Friday, March 31, 2023

Pharoah Sanders Quartet - Live at Fabrik (Jazzline Recordings, 2023)

Pharoah Sanders recent passing left a huge gap in the jazz firmament, but at least we have some interesting re-issues and historical releases to try and fill the hole. This album is a concert recording made at the Fabrik Club in Hamburg, Germany, in June of 1980. Sanders is leading on tenor saxophone, in the company of John Hicks on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass, and Idris Muhammad on drums. Several of these songs are stretched out to near epic lengths, allowing for some excellent long-form improvisation. The opener "You Gotta Have Freedom" is one such performance, with the band playing up-tempo, exciting hard bop or modal jazz and the rhythm section also providing an excellent foundation for Sanders when he takes off on solos that range into torrid free episodes. The ballad "It's Easy to Remember" shows another side to Pharoah Sanders' playing, his patience and deft touch with a ballad. He strikes a beautiful tone here, as does Hicks, who gets a lengthy solo, leading to a stellar performance all around. At twenty minutes, "Dr. Pitt" is the longest track on the album, gradually building to a taut collective improvisation, leading to thrilling saxophone overblowing over hard piano comping and slashing bass and drums. This continues for the entirety of the performance, with a lengthy feature for the piano, bass, and drum trio in the middle and an extra drum solo. One of Sanders's most famous songs, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," serves as a spot to introduce the band, with some raw and exciting saxophone playing woven in. The finale is "Greetings to Idris," which opens at a swinging mid-tempo, leading to great peals of dark guttural saxophone playing. Sanders shows his complete control of dynamic musical storytelling throughout this fascinating recording, a master truly in his element, whether that is a mainstream groove or an avant-garde howl. Live at Fabrik -

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Thursday, March 30, 2023

East Axis - No Subject (Mack Avenue Recordings, 2023)

East Axis is an excellent progressive jazz quartet consisting of four well respected musicians, Gerald Cleaver on drums, Kevin Ray bass, Matthew Shipp on piano and new member Scott Robinson on tenor saxophone, alto clarinet, tarogato, trumpet and slide cornet. This album builds on the success their previous fine LP, Cool With That. The music is very impressive and dynamic, with Matthew Shipp moving from dropping huge clusters of battlefield clearing low end notes and chords to hypnotic minimalism of repetitive static that creates a springboard for the others to jump into improvisation from. Robinson is a fine addition to the group with his multitude of instruments allowing the band to develop music that has a multitude of textures and consistencies from fine grain pointillism to deeply hewn free jazz. Cleaver plays particularly well here, using his full command of the entire drum kit to push and pull the tempo while Shipp and Ray gradually guide the rhythm and Ray moves majestically through his horns. This is all happening in real time as the musicians interact with each other and their environment in a very fulfilling way. These four musicians were able to take notions from free jazz and more literally composed sections to coalesce and create truly intuitive music, which makes a memorable impact. This was a very well executed recording, creating exciting music that sounds fresh, the music moving forward by developing a team based and resonant sound played with a spark of the unexpected. No Subject -

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Monday, March 27, 2023

Ornette Coleman – Ornette At 12 Crisis To Man On The Moon Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2023)

It seems strange that Ornette Coleman only made two albums for Impulse! Records, a seemingly logical home for his free yet accessible music. Stranger still that they were ignored for decades by the digital revolution, the label sitting on the records while second hand LP prices soared. This CD rescues those two albums and makes them available with excellent sound and perceptive liner notes. The Ornette at 12 album was quite controversial at the time because Ornette’s then twelve year old son Denardo was featured on drums. One of the reasons Coleman gave for using him at that age was that young Denardo was much more open to ideas and ways of playing, having no preconceived notions about music and the instrument except for those he learned from his father, making him an an empty vessel, if you will. Rounding out the personnel on the record were Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone and Charlie Haden on bass, Ornette Coleman playing alto saxophone, trumpet and violin. It’s a pretty interesting record – recorded live in concert in Berkeley, the leader plays beautifully on alto sax as can be imagined, but acquits himself well on violin and trumpet, instruments that he had been woodshedding with while on a sabbatical from performing. So don’t let the thought of a twelve year old drummer scare you away – if you’re a fan of Coleman’s music this is a winner. So to is the follow up, Crisis, bringing back the same band and adding longtime Coleman confidant Don Cherry on cornet and flute. Ezz-thetics has a unique and immediately identifiable typography and cover art format which is no mean feat in the tail end of the CD era. But it's a shame the original artwork couldn't have been used, the image of the American bill of rights in flames still has the power to shock, and music have seemed as pertinent in 1969 as it does in 2023. Though the whole album is excellent, there are some particularly worthy moments, like Charlie Haden's anthemic "Song For Che" played in a uniquely powerful manner by the quintet, showing another side of this song than the large group version the bassist would release the following year. "Trouble In The East" is withering commentary on the Vietnam War, raging at it's height when this was recorded, but also allowing space for Cherry's flute, foreshadowing the world jazz he would dedicate his life to in the following decades. A surprise gift at the end of the disc a 45 RPM single "Man on the Moon" b/w "Growing Up" with Dr. Emmanuel Ghent guesting on electronics on the A-side. Ornette At 12 Crisis To Man On The Moon Revisited - Squidco

