stream with some lyrics as well, leading to a sense of gentle peace. "Distant Mode" pushes hard from the bass and drums, as electric piano and saxophone build in and complete the circuit, giving the proceedings a dynamic sensibility that explodes with bursts of further electronic sound. Bartz is hardly overwhelmed, pacing his playing nicely regardless of the mayhem, before the track suddenly fades. Nice bass playing and crisp drums open "The Message," developing a very interesting rhythm for Bartz to interact with, and this builds to a fine patient performance, with bursts of synth and electronics, filling out the soundscape, Finally, "Soulsea" closes out the album with heavy bass and drums, edging Bartz's saxophone forward with a heavy footprint, creating a dep groove including electric keyboard before a quick ending. This album worked quite well, it is wonderful to hear Gary Bartz and this unique setting suits him well, with everyone taking an open minded approach, leading to a successful recording. Gary Bartz JID006 - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt - Made Out Of Sound (Palilalia Records, 2021)

Call it anything, as Miles Davis would say. This excellent duet recording between guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Chris Corsano ticks a lot of boxes for a wide range of music fans, molten Sonny Sharrock jazz fusion, GY!BE post rock and beyond. But what drummer Chris Corsano and guitarist Bill Orcutt are best at is creating their own hermetic pocket universe where they can create, improvise and resolve a resolve a series of thoughtful and well articulated tracks. On the opening performance, "Some Tennessee Jar," Orcutt's guitar is watery, slipping away like quicksilver or mercury at times, no matter how heavy the drums explode around it, becoming much sharper to meet the the tumult, creating a wonderful cacophony, as the sound envelops the listener from all directions. "Man Carrying Thing" is urgent and explosive right from the opening notes and beats with Corsano scouring his drums for every bit of kinetic energy, met by Orcutt's slashing electric guitar, creating a monstrous and thrilling duet performance. Sparks of guitar glisten amid the all out drumming onslaught then dive back down like percolating molten lava. Huge outrageous electric guitar chords and top down drumming open the brief "How to Cook a Wolf" where the towering guitar sounds are fantastic, with righteous drumming riding point. "Distance of Sleep" has a haunted and sparse sensibility, sounds of jagged edges any insomniac would be familiar with, developing a sharp craggy landscape of guitar and percussion with no smooth edges, lost in the wilderness with wolves, real or imaginary, at your heel. 6 There is wonderful texture at work on "The Thing Itself," with overlapping guitar, flowing like a stream, both hypnotic and hallucinogenic, creating their most psychedelic track on the album. Overdubbed guitars chime feverishly with waves of percussion pounding like surf, leading to auditory disorientation. "A Port in Air" has a rootsy theme using a beautiful guitar tone like a golden sunrise, allowing the musicians to create a well articulated duet sound painting, building a definite spiritual jazz vibe. This is a very impressive and exciting album to hear, even more so when you consider that it was a pandemic era recording that forced them to record their parts separately and seamlessly join them together. Ocutt’s guitar technique is vast, moving from fierce, angular shards of sound to shimmering, glowing harp like sounds, as if Alice Coltrane was being refracted through another dimension. Corsano is equally wide open to the possibilities of their meeting and provides a wide range of rhythmic textures that support and challenge his partner to take the music to an even higher plane. Made Out of Sound - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Vijay Iyer - Uneasy (ECM Records, 2021)

This is the first album by pianist and composer Vijay Iyer's new trio with Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, the three having originally met at the Banff International  Workshop in Canada. They were able to come together in New York City in December of 2019 to make this record or primarily original compositions. The interplay between the musicians is continuously fascinating, where Linda May Han Oh may be more associated with mainstream jazz and Tyshawn Sorey with avant-guard jazz and classical composition, but it is Iyer's complex yet open minded composition that gives room for the three musicians to mesh very well, allowing for the development of both intricate structure and wide ranging improvisation. Iyer's compositional themes reflect the state of the world in 2020 ruminating on the pandemic, political instability, and the general malaise of the time. But the performances of the music and the development of the compositions among the three musicians is anything but depressing, sounding vital and urgent. Iyer spools out lengthy labyrinthine piano explorations over elastic ever changing bass and drum playing, building to flexible, supple collective improvisations which retain the nature of each performance's theme but provide a lot of space for wide ranging and surprising exploration. This is a fairly long album, but it never seems that way, the music is developed and paced in a manner that suggests a narrative structure, or a journey that the listener is invited to embark upon along with the band, where the continuous current of music is ever flowing. This trio has made a fine contribution to the modern music scene with this album, which was engaging from start to finish, creating an enthralling and unpredictable soundscape that demands attention and rewards it generously. Uneasy - amazon.com

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Thursday, April 08, 2021

Jim Snidero - Live at the Deer Head inn (Savant Records, 2021)

Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero got a rare opportunity during the cursed plague year of 2020, he was able to assemble a quartet for a safe, socially distanced performance at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA. Rounding out an excellent quartet with Orrin Evans on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, and selecting from a repertoire of standards, the group made the most of this opportunity. Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” is an excellent opener, with the musicians swinging hard on this uptempo bebop number. The band is tight, and the saxophonist is strong and agile. The group produces a pleasant version of standard “Autumn Leaves” incorporating an impressive bass solo, by Washington, who demonstrates an impeccable technique and sense of time. Snidero dedicates "Old Man River" to the Black Lives Matter movement and backs it up with a genuine and emotional performance shaded by gospel and blues. Orrin Evans, on a busman's holiday from The Bad Plus contributes a stellar piano solo to "Bye Bye Blackbird," where he is featured at length. Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" was indelibly featured on a 1965 Grant Green album of the same name, and this group does a fine version of their own, creating a great ballad feeling, quiet and spare with soft saxophone punctuated by curls of stronger sound, shadowed by deft brushes. "Who Can I Turn To" shows the leader playing his saxophone in a very melodic manner alongside elastic bass and very melodic bright piano. The group develops a fine uptempo performance, including a delightful bass solo framed by piano and gentle percussion. An elegant lengthy solo piano opening introduces "My Old Flame" which evolves into a tender ballad with longing sax, brushes and deeply felt bass. Snidero has lovely saxophone tone in his solo section during this patient ballad and short tag ending. The band concludes their set with a fast exploration of "Yesterdays" with the rhythm section providing the urgency as the three boil at a fast pace met by some ripe saxophone playing and a strident push to to the conclusion. This must have been a real treat for those who were in the audience, something that we may never take for granted again, four talented musicians coming together to play music in the moment live and in person. Live at the Deer Head Inn - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Ding Dong. You're Dead. (Rune Grammofon Records, 2021)

