Tuesday, May 24, 2022

David Murray Brave New World Trio - Seriana Promethea (Intakt Records, 2022)

The great multi-reedist David Murray has released many albums during his career, but I think this one deserves inclusion in the upper tier, all things considered. Murray is joined by Brad Jones on bass and Hamid Drake on drums, and these three musicians combine to create a lean and memorable album of modern jazz, with well considered themes and intricate and exciting improvisations. Striking while the iron was hot, the trio recorded in Zurich on the day following a particularly well received concert performance. Murray is one of the leading practitioners of the post Eric Dolphy style of playing the bass clarinet, and he puts this talent to good use on the opening track “Seriana Promethea“ playing in a swooping and spooling fashion as the bass and drums cook up remarkable rhythms. Murray moves back to tenor saxophone on “Nektar” playing with some urgency as the rhythm team boils underneath. The bass and drums pulsate in a brief duet section, followed by a fine bass solo before the leader returns to take things out. Jones provides a beautiful bowed bass opening for “Metouka Sheli (Ballade for Adrienne)” which sets up Murray nicely, allowing him to employ his large and encompassing tenor saxophone sound on this ballad like his heroes Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins would have. The group has a surprise treat in store at the end, covering the Sly and the Family Stone track "Am Gone Get Some" with Jones and Drake providing a wonderfully funky backdrop including a well earned bass solo, topped off by some soaring tenor saxophone. Murray looked at this album, recorded without a piano or guitar, as as a gateway to creativity and freedom that can be found in open space. This configuration with these willing partners allowed him to deliver a wonderful album that was an inspired meeting of the minds. All three of these musicians have busy schedules, but I hope that this can become a regular band with a recording and touring schedule. Seriana Promethea - Bandcamp

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Miles Okazaki’s Trickster - Thisness (Pi Recordings, 2022)

Thisness is the third album by guitarist Miles Okazaki in the company of Matt Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Anthony Tidd on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Moving away from strictly composed material the band looked for ideas and unexpected events and then developed their music from those random places. It was a bold approach, one that required a great deal of trust, but the results show that it was an experiment well worth taking. “In Some Far Off Place” opens with a lot of nice guitar with subtle drumming, bringing out music which has shimmering beauty that the whole band contributes to, like rippling piano, solid bass and searching drums. The guitar leads, creating a wide range of sound, using open space, while chopping up time and subdividing it in unique ways, which creates interplay within the improvisation that is very impressive, as the group plays complex music in a very fresh and forward thinking manner. Funky drums with bass and shards of guitar open “Years in Space,” with fine acoustic piano touches playing off against the rhythm and blues leanings of the guitar and drums. Solid drumming, using varied and moving patterns combine with acoustic guitar, bass and heavier sounds in the mid section, while percussive piano played fractured manner for improvisation is quite interesting. “I’ll Build A World” uses motoring bass and drums guitar accents to build to thoughtful setting, where piano notes fall like droplets, then build to flourishes, and the leader constructs long DNA like strands of guitar improvisation. Excellent drumming, slashing and breaking, while being framed by guitar and piano, lead to a full group electric - acoustic improv that is great, pushing and pulling at each other to create tension and release. Electric bass and drums form an appealing duet on "And Wait For You" where the leader's guitar builds in adding further texture and depth, and develop an intricate trio improvisation. His electric guitar takes charge with a more forthright tone and approach electronics skitter by, forming wheezy sounds, from both guitar and keyboards. Acoustic piano is also present leading to a cornucopia of sounds and textures and psychedelic kaleidoscopic overall sound that is disorienting yet appealing. Thisness - Miles Okazaki Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mary Halvorson - Amaryllis (Nonesuch Records, 2022)

Guitarist and fearless musical explorer Mary Halvorson composed this suite for jazz sextet and string quartet, the music is very colorful and dynamic, developing in exciting and unexpected ways over the course of the album. In addition to herself, the musicians are Patricia Brennan on vibraphone, Nick Dunston on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and the Mivos String Quartet on three tracks. The opening track, “Night Shift” has bright vibes and drums with guitar, playing upbeat and engaging music, with an interesting theme that grows more majestic as more pieces are added. There is a brass solo, with crisp drumming underneath along side psychedelic electric guitar and vibes filling in the spaces. Subtle bass and vibes with percussion simmer for a short feature, as smears of electronics add texture. Fast guitar, bass and drums are featured on “Amaryllis,” with vibes accents, and horns adding further commentary. Multiple themes and motifs provide ample material for an excellent trumpet feature, heralded by insistent rhythm. Sparks of wildly colorful guitar and vibes add further depth to this fine performance, where tumbling drums and vibes push the music further into cascading forward motion. On “Side Effect” the string section opens with short brisk sounds, and the rest of the band enter in an exciting manner, playing upbeat and thoughtful music that incorporates the strings very well. There is a sublime section for deep bass, vibes and quiet drumming, followed with potent brass with another brilliant feature. The strings return to prominence as the piece closes, returning full circle on a wonderful piece of music. A quiet abstract opening focuses the listeners attention on “Hoodwink,” where the strings create whorls of sound, amid brushed percussion and vibes developing subtle carefully developed music. The sound develops further in a spectral, billowing fashion, with the brass flaring above a violin, as the leader adds her unique guitar accents in a brilliant solo section. The finale “892 Teeth” yields a stark trumpet opening above strings and harmonized guitar and vibraphone. This leads to a subtle and deep mid tempo performance, rich with melodic brass, and patient vibes with Brennan getting a well deserved and excellent solo section, then taken out by Halvorson with some wild guitar electronics that are very exciting. 
Amaryllis - Mary Halvorson Bandcamp

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Ballister - Chrysopoeia (Aerophonic Records / Not Two Records, 2022)

Ballister is a long standing collective jazz band featuring milti-reed instrumentalist Dave Rempis, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. This album consists of two long pieces recorded at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland in October of 2019. "Strappling" begins fast and fierce with harsh saxophone and drums creating an exciting racket held together by rapidly bowed cello. The intensity of their sound is a cathartic release, and the torrential sound from all three instruments is thrilling to hear. A drum feature for Nilssen-Love slows things down a bit, with sawing cello meeting him halfway, and Lonberg-Holm's electronics giving the proceedings an otherworldly touch. The music moves in a graceful manner as the volume and intensity builds back up dynamically with the reappearance of Rempis's gutsy saxophone. He plays unaccompanied for a minute, soon joined by electronic textures and drumming to weave a knotty collective improvisation that nears a relentless forward motion as the performance ends. Unaccompanied cello swirls open "Muffit" where long tones of saxophone are met by cymbal sounds, creating a unique musical environment, which ebb and flow. Quiet drums and saxophone flutter and feint then lock in and take flight as the high pitched soaring horn with overblown elements and pummeling drums are rejoined by the cello as the band explodes like fireworks, finding a frenzied groove in Nilssen-Love's tribal beat propels the spirited saxophone, touched by the alien sounding electronics of amplified cello. The band builds to a lean three way improvisation, shorn of extraneous parts, pushing to a muscular potent conclusion. This was an extraordinary album, one of the year's best to be sure. There is a misconception that free jazz is a fearsome juggernaut, but there is so much more going on here, leading to an emotional, heartfelt statement. Chrysopoeia - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Charles Mingus - The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott's (Resonance Records, 2022)

