Wednesday, September 22, 2021

East Axis - Cool With That (ESP-Disk, 2021)

This quartet recording is a brilliant one, clearly one of the finest albums of the year with Matthew Shipp on piano, Allen Lowe on alto and tenor saxophone, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Kevin Ray on bass. The music is very well played from start to finish, but “One” is the real showstopper, nearly a half an hour in length, it’s an episodic improvisation that flows in such a natural and organic a fashion that you hardly notice the minutes moving by. This may be their first album together as a unit, but everyone is completely dialed in to to point of sounding like they are experiencing a state of grace. Shipp plays particularly well here, using his full command of the entire keyboard to push and pull the tempo while Cleaver and Ray gradually guide the rhythm and Lowe moves majestically through his horns. This is all happening in real time as the musicians interact with each other and their environment in a very fulfilling way. A little bit shorter, “Oh Hell, I Forgot About That One,” is particularly exciting with tumbling powerful saxophone playing at the core of a performance that also involves whiplash inducing piano and drums. Shipp is once again on point adding cascading layers of keyboard to Lowe's tart alto saxophone, combining this with the muscular bass and drums to give the performance a sense of unstoppable forward motion. These musicians were able to take the idea of free improvisation and come together to create true visceral music, that makes a memorable impact. This was a fine recording, one of those magical sessions where the right musicians come together at the right moment to seemingly conjure sounds from the very air that are free and unencumbered yet still the products of decades of work from their chosen craft. Cool With That - amazon.com

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

John Coltrane - Chasin' the Trane Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2021)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Coltrane had recently signed with the newly formed Impulse! record label and settled on what would be his greatest band featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones when these epochal recordings were committed to tape in 1961. Coltrane's friend and colleague Eric Dolphy sits in on several performances on bass clarinet, adding another unique solo voice and added texture in the ensemble passages. Only three performances were released on the original LP, with the remainder trickling out over the years on different albums and compilations, and this collection more than doubles the original length. The track "Spiritual" bookends this collection, allowing the group to review the gospel tradition in jazz, building two beautiful and haunting performances with Eric Dlophy sitting in on bass clarinet. "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" in the lone ballad presented here, with Coltrane on soprano saxophone and McCoy Tyner perfectly in his element, playing lovely accompaniment and taking a gracefully melodic solo. The epic blues improvisation “Chasin' the Trane” is the centerpiece of this album, one that breaks down into a storming free duet with Coltrane and Elvin Jones. The headlong rush of the tenor saxophone on the sixteen minute version of "Chasin'" that was featured as side two of the original LP is still in my mind one of the most amazing and audacious accomplishments in the history of jazz. Tyner lays out and Garrison is drowned out as Coltrane and Jones break free of structure and reach for the stars. This was one of the things that led tin-eared critics to accuse Coltrane as playing deliberately un-melodic music, but closer listening reveals this to be an awesome, logical and inherently beautiful piece of music. Coltrane was interested in the sounds produced by people of other countries and this led him to compose the beautiful "India." The music is an exotic blend of jazz and sounds from the east and the juxtaposition of Coltrane’s soprano saxophone and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet is alluring, especially with two bass players holding down the bottom. "Impressions" would become one of the pieces that all future tenor saxophonists would measure themselves against, and the performance here are blistering examples of saxophone mastery. Over the course of nearly fifteen minutes, the band plays one of the most epic slash and burn modal jazz performances set to tape, influencing generations of jazz musicians to come. At the time, Live at the Village Vanguard was quite controversial at the time where allegations of being "anti-jazz" were levied against both John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. In retrospect, these feelings were clearly misplaced, and both musicians were simply moving forward at a breathless pace. This is a very well done one disc repackaging of highlights from the 1961 Vanguard recordings. The music is well mastered, taken right to the edge of what one compact disc can hold and given a fine liner essay from Derek Taylor to provide historical context. Chasin' the Trane Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (NoBusiness Records, 2021)

Of all the potential guests to join saxophonist Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio, which includes Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums, the legendary pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach is an inspired choice. From free improvisation to exploring the mysteries of Thelonious Monk’s compositions, he can do it all. The group is very well integrated and they are speaking the same language right from the first note. It is a language of freedom, played out on a very impressive fifty-six minute fully improvised performance. These are immensely talented musicians who are confident enough in their ability that the music can flow organically and develop a clear narrative that allows the music to develop patiently with sparse rhythm and spare notes and chords. The meditative nature of the piece gradually begins to change and the music takes on a suite like quality where there are exciting sections for cascading piano, punctuated by jagged chords, tumbling cello and percussion. Amado’s saxophones are typically excellent, deployed strategically throughout the length of the performance, offering long probing lines in the beginning, but branching out into thrilling full throated squalls of sound as the piece reaches its peak. This was an very fine performance by everyone involved, the Motion Trio is always a treat on their own, but adding the eminence of Alexander von Schlippenbach raises this to another level entirely. This live album, recorded in Vilnius in October of 2019 has excellent sound quality, well written liner notes from Stuart Boomer and a great photo of the band in action. The Field - Bandcamp

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Cyclone Trio - The Clear Revolution (577 Records, 2021)

Cyclone Trio got in just under the wire with their latest album, dashing to the studio to record just before the COVID-19 lockdown measures went into effect in March 2020. They may not have been specifically been trying to channel the uncertainty and dread of what was to come, but the trio, consisting of Massimo Magee on tenor, alto and sopranino saxophones, plus silver rattle and Tim Green and Tony Irving on drums played a style of free jazz that has a sense of foreboding with some beams of sunlight sewn inside. There are three long performances on this album, beginning with the epic twenty three minute improvisation "Inside the Circle," which has Magee's tenor and perhaps alto saxophone creating rough raw soundscapes that are gritty and very real and immediate. The dual drummer approach gives the saxophone a foil to continue playing the harrowing scouring sounds against while also providing a foundation and support for a performance this emotionally rending and lengthy. The middle track "Trinosophile" provides some open space for the drummers to add waves of textures of percussion and Magee moves to sopranino saxophone which has a bright and nasal sound, and he is twirling dervish like ever faster as the music grows in volume and speed. This track works very well, providing juxtaposition to the longer, book-ending tracks which tend darker and ominous. The final track, "Cardinal Points" takes the music even further out, with Magee returning to tenor and alto saxophones, but now they are able to play with light and shade, adding aspects of melody and using these fragments to push the improvisation into new areas which they unlock with their high energy risk taking improvising. This album worked quite well, the musicians came in hot after playing live together with a clear goal in mind and they achieved it, improvising as a collective unit playing in a free and democratic fashion. Using varying amounts of light and heat they are able to create a coherent statement that is at once spontaneous and thoughtful. The Clear Revolution - Bandcamp

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Itaru Oki - Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (NoBusiness Records, 2021)