After releasing a more experimental solo album last year, Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad reconvenes her regular trio for another exciting exploration through the realms of jazz fusion and progressive rock. She is accompanied on this album by Ellen Brekken on electric and acoustic bass and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums and percussion. “Leo Flash's Return To The Underworld” comes crashing out of the gate in a raucous way, setting a grinding guitar tone with bludgeoning drumming, and Mollestad’s guitar tone bifurcating into a repetitive riff and snaking solo, over taut bass and drums. Hitting very hard with an all out full band segment that recalls some early seventies King Crimson vaulted into post-rock territory, the music is gritty and raw, impacting the listener in a visceral manner. There is a massive guitar solo that strikes out toward the end of the performance lighting the path for the end of the track. “All Flights Cancelled” has an insistent and urgent call to action. The initial repatitive theme drives the music forward with bass and drums quickly falling in line. Mollestad's guitar feature shapes and scours the available material into fascinating waves and forms, with supple shiifts and turns to the overall sound. The rhythm section is in constant motion with undulating bass, and riveting drums pushing the whole trio ever onward in a very exciting fashion. A piercing guitar tone anchored with stout bass playing sets the scene for “Magic Moshroom” where sparks fly from the guitar and drums as the musicians really dig into the sound, leading into a soaring collective section for the band to really demonstrate their identity as a true distinct unit. “The Art of Being Jon Balkovitch“ is an exciting and wild performance where the band grinds out a hard funk feel with embellishments, leaning on excellent bass and drum work as the guitar flies overhead in a killer solo, with towering long tones of pure sound falling back into the rhythm as the band swirls and shimmies into a warped psychedelia. This album worked well and should appeal to progressive rock fans as well as inquisitive jazz partisans. The band is tight and the performances are strong throughout the whole album. Ding Dong You're Dead - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

John Coltrane Quartet - Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Ezz-thetics Records continues is re-examination of John Coltrane's live work, moving from Graz 1962 to two concerts in America in 1963. For the Newport Festival concert, Roy Haynes sits in on drums for an ailing Elvin Jones, but the remainder of the album presents the "classic" quartet at its peak: John Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Beginning with the July 7 concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, the group sounds well prepared for a very exciting set beginning with a wistful "I Want to Talk About You" that opens the performance and is marked as truly special by incorporating some breathtaking unaccompanied tenor saxophone near the end. "My Favorite Things" was a staple of nearly every performance from this band, and it gets an extended seventeen minute plus workout here with ample solo space for McCoy Tyner. A long burning version of the Coltrane original "Impressions" follows with the leader sending wave upon wave of improvised saxophone to a delirious audience. It's fascinating to listen to Haynes here, he has a lighter and more fluid touch that is ideally suited to bebop, but he makes the transition well to the modal music and provides Coltrane with a much different foil then the thundering Jones. Elvin Jones returns for the Live in Birdland sessions recorded during October and November, and his presence is immediately felt in the live tracks, beginning with a powerful version of "Afro Blue" with a cruising rhythm section interlude before Coltrane returns to put the hammer down and develop a scalding collective improvisation that is felt as much as heard. "I Want to Talk About You" is repeated, once again adding a daredevil solo saxophone improvisation that is vibrant and thrillingly alive, and "The Promise" is the final live track, where Jones effortlessly develops beautiful rhythms, and Tyner sparkles aside Garrison's weighty bass and Coltrane's extraordinary soprano saxophone, which towers over it all. This re-issue was designed to focus on the live material, but Derek Taylor says in his fine liner notes that the remainder of the studio tracks, particularly "Alabama" were included as a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement and the drive for social justice that Coltrane exemplified. "Alabama," written after the racist church bombing in Birmingham killed four African American children. It is a sad, quiet tune, but the power and the grace that it represents goes far beyond the world of music and remains one of John Coltrane's towering achievements. This was a very well done re-issue, with like minded live mater grouped material giving a sense of the group's progress along side relevant studio material. The remastering is strong and the music is bright and vibrant, clearly produced with care. Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963, Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Floating Points / Pharoah Sanders / The LSO - Promises (Luaka Bop, 2021)

A daring album that attempts to meld electronic sound, free jazz and orchestral music, Sam Shepherd, who performs under the name Floating Points has been working on this album for nearly five years. Shepherd's synthesizers and keyboards are met by the legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. The music is a nine part unbroken suite with movement markers for navigating the piece. "Movement 1" begins with a probing electronic motif that serves as the basis for the suite and will repeat for its entire length, Sanders enters with a well worn tone that marks the earthly opposite to Floating Points sky and cosmos. They work well in the liminal space between composition and improvisation, electric and acoustic, Pharoah playing with the patience of someone who has spent a lifetime on the musical and spiritual path. The music broadens on "Movement 2" which incorporates a large curtain of strings with Sanders' gruff saxophone as a marked contrast. "Movements 4 - 5" are the centerpiece of the album, where the three disparate parts come together as vocalizing leads to long and longing tones of saxophone, like the setting sun, Pharoah's tone and approach to the instrument is instantly identifiable and unique. He moves to a lighter tone for "Movement 6" but the orchestra swells and quickly gains presence. Strings well up and take over, becoming shrill and fractal at the conclusion. Sanders returns on "Movement 7" playing with the soft beauty people often don't give him credit for, amid the shimmering electrons that creates an otherworldly fusion / krautrock fantasia, with Pharoah punctuating the performance with a fast and urgent blast of sound. They gradually come back to Earth on the final two sections, "Movements 8 - 9" where Floating Points develops a huge droning effect for electric keyboard and then rounds it out with a short swirl of orchestra. This was a fascinating album; while the three actors at play here seem to be Frankensteined together at times, when the combinations work, particularly sections where Floating Points electronics meet Pharoah Sanders' saxophone the resulting music comes close to a state of grace. Promises - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dr. Lonnie Smith - Breathe (Blue Note Records, 2021)

Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith was introduced to an unexpected collaborator for his latest album which became bookended by two cover songs featuring the vocals of rock icon Iggy Pop. The meat of the album though, comes from recordings made during week of live performances at the Jazz Standard in 2017. Smith is at the top of his game, playing the organ in a visionary manner and leading a crack band that includes guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, plus a horn section consisting on John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. “Why Can’t We Live Together” opens the album with psychedelic washes of organ, and restrained near crooning from Iggy. Organ and drums own the mid section, picking up to a heady groove, each step a little louder, backing off for a nimble guitar solo, and Iggy's restrained vocals which float then fade. The strong full band opening with horns for “Bright Eyes” sets the stage; Smith really has a fine touch on the organ, soloing with energy and wit. The horns punch through at times to comment, and one of the saxophones branches out for a gutsy and raw interlude. "Track 9" is slow and slinky, riding a funky groove, probing saxophones and horns reaching out, as the drums snap, saxophonist taking thing way out sounds good. Free range trumpet fast with encouraging drums, saxophone enters where the other left off; all in all a great performance, fun and exciting. Heavy ominous drums and bass pedals open “World Weeps” with Smith's full organ opening up slowly, astride sad long tones of guitar, which Kreisberg weaves into a spare, patient and desolate guitar feature.  His guitar speeds up and soars, amid huge organ chords push it higher, then close;  leading to a sense of hope as spacious organ and percussion, swell dramatically to conclude. “Pilgrimage” begins with unaccompanied and then introduces the pleasant vocals of Alicia Olatuja, with gentle supporting playing behind her, including horns. There is a bright beaming guitar section, which bursts to bloom among blossoming horns and organ. Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” is a lot of fun with fine drumming setting the pace, and stabs of organ and horns glistening overhead. Smith's organ plays the memorable theme along with guitar, developing a collective improvisation that gets complex and adventurous. The groovy Donovan theme of "Sunshine Superman" with hand percussion and organ guiding the melody and  Iggy takes a low pressure stab at the lyrics, his deep baritone gliding under the organ.  After and excellent instrumental breakdown, there's a vocal reprise and out. A lot of the press has been about Iggy Pop and he sings well, but the focus should really be on the band, who really cooks throughout this well played and consistently interesting recording. Breathe - amazon.com

