Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile (Impulse!, 2018)

The signing of saxophonist and composer Shabaka Hutchings to the legendary Impulse! imprint was an inspired choice, his bands The Comet is Coming, The Ancestors, and this group, Sons of Kemet are infused with the spiritual jazz of that label's heyday. Hutchings is joined by tuba player Theon Cross and a trio of percussionists and guests on this album, dedicated to great women in history, beginning with "My Queen is Ada Eastman" which has some heavy percussion and tuba holding down the low end, creating a thick and tight rhythm that Hutchings weaves through on saxophone. This is tight and focused music that responds well to pressure and the spoken word / rap section by guest Joshua Idehen unfolds organically adding lyrics about race, politics and social justice. It's great to hear the tuba in jazz and Cross's playing lends texture to "My Queen is Harriet Tubman" as fast drumming and saxophone turn up the heat even further. The music has a tough and realistic urban feel, with just the right amount of grit in the music to keep the edge. "My Queen is Angela Davis" again features the growling tuba amidst the saxophone and percussion thicket. Hutchings was quoted in Jazz Times as stating that he wanted to move away from the dependence on soloing, and indeed it is the group interplay that really stands out here and on the album as a whole. He'll develop small motifs and then use repetition to build the tension raising the music to a full boil in an exciting fashion. Hand percussion and an extra saxophonist (Nubya Garcia) keep "My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa" moving forward in a propulsive fashion. Horns weave above and around the tuba and drums ground assault, developing a tight groove that comes together as a deeply rhythmic and full sound. "My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu" show the saxophone and brass really doubling down, with a skittish rhythm being developed on drums adding to the tension. The drums and percussion are bright and vibrant, resulting in a ripply, galvanic performance. The album ends with "My Queen is Doreen Lawrence" where the uneven rhythm keeps everyone on their toes, adding bellows of tuba and the tenor saxophone burrowing within the full band. The uneven foundation provides the perfect launching pad for Idehen to provide some more defiant lyrics about identity and inclusiveness, before the band takes the music home with emphatic playing. This was a really good album, drawing on a wide range of ideas from hip-hop to dub and Caribbean music, but with an overarching modern jazz conception. The musicians were very talented and the compositions memorable, do check it out, it's well worth your while. Your Queen Is A Reptile - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jared Gold - Reemergence (Strikezone Records, 2018)

This is a fine album of accessible modern jazz, incorporating standards, pop songs, ballads and blues, in the classic organ jazz tradition of the music made by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Brother Jack McDuff. Jared Gold has made a name for himself on the Hammond B3 organ playing as a sideman for many prominent leaders, along with a developing a series of fine albums as a leader for the likes of Posi-Tone and other labels. He is joined on this album with an excellent support unit featuring Dave Stryker on guitar, and Billy Hart on drums with Jeremy Pelt sitting in on trumpet for three tracks. The setlist is nicely developed between standards like the George Gershwin compositions "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "How Long Has This Been Going On," pop song covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Lookin' for Another Pure Love" and "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles. This is balanced by original compositions "Reemergence" and "One for John A" which is dedicated to the great guitarist John Abercrombie and a progressive jazz song in Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." The album comes together quite nicely and it is an enjoyable hour of grooving, soulful jazz. Gold locks in quite well with the drum legend Hart and guitarist Stryker and they work the melodies of the songs with passion and the resulting improvisations are quite strong, both in terms of full band playing and individual solo statements. So, for those interested in modern mainstream jazz that is friendly and easy to listen to, they will find a lot to enjoy here. Reemergence - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Renee Rosnes - Beloved of the Sky (Smoke Sesssions, 2018)

Renee Rosnes is an accomplished pianist and composer with many albums as a leader and a side person playing insightful modern jazz. This album sees her employing a crack band of Chris Potter on saxophones and flute, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Peter Washington on bass, and Lenny White on drums. "Elephant Dust" opens the album in a vibrant fashion with an edgy melody, on that engages the musicians, and climbs in volume and speed. Potter's tenor saxophone is powerful, cutting through the band like a lance, and scouring the soundscape, aided by powerful rhythmic support. The music grows in a very exciting fashion, with sandpapery saxophone leading the charge, before stepping aside for a crisp and well articulated piano led section and a spritely vibraphone solo. Potter returns and there is a very impressive drive to the finish of the performance. Elegant piano sets the mood for "Mirror Image" with an evocative melody, which allows musicians much room for improvisational interpretation. There is a nimble part for vibraphone with bass and drums, adding a cool and fresh feeling to the music, leading to an eloquent, well-organized piano solo played with fluid grace. Potter steps out, again on tenor saxophone developing tension in his improvisation that is resolved with a flurry of propulsive notes, leading to an excellent collective improvisation to wrap up the performance. "Black Holes" develops an restless motif, aided by thick, elastic bass and crisp drumming that dances on the cymbals. Rosnes takes a complex and invigorating piano solo before Potter enters, surveying the landscape and offering a variety of fast paced ideas, in an agile and brisk fashion. His robust playing soars above the music, hinting at the avant-garde with steely grit and passion, before resolving the melody. Potter moves to flute for the gently swinging "Rhythm of the River" which has Return to Forever overtones of amiable bass and percussion and bright piano chords. There is a beautiful solo piano opening to "The Winter Of My Discontent" that is richly melodic, evoking an emotional response within the ballad format. The notes and chords hang like crystals, glinting in the light, then allowing the rest of the band to glide in. Potter is a masterful ballad player, and he caresses the music with a velvety tenor touch, echoing the old masters like Ben Webster, sounding timeless and not at all dated. A mellow sounding bass interlude with ghostly brushes continues the mood, before the band returns to the melody and slowly eases out. The brawny performance "Let The Wild Rumpus Start" takes the album to the finish line with a witty interplay for vibes and piano trio, with the saxophone gradually entering and making its presence felt. Potter digs in with a fantastic tenor saxophone solo, playing with blinding speed and momentum, before stepping aside for a taut bass section and choppy drumming. This was an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, with excellent ensemble playing and exciting soloing and it is highly recommended. Beloved of the Sky - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Sound Prints - Scandal (Greenleaf Music, 2018)

Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas use the enigmatic mid nineteen sixties acoustic music of virtuoso saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter to create an album that embraces freedoms of both the past and the future. They are aided in this endeavor by an excellent accompanying unit that includes Linda Oh on bass, Joey Baron on drums and Lawrence Fields on piano. The group nods to Shorter directly on  their renditions his compositions “Fee Fi Fo Fum” and “Juju” with the former coming from Shorter's mysterious and influential album Speak No Evil, and where the band makes the most of the atmospheric nature of the music, playing together on the alluring melody while also branching out for solo statements which allow for several possible meanings or interpretations of Shorter's theme. The latter performance is the title track to my favorite Wayne Shorter album, one where he is at his most direct and pointed, playing in a quartet setting. This group peels back the layers of the melody like an onion making their own slower and spacier subjective take on the source material, before breaking out into a powerfully improvised section. "Dream State" is the opening original composition (by Douglas) and it shows that he is containing to absorb and direct his music since his first Shorter inspired album, 1997's Stargazer, allowing the master's laconic but always questioning sensibility to seep into his own work. The group allows itself to become unmoored from their thematic statement and drift through clouds of improvisation and interpretation. Going in their other direction, the band is at there most straightforward on "High Noon" (by Lovano) with it's crisp drumming and bright piano chords pushing Lovano's soprano saxophone and Douglas's pithy trumpet into the fast lane. Linda Oh's bass playing is an excellent fulcrum, anchoring the group to the surface, but allowing enough slack in her playing to encourage exploitative improvisation. Overall, this album was quite solid, with the influence of Wayne Shorter informing but never overwhelming the music. Each of the musicians has a profound gift for their instrument, but also use their talent in the development of a refined whole, through tight ensemble playing and quality soloing. Scandal - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed (Verve, 2018)