Trumpeter and flute player Itaru Oki was planning to leave Japan, looking for more opportunities to play his music in Europe and beyond. But he was convinced to play one final going away performance, culminating a final tour, that was recorded for posterity, and it's a good thing because Oki and his group, consisting of Yoshiaki Fujikawa on alto saxophone and flute, Keiki Midorikawa on bass and Hozumi Tanaka on drums were an excellent and well integrated band, able to explore explore facets of jazz ranging from advanced hard bop to all out free jazz. The interplay between the four musicians is impressive with the differing available textures from the front line providing delicate passages of flute or trumpet juxtaposed by scalding freestyle saxophone explorations. The bass and drums team is ready for anything, locking in with the horn players to provide ample propulsion and mysterious texture. The group plays through a variety of moods and modes, contrasting the beauty and mystery of open space and abstraction with muscularity of power and strength. Oki did indeed succeed in moving to Paris not long after this recording was made, and would have a long career performing with both Japanese and Western musicians, passing away just last year after a lengthy and successful career. This was a very well done package with a wonderful musical performance spotlighting an unjustly little known musician presented with well written and translated liner notes and interesting photographs. Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 - NoBusiness Records

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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Joe Harriott - Free Form and Abstract Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2021)

Saxophonist Joe Harriott is something of a lesser known figure in the United States and that is a shame because he was quite a talented and ground breaking musician. Born and raised in Jamaica, Harriott moved to the UK in the 1950’s first gained notoriety as a bebop focused musician, though he came to be most well remembered for his early experiments with free jazz and that makes up the content of this two CD set. Although he was recording at the same time as Americans Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane; Harriott developed his own method of playing abstract or free jazz. Unlike Coleman, he kept a pianist in his group, and unlike Coltrane he really stressed complex interaction and collective improvisation instead of lengthy solo statements amongst all band members, particularly on the justly lauded album Free Form which is the first album in this collection. Disc two is the Abstract LP, a disc that covers some more exploratory quartet and quintet sessions that Harriott that continued on his historically significant quasi free jazz recordings. The music melds swinging hard-bop with a sharper, tart tone reminiscent of Jackie McLean or Eric Dolphy. Harriott would continue to innovate into the late 1960’s forming a group with violin player John Mayer to explore the melding of jazz and music from the Indian subcontinent. The compact disc mastering is excellent, presenting the music in a crisp and clear manner while Brian Morton's liner notes place the sounds in historical context. Joe Harriott is a musician prime for rediscovery, the albums presented here are vibrant and alive collections of jazz in transition and excellent gateways into the the sound world of this fascinating musician. Free Form and Abstract Revisited - Squidco

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Monday, September 06, 2021

Dave Liebman Expansions - Selflessness: The Music of John Coltrane (Dot Time Records, 2021)

Saxophonist and flutist Dave Liebman’s new album is with his working band called Expansions with Tony Marino on bass, Matt Vashlishan on alto saxophone, flute and EWI, Bobby Avey on piano and synth and Alex Ritz on drums. The group performs nine compositions by one of Liebman’s greatest influences, John Coltrane, but present them through a prism of new and bold arrangements. “Mr. Day” opens the album at a medium-up tempo, featuring fast flutters of soprano saxophone sounding very impressive, take the performance far from its original roots. The twin saxophone melody is interesting, and ut gives the group a wide tonal palate.Beginning in a slow gradual fashion, “Compassion” electronics curl around the instruments like a lapping flame, including solid bass and drums, but he horns and electronics play with abstraction.  “My Favorite Things” is a centerpiece of the recording, beginning with spare piano, the whole group blossoms into a recognizable version of familiar tune but with two saxophones. Nice pulsing bass and drums drive the first saxophone solo forward for a steaming lengthy tenor statement. Move to soprano, along side delicate cymbal dancing and elastic bass, Liebman’s nimble soprano charges ahead at high speed with a complex improvisation before leading everyone back for a swelling outro. An unusual drum opening coupled with some exotic flute, deep bass and drums create a spiritual vibe on “Ole.” Avery adds a kaleidoscopic range of electronics, followed by the leader’s soprano breaking out filigrees of fast complex note structures  “Lazy Bird” develops a more cohesive structure, horns flying, leading to a subtle interlude for acoustic piano soprano saxophone, while subtle rhythm provides an excellent frame for the prime saxophone playing.  The two saxophones work in tandem on “Peace on Earth,”  playing over a a shimmering rhythm as flute adds to the lightness of the performance, building longer reed tones to close. “One Up, One Down” is cracking uptempo jazz with powerful drumming leading the charge, Ritz taking a well deserved solo feature, then making way for soaring soprano saxophone pushing the outer limits with fire, before pulling out the stops for a quick landing.The album ends with the reflective “Dear Lord” lead by Marino’s bowed bass, creating a quite beautiful, spiritual sound, making way for thoughtful flute playing and brushwork. This was a very interesting album, Dave Liebman has become one of John Coltrane’s foremost interpreters during his lengthy career, and this fine record shows that he is still hard at work learning from the master. Selflessness - Bandcamp.

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Friday, September 03, 2021

Matthew Shipp / Whit Dickey - Reels (Burning Ambulance Music, 2021)

Pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Whit Dickey have been recording and performing together in a wide variety of contexts since the early nineties. Both musicians have developed unique instrumental and improvisational styles, which mesh very well together as can be seen on this duet album, that was recorded in Brooklyn during March of 2019. “Lattice” opens the album with lush piano with cymbals, and Shipp develops short piano clusters over Dickey’s cymbal work which is very intricately woven into the short piano motifs. The music is strongly played and deeply reverberating. Piano is the key to “Cosmic Train,” where Shipp is throwing throwing down Zeus like thunderbolts, percussive chords and contrasting notes which create an outstanding soundscape as Dickey’s drums adding to the tumult. “Hold Tight” builds complex piano and drum interplay, and the dynamic nature of the music is fresh and exciting, with powerful piano being met by crisp cymbal play. An interesting theme snakes through the performance, bringing everything together in a cogent and logical way “Vector” changes course repeatedly with rapid fire changes to tempo and volume that are both unexpected and exciting to hear. This performance also includes some absolutely punishing low end piano chords and towering drumming that leaves a visceral impact. Juxtaposing quiet filigrees with cascading waves of drums and percussion, and the power of the piece comes from the contrast of heavy with light. “Silent Ice” gradually builds a dynamic and thoughtful track where tumbling notes and cymbals can push a graceful finish. The concluding track “Icing” uses quiet sounds and resonance, developing a performance that is not quite a ballad, but something with sense of longing or loss built in. This was a very well done and thoughtful disc, Shipp and Dickey are capable of taking any idea from the most familiar to the most abstract and building an exciting and coherent improvisation from it. Reels - Burning Ambulance Bandcamp

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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Caroline Davis - Portals, Vol. 1: Mourning (Sunnyside Recordings, 2021)