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Dave Stryker Trio - Prime (Strikezone Records, 2023)

This album is a fine example of the guitar, organ and drums jazz group tradition that became popular in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with the likes of Jimmy Smith and Grant Green leading small combos in the studio and on the road. This album is led by Dave Stryker on guitar with Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums and percussion. However, this isn’t you typical soul jazz unit that leans on blues and soul, but an established group that has an identity of their own. “Prime,” the opener is a powerful piece of work, with the group playing collectively and surprisingly loud, driving the music through a strong theme and improvisation. From there they move into a varied and thoughtful program of jazz pieces that show what a road tested band is capable of. Balancing groovers like “Captain Jack” dedicated to the great organist Jack McDuff, whom Stryker played with at the beginning of his career with a graceful ballad in the standard “I Should Care” demonstrates the breadth of the group’s fluency in the jazz idiom. Going into the studio they restricted themselves to one take of each song with no overdubbing, and upping the degree of difficulty in this manner served to further sharpen the trio’s resolve, resulting in a potent yet tasteful set of music. Prime -

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Saturday, March 04, 2023

Albert Ayler - Summertime to Spiritual Unity, Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2023)

Ezz-thetics mission to rehabilitate and reissue the collected works of the late avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler continues apace with this release commemorating two of the most critical dates in the early portion of his career. The first two tracks of this collection are from some of Ayler's earliest recordings, Copenhagen 1963 with Nils Bronsted on piano (sitting out the second track), Nils-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Ronnie Gardiner on drums. Where you really get the sense of the Ayler to come is on the Gershwin standard "Summertime" where the band doggedly sticks to the straight ahead feel and Ayler leaves the world behind for a plethora of screams, shrieks and honks. Like an experiment in sound collage that is way ahead of its time, the juxtaposition between the soloist and the band is head-spinning. The producer of this disc and several people interviewed for Richard Koloda's recent Ayler biography have testified about the power of this track and the influence it has had in the development of free jazz in Europe. The original "C.T." taken as a trio piece with piano laying out allowing Ayler to work on some of the things he learned back when he was sitting in with the tunes dedicatee, Cecil Taylor. The extra room suits Ayler well and foreshadows the extraordinary trio work to come. Flash forward through a year and a half of extraordinary growth to July 10, 1964 in New York City and what many believe to be Albert Ayler's finest hour. The music that would make up the Spiritual Unity album (officially licensed from ESP Disk) is a landmark, one where Ayler was joined by like minded musicians Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. One of the things that is easy to miss when hearing about Alyer's fearsome reputation, is that he was a great composer of memorable melodies. Taking folk forms and developing them into launching pads to hair raising improvisations was a big part of his M.O. and you can definitely hear it on this album in the two versions of "Ghosts." Ayler's haunting tone on saxophone and the earworm melodies show that this wasn't some serendipitous blowout, but that he had premeditated ideas of what he wanted the music to sound like and used that blueprint to carve out a remarkable album. "The Wizard" and "Spirits" follow with the group blasting hard thought the former and leaving space in the latter for bowed bass and hypnotic percussion. The concluding version of "Ghosts" brings all of the threads that make up this album together, where a keening melody, sense of spatial dimensions and torrid improvisation come together with a sense of wondrous joy. There is a bonus track, "Vibrations" that was also recorded at the session - it's quite good and contains a theme that Ayler would return to throughout his career. Summertime to Spiritual Unity, Revisited ezz-thetics Bandcamp

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Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Andrew Cyrille - Music Delivery / Percussion (Intakt Records, 2023)

Master percussionist Andrew Cryille has been a lynchpin of the modern avant-garde jazz scene from the beginning, spending years with Cecil Taylor and other notable groundbreakers. Since then he's become a leader, collaborator in bands like the wonderful Trio 3 and a teacher and mentor to many up and coming musicians. This release pares everything back to focus on Cyrille, playing solo on drums and percussion, and it is a fascinating session. Never an overpowering drummer, he uses the space available to create rhythms and patterns that shift like the sand in the wind, he sets them up and then improvises beautifully, allowing the music to percolate and simmer, never rushing or forcing, but allowing the music to flow naturally. Folding in ideas from Caribbean and African music along with the free improvisation that has been at the core of his being, he is able to move like a painter, allowing shades and colors to bloom and develop as the album evolves from the sparest percussion to brisk and snappy playing from a drum kit. His deftly played cymbals are patient and played with a quiet sense of purity, then Cyrille's drums are everywhere, casting a spectral backdrop that gradually becomes louder, but retains his graceful movements. This is a beautiful record, one that is very well recorded, allowing the listener to clearly hear the deft playing that seems to sum up the musical knowledge that he has accrued during his lengthy career. Music Delivery / Percussion -

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