When one hard fought survivor plays the music of another, sparks can fly. That is definitely the case on this album, because vocalist Bettye LaVette is a gifted interpreter, having performed soul, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll over a lengthy career. Bob Dylan hardly requires an introduction, save that his songs have inspired legions of interpreters from The Byrds to Michael Moore's progressive jazz band Jewels and Binoculars. LaVette has a powerful voice, and dry wit, amply demonstrated on the opening track "Things Have Changed." This song had a noir sensibility in it's original format, but LaVette just owns it, changing the gender of the protagonist, spitting profanity and making a true statement of purpose that she may have been down, but she is by no means out. A crushing drumbeat and snarling guitar solo drive the music forward relentlessly, but it is the singer's force of spirit that makes it so memorable. Keith Richards guests on "Political World," but this song, as appropriate today (if not more,) than it was in 1989 when Dylan originally recorded it, is actually quite understated with subtle percussion and bass, and LaVette alternatively speaking and singing the thought provoking lyrics. Richards's solo is short and pointed leading to an organ drenched outro, feeling a bit tacked on and unnecessary. LaVette is a superb ballad singer and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" seems tailor made for her, imploring the lyrics over a soft and sympathetic backdrop, with melodic piano at the center of the accompaniment. There's a slinky and soulful groove to "Seeing the Real You at Last" with the leader's voice stretching across the accompaniment, holding notes and syllables effortlessly, and declaring the lyrics with a steely eyed defiance. "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" puts the pedal to the metal with swirling bluesy power, guitars chopping a stern rhythm as the bass and drums lock in as LaVette powers through the lyrics with ferocity. This album was quite successful, partly because they cover some material that are not the most obvious compositions in the Bob Dylan songbook, but mostly because Bettye LaVette is such a powerful and talented singer and interpreter that she is a force of nature that makes each of these songs her own. Things Have Changed - amazon.com

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dan Weiss - Starebaby (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Drummer and composer Dan Weiss is one of the leading lights of the progressive jazz scene, recording widely as a sideman, and often as a leader, whether it's with a piano trio, a large ensemble and now a very exciting quintet featuring Ben Monder on guitar, Trevor Dunn on electric bass, and Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards and piano. What makes this group so interesting is Weiss's goal to bring musicians together to create music that combines the improvisational nature of jazz with the enormity of heavy metal and electronic music. The result works very well, creating music that is edgy and powerful without falling into any jazz fusion cliches. They open disarmingly enough with the subtle acoustic guitar of "A Puncher's Chance" which gradually fills in with heavier sounds, creating an early 70's King Crimson vibe. "Depredation" adds organ an keyboard textures to create a mysterious sound backed by an ominous drumbeat and snarls of guitar flashing like heat lightning in the distance. Short motifs bubble up and are expanded upon before falling back into the overall stew, and thick sludgy bass and keyboards take over from below, punctuated by grinding guitar feedback. They shift back to a spacey and haunting sound on "Annica" with large droplets of piano hanging in space and dropping into the void, before the sound gradually fills in with bass and drums resonating though the overall sound. The interplay of the acoustic and electric instruments creates some very exciting and ominous tension within the music's structure, especially when drifting back unexpectedly to solo piano improvisation, before the music electrifies into a skull crushing conclusion. Electronic keyboards frame a pulsating bass and drum groove on "Badalamenti" with shards of neon toned electric guitar shooting through the soundscape. The band builds a collective improvisation that is cohesive and powerful, with a killer guitar solo from Monder, and a wonderful rhythmic foundation and drum solo from the leader, with warped keyboard sounds taking the music to the outer realms before gracefully evolving to an acoustic piano finish. Heavy piano plays off against thick bass and electric keyboard on "Cry Box" creating an eerie and cinematic atmosphere, becoming quite complex with the addition of stinging electric guitar soaring over the strong rhythm and leading to a scouring full band improvisation, dynamically shifting back into open space with subtle brushwork and melodic piano and guitar. "The Memory of My Memory" is spacey, with haunting and reverberating sounds creating an auditory funhouse, gradually creating stratified layers of music that meld and blend with massive slabs of bass and punishing drums kicking the music into an entirely new direction, imposing a harsh and bracing manner of playing that is more at home in post-rock experimentalism. Crisp drum rhythms are the focus of the lengthy concluding track "Episode 8" with manic keyboard playing and slashing percussion cutting the music to ribbons. The music unfolds episodically with nuanced waves of guitar and keyboard leading into a vicious percussion and bass led power rock extravaganza. Although perhaps better described as improvised progressive rock than heavy metal, this album is groundbreaking and forward thinking, allowing the musicians unfettered access to their own creativity and providing a wide screen canvas upon which to display it. Starebaby - amazon.com

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sun Ra - Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz, 1980 / Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2018)

Recorded during Sun Ra's tenure in Philadelphia, and now getting a much needed wider release after originally coming out on a very small label in 1980, this might be one of the albums which is perfect for enticing a neophyte into Ra's particular universe. It has a well known melodic standard, free jazz, ballads and blues, vocals and chanting, basically encapsulating Sun Ra ethos in one excellent album. They open with a blast of Ra exotica called "Mayan Temples" that begins in ritualistic fashion with organ, flute and low reeds creating a hypnotic medium tempo groove. Swirling flute and organ obit a slow tribal beat, with thick grounding bass keeping the proceedings from flying off into the ether. The music is continually atmospheric and impressive in its patience as it is exploring the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. The standard "Over the Rainbow" is the perfect vehicle for Ra to explore, ostensibly cheese, but with the kernel of an idea that he can use for his own ends. Like opening with a massive blurt of drums and horns, before dropping back into solo piano where he incorporates stride like elements which provide the momentum for the music to move inexorably forward. He can move from abstract to melodic at the drop of a hat, ranging from a haunting melodic statement to the howl and clang of pure freedom. "Inside the Blues" showcases Ra absolutely romping around the piano, with some of his most joyful playing on record. Bass and drums fall into line, building an epic foundation for the leader to ripple the keys over, urging everything forward and communicating his worldview through the form of the blues. Things get a little more outside with the medley "When There Is No Sun / Space Is The Place," with Sun Ra's piano developing an oriental tinge to it, and then gradually folding in vocal harmonies like a master chef. The horns riff and the vocals grow until the Ra showstopper "Space is the Place" is in full bloom. High pitched trumpets and vocals create a wonderful refrain, dropping out to feature waves of piano that gives the whole performance a rhapsodic feel. Finally, there is another melody which closes the album in fantastic fashion, melding "Door Of The Cosmos / Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here / We Travel The Spaceways" in a kaleidoscopic manner, with the band chanting to open the door moving beautifully into a call and response section of lighter voices answering the lower ones. Bright piano notes and rumbling bass chords restate Ra's authority, moving improbably to the shout about the gang being here before finally falling perfectly into one of his finest space chants "We Travel the Spaceways." This was an absolutely stellar Sun Ra album, one of many good ones he made in Philadelphia, and one that also focuses one his excellent piano playing. This one is a keeper, don't pass it by. Of Mythic Worlds (Remastered 2018, download only) - amazon.com

