Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Henry Threadgill Zooid - Poof (Pi Recordings, 2021)

Composer, alto saxophonist and flute player Henry Threadgill leads his group Zooid on this recording with Liberty Ellman on guitar, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Jose Davila on tuba, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. These musicians are the perfect foils for Threadgill, interpreting his compositions with wit and panache, creating colorful and vivid sounds in the process. The opening track, "Come and Go," uses tuba and violin bouncing and scratching amid skittish drums and saxophone and pointistic guitar. The leader's saxophone becomes more biting and present, cutting through the other instruments, leading to tapping percussion, taut sawing cello and tuba underpinning everything, while the  low-key guitar and violin get time to shine. "Poof" features closely intertwined and arranged instruments, leading to yearning saxophone, wistfully played. Spare unaccompanied guitar fills, then Threadgill returns with heartbreaking saxophone solo that is huge sounding and deeply lonely. Long yearning peals of saxophone with tuba along side and dark turns of cello are the centerpiece of this track, Hoffman's cello playing is haunting in its melancholy, soon joined by dark toned saxophone in a rich and emotional performance. Davila is simply extraordinary throughout "Beneath the Bottom," juggling tuba and trombone with great skill and interfacing with Kavee's drums, using the available space to work out sounds, unaccompanied tuba/trombone, with barely perceptible drumming. The remainder of the band gradually fills in with Threadgill on flute, softly shading the edges. The tune swings to an alternate section, with the full band in a medium tempo setting, as cello and drums framing the trombone for further exploration. "Happenstance" uses unusual sounds, with Threadgill on flute met by acoustic guitar and other noises, becoming much more intricate, as long tones of cello and flute give the music a near classical sensibility. Tuba adds bottom end the the performance, filling out the sound, with gentle cymbal play added for texture. Drums play alone in space moving around the sound stage becoming more agitated as time moves forward, then everyone returns to the intricate conception that had been envisioned previously to conclude this performance. The concluding track, "Now and Then" creates fine tuba, guitar and drum interplay, subtle and well shaded, and the cello joins in engaging his fellow string instrument, developing deep intricate group improvisation with Threadgill laying out for the most part, before re-entering with strong toned alto saxophone that concludes the performance. The Zooid ensemble has been one of his longest running of Henry Threadgill's groups and they continue to inspire him in terms of composition and improvisation. His compositions are unique and the amount of trust that he places in his band members to bring them to life is reciprocated by their own talent and energy. Poof -

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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 -

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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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