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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