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Aruan Ortiz - Live in Zurich (Intakt Records, 2018)

Pianist Aruan Ortiz was in Zurich to record his solo piano album Cub(an)ism when he appeared at the November 2016 Unerhört! Festival. Hearing a truncated version of the concert on Swiss radio a short time later, the producers at Intakt Records were knocked out and immediately knew what Ortiz's next album would be. In the company of Brad Jones on bass and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira they make for a mighty unit, opening with the improvised "Part 1 (Analytical Symmetry / Fractal Sketches)" with low bass tones droning across the soundscape of the stage, while the rhythm team gives Ortiz his lead to take the music in whatever direction he chooses. The music comes at a slow boil over the course of thirty-four minutes, with each musician exploring the breadth and depth of their particular instrument. The music is wide open to any possibility that they can imagine, without necessarily being free jazz. The thick bass and ever shifting drums meld with Ortiz for a thirty four minute exploration where he applies his earlier compositions such as “Fractal Sketches” and “Analytical Symmetry”, which were first heard on the studio album Hidden Voices, and they are taken up in a keen fashion pulling the audience along with them as they gradually start to realize that they are witnessing a special performance. The pace really picks up during the second half, "Part 2 (Bass improvisation / Etude #6 op 10 / Open or Close & The Sphinx)" where the interplay between the musicians becomes lightning fast and their improvisational acuity is really brought to the forefront. Ortiz leans in hard on the keys producing a propulsive and exciting sound that really drives the music forward, resulting in an interesting convergence of musical ideas and styles, which is part and parcel of the personal journey he has taken from Cuba to the United States and then around the world where he is recognized as a master pianist and improviser. The variety of musical and interpersonal interactions between Ortiz and the bassist and drummer is revealed by the nature of the performance and improvisation. They come together to wrap things up with "Alone Together," a composition that they can use to recap their approaches to tempo, volume and melody which they have been investigating throughout this concert. This was an excellent album of exploratory modern jazz, and Aruan Ortiz is a musician of boundless imagination whose co-conspirators make for a fine accompaniment and continually interesting music. Live in Zurich - amazon.com

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Kris Davis and Craig Taborn - Octopus (Pyroclastic Records, 2018)

A few years ago, pianist Kris Davis began her own record label with the album Duopoly, an ambitious CD/DVD set of her in duets with musicians as diverse as Bill Frisell, Tim Berne and Don Byron. But the most interesting collaboration was with a fellow pianist, Craig Taborn. They clicked so well that they went on tour together, recording selections from their concerts for this collection. "Interruptions One" opens the album beginning in deep space, with quiet drops of notes and light touches on both keyboards. The pace gradually picks up with nimble and fast playing of high pitched piano, with occasional low end punctuation, leading to the rapid trading of interesting ideas before dropping back to quiet spaciousness for the conclusion. Presumably inspired by the town north of New York City, "Ossining" shows the duo playing inside and outside the piano, and developing an alluring West African influenced sound in the process. This adds a mysterious tinge to the music, which becomes slow and patient to the point where there are single notes hanging in the air. Like wind chimes caressed by the slightest breeze, they softly push back against the silence. "Chatterbox" is aptly named, as the musicians produce rippling eddies of piano that gab away merrily while improvising using volume and speed in an exciting manner. They turn to heavier, more percussive playing, as if sending messages encoded within the notes, as waves of keyboard create light and shade in the current of the music. There is a return to the quieter and meditative form on the medley of "Sing Me Softly of the Blues / Interruptions Two" which opens with a slowly building foundation developing into more full bodied playing with a ripe and infectious sound. Quickly moving into a lashing four handed lift off, with strong percussive technique that is well articulated. There's a dynamic drop off, a feint in another direction, before Davis and Taborn dive back in to a finishing statement of muscular notes and chords that mesh together perfectly. The album is concluded with Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space" which begins like a quiet transmission from the beyond, enveloping the music with an aura of the unknown, as they gracefully explore the quiet and meditative terrain. Patiently researching the inner and outer workings of their instrument, they develop a fully cohesive reimagining of this song building a memorable rhythm and conclusion. With the passing of Cecil Taylor leaving a gaping hole in the world of progressive jazz, Davis and Taborn are prepared to step up and lead. This excellent album shows that both musicians have the skill and imagination to guide the music forward toward whatever destiny it may meet. Octopus - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Miles Davis and John Coltrane - The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Legacy, 2018)

Saxophonist John Coltrane had already released his first masterpiece Giant Steps and was looking forward to putting together a band of his own to go out on the road. Trumpeter Miles Davis had employed Coltrane on and off since 1955 and was in a pinch, needing a saxophonist for a scheduled JATP tour of Europe in the early spring of 1960, gaining grudging acceptance from Coltrane. This was the band that made several classic Davis recordings, including the immortal Kind of Blue with a superb rhythm section including Paul Chambers on bass, Wynton Kelly on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums. These recordings have been in the grey market and bootleg circles for years, but they have never sounded this good. The remastering cleans up the sound which were originally radio recordings, with two sets from Paris’s L’Olympia Theater on Monday, March 21; and two from the next night at Stockholm’s Konserthuset; and one from Copenhagen’s Tivolis Koncertsal three days later, on March 24. The music is enthralling, Davis is the leader and at the top of his game, but it is Coltrane whose lengthy, searching solos are the main event for many on these records, his solos leaving perplexed and divided audiences in his wake. Special attention should be given to the rhythm section, who is ready for anything, whether it is the short pithy solos of Davis or the long searching Coltrane features. They are there with crisp rhythmic accompaniment and confident soloing throughout the recordings. The concerts included follow much of Davis's usual repertoire from the period, "So What", "All Blues" and "Walkin'" are some of the highlights where Miles plays with the refined grace that was his hallmark. He discouraged his bands from rehearsing, instead wanting them to be fresh on the bandstand, taking chances and allowing the material to be reexamined every night. John Coltrane made the most of this, along with the freedom and latitude that Davis allowed him. looking at the source material from every conceivable angle from which is might be improvised upon and then building layer upon layer of relentless music. He's not out of control however, although he may be way out there on performances like "All Blues" from Stockholm, trying out every conceivable method of playing. He's like a scientist, experimenting and then refining the results and casting aside what doesn't belong. Although the audiences, particularly at the Paris concert are flummoxed by this approach, his quest was all consuming and genuine and this attitude would continue for the remainder of his all too brief life. This is a fascinating release and fans of historical mainstream jazz are well advised to pick it up. It shows two two of the most important figures in jazz history performing for the last time before departing for vastly different paths. The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2018)