This album is a very interesting fantasia of jazz group, swooping strings, voices and more, brought together seamlessly to create an alluring blend where integrated solos sections at play along side sweeping full group interaction. In addition to the leaders’ alto saxophone the band features  Marquis Hill on trumpet, Julian Shore on piano, Chris Tordini on bass, and Allan Mednard on drums, plus a string quartet of two violins, viola and cello. The amalgam of all of these elements is what makes this album interesting, and although Davis had to deal with the passing of her father and the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic, she focused her energy to the art of composition and arrangement, so that when the opportunity became available to record she was ready. Despite the title the music is for the most part not somber or downcast, Davis plays excellent saxophone throughout the recording in addition to her arrangements for strings and voice which are quite unique. The strings are not in a standard quartet which would back or frame a group, but rather instruments that interact, moving and diving to meet the needs of the music but also providing a counterpart with darker or more cross interludes when the musical narrative requires it. “Hop On Hop Off” shows that not all of the music is somber but quite varied and diverse at that. The music develops a very interesting narrative flow with a choppy dynamic between the players that keeps things consistently interesting, with some excellent cello playing. There is some particularly beautiful string play and arranging on the track “How to Stop a Drop of Water From Evaporating” as they build gently from near silence to the centerpiece of the performance, handing off to spoken word and crisp percussion at the end. "Left" reverses the path, with spoken word leading us into the track before the strings enter, leading to a beautiful trumpet feature for Hill and some wonderful collective playing. During her lockdown Davis did extensive reading and investigation into the effects of grief and loss and this was woven into this album as a whole leading to its completion as a well thought out and executed work brimming with compassion with those lost and those tasked with the burden of carrying on. Although the subject matter is serious, the musicians interpret it in such a manner that the sounds flow with dignity and grace, never weighted down with guilt or fear. Portals Volume 1: Mourning - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Sam Rivers Quintet - Undulation (NoBusiness Records, 2021)

As Bill Shoemaker lays out in his fine liner essay that accompanies this album, the early eighties was a time of transition for the great multi-instrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers. The prior decade had been quite fruitful, as he had been the proprietor of one of the most well known jazz lofts of that burgeoning underground scene, as well as releasing high quality records on major and highly regarded independent record labels. But by the eighties things had changed drastically, property redevelopment in New York City priced artists and musicians out of the loft market, while the rising neo-conservative jazz movement pushed Rivers into the hands of much smaller record labels with inadequate distribution. In league with the brilliant late seventies / early eighties avant free funk of Arthur Blythe and James Blood Ulmer, this concert, recorded in Florence in May of 1981, shows Rivers adapting with the times, playing with Jerry Byrd on guitar and Rael-Wesley Grant on electric bass in addition to longtime musical associate Steve Ellington on drums. The great Sam Rivers Trio performances of the seventies presented the leader playing several instruments over a boiling bass and drums backdrop. Things have changed here, as the music is as often as not centered around unaccompanied solo portions, in the beginning where Rivers develops a lengthy and fascinating outré tenor saxophone improvisation, only to come back to the band and join the funky bass boosted framework that they have developed. Ellington gets space for a lengthy and well delivered drum solo, then Rivers builds from the piano, leading to a wonderful cascading full group section, with everybody at their best led by the free flowing notes of piano and guitar. Rivers grows more muscular, kneading the keys and pulling out strong chords, before pulling back to a jaunty theme. There's a section for guitar that's snarling with added vocal encouragement, basic bass and drum backing, encouraging Byrd to wail in a bluesy but slightly disconnected manner. Rivers moves to flute with subtle accompaniment from the band, he's brilliant and unique on this instrument, creating beautifully flowing sounds and moving into an unaccompanied section. interspersed with vocalizations while scatting and humming into the instrument. The band returns at lightning speed pushing the tempo, leading to an open space bass solo, played in a nimble and impressive fashion. Rivers returns with the full band, still playing flute in a lightly funky setting, he scats the finale while announcing the musicians to the audience. This is a valuable recording, not only for the musicality on display, but for shedding some light on Sam Rivers' activates in the eighties. Recording and performing opportunities grew more scarce as the decade went on, leading to Rivers joining Dizzy Gillespie's band and moving to Orlando. But fear not, this set the stage for one of the greatest final acts in jazz history. Undulation - NoBusiness Records

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Monday, August 23, 2021

Mario Pavone - Isabella (Clean Feed Records, 2021)

Bassist Mario Pavone recorded two albums in 2021 while in the final stages of a cancer that he endured for early twenty years. This one is is particularly poignant, because it is a tribute to his granddaughter Isabella, who died in 2020 when she was only 23 years old. He is joined here by his son Michael Pavone on guitar, Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone and Michael Sarin on drums. "Philosophy Series" has a subtly changing opening melody, with the band threading their instruments through one another. The music is intricate while still remaining accessible, leading into a section for organically sound guitar, elastic bass and crisp drumming. The execution of their improvisation is impressive, with guitar and drums getting plenty of space. DiRubbo's saxophone returns just past the halfway point, adding some raw and fierce playing to the mix leading to a well articulated full band conclusion. The track "OKWA" has a gently played mid tempo feel, with abrupt changes and shifts, leading to some excellent saxophone playing, surrounded by shades of guitar and supportive bass and drums, making the most of the composition's twists and turns. Michael Pavone's guitar playing is fascinating, he waits for an opening like a running back seeking a gap in the line and then darts through with a flurry of notes. Neither the bassist or drummer solo but their rock solid playing are that the heart of this successful performance. "2-3rds Radial" has a complementary up-tempo setting which places the musicians in good stead, where DiRubbo makes the most of it with playing gutsy saxophone alongside taut bass and drums. Pavone's guitar adds long tones of electrified sound passing over the rhythm and probing the scene, leading to a jagged and powerful feature, and finally to a stoic bass solo from the leader himself. I first became aware of Mario Pavove when I was a huge fan of the Thomas Chapin Trio in the 1990's. After his tragic death, I began to follow Pavone's work closely, beginning with his tribute album Remembering Thomas, through to the courageous albums he fought to release this year. He became one of my favorite musicians, a go-to guy, whose yearly releases were a source of joy and wonder, and whose passing leave an enormous hole in the firmament of jazz. Isabella - Clean Feed Bandcamp

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Monday, August 16, 2021

Downbeat Readers Poll Ballot 2021


So many good musicians deserving of recognition this whole thing seems king of silly, but here goes:

Hall Of Fame: Pharoah Sanders

Jazz Artist: William Parker (write-in)

Jazz Group Broken Shadows (Tim Berne, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson, Dave King) (write-in)

Big Band: Webber-Morris Big Band (write-in)

Jazz Album (6/1/20-5/31/2021): Alexander von Schlippenbach - Slow Pieces for Aki

Historical Album (6/1/20-5/31/2021): Horace Tapscott With the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, Ancestral Echoes: The Covina Sessions, 1976

Trumpet: Jamie Branch

Trombone: Steve Swell

Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker

Alto Saxophone: Dave Rempis

Tenor Saxophone: Rodrigo Amado (write-in)

Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson

Clarinet: Jason Stein (bass clarinet)

Flute: Henry Threadgill

Piano: Matthew Shipp

Keyboards: Matt Mitchell (write-in)

Organ: John Medeski

Guitar: Mary Halvorson

Bass: Mario Pavone (write-in)

