Wednesday, January 18, 2023

This Week in Music 1/18

Earscratcher - Self Titled - A crack free jazz quartet develops fast tight collective improvisation, torrid interplay for bowed cello, piano, drums and saxophone. The group's use of dynamic shifts of space, brushed percussion and openness and layers of sound, coalesce into massive deluge of notes, where complex rhythms meet extended piano techniques playing inside the instrument alongside long bowed lines of cello. This creates a unique soundscape launching over the top saxophone squeals and drumming. Quieter sections emerge where instruments gradually fold together, brushes, lush piano and light saxophone, create a dreamworld before the music snaps back into focus to forge a strong tumbling free improvisation allowing choppy and angular extended techniques to engage swirling percussion. Withering speed and volume drop to quiet abstractions, with the electric cello developing spare sounds. The group gradually recovers power and speed, inner piano, sawing cello drums and driving saxophone to a potent finish. The first great album of 2023. Earscratcher

Patricia Brennan - More Touch - vibraphonist Brennan leads a fine quartet with bass, drums and percussion adding subtle electronics to her sound as well. The music uses well thought out and complex drums and percussion patterns with vibes, electronically altered for a very interesting sound. Sparkling showers of vibraphone notes around the ever shifting percussion floor. Brennan's use of electronics become more elaborate and frame the other instruments as the rhythms become more complex, it is a fascinating addition to her sound, and used in small doses as she does it is very effective.  The electronic and acoustic instruments work very well together on this album, leading to a very successful effort. More Touch

Soweto Kinch - White Juju - This is a very ambitious live album for saxophonist and vocalist Kinch vocals, combining a jazz quartet with the London Symphony Orchestra and sound clips from media sources. The quartet is light nimble, playing around the spoken politician platitudes, strings and keyboards broaden the sound considerably, it's well arranged, with some bombastic symphonic passages framing spoken messages. Nice instrumental sections with the larger band together interwoven with brass frame spoken word openings moving between conservative politicians and media, and Kinch's own rhymed response that fight the power. Both British and American demagogues are taken to task as strings swirl effectively around strong spoken declamations and brief scatting. There is a lengthy symphonic, anthemic piece with mournful saxophone set against against clips from politicians and media as saxophone grows in improvisation. The orchestra and quartet mesh  well at times with fine melodic sections, and this was clearly a labor of love for the bandleader, and he impresses as composer, arranger and musician. White Juju (currently download or streaming only)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

This week in music (1/14)

Francois Carrier - Unwalled
- The latest album from this protean Canadian alto saxophonist finds him in august company with Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano, John Edwards on bass and Michel Lambert on drums. The disc is maxed out with improvisations both long and short and the open ended nature of this allows for the fact that the band is not just just a fire-breathing free jazz unit but a group that has thoughtful melodic unity that allows for the use of dynamics which shapes this excellent and compelling album. Unwalled

Bob Weir - Ace / 50th Anniversary Edition - The initial 1972 busman's holiday for the rhythm guitarist and vocalist for the Grateful Dead, sees him stepping fully into the spotlight. This reissue contains a reissued version of the original Ace album, an excellent set of songs, many of which would find their way into future Grateful Dead live sets, in addition there is a contemporary (April 2022) concert by Wier's current band the Wolf Pack, which loses some of the snap and vigor of the early recordings, but makes up for it by adding unexpected violin and saxophone features. Ace 50

Ryley Walker - Primrose Green - This is an album that has enchanted me since I first heard it back in 2015, thinking that the only thing you could compare it to was Astral Weeks. Like that album, Walker brings a rock and folk sensibility to record with a group of openminded jazz heavyweights, and the music that evolves is by turns pastoral, picturesque and vividly improvision based. Chiming vibes playing along with guitar, developing soundscapes with subtle drumming and shimmering cymbals gives this album a greenhouse atmosphere all its own. Primrose

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Hedvig Mollestad and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra - Maternity Beat (Rune Grammofon Records, 2022)

Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad has developed a considerable reputation as an electric guitar player and bandleader, equally at home in the spheres of jazz fusion and progressive rock. This album extends her range considerably with the inclusion of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra which allows her to demonstrate her composing and arranging skills, in addition to that of a potent improvisor. "On The Horizon, Part 2" opens with guitar snarls with taut bass and drums winding up the tension, as the horns and other instruments come in to flesh out the scene. Saxophones enter over a choppy rhythm, while the music develops into a deep blend of instruments swirling excitedly around each other, with an urgent energy always kept by horns or drums. Heavy drums augur a thundering complex theme for "Donna Ovis Peppa" as saxophone and guitar create a setup for intricate fusion/prog. The band adds a wry tease of "Salt Peanuts" which send the music into a different, more majestic direction. Swooping violin playing dodges electronics as some excellent and more subtle and colorful drumming is folded in. Mollestad's electric guitar gradually dominates the music as it evolves, with a guitar and violin section that nods to classic Mahavishnu Orchestra. "All Flights Cancelled" uses excellent guitar riffing to build a memorable theme, while heavy drumbeats and framing droning keyboards, ready the group for liftoff. The leader provides some exalted guitar playing and the group finds a seam and grooves really making hay. Mollestad steps back for nifty synth soloing patch with prodding bass and drums taking things into outer space on a prog rock flight, still but the band is still tight and not overblown. Slashing guitar chords shimmering in space open the finale "Maternity Suite" with keyboards and strong percussion. This very full sound with added instruments and voices, expanded band pushing a unique almost Magma like sound. The grandiose beginning opens for an electric guitar breakout, with riotous hand percussion changing as parts of the suite evolve, as if she Mollestad shifting the gears of a powerful muscle car. She takes a scalding guitar solo framed by strong drumming and keyboards before the band comes together for some collective blowing that has a wild and adventurous sound, everyone digging in and working for the team, leading to a strong and driving conclusion. This was an interesting evolution to Hevig Mollestad's music. She has played with other musicians in addition to her core trio in the past, but never to this extent. This is a very successful album, the arranging for the larger group is done well, and never overwhelms the powerhouse core that lies in the center. Maternity Beat -

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Monday, January 02, 2023

Bill Frisell - Four (Blue Note Records, 2022)

Guitarist Bill Frisell convenes a new group of players for this album, featuring Greg Tardy on saxophone and clarinet, Gerald Clayton on piano and Johnathan Blake on drums. He presents an all original program, returning to some earlier compositions and introducing some new ones as well. The title track for an earlier Americana tinged album, "Good Dog, Happy Man" has a drummer led opening before the wistful theme for clarinet and guitar brings the picture into focus. The music is light and breezy, and is among the most easy listening sounds that Frisell has made, with gentle and friendly cascades of notes providing the momentum. The group integrates their sounds well, meshing them into a fine subtle tapestry as the piece evolves. Saxophone and restrained backbeat introduce "Monroe," a bluesy mid-tempo piece, generating some slow and grinding juice that allows for energetic raw saxophone then a little bass clarinet for flavor. There is some welcome lively Frisell guitar weaving through the performance, and the band's collective playing really drives it home with focus. "Lookout for Hope" is another earlier title track, from all the way back in his ECM period. The music is mysterious and open with dark reeds and cymbals, the leader's guitar snaking through the music thicket of bass clarinet, lush piano, bass and drums, while beats of near silence are unusual and provocative. "Holiday" returns us to the present with the drummer creating a choppy march opening with hints of subtle swing, gathering the full band in tow. Frisell adds subterranean guitar lines, his tone uniquely his own, but not overwhelming. He's part of the band, not demanding of it, and the band plays the choppy theme with grace and makes it look easy. The promotional material states that this album is a meditation on loss, renewal, and friendship and the music bears that out. When Frisell records for a major label like Blue Note, the music tends to be very melodic and accessible, as he is here. The music is of a very high level and unlikely to spook any horses you may have around. If you find it lacking in a certain energy, he has been recording some very interesting projects for the Tzadik label lately. Four -

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