Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Miles Okazaki’s Trickster - Thisness (Pi Recordings, 2022)

Thisness is the third album by guitarist Miles Okazaki in the company of Matt Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Anthony Tidd on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Moving away from strictly composed material the band looked for ideas and unexpected events and then developed their music from those random places. It was a bold approach, one that required a great deal of trust, but the results show that it was an experiment well worth taking. “In Some Far Off Place” opens with a lot of nice guitar with subtle drumming, bringing out music which has shimmering beauty that the whole band contributes to, like rippling piano, solid bass and searching drums. The guitar leads, creating a wide range of sound, using open space, while chopping up time and subdividing it in unique ways, which creates interplay within the improvisation that is very impressive, as the group plays complex music in a very fresh and forward thinking manner. Funky drums with bass and shards of guitar open “Years in Space,” with fine acoustic piano touches playing off against the rhythm and blues leanings of the guitar and drums. Solid drumming, using varied and moving patterns combine with acoustic guitar, bass and heavier sounds in the mid section, while percussive piano played fractured manner for improvisation is quite interesting. “I’ll Build A World” uses motoring bass and drums guitar accents to build to thoughtful setting, where piano notes fall like droplets, then build to flourishes, and the leader constructs long DNA like strands of guitar improvisation. Excellent drumming, slashing and breaking, while being framed by guitar and piano, lead to a full group electric - acoustic improv that is great, pushing and pulling at each other to create tension and release. Electric bass and drums form an appealing duet on "And Wait For You" where the leader's guitar builds in adding further texture and depth, and develop an intricate trio improvisation. His electric guitar takes charge with a more forthright tone and approach electronics skitter by, forming wheezy sounds, from both guitar and keyboards. Acoustic piano is also present leading to a cornucopia of sounds and textures and psychedelic kaleidoscopic overall sound that is disorienting yet appealing. Thisness - Miles Okazaki Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mary Halvorson - Amaryllis (Nonesuch Records, 2022)

Guitarist and fearless musical explorer Mary Halvorson composed this suite for jazz sextet and string quartet, the music is very colorful and dynamic, developing in exciting and unexpected ways over the course of the album. In addition to herself, the musicians are Patricia Brennan on vibraphone, Nick Dunston on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and the Mivos String Quartet on three tracks. The opening track, “Night Shift” has bright vibes and drums with guitar, playing upbeat and engaging music, with an interesting theme that grows more majestic as more pieces are added. There is a brass solo, with crisp drumming underneath along side psychedelic electric guitar and vibes filling in the spaces. Subtle bass and vibes with percussion simmer for a short feature, as smears of electronics add texture. Fast guitar, bass and drums are featured on “Amaryllis,” with vibes accents, and horns adding further commentary. Multiple themes and motifs provide ample material for an excellent trumpet feature, heralded by insistent rhythm. Sparks of wildly colorful guitar and vibes add further depth to this fine performance, where tumbling drums and vibes push the music further into cascading forward motion. On “Side Effect” the string section opens with short brisk sounds, and the rest of the band enter in an exciting manner, playing upbeat and thoughtful music that incorporates the strings very well. There is a sublime section for deep bass, vibes and quiet drumming, followed with potent brass with another brilliant feature. The strings return to prominence as the piece closes, returning full circle on a wonderful piece of music. A quiet abstract opening focuses the listeners attention on “Hoodwink,” where the strings create whorls of sound, amid brushed percussion and vibes developing subtle carefully developed music. The sound develops further in a spectral, billowing fashion, with the brass flaring above a violin, as the leader adds her unique guitar accents in a brilliant solo section. The finale “892 Teeth” yields a stark trumpet opening above strings and harmonized guitar and vibraphone. This leads to a subtle and deep mid tempo performance, rich with melodic brass, and patient vibes with Brennan getting a well deserved and excellent solo section, then taken out by Halvorson with some wild guitar electronics that are very exciting. 
Amaryllis - Mary Halvorson Bandcamp

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Ballister - Chrysopoeia (Aerophonic Records / Not Two Records, 2022)