Electric Bass: Linda May Han Oh

Violin: Mark Feldman

Drums: Gerald Cleaver

Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz

Percussion: Hamid Drake

Misc. Instrument: Jon Irabagon, sopranino saxophone (write-in)

Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann

Female Vocalist: Leena Conquest (write-in)

Composer: Tim Berne (write-in)

Arranger: Anna Webber (write-in)

Label: Intakt Records

Blues Artist: Joe Louis Walker

Blues Album: Cedric Burnside, I Be Trying

Beyond Artist: Richard Thompson (write-in)

Beyond Album: The Black Keys - Delta Kream

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Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sun Ra - Lanquidity (Definitive Edition) (Strut Records, 2021)

Originally released on the tiny Philly Jazz label in 1978, in the forty plus years since it came out, this album has grown a cult following and it has become known as one of Sun Ra’s latter career masterpieces. A piece of funky fusion that melds thick grooving electric bass with scratches of guitar and killer horn lines and excellent compositions from the leader to create a cohesive whole that just works, and sounds like little else in the great man's catalog. This re-issue comes packaged with a clean version  of the original press of the album and a funky alternative remix on the second disc, which was only sold in limited quantities for a 1978 Arkestra concert at Georgia Tech University. The opening track "Lanquidity" is a spaced out wonder for oboe juxtaposed by burbling baritone saxophone underneath. Various horns surface as Sun Ra moves placidly through his litany of electronic instruments to create post modern mood music of the highest order. The resolutely trippy “There are Other Worlds” glides by on layers of electric and acoustic keyboards with ghostly voices warning you that “there are a other worlds that they have not told you of…” updating the Sun Ra space age sound heading into the paranoid 1980’s. Flutes and oboe appear in other songs, giving the music further exotic texture, and the blaxploitation funk of “Where Pathways Meet” is an absolute gas, with the horns and bass riffing hard before they make way for delightful features for acoustic piano and tenor saxophone. This is a well done re-issue shedding light on an unjustly overlooked album and making it widely available. The music is unusual and very accessible, enjoyable to both long time Sun Ra fans and neophytes alike. Lanquidity - amazon.com

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Matt Mitchell and Kate Gentile - Snark Horse (Pi-Recordings, 2021)

Snark Horse is a six disc box set is a collection of short compositions by pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Kate Gentile, which were written to serve as source material for wide ranging improvisations. This particular project began as a result of an challenge between Mitchell and Gentile to each write a single bar of music every day, as opposed to longer works that they normally composed. The scope of the music goes far beyond the two leaders with other musicians filling out the ranks depending on the concept of the particular piece. The breadth of the music is ambitious as well, incorporating small and medium group jazz, electronic music and contemporary classical notions into a broad canvas that is vibrant in color, representing the best of modern music. The leaders play on all of the ensemble tracks, supported by a who's who of creative music players, with the compositions are split between the two of them. All of the compact packages of composed data unfold into musical information, filled with unpredictable improvisation and interplay between the musicians. Often individual short compositions are strung together in medleys that lengthen into mini suites, where the rhythmic structures of the music increase and play off against one another while the musicians deconstruct the source matter in a spontaneous manner. Although the music ranges widely, it remains rooted in modern jazz, and the performances use the crucible of improvisation to interpret the written material, using collective playing and extensive soloing that makes the most of the source material and open vistas available to the groups. Having recruited such talented colleagues, you continuously hear the sound of surprise as the spontaneous performances spool out from a seed of an idea. It seems hard to believe, but all of the group pieces were recorded in one take, with the music continuously waxing and waning in a dynamic manner. The hues and gradations of the textures on the performances give their work a near physical presence, but the most overwhelming sensibility of the album is one of freedom. Not in the sense of free jazz, although there may be some of that folded in, but the freedom of creativity and the spark of ingenuity that the composers and musicians have brought to the performances on this fascinating package. Snark Horse - bandcamp.com

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Sunday, August 08, 2021

Mario Pavone / Dialect Trio +1 - Blue Vertical (Out of Your Head Records, 2021)

Bassist Mario Pavone’s remarkable contribution to jazz reached its summation in the final two albums he recorded at the very end of his life. This album features his Dialect Trio with Matt Mitchell on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and guest Dave Ballou providing trumpet and song arrangements. Pavone dedicated this album to his granddaughter who died far too young, and her song, “Isabella” is a beautiful ballad, that is tinged with melancholy, but hope as well in the form of a golden trumpet feature and a section for bass, spare piano and the lightest of cymbals. The opener “Twardzik” is a bracing up tempo piece, where the musicians assert themselves by navigating the angularity of their surroundings. Ballou’s trumpet is fresh and invigorating, and Sorey provides just the right amount of push to keep things going. “Blue Poles” allows the trumpeter to really open up during the first half of the performance. He has a strong and cohesive sound that fits is well with the established trio, and when he drops out, the opening created provides luminal space where the trio push and pull time itself. The closer “Face Music” delivers the leader’s taut bass framed by respectful trumpet and piano, brushed percussion soon enters adding further texture to a deep and meaningful work. Mitchell’s chaste piano is perfect for this setting, gradually gaining speed as the performance moves faster, leading to to an evocative conclusion. Together, this group created jazz with a strong cooperative approach, which comes from the mutual partnership of the musicians involved, and they way in which they engaged one another in a highly cohesive manner throughout the length of the album, creating a capstone to a remarkable career. Blue Vertical - bandcamp.com

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Saturday, August 07, 2021

Roy Brooks - Understanding (Reel To Real Recordings, 2021)

Drummer Roy Brooks and trumpeter Woody Shaw both spent time in Horace Silver's groups, one of the great crucibles of hard bop in the ever changing jazz world. They would both go on to have successful careers as both bandleaders and high value sidemen. Both would meet for this explosive concert at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore in 1970, with not inconsiderable assistance from Carlos Garnett on tenor saxophone, Harold Mabern on piano and Cecil McBee  on bass. The music begins with an over forty minute long, two part suite consisting of "Prelude To Understanding" and "Understanding" which is a remarkable performance of hard or post bop with scalding drums, hard comping piano and muscular saxophone. Shaw shows remarkable resolve, playing at great length and fortitude before stepping aside and yielding to the rhythm section for an upbeat swinging feature. McBee gets a bass solo, difficult to hear due to the recording quality, followed by a splashy and fast drum solo. They also have the benefit of the deep soulful piano comping and soloing of Mabern to deepen the pocket. Woody Shaw is simply incandescent throughout the concert, playing lengthy muscular solos that are filled with wit and creativity, and Garnett makes his presence known with long billowing lines of saxophone that can intertwine with the trumpeter or take flight on solo sections of their own. The performances are lengthy and potent, often ranging from twenty to thirty minutes, with highly creative solo sections and strong ensemble playing. The rhythm section is anchored by Brooks agile and multi-rhythmic drumming and McBee's bass which is sadly under recorded. The remainder of the album keeps things hot and fast, playing long twenty to thirty minute versions of compositions by Shaw on “Zoltan,” where there is some towering brass playing as Woody Shaw made it abundantly clear why he was one of the best trumpet players on the scene at that time. Garnett's “Taurus Woman” is a massive thirty two minute slab of music that sets up complex and impressive group interplay as well as wonderful saxophone and drum solos. Overall this was an enjoyable concert, a lengthy reminder of how talented these players really were. The sound quality is a little weak, especially in the bottom end, but if you go in knowing this, it should not dampen your enjoyment in the slightest. Understanding - bandcamp.com

