Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Rempis/Abrams/Ra + Baker - Scylla (Audiographic 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 - bandcamp.com

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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 - amazon.com

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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 - amazon.com

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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 - amazon.com

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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 - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 05, 2022

George Russell - Ezz​-​thetics and The Stratus Seekers Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Best known as a composer and musical theorist, pianist George Russell had a burst of activity from 1960-1962, resulting in several influential albums, including the two collected here which are among his most famous. On this album he has a sextet with Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, Don Ellis on trumpet, Dave Baker on trombone, Steve Swallow on bass, and Joe Hunt on drums. Despite Russell's reputation as an intellectual, the music is quite accessible and enjoyable. The title track, "Ezz-thetic" begins the program on a swinging up-tempo note, with Ellis taking a smooth and fleet solo before giving way to Eric Dolphy who imparts an extraordinary alto saxophone improvisation that is so unique that it just jumps out of the speakers. The twisting and turning theme returns to close out a great performance. Miles Davis' Birth of Cool era composition "Nardis" slows the speed of the music as brass dominates, and trumpet and trombone are in the spotlight. "Lydiot" is introduced by walking bass and then another Dolphy feature lifts things to immensely high levels before trumpet, trombone and bass alternate short solos and the whole group comes back together for a swinging conclusion. "Honesty" picks the pace back up with some fine trumpet and alto, but the real clincher is the group's performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" which ends the LP. Russell opens slowly, altering the piano to mimic early electronic music, before Dolphy comes in playing the familiar melody and using it as a springboard for an extraordinary solo. I am a huge Eric Dolphy admirer, and his performance here is just out of this world. The Status Seekers sadly subtracts Dolphy, but tenor saxophonist Paul Plummer and alto saxophonist John Peirce play quite well and the extra piece in the lineup allows Russell to add even more texture and nuance to his compositions. Of the six tracks on this album, four are his with "Blues in Orbit" being the key track, music that is firmly grounded but imbued with the space age flair that was sweeping the nation as the Mercury program began to launch astronauts into space. The title piece "The Status Seekers" is a swaggering fast paced performance bouncing between written themes and wide open improvisational sections. Also impressive is "A Lonely Place" which is a deeply affecting ballad, with the saxophonists developing moving solos and the group as a whole providing just the right environment for Russell's ideas. This is a fine reissue, with excellent sound quality and well written liner notes completing the picture. Russell was an important figure, influential among musicians with his Lydian Method, but the music is very enjoyable on its own. Ezz​-​thetics and The Stratus Seekers Revisited - Squidco

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Friday, June 03, 2022

Matthew Shipp and Chad Fowler - Old Stories (Mahakala Music, 2022)

Pianist Matthew Shipp and saxophonist Chad Fowler, playing stritch and saxello here, make for a formidable team on this duet recording. Unafraid to go to the extremes on their instruments, these unnamed, spontaneously improvised instrumentals consistently surprise the listener with their depth of feeling and the stark beauty that is achieved. Fowler has a raw and unvarnished tone to his saxophone playing, one that is very expressive and can leap quickly from ruminative abstraction to scouring high register blowing. There a many gradations to his playing and he deploys them well, responding to Shipp's prompting or pulling the music down an unexplored path on his own. Shipp's piano is deep and rich, playing on a tightrope in this duet situation, but he never falters, moving through sections of downward facing bass chords that provide architectural support for their music, then providing large clusters of piano notes and chords to deeply engage Fowler's saxophone playing. The clashes and contrasts of their approaches and musical color schemes keep the music continuously exciting and propel it forward. On their improvisations they break the music down and then reconstruct it, challenging themselves and the listener, while never sounding dry or clinical. Shipp is quoted in the liner notes saying that he thinks totally improvising is a form of composition in its own right. He may well be onto something considering the success of this session where these two musicians hit the studio having said barely a word to one another, allowing the music to speak for itself, which it did very well. Old Stories - amazon.com

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