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Ken Vandermark / István Grencsó / Róbert Benkő - Burning River Melting Sea (Systems vs. Artifacts / Audiographic Records, 2021)

While many of the albums that involve the great multi-reed instrumentalist Ken Vandermark involve ferocious and high volume free jazz, there his another side to his music, one that is deeply collaborative, playing thoughtful and intricate low volume improvisations. This album is a beautiful series of duo and trio recordings, with six new compositions by István Grencsó on tenor and alto saxophones, b-flat and bass clarinets and flute and Vandermark on tenor saxophone and b-flat clarinet, performed in a duo configuration, plus five completely improvised trio performances that add Róbert Benkő on bass. The music itself flows very well and in a tasteful manner, with the two reed instrument players developing short performances that have an impressionistic, artistic sensibility. The musicians shift their instrumental array during nearly each performances which gives the music a wide range of color and hue. The emergence of bassist Benko grounds the music but also fills out the sound, allowing their collective improvisations to take on an elastic form that can bend and twist in alluring ways. This album worked very well as a whole, and considering that they have been performing only intermittently, the thought of the duo or trio returning to the studio or the road as performing opportunities increase is an exciting one. The trio has a depth of creative understanding that allows them to work together with respect and dignity befitting the music they play. Burning River Melting Sea - Bandcamp

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hafez Modirzadeh - Facets (Pi-Recordings, 2021)

Tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh engages in meditative and thoughtful duet performances with three fellow seekers, piano players Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey (well known as a composer and percussionist, but also a talented  pianist) and Craig Taborn. Modirzadeh experiments with different ways of playing his instrument, but it remains accessible with a pure and natural sounding tone that suits this project well. He also has the piano re-tuned in such a manner the musicians are freed to explore all of the musical possibilities available. The complex nuts and bolts preparation of the music is well beyond my ken as a casual listener, but will no doubt fascinate Modirzadeh's fellow musicians, and it is explained at length in the liner notes an on the label's website. On a deep listening level, the enjoyment comes from hearing these musicians work together in open space. There are a few purely solo performances, but the most interesting moments include Kris Davis Frankensteining together a couple of Thelonious Monk themes and improvising on them to create a new performance on “Facet 34 Defracted.” Vijay Iyer is quoted as saying about this album, “a collective meditation, an unlocking of forms and truths” which is really interesting, because we often talk about collective improvisation especially in regard to free jazz, but this idea opens a way for quiet improvisation as a way to explore inner space as much as fiery free improvisation explores outer space. So in the end I think this album works well as a thoughtful and involving listening album for jazz fans, and presumably a work that is worthy of study for musicians and students. Facets - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Albert Ayler Quintet 1966 - Berlin, Lorrach, Paris and Stockholm. Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Saxophonist Albert Ayler was at the height of his powers in late 1966, with this European tour inaugurating a series of epochal live performances that would continue into the following year in New York City. In the LP era, Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village only gave a hint of what was happening, but in the fifty plus years hence, labels like Impulse, HatHut and ezz-thetics have filled in the story: Ayler was leading one of the most exciting and influential bands of the era. This two disc collection combines two previous HatHut releases, tracing the band: Ayler on tenor saxophone, his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Michael Samson on violin, William Fowell on bass and Beaver Harris on drums during a ten day, four city concert tour. The music played on the tour is made up of some of Ayler's best known themes; he deeply mined blues, gospel and martial music melding it with searing sections of free improvisation. The music on this album is taken from radio broadcasts, and remains clear and well mastered, allowing you to hear the band's long takeoff on "The Truth is Marching In" from Berlin, which they would tease it again wrapping the song into a medley with "Our Prayer." The band's ability to weave these themes together makes the music even more powerful, like ending the concert with and epic melding of "Ghosts>Bells." The group leads off their Paris appearance with another lengthy performance of "Bells" and a closing version of "The Truth is Marching In." Both of these performances demonstrate what a powerful force the band had become, and Samson was a key addition, his swirling and keening violin fitting in perfectly between the soaring saxophone and trumpet, pushing their collective improvisations to lofty new heights. Their Paris performance is enveloped by an epic spiritual based medley, "Spiritual Rebirth>Light in the Darkness>Infinite Spirit" which combines the grittiness of the sanctified church with with virtuosity of post-modern jazz improvisation. Stockholm is the final concert on this album, and the group branches out on “Infinite Spirit/Japan” which is an interesting medley: the group has previously mined American folk and gospel, this branches out into an Asian theme which has a great delicate sound. Hitching “Our Prayer” to familiar Ayler themes like "Bells" and “The Truth is Marching In” also works really well, combining accessible melodies with fierce improvisations. One can only imagine what the audience thought of music of such concentrated courage and freedom. Ayler's artistry was unique, fearless, flying perilously close to the sun. There is an abundance of theme and melody amid the euphoric improvisation, showing that the band was capable of whatever they set their mind to. Berlin, Lorrach, Paris and Stockholm. Revisited - Squidco

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Charles Lloyd and The Marvels - Tone Poem (Blue Note Records, 2021)

