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 -

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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 outrĂ© 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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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