Friday, September 30, 2022

William Parker - Universal Tonality (Centering Records / AUM Fidelity, 2022)

This release was twenty years in the making, but well worth the wait. Recorded in December of 2002 in New York City, this modern big band recording featured some of the best talent on the progressive jazz scene. Parker's unique poems and lyrics anchor these six lengthy pieces, sung and spoken with great aplomb by vocalist Leena Conquest. "Tails Of A Peacock" has a rhythm section opening with extra percussion and blustery trumpet, gutsy playing, as clarinet bubbles underneath. The music fills out with instruments, sounding riotously strong and passionate, leading to excellent full band interplay. Conquest adds vocals, both soulful and precise. Spoken word poetry begins "Cloud Texture (death has died today)" backed by piano and bass, turns to graceful singing as louder instruments gradually enter. Abstract bows, and more poetry, dramatic storytelling, recounting jazz history. Piano and horns slowly fold in and the pace slowly begins to increase. Extra percussion adds another layer to the dense large ensemble playing, singing and speaking alternately backed by was violin and drums. Gentle acoustic instruments in a calm period demonstrate the dynamism of this piece. Conquest returns, with light yearning singing and spoken word, evoking the jazz musicians of the past. "Leaves Gathering (headed back to tree)" Develops spoken word themes of spirituality and the nature of sound, as horns frame and then take over, creating swirling, kaleidoscopic sounds, building to complex multi-layered improvisation, adding some electronics into the mix as well as excellent brass and reeds, drums and percussion. Really fine interplay between the musicians, trumpet and saxophone, rhythm section all playing as one. Wordless vocalizing over unusual string accompaniment leads to the close. Unique sounding horn and cymbal give an exotic tinge to "Silver Sunshine" as Conquest enters clearly singing amid the  brisk instrumental playing, the music swaying and swinging, a  full band section flowing naturally as the improvisation develops, leading to "All Entrances (it is for you the sun rises)" where cymbals and guitar develop a complex improvisation, adding swooping strings, nimble guitar, many data points, instrumentally and vocally. The final track is the lengthy "Open System One" leading off with bass and vocals, light saxophone floating by the urgent speak singing, bowed instruments and thick bass lead the ecstatic music playing, and joyous singing. Brisk deep brass and bass support reed solos, and great swaths of collective improvisation are very exciting to hear, with cells of piano and guitar placed among the towering brass and reeds. Wordless vocals float across a stream of light musical accompaniment, then spoken word, finally leading to the end of this momentous performance.  Parker hardly solos, but he is the rock upon which this performance was built. This is an excellent and commendable album from the always reliable William Parker and it is highly recommended. Universal Tonality -

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Club d'Elf - You Never Know (Face Pelt Records, 2022)

Club d'Elf has come a long way since I first heard them on 2006's Now I Understand album, evolving to an ever changing collective that plays a jazzy world groove music that is quite alluring. The influence of Live/Dead era Grateful Dead and early fusion Miles Davis is palpable, adding strong doses of Middle Eastern and South Asian music as well. This unpredictable band is capable of anything, including the wonderful middle eastern track "Zeed Al Maal" shot through with impassioned vocals, then giving way to a brilliant cover of Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way" that moves from spacey ambience to scorching guitar soloing. Some hot Miles like trumpet and wah tinged guitar takes the influence of his great 70's work and launches it into the present on "Dark Fish," which also features a fast paced synth keyboard interlude keeping the music boiling. Exotic Indian sounds are present on "Dervish Dance" with vocals perhaps sampled, along with deft string playing. "Lalla Aisha in Jhaptal" gets pretty funky, like a seventies action film or TV  soundtrack with fast scatted vocals and scratched vinyl, then a taut pedal drenched guitar solo snakes its way through, while "Allah Ya Moulana" has jaunty singing with non English vocals, light and mobile music, and a nice surf guitar like solo, sounding like Hawaiian or slide guitar with electric piano framing. Hand claps and electric bass on the finale "King Kong" usher in a long and complex track that evolves over time through scratches, keyboards and vocals. It results in a bubbling and simmering funky jam, with a hand percussion solo that keeps the rhythm fresh, and a B3 organ and electric bass interlude that injects old school funky jazz, before everyone comes together for a great jam to take the album out. You Never Know -

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Lionel Hampton Orchestra 1958 - The Mess Is Here, Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Ezz-Thetics Records makes an interesting shift on this album from their usual free jazz offerings to vibraphonist, pianist and drummer Lionel Hampton's big band on tour in jazz hungry Europe, performing in Stuttgart, during January 1958. The band doesn't have any of Hampton's more famous past members, but the performers here are very solid indeed, backed up by some German musicians sitting in with the band. Hampton is not resting on his swing era laurels and the set list reflects this, still showcasing his big hit "Flying Home" which is given an extended reading, but without a saxophonist the likes of Illinois Jacquet in the band, Hampton takes matters into his own hands with a driving vibraphone solo that swings hard and pushes the rest of the band into driving accompaniment. Hampton was up to date with the current musical trends, taking the band through some fast bebop flag wavers, Charlie Parker's "Conformation" and Denzil Best's "Move," which are played with some sparkling solos from alto saxophone and piano as well as strong riffing from the remainder of the band. There is an appropriately moody rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" with a lengthy feature for pianist Oscar Dennard, who plays with a deft touch. But the Hampton band at heart was an entertaining unit and this is shown in the big finale, starting with Jimmy Witherspoon's "New Orleans Woman" with some excellent blues singing from vocalist Cornelius "Pinocchio" James leading the group into their closer, "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" where both Dennard and Hampton solo in piano along with strong support from the large ensemble carrying them to a swinging finish. This album worked well, the sound remastering is well done, and there are interesting liner notes putting the music into historical context. The Mess Is Here, Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Miles Davis - The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: That’s What Happened 1982-1985 (Legacy Recordings, 2022)