Charles Mingus was in the middle of a resurgence of interest in his music when he travelled to  Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London captured in August 1972. He had a transitional but talented group with alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jones, trumpeter Jon Faddis, pianist John Foster and drummer Roy Brooks along for the trip. This is quite an expansive performance with six of the eight selections clocking in at over eighteen minutes and two tracks over one half hour in length. It is to Mingus's credit that the music still swings like crazy and never quite loses its integrity regardless of how strung out the improvisations stray from the main theme. The composer's lush and beautiful song "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue" is the opening track of the album, with the full band stating the theme and then developing it into a series of improvised solo and small group sections which are woven into the overall performance. Faddis was nineteen years old at the the time of this recording, and he demonstrates precociousness with his section and solo playing. "Noddin' Ya Head Blues" is anchored by an exquisite opening Mingus bass solo, leading to a deep powerful effort from the full band and featuring accents by drummer Brooks on the musical saw. Arguably Mingus's must famous composition "Fables of Faubus" gets a thirty five minute reading where the sound swells from near big band volume to intricate solos and tightly woven improvisational cells. The saxophonists play well together, McPherson had been playing with Mingus for years and his lean, Charlie Parker inspired alto fits right in, whereas Jones was primarily a  big band saxophonist, playing a lengthy spell with Woody Herman before joining Mingus. The band takes on a joyous version of "Pops (When The Saints Go Marching In)" melding the sounds of early jazz to deep blues and swing to a create a crowd favorite, before presenting the final long form performance the moody Mingus composition "The Man Who Never Sleeps." This opens as a spot for Faddis before becoming a compelling full group performance, with some strong piano and Jones doubling on clarinet. This is a fine concert and it was recorded well, only to be cast into the vaults when Columbia dropped Mingus and much of it's jazz division be the end of 1972. The bassist would make his final albums for Atlantic Records before passing away from ALS in 1979 where after this concert was forgotten about before being resituated for the 100th anniversary celebration of the great man's birth. 

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Monday, May 09, 2022

Dave Rempis / Elisabeth Harnik / Michael Zerang - Astragaloi (Aerophonic / Idyllic Noise Records, 2022)

Squeaking in just under the wire before the pandemic turned the world upside down, this album was recorded at an arts festival in alpine Austria in March of 2020. The sound is a fresh and evolving performance with Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Elizabeth Harnik on piano, and Michael Zerang on drums and percussion. These musicians have performed and recorded several times together both as a trio and as parts of other units so they are well aware of the potential that exists for making exploratory and exciting music. Pianist Harnik feels most at home, being a native of Austria, and she contributes mightily to this album's success, not only through her imaginative keyboard playing, but her more avant-garde uses of the strings inside the piano, adding harp like sounds that in effect add a fourth instrument to the band's repertoire. Percussionist Michael Zerang works well in these chiaroscuro areas of light and shade, playing with a dynamic freedom that allows him to respond immediately to whatever is happening around him as well as tug the music into a different direction with subtle swells or cymbal shimmers. Dave Rempis rounds out the group and his playing on alto and tenor saxophone is well suited for this free and open situation. This allows the musicians to really develop a focused three way conversation that has has episodes of free improvisation, but it is the dynamic range of their instruments and the tension and resolution of these performances within a larger framework which provides the forward momentum powering a very exciting and engaging session. The music builds upon the color and dynamics that the team builds, and with everyone playing together, all three musicians are successful in developing a coherent narrative that moves forward in a logical and enjoyable way. Astragaloi - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Albert Ayler – Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings (INA / Elemental Music, 2022)

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler was a leading light of the jazz avant garde in the mid 1960’s but by the end of the decade things had taken a turn. Impulse Records, who had originally been supportive, then quite literally changed their tune, asking Ayler to play rhythm and blues related material to appeal to the “youth market.” His albums New Grass and Music is the Healing Force of the Universe flopped (but are not without their charms) and Impulse dropped him, leading to a further decline in his mental state. But there was one final grasp at glory, an invitation to play two concerts at the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France on July 25 and 27, 1970. Ayler plays tenor and soprano saxophones and sings along with Mary Maria Parks on soprano saxophone and vocals, Call Cobbs on piano, Steve Tintweiss on bass and Allen Blairman on drums. Ayler supports the vocalist Parks who sings and recites lyrics in a strange affected manner on "Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe" and "Island Harvest" where Ayler struggles to find purchase in this bizarre setting. On his well known theme, "Ghosts," and the multi part suite “Revelations 2-4” where he proves that he was still a force to be reckoned with, using the folky themes to propel him to a hair-raising and thrilling improvisations. When he has an open ended improvisational field he still has the talent and the tone to create magical music. The second concert continues the mix of free music and idiosyncratic vocalizing, with lengthy all instrumental versions of “Holy Holy” and “Spirits” which are astonishing improvisations, Ayler playing excoriating saxophone and then leading a towering set of collective improvisations. Things end on an odd note with one of Ayler’s weirdest numbers, “Thank God For Women,” which is basically Ayler singing that phrase over a pseudo funk backdrop, and conclude as they began with “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe.” About halfway through the first concert, Albert Ayler sings a song called “Oh, Love of Life” with such pure unadorned honesty and desperation that it can stop you in your tracks. But it wasn’t to be. Mental illness ran in his family and that is what led most people believe to be a suicide, when his body was pulled out of the East River just a few months after these concerts. But he left so much, and brilliantly remastered packages like this and the run of Ayler re-issues from the ezz-thetics label shows that his towering influence is more vital today than ever. Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings - Bandcamp

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Monday, April 25, 2022

Don Cherry - Where Is Brooklyn? and Eternal Rhythm, Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