Guitarist Mary Halvorson put together this experienced quintet to play her original music, with members from different musical backgrounds focused on bringing her compositions to life. The rest of the band consists of Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums and the music was recorded in mid December of 2016 at Firehouse 12. “Pretty Mountain” evolves into some powerful wordless, near operatic vocal improvisation framed by sharp drumming, and Kidambi solos with the impressive confidence equal to any of the instrumentalists. Halvorson really catches fire on “Possibility of Lighting” where she takes a scalding guitar solo, flinging notes outward as if possessed by a whirling dervish, focusing on dark, intense squalls, used to punctuate her solo. “Off the Record” a purely instrumental performance has a sense of loping swing, and a bright and colorful trumpet opening. Halvorson’s guitar is witty and pointed, sending out sparkling notes that tumble together amidst the solid foundation of bass and drums. There is a gradually evolving process to “In the Second Before” where the music dramatically grows as if of its own accord, before coming to a head an an epic all out free jazz conclusion of squalling sound and passionate playing. An excellent trumpet solo enlivens “The Beast” along side thick and resonant bass, soaring vocals and restrained drumming. There is a sparkling guitar solo at the center of “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon” with stoic bass and drums in firm support as the guitar notes stretch and warp like taffy in the sun, building a blindingly intense fantasia that is soon joined by briskly played trumpet as the band lifts off of their own inertia, incorporating a fantastic drum solo framed by sparkling trumpet, and heading to a corrosive collective finish. There is a crisply played full band intro to “Thunderhead” that moves to an exploratory yet melodic brass interlude. Guitar notes hang in space like a gentle snowfall, twirling amidst the eddies of musical flow, whereas “Deepest Similar” is a feature for towering vocals gradually rising into artful streams that recall Linda Sharrock. “Drop the Needle” has declaratory vocals and the leader develops a quavering and watery guitar solo, with a post-modern psychedelic flair, one that is open minded in mood but without too much strangeness, which is a perfect setting for the restrained trumpet and bass to flourish. This was a very successful project, with Halvorson’s daring compositions and soloing combining jazz with an arty post rock sensibility to create a sound that the is genuinely unique and memorable. Code Girl - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Frode Gjerstad Trio with Steve Swell - Bop Stop (Clean Feed, 2018)

This is a crackling album of modern and free jazz featuring Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Steve Swell on trombone, Jon Rune Strom on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion, recorded live in performance in September of 2017 at the Bop Stop in Cleveland. This album is raw and unfettered modern free jazz with hints of the aforementioned bop (Albert Ayler and Joe Lovano both got their starts playing bebop in Cleveland, so the well runs deep here) with long stretches of abstract improvisation keeping the music unpredictable and fresh. This is clear from the opening selection "Bop Stop" where the playing can be strong and fierce, but like the rest of the album, there are places for smaller units to break out of the larger whole for solo statements and duo conversations. "Pop Bop" is an ample demonstration of this with saxophone and trombone painting swathes of impressionistic sound colors in the open space ceded to them when the bass and drums lay out. When the bass returns to action it develops a low and grinding bowed sound that adds a gritty texture along with depth and heft to the music with the punctuation of percussive slapping. The drums enter at last, developing a rattling and clanking rhythm, supporting Gjerstad's unique saxophone voice which is a salty mixture of the European free improvisation and American free jazz approaches. Dynamism and contrasting textures are important to the success of this performance as it builds to a crushing drum solo which takes the music in an exciting new direction. Everyone then comes together for an epic blowing session of collective improvisation, with trombone and saxophone blasting over roiling bass and drums. The conclusion of the album is "Post Stop" which features raw and rending sounds from the alto saxophone and trombone providing a sense of alarm and anxiety that adds further light and shade to the music. Brief touches of melody sit astride strong a strong rhythmic foundation, and leads the band into a powerful and frenetic finish. The members of the group communicate in a very meaningful fashion, from harsh and grating to soft, abstract and subtle. This was a very well done album of music that ebbs and flows in a very affecting manner and leaves the listener with the feeling of having experienced an exciting and immediate performance. Bop Stop - amazon.com

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Matthew Shipp - Zer0 (ESP-Disk, 2018)

Pianist Matthew Shipp's most recent solo album is an excellent distillation of his approach to the instrument as well as his conception of composition and improvisation. There is an album of eleven crisp, pointed selections and an added bonus of a disc containing the spoken word lecture that he gave at The Stone in New York City, which provides fascinating insight into the man behind the music, as does poet Steve Dalachinsky's stream of consciousness liner note essay. He opens with the title track, "Zero" which features sharp, stabbing notes and chords that create a latticework of sound, evolving to chime like sounds hanging in open space, before gradually re-filling the available volume of the music. This gives way to the haunted soundscape of "Abyss Before Zreo" with its cold and spectral crystalline notes and slow evocative movement, that builds to a sense of uneasy resolution. Deep charges of low end chords, juxtaposed against higher pitched notes power "Pole After Pole" with a depth and gravitational sensibility pulling the music in on itself, leading into "Piano Panels" which has a full and potent sound that ranges from percussive chords to fast runs covering the length of the piano. "Zero Skip and a Jump" has the pianist moving quickly around the keyboard deploying a lighter touch that is punctuated by abrupt stabbing notes the push the music forward. The longest track on the album is the exploratory "Zero Subtract From Jazz" which evolves episodically, with eddies of high pitched notes running into stronger currents of darker chords and crashing notes. The music is a very impressive piece of improvisation, incorporating powerful technique and nimble execution. The talk that Shipp gives at The Stone called "On Nothingness" is a wide ranging meditation on the nature of music and the way that it pertains to science, spirituality and economics and the expression of sound in the modern age. Shipp is a powerful thinker, and to hear him in this context, removed from the music, or even words on a page is a very thought provoking experience. This album is a diverse and complete package, with the music, spoken word and poetry all playing an integral part to demonstrating how Matthew Shipp remains one of the most vital artists on the creative music scene. Zer0 - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tim Daisy - Animation (Relay Records, 2018)

Percussionist and composer Tim Daisy delivers another excellent album with a crack band that includes James Falzone on clarinet, Steve Swell on trombone, Josh Berman on cornet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophones. This album was recorded at the Elastic Arts Foundation in Chicago in 2017, and it presents three long and meaty tracks that really allow the band to dig in and explore the terrain, with in depth collective improvisations and also solos and features for smaller groupings of instruments within the larger whole. The compositions on this album are inspired by a wide range of modern musical concepts like the improvisation and composition ideas that were developed in Chicago from the mid sixties to today by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. AACM musicians like Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and many others developed powerful ideas of foundation and texture that connects them to modern composers and improvisers like Daisy and his colleagues. The group is called the Fulcrum Ensemble (this is their second album) and their music evolves from the assimilation of these historical influences and many others from a wide variety of music, developing a forward thinking music that focuses on creating something personal and thoughtful. The group has every intention to keep creating these unique collaborative sounds together well into the future. By making use of some of the finest musicians in today’s creative improvised music world, the conception of these compositions and their resulting improvisations makes the most of their strong manner of playing, their holistic experience reflected upon the nature of the music, incorporating graciousness, assertiveness and spirit of adventure that the ensemble members provide. The music on this album is quite diverse, running the gamut from jazz to free improvisation and beyond, providing a wide range of musical color and structure. This is a very exciting group that really thrives on the unexpected and develops their music accordingly. Animation - bandcamp.com

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brad Mehldau - After Bach (Nonesuch Records, 2018)