The return to duty by the great trumpeter Miles Davis was met with joy by most, consternation by some and anguish by a few. Where the crisply suited young lions were making their mark by returning mainstream jazz to the music that Davis had pioneered in the mid 1960's, his view remained resolutely forward thinking, continuing the fusion he developed before retirement, but with a new generation of sidemen and new technology to experiment with. This is the first time the Bootleg series he moved into the post retirement material (Davis was off the scene from late 1975 - early 1981) and the set consists of two discs of previously unreleased studio recordings from the the studio albums Star People, Decoy and You’re Under Arrest sessions, and a third disc Live in Montreal on July 7, 1983. Most of disc one comes from Star People, where Miles co-produces with Teo Macero who assisted him on many classic albums in the past. You get a sense of what Davis was looking for on the opening "Santana" with shiny synths framing bubbling electric bass and percussion, and some electric guitar creating a funky and infectious performance. "Minor Ninths Parts 1/2" go in the opposite direction, with spare electronics floating around some beautifully tasteful ballad trumpet. There is a gentle groove on "Celestial Blues 1-3" with choppy guitar and percussion setting the stage for Davis to wander freely and expound at will. "Remake of OBX Ballad and Ballad Sessions" demonstrates that Miles still has that tone that sounds like nothing else, framed by synth and spare percussion, while the sessions show them experimenting with further synth parts and interludes. Coming from the Decoy album sessions "Freaky Deaky 1/2" creates a deep earthy groove that leaves a lot of room for electric bass and guitar interplay. John Scofield is on guitar and he makes some really nice moves on this track. Davis's treatment of pop songs was a hallmark of his final period, perhaps none more so than the Cindi Lauper ballad "Time After Time," here presented as an alternate take and full session. The trumpeter plays with exquisite beauty and taste, making as much with modern pop as he did with standards and show tunes in his early career. Another pop song, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” is also included, with Davis adding tasteful trumpet asides to the theme, and carrying the song with a light touch, backed by electric piano and bass. The live album is an impressive one, Davis sounds vibrant, playing over a rich funky stew on the opening track, "Speak (That’s What Happened)." Darryl Jones on bass, Al Foster on drums and percussionist Mino Cinélu keep the pot boiling and Davis also has Scofield on guitar and Bill Evans on saxophones for this performance. Scofield solos at length and with some ferocity on "Star People" getting a potent feature. "What It Is" is a quick and flashy interlude for saxophone and electronics, Davis is always generous with his sidemen, but usually has the last word. Achingly emotional trumpet anchors "It Gets Better," while "Hopscotch" is a blistering up-tempo performance for the whole band. Moving dynamically from dark to light keeps the music in motion and the crowd excited. Davis leads the theme on "Jeanne Pierre" and takes the group into a lengthy performance where everyone shines. "Creepin' In" is the finale, a spacey and interesting track that spools out on synth and keyboard, breaking through with bursts of trumpet, guitar and flute. Overall this is a well done and presented set, one that shines a light on one of Davis's more unappreciated periods and shows the inner working of how the early comeback albums were made, and a live date that demonstrates their summation. The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: That’s What Happened 1982-1985 -

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, Brian Blade - LongGone (Nonesuch Records, 2022)

The original Joshua Redman Quartet dates back to the early 1990's, the young lions period where jazz seemed awash in mainstream talent, and the mainstream labels were snatching them up left and right. This album marks their most recent reunion, with Redman in tenor and soprano saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The album begins with the title track "Long Gone," a mellow and genteel mid-tempo lope, gradually gathering pace, leading to a piano, bass and drums feature. Redman's saxophone returns with a clean tone engaging in a confident solo then lowering the pace for the outro. "Disco Ears" has a lighter tone, with the leader moving to soprano saxophone, presenting a quick theme and then a solo that is quite nimble and fluid, flowing between the other instruments, creating an impressive lengthy feature. The group creates a ballad beginning with piano and soft tenor saxophone on "Statuesque," with bowed bass framing and joining with the other instruments and soft percussion completing the scene. The music is very melodic but it gradually evolves into a slow moving improvised setting. "Kite Song" has a light saxophone tone in space, unaccompanied, then the band falling in beside him for a medium tempo theme. A rhythm section feature leads back to stronger more emphatic saxophone playing and drumming, driving the music forward with some force. Mehldau works to establish a medium tempo groove on "Ship to Shore," with the rhythm team as a whole working hard to bring some life to the music, especially McBride's stout bass solo, with crisp and clear piano and drums adding ideas. Redman comes in the end, showing some spark in the full band improvisation. The concluding piece, "Rejoice" is a lengthy live performance, one that really delivers the goods. Redman's tenor saxophone tone sounds much more direct and clear, and the band responds in kind. Bowed bass flows around the other sounds, while Blade builds complex rhythms, and the full band improvisation is substantial. This track is so good that it nearly does a disservice to the studio recordings, by overshadowing them. Perhaps they ran short of material. Nevertheless it demonstrates what is special about this group of musicians, and why they keep returning to each other as the calendar pages turn. LongGone -

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Friday, September 09, 2022

Hank Mobley - A Slice of the Top (rec. 1966, LP 1979, CD 1995)

Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was incarcerated for narcotics offenses hen he composed five of the six pieces on this album, passing them through his lawyer to Duke Pearson who wrote the arrangements for a nonet comprised of Kiane Zawadi on euphonium, Howard Johnson on tuba, James Spaulding on alto saxophone and flute, Lee Morgan on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. "Hank's Other Bag" is a swinging opener, one that works well, with the expanded front line making room for some expanded soloing and ensemble work that develops a nice up-tempo pace. Strong riffing from the supporting horns add heft to the solos and the heavy hitting rhythm section really pushes the track along. There is a stark sense of ennui pervading the next track, "There's A Lull In My Life," deeply sad for a Mobley ballad, which are usually in the 'tough love' category. Duke Pearson's arrangement really brings out the late night heartbroken loneliness in the composition and the musicians create a tone that matches his direction. "Cute 'n' Pretty" sees additional texture being added to the arrangement in the form of Spaulding's flute and the tuba of Howard Johnson. There is a stout trumpet solo with slashing rhythm accompaniment, which are first rate, trying to push Mobley back up to speed. Spaulding and Tyner solo in nimble ways, before the whole band returns to the theme to round things out. Brass pushes "A Touch of Blue" out onto the stage, strutting forth confidently, making room for a fine swinging tenor saxophone solo aided by some excellent drumming, and framing from the ensemble. A punchy trumpet feature really kicks in engaging with the other horns in an extended conversation, then turning attention to Sapulding's alto saxophone, where he develops a fleet an interesting solo of his own. It's a shame he wasn't signed to Blue Note in this period, but which changing tastes and then impending sale of the label to Liberty, he fell through the cracks. The mid tempo track "A Slice Off The Top" ends the album, with some lush arranging from Pearson, weaving through an interesting theme, letting the leader take the first solo, weaving through the horn arrangement and swirling rhythm section with aplomb. Strong sounding trumpet cuts across the thundering drums and additional help, laying out a very impressive offering, with Spaulding then lighting up a beautifully tart and sweet sounding alto spot that is his most impressive solo on the record. The rhythm team gets a turn to shine with Tyner sounding comfortable and rippling waves of piano across deep bass and complex cymbal work. Apparently Mobley wasn't too happy about the record label sitting on this album for a decade, as he was still playing well as the end of the decade approached. This album proved him right, it's unique in his discography with the little big band format, filled with top notch talent creating fine solos and ensemble play amid concise compositions and arrangements. A Slice of The Top -

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Saturday, September 03, 2022

Steve Lehman's Sélébéyone - Xaybu: The Unseen (Pi Recordings, 2022)

Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman has always been daring in his approach to music, using this second album from this group to merge hip-hop, modern jazz and live electronic music, to develop an unique musical soundscape. Joining Lehman on this project are Gaston Bandimic and HPrizm, rapping in Wolof and English respectively. Also present are Maciek Lasserre on soprano saxophone and Damion Reid on drums. The disparate elements of sound are very well integrated and the album flows organically like a continuous piece of music, cascading downhill with words and music tumbling together in an exciting manner. Highlights include "Djibril" where Wolof is spoken spare backdrop, before piercing alto saxophone enters with insistent drumming, and hip hop vocals and a powerful beat pushes the music forward, moving back to English commentary, with Lehman's saxophone moving adroitly around the vocals and other instruments. This is followed directly by "Lamina" where interesting textures are created through electronic sounds and saxophone, with the ensuing complex narrative in the rapped lyrics sounding very interesting, framed by saxophone and electronics. Complex scatting and percussion takes the music in a different direction, returning to saxophone improvising over electronics and beats. "Liminal" offers spare electronics to open, soon filled with fast declarative speaking, as the music grows from the vocalist's strength, Lehman entering on alto and providing typically unique approach. Spoken English, with positive vibe, concludes the track with saxophone and percussion supporting. Spoken conversation, electronics, moves into mid tempo loping hip hip vocals on "Gagaku" enlivened with drums and saxophone. The vocals lay out for complex jazz adjacent improvisation, before the wordsmiths return, mixing fast and slow, conversational and scatted vocals. "Zeraora" has a heavy city urban feeling strong beats, and well articulated rhymes. There is frantic French rapping in response, with broken beats and flurries of saxophone stretching out over complex fast drumming. This was quite an undertaking and it is clear that all of the musicians were engaged in the collective spirit of adventure, working together regardless of language or distance. I wish there was more saxophone, because I love Lehman's sound, but that is a small quibble in an otherwise fascinating album. Xaybu: The Unseen -

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Chris Forsyth - Evolution Here We Come (No Quarter Records, 2022)

Guitarist Chris Forsyth has forged an exciting if too often overlooked career playing at the nexus of progressive rock, jazz fusion and psychedelic music. On this album he is joined by Tom Malach on guitar, Douglas McCombs on bass guitar and Ryan Jewell on drums, percussion and vibes. They create an album that is mostly instrumental with a few vocal tracks, and the music covers a wide range of ideas in a productive and successful manner. “Experimental and Professional” opens the album with swirls of guitars weaving in and out, with exciting upt-empo electric guitar coming alive and driving the music forward with slash and burn guitar techniques that are very exciting. More open hearted and poppy sounding, “Heaven For A Few” uses big optimistic sounding chords, suitable for a TV movie about the scruffy underdog overcoming long odds. This track sounds very produced, but not annoyingly so. “Bad Moon Risen” erupts with crisp percussion and grinding guitar, sounding much more raw than the previous track, setting a serrated edge to the guitar playing, setting up a bit of Crazy Horse looseness and grind, building riffs from the bottom up to a wild improvised ending with everyone playing all out. The Richard Thompson song “You’re Going To Need Somebody“ is given a hearty performance with vocals, and it sounds like the band is having a blast playing good ol rock 'n' roll, sending a nod from one killer guitar player to another, as the vocals and backup provide swelling choruses, along side a strong steady beat. “Hey Evolution” has some more introspective vocals, cast in a neon light of evening, buoyed by sparks of epic guitar, creating room for some soaring guitar playing taking over. The music quiets a bit on the beginning on “Long Beach Idyll” quietly building mid-tempo, patient guitars which then begin sparking off one another then reaching for the sky. Big strong slabs of music are moved, and then dynamically downshifted toward more melodic cells, adding phased shifting at the end. The final track is the lengthy and exciting jam “Robot Energy Machine” where the two guitars and bass form upbeat bright sounding themes, which kicks in into higher gears nicely with some excellent tandem guitar playing, gradually adding variations to the theme. The track develops into a multi layered performance that is complex, yet creative and alluring. Evolution Here We Come -

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Sunday, August 21, 2022

Miles Davis Quintet - Live Europe 1960 Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Trumpeter Miles Davis’s great quintet was on the verge of wholesale change as the decade turned. His saxophonist John Coltrane had blossomed into a player of immense power and wisdom after overcoming the scourge of drugs and alcohol, and having the intricacies of composition and improvisation unlocked during a brief tenure with Thelonious Monk. Rounding out the group found here is the classy swinging rhythm section that played on the Kind of Blue record from the previous year: Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The first three tracks on this album come from the afternoon and evening concerts in Paris on May 21, beginning with the leader’s own composition “So What” along with the standards “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Walkin’.” Miles plays with the exquisite taste that was his hallmark. He did not allow his bands to rehearse, instead wanting them to be fresh on the bandstand, taking risks and allowing the material to be reexamined every night. Many of the tunes are taken at length, 12-15 minutes, and John Coltrane is the centerpiece, looking at the source material from every conceivable angle which it might be improvised upon and then building layer upon layer of relentless music. The scene then shifts to two selections from Stockholm on March 22, “All Blues” and a second version of “So What.” Showing great stamina, Coltrane again spools out solos of great complexity and length, he's not out of control however, although he may be way out there on performances like "All Blues,” trying out every conceivable method of playing. He's like a scientist, experimenting and then refining the results and casting aside what doesn't belong. Although the audiences, particularly at the Paris concert are flummoxed by this approach, Coltrane’s quest was all consuming and genuine and this attitude would continue for the remainder of his all too brief life. This is not to short the other members of the band: Kelly's hearty and earthly piano playing works to keep the band grounded and Chambers and Cobb are wonderfully locked in. Davis is a maestro, allowing his men to play as they wish, but he is always there for a pithy statement of the melody or solo that is by turns nakedly open or punchy and taught. This is a fascinating release, showing two two of the most important figures in jazz history performing for the last time before departing for vastly different paths. Live Europe 1960 Revisited - ezz-thetics records bandcamp

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Stephen Gauci​/​Joe Hertenstein​/​Alexander von Schlippenbach​/​Jan Roder - Souldlift Berlin-New York (GauciMusic, 2022)

Tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci traveled hours by plane and then more by train to meet up with this multi national, multi generational band. The legendary pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach plays piano along with Jan Roder on bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums, and the band creates three exciting lengthy improvised performances. "Soundlift 1" opens with spare piano and bass, then adding patient saxophone and percussion, and the music is starting to gain pace and friction, as the it heads to freer pastures. The collective improvisation tumbles and spins impressively with ripe saxophone expounding along side crisp rhythm work and colorful piano playing, with the saxophone dropping out briefly in favor of deft bass playing then returning with a darkened squalling attack taking the music in a new direction. Deft bass playing, patient piano, with the drums appearing, followed by the saxophone and the group plays together gracefully, with Gauchi adding some overblown saxophone accents to spice things up. "Soundlift 2" has a quiet careful piano introduction amid saxophone squeaks entering, with drumming patter and bowed bass adding further texture to a developing situation, with raw peals of saxophone crossing the horizon. Rough hewn saxophone builds over roiling piano, bass and drums creating an exciting performance, the music undulates through periods of near silence, then stark saxophone and percussion duet. There is a supple piano, bass and drums area, then the saxophone returns, developing a feverish collective improvisation with the quartet burning hot, gradually rolling back the intensity as the performance closes. A tightly wound band improvisation develops on "Soundlift 3" sounding nervous and flighty, rapid drumming and flurries of saxophone lead the way with flourishes of piano notes are heard. The saxophone reaches low doing heavy lifting, arcing upward with bursts of sound, consistent drumming and bass playing allow the saxophone and piano to range at will, creating vital music in the process. The music develops into a brawling collective free jazz improvisation with everyone playing their heart out in a thrilling fashion for a brief spell. Dynamic music, ebbing and flowing periods of quiet to sections of guided chaos, the music takes on a very free section with unmoored drumming and saxophone skidding across the deck, the music is constantly evolving and in a consistent state of motion which leads to a very impressive and truly collaborative album. Soundlift Berlin New York - GauciMusic Bandcamp

