Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Thollem/Wimberly/Cline - Radical Empathy (Relative Pitch, 2015))

This collective trio makes very interesting music that ranges from deep abstraction to riveting electric free improvisation that has flashes of Sonny Sharrock and Tony William’s Lifetime. The group consists of Thollem (McDonas) on keyboards, (Michael) Wimberly on drums and (Nels) Cline on guitar. On “Thinker’s Mix” organ and drums are slamming against sharp guitar, developing some very nice interplay. They are moving faster into hardcore improvisation with organ, guitar and drums just blasting the music to the floor, nearly overloading the listener with a postmodern fusion of jazz, post-rock and free improvisation. There’s the full sounding guitar, piano and drums unit playing together on “The Middle,” where this swift collective improvisation makes for a fast and intricate weaving of instruments. Nels Cline, guitar hero, breaks free and plays faster and faster in a thrilling fashion as the piano and drums supports his amazing effort. “Thought Pools” has swirling guitar developing a dark tone and meeting snappy drums making for some great stuff. They absolutely howl along with great slabs of keyboards making things even more exciting, and they grow into a three headed monster of kaleidoscopic noise with scalding eclectic guitar, pummeling drums and swirling keyboards. “To the Core” has Rattling drums underneath the music with sharp streaks of effects aided guitar overhead and mysterious notes on the piano, making for an enigmatic but very interesting song. They hit very hard, but hare able to downshift dynamically when the music needs it. Cline’s noise guitar is fiendishly loud on “Pool’s Up” sweeping the other instruments into a strong and wide open improvisation, with some great dirty sounding overdriven and distorted organ and full bore percussion. This is the band at their most exciting, loud, enthusiastic and action packed. Juxtaposed against these high energy tracks is an equal amount of music that shows the trio playing in the polar opposite manner. These other songs have a sense of cold abstraction like viewing sharp lined architecture in the dark of night. Overall, though this is a very interesting album that melds a wide range of music in a confident and enthusiastic manner. Radical Empathy -

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Van Morrison - The Essential Van Morrison (Sony/Legacy, 2015)

For Van Morrison’s 70th birthday, there was a big announcement: that most of his back catalog would come under the auspices of Sony/Legacy, and be available for streaming and downloading with selected albums reissued in expanded formats. They began the reissue program with this well chosen two CD collection that does its best to pick the highlights from a career that has spanned over 50 years. The collection opens at the beginning with Morrison fronting the scrappy Irish rhythm and blues band Them and singing the anthemic song “Gloria” and the yearning “Here Comes the Night.” This sets the format for the first disc of the album, presenting two or three songs from the more well known albums of his early career from the inescapable “Brown Eyed Girl” to the blistering jazz of “The Way that Young Lovers Do” and impressionistic “Astral Weeks” from the album of the same name. Four tracks from the Moondance LP show the importance of that album in his catalog, since it was able to combine the side of his personality that is the spiritual seeker, “And it Stoned Me,” “Into the Mystic” with his more approachable jazz and blues side of “Moondance” and “Crazy Love.” The remainder of disc one consists of cherry picking the most well known songs and singles of the seventies like the driving “Domino” and the radio friendly “Tupelo Honey” and “Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile.)” Much of Van Morrison’s music from the 1980’s onward became more overtly spiritual in nature and less oriented toward singles for radio and television. One of the very good things about the Universal deal is that it will make the albums of this period readily available, some of which had even fallen out of print in the USA. There are some quite beautiful songs on disc two, the least of which is “Have I Told You Lately” which undoubtedly made Morrison a windfall when Rod Stewart got his grubby hands on it. Jaunty songs like “Bright Side of the Road” and “Real Real Gone” are superb pop songs and earworms equal to his earlier material but seemed to fall on deaf eras. His jazz experiments with Mose Allison and Georgie Frame were quite successful leading to tracks like “That’s Life” and “Precious Time” and they even include one of his great “grumpy” songs, “Why Must I Always Explain. This is a very solid collection, good for newbies to learn what the fuss is all about and a well chosen slab of music that will make the cognoscenti eager to dive into the back catalog again. The Essential Van Morrison -