This fascinating release finds the trumpet player and multi instrumentalist Don Cherry transitioning from free jazz to citizen of the world jazz. Where is Brooklyn? is Cherry’s final album for Blue Note, recorded in 1966  but not released until 1969; since Blue Note had an uncomfortable relationship with the avant-garde. In addition to Cherry on cornet, the group consists of Henry Grimes on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums and Pharoah Sanders on piccolo flute and tenor saxophone. They are really well integrated and focused, Blackwell is the perfect drummer for this session as he can both both play free or swing like crazy when necessary. They play a series of shorter improvisations with taut themes and tight improvisations including “The Thing” which eventually gave its name to a wonderful Scandinavian free jazz ensemble. “Unite” is the apotheosis of Cherry’s free jazz period with an intense extended improvisation that makes the best use of everyone’s talents from Sanders excoriating tenor saxophone punctuated by Cherry’s punchy cornet to the extra heft added from Blackwell and the thick bass. Eternal Rhythm was recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1968, with Cherry playing flutes, gamelan and bells along side Albert Mangelsdorff on trombone, Eje Thelin on trombone, Bernt Rosengren on tenor saxophone, oboe, clarinet and flute, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Karl Berger on vibraphone, piano and gamelan, Joachim Kühn on piano, prepared piano, Arild Andersen on bass and Jacques Thollot on drums, saron, gong, bells and voice. This piece is edited down to thirty eight minutes and the music found on this continuously flowing suite would set the template for the remainder of Cherry’s career as he would combine the sounds of North Africa and the Far East with American jazz. This portion is wide open and thoughtful, moving through periods of beautiful melody as well as abstract improvisation, drawing from a wide range of musical ideas into a cohesive, accessible musical document. Where Is Brooklyn? and Eternal Rhythm, Revisited - Squidco

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Miles Davis Quintets - Stockholm Live 1967 / 1969 Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Like Mark Corroto says in the liner notes to this fascinating release, trumpeter and composer Miles Davis was in a continuous state of renewal throughout his forty plus year career. Perhaps no more so than during the mid to late 1960's when he gathered together one of his greatest acoustic bands, filled with some of the finest younger musicians of the current generation, then, like the restless explorer he was, gradually changes in personnel and and texture, leading to the fusion masterpieces to come. The first concert on this collection from 1967 is from the very end of the tenure of the "second classic quintet" where Davis is joined by Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. They had been playing together for three years at this point creating classic albums like Nefertiti and Miles Smiles along with mind blowing concerts like those that were captured on the Live at the Plugged Nickel boxed set. This performance is a brief set from the Stockholm Jazz Festival, and it shows how intimately woven the musicians had become with Miles providing the melodic and thematic structure while the younger musicians take long, complex and nearly free solos and push the music to it's logical limit. Shorter delves into deep and passionate solos that hint at the melody, bursting through on the edgy "Agitation" or his own "Footprints" while the whole group retrenches for a moody and abstract rendition of Theloious Monk's "Round Midnight" before pushing Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy" into a fast paced collective improvisation leading to their final theme and conclusion. Nearly two years to the day later in 1969, Miles brought the so-called lost quintet (because they never made a studio record.) Shorter returns but Davis brings a new rhythm section: Chick Corea on electric and acoustic piano, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This Davis quintet was the main attraction, with the band playing two full concerts on this date, while this particular release comes primarily from the first one. The album Bitches Brew had been recorded over the summer but had yet to be released, but the band tears into the title track of that album with Corea's loud crashing electric piano chords showing the audience that the age of Miles Davis groups playing standards in tuxedos was over. Holland and DeJohnette create a boiling rhythm and Davis soars overhead as he introduces the sound of the future to Stockholm. The music is performed as a continuous medley, with three Wayne Shorter themes following, "Paraphernalia," "Nefertiti" and "Masqualero" and the saxophonist, who was nearing the end of his tenure with Davis plays with extraordinary vigor, creating powerful solos over the surging rhythm as Corea moves from grand piano to electric piano. The short version of the pianist's "This" brings the music to an end, with the concert as a whole serving notice that Davis remained at the forefront of contemporary music, featuring some of the finest young musicians on the scene. Stockholm Live 1967 / 1969 Revisited - Squidco

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Dave Gisler with Jaimie Branch and David Murray - See You Out There (Intakt Records, 2022)

A few years ago guitarist Dave Gisler released an excellent album with his trio featuring Raffaele Bossard on bass and Lionel Friedli on drums and guest Jaimie Branch on trumpet. This time Gisler's trio heads to the studio with Branch and another special guest, the great tenor saxophonist David Murray. The group fits together very well and produces a strong album, beginning with "Bastards on the Run" which has fast and strong motoring bass and drums, sparks of guitar and powerful injections of trumpet and saxophone. The over the top collective improvisation is very exciting, producing scalding free jazz. There is a more abstract setting for "Can You Hear Me" with space for the instruments to move, as grinding guitar and trumpet flare over shape shifting drums. Electronic effects allow drones and fades for the electric guitar and bass. "The Vision" is a slow building atmospheric track, with Branch developing lyrical trumpet playing which sounds forlorn, the leader then takes over with guitar developing over prominent bass, leading to a sparkling solo, setting up a rise in tempo with saxophone entrance, and some raw and deep Murray playing with trumpet riding point. Towering electric guitar playing over raucous drumming both virile and majestic sets up "Medical Emergency" until Murray’s saxophone muscles in, his burly tone perfect for this situation. "What Goes Up..." sets the scene with powerhouse guitar, bass and drums along side alternating trumpet and saxophone playing at fast pace. Gisler's choppy grinding guitar meeting Murray’s free saxophone is outstanding, hair raising stuff. Guitar effects are in use on "Get a Doner" accented by trumpet and light drumming, developing an intricate path forward with both trumpet and guitar offering volleys of notes creating a tight, self contained performance. "Better Don't Fuck with the Drunken Sailor" creates a woozy swing, as the band dances across the last call floor, and Gisler and Murray step out for two well articulated solo sections. The leader is vibrant on this final track bursting out with colorful guitar playing while Branch holds dear to the title, playing some beautiful trumpet that wouldn't sound out of place at an afterhours jam session. See You Out There - Bandcamp

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Saturday, April 16, 2022

PUNKT.VRT.PLASTIK: Kaja Draklser, Petter Eldh, Christian Lillinger - Zurich Concert (Intakt Records, 2022)

Punkt​.​Vrt​.​Plastik is a stimulating and progressive jazz trio consisting of Kaja Draksler on piano, Petter Eldh on bass and Christian Lillinger on drums. Having already recorded two well received studio albums, they took advantage of a break in pandemic restrictions to record this concert in May of 2021. “Nuremberg Amok” begins the album with distinctive bass and drum opening sounding muscular and potent, the piano aiding and abetting, gliding with a lighter touch over the thick rhythm. The music becomes fast and intricate, the drummer's complex manner of playing met by anchoring bass and exploratory piano dancing on the highest notes of the keyboard. Abstract percussion sounds provide the bridge to "Axion" resolving to a mid-tempo trio performance, played with a graceful flowing sensation. Continuing without breaks, the next composition, "Trboje" finds the group adding volume and depth to the music, with the pianist playing in a more percussive manner as the notes cascade from her in a dramatic and exciting manner to be met by fascinating and unusual rhythmic ideas from the bass and drums, with the music becoming quite free and dynamic, as they really let loose and create a true highlight. "Body Decline - Natt Raum" is a longer and more exploratory piece that develops gradually, with the music coalescing around the drum playing, with rapid clusters of piano notes entering the fray. The midsection is a complex three way interaction that builds into the second theme and takes the music into a different direction, with some repetition and variation of the theme within the remaining music. The music of Punkt.Vrt.Plastik continues to evolve into a fascinating mix of witty compositions and free spirited action oriented improvisations. They embrace the possibilities of live performance combining the energy of the setting with their own talents to create a very good album. Zurich Concert - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Anthony Williams - Life Time and Spring Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2022)