I must admit that I know very little about classical music. My dad used to play it on the radio in the car when I was growing up, and I’ve read many interviews with musicians who speak about classical composers as inspirational figures. Like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau is a musician the has the talent and inclination to co-exist in the jazz and classical realms, and this album comprises the pianist and composer’s recordings of compositions by Bach with each followed by an “After Bach” response piece written by Mehldau and inspired by each composition he covers, allowing him to develop a very interesting call and response format. Apparently Bach was an improviser in his own right, and this gives Mehldau license to state the original Bach composition, and then follow up with his his own original performance that allows him to improvise, not necessarily in the jazz tradition, but improvising in the European art music continuum. After Bach began with the work Mehldau first played a few years ago, when he was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, The National Concert Hall, and Wigmore Hall. He called his commission Three Pieces After Bach, and then entering the recording studio, he forged an album that is bookended by two original compositions. The album begins with and original composition  “Before Bach: Benediction” and ends with his own “Prayer for Healing” which provide a meditative and thoughtful intro and outro and gives the music as a who a powerful emotional resonance. Overall, this album worked well, the piano is recorded beautifully and the music rings out and resonates, with an excellent sense of touch and feel in Mehldau’s piano playing. The music is quite pretty and enjoyable to listen too, for both jazz and classical fans. After Bach - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky (Sony Legacy, 2018)

Guitarist, singer, songwriter, Jimi Hendrix is a galvanizing presence in rock 'n' roll, even nearly fifty years after his death. Like many famous people who died all too young, he left mountains of half-finished studio recordings and reams of bootleg and legitimate live recordings that belie the short time he spent on this planet and the even shorter time he spent as a rock 'n' roll star, flashing across the sky like a short lived but brilliant comet. After his death on September 18, 1970, there was a frenzy of activity, and with no clear line of succession, posthumous releases flooded the marketplace, and with the advent of the compact disc plus the progression to downloading and streaming, the frenzy became a veritable tsunami. Posthumous releases were both unauthorized and legitimate, often confusing the consumer. Executor Al Hendrix eventually licensed recordings to Sony through the family-run company Experience Hendrix LLC, and an effort was made to clean up some of the most egregious indulgences which resulted in a recent trilogy of recordings: Valleys of Neptune, People, Hell and Angels, and Both Sides of the Sky. This most recent album compiles music from 1968 to 1970, mixing released and previously unreleased recordings. It catches Hendrix in flux, moving away from the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, into a funkier out fit that included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, called the Band of Gypsys, who would develop a deep funk workout here called "The Power of Soul" that became a linchpin of their resulting 1970 live album. He shows his blues roots on this album with very nicely done covers of the muddy Waters classic "Mannish Boy" which kicks off the album, and an emotional version of Guitar Slim's testimonial "The Things That I Used to Do." These two tracks along with an epic deconstruction of the blues classic "Hear My Train A-Comin'" which consists of a complete take rather than the composite track that was Frankensteined together on the 1994 album Jimi Hendrix: Blues. These particular tracks really inspire the musicians and ground the music deep in the fertile soil of the blues which create an excellent foundation for what it to come. Other tracks like a blistering "Lover Man" which represents the summation of Hendrix's attempts to mold the song (a live staple) into a studio version he was satisfied with. Steven Stills was a frequent jamming partner of Hendrix's after they met at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. They had each become enthused about the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock" and in late September of 1969 they worked on the song until Stills moved to organ and vocals when the performance quickly took shape. They stayed in this configuration while cutting another Stills led piece, "$20 Fine." There are some interesting curios, like the duet performance between Hendrix (even incorporating some electric sitar!) and Mitchell that resulted in the atmospheric instrumental "Cherokee Mist" Overall this album works quite well, there are informative liner notes and some excellent photographs which round out a well designed set that will be a boon to Hendrix obsessives and classic rock fans in general. Both Sides Of The Sky - amazon.com

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The Yardbirds - Yardbirds '68 (Jimmy Page Music, 2017)

The legendary rock 'n' roll band The Yardbirds were on their last legs in early 1968 when these recordings took place. Jimmy Page, last in a long line of heroic guitarists in the group's employ had taken command of the music and it began to move away from the blues/pop foundation the group had been working on since their formation in 1963. Page wanted to move the band into a more confrontational heavy riff based music that he would eventually perfect with his next band, Led Zeppelin. (see also the Goldmine article about the Yardbirds to Zeppelin transition) Regardless, this is a very interesting collection, consisting of one disc of live material recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York City and a second disc entitled Studio Sketches, consisting of demo material recorded during this period. In addition to Page on guitar, the band consisted of Keith Relf on vocals, harmonica, percussion, Chris Dreja on bass guitar on backing vocals and Jim McCarty on drums, percussion and vocals. This music had been released very briefly on LP before being pulled, making this version curated under the auspices of Page himself with input from the other surviving band members the first official re-mixed, re-mastered release of the music. They may have been fraying at the edges, but the group remained a powerful live act, as seen by strong performances of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" which motors along relentlessly with raw drumming and soaring harmonica. A couple of their earlier singles follow, "Mr, You're a Better Man Than I" and "Heart Full of Soul" which develop dynamically within the traditional framework the band had built over the years. The first surprise comes in the form of an embryonic version of "Dazed and Confused" soon to become an exercise on self-indulgence as Page wowed arena sized crowds with his guitar bowing technique and performances would stretch out over fifteen minutes. They are still feeling their way through these songs, but you can sense Page chafing against the familiar patterns of the band. This all comes together on the concluding track, a ten minute blowout of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” including a few sub themes to boot. Everybody digs into this performance with a tough chugging groove with slashing guitar and taut bass and drums. They also rip through a few more of their popular singles, taking a fast packed and action packed approach to fan favorites “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things.” The following disc of demos is short, but contains some treasures, such as the two versions of acoustic experiments like “Spanish Blood” and "Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)" another track that would find another life gets shortly. Overall, this is a valuable historical collection showing that the band was functioning at a high level and experimenting right up to the end. Yardbirds '68 - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk, 2018)

This is an excellent album of modern jazz from the quartet of Matthew Shipp on piano, Mat Walerian on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The group will re-configure itself throughout the album, opening up interesting sections for solos, duos and trios within the full band framework. The album begins quietly with "First Step" as Shipp provides deep blue chords in open space for the saxophone to weave around amidst gentle bowed bass and cymbal play. The spare and beautiful piano that opens "Blues Addition" has a sense of melodic grace, as notes and chords ring and resonant in the air. After two minutes, the bass and bass clarinet are featured, keeping the meditative nature of the music intact, as piano and drums are absent, while "The Station" has long tones and quick swirls of clarinet unaccompanied in space, layering interesting textures in a solo statement, that is a great feature for Walerian's playing. The full band comes together at a faster pace on "Lines of Energy" which has a skittish and nervous flow to it. Their collective improvisation is rapidly streaming and exciting to hear, with raw saxophone weaving in between the taut rhythm and with pungent piano. Shipp's deep and strong piano playing is center stage for "Easy Flow" gaining volume and resonance as the music evolves through percussive jabs and lightning fast filigrees, creating a great solo piano performance. Tight bass playing lays the foundation for "The Problem of Jazz" which quickly adds short cells of slashing drums and saxophone, creating a very compelling narrative that is based on propulsive bass playing and bursts of free jazz noise. After the ringing introduction of "The Note," the piano, bass and drums unit takes command with a forceful "3 by 4." The music is fast paced and alert, careening forward in a compelling fashion, with Shipp's muscular piano colliding with the active bass and drums building deeply coherent energy where the three musicians play steep and fast, energetic, before the saxophonist joins them about halfway through and takes things to a thrilling new level with an explosive collective improvisation. "Cell in the Brain" returns to a more open ended feel with clarinet and subtle percussion carving a channel through the air with interjections from piano, plumbing the low end of the piano for a deeper atmosphere. The longest track on the album is the concluding "Sonic Fiction" which brings together all of the aspects of the prior performances into one long summation. The quartet plays thoughtfully, carving space within which to improvise, at times dense and passionate, while also blooming into open space, with the saxophone and piano leading the way, adding some excellent adding further depth and variety to the music, even dropping into some deeply swinging freebop sections as the piece develops. Sonic Fiction - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records, 2018)

