Friday, October 28, 2022

Thumbscrew - Multicolored Midnight (Cuneiform Records, 2022)

Celebrating their tenth year as one of the leading progressive jazz ensembles on the contemporary scene, Thumbscrew consists of Michael Formanek on bass and electronics, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and vibraphone and Mary Halvorson on guitar. The album's title alludes the shades and hues that have been recently added to their musical toolbox, brought about by the inclusion of extra electronics and vibraphone. “Song For Mr. Humphries,” a nod to Pittsburgh master drummer Roger Humphries, has a nimble guitar opening with drums and bass kicking in, the drums in particular are rock solid, much like the playing of the dedicatee, while Halvorson's guitar adds exploration and embellishments. Formanek's bass solo is deftly played, framed with subtle cymbals and guitar, while the music gradually fills and becomes more exciting as they stretch out on an open improvisation with excellent interplay between the instruments. “Shit Changes” uses open space well creating with cool vibraphone and deep, resonant acoustic bass. Colorful vertical lines of guitar arc over the other two instruments, giving the music a rich organic feel. The music vibrates and shimmers in an unusual fashion for the band, their abstractions are usually complex rhythmic ones rather than space/time experimentations. Opening in space, the floating and spare “Future Reruns and Nostalgia” uses bowed bass to further an almost underwater feeling to the music. Spare notes of vibraphone and guitar are adrift in this surreal and haunting atmosphere, all texture, patience and ambience. Bowed bass provides some grounding for the suspended vibes and guitar, as the music begins to coalesce slightly with a web of electric guitar, catching the vibraphone notes as they approach. "Should be Cool" demonstrates the deep and intuitive interplay the band has developed over the course of its time playing together. No matter how complex their improvisations are, rhythmically or thematically, each member of the group is dialed in to provide the right technique at the right time. Halvorson's complex spidery guitar is met by strong cascades of drumming and deep bass giving the music a memorable and unusual focal point. This album worked quite well, allowing the group to branch out into new territory, making the most of workshopping at a Pittsburgh artists retreat to create original music that continuously looks forward. Multicolored Midnight -

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Friday, October 21, 2022

Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra - Universe in Blue (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2022)

This is an interesting archival find from the seemingly never ending Sun Ra universe, a group of recordings made in small clubs, undated, but recorded at Slugs in New York City presumably during 1971–72. Sun Ra plays organ for most of these performances, leading a medium size Arkestra, but as always he has phalanx of excellent band members that he can rely on to help carry the load. "Universe in View (Complete Version)" is the opening track, with Sun Ra building an atmospheric late night organ groove. It is a patient and thoughtful performance, where he is willing to let the atmosphere grow organically before opening up the floor to brass and reed features. A wonderful feature for the band's powerful vocalist June Tyson, "When the Black Man Ruled This Land (Complete Version)" allows her to state the Afrocentric lyrics with aggressive energy over Ra's spacey organ and hand percussion accompaniment from the band. "In a Blue Mood" keeps the atmospheric nature of the music flowing with Sun Ra's organ playing with spectral grace over light brushed percussion. The music becomes much more dynamic on “"Another Shade of Blue” with up-tempo grooves of tenor saxophone and organ. The excellent saxophone builds in power and focus, developing a very interesting organ groove meets avant-garde sensibility. The digital edition adds two bonus tracks from Slugs, both from a cassette recording with dates and exact personnel are unknown. On “Discipline 27-II” Sun Ra’s group sounds larger, perhaps adding extra personnel, and they take off in a flight colorful horns. The band really rips it up, swinging hard and bringing forth great swathes of sound. The final track is “Intergalactic Research” where Ra’s organ strikes a clean tone, amid the strongly riffing band. Presumably John Gilmore’s strong tenor saxophone is featured, sounding dark and steely, and he gets pretty out with stark squalls building a titanic solo that is extremely impressive. This was a fine re-issue, with the music restored to its full length and the digital remastering bringing out a clear and present sounding mix. This is a fine recording well worth seeking out for Sun Ra partisans. Universe in Blue -

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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Zoh Amba - Bhakti (Mahakala Music, 2022)

Tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba is a young newcomer to the free jazz scene in New York City, a protégé of David Murray, and like Murray she made a big splash right away with several recordings, and media coverage in the New York Times. This album is a fine example of her approach, in the company of Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Matt Hollenberg on guitar and Micah Thomas on piano. The opening track "Altar Flower" is fast free jazz, very exciting, with torrid gales of tenor saxophone and excellent free rhythm playing, leading to a piano feature with cascading keyboard runs. The collective improvisation that this group builds is very energetic, with the music is coming forth in waves, high register playing from the saxophonist shows great stamina, then laying out for a more spacious piano, bass and drums section. Low tones of saxophone return to the quiet area, playing emotionally in open space, with an Albert Ayler like tone. She gradually ramps back up in speed and fervor, with the rest of the group along side, returning to the fast and nimble playing that marked the opening section, complete with another fine piano feature. "The Drop and the Sea" has a much more reflective opening, Amba playing solo saxophone in space, getting more strident as the piece evolves and the rest of the group becomes more noticeable. They build a taut improvisation, with interesting additions from the piano and drums, including a unique piano, guitar and drums section that courses to its own rhythm, before the saxophone returns at full speed, making this into an all in gallop for the whole group. The finale, "Awaiting Thee" uses towering peals of saxophone and electric guitar to create a fascinating atmosphere, charged particles of air and electricity clashing in an all out dash for freedom. Hollenberg really stakes his claim to this track, playing all out as if his life depended upon it. The leader is right there with him, improvising great gales of saxophone, with the drums and piano making their voices heard as well. Excellent all encompassing wails of tenor saxophone way up into the high register near the end of the track rally the group for the full on sprint to the finish. This was a thrilling blowout across all of the instruments, and it leaves a lasting impression of a powerhouse band led by a rising star that has the world in front of her. Bhakti -

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Friday, October 14, 2022

The Bad Plus - The Bad Plus (Edition Records, 2022)

Co-founders drummer Dave King and bassist Reid Anderson Reid Anderson started The Bad Plus two decades ago as a piano trio, first with Ethan Iverson and then with Orrin Evans in the keyboard chair. But the band had always been an idea and an approach rather than any particular instrumental configuration, so when the group reformed with longtime confederates Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and Ben Monder on electric guitar, they barely missed a step. Their music has always had an expansive viewpoint, and the new lineup offers even more possibilities, like the track "Sun Wall" which has a fast and intricate theme that tumbles forward excitedly with fervor, demonstrating that the interplay between the musicians is very tight and impressive. Monder breaks out for a spiky guitar solo, aided by King's muscular drumming that powers the music forward. This makes for very compelling listening, with the fluid neon toned guitar flashing through, then returning to the theme. The band gathers strength through collective playing pushing forward as the saxophone climbs up to briefly shine, and then the group concludes gracefully. "Not Even Close to Far Off" has a heavy, resonating beat from the bass and drums that lends force to dirtier toned guitar and saxophone playing, grinding and sweating as if in some dank club. Saxophone bleats and emotional appeals make for an effective solo statement, playing expressively at length, then returning to the theme. Showers of affected guitar rain down on a quiet beat, providing another vantage point, harmonizing with the saxophone leading to a haunted unresolved ending. Powering out of the starting gate, "Sick Fire" reaches out with crashing drums and ripe saxophone, soon joined by bass and guitar. Monder makes his presence felt with bursts of florescent notes that turn into a full of towering duo segment with the ever powerful King. Saxophone and bass muscle in making this one of the most potent tracks on the album, a squalling collective improvisation with no guardrails. It's a short track you wish could go longer, as the band playing Coltrane/Pharoah energy music is an alluring prospect. This album worked well, offering a wide range of music that demonstrated what this new version of the band is capable of. It will be interesting to see where things go from here, after the crucible of intensive live performing and future recording. The Bad Plus -

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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Dave Douglas - Songs of Ascent Book 1: Degrees (Greenleaf Music, 2022)

Inspired by the content of last year's album Secular Psalms trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas reconvened one of his best bands, including Jon Irabagon on saxophones and alto clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. This album and Songs of Ascent Book 2: Steps, which is only available to subscribers to his Greenleaf Music service are inspired by Psalms 120-134. "Never Let Me Go" opens the album with fast tumbling cascading theme for the whole group, Douglas's trumpet solos at length in a sunny and bright manner against spare backdrop of comped piano and broken up drumming. The saxophone enters, probing the setting, making the most of the space for an expressive feature, then exploratory piano leads the rhythm section feature held together by grounded bass and expressive drumming. A bouncy theme, swirling and exciting to hear is a hallmark of "Deceitful Tongues," turning more introspective with a searching trumpet feature, Douglas takes his time improvising a thoughtful passage, and then handing it off to Irabagon for a typically unique saxophone solo, he really has the whole history of the instrument at his fingertips. Mitchell is another iconoclast, who approaches the piano is a wholly creative manner as he does here. The group returns to the bounding theme, anchored by Linda May Han Oh and Rudy Royston, who play with wonderful taste and texture. "A Fowler's Snare" has a rampaging fast theme charging out of the gate, the group as a collective force barreling ahead, then Douglas and Irabagon take to the skies playing with and around each other with joy as the rhythm section urges them along. Linda May Han Oh gets a well deserved although short bass feature and then the the group returns to the fast theme and it is all over in a flash. The finale "Mouths Full of Joy" has a swaggering opening, with the leader taking over with a spitfire brass solo over rolling rhythm accompaniment. The saxophonist's retort has a fast and boppish hue to it, with rapid flurries of notes coming in clusters. Beautiful lush piano with deep bass and drums pulling it downward follows, and the improvisation by the three musicians here is a highlight. A fitting end to an album that is filled with well written themes that provide fuel for both excellent soloing and ensemble playing, this is a keeper for sure. 
Songs of Ascent Book 1: Degrees -

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