There have been many prodigies in music throughout the years, but perhaps none hit the jazz world so hard as drummer Tony (then Anthony) Williams. Playing with Sam Rivers and Jackie McLean as a teenager in Boston brought him to the attention of Miles Davis, who invited him into the superband he was building with the best new talent of the age, and helped him land a solo contract with Blue Note Records as well. This album combines his first two solo albums, Life Time and Spring onto one CD where he plays with some of his most talented peers: Sam Rivers and Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Gary Peacock and Richard Davis on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano. Williams doesn't try to dominate the scene, he shows great maturity writing and playing for the band and the results are quite successful. From Life Time is the suite "Two Pieces of One: Red" which opens with subtle brush work, bowed bass and grave sounding tenor saxophone setting up an intricate bass solo. Rivers' sound fits the band well, gruff but open, navigating the complex landscape with aplomb. The follow up, "Two Pieces of One: Green" features some more deft tenor saxophone playing with Rivers taking the music quite out in a masterful solo, with Williams creating shifting textures along side him. The second half becomes a drum feature, with Williams playing in an understated manner, Rivers and Peacock return to make brisk trio setting, before Williams takes things out with another drum feature. "Extras" from Spring continues the nimble bass playing of Peacock, as Williams feathers light brushes around Shorter's brisk saxophone playing, where he carves a very interesting solo statement. There is a delicate bass and drum middle section, with Williams dancing on the cymbals, Shorter's saxophone returning to run wild in this open environment. The drum solo "Echo" is deeply rhythmic and impressive, Williams demonstrating the potential that his elders saw in him at the time. This leads into "From Before" with Shorter and Sam Rivers combining their talents along with Hancock's addition to create a fascinating soundscape. The music is spacious and fills in as the group embraces the freedom of the situation, playing in a free manner but this is a a quieter more contemplative freedom. On "Love Song" the saxophones lead a lilting melody that is relatable, building into a more traditional hard bop performance, and an improvised section that is built from the melody, with excellent saxophone playing that becomes more exploratory as the track continues, as well as some cascading piano. The closer "Tee" has a serpentine feeling, the music in a constant state of evolution where dry saxophone meets thick bass and skittish drumming. Their improvisation grows very deep and complex, at times stark and foreboding but like the entirety of this collection, it is a fine example of what Tony Williams was capable of and served notice that there was a new drummer on the scene, one who was going to shake things up for years to come. Life Time and Spring Revisited - Squidco

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Sunday, April 10, 2022

Alexander Hawkins Mirror Canon - Break A Vase (Intakt Records, 2022)

Pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins is never one to rest on his laurels, whether that means playing with respected elders like Evan Parker or Anthony Braxton or putting together a new ensemble for this recording. Here Hawkins is joined by his regular trio mates of Neil Charles on bass and Stephen Davis drums adding Shabaka Hutchings on saxophones and clarinet, Otto Fischer on guitar and Richard Olátúndé Baker on percussion. The group comes together quite well, creating sounds that are full of life and played with a sense of adventure. "Stamped Down or Shovelled" with its groovy guitar and extra percussion enters like something beamed in from sixties cinema before the horns track the theme  and the band is off and running. The music is exciting and colorful with Hawkins providing careful underpinning, making room for a fine saxophone solo backed with subtle guitar and driving drums and percussion. He then comes in with a skillfully played solo of his own, dashing amid the tumult and playing fast and loose, keeping the momentum going. The full band comes together to restate and play variations on the theme rounding out an excellent performance, with a percussion and drums duet. Building from a cascade of vibrant sounds "Generous Souls" creates a complex theme which gives the musicians quite a bit of material to work with. Hawkins develops a complex piano feature over insistent drumming and subliminal guitar playing, the piece is fast, modern and original. The Hutchins' saxophone enters, making the most of the propulsive interplay to fuel a potent and soaring section adding some gritty and granular texture to excellent effect. Fischer achieves a very clean tone from his guitar, playing along side compelling intersecting drum and percussion play, creating a fine soundscape of their own. The group coalesces for a fast paced collective improvisation to the conclusion. "Stride Rhyme Gospel" brings some unexpected influences to the forefront, with a strutting theme that barges in with a confident swagger, then breaking loose for a fantasia of color and rhythm that is very appealing. The collective playing of the full band is very impressive, and the sextet as a whole is a wonderfully expressive unit on this performance, with concussive drums and percussion holding the bottom, increasingly complex piano and saxophone building on the succeeding layer. The saxophone fades for a cooldown of graceful guitar and hand percussion, deeply rhythmic and interactive, with some electronics completing the fascinating song on a mysterious note. Break a Vase - Bandcamp

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Thursday, April 07, 2022

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 5: Stammer (triptych) (Audiographic Records, 2021)

The fifth version of composer and multi reed instrument player Ken Vandermark's Momentum series is an experimental audio - visual experience featuring some of the top names in their field. The group is a double quartet consisting of Kim Alpert on visuals and video manipulation, Tim Barnes on percussion (left channel), Katinka Kleijn on cello, Damon Locks on samples/electonics (right channel), Nick Macri on basses, Lou Mallozzi on recordings/electronics (left channel), claire rousay on percussion (right channel), Mars Williams on saxophones and little instruments (left channel) and Ken Vandermark on reeds (right channel). This album was influenced by the composer Alvin Lucier and filmmaker (and cellist) Tony Conrad, and their approach to art. This led to Vandermark creating music by process over the course of three twenty minute compositions interspersed with periods of free improvisation. The music itself is complex but fascinating, with the double quartet able to create a wide variety of textures and hues, with the compositions meeting the musicians at just the right moment. Vandermark had to compose on a deadline due to the commitments he has to other bands and projects. Apparently the pressure focuses him and despite not being able to have a complete rehearsal which had all of the audio and video together, he and the group pulled it off and they did it live in concert, which must have been an amazing scene. The sound of the disc is very good, well engineered despite the complex layers of sound involved, the video element is critical, and everyone who purchases the album receives a link to some of the video that was used in the performance. This is a valuable and well thought out project. A lot of effort went into this and it paid off, opening up new avenues of expression for musicians and artists of different disciplines and locales. Momentum 5: Stammer (triptych) - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, April 05, 2022

John Zorn - Perchance to Dream (Tzadik Records, 2022)