Never one to rest on his laurels, saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd's new album is played with his group The Marvels, consisting of Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. This is a veteran and experienced group ready to take on anything and Lloyd has designed a wide ranging set of original and cover songs for them to play. They open by playing two songs by Ornette Coleman, with "Peace" developing the melody with reverence and subtlety, as soft drums and guitar provide a firm cushion from which the leader's horn can work, returning to hint at the melody as the Lloyd returns to bask in their warmth and complete the circuit. Coleman's "Ramblin'" gets a little more feisty with waves of pedal steel and bass giving Lloyd and Frisell room to move and improvise widely. Lloyd's saxophone gets raw and free at times, his playing energetic and engaged, as is the guitarist who responds with snarls and gasps that get mileage. The group improvisation is spot on, with two guitarists of a different hue providing flavor along side crisp bass and drum accompaniment and saxophone soloing. "Dismal Swamp" sees Lloyd turning to flute and playing with a light and nimble manner amid spacious bass and drums. The music is framed by the steel guitar, painting around the edges, until Lloyd lays out leaving the two guitarists to design a decidedly un-dismal improvisation in conjunction with their bass and drum colleagues. Lloyd returns to the conversation with a gentle and almost Zen like approach to the instrument that carries the group through to the conclusion of the track. The track "Lady Gabor" is presumably included as a nod to his late friend and colleague Gabor Szabo, and is also taken by Lloyd on flute with shimmering reminiscence of times past, but also using what was learned to carve a lean and supple theme centered on flute and percussion. The music is focused and rhythmically complex, incorporating the guitars into the overall weave of the performance, with the leader completely engaged and focused in the moment in this lengthy and slowly unfolding piece of music. This album worked well and it is particularly interesting to see their development over the course of three albums. Lloyd remains a seeker, refusing to take the easy way out, always looking for new avenues to express his music. Tone Poem - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Henry Franklin - The Skipper (Black Jazz Music, 1971; re-issue, Real Gone Music, 2021)

The re-issuing of the catalog of the Black Jazz record label sheds some much needed light on the music of an proudly independent label, and the musicians that recorded for it. Henry Franklin was a bassist who had notable sideman associations with Willie Bobo, The Three Sounds and Hugh Masekela. For his debut album as a leader, he brought together a band consisting of Oscar Brashear on trumpet and flugelhorn, Charles Owens on tenor and soprano saxophones, Bill Henderson on electric piano and Michael Carvin on drums and percussion. Open to mixing intensely free music as on the opening track “Outbreak” with that of a subtle groove born of Franklin's well played electric bass (also doubling very well on acoustic) and Henderson's fender rhodes piano, they mix acoustic and electronic with style and panache. Long tones of brass and reeds can frame the sounds as well as erupt into riffs and pithy solos, complementing the overall sound of the band. Owens's tenor and soprano saxophones offer different approaches with “Theme for JoJo” getting a particularly beautiful soprano saxophone solo on this track. The music is also capable of lush warmth through well constructed arrangements, which serve as a framework for “Beauty and the Electric Tub” with it's urgent bass line, cascading drums and harmonizing horns. Ripe swirling solos are pushed by relentless bass and drums, with a strong full band march to the finish line. The subtle “Little Miss Laurie” offers a softer touch, developing a gentle saxophone feature, restrained trumpet over a bed of electric piano and bass, leading to the concluding track, “The Skipper” which builds a memorable and forlorn melody, with the horns swaying, opening to an impressive saxophone solo, which is complex and intricate. Beams of trumpet add further texture to the performance as do spare eclectic piano stylings, then returning to the quiet and patient melody, graceful and pure. This album worked quite well, and showed the talented band playing in a multitude of styles in a thoughtful and creative way. Melding electric and acoustic stylings gives the group the freedom they need to bring their music into existence. The Skipper - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Ben Monder / Tony Malaby / Tom Rainey - Live at the 55 Bar (Sunnyside Records, 2021)

Originally intended as a studio album, guitarist Ben Monder took the initiative and recorded his collective trio with saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey just as live performances were going into stasis, during March of 2020. The three lengthy spontaneous performances caught the band at a performative peak, providing one last burst of creativity before a long silence. "Suite 3320 - Part I" is a lengthy slow building performance developing in smears of horn glimmers of guitar and cymbals coming together and coalescing into an open improvisation. The group picks up the pace of collective improvisation that builds through raw tinged saxophone, feathering percussion and layers of guitar. The intensity of the music waxes and wanes dramatically in pace and depth, leading to stark yearning tones of saxophone met with crisp attentive drumming and beaming guitar. Turning back to fast and taut interactive improvising, melding three as one, the music becomes very exciting and impressive, leading to a guitar and drums interlude, before Malaby's saxophone returns to push for the finish. Light touches on all instruments usher in ""Suite 3320 - Part II" where Malaby's saxophone and some sublime drumming along with with Monder's guitar painting around the edges create light and nimble music that billows and rides the thermals, darting around very quickly with the musicians interacting at an extraordinary level becoming faster and more muscular leading up to overdriven guitar and drumming taking control. Moving down to an edgy section where guitar and drums head to the outer realms, then pull back to the trio configuration, simmering and ready to boil, finally erupting in a fast storming collective improvisation of scouring tenor saxophone, crushing drums with waves of electric guitar. "Suite 3320 - Part III" opens with the group trading sounds looking for entry, then leaping into a full blowout improvisation creating an exhilarating sound as crashing drums meets sheets of guitar, then heads back dynamic flux with long tones and raw asides in the open space. Raw rending saxophone and drumming with shades of guitar leads to a satisfying completion. This was an excellent album, fulfilling in every way. The music is played in the spirit of exploration and camaraderie. With the unknown on the horizon, they left everything on the bandstand. Live at 55 Bar - amazon.com

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Friday, March 05, 2021

Alexander Hawkins - Togetherness Music (Intakt Records, 2021)

Pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins celebrated his fortieth birthday by developing a six part suite combining the contemporary classical Riot Ensemble with the free jazz sensibility of himself and the legendary saxophonist Evan Parker. The opening track, "Indistinguishable From Magic," doesn't pull any punches, featuring Evan Parker playing soprano saxophone in a thrilling example of circular breathing. He shows extraordinary control of his instrument and sounds like he is in a state of grace of continual invention until long tones of swooping string envelop him, bringing the performance to a close. "Sea No Shore" has percussion instruments entering carefully, building and tumbling with trumpet coming out to join, with the brass and drums developing a free and loose improvisation. There is a string heavy opening to "Ensemble Equals Together" flowing over the soprano saxophone and piano that are playing below. Strings ebb and flow as the other instruments play muted as if caught in their web before the whole ensemble becomes faster and more abstract at the end. "Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher" returns to piano and strong elastic bass both plucked and bowed, building a strong improvisation. Trumpet peeks in about halfway through looking for purchase, along with the drums as the music grows in power and intensity, folding in strings as it lurches toward cacophony. The concluding track, "Optimism of the Will," end the album on a very high note, as the bass and drums get a subtle groove going out of the gate. As the trumpet enters the drums become more defined and muscular and piano chords resonate. Parker returns with some more explosive soprano saxophone, which combines with epic drums and bass to create a fiery improvisation. Interactions between improvisers and classical musicians can run into trouble, but this one works quite well, as strings and electronics coexist with improvising piano and some remarkable saxophone playing to good effect. Togetherness Music - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Don Cherry - Cherry Jam (Gearbox Records, 2021)