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Friday, July 30, 2021

William Parker - Mayan Space Station (AUM Fidelity, 2021)

Much like his predecessor, Sun Ra, William Parker combines the past and the future not only in the title of this alluring album, where his bass and the drums of Gerald Cleaver meet the post-modern electric guitar of Ava Mendoza but in the wide ranging tracks themselves. This is an inspired grouping, and sounds like nothing like I have heard before in a Parker led group, and AUM Fidelity confirms that, stating that Mayan Space Station is Parker's first electric guitar trio album. Each of the musicians is capable of a wide range of sounds from the engine like motorik beat that Cleaver employs to stoke the fire of the lengthy title track “Mayan Space Station.” He’s met by Parker’s beautifully thick and earthy tone on bass and Mendoza’s startling guitar textures. She shows remarkable resolve, relentlessly creating in this crucible of trio improvisation over a nearly fifteen minute track. “Canyons of Light” allow the music to develop in other directions, with Parker creating inspiring sounds while Cleaver develops layers of percussion via deft and focused brushwork. Mendoza flies freely, aiding the collective improvisation, and also stretching out with some striking soloing. The closing track, “The Wall Tumbles Down,” shows Mendoza at her best, firing of cool sparks of electricity over a crisp drumbeat that threatens to become volatile at any moment. Parker’s huge slabs of bass are a physical presence, even as the music drifts into abstraction. Long elastic tones of bowed bass arc, along side unusual guitar sounds, becoming unsettling like a distant alarm leading to an unresolved and unnerving conclusion. This is cosmic jazz that is very successful and should appeal to a wide audience, as the compositions and improvisations are deeply felt and intense and the musicians are tight and in deeply tune with one another, showing great insight, understanding and creativity. Mayan Space Station - amazon.com

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

William Parker - Painters Winter (AUM Fidelity, 2021)

Bassist and composer William Parker has celebrated 2021 with a slew of new releases including the ten disc box set Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World, as well as single album projects including this one where he also plays trombonium, shakuhachi along side longtime colleagues Daniel Carter on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and flute and Hamid Drake on drums. On the opening track “Groove 77,” Parker’s deep bass and Drake’s solid drums meet Carter’s patient trumpet to create some thoughtful and understated interplay, as Drake moves around the drum kit subtly shifting the pocket, and the bass and trumpet responding in interesting ways. Carter steps aside for a drum and bass conversations before the midpoint. The deepness of Parker’s bass sound and the crispness of Drake’s drumming are startling, providing a fine foundation that Carter’s trumpet seems to float and ride over, using the waves created by this engine. Parker moves to exotic shakuhachi flute for “Painters Winter” with this flute and brass combining with percussion to create fascinating textures. Air and spaciousness pervades the performance within the music as Carter’s brass slurs, building low brass sounds juxtaposed against the higher flying flute and percussion. “Happiness” uses laid back bass and drums, as Carter moves to saxophone, developing a fine and lustrous tone. The pace seems to pick up slightly, becoming open and loose but not quite free. There is a section for bowed bass and brushes, low saxophone tones, moving into a gliding near frictionless collective improvisation between three talented veterans. Carter and Parker both take to flutes on “Painted Scarf” amid ceremonial sounding slow cymbals. The two musicians use different kinds of flutes, with different pitches and tones, and they use the instruments well to converse and contort around low-key drumming. On the final track "A Curly Russell" lithe, light toned saxophone and wonderfully rattling percussion backed by elastic bass, leads to tight improvised interplay with great wit and years of wisdom behind it. Carter briefly switches to soprano saxophone, creating a tart sound, really pushing into more extreme territory then turning back to alto, keeping things fresh, crisp drumming and supportive bass with light toned sax propelling through to the conclusion. This was another typically excellent William Parker album. In his liner notes he speaks of painting with sound, and using the flow of rhythm as melody and pulsation within the music. The trio takes these ideas and use them to create a subtle and genuine piece of work that deserves to be heard. Painters Winter - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Barry Altschul's 3dom Factor - Long Tall Sunshine (Not Two Records, 2021)

Recorded live, this is the fourth album for drummer Barry Altschul's 3dom Factor, and he is once again in the company of Jon Irabagon on tenor and sopranino saxophones  and alto clarinet, Joe Fonda on bass. The music is a very strong collection of improvisations and these veteran musicians make the most of the open ended setting and the friendly and supportive audience. “Long Tall Sunshine” has fast free sounds of willowy saxophone, a thick bass solo, then a swanky melody built in when the saxophone returns. The music is very interesting, beginning in an abstract manner then developing a unique theme and strong collective improvisation that allows the whole trio to dig in and create a powerful and enlightening performance. The remaining tracks on the album show how diverse that a trio can become with Jon Irabagon moving beyond his usual tough talking tenor saxophone playing to incorporate the sopranino saxophone, one of the smallest instruments in that group of instruments. He does not play this for novelty value, but for the very high pitched and emotionally expressive sound that he brings to the instrument, improvising on it with aplomb as he does with his third instrument, the alto clarinet. This gives him yet another pigment with which he can sound-paint, a bright, hollow sound that swoops and dives, working as well in flat out ballers as it does with selections that are more detached from a clear center of mass. Bassist Joe Fonda is more than up to the task, providing buoyant support and excellent soloing, particularly with eloquent bowed passages. Leader Barry Altshul has chosen his compatriots and selections very well. There are echoes of the great Sam Rivers Trio, of which he was the percussionist for several years in the 1970’s. His playing can run the the gamut from swinging support to scouring free playing, all focused in on the music. The three musicians click together like puzzle pieces to form a complete and cohesive whole using all of the techniques at their disposal to develop a creative and exciting album. Long Tall Sunshine - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Albert Ayler - New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

This is one of saxophonist Albert Ayler's most interesting, yet often ignored albums. Creating two lengthy free improvisations performed without a previously designed theme, this is created akin to the way they European free improvisation would begin to branch off from the more African American free jazz. Ayler has a pretty extraordinary band along with him in this endeavor with Don Cherry on trumpet, John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Roswell Rudd on trombone, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. The music was performed to accompany an experimental film directed by Michael Snow, and after a brief opening statement by Cherry called "Don's Dawn," the full band dives right into the action on the twenty minute long "AY." While the sound can be particularly ferocious, there are moments of sublime calm, where Peacock's bowed bass meets probing drums, and sections where the brass and reeds truly soar. Sections of free cacophony are thrilling, be also are the give and take and sharing of space that develop between the members of the band. "ITT" consists of a wild core Ayler free improvisation with squalls of saxophone alto and tenor, stark raw Ayler tenor saxophone thundering at his most extreme along side powerful Murray percussion. When Ayler steps aside, it becomes a more nimble group less excessive, waxing and waning, dynamic and unpredictable. Interactive play and using gradations of sound, like light and shade, with the whole band working well despite little preparation. For an ad hoc session where the director was originally interested in  “buying a half an hour” of music, things turned out pretty well, all things considered. The musicians were locked in, and made the most of the freedom that was given to them, playing with intensity and comradeship, creating memorable music in the process. New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited - squidco