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Monday, August 15, 2022

Sam Rivers Trio - Caldera (NoBusiness Records, 2022)

The great multi-instrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers led a steady orchestra and trio out of Orlando for the last several decades of his life. He was amazingly prolific, recording in settings from solo to big band and touring the world. This concert comes from New Orleans in 2002 with the trio, Rivers on tenor and soprano saxophone, flute and piano, Doug Matthews on electric and acoustic basses and bass clarinet and Anthony Cole on drums, tenor saxophone and piano. It's their ability to each play multiple instruments that keeps the music continually fresh and forward looking. The music is all of one piece, encompassing both collectively improvised sections and composed sections, including Rivers's most famous song "Beatrice," dedicated to his longtime wife. The concert begins in an interesting way, with Rivers and Tidd playing piano and Matthews adding bass, both bowed and plucked. The band is always searching for the sound of surprise, as the keyboards clash and crash, but also intertwine into remarkable meshes, dark pummeling moving to brighter boppish phrasing. The music turns to a lengthy lowdown bowed bass introduction, which then incorporating two saxophones, sounding yearning and stark. Soprano and tenor saxophones flutter about like butterflies, becoming a little more raucous and free in space, egging one another on. The tenor saxophone, with bass and drums developing a spacious opening, building a subtle and finely graded improvisation that suits them well. Cole ups the ante with a drum solo, loud dynamite drumming, with Sam hooting encouragement, then turning to his flute, aided by complex percussion and buoyant bass. The music is always in motion, frequently thrilling, adding a touch if funk from the electric bass and drums. Deeply rhythmic drums and exotic sounding soprano emerge, Rivers pulls a great tart sound from the instrument, as heady bass and drums keep pace. The trio develops a lengthy improvisation, very well played. To wrap up the performance Rivers takes a long solo piano turn, with the bass and drums crashing in after several minutes and drive the music forward, Cole uncorks another rampaging drum solo, and Rivers rotates back to tenor saxophone, playing with boundless energy, to round things out. The performance on this album is very strong, and the sound has been remastered well,  with an informative liner essay from Ed Hazell and and period photographs completing the package. Caldera - NoBusiness Records

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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Don Ayler - In Florence 1981 (Railroad Town Music, 2022)

Back when I was collecting vinyl, this was one set I was always looking for, a "grail" in the parlance of the vinyl community. Each of the three vinyl records fetches $100 and up, so I was stuck with dodgy mp3 rips from the Internet. Now finally in digital format for hi-res downloading and streaming from the Qobuz platform, hopefully this will be the first step to getting this final album some much needed attention. Ayler leads on trumpet with Abdul Rahim Mustafa on saxophone and bass clarinet, F
rank Doblekar on tenor saxophone, Anthony “Tony” Smith on piano, John Davis on guitar, Richard “Radu” Williams on bass and Jerry Griffin on drums and percussion. You might expect a group led by an Ayler brother to come out blasting with four to the floor free jazz, but Donald is his own man, leading the group into the opener "The Bebop Song." And they play bebop quite well, developing a quick lead theme, and even though this seems to have been at least partly a pick up band (Ayler has to ask one of the guys his name to introduce him) their bop showcase is fleet and true. This is the case for the remainder of the album, Ayler will set up open, but not necessarily free, situations and the band will take off on a lengthy improvisation, most lasting the the equivalent of a side of a vinyl record. "The African Song" takes them on a multi-rhythmic journey that allows for some excellent bass and drum work. "Coltrane's Blues" allows the band to move into freer territory a bit, with some scalding saxophone playing from Mustafa and potent blowing from Ayler keeping the pace hot. "The Indian Song," The Eastern Song" and "The Japanese Song" really demonstrate Alyer's interests showed that a lot of his musical attention had turned to an exploration of the music of the far east, and that approach works well, offering differing tonalities and rhythms and delivering many opportunities for impressive ensemble and solo playing. It is great to have this rare album available again, perhaps it will gain wider recognition and eventually a studio release. Donald Ayler struggled with mental illness and the shadow cast by his famous brother, but this re-release shows that this album is not merely a curio, but the statement of a fine musician and stylist who deserves to be more widely heard. Liner notes, photos and discographical information can be found at the great Donald Ayler Discography website. In Florence 1981 - Qobuz

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Friday, August 05, 2022

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Atlantic Records, 1958, 2022)

This is a great album from the 1950's which is given a respectful re-issue treatment in both analog and digital format. Drummer Art Blakey and pianist and composer Thelonious Monk were well acquainted with each other at this point, having played together in many formations over the past ten years. This album finds Monk joining Blakey's late 1950's Jazz Messengers unit, consisting of Bill Hardman on trumpet, Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone and Spanky DeBrest on bass. They play a nearly all Monk program, and the pianist fits into the situation hand in glove, especially since he had just recorded some cracking live music with Griffin the recently. The tenor saxophonist plays just as vividly here as he did then, reveling in the idiosyncratic nature of Monk's compositions and approach to improvisation, blowing lustily as Monk powers them through a percussive joyous version of "In Walked Bud" dedicated to the great pianist Bud Powell. The whole band is just right on one of the most memorable Monk compositions, "Blue Monk," giving him plenty of room to express himself while Blakey grandly swings the band. "Rhythm-a-Ning" is another highlight of the session, featuring Monk's stellar angular theme and his unique manner of comping and soloing. Blakey's massive rolls and malleable rhythmic sensibility, along with DeBrest's anchoring bass are perfect foundation for brass and reed playing that completes the scene. This release is expanded to a double LP or CD set, with the first disc holding the original album, and the following one containing outtakes, and alternate versions of song, some of which are  previously released. All the but one track on disc two of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk is previously unreleased. More important than the outtakes, however, is the remastering of the original discs. The earlier Atlantic records CD has a muddy and constricted sound, whereas, this re-issue (Amazon Music ultra HD streaming, Schiit DAC and amp) is spacious and colorful, and it is a revelation. From what I have read and watched on YouTube, people seem happy with the vinyl version as well. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk -

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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Melissa Aldana - 12 Stars (Blue Note Records, 2022)

Slowly but surely, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana has developed a very successful career in jazz. Daughter of Chilean saxophone player, she developed a solid grounding in classic hard bop at home and in local clubs, before heading to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her big break came in 2013, when she became the first female musician and the first South American to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, which opened up performance and recording opportunities. After a series of solo albums for smaller labels, and one for her group Crash, she was invited to record for Blue Note Records. The album was produced by guitarist Lage Lund, who also performs on it, in addition to Sullivan Fortner on piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, Kush Abadey on drums, and Pablo Menares on bass. The group is very tight and they develop finely tooled modern jazz, beginning when the cascading opening track “Falling” where crisp rhythm and fleet guitar make way for graceful saxophone soloing. Lund worked with Aldana on the arrangements for the album, and this pays dividends, especially since the electric guitar and Rhodes piano can cover so much ground musically, they are able to create situations like the the ballad “Emilia” where the music can seemingly hang suspended in the air, creating a gentle tension that is gradually resolved. “The Bluest Eye,” a nod to the author Toni Morrison, is another piece that doesn’t release its secrets too quickly, evolving into a weaving performance focused on tenor saxophone and acoustic piano that is reminiscent of the mysterious and memorable music Wayne Shorter was writing in the mid 1960’s. This album worked very well, Melissa Aldana is patient and thoughtful in the presentation of her music, aided by an excellent team that aids her capably in bringing this project to its fruition. 12 Stars -