Don Cherry was a legendary musician whose career began playing pocket trumpet in the famous Ornette Coleman Quartet of the late 1950’s to mid 1960’s before becoming a solo musician and citizen of the world on multiple instruments until his passing in 1995. This is short (about 22 minutes in length) EP, which is a very pleasant surprise. The music was recorded in Copenhagen in October of 1965, and it presents Cherry playing cornet with an all European band, Benny Nielsen on bass, Simon Koppel on drums, Atli Bjørn on piano and Mogens Bollerup on tenor saxophone. The recording is taken from the original tape of a 1965 radio broadcast, programmed by Denmark’s national radio station, and it sounds very good considering it's age. The music was recorded in this same year that Cherry would record his landmark Blue Note recording, Complete Communion, and the music follows along in that path with a sense of melodic freedom, beginning with “The Man From Greenland” where they set the pace for the remainder of this short session with a unison theme and a series of solos featuring Cherry, who plays the cornet with grace and fluidity. The Ella Fitzgerald song “You Took Advantage of Me” is a bit of a surprise, but works well, with the band combing through the melody for nuggets of improvisational gold. The following track is “Priceless,” a slightly longer tune that allows the group to branch out and explore in open space. The presence of the piano keeps things grounded, but the playing on this track and the closing "Nigeria" as a whole band or as soloists is quite impressive, more than you’d expect from an ad hoc band. This is more than a curio, it’s a well done session of modern jazz, creating spontaneously in the moment. Cherry is at a crossroads in his career at this stage, having played with Coleman, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and others.  Scandinavia would soon become a home base, setting the stage for the remainder of a long, eclectic and very successful career. Cherry Jam - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Aki Takase, Christian Weber, Michael Griener - Auge (Intakt Records, 2021)

Pianist Aki Takase enjoys playing in the time honored jazz trio format but with one stipulation: the bassist and the drummer aren't just sidemen, they are equal partners in the project. She found two willing participants for this album in Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums, who bond with and embrace her ideas, creating thoughtful and unpredictable music. The second track, "Drops of Light," has a tumbling and fast past paced opening for piano and percussion, with the full trio ranging widely, and creating a broad soundscape, including bowed bass. Building kinetic energy, the trio pushes forward with cascading piano leading the bass and drums into exciting territory, creating a colorful and vibrant improvisation. The short follow up "Are Eyes Open" bounces lightly and gently in a happy and upbeat manner, with crisp and well played percussion meeting the bright piano head on. "The Pillow Book" uses some dynamically shifting clusters of piano notes to great effect, with dramatic pauses that allow shifting to new phases of the performance. The bass playing is deep and buoyant, with drums shading and adding supple rhythms, and the group is disciplined to whatever may come their way. Weber is the solo focus of the opening section of "Face of the Bass," and he plays very well, with the drums building in after a few minutes followed by piano. The trio sets up an edgy up-tempo performance, incorporating bowed bass and tightly wound drums, as the pace spirals ever faster, playing in an appealing bright and punchy fashion. "Calcagno" has an interesting rhythmic development shared between the three musicians, playing with a warm mid-tempo feeling with a light and nimble approach. "And if Not Why Not" has a very exciting fast development  with tight bass holding together simmering drums and wide ranging piano playing and making for an excellent team effort. Takase is all over the keyboard playing in a very advanced, yet accessible fashion with hints of Don Pullen in the huge swaths of sound she is able to achieve. There is a brief but well played drum solo that launches the full band to a fine finishing statement. This was a very good album, validating Takase's views on partnership in musical expression. Weber and Griener acquit themselves wholeheartedly to her concept, with the quick wit and talent to complement the master pianist. Auge - amazon.com

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Archie Shepp and Jason Moran - Let My People Go (Archieball Records, 2021)

There is a very interesting recent interview with Archie Shepp, where he talks about a conversation with his mother during his free jazz firebrand years in the mid 1960's which led him to take a different musical path, one leading to explore more melody, standards and blues. One aspect of this exploration was delving into the jazz repertoire with pianists like Horace Parlan, Mal Waldron and more. He revisits that format here, in the company of the excellent pianist Jason Moran, whose career has shown him playing everting from classic jazz to opera and free improvisation. These two musicians click right away and the music flows very well, as they play a wide ranging setlist that moves from gospel to well known jazz songs and beyond. The sacred performances are suitably reverent, like on the opening track "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" which is slow but not mournful, with the two instrumentalists paying homage to the melody and drafting a respectful improvisation before Shepp steps to the microphone and sings the longing lyrics in a hushed yet potent tone. "Go Down Moses" is performed in the same manner, sounding like a deeply hewn gospel blues with Moran providing spacious chords around which Shepp creates his own vision, and speak sings the biblical message of the composition. The centerpiece of the recording is a lengthy performance of the John Coltrane composition "Wise One" which sparks some more fiery playing from the participants with an inspired duo improvisation and a particularly effervescent solo piano section for Moran. Duke Ellington's "Isfahan" was originally a ballad centerpiece for the great saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and it works particularly well in this stripped down setting. Moran is able to provide the scaffolding of melody and rhythm, allowing Shepp to craft a patient and lilting solo characterized by the expression of the ballad saxophone throughout jazz history from Lester Young to Ben Webster on to Hodges and beyond. Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" is a fine choice for the duo, with Shepp's saxophone providing an experienced and unique reading of the melody, and leading them into an area ripe for improvisation as a duet or for Moran's crystalline and spare solo section, they explore the song in their own way making it fresh and thoughtful. This album worked quite well, with any difference in age and conception quickly falling away, leading to a combined approach that allows them to tackle the material with fresh ears and create in the moment with feeling and spontaneity. Let My People Go - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fire! - Defeat (Rune Grammofon, 2021)

Whether performing as a storming large ensemble or a smaller, more mobile and nimble unit, Fire! is always a fascinating and rewarding group to follow. Multi saxophonist Mats Gustafson is the erstwhile leader adding quite a bit of flute on this this album as well, along with Johan Berthling on bass guitar and Andreas Werlin drums. Joining them on this album are Goran Kajfes on quartertone trumpet, Mats Aleklint on trombone, sousaphone and horn arrangements. The trio plus brass gets a very interesting sound throughout the album, as the sousaphone and trombone add just the right amount of texture to allow the trio to improvise widely. The opening track, “The Random Belt. Rats You Out” uses Gustafson’s flute widely, developing a strong and fluid sound as the bass and drums build in. With the trombone entering, he moves to saxophone, playing in a raw and guttural manner, adding long peals of sound as the group riffs grandly behind him. “Each Millimeter of the Toad, Part 2” develops an excellent bass and percussion groove right off the bat, with subterranean saxophone and horns bubbling up, getting exciting as the saxophonist opens up with blasts of raw sounds against the ominous backdrop, molding this into a scouring solo funneled by punchy brass and elastic bass and drums. A lengthy section of excellent percussion opens “Defeat (Only Further Apart)” paving the way for the remainder of the instruments to fill in, thick bass and drums supporting a wall of brass and saxophone, bubbling and simmering through to the conclusion. This is an very good album that stretches definition, bringing together aspects of jazz, post-rock, experimental music and more into a demonstration of energetic freedom. Defeat - amazon.com