Pianist Orrin Evans was an inspired choice (and if the Downbeat interview is accurate, the only choice) to replace founding member Ethan Iverson in The Bad Plus. Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King remain as the bedrock of the group, and the trio continues as before, creating witty compositions and pairing them with pithy improvisations. Leading off with the haunting and melodic “Hurricane Birds” which leads the group into the album, one that has a sense of melancholy that reflects the age. This sensibility is bookended by two bonus tracks that end the album, "Kerosene" and "Seems" which take on a floating fluidity that moves gracefully through their improvisations with a group nature that eschews soloing for an overall band sound. "Trace" kicks the pace up a notch with crisp drumming and thick sounding bass providing a firm foundation for Evans's piano to glide over. The music is not overtly loud, but it is played with a sense of urgency that keeps the tune moving along briskly. Their collective improvisation is very solid, and the trio works well as a group, interacting and sharing opportunities to support one another, and building to an exciting and satisfying conclusion that keeps the melody at the forefront. There is a sample of the bouncy wit that this group has been long known for on "Safe Passages" with Evans providing percussive piano chords over churning bass and drums that drive the music rhythmically forward. The music moves at a fast and interesting pace, with a high level of listening and empathy between the musicians resulting in a consistently interesting performance and album highlight. "Commitment" is one of the more dynamic pieces of music on the album, starting with a sense of velocity as all three members lean into a crashing, rhythmically dense configuration, with some excellent drumming taking the lead, and then everyone diving deep into a headlong improvised section. Rippling piano notes and deep muscular bass further develop the track, until there is an abrupt shift in tempo to a ballad configuration, with much open space and light touches on the instruments. This is a jarring change, but works to keep the listener off guard and apprehensive about what is to come. They return to the fast pace on the tumbling "Lean in the Archway" anchored by some stellar bass playing and thoughtfully challenging piano playing. The music develops a madcap cinematic feel, like the postmodern equivalent to instrumental accompaniment of silent films. The choppy rhythmic nature and ever changing consistency of the music keep it interesting and exciting. This was another fine entry in the discography of The Bad Plus. Evans is a superb instrumentalist and composer and deserves the wider attention he will find in this band, and he fits in seamlessly with King and Anderson and their musical conception. Never Stop II - amazon.com

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (Tri-Centric / New Braxton House, 2018)

Multi instrumentalist Anthony Braxton performing here on alto and soprano saxophone, flute, contrabass clarinet and piano put together a great band including Ari Brown on tenor and soprano saxophone, Paul Smoker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Mengelberg on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan akLaff (most tracks) or Han Bennink on drums to interpret the music of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1993. Although he is most widely known as a composer, teacher and ardent experimentalist, Braxton's roots lie in classic jazz (he is also an avowed admirer of the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) and has explored the music of Parker, Andrew Hill and others live and on record for many years. This monumental collection is the expansion of a two disc HatHut Records release and really shows how the band grew while playing this music over time. Some of the pieces are repeated in multiple versions such as the Parker composition "Klactoveedsedstene" which demonstrates how the band is able to take the source material and interpret it in many different ways, and that may be the key to understanding this set, as the band explores the freedom of bebop as an artform and the potential it offers for improvisers to this day. With Braxton's array of instruments and a unique approach to the repertoire the music is never the same way twice and he has a perfect foil on the person of Ari Brown, who has a more traditional approach to the saxophone allowing for the formation of interesting and intricate textures within the context of their improvisations. The iconoclastic Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg is an inspired choice for the group, his deep knowledge of the history of jazz and willingness to subvert it are the perfect qualities for this band. The strong brass playing of Smoker and the rhythm section of akLaff and Fonda offer another dimension to explore the music as the rhythms and pulses of the music push and pull as the past meets the present. They play excellent versions of Parker compositions like "Parker's Mood," "Koko" and "Scrapple from the Apple" while also exploring period pieces like Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia" and Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" and the music ranges from pithy and short treatments of the melodies and themes to lengthy explorations on tracks like a nineteen minute version of "An Oscar for Treadwell." But there is little flab on any of these recordings, and the pithy nature of the performances and the familiarity of many of the tunes go a long way toward increasing the accessibility and approachability of the music as a whole. An eleven disc set is a whopper to absorb, but the quality of the music remains excellent throughout and this is a band that deserves attention as one of Braxton's finest, so the idea of expanding to this length is valid. The quality of the music is excellent throughout and the playing is inspired with superb ensemble passages on the well known themes and a wide range of stellar soloing from each member of the group. Sextet (Parker) 1993 - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Azar Lawrence - Elementals (High Note, 2018)

Although he may be most well known as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (see Phil Freeman's podcast with Lawrence and excellent series about the 1970's LP's by Tyner for more information) and Elvin Jones, saxophonist Azar Lawrence has released several albums as a bandleader, first in a funky fusion mode in the mid-seventies, and most recently with a strong series of modern mainstream jazz albums. This is a fine LP that continues that trend with Lawrence playing tenor and soprano saxophone in the company of Benito Gonzalez on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. "La Bossa" is a strong and swinging opener with the bassist and percussionist providing a deep rhythmic foundation and Lawrence playing in a bittersweet fashion, with the piano grooving at a solid medium tempo. The group cooks together quite nicely, never forcing the pace with Lawrence soloing in a sleek and shiny fashion before stepping aside and letting the rhythm section say their piece which they do in grand style before the leader returns on soprano saxophone the lead the group to the finale. He stays on soprano for "Eye of the Needle" developing an appealing tone as the group takes a stronger stance, developing a faster and more strident pace, leading to an excellent section of collective improvisation, with the group developing a full rich sound, building to an exciting climax of powerful percussion and saxophone held fast by piano and bass. The title track "Elementals" is one of the most powerful on the album with strong piano comping and tenor saxophone over brisk rhythm accompaniment. There is a fast paced and muscular interlude for the band without saxophone, then the leader returns with a raw and deeply rooted solo statement of his own, taking the music into a personal and unique space. "African Chant" opens with a yearning unaccompanied tenor saxophone statement before the music jumps into a fast full band mode, adding some scatting vocals to further deepen the rhythmic sensibility of the sound. They develop a potent collective improvisation that swings very well, while allowing the band members to express themselves fully within the music. There is a fine piano solo, set up by undulating drums, percussion and bass, before the full band comes together for a fast conclusion. This upbeat nature continues on the fast paced "Sing to the World" where Lawrence develops a strong melody on soprano saxophone as the remainder of the band churns beneath him. He uses this theme as the basis for a strong solo, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape like a bird in flight. The group is really in their element with this brawny improvisation that is rooted in tradition, yet soaring to break free. This was a very good album, and continues a strong renaissance for Azar Lawrence, who has been making a habit of releasing one strong modern jazz LP a year for the past ten years with no sign of letting up. Elementals - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Jon Lundbom Quartet - Live at Monks (MonksLive, 2018)