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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Secret People - Self-Titled (Out Of Your Head Records, 2022)

Secret People is an excellent progressive jazz trio that sounds much larger and fuller than they really are. The group consists of Nathaniel Morgan on alto saxophone, Dustin Carlson on guitar and Bass IV and Kate Gentile on drums and vibraphone. The group develops a complex yet cohesive sound that emphasizes intricate compositions and interwoven collective improvisations. Each member of the band has a unique approach to their instrument which makes their combined efforts so exciting, Morgan has an appealingly gruff tone and his instinctive approach to improvisation keeps the music fresh. He also mixed and engineered the album, giving the music an immediate sound while balancing the instruments carefully. Carlson is particularly impressive, playing slashing guitar chords and understated single lines, and balancing that with the deep sound of the electric Bass IV, which he can use to push the music into Bill Laswell like territory. Kate Gentle has been very active lately as a bandleader and a sideperson, and she is the engine that drives this project forward, developing the intuitive sense of rhythmic balance that each of these tracks need, even adding delicate vibes shading in one case. This album was very successful, the musicians have been working together for years, enveloping influences from dub through jazz to classical, digesting it all in order to create their fast, fleet, constantly evolving music which is a story all its own. Secret People - OOYH Bandcamp

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Sunday, July 24, 2022

Cecil Taylor - With (Exit) To Student Studies Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

This collection provides a detailed look at pianist Cecil Taylor during the fall of 1966, combining an LP side long studio session with a lengthy concert recording. "With (Exit)" was recorded at Van Gelder studio in October, eventually to be released in 1968 as part of the Conquistador! album. Taylor was accompanied by Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Bill Dixon on trumpet, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. It is a potent performance, beginning with bowed bass and light feathering percussion. Cyrille is quietly aflame, propelling the band where Lyons blows mightily, with the band breathing together as one. Cyrille becomes louder, but retains his graceful movements, leading to a break for piano and bass. The drums return along side rapid fire percussive piano, with fluttering bowed bass leading to the conclusion. The remainder of the album consists of live concert from Paris in late November released in 1973 alternately as Student Studies or The Great Paris Concert. The lineup is Taylor on piano, Lyons on alto saxophone, Silva on bass and Cyrille on drums. Beginning with moody piano, swirling bowed bass and tart saxophone, the quartet creates hard hitting music, and Cecil is all over the piano, and the drums are driving forward, creating an atmosphere where the intensity is palpable. Lyons returns, gradually going into the fray over rumbling dark chords and bowed bass, leading to a complex improvisation that incorporates stuttering horn, cells of piano and arco bass where the music wheels and strikes off at unexpected angles in fascinating ways throughout the concert. Stark bowed bass and piano pick things up, with Silva's bass sweeping across the stage, like a brisk wind blowing through Taylor’s bracing downpour of notes. Lyons' saxophone enters and the music boils to a soaring collective improvisation with all the pistons firing. Changing pace abruptly, abstract percussion, bells, crashing piano chords and shakers create unexpected textures, somewhat reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Cyrille is all in, creating in the flow even as the music takes a turn for the strange. Blasts of whistle and fast / hard drumming, why a whistle? Are they trolling the audience? The shrillness of the sound provides quite a shock, and perhaps that was the point. Returning to subtle bass and piano, clattering percussion and saxophone, the group creates nervous bounding music, which coalesces into an urgent full band blastoff of powerful music with tart toned saxophone, cascading piano and drums with bass anchoring the middle. Cruising trio improvisations just keeps coming in waves, exhausting but thrilling. Man, the combination of Taylor's piano and Cyrille's drums could just blot out the sun the sound is so huge. Eventually the band glides to a conclusion and with a final cymbal crash this extraordinary ride is over. This album has been remastered well and sounds great, the live album in particular has a visceral punch, and the package also includes a lengthy essay from Scottish jazz historian Brian Morton, placing the music in context. With (Exit) To Student Studies Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity - Elastic Wave (ECM Records, 2022)

Drummer Gard Nilssen brings his progressive jazz group Acoustic Unity to ECM Records for a new album featuring André Roligheten on tenor, soprano and bass saxophones and clarinet and Petter Eldh and double bass. For this LP, the group focuses on dynamics, where their playing is intimate and closely spaced, and the quality of the recording brings out much of the detail of the their instruments. This allows them to explore more a nuanced and textured approach to improvisation and development. Despite that, indeed because of it, the music is challenging and exciting throughout, and the musicians are playing as well as can be in this hothouse setting, performing improvised music in an appealing and concentrated form. This may stem from the fact that their music has been honed by the length of time they have been playing together and vigorous nature of the band's sound comes for the crucible of playing many concerts together and developing a near telepathic mindset. Their improvisations are very powerful, and they are able to move in an a continuously impressive manner whether the music comes in a melodic or freely improvised format. Roligheten's reeds achieve a wide range of sounds and tones that make a vivid statement as the drums grow more aggressive. He can dig in or lay off his tone as the drums push harder and the bass pulsates, resulting in trio improvising that is first rate. The anticipation and tension that the musicians are able to build in their performances is palpable, coming from a sense of trust and willingness to move from a swinging sense of pulse to distinctive melodies. These are among the defining attributes of the group which addresses fiery anthems and abstract ballads with equal conviction. This was an very well planned and executed album, and this performance shows that they can conjure emotion at a hushed silence, and use dynamism to create a number of fast paced and fluid pieces that combine to create a wide ranging and well executed program. Elastic Wave -

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Jones Jones - Just Justice (ESP Disk, 2022)

The idea of a supergroup is one usually bandied about in rock music circles but it can be applied to jazz as well. The anonymous name of this group hides a trio with decades of idiom changing experience in jazz and improvised music. Jones Jones consists of Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Mark Dresser on bass and Vladimir Tarasov on drums. "Articulating Jones" is a brief opening track with raw festering saxophone and bass with percussion grinding forward. Sawing bowed bass and guttural saxophone lead the band into the following track, "Bali Hai Jones." This track has a subterranean rumble of bowed of bass and percussion, free sounding saxophone, all integrated unflinchingly. The music sounds truly free and nonconformist, creating unvarnished excitement. They feint like going off on a power trip then burrow that energy back into another deeply coiled trio improvisation, creating a raw nervy sound of stark saxophone, stoic bass and skittish drums, but it works well, and isn’t the least bit dry or off-putting. "Call of the Jones" has bowed bass with cymbals and searching saxophone, becoming more filled in and pushing forward, seething with energy. The band gets up on their haunches, with squalls of bowed bass and drums, scouring saxophone making for a powerful performance. This leads to "Jones In The Solar System," moving in a different direction, with abstract clattering percussion and bass creating low nervous sounds. Drumming on metal creating a distinctive racket, as the sopranino saxophone peeks out from the crashing sounds. The music becomes free and unforgiving, as high pitched saxophone clashes against slashing cymbals then fades. "Jones Free Jones" pits brushes against ripe tenor saxophone and plucked bass. Tarasov plays nice feathering brushes, melding well with Dresser's deeply pulled bass notes and Ochs' robust tenor saxophone. Light and fast unaccompanied drums soon meet tenor saxophone on "RBG Jones," which adds rending and tearing saxophone sounds, and bowed bass which becomes prominent, leading to "The Further Adventures of Ms. Microtonal Jones" where Ochs returns to the sopranino saxophone, getting very unique sound, especially in this environment, where Dresser is switching between bowed and plucked bass, and the drums are ebbing and flowing in speed, creating a distinctive group sound. The finale is "And His Sisters Called Him Jones" with tenor saxophone, plucked bass and drum shades, probing the open space, patiently, deeply focused no hurry, tapping into the flow of ideas and intuition. This deep collective improvisation, playing low to the ground in something of a groove, because freedom is a groove. This rupturing bowed bass could move mountains, framed by distinguished saxophone and drums, closing out this profound and thoughtful album. Just Justice -