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blue Buddha - Blue Buddha (Tzadik, 2015)

Blue Buddha is a special collective group consisting of Dave Douglas on trumpet, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Louie Belogenis on tenor saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The music was recorded live in the studio without edits or overdubs and that sense of "without a net" excitement pervades the disc. This group plays spiritual jazz of a unique nature beginning with “Purification” which is spacious, with the saxophone playing off against the trumpet and disjointed percussion. The music takes a long time developing but the payoff is well worth it with excellent drumming and cries of saxophone and trumpet. Belogenis plays some raw and rending saxophone to open “Double Dorje” and Sorey responds with open percussion, very free and unfettered with a Spiritual Unity feel. There is some really great saxophone and drum interplay, making for a wonderful match of musicians. “Truth of Cessation” has spacious breathy trumpet, playing quiet long breaths and longing peals of saxophone responding followed by open ended drumming and Laswell’s enveloping soundscape. Trumpet in free space sounding confident and making a statement, the kind of music Douglas used to make with groups like the Tiny Bell Trio. “Wrathful Compassion” is the band at its most ferocious and it is an absolute thrill ride from start to finish.  The full group comes out immediately playing fast and hard, making for a very exciting free jazz sound that is going for broke developing a swirling a mass of extraordinary sound, moving into sensory overload. The trumpet and saxophone are absolutely scalding while the bass and drums manhandle the rhythm. Bruised deft drums and baying horns give a haunted air to “Diamond Vehicle” followed by  hollow sounding electric bass. Beats of trumpet and rough grained sandpaper saxophone, bubbling bass percolate before things really start to move. Powerful jabs and peals of trumpet engage back and forth with Belogenis’ unrestrained saxophone. He has an amazing free sound that recalls Pharoah Sanders at times. Laswell’s supportive bass has an unusual sound throughout the record, buoyant and cavernous while Sorey’s facile drumming is fascinating throughout. “Lineage” ends the album with saxophone calling out with bare supplication, like a humble prayer. Gong like cymbals add to the spiritual feeling, delving into deep meditative thought and the bringing forth of hopes and dreams. Sorey gets more aggressive, again driving excellent drum and saxophone interaction. They move faster and more unfettered, reaching and digging in deeper and propelling themselves higher, for a superb conclusion. This music has a sacred vibe to it that runs from the great avant garde jazz of the 1960’s through to today. The music is luminous and open hearted, imposing yet quite accessible. Blue Buddha -

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Miles Davis - Live in Tokyo 1975 (Hi Hat, 2015)