After a run of several superb albums with his group Big Five Chord, guitarist and composer Jon Lundbom takes a different approach in a quartet format, playing a series of live dates in the company of Russell Haight on tenor saxophone, Sam Pankey on bass, and Jeff Olson on drums. The music they create is as fresh as ever, turning in stellar ensemble passages and white hot solos that would be sure to attract any progressive jazz or rock fan who might have the good fortune to hear this music. The music that the group plays is partly new compositions, warhorses from the Big Five Chord days and a few jazz classics thrown in for good measure. The band is more then up to the task of this wide range of material, embracing the challenging music head-on and pushing forward into the deep until a truly personal statement is made. Lundbom has recently relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas music scene and is sure to gain a swift following once his thoroughly modern jazz is unleashed upon the denizens of the city's music clubs and festivals, Keep Austin Weird, indeed. The venue Monk's is a DIY project providing pop up concerts and guerrilla art statements that are needed more then ever in these dark times. The music develops in a grand fashion, pulling in diverse aspects of modern jazz and progressive jazz as evidenced on the opener "So Sue Me" which was originally composed by John Scofield with aspects of groove that he is known for, but the music is subtly changed by this band. They incorporate a powerful and immediate guitar sound from Lundbom, before the hands the baton to Haight who plants his feet and really digs into a gritty and potent statement. Lundbom developed the original composition "Cereal" in collaboration with Bryan Murray (a.k.a. Balto Exclamationpoint) which takes the music in a much different direction. It is a deeply atmospheric performance, developing a unique soundscape, with an open endlessness that accentuates the slight echo and reverberation is provided by the venue. Originally recorded on Lundbom's previous live album, the very successful Liverevil album from 1993, "These Changes" opens with some subtle funky grooves from the rhythm section before Lundbom enters and pushes the intensity forward and locking in with the drummer to make sure the sparks are flying. They dip back into the Big Five Chord book for the composition "Trick Dog," which begins with a length solo guitar opening, presenting a statement of mission for the group to follow and they respond enthusiastically, inserting changes in time and allowing for excellent solo spots for tenor saxophone and bass. The Ornette Coleman composition "W.R.U." is an unexpected delight, where Height takes the reigns on a fast and fluid tenor saxophone feature, and Olson provides some thunderous rhythmic responses. The group breaks, and then opens their concluding set with the Joe Lovano composition, "Blackwell’s Message," dedicated to the great drummer. Olson has just the right approach for this, adding percussive accents that leads the group into their approximation of Latin jazz, "People Be Talking," which develops a slinky groove before Lundbom breaks out with a scalding guitar solo, keeping everyone on their toes. They hit another Ornette Coleman composition, "Law Years" which features some excellent bass playing from Parley before a meaty tenor saxophone solo returns us to the Earth. Clearly moving from strength to strength, this is another excellent album from Jon Lundbom, marking him as one of the most creative guitarists and bandleaders on the modern jazz scene. Hopefully there will be regular installments from this group as they continue to expand and grow. Live at Monks - MonksLive bandcamp

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - After the Fall (ECM, 2018)

When pianist Keith Jarrett traveled to Newark, New Jersey in November 1998, it was an auspicious occasion, marking his return to live performance after a two-year battle with debilitating chronic fatigue disorder. He joined by his longtime partners in the so-called Standards Trio, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They had been a group for fifteen years at this point, and had amassed a wide ranging book of popular songs and jazz standards which they delved into on this recording, beginning with a nearly sixteen minute version of "The Masquerade Is Over" which answers any questions of Jarrett's health with a powerful performance, combining texture, dynamics and the trust this band has built up over the years to rip though a lengthy high wire improvisation without missing a step. Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" is a joy to hear, as the revels in some storming bebop, making this a highlight of the recording, and creating a blasting trio improvisation which incorporates strong bass and drum solos. "Old Folks" is a ballad that features beautiful brush work from DeJohnette, creating a subtle and dreamy feel, and he is equally at home supporting a sublime bass solo. The melody of "Autumn Leaves" gets the crowd excited  and the band responds with a fast paced collective improvisation spinning their own textiles from the threads of the familiar song. This is rapidly swinging improvisation that only a profoundly talented group can achieve, akin to driving a luxury car as they cruise through a lengthy performance. Peacock's throbbing bass is the heart of the performance, the point of gravity around which the trio moves through space. But they really hit their stride with another bebop flag waver, Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" and they swing effortlessly at high speed from the melody as the piano sprinkles drops of gentle notes like a summer shower, leading the band to rip through the song at high speed slaloming through the tricky bebop in a very exciting manner. Jarrett fades back allowing a classy bass solo over a quiet but insistent cymbal beat before coming back to lead the group to a massively swinging conclusion. The Sonny Rollins composition "Doxy" has a jumping theme that the group embraces, with loping bass and bright piano and a foundation of crisp drumming. They drop into a medium tempo and swoop grandly throughout the performance. "I’ll See You Again" begins as a ballad with a bass feature backed with brushes, but the piece evolves into a mid-tempo performance with thick bass balancing the rippling piano and swaying drums. "Late Lament," however is a proper ballad, played with open space and symmetry, while "One for Majid" has a bright and bouncy medium percolation but can be a little grating on the ears as Jarrett's infamous vocalization becomes quite audible. A late highlight to the set is a performance of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" as the band creates an exciting and fast paced joyride with strong rhythm and keyboard driving the music forward with the drums swinging mightily as DeJohnette puts his indelible stamp on the proceedings. This album is another fine entry into the catalog of the Standards Trio, and Jarrett's discography as a whole. He was clearly inspired after regaining his health and this sense of inspiration led to a memorable concert. After The Fall - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton - Music for David Mossman Live at the Vortex London (Intakt Records, 2018)

Saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Barry Guy, and percussionist Paul Lytton have been playing together for nearly forty years and this particular album is dedicated to David Mossman who was the proprietor of the Vortex Club in London where this album was recorded in July of 2016. They develop a four part suite of collective improvisation beginning with "Music For David Mossman I" starts with a quiet bass and percussion section that builds a massive power as Parker's tenor saxophone folds in, gaining momentum for a fearsome collective improvisation. Taut and sharp bass plucking with a tightly wound sound opens "Music For David Mossman II" that is spacious and open, and then begins to coalesce round saxophone and scattered percussion. The improvisation develops in a patient manner with a passionate three way improvisation building pacing and structure and towering tenor saxophone looming over undulating bass and percussion, then the wave crests to a spacious, stoic and steady saxophone and feathery percussion. They are dark and close as the pace rebuilds over slashing saxophone to a scalding free improvisation, creating a thrilling ride that is locked in and barreling forward. "Music For David Mossman III" is the longest track, clocking in at over twenty four minutes, popping and squeaking and building to a powerfully rhythmic foundation, with the dark and mahogany sound of Parker's tenor saxophone that is so well honed moving with blazing speed toward a more abstract section as the bass solos and the percussion develops skittish patterns. The saxophone re-enters with the waxing and waning nature of the music that keeps the tension and suspense high with the saxophone developing a circular pattern that gets faster and faster seemingly with centrifugal force, and a rattling and clanking drum solo  that is very impressive, developing a spontaneous rhythm that is complex and exciting, before returning to a collective improvisation for a ravishing conclusion. This album concludes with "Music For David Mossman IV" with deep and resonant tenor saxophone breathing in a circular pattern in magical patterns as if casting a spell. Bowed bass and percussion glide in aiding and abetting scalding saxophone building back to a frenetic three way improvisation racing forward and incorporating another quality drum solo. This was an excellent album and will appeal to fans of free improvisation. This unit has played together for many years and this experience has forged a hard won unity between them that is unique and special. Music for David Mossman - amazon.com