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Hugo Carvalhais - Ascetica (Clean Feed Records, 2022)

After a lengthy break from putting out music under his own name, bassist and composer Hugo Carvalhais returns to the fray with a wide ranging and colorful album. He doubles on electronics and his band mates are Emile Parisien on soprano saxophone, Liudas Mockunas on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Fábio Almeida 
on alto saxophone and flute, Gabriel Pinto on piano, organ and synthesizer and Mário Costa on drums. The music has a very interesting and varied sound, incorporating influences from jazz, contemporary classical and electronic music. The music is very creative with nice blending sounds for saxophone and swirling synthesizer, while deep bass and potent drumming ground the music, as splashes of colorful clarinet are added. Compositions evolve gradually and episodically, making the most of the reed instruments as well as beautiful and well rounded bass and drums. Acoustic piano adds lush near classical developments to solo introductions and statements. Yearning emotional saxophones, turn gritty and open building to harsh tones at times, then fall back, creating a lot of interesting dynamic tension. The rhythm section leads a more melodic assault, often opening up to synthesizer along side simmering bass and drums. Those synth tones locked in with bass and drums can be juxtaposed by piano which wells up even as the music develops floating sensations, where the clarinets can weave through with a wistful tone, and further horns are used as framing for the keyboards within. Clarinet and spare drums, create deep space, and the band is able to build impressionistic art music that is quiet and lonely in space in addition to that which has a more aggressive jazz attack. The music that Carvalhais and the band present covers a wide range of emotional content, developing a mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere that yields its secrets through repeated listening. Ascetica -

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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Jeremy Pelt - Soundtrack (HighNote Records, 2022)

There are very few things that can be counted upon like clockwork in this recent millennium, but one of the things jazz fans have to look forward to is a new album from trumpeter Jeremy Pelt at least once per year. This year is no different with Pelt accompanied by Chien Chien Lu on vibraphone, Victor Gould on piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, Vicente Archer on acoustic and electric bass, Allan Mednard on drums. Anne Drummond guests on flute for a few tracks as does Brittany Anjou on Mellotron and Moog synthesizer. The album opens with "Picking Up The Pieces" which has a classic mid 60’s acoustic jazz influence, building a nice mid tempo groove with a surprising shift from acoustic to electric accents via atmospheric electric piano and shimmering vibes. "Soundtrack" has a medium tempo theme for the full band, leading to a crisp and bright vibes featured with rhythm support. Pelt adds confident trumpet which moves forward, developing a fine and incrementally stronger solo. There is a svelte piano, bass and drums section, leading back to a lyrical conclusion. The band builds pace and volume with the theme "Be The Light," which then opens for individual expression, beginning with the leader’s propulsive horn playing over supple rhythm, followed by crystalline vibraphone notes which rain down. Ripe sounding piano is featured over motoring bass and drums, easing back to a trumpet led finale. "Part 1: The Lighter Side" and "Part2: The Darker Side" add Drummond's flute, sounding airy, and full of space, as quiet ballad tones abound. Flute and electric piano mesh well with similar sounds, then beautiful watery sounding trumpet wells up framed by piano and lush cymbals. Hushed drums and vibes create a quiet edge on "Elegy," where large piano chords gently fall and Pelt forms a beautiful ballad trumpet tone. There is subtle and supple ballad playing all around on this track. "I'm Still Standing" uses medium up-tempo drums pushing the tempo which seems to suspend in space at times, creating interesting dynamic tension. Fine solos from trumpet and vibes are present, while the drummer keeps edging forward with a complex fast pace. The open toned ballad "I Love Music" features soft brushes and lush trumpet framed by piano chords. Slowly developing piano with grounding bass and swirling brushed percussion support the trumpet ably. "Shifting Images" develops an electric groove through bass and drums, with Pelt's trumpet gliding overhead riding the updraft, building a punchy and enveloping statement of purpose. Lightly played yet slashing drums and deft vibes weave their unique sound through the thicket of music before Pelt herds everyone back together for the finish. A gentle and repetitive figure on "You And Me" allows Pelt plenty of room to build an emotional trumpet feature that soon involves the rest of the band. Fender Rhodes gives the setting a pastel hue in tandem with the trumpet before gradually fading out. This was a very solid and well constructed modern mainstream jazz album. The band works very well together in both ensemble and solo settings, and Pelt skillfully demonstrates his talent as an instrumentalist and composer. Soundtrack -

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Jason Palmer - Live From Summit Rock in Seneca Village (Giant Steps Arts, 2022)

Trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his third album for the artist focused non-profit Giant Step Arts, helming a talented quartet featuring Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, Edward Perez on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. Recorded live at the scenic Summit Rock, a location within Central Park, New York City. “Falling In” opens the program with a nice unaccompanied trumpet intro, leading to a steaming hard bop full band improvisation. The music settles down to quiet trumpet with bass and drums in conversation. A crisp and complicated bass and drums rhythm pattern is introduced, and builds the momentum of the piece with Palmer keeping pace without a hitch. Perez’s fine bass solo is gently framed by trumpet and light drumming, leading to the conclusion of this performance. Palmer and Turner set a mysterious opening theme on “Landscape With An Obelisk (Flinck)” which is  picked up by the drummer in open space, and Blake develops this into a drum solo that is focused and well played, becoming fast and frantic. Horns re-enter with bass support, creating music that is rapid and nimble, and where the bass and drums support the trumpet feature. “Kalispel Bay” sees Palmer using a dry tone for unaccompanied trumpet, then the other instruments glide in with a subtle swinging feel, leading to a nicely harmonized theme from the two horn players. Turner forges a warm and embracing saxophone tone along with active input from intelligent bass and drum  support. Palmer takes the baton for his own solo that has a well controlled tone and range and uses a wide musical vocabulary.  This long round-robin nature of the track moves to an earthy and pleasant bass feature, before returning to more formal harmonized theme and ending. There is a deep bass solo on “Self Portrait (Rembrandt)” laying the groundwork, and band moves in with a light and agile sound that seems to float just above the stage. Horns combine to make the attractive theme before the focus returns to another fine bass and percussion duet. Turner’s saxophone gradually builds his own statement, playing patiently with a rounded tone. Drums and tenor saxophone rise in tempo and volume, creating an exciting improvisation, but things throttle down again for the Palmer’s turn. The trumpeter uses a more nuanced tone, adding a bit of grit and pop to his playing, arcing long tones, punctuating with fast flurries of notes over stout bass and drums. “Program For An Artistic Soiree (Degas)” ends the album with a tight bass and drums foundation for two horns playing closely, allowing a well paced trumpet solo to develop which is framed by thick bass and dancing cymbals. There is a wonderfully deep tenor saxophone solo pushed by the engine room of bass and drums, and then everyone loops together for their final bow. This album worked quite well with the quartet adapting well to the unique outdoor stage and using the setting to stretch out and play lengthy solos and intricate collective sections. Fans of mainstream jazz would enjoy this album. Live From Summit Rock in Seneca Village -