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Cecil Taylor - Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

After more than a decade of struggle: for respect, for equality, for even a chance to perform or record his groundbreaking music, this collection demonstrates pianist Cecil Taylor finally getting a chance to record for major labels, to perform at large festivals and hopefully attract a wider audience. The first chance was for Impulse Records in 1961, as one half of a split LP, something not often seen in jazz but would become much more common as pop music evolved into rock ‘n’ roll, particularly punk. A punk on his own right, Taylor’s music was met on the flip side with the immaculately arranged big band music of Gil Evans, whose name and image were placed prominently on the cover of the album to Taylor's detriment. Three excellent tracks from this session presented, but in particular, the performance "Mixed” where trumpeter Ted Curson and Roswell Rudd on trombone were added to the core band of Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Henry Grimes on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. This lengthy track brings everything together, the newness of free or atonal playing, melded with swing, bebop and deep blues. Five years later, he brought a similarly sized group to Blue Note Records to record the Unit Structures LP with Lyons and Ken McIntyre on alto saxophone, Eddie Gale on trumpet, Grimes and Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. The four performances on this album are challenging in the sense of asking deep engagement from the listener, but reward so widely where improvisation flows forth without fear, allowing the musicians to strike out for the territory and forge ahead, widening the scope and breadth of jazz. The spirit of freedom and inquiry that Taylor brought to his music is on clear display on this collection, which was been very well remastered and given a new set of liner notes by jazz authority Brian Morton. Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited - squidco.com

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Juozas Milašius, Tomas Kutavičius, Dalius Naujokaitis and Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra - Live at Willisau, 1993 (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

This is an unusual an interesting album, a collaboration between Juozas Milašius on guitar, Tomas Kutavičius on piano and Dalius Naujokaitis on drums along side the Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra: Vytas Labutis on saxophones plus cymbal, clapping, trampling and Vilija Naujokaitienė, Vaidas Urmilevičius and Gintarė Skėrytė on vocal, cymbal, clapping and trampling. The opening track, "String Walker," is an excellent feature for guitarist Milašius as he develops grinding friction sounds on his instrument, picking up speed like a revving motorbike leading to an over amped electric improvised section. Piano enters with vocalizing on "Sailor's Nightmare," adding skittish guitar and percussion; the music tumbles and bounds freely, nearly stopping entirely before adding waves of guitar, with dynamic shifts from heavy darker playing to lighter whimsical moments. Multiple vocalists and saxophone really up the ante in an exciting way with both ensembles truly powered up, and including lengthy percussion interludes. A spare piano outlet shakes free, trading with near tribal percussion, leading to a scouring full group section at warp speed, sounding completely unpredictable. "Play Me" dispenses squalls of harrowing free jazz right from the start, as the saxophone cries and drums thrash, creating a maelstrom that is something to behold. Just when you think it cant get any more intense, the music falls off a cliff, dropping to an unearthly quiet using only the barest of sounds, tones of guitar with peeps and squeals, finishing with the antithesis of the heat that came before. Concluding with "Reflection Nebula," there is a graceful piano opening as group begins to assemble, soft saxophone entering as the drums try to push a little but the tempo remains languid. After a solo piano coda, the group is rewarded with well deserved rapturous applause. This album worked quite well, it was an excellent meeting of the minds between an established trio of veteran jazz musicians and a quartet of up and coming students in the crucible of live performance at a major jazz festival. Everyone acquits themselves well, making for a powerful and continuously surprising collection of music. Live at Willisau, 1993 - NoBusiness Records

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Katarsis4 - Live At The Underground Water Reservoir (NoBusiness Records, 2021)

This interesting and unusual album was recorded live in September of 2019 in an underground water reservoir in Vilnius, Lithuania. The band consists of Arminas Bizys on alto and baritone saxophone, Algirdas Janonis on alto saxophone and hornpipe, Danielius Pancerovas on baritone and alto saxophones and Kazimieras Jušinskas on soprano, alto saxophones. The group presents two lengthy improvisations that meld together into a single performance that flows though their horns and the reverberation of the reservoir, beginning with a frosty and cold sensation which sees the instruments gradually building in from silence as if they were quietly emerging from the water of the reservoir itself. The music develops slowly, creeping up on you, juxtaposed with grinding industrial sounds, and surprising snaps of loud noises, sounding almost like gunshots. Sounding at times like a soundtrack for a dystopian film, the musicians are building an ominous and atmospheric musical edifice through great patience. Part Two of the performance takes things even further, stretching time and space as the sounds of their instruments are transformed by the reflection and refraction of their playing within the special atmosphere of the reservoir. Playing together, they scale heights of volume and intensity and then drop back down, using the dynamic rise of creating surprisingly raw and emotional sounds in the open space, followed by fall of the music into near silence push their sound forward, This was a courageous and well played album, with the group aware of the surroundings, which expand their possibilities and using extended and advanced techniques on their instruments to create a unique sound world all their own. Live At The Underground Water Reservoir - NoBusness Records

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Archie Shepp - Blase And Yasmina Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

1969 marked a fascinating year in music as some of the most talented African-American avant-garde jazz musicians took leave of the racism and political divisiveness of their home country to move to Paris, where performing and recording opportunities were more plentiful, and they were treated in a more respectful manner. Saxophonist Archie Shepp was one of these expatriates, taking a break from his Impulse Records contract to record several albums for European labels, two of which are represented on this compilation. His 1969 BYG/Actuel album Blase is presented in full and it is a fascinating project. Vocalist Jeanne Lee is particularly brilliant, showing incredible range, moving from smoldering soul of the title track to the gospel of “There is a Balm in Gildead” and the gentle swing of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Shepp is generous in his arrangements, including the harmonica player known only as Chicago Beau and offering him quite a bit of space on “My Angel” and “Blase.” Beau adds a rootsy sounds and deepens the overall texture of the music, as other players flit in and out of individual tracks, Dave Burrell adding touches of piano, and Lester Bowie adding trumpet and flugelhorn. The final track on Blase is the scalding "Touareg" where Shepp meets Malachai Favors from the Art Ensemble of Chicago on bass and veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones on drums. The music is fast and powerful, as Shepp doubles down on his tenor saxophone playing pushing the tempo forward. Philly Joe may have been rooted in swing and bop, but he was game for anything, and he locks in with the two younger men for an excellent performance. The final track on this compilation is a very exciting twenty minute blowout entitled "Yasmina" where Shepp leads an excellent nine piece band on tenor saxophone and urgent voice, really pushing the envelope. Recruiting members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago like Roscoe Mitchell on powerful and stoic bass saxophone, Lester Bowie on trumpet, along side the masterful Sunny Murray on drums making for a potent and viscerally exciting modern jazz performance. This was a well done compilation, presenting some of Archie Shepp's best work for BYG/Actuel, remastered in such a way that it brings out the nuances of the music and the personalities of the players that performed it, the CD also includes a well written essay from Bill Shoemaker that puts the music into historical context. Blase And Yasmina Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, February 05, 2021

