Monday, May 31, 2021

Anna Webber - Idiom (Pi-Recordings, 2021)

The very talented Anna Webber wears many hats on this on this album, displaying her skill as a multi-reed instrument player as well as composer and arranger. The music is split between two discs, first is a very exciting trio recording with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. Without a bass to ground them, the music soars in a distinctive and kinetic manner, with Webber moving between flute and saxophones, and her colleagues interpreting and improvising her music with aplomb. The second disc is a collection of music for a thirteen piece ensemble, where she has developed her compositions around unique unexpected  improvisational approaches for saxophone called extended techniques which were then applied to the larger group as a whole, and for certain instrumentalists in solo features. She is able to use the crucible where written and improvised music meet to produce large swathes and movements for the large ensemble to explore. The results are continuously interesting, enveloping sweeps of classical like sounds and dynamic shifts from near silence to soaring and majestic full band outpouring. The two discs in this collection clearly demonstrate that Anna Webber is at the forefront of modern, forward thinking music. While the methods she uses may sound a little obtuse, the results are anything but, resolving into clarity regardless of the complexity, and her techniques allow for a surprising amount of color and texture which create appealing sounds. Idiom -

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas Ewart / Mike Reed - Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (Astral Spirits Records, 2021)

An archival recording from 2015 that is getting a well overdue release is this meeting between Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Douglas Ewart on saxophones and flute and Mike Reed on drums and percussion. The music is gallant and pure throughout, opening with "Constellations and Conjunctional Spaces," which is a lengthy piece that moves from austere quiet to quite exciting improvisational fervor during the course of its near sixteen minute length. Smith dominates the early portion, patiently creating from scratch in an almost painterly fashion, an oblique yet compelling section that is representative of his mastery of the instrument and the idiom. There is an excellent burst of sopranino saxophone from Ewart that sends the track into a completely different direction, where the pace is quickened to that of nearly a whirling dervish, the juxtaposition between the two sections is most impressive. Ewart proves his status as an all-around player on "Sun Beans of Shimmering Light" by moving to flute, which provides another layer of color and texture to the music, much like Sam Rivers did when he switched instruments on the fly. It fits in well, soloing and shading the music being presented by Smith and Reed. "Super Moon Rising" shows the drummer and trumpeter developing an excellent duet section, moving dynamically and allowing a sense of freedom to permeate all that they do. Ewart joins them about halfway through the performance, to build a complete collective improvisation and sharing of ideas that sees them through until the end. Finally, on "Unknown Forces," Smith builds a patient and beautiful unaccompanied solo to begin this track, soon joined by the droning and keening playing of Ewart, and Reed's spacious, thoughtful percussion that gives the music the appearance of a personal and private ritual or procession. The musicians play very well together on this album, creating music that is deep yet accessible, as their insatiable curiosity leads them through four performances that are striking and full of energy. Sun Beans of Shimmering Light - Bandcamp

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Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Black Keys - Delta Kream (Nonesuch Records, 2021)

I was worried for a while during the end of the previous decade that one of my favorite rock 'n' roll bands, The Black Keys, may have run their course. But the fine comeback album Let's Rock got them pointed in the right direction again, and they recorded this follow up album in a couple of easy sessions at the end of their last tour. The Black Keys remain Dan Auerbach on electric guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney on drums with assistance on this project from Eric Deaton on electric bass, Kenny Brown on electric guitar, Sam Bacco on percussion and Ray Jacildo on organ. Mississippi Hill Country blues has been a big influence on the group from the beginning, going so far as recording the Junior Kimbrough EP Chulahoma in 2006. They stay in Mississippi for most of this covers album, but begin with a track from the Clarksdale native John Lee Hooker, his classic "Crawling Kingsnake." Playing against type, they stay away from their patented garage rock charge, instead reaching out into easy loping groove based around a steady Hooker like beat, with Auerbach interpreting the lyrics and stretching his vocals without reaching. Another Hill Country lifer, R.L. Burnside, wrote "Poor Boy a Long Way from Home" which is a perfect vehicle for the band to follow, setting up a rolling beat and adding sparks of guitar and declarative vocals. The group has studied the blues enough to internalize their forms and mannerisms, all while maintaining their individuality. The deep droning blues like the Burnside vehicle "Goin' Down South" approaches the desired trance like simplicity, with organ supplying extra sauce. "Coal Black Mattie" moves into the hypnotic level of focused percussion and guitar that is indicative of the Hill Country style. Auerbach digs deep and delivers a very emotional vocal appropriate to Kimbrough's "Sad Days and Lonely Nights." This is the deepest of blues and they play it well, with no pretense or affectation. There are not a lot of bands that could pull of a blues cover album, although many may try. The Rolling Stones made a very good nod to their Chicago blues idols in 2016 with Blue and Lonesome, and The Black Keys have made an equally good hat tip to their Mississippi blues forefathers. Delta Kream -