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (Atlantic Records, 1961)

Subtitled A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, this remains on of the most contentious of Coleman’s early Atlantic Records catalog, inspiring the pre “hot box” Downbeat Magazine to print simultaneous five star and zero star reviews. It remains a bracing and thrilling album to this day and the Jackson Pollock painting that originally graced the cover is the perfect visual analogue to music contained within. Bringing together a jaw-dropping group of musicians, Coleman split them into two quartets, recorded in a such a way that their music would come from one of two channels in the stereo format. In the left channel there was Coleman himself on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Scott LaFaro on bass and Billy Higgins on drums; while in the right channel are Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The original album consists of one continuous track, “Free Jazz” which had a fade in the middle in order to fit the music onto a standard LP. Modern digital versions of the album has that track presented seamlessly in addition to “First Take” a valuable addition to the Coleman canon showing that the more famous piece didn’t develop in a vacuum, but was was one that evolved in the studio over time, allowing soloists to be cued and ensemble passages to be worked out. Each of the musicians in the ensemble gets a solo section, in addition to collectively improvised full band sections that take surging sub-themes and use them as launching points for the group collaborations. The first side of the original LP focuses on ensemble passages and solo sections for the horn players, led off by Dolphy’s unmistakable bass clarinet, and the leader’s own blues drenched searing alto saxophone. The brass players are contrasted between Cherry’s pinched pocket trumpet and Hubbard's powerful blowing, proving that he was equally at home in the avant-garde as he was playing swinging hard bop. The second half of the original LP has ensemble passages connecting solos from the bassists and drummers, showing the nature of rhythm and pacing with a free context. It’s fascinating to compare the doomed virtuoso Scott Lafaro with Coleman mainstay Charlie Haden, and Higgins and Blackwell would alternately hold the drum chair until the leader’s son Denardo was ready to take over in the late sixties. They have unique yet complementary approaches to to music which are fascinating to hear and provide further fuel to the fire of the group’s extraordinary sound. Much of Coleman’s Atlantic Records output has been so fully absorbed into the language of modern jazz to the extent that they don’t seem all that revolutionary in retrospect today. No so this masterpiece, with an octet of hall of fame worthy talent set loose an atmosphere of supportive freedom, the results are seismic, and would echo through the ages to landmarks like John Coltrane’s Ascension, Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun and beyond. It is a towering achievement and one of the most important albums in jazz history. Free Jazz - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 01, 2018

Daniel Levin / Chris Pitsiokos / Brandon Seabrook - Stomiidae (Dark Tree, 2018)

Stomiidae is a devastating and thrilling avant-garde jazz album from Daniel Levin on cello, Chris Pistiokos on alto saxophone and Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar. All three of these men are well known in jazz and free improvisation circles, so their coming together under one banner is a cause for celebration. This music was collectively improvised and recorded in April of 2016 at Firehouse 12 in Connecticut. The results produced by this group is a caustic and bold melding of sound and body, but in the best manner possible. The swirling scouring action provided by the cello and guitar lock horns and provide a powerful jolt that can be ridden or joined by the acidic toned saxophone. These episodes of arch freedom are matched by sections of eerie calm where the instruments arc across a larger soundscape where the saxophone can mine circular motifs as on the opening track "Photonectes Gracilis" and the guitar and cello can add pointillist commentary gradually filling in the available space, building to a section of alarming sounds before dynamically dropping down to near silence. This is followed by  "Eustomias Trewavasae" which has raucous fast paced chirping that develops into a frantically bowed and blown improvisation. The group uses their instruments to make sounds that you would not normally associate with them, creating a wide range of textures and hues that are very impressive to hear. There is a very exciting and frenetic collective improvisation developed on "Neonesthes Capensis" with extremely fast paced bowing and picking met by flurries of saxophone, not necessarily at high volume but with a sense of forward motion brought about by the speed of the playing. Wild sounds that are akin to a mis-tuned radio open "Opostomias Micripnus" throwing the music into varying degrees of light and shade with ominous squeals and clicks adding to the overall atmosphere of the music, before moving into a more conventional if not any less intense conclusion to the piece. The finale "Echiostoma Barbatum" pulls together all of the aspects of the recording with raw and unfettered free improvisation broken at times with spacey open interludes. This is a fine conclusion to a very good album of challenging free improvisation. The playing of the instrumentalists is first rate and they are completely locked in and engaged with the material at hand. Stomiidae - Dark Tree Bandcamp

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sonny Rollins - Way Out West ]Deluxe Edition] (Craft Recordings, 2018)

Tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins was at the height of his powers in 1957 when he recorded this titanic classic of modern jazz, a famously relaxed session with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums that started around three in the morning and really started cooking as the sun came up. Like his equally famous recordings from the Village Vanguard, Rollins plays with just bass and drums, allowing him considerable freedom to shape the music, and the rhythm team of Brown and Manne are very sympathetic to the cause. You really hear the wit and sagacity that is present in Rollins' most famous recordings (not to mention the cover photograph which is one for the ages,) beginning with the clip-clopping beat to the opening track "I'm an Old Cowhand" that makes perfect sense given the context and the leader's love of classic western films. This and adds a scent of humor without ever resorting to cheese, and provides just the right push that guides the band into making a iconic performance. Manne adds aspects of this beat to the track "Wagon Wheels" which is a lustrous mid-tempo performance, that really accentuates burnished beauty of Rollins' tenor saxophone sound, which is absolutely glowing throughout this record. The beautiful ballad "Solitude" is a very patient and impressive performance, with Manne playing subtle brushes and Brown adding slow and resonant bass notes while Rollins glides around the music with a sense of stately grace. "Come, Gone" amps the tempo back up to a steaming three way improvisation, with Brown loping gleefully on bass and Shelly Manne swinging madly on cymbals, before taking an excellent solo of his own as Rollins spools out a seemingly endless array of variations on the theme. This new reissue adds some of the studio chatter, in which Rollins discusses the need to understand the lyrics of a standard or pop song in order to fully inhabit it. This was a trait that he shared with other famous tenor saxophonists like Lester Young Dexter Gordon who would often preface a live performance with a short recitation of a lyric before launching into an alternate take to "I'm an Old Cowhand" that runs nearly double the length of the original released performance. They discuss renaming a song (with a slightly bawdy wink) in order to give Rollins an original composition and some royalties, and the alternate version of this song "Come, Gone" is once again stretched out past the ten minute mark. These extra tracks are not filler, they are really interesting to listen to, and show how the band would construct their performances and how Rollins could create spontaneously out of thin air like a magician. This collection is available in digital form, but the two LP record really goes to town with re-mastered sound, old and new liner notes and photographs and other ephemera. Regardless of how you find it, this is a classic of post war jazz and deserves to be in every jazz fan's record collection. Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] - amazon.com

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