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 - amazon.com

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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 - amazon.com

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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