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

Jamie Branch - Fly or Die Live (International Anthem Records, 2021)

Trumpeter and vocalist Jamie Branch is as brash and focused as ever on this live album recorded in Switzerland in January of 2020, willing to speak truth to power about corrupt politicians and social vampires alike in song while playing blazing lines of brass. The music stretches out ambitiously, as she engages with her colleagues, Lester St. Louis on cello, vocals and tiny cymbal, Jason Ajemian on bass, vocals and egg shakers and Chad Taylor on drums, vocals and mbira. The epic "Prayer for Amerikkka pt. 1 & 2" is Mingus-like in its scope, using spoken word and singing, lights out trumpet soloing and graceful collective improvisation to paint a picture in words and music of the state of the United States, a snapshot of a divided and fractured nation just before the pandemic laid everything to waste. The band is very tight, after a long time touring and recording together, they can follow any lead, shift gears at the slightest signal. Because of her outspoken nature, people may forget the protean power of Branch's trumpet playing, but you can't miss it here, as the band moves from way out free improvisation to in the pocket groove. She gets the band and even the reluctant crowd to sing along with the finale, "Love Song" punctuated by some powerful trumpet and spoken asides, that even leaves some audience members singing the refrain as they exit the concert. Branch is a self-assertive and take no prisoners kind of musician, she reminds me of another International Anthem labelmate, Angel Bat Dawid, whose singular refusal to back down in the face of roadblocks has hade her into a similarly singular musician. Jamie Branch and her band lay it all on the line on this concert and it is a brave and powerful performance, trusting in themselves and the nature of their music to carry them through. Fly or Die Live - Bandcamp

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Don Cherry's New Researches featuring Naná Vasconcelos - Organic Music Theatre: Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972 (Blank Forms Editions, 2021)

After leaving Ornette Coleman's genre shattering quartet and making a few free jazz records of his own for Blue Note, Don Cherry began to travel widely around the world, feeding his insatiable curiosity about life, culture, and music. By the time he had reached this stage in 1972, the familiar pocket trumpet had been put away, instead he was playing piano, harmonium, tanpura and singing in the company of Naná Vasconcelos on berimbau, percussion, Christer Bothén on donso ngoni, piano and light percussion, Doudou Gouirand on soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, light percussion and Moki Cherry on tanpura and vocals. Cherry's music is pleasant, honest, community based and inclusive. It is miles away from the nervy music he made  a decade ago, this is much more melody and vocal focused while maintaining the same sense of freedom. The music will often reach a consistent drone, setting a base line that seems appropriate for spiritual seekers of the era. The track "Ganesh" goes way out with Cherry scatting guitar lines and talking about the blues, before bringing it back with chants to Krishna and peace. The music is very interesting, using exotic instruments, chanting and bells, ecstatic vocals to propel "Relativity Suite" as the gradually vocals resolve into English. "Berimbau Solo" takes the one stringed instrument with vocalized accompaniment, going on for lengthy interlude which is unusual considering the the heavy group focus of this album. The response of "interlude" returns to their equilibrium with loud crowd noises, then drone, a human drone building a long moaning chant, haunting but yet people are giggling, perhaps the crowd or on stage. "Elixir Reprise/Ganesh" builds in some dynamic piano which slows to welcome hand percussion and wordless vocals, again adding more Indian spiritual lore amid bright piano and saxophone. Free associative lyrics come back to the fore, with children on stage and sense of general chaos. They conclude with a respectful version of the Abdulla Ibrahim/Dollar Brand song "Ntsikana's Bell" to conclude, reverent vocals and piano, ending with an upbeat and hopeful finish. Cherry is a congenial host to a kind of music that welcomes many styles and cultures and makes them at home. The communal aspect of this performance adds charm and showed how far Don Cherry had come in his conception of music and life in general. Organic Music Theatre: Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972 - Bandcamp (6/18/21)

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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