This is a fascinating feature for some of John Zorn's more unique compositions with an all star band consisting of Bill Frisell on guitar, Brian Marsella on piano and Fender Rhodes piano, John Medeski on organ and Kenny Wollesen on drums and chimes. Built like a suite with religious overtones, looking for the truth through somnambulant exploration. "Introit" opens the album with probing piano which resonates well along side lightly played cymbals, building a short and repetitive motif as the other instruments float in spectral form. This is a very restrained performance, hypnotic in its simplicity, the short piano figure shadowed by the ghosts of other instruments. The electric piano builds a pleasing theme on "A Secret Twilight," organ and guitar with light percussion, creating a nimble sound that is ready to take flight. It is beautiful the way the keyboards and guitar mesh together to complete a tapestry of sound with a kind shuffle beat below, the interplay between the musicians is excellent. "Lacrimosa" sees an organ drone building tension, with acoustic piano playing off of it providing nice dynamic shade, then the music resolves into a spare and melodic feature for acoustic piano and soft drumming while the organ and guitar provides the framework. Frisell's subtle and pretty solo sings amid the organ and percussion, leading to a finely designed organ feature before wrapping up with a heady finish. A subtle guitar opening on "Eventide" leads to a swirling and mysterious full band development. The guitar anchors the piece as keyboards ripple and cascade and the drums provide shifting rhythms. Organ and brushed drums provide a change of pace, the electric piano giving the piece a faster pace as the twin keyboard approach really pays dividends. Guitar and cymbals plus organ and electric piano evoke long mysterious tones on "Hekate," coming together into a more potent form with barbed guitar, fast time on cymbals while the hallucinatory keyboards ebb and flow. Electronics play havoc with the sound creating a wild experimental landscape where creativity is king. "Tenderness" uses lush piano and guitar in stop and go time, where soft brushes and droplets of piano notes build a slightly sad and melancholic tone. Two keyboards guitar and brushes, yet it works, Frisell bides his time and then solos in an understated and thoughtful manner. The music then glides out as mysteriously as it entered. This album has an interesting instrumental makeup and both Zorn and the musicians make the most of it, with the composer supplying music that was specifically designed for this unit, and the band interpreting and improvising on it in their own personal way. Perchance to Dream - amazon.com

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Monday, April 04, 2022

Ornette Coleman - Genesis Of Genius: The Contemporary Albums (Craft Recordings, 2022)

From the vantage point of sixty years out from the time of recording, it seems like such a benign revolution, Ornette Coleman and his band even (even including a pianist on the first album) straining at the bonds of hard bop orthodoxy, aiming to fly free. But even here on their first two albums they have the hallmarks of their sound already in place, short snappy themes that can launch the group into whatever kind of improvisation that they are seeking, led by Coleman's tart, citrus like alto saxophone that has a unique attack and Don Cherry's individual sounding pocket trumpet which is locked in for excellent unison statements, along with punchy and powerful solo sections. The first album, Something Else!!!!, also includes Walter Norris on piano, Don Payne on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. This is their most hidebound album, but there is still much room to move, with Coleman dedicating a track to his then wife "Jayne" along with the much enduring composition "When Will the Blues Leave" which is one of the true
highlights of the collection, Coleman comes from a rhythm and blues background, scorned and even beaten at times for bringing his open minded approach to the saxophone to the bandstand. Here he bares his soul with a beautiful keening sound that evokes the blues but the quest for freedom in music and beyond. The follow up album is called Tomorrow Is The Question!, with a different cast including Shelly Manne on drums, and Percy Heath and Red Mitchell sharing bass duties. Even when paired with a swing based bass and drum unit, Coleman and Cherry fly quite high, bursting with energy on the short title track opener and then taking their time to explore several compositions some that would become Coleman standards like the ebullient "Turnaround" and the complex yet thrilling "Rejoicing." These two albums would be the calling card that brought Coleman and his soon to be quartet east to the Lenox school at Tanglewood, and then on to Atlantic Records and destiny. But the two early records on this collection deserve to be heard, as they show Coleman in transition, fully developing his own voice and approach, one that would change the jazz world forever. Genius of Genius: The Contemporary Albums - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Matthew Bourne, Emil Karlsen - The Embalmer (Relative Pitch Records, 2022)

Recorded spontaneously during one of their earliest meetings, this album features Matthew Bourne on piano and Emil Karlsen on drums. These two musicians really clicked, performing music that ranges from jazz through free improvisation and beyond. The opening track “Clench” has a spare and quiet section of brushed cymbal and drums meeting restrained keyboard, with the music slowly filling in like a fluid. Increasing in pace, the music begins to tumble and cascade, building its own inexorable forward momentum. This leads to “Snuff” with its intricate percussion and Bourne playing inside the piano creating a fascinating sequence. The sounds they create may slip the boundaries of jazz, but their addition proves the limitless nature of their musical vision. Deep dark clusters of low end piano then anchor the conclusion of the piece. “Prick” uses swirling piano and brushes, creating a restrained melodic sound. Short clipped phrases from the piano are met by percussive bursts and shaken textural sounds. This lengthy performance benefits from the duo’s patience, playing with time and space and allowing the sounds to work themselves out. The crushing attack of “Tool” is particularly potent, achieving a muscular, machine like industrial grind that is unique and affecting. The spare “Chalk" is the opposite, with some deft light percussion and droplets of fine piano notes. The musicians improvise in a nimble and unexpected fashion, raising the complexity and heft of the music as the piece evolves, at times it sounds as much like a battle of wills as a free flowing collaboration. Deep low end piano clusters meet up with percussion in an exciting fashion, leading to a fine drum solo filled with distinctive qualities. Finally “The Embalmer” uses crystalline piano notes hanging like snowflakes on a frigid night to set the mood, elegiac and spacious. Brushed percussion adds deft texture to the performance, building a haunted grace, which is the perfect ending for this fine album. The musicians really came together openly and showed the creativity that they are capable of on this project, creating performances that stretched beyond the boundaries that often constrain modern music. The Embalmer - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

John Coltrane Quartet - Song Of Praise, New York 1965 Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

This release collects radio broadcasts of the classic John Coltrane Quartet with the leader on tenor and soprano saxophone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, playing at the end of that great group's tenure in mid 1965. Editing out the applause and introductions, ezz-thetics records remastering is able to squeeze all of the music onto one CD. At this stage, the group's improvisations had grown to epic length, and some were clocking in at nearly one half hour in length. These four titles were recorded for the Portraits in Jazz radio program at the Half Note in New York City, but the engineering brings the music out with as much clarity as possible, with Tyner's contributions sounding particularly dazzling during his solos on some of the more melodic passages. “Afro-Blue” was a regular composition played by the band at this time and Tyner gets in an excellent solo, he was starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction of the music at this point of his tenure in the band, but he really rises to the occasion here with a thoughtful and well performed feature. Lengthy performances of Coltrane standards "Song of Praise" and the fan favorite "My Favorite Things" are also present. The band played these compositions every night, but they always kept their improvisations fresh and the ones presented here are no exception. Coltrane would play them for the rest of his all too short career, but he always approached them in a open manner, ever searching for something new, something beyond what he had found in the pervious performance. Shifting the running order moves “One Down, One Up” to the end of the album, but the decision works out as the rest of the band comes together and then launches Coltrane full blast into a monstrous twenty-five minute solo that has become legendary, standing along side “Chasin’ The Trane” and a few of his other epic recorded performances for its stamina and consistent unrelenting creativity. This really is something special both in terms of the endurance involved and the amount of improvisational ideas being used. Eventually Tyner and Garrison drop out and the music becomes a breathless duet between Coltrane and Jones. Hearing this exciting music again with a fresh coat of tinkering is enlightening, thinking about where it fits at the crossroads of John Coltrane's career. This was the end of the classic quartet, soon would come the concerts from Seattle and a new lineup on a new journey all their own. Song Of Praise, New York 1965 Revisited - Squidco Music