Ten days before the recording of the extraordinary live LP’s Agharta and Pangaea, both recorded live in Osaka, Miles Davis was recorded in Tokyo for FM radio which makes up this release. His final band before going into seclusion saw him playing electric and acoustic trumpet and organ along with Sonny Fortune on saxophones, Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas on guitar, Michael Henderson on bass, Al Foster on drums and James Mtume on percussion. Miles Davis had left jazz far behind at this point (he hated the word anyway) and was producing massive slabs of free funk, anchored by the unsung hero of the band bassist Michael Henderson, whose electric bass throbs like a heartbeat throughout the concert. The music is one continuous flow only differentiated by hints of melody that allow for track markings on this two disc set. The album opens with “Prelude/Funk” which evolves into a massive molten explosion of music, the drum and two percussion pocket is amazing along with with effects laden guitar and Miles’s blasts of trumpet and jarring gusts of organ. “Maiysha” develops a little more subtlety with Fortune switching to flute, but still accompanied by the organic percussion and bass along with jabs of organ and slashes of guitar. This shows that the band wasn’t just a volcanic blast of pure energy, while they could certainly put the pedal down with thrilling results, they were also capable of quiet delicacy. Miles still had complete mastery of the trumpet as showed on “Ife” where he solos at length over the entire band who is laying down the most intoxicating electro-funk groove imaginable, so far ahead of its time. The guitars are like pointed laser beams, cutting through the thick edifice of loud organ and bubbling drums and percussion. The group then runs through a series of shorter themes, “Mtume” featuring the percussionist, with the drums and the percussion locking in the rhythm is a powerhouse. The band plows at a pulverizing tempo, with Miles punching through on wah drenched trumpet and smears of guitar adding texture, but it is the percussionists and drummer’s show and they make the most of it. “Turnaround Phrase” is jaw dropping and shows the band at their most hardcore with everybody playing as hard as they can and where Miles attempts to melt your face off with that wah trumpet, slashing like a third guitarist who is schooling the other two after which Cosey and Lucas take up the challenge, this is absolutely thrilling music. The concert concludes with an “Untitled Original” where they tone down the music to a hypnotic drone with Miles and Sonny Fortune playing beautifully at a medium tempo supported by subtle bass and drums. The music here is really beyond jazz, rock, funk or any pre-existing category. It’s Miles Davis music, sounds that have even farther from 1974’s Dark Magus, into a vortex all its own. It’s absolutely brilliant, any fan of electric Miles must consider purchasing it. Yes, Miles Davis stepped away from music not long after this show because of illness and addiction, but also perhaps because this is the logical end of the music he had been making for the past six years. From In a Silent Way to Agharta and Pangaea is an exhausting and completely groundbreaking run of music. But where could he have gone from there? How much more extreme could it have gotten? Burned out and exhausted after thirty years of ceaseless innovation Davis would leave music for five years after these recordings. Live in Tokyo 1975 -

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bret Higgins Atlas Revolt - Atlas Revolt (Tzadik, 2015)

Led by bassist Bret Higgins, Atlas Revolt is a band that combines a myriad of influences into an interesting and cohesive whole. Moving from groove based music to more adventurous settings they keep listeners on their toes. Higgins is accompanied by Aleksandar Gajic on violin, Robbie Grunwald on electric and acoustic pianos, Tom Juhas on electric guitar and Joshua Van Tassel on drums and percussion. Opening with the title track, “Atlas Revolt” begins with funky feeling drums while folding in electric guitar and violin. Some electric piano muscle in accompanied by a heavier drumbeat and a snarling electric guitar solo. A mysterious rhythm is developed on “El Metate” as dark toned violin and guitar produce a moody atmosphere. Juhas’s guitar has sharp bite and adds a dark tone to the enigmatic music that surrounds it. Shimmering electric piano and low tuned ominous drumming herald “All About The Starry Dark” before a wall of guitar noise bursts through, opening a path for solid bass and piano, setting a desert like scene for bolts of electric guitar to arc across the horizon. “Zagazig” shows the admirable rhythm group of bass, drums and electric piano locked in together, building an increasingly faster pace before the guitar bursts loose, keeping things from getting to serious, playing zipping sounds against the rest of the band’s backdrop. The leader’s beat is just excellent on this song, allowing the band to flare like fireworks in the sky above him. On “Sanan” there is a cool setting for strings and percussion, and then the guitar takes over, drawing everyone out, pushing and pulling the music at will. The music howls faster and then drops to a cool melody for the conclusion. Slower and heavier with dominant drums, “Meat For Dogs” has the bass and drums shouldering the brunt of the music as the guitar flints sparks across the scene trying to set fire to the tinder. “Vorticism” has a glistening, sunrise like beginning, moving in space and time as the fire gains growth through propulsive bass and percussion. There is some ripe guitar that keeps the proceedings moving apace and excellent bass filling up the openings and allowing the music to move confidently to the finish line. The album works well as a whole, the songs are well written and allow for musicians to make their mark with original statements and yet it is the ensemble playing that is the highlight of the album. This is a band album, and works well in its entirety. Atlas Revolt -

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