Steve Swell - The Center Will Hold (Not Two Records, 2021)

This is a very exciting and well articulated modern jazz band, with an interesting range of instruments that allows for a rich and varied palette of sound. The group is made up of the leader and composer of the tracks, Steve Swell on trombone, Jason Kao Hwang on violin, viola and electronics, Ariel Bart on harmonica, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics, Robert Boston on piano and organ and featured musician, Andrew Cyrille on drums and percussion. With a couple of the members doubling on electronics, the music has a wide ranging and continuously developing atmosphere, where the proceedings certainly are anchored in jazz and free jazz but willing to go anywhere their electro-acoustic improvisations took them. The entire group as a whole is excellent, but I was particularly impressed with the harmonica player, Ariel Bart. I am used to hard hitting Chicago blues harp playing, and often find jazz harmonica playing limpid and uninspired. Bart on the other hand is surprising throughout the recording, whether in support or soloing, with strong technique and deep imagination. But really, the whole recording works like a charm from Swell’s blustery trombone leads to Lonberg-Holm’s always unpredictable cello and jolts of electronic work. Holding it all together is the legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, playing in his unique loose and multi rhythmic style that supports and encourages the music from beginning to end. The Center Will Hold - amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Ethan Iverson - Bud Powell In The 21st Century (Sunnyside Records, 2021)

Pianist and composer Bud Powell was a leading member of bebop revolution which shook jazz from in mid 1940's and beyond. Ethan Iverson developed an appreciation of his material through CD re-issues on Blue Note and Verve, and has written extensively about Powell on his website Do the Math. For his first attempt at arranging for big band, Iverson received a commission from the 2019 Umbria Jazz Festival to present his Powell Tribute Project for the core quintet of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Ben Street on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, aided and abetted by the Umbria Jazz Orchestra. The band and large horn section are well integrated and comfortable with the material as evidenced with "Celia," which swings nicely with a keen set of solos for trumpet, and tenor saxophone and "Tempus Fugit" which is hot with swirling cascades of piano and steaming trumpet combined with boiling bass and drums push it all forward. The theme of "Bouncin’ With Bud" struts proudly into the fray with a fine medium up-tempo arrangement, focused on the wonderful melody. Stephens' tenor saxophone and Jensen's trumpet embellish upon the theme quite nicely. "Wail" is a short and sweet performance, with a fast and tight arrangement, and a deft saxophone solo over strong piano, along side bass and drums accompaniment. After a skillful and quick trumpet solo, Iverson plays well over elastic bass and drums. Between many of the Powell compositions there are interweaved "Five Simple Spells, Parts 1-5," short brass arrangements and interludes that are well written and arranged. The fluidity of the ensemble playing on "Dance of the Infidels" works well to create an accessible mid tempo piece, anchored by graceful piano. The well known classic "Fifty Second Street Theme" is played with great energy and a witty arrangement. There is a generous saxophone solo present, with trumpet taking off soon after as rock solid bass underpins it all. Fast and exciting piano trio section comes to the fore, rippling with a fast light touch. The French horn of Umbria Jazz Orchestra member Giovanni Hoffer is simply extraordinary on "I’ll keep Loving You," playing a beautiful solo that unfolds from an unaccompanied  opening into a larger arrangement, unfolding like a rare and precious flower. This album worked quite well, Powell's music can be tricky, but Iverson's deep knowledge and respect for the compositions ensures that the arrangements are logical and open for solo space. The musicians in the band take advantage of this, playing very well and adding color and depth to the music, as does the high quality orchestra. Bud Powell In The 21st Century - amazon.com

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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley - Being Astral and All Registers / Power Of Two (Discus Music, 2020)

The legendary pianist Cecil Taylor’s studio output started to wane as the new millennium dawned. However, his concert schedule remained active, especially in the duo context with the veteran British drummer Tony Oxley. This album was recorded at the the Ulrichsberg Jazz Festival in Austria in 2002, with two lengthy duo improvisations that are very compelling. The first track, the half hour long “Being Astral and All Registers”  is an explosive and enlightening piece of work. Playing with great speed and alacrity, Taylor is all over the keyboard, building waves of complex sound. His music may be fast and free, but it remains logical, and regardless how complex the music becomes, Oxley is with him every step of the way. He meets Taylor’s idiosyncratic and original way of playing with his own, completing the pianist’s strong percussive technique with an open minded sensibility which makes them ideal partners. The second and final track, “Power of Two” takes the music in a different direction with the musicians using shifts in tone and dynamics to guide the sound into unexpected places. Taylor had long been a patron and participant in other art forms such as poetry and dance, and the progress of the music on this track bares the influence of this, as the music opens up with a sense of breath and flows gracefully to it's conclusion. This was a very enjoyable concert that was played with grace and vigor. Sound quality is excellent and you can hear in detail the intricate level of cooperation between Taylor and Oxley. Being Astral & All Registers: Power Of Two - amazon.com

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Friday, January 22, 2021

Theo Bleckmann and The Westerlies - This Land (Westerlies Music, 2021)

This is an inspired pairing between the unique vocal stylist Theo Bleckmann and the brass quartet The Westerlies which consists of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. The tones and wide variety of complex sounds that the group can make instrumentally combined with the lyrical interpretations, breath and tone control of Bleckmann are fascinating to listen to. They present original compositions along with performances of music drawn from all facets of the musical spectrum, whether looking to the past struggles of the poor and organized labor on "Tear the Fascists Down" and "Look for the Union Label" anthems that gain power from the brass and have new import and value as the country struggles with a new political beginning. Spirituals are another key to the recordings success, with Bleckmann's voice soaring through the medley "In the Sweet By and By / The Preacher and the Slave" augmented by the complex brass arrangements of the band creating complex webs of sound that move the music forward, just like "Wade in the Water," another spiritual recording that allows the vocalist and the group to rise to the occasion and create a powerful and accessible recording. "Das Bitten der Kinder (Recitation)" and "Das Bitten der Kinder" move deeper into the area of art song, and this works in Bleckmann's favor, since his is originally from Germany and is able to speak and sing beautifully in this language, creating another aspect for which the music can evolve. This recording to work quite well, both Bleckmann and The Westerlies are no strangers to making courageous music that defies genre and leaves room for personal expression, leading to a successful recording. This Land - Bandcamp

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Mary Halvorson's Code Girl - Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12 Records, 2020)

