Saturday, May 15, 2021

James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms Records, 2021)

James Brandon Lewis is an excellent up and coming tenor saxophone player and composer who has put together an all-star band for this album, called the Red Lily Quartet, featuring Kirk Knuffke on cornet, William Parker on bass and gimbri, Chris Hoffman on cello and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira. The early track "Lowlands of Sorrow" has a deep and powerful rhythmic underpinning, with powerful unison horn playing breaking diverging into their own individual paths. Strong stretching cornet sounds great over cymbal led percussion and deeply hewn bass playing. Lewis has the deep and stoic tenor sound of a master and he uses it wisely, developing a solo of grace and passion, leading back to a scouring collective improvisation with the full band following his lead. "Arachis" begins with a slow, nearly mournful manner anchored with beautiful bowed cello or bass, before the pace and volume of the piece gradually increases from the drums outward. An epic improvisation develops, based around tenor saxophone and drums that is thrilling to hear with both musicians really going for it and Lewis reaching deeply into the upper registers of his horn. Knuffke comes in half way to spell him, keeping the energy level way up, along side powerful bass and drums the four musicians are in a tight pocket. There is a fine spell for bass and drums alone with fascinating cymbal playing, then everyone comes together for their well deserved final bow. "Experiment Station" begins gradually with fine bowed bass or cello and cornet, building into an interesting theme which allows Lewis plenty of room to go out and stretch out, constructing a architecturally sound tenor saxophone solo with solid drum encouragement - Lewis and Taylor recorded a wonderful duet album recently, and you can tell that they have a special connection. Knuffke's cornet briefly frames the action before cutting in with some fine moves of his own, taking the elaborate dance of jazz in a uniquely personal direction. Taylor and Parker are left to build some wonderful duet improvisations all their own, deftly switching back to the melody for the conclusion. The final track "Chemurgy" has a hint of classic Ornette Coleman, it has that spirit, a short memorable theme moving into questing freedom, saxophone and cornet twisting and turning. The elastic bass and drums with the cello adding some extra heft and texture, gradually unfolding revealing its mysteries slowly over time. It is the perfect way to end this excellent recording. This is a very good band, and fingers crossed that they will be able to take this fascinating music to the stage soon. Jesup Wagon - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Gary Bartz NTU Troop - Live In Bremen 1975 (Moosicus Records, 2021)

NTU Troop was one of alto saxophonist Gary Bartz prime groups of the early and mid 1970's, which he founded after playing in Miles Davis's early electric bands. The music here is melding soul and fusion with a strong jazz foundation, and Bartz also sings quite a bit throughout this concert, where he is accompanied by Curtis Robertson on bass and vocals, Charles Mims on piano and Howard King on drums. They have developed a unique sound at this point that sounds bigger than a quartet at times. There is a wide vein of Afrocentrism running through the music, beginning with the thirty minute long medley "Nation Time / Ju Ju Man" which allows the group to really stretch out on a groove and really allow it to wax and wane, allowing Bartz to sing or play lengthy gales of saxophone. The heart of "Rise / Celestial Blues / The Sounding Song / Incident / Uhura Sasa" is a harrowing description of racial discrimination that Bartz endured, anchoring a medley that shifts through themes in rapid succession. The group mines a deep gospel jazz groove on "I've Known Rivers" with appropriately declamatory vocals and some fine soloing from the leader. Bartz has a bright and nimble alto saxophone sound which weaves around the group in an inclusive fashion, with everyone locked in on a well established groove. He solos with the keyboards and the band framing him, performing in a affable manner, spooling out a lengthy feature that works very well as the band keeps a strong beat moving around him. "Sweet Tooth" is another nearly half hour long performance that nods to blues and rhythm and blues territory, and includes an explosive drum solo from Howard King. The final medley "Peace And Love / Sifa Zote" and encore "For The Love Of You" bring the music back down from the realm of ecstatic or spiritual jazz gradually moving into mid tempo and ballad performances for the conclusion. This is a generous two hour concert that was recorded Radio Bremen and this issue has excellent sound. Bartz and the band are locked in from the beginning leading to a fine release that never drags. Live in Bremen 1975 - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Mary Halvorson Quartet - John Zorn's Bagatelles Vol. 1 (Tzadik Records, 2021)

For the first part of John Zorn’s ambitious Bagatelles project, Mary Halvorson put together an extraordinary quartet featuring herself and Miles Okazaki on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Tomas Fujiwara drums. The Bagatelles series evolved over five years leading to four groups going into the studio to play selections from 300 new selections that John Zorn composed and eventually collected into a book of music he called The Bagatelles. Hearing Mary Halvorson play in the company of another progressive guitarist like Miles Okazaki is a very exciting prospect, as they play some some wonderful daredevil improvisations, interacting with one other at a variety of tempos and gradations, with a wonderful rhythm section that can dynamically push and pull the sense and space and time that governs the music. Zorn’s compositions have the openness and flexibility which allow the musicians to interpret them in their own manner, creating exciting and innovative improvisations that invoke the spirit of freedom that makes it so special. Their version of jazz melds the electric to the acoustic in such a fashion that allows for pithy and well thought out performances where the elasticity of the bass and drums meld with the guitars which knead their electricity to generate very expressive collective improvisations. The band is playing seamlessly together and has a sound that is unique and well defined, one that can move from quiet spare rhythms to all out free jazz improvisations that evolve from the source material. With John Zorn as the fifth member providing the compositions to this determined band, their possibilities seem unlimited. John Zorn's Bagatelles - Tzadik Records

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Monday, May 03, 2021

Al Di Meola / John McLaughlin / Paco De Lucia ‎– Friday Night In San Francisco (Columbia Records, 1981; CD re-issue, 1997)

With jazz fusion on the wane in the United States in 1981, and fans turning to the neo-bop sounds of young acoustic jazz musicians like Wynton Marsalis, three guitarists hatched a bold plan. Ditch the amplification, and develop intricate but still crowd pleasing music for two or three acoustic guitars. John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia and Al DiMiola took this on the road for a well received two month tour, including a stop at the Warfield Auditorium in San Francisico which makes up most of this disc. The music consists of three dueling guitarists, mashing up flamenco, jazz and more, to a crowd that is eating it up and begging for more. According to the liner notes, this album sold in excess of two million copies, so it must have broken out of the Jazz and ethnic music ghettos quite quickly. All three players made their bones elsewhere, notably McLaughlin with Miles Davis and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and DiMiola with Return to Forever and some glossy solo projects. DeLucia took the more traditional route and he really scores when the music drifts into flamenco territory. Even though this is a recording if totally acoustic duos and trios, you can’t prevent the machismo and competitiveness from creeping in, and there are sections where they are playing at impossibly high tempos, slamming the strings loudly and gesturing to the crowd for responses that are missed in the audio medium. It is the slower and more melodic passages that have the biggest impact, with the guitars supporting and interacting with one another rather than straining to make some form of acoustic fusion the results are much more successful. The remastering on the Legacy compact disc sounds excellent with a wide soundstage encompassing the three musicians, and the liner notes include a new essay from Bill Milkowski and some photographs from the concert. Friday Night In San Francisco - amazon.com

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