Ballister is a long standing collective jazz band featuring milti-reed instrumentalist Dave Rempis, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. This album consists of two long pieces recorded at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland in October of 2019. "Strappling" begins fast and fierce with harsh saxophone and drums creating an exciting racket held together by rapidly bowed cello. The intensity of their sound is a cathartic release, and the torrential sound from all three instruments is thrilling to hear. A drum feature for Nilssen-Love slows things down a bit, with sawing cello meeting him halfway, and Lonberg-Holm's electronics giving the proceedings an otherworldly touch. The music moves in a graceful manner as the volume and intensity builds back up dynamically with the reappearance of Rempis's gutsy saxophone. He plays unaccompanied for a minute, soon joined by electronic textures and drumming to weave a knotty collective improvisation that nears a relentless forward motion as the performance ends. Unaccompanied cello swirls open "Muffit" where long tones of saxophone are met by cymbal sounds, creating a unique musical environment, which ebb and flow. Quiet drums and saxophone flutter and feint then lock in and take flight as the high pitched soaring horn with overblown elements and pummeling drums are rejoined by the cello as the band explodes like fireworks, finding a frenzied groove in Nilssen-Love's tribal beat propels the spirited saxophone, touched by the alien sounding electronics of amplified cello. The band builds to a lean three way improvisation, shorn of extraneous parts, pushing to a muscular potent conclusion. This was an extraordinary album, one of the year's best to be sure. There is a misconception that free jazz is a fearsome juggernaut, but there is so much more going on here, leading to an emotional, heartfelt statement. Chrysopoeia - Aerophonic Bandcamp

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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Charles Mingus - The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott's (Resonance Records, 2022)

Charles Mingus was in the middle of a resurgence of interest in his music when he travelled to  Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London captured in August 1972. He had a transitional but talented group with alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jones, trumpeter Jon Faddis, pianist John Foster and drummer Roy Brooks along for the trip. This is quite an expansive performance with six of the eight selections clocking in at over eighteen minutes and two tracks over one half hour in length. It is to Mingus's credit that the music still swings like crazy and never quite loses its integrity regardless of how strung out the improvisations stray from the main theme. The composer's lush and beautiful song "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue" is the opening track of the album, with the full band stating the theme and then developing it into a series of improvised solo and small group sections which are woven into the overall performance. Faddis was nineteen years old at the the time of this recording, and he demonstrates precociousness with his section and solo playing. "Noddin' Ya Head Blues" is anchored by an exquisite opening Mingus bass solo, leading to a deep powerful effort from the full band and featuring accents by drummer Brooks on the musical saw. Arguably Mingus's must famous composition "Fables of Faubus" gets a thirty five minute reading where the sound swells from near big band volume to intricate solos and tightly woven improvisational cells. The saxophonists play well together, McPherson had been playing with Mingus for years and his lean, Charlie Parker inspired alto fits right in, whereas Jones was primarily a  big band saxophonist, playing a lengthy spell with Woody Herman before joining Mingus. The band takes on a joyous version of "Pops (When The Saints Go Marching In)" melding the sounds of early jazz to deep blues and swing to a create a crowd favorite, before presenting the final long form performance the moody Mingus composition "The Man Who Never Sleeps." This opens as a spot for Faddis before becoming a compelling full group performance, with some strong piano and Jones doubling on clarinet. This is a fine concert and it was recorded well, only to be cast into the vaults when Columbia dropped Mingus and much of it's jazz division be the end of 1972. The bassist would make his final albums for Atlantic Records before passing away from ALS in 1979 where after this concert was forgotten about before being resituated for the 100th anniversary celebration of the great man's birth. 

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Monday, May 09, 2022

Dave Rempis / Elisabeth Harnik / Michael Zerang - Astragaloi (Aerophonic / Idyllic Noise Records, 2022)

Squeaking in just under the wire before the pandemic turned the world upside down, this album was recorded at an arts festival in alpine Austria in March of 2020. The sound is a fresh and evolving performance with Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Elizabeth Harnik on piano, and Michael Zerang on drums and percussion. These musicians have performed and recorded several times together both as a trio and as parts of other units so they are well aware of the potential that exists for making exploratory and exciting music. Pianist Harnik feels most at home, being a native of Austria, and she contributes mightily to this album's success, not only through her imaginative keyboard playing, but her more avant-garde uses of the strings inside the piano, adding harp like sounds that in effect add a fourth instrument to the band's repertoire. Percussionist Michael Zerang works well in these chiaroscuro areas of light and shade, playing with a dynamic freedom that allows him to respond immediately to whatever is happening around him as well as tug the music into a different direction with subtle swells or cymbal shimmers. Dave Rempis rounds out the group and his playing on alto and tenor saxophone is well suited for this free and open situation. This allows the musicians to really develop a focused three way conversation that has has episodes of free improvisation, but it is the dynamic range of their instruments and the tension and resolution of these performances within a larger framework which provides the forward momentum powering a very exciting and engaging session. The music builds upon the color and dynamics that the team builds, and with everyone playing together, all three musicians are successful in developing a coherent narrative that moves forward in a logical and enjoyable way. Astragaloi - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Albert Ayler – Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings (INA / Elemental Music, 2022)

Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler was a leading light of the jazz avant garde in the mid 1960’s but by the end of the decade things had taken a turn. Impulse Records, who had originally been supportive, then quite literally changed their tune, asking Ayler to play rhythm and blues related material to appeal to the “youth market.” His albums New Grass and Music is the Healing Force of the Universe flopped (but are not without their charms) and Impulse dropped him, leading to a further decline in his mental state. But there was one final grasp at glory, an invitation to play two concerts at the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France on July 25 and 27, 1970. Ayler plays tenor and soprano saxophones and sings along with Mary Maria Parks on soprano saxophone and vocals, Call Cobbs on piano, Steve Tintweiss on bass and Allen Blairman on drums. Ayler supports the vocalist Parks who sings and recites lyrics in a strange affected manner on "Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe" and "Island Harvest" where Ayler struggles to find purchase in this bizarre setting. On his well known theme, "Ghosts," and the multi part suite “Revelations 2-4” where he proves that he was still a force to be reckoned with, using the folky themes to propel him to a hair-raising and thrilling improvisations. When he has an open ended improvisational field he still has the talent and the tone to create magical music. The second concert continues the mix of free music and idiosyncratic vocalizing, with lengthy all instrumental versions of “Holy Holy” and “Spirits” which are astonishing improvisations, Ayler playing excoriating saxophone and then leading a towering set of collective improvisations. Things end on an odd note with one of Ayler’s weirdest numbers, “Thank God For Women,” which is basically Ayler singing that phrase over a pseudo funk backdrop, and conclude as they began with “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe.” About halfway through the first concert, Albert Ayler sings a song called “Oh, Love of Life” with such pure unadorned honesty and desperation that it can stop you in your tracks. But it wasn’t to be. Mental illness ran in his family and that is what led most people believe to be a suicide, when his body was pulled out of the East River just a few months after these concerts. But he left so much, and brilliantly remastered packages like this and the run of Ayler re-issues from the ezz-thetics label shows that his towering influence is more vital today than ever. Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings - Bandcamp

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Monday, April 25, 2022

Don Cherry - Where Is Brooklyn? and Eternal Rhythm, Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

This fascinating release finds the trumpet player and multi instrumentalist Don Cherry transitioning from free jazz to citizen of the world jazz. Where is Brooklyn? is Cherry’s final album for Blue Note, recorded in 1966  but not released until 1969; since Blue Note had an uncomfortable relationship with the avant-garde. In addition to Cherry on cornet, the group consists of Henry Grimes on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums and Pharoah Sanders on piccolo flute and tenor saxophone. They are really well integrated and focused, Blackwell is the perfect drummer for this session as he can both both play free or swing like crazy when necessary. They play a series of shorter improvisations with taut themes and tight improvisations including “The Thing” which eventually gave its name to a wonderful Scandinavian free jazz ensemble. “Unite” is the apotheosis of Cherry’s free jazz period with an intense extended improvisation that makes the best use of everyone’s talents from Sanders excoriating tenor saxophone punctuated by Cherry’s punchy cornet to the extra heft added from Blackwell and the thick bass. Eternal Rhythm was recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1968, with Cherry playing flutes, gamelan and bells along side Albert Mangelsdorff on trombone, Eje Thelin on trombone, Bernt Rosengren on tenor saxophone, oboe, clarinet and flute, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Karl Berger on vibraphone, piano and gamelan, Joachim Kühn on piano, prepared piano, Arild Andersen on bass and Jacques Thollot on drums, saron, gong, bells and voice. This piece is edited down to thirty eight minutes and the music found on this continuously flowing suite would set the template for the remainder of Cherry’s career as he would combine the sounds of North Africa and the Far East with American jazz. This portion is wide open and thoughtful, moving through periods of beautiful melody as well as abstract improvisation, drawing from a wide range of musical ideas into a cohesive, accessible musical document. Where Is Brooklyn? and Eternal Rhythm, Revisited - Squidco

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