Friday, September 30, 2022

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

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

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

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

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

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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

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

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

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

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

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Monday, September 19, 2022

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

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

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Friday, September 09, 2022

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

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

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Saturday, September 03, 2022

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

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

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