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Binker and Moses - Feeding the Machine (Gearbox Records, 2022)

Saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd have been at the forefront of the dynamic London jazz scene for many years now, with scalding live performances and excellent albums making believers out of all that hear them. Rather than risk going stale, they have invited Max Luthert to add live tape loops and electronic effects to this album, allowing for a subtle shift in the music while maintain its strong modern jazz appeal. “Asynchronous Intervals” opens the album with strange reverberating sounds and low tones that build up from the silence to yearning tones of saxophone branching out over the electronic backdrop, with cymbals adding shade, creating a searching medium tempo. The music shifts to a stark yet powerful saxophone and drums duo improvisation, pushing back to the finish. Free flowing and developing, "Active-Multiple-Fetish-Overlord" uses organically treated echo saxophone in an experiment of sound choppy phrases that are phased by the electronic treatment. "Accelerometer Overdose" builds from a mysterious saxophone opening with drum bursts shifting to long tones with an almost Bitches Brew like echoing treatment. Drums coalesce into a solid beat with multitracked saxophone sounds developing into a burning improvisation. The electronic instruments bubble up as the ultimate wild card, adding to the music’s structure. Long, light saxophone and tapping percussion which is subtle and spare mark "Feed Infinite," coming together with electronic shading of saxophone and drum sounds. Interesting percussion sounds meld into a more complex rhythm with saxophone playing along side. The group is confident in spooling out a collective improvisation in fine fashion, playing modern jazz with complex drumming and steely saxophone. "After The Machine Settles" rises, building slowly and confidently, with uneasy electronic sounds, drum rolls, abstraction, altered saxophone sounds, all combining with a heavy drum beat and raw true tenor saxophone playing, making for a deep grinding improvisation that is coursing with energy. Fading in, "Because Because" sees the saxophone echoing electronically and swirling against the electronics in something that resembles frippertronics for jazz, gradually becoming more organic, the saxophone strains at bonds, developing raw wrenching peals of sound, playing a mysterious long game. Kudos to Binker and Moses for taking chances and experimenting, it would have been easy to pump out another duo record, but Luthert really mixes things up and foments change. Feeding the Machine - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 20, 2022

Lisa Ullén, Elsa Bergman, Anna Lund - Space (Relative Pitch Records, 2022)

This album is an interesting and thoughtful piano trio album melding European free improvisation and jazz which is wide open to various tempi and states of being. The group is a very well integrated unit that consists of Lisa Ullén on piano, Elsa Bergman on bass and Anna Lund on drums, they are the engine of the Anna Hogberg Attack, whose album Lena was my Album of the Year for 2020, so it is clear that this is a very distinguished and talented trio. Without the horns of that sextet present, the trio is able to move with subtlety and grace, allowing open spaces to develop that the musicians can use to develop textures and complex rhythmic passages that work very well. The opening track "Come Together" is spare and free in the beginning before as advertised, the musicians coalesce in a buoyant three way improvisation. "Tempest" is the longest performance, and a very exciting one, with the musicians playing in a very dynamic manner, using an elastic sensibility and approach to keep the music in continuous motion, through episodes of cascading piano, and strong bass and drums or interludes of quiet, this is a fine demonstration of the trio's considerable skills. The group dynamics are what make this record special. The musicians play with a great respect for each other but also with a exploratory approach to making music in the moment that keeps everything fresh. Space - bandcamp

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double - March (Firehouse 12 Records, 2022)

This is a delightful modern jazz album that is as fresh as a morning sunrise, combining deep abstraction, flat out near free jazz and an extended duet drum performance that shows the depth of music that this band can achieve, and the compositional and instrumental acuity that Fujiwara possesses. He leads from the drums (also adding some vibraphone) with a wonderful group consisting of Gerald Cleaver on drums, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. Such a talented group gives the opportunity for the music to range far and wide, whether running at breakneck speed on the opening track “Pack Up, Coming For You” with powerful electric guitars meeting insistent brass and deeply rhythmic drumming or “The March of the Storm Before the Quiet of the Dance” where spare brass probes open spaces, that snap awake with some gnarly electric guitar playing and rockfish drumming creating an impressively dynamic performance. The music is unpredictable, changing course when you think you have a bead on it. The final track “For Alan, Part II”  is a massive seventeen and a half minute drum performance that makes the most of its running time to move through several different rhythmic areas. A nod to the deceased master drummer Alan Dawson, the piece is riveting and maintains the listener’s energy from start to finish, as does this excellent album as a whole. March - Bandcamp

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Sunday, March 13, 2022

Julieta Eugenio - Jump (Greenleaf Music, 2022)

Tenor saxophonist and composer Julieta Eugenio worked hard to release this fine debut LP. Moving from her native Argentina to New York City to study, and slowly working her way into that competitive scene. She started to collaborate with Matt Dwonszyk on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums during the lockdown, and when restrictions were relaxed they recorded an album consisting of eight Eugenio original compositions. She has a classic tenor saxophone sound, dark and burnished and she is accomplished playing at any tempo from a lustrous ballad to a flat out burning up-tempo tune. The drummer is able to speed up the tempo and create a complex rhythm in an interesting way while the saxophone lags a bit behind on “Efes” which also includes a fine bass solo. She lets the music breathe and find its own pulse organically, like on “La Jungla” where she can confidently raise the pace and then hand off to the drummer for a crisp feature. “For You” is a very tastefully played ballad with brushed percussion, subtle bass and well performed saxophone. The slow tempo suits Eugenio well, as a patient player her melody lingers and she takes a languorous and effective solo. Developing some fine forward motion through trade offs of saxophone and drums “Snowbirds” evolves well, with bounding bass and a complex improvised segment for the trio that is quite impressive. This album worked very well as a whole and is an auspicious start for Julieta Eugenio, who has the tools to go far. The trio plays well together, their familiarity shows in the way they can work together and embrace the material at hand. The sound of the ensemble is very attractive in the way that adheres to the jazz tradition while carving out it's own modernist niche within it. Jump - Bandcamp

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Disasters, Vol. 1 (Hot Cup Records, 2022)