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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Matthew Shipp Trio - World Construct (ESP-Disk, 2022)

This is the first album in a few years from the Matthew Shipp Trio with Shipp on piano and compositions, Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums, this album features performances recorded in Brooklyn during April of 2021. This core group has been playing together for years and have no trouble presenting a wide ranging program that moves from accessible mainstream jazz to material that is more free and experimental. "Jazz Posture" is a deep well of up-tempo bass and drums, with Shipp adding urgent sprinkles of notes as the trio builds a taut exciting performance from the ground up. The drums are light and fleet, in constant motion, and the pianist engages with fast flurries of notes and chords. Bass and drums are particularly united here, and Shipp gives them plenty of room to state their case, before he dives back in, and the music becomes a cascade of rhythm and dynamism. Taylor-Baker takes an excellent drum solo, balancing skins and cymbals, which concludes this fine performance. Low end piano chords along side stoic bowed bass and slashing cymbal play open "Abandoned" a track that immediately grabs you, built from towering reverberating piano chords wrapped in a heavy velvet bowed bass and crushing drums. Extreme tention and intensity is developed, leading to an ominous quieter section, throttled down to an unsettling and unresolved end. "A Mysterious State" uses feathery drums, bright piano and bass to create a light and mobile trio section, which balances percussive piano work with staccato drumming and grounding bass work. It has a nervous energy that works well, before the music moves into a more complicated and abstract direction, building in volume and power and creating a majestic sweep back into the original melody for the conclusion. "Stop the World" features open taut bass playing framed by spare piano chords, with the bass and piano playing an exquisite duet where each instrument hangs in space in a delicate dance with the other without artifice, just beauty. The bright mainstream jazz on display through "Sly Glance" should give pause to anyone who says that Shipp's music is inscrutable, with its bright melodic chords, bounding bass and athletic cymbal accents. The music develops organically over four minutes, creating a wonderfully optimistic tune that is desperately needed in these dark times. "World Construct" emerges from a longingly beautiful theme for solo piano, with the bass entering gradually and the long piece gradually evolving with brushed percussion. The intricate trio improvisation gathers pace and volume, the music has a propulsive rhythm that drives it forward while Shipp adds piano accents and improvisational techniques. he plays the piano urgently like a warning signal followed by an avalanche of dark chords and fast notes. This is a wonderful trio record that makes accessible the knottiest music. The musicians are masters of their craft, and deserve praise for creating such valuable music. World Construct -

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Rempis/Abrams/Ra + Baker - Scylla (Aerophonic, Records, 2022)

This is the fourth album from this exciting group, Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Jim Baker on piano and synthesizer, Joshua Abrams on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums and percussion. They are always exciting to hear from because the music is in a constant state of evolution, and this live album from Chicago in July of 2021 also welcomed musicians and fans out of isolation and as Ra would say "“This is for all the survivors.” "Opening," Ra's spoken solo piece on mbira was actually delivered as a benediction at the end of the concert, but Rempis was so impressed that he moved it to the opening track on this album. It sets the tone perfectly, leading to the massive thirty five minute exploration "Between a Rock" which uses deeply reverent saxophone, drums and piano, while the bass weaves between the instruments. Flurries of saxophone increase in speed, adding overblown accents, then shift to deep and yearn sounds, grounded by bass, brushed drums and piano. The music regains stature with muscular drumming and piano playing supporting withering runs on the saxophone, creating a very exciting full band sound. Rempis steps aside, setting up a fast paced and taut area for the rhythm section to shine, and they develop fine interplay between the instruments. The group then turns to delicate bowed bass and saxophone with piano accents, bright peals of saxophone with comping piano, beginning to become something deeper and more intricate. Rempis adds lengthy fraught tones, dynamically downshifting to spare tones drifting in the breeze. Space is available for statements from the drums, then piano, sounding ripe and lively leading the full band into a torrential section of free improvisation, including a beautiful bowed bass feature. They wrap up this massive piece of music with a lean mid tempo improvisation with the saxophone sounding particularly potent and in charge. The third track, "Viscosity," is another ambitious performance, with a raw scouring sound from Rempis's saxophone with bowed bass grinding against Baker's synthesizer, creating a fascinating section, a wild soundscape. The saxophone high pitched sounds over synthesizer and bass, alien sounds, which allow the group to play with time pulling the music as if it is an elastic thing. The music relaxes and becomes a little more easy going with a lengthy saxophone led section that has Baker’s synthesizer as the main supporting instrument. A Portion of time for plucked bass and flute is unexpected but welcome, as the saxophone flitters around, and other instruments rumble and clank. Things crank crack up with a heavy pure improv with squalls of saxophone, sighting land and shifting to some more excellent bowed bass playing, which leads to swinging group interplay with a quavering synthesizer bringing the music to its conclusion. The group is very effective as a dynamically changing unit, and close listening to the music reveals deeper levels of hues and colors which allow the musicians a very wide foundation to construct their improvisation with no barriers to their success. Scylla - Bandcamp

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Tim Berne and Nasheet Waits - Tangled (Screwgun Records, 2022)

The cosmologic theory of quantum entanglement holds that when two particles are linked together in a certain way, they remain so regardless of distance. Alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne and drummer Nasheet Waits take this idea to heart musically. No matter how exploratory their improvisations become, they are bound together musically in the goal of creating frontier expanding modern jazz. This album was recorded live in New York City in December of 2021 and features two lengthy performances, beginning with "Tangled," which builds to increasingly coarse saxophone playing with rapid drumming that has a slightly hollow and resonating sound, creating a memorable duet setting. A period of near silence develops with brushed percussion in open space building textures with a slight drum beat. Soft and subtle saxophone joins in, rearranging the music with a more emotional quality and Brene takes flight developing a louder and broader tone, then dynamically shifting to a sharp nasal tone that carves through the improvisation in a gritty and tough manner. Waits's machine tooled drumming is the perfect fit, creating a complex, yet engaging rhythm, and after a short solo break for saxophone, the two men return together engaging in a fast paced dialogue. They develop a flat out burst of energy, with a striking connection between the musicians providing the spark that pushes them through the finish line. "Tangled Too" moves in a different direction, developing gradually with Berne playing solo in a peaceful manner, and the drums easing in with a rolling hollow sound possibly made by mallets, and shivering sly cymbals. Their duo improvisation gradually grows in speed and volume, jumping to light speed with fast, harsh saxophone and immediate crisp drumming. There is a short drum feature where Waits makes use of his entire setup, his limbs in constant motion, later joined by Berne who has downshifted into producing a floating quality from his instrument, finding the perfect placement for notes within beats. This album worked very well, Berne and Waits were simpatico partners who were able to use spontaneously created music to open up a dedicated narrative flow that carried the process of improvisation and interplay to a very satisfying conclusion. Tangled -

