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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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron - Let's Call This​.​.​. Esteem (Slam Records, 1993)

This is a delightful live album from Oxford in the UK was recorded between longtime confederates Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Mal Waldron on piano. From the moment that they are introduced by British improv heavyweight Lol Coxhill, the two musicians are off and running on a program that includes originals, a healthy portion of Thelonious Monk compositions as well as works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Lacy and Maldron made many albums together and this familiarity works in their favor, allowing them to dive deeply and fearlessly into the music, exploring the nuances of the Monk material and slowly unfurling the mystery of the Ellington and Strayhorn ballads. The music is very well recorded, affording the listener an opportunity to hear in detail each man's approach to their instrument and resulting improvisations. At nearly an hour and twenty minutes long it is a steal at little over four dollars online. Let's Call This​.​.​. Esteem - Bandcamp

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Wednesday, February 01, 2023

This Week in Music 2/1

Brian Blade Lifecycles Volumes I & II: Now! and Forevermore Honoring Bobby Hutcherson (Stoner Hill Records, 2023) 
For his tribute to the late and lamented vibraphonist and composer Bobby Hutcherson, drummer Brian Blade and his group Lifecycles took an interesting approach. Developing a double album, they revisit the entirety of Hutcherson's Now! LP in addition to a generous sampling of their own compositions. The original album was recorded in 1969 and was unique for Hutcherson and Blue Note adding a vocalist and chorus to the instrumental septet. Monte Croft does yeoman's work here, doubling on vibes and vocals, making the most of the Hutcherson material. It's a nod to the group that when they transition to original compositions, those new tracks fit hand in glove with the covers that came before it. This is the first release on Blade's new record label and it is one that is worth the attention of any modern mainstream jazz fan. Now!

Albert Ayler Quintet - Lost Performances 1966 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2023)
The great avant-garde jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler is seeing some of his widest recognition lately with numerous re-issues of his material in addition to a recent boxed set and biography. Ayler's European tour in 1966 was very successful musically, and this album collects the shorter sets that were recorded in Munich, Rotterdam and Helsinki in addition to the full sets ezz-thetics preciously released. Like Thelonious Monk, Ayler had a fairly small number of themes that he would perform, but it what he and the group did with them was transcendent. "The Truth Is Marching In," one of his greatest themes gets two ecstatic 
readings here as does the shorter but equally explosive "Prophet." This and all of the ezz-thetics releases following Ayler's progress in 1966 are vital, for things were soon to change drastically. Lost

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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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