The more things change the more they stay the same. Mostly Other People Do the Killing began their career as a hard charging five piece band playing witty post bop that referenced the great music of the past while facing headlong into the future. Each of the musicians had their own solo careers in addition to being serial collaborators, which led to changes in personnel leading to the group featured on this album, where recent addition Ron Stabinsky on piano and Nord electronics meets up with original members Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums and Nord electronics. As you can tell from the instrumentation, the sound of the band has changed quite a bit, but a few things have not changed. One is that the compositions are still named after small towns in Pennsylvania, and two is that the music is played at a very high level. Stabinsky first joined the band on 2016's Loafer's Hollow showing a kaleidoscope of keyboard playing that ranged from ragtime to free jazz. Elliott and Shea have been playing together long enough to form a unique bond, playing rhythms that can be lightning fast as they often are on this album, showing the three musicians coming together for improvisations that are devilishly complex but very exciting. The addition of electronics pushes the group into new and exciting territory with Stabinsky and Shea using these instruments to frame acoustic playing, and allowing the electronics to take center stage as a solo or featured instrument. It is a bit of a shock to hear this music coming from this particular band, but the more one listens, the inventiveness and highly developed intelligence comes through, developing an electro-acoustic combination that keeps the mischievous nature of the music that the band has developed since 2005, while continually pushing ahead. Disasters Vol. 1 - Bandcamp

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Thursday, March 03, 2022

Arthur Blythe - Basic Blythe (Columbia Records, 1988)

Normally I find a string section to be an anathema to improvisational jazz, but if there was one true artist who could make it work it was alto saxophonist and composer Arthur Blythe. This is the last of ten albums Blythe made for Columbia Records in the late seventies through mid eighties, gaining surprising label support considering his unique version of accessible avant-garde jazz was flourishing as the jazz world was turning inward to more conservative strictures. In addition to a eight person string section, the jazz group was stout: Anthony Cox on bass, Bobby Battle on drums and John Hicks on piano. The album is bookended with versions of “Autumn in New York” where the jazz group and the strings are intertwined well. Bob Friedman wrote the arrangements, using the strings as accents on the short first version, but allowing the music to swell with lush romanticism on the finale, carrying Blythe’s emotional saxophone to the conclusion. "Lenox Avenue Breakdown" was Blythe's original breakthrough, the title track of his first Columbia LP, and it sounds particularly good here as the leader's ripe and potent saxophone tears through the memorable melody and builds waves of creative improvisation as the rhythm section provides excellent support and the strings take a break. "As of Yet" has a Thelonious Monk like flavor to it, but it is actually an Arthur Blythe original composition. He plays with an angular grace worthy of the master and John Hicks is particularly vivid on piano here as well. The following track "Ruby My Dear" is an actual Monk composition and the band plays it well. This is a track with the string section and they play their part, framing the overall sound and the soloists and adding extra texture to a well known tune. "Faceless Woman" Is a wonderful performance for the jazz quartet, where the group gets to stretch out and really fly. The quick theme gives the group a lot of room to move, particularly Blythe whose unique and cutting alto saxophone tone sounds like none other, playing with drive and confidence. The rhythm team is particularly vibrant, with Battle and Cox creating great rhythms on the fly and Hicks demonstrating why he was one of the leading mainstream pianists of the day though his insistent comping and soloing. Although Columbia Records let Blythe go after this excellent record, that did nothing to stem his relentless creativity. He recorded for many labels and toured widely through the nineties and mid 2000's before falling ill and eventually passing in 2017, having influenced countless musicians and jazz fans. Basic Blythe - amazon.com

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Monday, February 28, 2022

Tyler Mitchell featuring Marshall Allen - Dancing Shadows (Mahakala Music, 2022)

A pleasing jazz album which like it's guest star has much of the history of jazz available at its fingertips, allowing the musicians to cover the extremes of beautiful ballads free blowouts, but just as much in-between. The well integrated band consists of Mitchell on bass, Marshall Allen on saxophone and electronic valve instrument, Chris Hemmingway on tenor saxophone, Nicoletta Manzini on alto saxophone, Wayne Smith on drums and Elson Nascimento on percussion. The arrangements for the horns work well and the rhythm section is tight leading to a successful overall performance. The setlist is heavy on Sun Ra classics, but the group keeps them fresh like in "Enlightenment" where the band formas a hard swinging groove over which Allen can take an outre solo. None of the songs overstay their welcome, the longest is the opener, "Interstellar Loways" which builds a sense of atmospheric mystery and releases some well thought out solos. Mitchell was a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra as a colleague Marshall in 1985 under Sun Ra, then returned to much later when Marshall became musical director, so he is intimately familiar with the material. This shows in the relaxed grace that he and the band bring to this recording, one that Sun Ra aficionados and modern jazz fans as a whole will appreciate. Dancing Shadows - amazon.com

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Monday, February 21, 2022

Delvon Lamarr Trio - Cold As Weiss (Colemine Records, 2022)

Calling themselves purveyors of "feel good music" the Delvon Lamarr Trio with the leader on organ, Jimmy James on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums plays a meat and potatoes brand of instrumental rhythm and blues and soul jazz that must go down a storm live, and works pretty well on record, too. "Pull Your Pants Up" is the uptempo, fun and funky beginning track, anchored by a crisp backbeat, and featuring occasional swells of organ and drum fills with shards of guitar. There is a nice short yet memorable organ theme woven through the piece that serves as an opening earworm. Flashy and funky guitar struts on "Don't Worry 'Bout What I Do," getting dirty, nicely framed by organ and drum support. The guitarist focuses on stretching out with a cool sounding solo that is thick and evil with organ washes and drum thwacks riding point. "I Wanna Be Where You Are" has a danceable and light melody from the organ and percussion, something that us easy and accessible like a seventies pop tune, but played way up high on the organ. The theme is short and snappy and the drummer settles into a simple driving beat as the organ solos off the theme returning to it regularly. The guitarist mines a dark bluesy vein of guitar in the territory of John Lee Hooker, on "Big TT's Blues" giving the music a heavy vibe, riding the beat rigidly, before the organ breaks out a very classic jazz organ style solo with sustains weaving in and around the stoic beat, stretching out for a long and dynamic feature. James plays the deep blues during his feature, he's well studied and has a organic tone that works very well, and knows what to do with it. "Get Da Steppin'" builds low and grinding organ notes, leading into a funky midtempo tune, where guitar and drums lock in for a fine foundation as Lamarr takes the organ for a spin, creating a really nice sound, plumbing the depths of what the Hammond B3 has to offer driving it like a fine roadster. A slow jam quietstorm ballad, "Uncertainty," lets the organ play out and sustain over a sleek guitar theme sounding like late period Grant Green. The musicians develop stratified layers with the organ playing pillow like clouds of sound floating on top, while the guitar handles some melodic variation and the drums keep a supple yet inobtrusive beat. "Keep On Keepin' On" has an interesting melody that takes the entire trio into account, with choppy and scratchy guitar, a shuffle beat and stop and go organ. The group sounds like they are trying out the theme for some Mod related TV show yet to be made. Lamarr takes flight and chooses a classic organ tone to make his voice heard, and he does it very well, playing a classy and well integrated solo. The final track of the album, "This Is Who I Is," shows guitarist James breaking out the pedals to get freaky alongside some greasy organ and a strong backbeat from Weiss. Organ chords and heavy beat demand forward motion, but are willing to meet the guitarist halfway, then James kicks in and really goes for it, pedals and all, pushing his instrument hard and leaving the organ and drums behind for a bit before remembering he's in a band and cycling back into the group for the payoff. This was a fun and enjoyable album, the group is quite talented and is able to meld everything from greasy Memphis R and B to deep blues and soul jazz and do it with wit and style. Cold As Weiss - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 20, 2022

