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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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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 -

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