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Luís Lopes Lisbon Berlin Quartet - Sinister Hypnotization (Clean Feed Records, 2021)

Guitarist and composer Luis Lopes' Berlin Quartet is a forward thinking powerhouse of a band that takes no prisoners in terms of group interplay and adventurous presentation. The ensemble is rounded out with Rodrigo Pinheiro on fender rhodes electric piano, Robert Landfermann on bass with effects and Christian Lillinger on drums. The band exercises their music with fast power, scalding guitar lines which meets up with tight bass, bowed and amplified through pedals, along with kaleidoscopic keyboards and dynamic drumming. The opening track “Identification” uses bowed bass to build abstract sounds which provide a base for swirling guitar feedback and drumming that grows in volume, creating a fantasia of hypnotic sounds. A hot free sounding full band improvisation takes place on “O Andróide que Sonhava Ser Humano,” with knotty electric guitar playing and crisp drumming, as the music sizzles and pops like a grill on a hot summer day. Charged particles of electric sound burst forth from the group in an exciting manner. Amped bass and heavy drum beats push the group closer to the conclusion as Lopes guitar issues sparks and flares that keep the music going all the way to the end. “Sinister Hypnotization” uses eerily twisting electronics and percussion, while electric piano and skittish drumming improvising together causes the music to get more spacious and pointillistic. The bass adds bowed accents, before turning to a super fast plucked style as Lopes’ guitar enters with stark, piercing tones. This builds to a tightly wound collective improvisation for the band, stretching out, and led by some storming guitar playing. Wild squalls of amplified bow in overdrive open “Berlin Line (Picture of Berlin in Three Movements)” with spirals of sound, waves of guitar, and insistent bass. Choppy relentlessness of motion and great full group interplay work well as the group is kneading the sounds into constantly interesting colors and shapes. This album worked quite well overall, with each of the musicians creating and sharing within the full band structure, ebbing and flowing dynamically as the improvisations develops. The Berlin Quartet is another excellent Luis Lopes project that deserves a chance for further development both live and on disc. Sinister Hypnotization - bandcamp.com

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Rodrigo Amado's This Is Our Language Quartet - Let the Free Be Men (Trost Records, 2021)

Recorded live in Copenhagen during March of 2017, tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado's This Is Our Language Quartet includes three of the heaviest hitters in modern jazz, Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet and soprano saxophone, Kent Kessler on bass and Chris Corsano on drums. The get right to it on the opening track "Resist" where a drum solo picks up, joined by urgent bowed bass, finally tenor saxophone and trumpet enter, filling the available space, and leading to a dynamic full band improvisation. Raw saxophone and heavy drumming with pulses of plucked bass and trumpet filigrees lead to torrential free improvisation which is very exciting and fresh sounding, peaking with an apocalyptic roar near the end. Long stark tones from horns and bowed bass build a haunting character on "Let the Free Be Men" Piercing horns and skittish percussion create an unnerving sound that coalesces into plucked bass and a two saxophone front line with brushed percussion. The tempo picks up halfway through the performance with the soprano and tenor saxophones sound hot, amid boiling bass and drums, leading to a righteous full band improvisation, that is fast and potent. "Men is Woman is Man" uses long tones of brass with rapid bowed bass and abstract sounds from the rest of the group. After sawing bowed bass with ripe trumpet, strong caffeinated tenor saxophone enters, and everyone comes together, then gradually fades out. Beautiful plucked bass along side abstract percussion launch "Never Surrender" with gradually developing saxophone unfurling over bass and drums, creating a raw and exciting free improvisation for quartet. McPhee turns to soprano saxophone swooping gliding grandly, then two saxophone bass and drums rush to the finish line. This was a very good and consistently interesting disc, meaning a confident free jazz ensemble offering a lot of opportunities for improvisation and unusual textures to develop within the music which made for exciting listening. Let the Free Be Men - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

Natural Information Society - Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite Records, 2021)

Natural Information Society, consisting of Joshua Abrams on guimbri, Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and effects, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, Evan Parker on soprano saxophone and Jason Stein on bass clarinet is one of the most interesting bands playing today. Melding jazz improvisation with fascinating rhythmic settings to create stunning and exciting music. This unique combination of instruments, improvising in a long form manner is quite something to behold. The guimbri and harmonium create a sensibility of a multi ethnic combination of forces, and adding Parker’s protean saxophone takes the music to another level. A couple of new music and book releases earlier this year examined Don Cherry’s pan ethnic organic music ensembles from the early 1970’s. This music fits solidly in that tradition of Ornette Coleman free jazz - nobody’s soloing / everybody’s soloing, and the collective / communal nature of Cherry’s solo work. Parker’s circular breathing borders on astonishing, and his saxophone playing reaches a level of ecstatic frenzy at times, the sounds tumbling out of his horn like a dervish in a trance. The music is able to shift dynamically with ease, moving from periods of poignant quietude to boiling full power very quickly. During the last two passages is where you hear Stein’s clarinet rise up out of the the thicket and play some wonderful sections, particularly when he engages Parker and they explore the depths of light and shade that the music has to offer. But really, this album transcends any one individual and takes the creative energy of all five musicians to develop a clear and distinctive kind of music that is thoroughly compelling and stands as one of the best albums of the year. Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 08, 2021

Chris Potter - Sunrise Reprise (Edition Records, 2021)

After his touring schedule was terminated by the pandemic, saxophonist Chris Potter turned his attention to the composing of new music. In late 2020, a lessening of restrictions led his trio, consisting of keyboardist James Francies and drummer Eric Harland to create their first studio session. Potter was deeply effected by lockdown, BLM protests, climate woes of 2020 and this affected his playing, as he looked for a release to create and express himself. The opening track "Sunrise and Joshua Trees" presents trippy electronics, as the saxophone builds in with drumming. The electronics are developing new atmospheres and textures for the saxophone and drums to evolve with and against. The music seems quite ethereal, gradually gaining focus and strength through development. More strident saxophone takes effect on "Southbound," a reminder of how potent Potter can be given the right circumstance, with the complexity of the theme giving way to an open setting for collective improvisation and saxophone letting loose over funky keyboard and percussion accompaniment, as Potter develops one of his finest solo statements on the whole album, and the keyboard and drum team are given generous room to display their skills as well. The group fades in playing a very funky and infectious theme for "Serpentine," working very tight and flying in formation, before breaking out into a more spacious area for a complicated and impressive saxophone feature building to very exciting peaks as the solo develops. Potter shows a great deal of stamina, playing with wit and energy, really pushing things into the stratosphere. There is a break for wide ranging electronic sounds and drumming creating an interesting soundscape in the absence of the leader, building an heavy electro-percussive fantasia. Disparate sounds like acoustic piano, electronic bass and fertile drumming lead to scorching saxophone at the end. "Nowhere, Now Here/Sunrise Reprise" is a massive twenty four and a half minute closing epic, with Potter opening with some quite beautiful flute playing. Developing a brisk theme by the three musicians in a fast paced manner, then carving out space for a muscular tenor saxophone solo over crisp drumming and keyboard accompaniment. Well paced and architecturally sound saxophone leads to spirited acoustic piano flourish, running through a wide creative sphere, electro-acoustic keyboards with drumming, trying all different kinds of textures and approaches throughout this massive track. This album is a grower, there is distinctive writing and playing throughout the record, particularly from the leader who plays saxophone with genuine gusto, regardless of the setting. Sunrise Reprise - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Hasaan Ibn Ali - Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album (Omnivore Recordings, 2021)

Pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali has been one of the biggest mysteries of the jazz world ever since the 1960’s when the great bebop drummer Max Roach got together with him to record the well received LP The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan for Atlantic Records in 1965. Ali had been a stalwart on the deep Philadelphia jazz scene playing with musicians that included John Coltrane and many others with whom he sat in with at local clubs, but fell into obscurity as his health declined. The recordings made for this album were done by Atlantic Records in 1965 as well, with this reissue taken from recently restored acetates long thought lost. Set down on August 23 and September 7, 1965 the sessions took place at Atlantic Studios in New York City with Odean Pope on tenor saxophone; Art Davis on bass and Kalil Madi on drums. The sound isn't pristine, but the remastering is well done considering the circumstances. When Ali was off the scene due to narcotics violations and illness, Atlantic delayed the original project, eventually losing the original tapes in a warehouse fire, leaving on the acetates. The music itself is quite memorable, sometimes having a manic edge to the excitement, but never veering out of control, it sounds like something that might be at the vanguard of mid 1960's jazz along side the likes of Andrew Hill or McCoy Tyner. Ali has a firm percussive touch, driving the piano keys and pushing the music forward, while also maintaining a unique idiosyncratic conception of time along the lines of fellow iconoclasts Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. If the music presented here isn't exactly a historical revelation to rewrite the jazz history books, it is still a very worthy album, shining much deserved light on a very talented musician who by dint of fate wasn't quite able to make the impact he deserved to make. Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Broken Shadows - self titled (Intakt Records, 2021)

Taking their name from an Ornette Coleman composition, veteran jazz explorers Tim Berne on  alto saxophone, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums are longtime confederates, uniquely positioned to interpret the music of Coleman and other jazz masters. Originally released as part of an exclusive vinyl boxed set released a few years ago, the music has been re-mastered for the digital realm, sounding fresh and vibrant. Hearing the saxophones intertwine amid boiling bass and drums on fast paced Ornette Coleman material like "Street Woman" and "Toy Dance" is very exciting, as the musicians respect the original themes, but are willing to take chances and put their own stamp on things. Leaving the Coleman realm, the group distills the epic performance "Dogon A.D." by Berne's mentor Julius Hemphill into a seven minute concentrated powerhouse of control and release. Charlie Haden's "Song for Che" has a lovely solo bass interlude displaying Anderson's patient and resonant style. The horns offer a yearning, spacious saxophone feel, performing in conjunction and creating with each other in fine fashion, with heartfelt full band playing. "Walls Bridges" by Dewey Redman has an explosive opening, sounding collectively free, with the gutsy saxophones colliding with crashing drums, creating sounds that are vibrant and pure, performed with speed and focus. The band is on fire, with some of their most intense playing, tearing at the very air around them, goaded by the torrential bass and drums into an apocalyptic free jazz improvisation. This was an excellent album played by a great band that uses the their source material to create fresh performances that contrast light and shade, weaving through each other like the master craftsmen they are, to create a very colorful and arresting set. Broken Shadows - amazon.com

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Charles Mingus - Mingus At Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition (Rhino/Atlantic, 2021)

The great bassist and composer Charles Mingus was on his way back during his period, after he had suffered through a section of lows that were the opposite of his incredible highs of the mid 1950s - 1960's. This was a comeback period for Mingus, who had endured a series of health and financial setbacks during the previous decade. While health troubles kept him out of action for much of the late 60's but he made a strong comeback in the early 70's. As difficult as he may have been to work with, he never lost a core group of friends and fellow musicians who led him to a late period of blossoming music that continued until his early death. When this concert was recorded on January 19, 1974, there was actually much more music played than was presented on the resulting on the single Atlantic LP of the event. This newly expanded reissue adds a whole hour plus of unreleased music, with a tight small band featuring Mingus on bass, Don Pullen on piano, George Adams on tenor saxophone, Jon Faddis on trumpet, Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone and Dannie Richmond on drums. They focus on the original Mingus material including a lush "Peggy's Blue Skylight" and a raucous "Fables of Faubus" which has some torrid playing and soloing. The original album comes at the end, adding Charles MacPherson on alto saxophone, John Handy on alto and tenor saxophone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk on tenor saxophone and stritch. They stretch out in thrilling fashion on twenty minute plus versions of a couple of Duke Ellington compositions, "C-Jam Blues" and "Perdido" giving the soloists a chance to really state their cases at length and Mingus to sit back and drive. Rahsaan Roland Kirk in particular is awe inspiring, with a couple of epic tenor saxophone solos. This whole package was a blast to hear and a reminder of what a protean force Charles Mingus was in jazz and American music as a whole. The newly added material is of as high of a quality as the previously released music with the soloing and full band interplay sounding out of this world. Mingus At Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 27, 2021

Joel Frahm - The Bright Side (Anzic Records, 2021)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Joel Frahm is a stalwart of the New York modern mainstream jazz scene, playing and recording regularly as a leader and as a first call sideman. This album is the first from his new trio featuring Dan Loomis on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. The music is fresh and exciting as they hit the ground running on several up-tempo numbers. "X-Friends" may be the standout, with a complicated theme and trio improvisation leading to a burning saxophone solo that Frahm stretches out in impressive fashion. This leads to a powerful and well paced drum interlude framed by some discreet saxophone leading to a controlled landing of a very well executed performance. Drums set the scene on "Blow Poppa Joe" before the trio sets the full theme and Frahm digs in on tenor saxophone, building his solo architecturally to a powerful climax, engaging in collective improvisation to conclude the piece. "Quest-ce que c'est" begins as a mid-tempo blowing feature, but takes its time evolving into much more. The bass and drums are swinging and supportive of the leader's saxophone, and the trio develops a tight pocket where they can then explore the nature of the music available to them. Loomis gets a well deserved bass feature, before the trio regroups and makes a dash for the finish line. This was a very well played album of open minded jazz. The trio is fine tooled and plays amiably together, comfortable at any speed or tempo. Hopefully they will be working live soon and we will be hearing more from this group. The Bright Side - amazon.com

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Ches Smith and We All Break - Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Records, 2021)