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

David Virelles - Nuna (Pi Recordings, 2022)

David Virelles latest album is one of quite beautiful and record of original solo piano performances, he has a wonderful sense of touch that is neither heavy handed nor timid, and makes use of the length and breadth of the instrument. Like so many creative musicians, Virelles had to turn inward while the pandemic raged outside, so he looked to create a solo album that matched the vision that he had shown in his previous work and his sideman duties with the likes of Henry Threadgill. Some of the pieces drew on classical music as their grounding base, and others the Cuban music of his heritage which he has explored on a previous release. For this album he had the time to contemplate and really develop the unique strands that make up the totality of his approach to the instrument, from improvised jazz, Cuban dance music and European classical methods, all of which have had an effect on the character and development of his own personal approach to music. The experience has given him the tools to create a wide ranging and responsive set of music that can take the tone deep into the thundering low end of the piano like in the dark and stormy tune "Simple Answer," or the into a different direction entirely such as on the track "Ignacio Villa" where he is joined by percussionist Julio Barreto who lends his own unique rhythmic skill to three of the tracks on this recording. Their duets work quite well, and are fine examples music moving through tight and nimble rhythmic foundations for the two musicians playing together. The album as a whole is very good, with Virelles playing  dynamically shifting from quieter, softer shading, into louder and more grand statements. The music evolves organically and naturally, with the performance unfolding fluidly and with grace that is the hallmark of this fine album as a whole. Nuna -

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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Zoh Amba - O, Sun (Tzadik Records, 2022)

Zoh Amba is a young tenor saxophone player who, according to one bio, practiced by playing in the forest of her native Tennessee before moving off to study at conservatories. She has a genuine and personal tone to her instrument, and creates a very successful album in the company of Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Joey Baron on drums. "Hymn To The Divine Mother" opens the album with a weighted and elegiac tone from the saxophonist along side bass and drums with a late entry from the piano. Light and delicate piano plays off against patient saxophone while clouds of firefly like cymbal taps illuminate the scene. Amba's saxophone has a lighter feel on "O, Sun" where she develops a jaunty theme along side light percussion and nimble bass playing. There is a lengthy section of melodic improvisation between the rhythm section, with some spirited playing that is joined by the leader at the end to reset the piece's theme. A deeper, more raw saxophone tone is at the heart of "Northern Path," joined by darker and fuller sounding piano to lay the groundwork for a taut free improvisation where everyone pitches in. Morgan's bass holds things together and Amba's tenor saxophone shows the influence of her mentor David Murray, leading a vital performance unflinchingly forward. "Gardener" is a lower flame ballad featuring tenor saxophone and brushed percussion framed by gentle bass and piano. Amba's tenor tone floats, but is tinged with a sense of somber regret, aided with some beautiful bass playing. John Zorn joins the group on alto saxophone on "Holy Din," and this is just what they create, playing in a free and excited manner as the drums rumble and the urgent piano and bass fill out the sound. The group's improvisation has fantastic energy, reaching escape velocity with the saxophonists ranging from long scouring tones to rapid fire bursts of notes, and this is a true highlight of the album. "Satya," a lengthy duo piece for Amba and pianist Micah Thomas ends the album, taking the time for the sweet and sour tone of the saxophone and probing piano to build into a more strident and fleet performance. Brief unaccompanied sections for each musician, not quite trading phrases as ending each others sentences occurs, then dynamically downshifting to a soft focus to gracefully end the track. O, Sun -

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Masayo Koketsu - Fukiya (Relative Pitch Records, 2022)

Masayo Koketsu is a Japanese alto saxophone player who began playing at a very young age, soon collaborating and playing widely around the world. This is an album of unaccompanied saxophone, a continuous forty six minute spontaneous improvisation, which was recorded in Tokyo in November of 2021. Koketsu is patient in allowing the music to develop, not needing to fill up all available space, but allowing the drama of the setting to work in her favor. The saxophone playing alternates between quiet spacious tones and piercing high pitched qualities, overblown growls and fierce waves of sound. It is clear that she is in complete control of her instrument, and can use it to create the kind of narrative she is searching for. She has a deep and personal voice on the saxophone and it comes through here, with a raw and yearning feel, telling a deep story that runs throughout the length of this album. The music develops waves of sound waxing and waning, punctuated by literal screams of energy, and periods of complete stillness. The performance on this album is spontaneous yet thoughtful, filled with the type of empathy that only a musician who is fully attuned with her instrument and craft can bring. Fukiya -

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Monday, June 06, 2022

John Zorn and Bill Laswell - The Cleansing (Tzadik Records, 2022)

This meeting of old compatriots John Zorn on alto saxophone and Bill Laswell on electric bass and effects came about just as the pandemic restrictions were lifting in New York City. According to the notes, Zorn hadn't touched his horn in over a year and Laswell had been a virtual hermit in his studio for the duration of the lockdown. But if there was any dust or rust that needed to be knocked off, you certainly don't hear it here. The two men create a wild and wide-ranging program of duets taking inspiration from alleged practitioners of magick, using the stellar music performed here to cleanse body and soul. "Brion Gysin" opens the program in space where probing watery bass flows and ebbs, and saxophone gradually begins to fill in spaces, everything interacting well together. Fast flutters of saxophone emerge like bursts of color, as Zorn climbs to fast and loud terrain, yet retains the dynamic tension of the piece, moving from a whisper to a shrill scream, with his wholly unique saxophone tone. He also employs circular breathing with extraordinary stamina, leading to the performance's finish. Befitting its dedicatee, "Aleister Crowley" has ominous heavy, echoing bass and piercing saxophone, leading to this track's stark beauty. The musicians succeed in creating a huge edifice of sound, with Zorn shrieking like a trapped soul, in a scorching duet improvisation: Laswell's noise filled bottom, Zorn's overblown top. "Austin Osman Spare" is the oddest and most abstract track on the album, where aquatic sounds give an eerie air to the proceedings, bubbling, gurgling playing with pure sound. This resolves to rapid dots and dashes of saxophone, in water and air, with Laswell providing encouragement. Bursts of fleet saxophone and gelatinous bass, where the musicians are creating and commenting on each other opens the track "William Burroughs." Zorn branches out with long peals of rich reedy sound while Laswell draws on his dub experience, building large bulbous waves of bass. Together they explore this alien soundscape, ending on a Laswell bass solo, blobs of sound hanging in space. "Alejandro Jodorowsky" builds swirling intense saxophone, amid a shimmering electronic backdrop leads to powerful and dynamic saxophone playing and improvising, with and against this massive edifice. We hear Zorn at his most scouring, against near white noise, the artist confronting the machine. Finally, "The Cleansing" introduces thick near funky bass notes, and Zorn rides the beat with a restrained tone, cutting back, perhaps playing the most jazzy thing on here, although clearly headed in other directions, most notably in the direction of creating one of the best albums of the year. The Cleansing -

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