Akira Sakata / Takeo Moriyama - Mitochondria (Trost Records, 2022)

We are fortunate to be a fly on the wall in this performance through the medium of a cassette recording from Kashiwa Chiba Prefecture in Japan during May of 1986. The great free jazz saxophonist Akira Sakata meets equally powerfully drummer Takeo Moriyama for an excellent series of spontaneous duet performances. The two men provide a memorable version of the Albert Ayler free jazz chestnut “Ghosts” where Sakata’s willowy and stark saxophone floats into a section that is driven by the intense emotional needs of this song. The opening track “Archezoa” shows Sakata’s facility playing on a low toned instrument, whether he is doubling on bass clarinet or baritone saxophone. Almost serving as a benediction, the music is low and slow, but things really kick in on “Mitochondria” with Sakata moving to his more traditional alto saxophone while his partner Moriyama comes crashing in on drums as the music creates gales of free improvisation that truly comes from the heart. They sound superb together which is no mean feat when playing at this breakneck speed and with no guardrails. “Hachi” brings to mind the old Ralph Nader notion of “unsafe at any speed” because these guys are just simply burning, and there are some very brief moments in Sakata’s playing where you hear how closely he must have studied Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker, because there are flutters, quick flurries of notes within the din of this overwhelming free blowout that connect it with the past. Moriyama is no slouch himself, building a righteous and multi-rhythmic drum solo that stakes his claim as an original and beguiling player in his own right. This album is a real gift, and it sounds very good, considering it was a cassette recording of extremely loud music. The music is great, dynamic and personal, it is a take on free jazz that is unique to these two men, and a clue to the rich Japanese music scene of the nineteen eighties. Mitochondria - Bandcamp

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Saturday, February 12, 2022

Ethan Iverson - Every Note Is True (Blue Note Records, 2022)

Pianist Ethan Iverson creates an engaging and accessible album in his debut for Blue Note Records, playing with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Iverson has gained a wide range of experience during his career from seeking out venerated elders of the music to his lengthy stint in the cutting edge trio The Bad Plus. All of those experiences come into play in the creating of this album which opens in an interesting way, with the short track "The More It Changes" using soft piano with a 44-voice virtual choir, creating an interesting opening / prelude stating that the focus will be on the songs themselves, laying out a statement of purpose for the sounds that follow. "The Eternal Verities" uses deep emotional piano, which creates a pretty melody at a slow tempo piano floating enigmatically as the bass grounds the music and drums add commentary. The music reaches a lush, deep velvety weight near the end with some towering chords before slipping away. A probing theme from Iverson sets up the performance on "She Won’t Forget Me" as thick bass bounds, adding surface tension that the piano skips across like a water bug. The music eventually wells up with emotional fervor, but finally breaks against the shore. "For Ellen Raskin" has a gentle sunrise like opening, where Iverson’s soft touch meets diligent bass and supple percussion. The music is light and drifts upon the whims of the artists, with full round sounding piano chords juxtaposed against much more active drumming, eventually leaving with a soft solo piano coda at the end. There is quiet spare and patient sensibility on "Blue" as the flow of the music allows the sounds to come to to them naturally. Rolls of low end piano add tension as the music begins to take shape, followed by crashing chords, drums and cymbals. Stepping back from the brink, the group allows the evanescent piece ends as quietly as it began. "Goodness Knows" is a delicious swinger, where the music is bouncy and bright, and the theme cycling, repeating and gaining power, allowing the trio to break out on a bass led exploration, Grenadier's superb playing framed by piano chords, as the music evolves to a gently swinging number. Spare solo piano, "Had I But Known" sets a melancholy tone with emotional theme that is quiet and solemn. This short track evolves into "Merely Improbable" where the bass and drums return to settle on a mid tempo swing with a distinct edge to it. The music is pushed along by deft bass and drums creating a forceful rhythm which demands respect. "Praise Will Travel" develops a rapid solo drum opening, joined bass and drums, creates a sense of flowing dynamism as the music weaves through a complex setting. The concluding track, "At The Bells Of Motley,"  develops a groove that is close to the ground, where loping bass and drums provide the foundation for Iverson’s piano to bound in-between them. Bouncing rhythmic performance is a fine end the the record, incorporating another very good bass solo into the mix as well as strong drum feature, spreading the wealth equally. Every Note Is True - amazon.com 

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Friday, February 11, 2022

William Parker, Patricia Nicholson – No Joke! (ESP-Disk, 2021)

Calling on the wonderful legacy of the Sun Ra Arkestra with vocalist June Tyson, the husband and wife team of bassist and composer William Parker and wordsmith, vocalist and dancer Patricia Nicholson create a very impressive and memorable album. They are aided by talented musicians Devin Brahja Waldman on alto saxophone, Gerald Cleaver on drums, James Brandon Lewis on tenor saxophone and Melanie Dyer on viola. The music has a wonderful spontaneous feeling, especially on the nineteen minute opener "Flare Up" which allows the musicians to stretch out at will and where Nicholson can savor the words and use the music to lift her thoughts and ideas ever higher. "Little Black Kid with the Swollen Stomach" nods to the sorrow of hunger with stoic music as the horns take the lead, using an excellent low and guttural solo from Lewis to drive the music forward, and then changing as the horns intertwine beautifully. The music shifts to stark and powerful drums and vocals before downshifting for a subtle conclusion. The third track, "Struggle" has a sinuous arrangement for viola and bowed bass, quite beautiful, leading into Nicholson's spoken word, which powerfully questions whether the hard work for true change is being co-opted by those with a different agenda. "Wilted Light as Flower" develops mid-tempo spacious jazz with long yearning tones of saxophone, shifting from tenor to alto in an agile fashion and working together with the band to create an excellent instrumental soundscape. The album's finale is the massive twenty-one minute plus title track "No Joke," where the vocals and band are in ascendance, with the viola soaring around the horns as the bass and drums forge ahead. Nicholson takes center stage, standing up for the downtrodden and dispossessed in society, like Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln have done before her. They band opens up with increasingly furious nearly free jazz that suits the emotion of the words very well. Everything is very well integrated and powerful as the socially conscious lyrics and lacerating music become one relentless force. This album was a superb amalgam of heart-on-sleeve lyrics and vocals with open minded and unyielding modern jazz. Each completes the other and provides a catalyst for this successful and important project. No Joke! - amazon.com

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