This beautiful two disc, two booklet box set is clearly a labor of love for drummer and percussionist Ches Smith, who gathers together a very talented band consisting of Sirene Dantor Rene on vocals Miguel Zenón on alto saxophone, Matt Mitchell on piano, Nick Dunston on bass on Daniel Brevil on tanbou and vocals, Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene on tanbou and vocals and Markus Schwartz on tanbou and vocals. Together they delve deeply into the music of Haiti, whose rich music is colorful, deeply rhythmic and powerfully spiritual. The main disc, recorded in February of 2020 shows the band at their mature peak, incorporating vocals, chants and call and response sections that add flavor and excitement to the ever evolving drum and percussion rhythms complete with interjections of piano and saxophone. Included as a bonus disc, the 2015 recordings are much more drum / percussion and piano focused with Matt Mitchell coming up huge, playing the piano as if it were a gigantic percussion instrument, fitting in beautifully with the rest of the rhythmically centered music. Any curious listener who would like to hear how jazz intersects with music of another culture would be thrilled by this set, but it goes beyond sheer musicological value bringing about joyful sounds that anyone can enjoy. Path of Seven Colors - amazon.com

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Thumbscrew - Never Is Enough (Cuneiform Records, 2021)

Thumbscrew consists of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Michael Formanek on electric and acoustic bass. This album is made up of original compositions they recorded at the same time their album of Anthony Braxton compositions was recorded in Pittsburgh in 2019. The music is more organic and flexible than the the very complex Braxton material and allows them to continue the unique trajectory begun in 2014. The opener "Camp Easy" takes a more relaxed approach and manner for them, adding touch of melancholy to the proceedings, leading into "Sequel to Sadness" which has a march feel at times, getting heavy with very cool guitar effects and big chords. Fujiwara contributes an excellent drum solo, quite exciting as Formanek's bass joins in and the fun keeps going. "Never is Enough" features Halvorson playing mysterious guitar which echoes and ripples across light cymbals before a breakout into wild trio improvisation. Thick bass and skittish drums introduce "Through an Open Window," creating an intricate trio mesh, led by laser-like guitar effects developing a compelling collective performance. "Heartdrop" has gentle guitar chords and electronics and a beautiful bass solo with brushes and guitar framing, then an affable guitar lead. "Emojis Have Consequences" uses a choppier beat, with everybody in line for the theme and another fine bass solo with subtle playing all around. Mary Halvorson's guitar always does the unexpected keeps things interesting, and there is also an epic drum solo; with percussive sounds rolling everywhere. Urgent and nervous music tumbles over watery guitar as bass and drums stir up a tempest on "Fractured Sanity." With choppy chords then bass feature so classy and controlled, "Unsung Procession" uses delicate guitar playing, creating a quiet ballad, leaving space, using mallets, while the closer "Scam Likely" launches spare and abstract free shards of guitar around the disjointed drums. Thumbscrew is one of the best groups on the modern jazz scene today, each member is a band leader in their own right and has a unique approach to their instrument which clicks with each others. The compositions on this album are witty and memorable, and both the cooperative and solo playing is top notch. Never Is Enough - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 09, 2021

John Zorn - Heaven And Earth Magick (Tzadik Records, 2021)

John Zorn combines jazz and classical music on this album, writing music for an excellent band featuring Ches Smith on drums, Stephen Gosling on piano, Sae Hashimoto on vibraphone and Jorge Roeder on bass. The combination of notated sections and improvisation sets up the group for an energetic session beginning with the opening track, "Auto-da-Fe," which shows the group sounding wild, running free with great percussion and vibes playing vibrant and alive, as thick bass centers the music. Everything spaces out for a while, inaugurating a dynamic wax and wane. Vibes ring with long sustain, building space then the crashing loudness of a massive musical push enters including concluding drum solo. There is a stark loud vs. quiet dynamic on "Acephale," with bowed bass, short jabs from the other instruments, creating a sense of spare quiet, where piano and vibes evoke a calm, steady medium rhythm leading to pleasant full band interplay. The final movement of this performance unveils beautiful spacey bass playing, with vibes probing the scene, followed by a massive full band race to the finish line. "Asclemandres" is fast and intricate, with repetitive aspects, building to a frenzy. This band is amazing, playing this complex music without a hitch, flowing, slaloming and cascading at high speed through a challenging course. Turning briefly to open an piano and vibes centered area, the group pulls together again with a complex piano led push to the conclusion. Piano focused and free sounding but probably not, "Descent into the Maelstrom" uses vibes to shadow and comment, swathes of bowed bass sounding very cool, and a dynamic burst when you least expect it. Torrents of fast soaring music where the piano assumes control with percussive bursts. "Konx Om Pax" uses cautious piano tendrils with vibes framing, creating music of an abstract nature, but shocks the listener by ending in a full band blowout. Finally, "Casting the Runes" has a torrential / speed kills interaction with knotty full band play, creating a fantasia of piano and vibes, allowing the music to churn and rampage, incorporating a short drum and bass solo section, leading back to a chase like section for full band full out sprint, slowing down dramatically before the dramatic finale. This was a fascinating album, the combination of John Zorn's unique and original writing and the talent of the band to take this music into unexpected directions leads to a memorable combination. Heaven And Earth Magick - amazon.com

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Monday, June 07, 2021

Paul Bley - Touching and Blood Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Pianist and composer Paul Bley was reaching an early peak in his career when the album Touching was made for Charles Mingus's artist run record label Debut in 1965. Recording in Copenhagen, he is playing with his regular trio featuring Kent Carter on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. The opener, "Cartoon," has a jaunty and fun feeling with witty trio interaction, keeping the music at a medium tempo but in constant motion especially from the drums. The trio develops a very progressive sound leading to a bass solo and feathering drum feature. Tumbling and cascading speed is the feature of "Start" with complex interaction between the instruments. There is brilliant drum work on this track and it is fascinating to hear their improvisation develop in a holistic way. "Mazatlán" has an impish sound, sporting a great melody leading Bley to play surprisingly bright piano amid a bed of alluring bass and drums. Bley's own "Closer" has a spacious and mysterious vibe with droplets of notes as the music floats through the air seemingly unmoored in space and time. "Both" is much faster with slashing cymbals, frantic but never out of control. With rippling piano and surprisingly muscular drums and anchoring bass they develop a powerful performance. The trio keep their foot down on the closer "Pablo" with more heavy handed piano and percussion and thick bass offering a potent strum, showing that the group is really going for it. This is jazz improvisation of an extremely high order, incorporating a deft bass solo and an energetic drum feature leading to the conclusion. Added to this disc is near nineteen minute extended live improvisation "Blood" with Mark Levinson replacing Carter on bass, recorded one year later in The Netherlands. The group must have been a sight to see as they really strike out for the territory with deeply percussive and powerful piano and drums with stoic bass holding the keyboard and percussion to task. This is a truly excellent disc, and an early contender for one of the year's best historical reissues. Paul Bley's music is often a cipher to me, but this album was a revelation in terms of musicianship and improvisation, and was also another excellent ezz-thetics production with crisp remastering and thoughtful liner notes. Touching and Blood Revisited - Squidco

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