This is the second album from guitarist, composer and lyricist Mary Halvorson's Code Girl project, with the band consisting of Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Maria Grand on tenor saxophone and vocals, Adam O'Farrill and trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and percussion and special guest legendary Robert Wyatt providing vocals for three tracks. The band is very well integrated and has a sound all their own, one that can move from gentle floating rhythms to all out free jazz meets post rock blowouts, their possibilities seem unlimited. "The Lemon Trees" introduces the album, with music that ebbs and flows and the added strength of having Robert Wyatt singing Halvorson's lyrics. She's long acknowledged being a big fan of his and he brings that sense of pathos and longing to the music which suits the lyrics that has been written for this performance. Female vocals stretch out on "Last-Minute Smears" with words and vocal sounds, and nicely articulated pair of saxophone and trumpet solos follow along creating a dream like landscape. Wyatt returns on "Walls And Roses" before making way to strong, wild guitar playing with scouring drums which break out exciting manner. "Muzzling Unwashed" is a lengthy and admirable performance, featuring a nice subtle guitar trio opening, with Kidambi and Grand singing lighter and beautifully nimble fashion. The vocals are then followed by brass breaking through, presenting a stout trumpet solo. Beautiful guitar chords and trumpet are present in "Bigger Flames" leading to Wyatt's final vocal feature, sounding utterly unique as his floating voice making this music move beyond jazz into a further and deeper artistic realm. Quieter female vocals are key to "Mexican War Streets (Pittsburgh") creating vocal sounds that lead into a storming electric guitar, bass and drums improvisation, where the electronics used really push the envelope and result in an epiphany regarding music that can be created in this format. This was a fascinating album, it shows that the Code Girl project is in a state of constant evolution and change and that Mary Halvorson is fearless in both working with her idols like Robert Wyatt, but also creating challenging and boundary pushing music for her peers. Artlessly Falling - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Sam Rivers Quartet - Braids (NoBusiness Records, 2020)

NoBusiness Records continues their fine series of releases from the Sam Rivers Archive as this album features the great multi-instrumentalist playing tenor and soprano saxophone, piano and flute in the company of Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium, Dave Holland on bass and Thurman Baker on drums. Recorded in Hamburg, Germany 1979 the music has a very interesting sound with both Daley and Holland creating wonderful low end textures that play with and off of one another alongside the reeds, piano and drums to build unique and compelling conception. "An Evening in Hamburg, Part I" has the group stretching out for eighteen minutes of strong saxophone led improvisation, fast and free, with taut tuba, nimble bass and slashing percussion pushing the music along in a very exciting manner. "An Evening in Hamburg, Part II" is twice as long, beginning with the leader's unaccompanied piano that builds into a trio section with bass and drums that is stellar, capturing and holding one's attention, even more so when the tuba enters. Daley gets a short well played solo section, followed by a bass solo that has a long unaccompanied section with Holland kneading powerfully elastic tones from his instrument. Rivers moves to flute for the final section of the concert, with a wonderful section of flute and bowed bass or cello and low tuba developing a quite beautiful sound, followed by flute and tuba with chimes and little percussion instruments, developing an ever evolving sense of texture and progression. As the end of the performance nears, the pace is increased and there is a full band blowout with flute in the lead, all quite melodic, accessible and captivating. The performance is very strong, and the sound has been remastered well, but still shows its age with tape hiss and a bit of compression. Liner notes are limited to a poem by Fred Moten and a couple of photographs. Braids - NoBusiness Records

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Book: Universal Tonality - The Life and Music of William Parker by Cisco Bradley (Duke University Press, 2021)

This is a well researched and written biography of the great American bassist, composer, bandleader and social activist William Parker. Parker is the descendent of people that were enslaved against their will in the southern United Stares, and the author makes a valiant effort to track his genealogy from the Middle Passage through to his birth in the Bronx in 1952. Parker grew up in a loving household that scraped to get by with both parents working as the economics and demographics of their neighborhood changed around them. Music was one constant at the home, especially inspiring young William who had a near synesthetic reaction to music, art and poetry. Gravitating to the bass Parker was initially self taught, then getting excellent opportunities to learn through doing as the loft scene opened up in New York in the mid-1970’s. He made just enough money to keep going, but played constantly at venues like Studio Rivbea, Ali’s Alley and the Ladies Fort. Gentrification brought an end to the loft scene in New York at the turn of the decade, but by then Parker was presented with a major opportunity, to play with pianist and iconoclast Cecil Taylor. By the 1980’s, Taylor had finally gained some hard fought respect for his innovative approach, and this allowed Parker to play with the maestro around the world in a wide range of musical configurations for over ten years. As his time with Taylor moved to a close, Parker began to establish himself as a bandleader, and the author takes an interesting approach by taking each of Parker’s groups and following their progress through time, rather than taking an overarching chronological overview. Taking its name from a beautifully written manifesto of Parker’s, the band In Order to Survive was the first of his bands to have an overt political stance, while his first large ensemble, The Little Huey Creative Orchestra performed and recorded widely with a regularly shifting cadre of musicians, incorporating Parker’s poetry and texts into the music. He made a key ally in percussionist Hamid Drake, whom he met while playing with Peter Brotzmann. Drake would anchor many of the small groups that Parker would turn to, building trios and quartets and some mesmerizing duet recordings. The only drawback is that Parker has been so prolific that the latter half of the book can turn into a numbing scroll of names, dates and recording sessions. A solid discography of Parker’s recordings as a leader is a big help in guiding the curious listener toward recordings of note. Overall this is long overdue respect and praise for one of the finest and hardest working musicians of the post-war era. William Parker is a national treasure, as this book is a testament to his perseverance. Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker - amazon.com

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Prezens - xFORM (Screwgun Records, 2020)

Prezens consists of David Torn on electric guitar and loops, Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Tom Rainey on drums and Craig Taborn on keyboards and electronics. Named after an album that Torn recorded for ECM in 2007, the music is a giddy amalgam of free jazz, fusion, progressive rock and ambient electronica, creating a roiling hour long performance called "xFORM." There is form here, this isn't just a free for all, but the musicians are free to subvert and deconstruct that form as they see fit to create music that has a clear impact. The music ebbs and flows like a series of waves, with the improvisation, invention and re-invention never ceasing. Fast sections break over the land in a tsunami like fashion with torrents of abrasive electric guitar and caustic saxophone scouring the earth below. Kinetic percussion and electronics add to the visceral force that is achieved by this band when they are at their height. When the wave isn’t at its crest, the band is equally interesting, providing haunting soundscapes that wouldn’t be out of place in Blade Runner or a modern day rain drenched film noir soundtrack. Longer tones of guitar and electronics make for very appealing atmospheric sections within the performance, as the saxophone adds gritty ambience and the drums add nervous percussion. This was an excellent album from a uniquely talented band, one that is able to pool their energies and instrumental prowess to create an hour long narrative that never lags and is continually full of surprises. xFORM - Bandcamp.com

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