Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Sonny Rollins Quartet With Don Cherry - Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962 (Solar Records, 2015)

After a period of transition when Sonny Rollins left the jazz scene to re-examine his life and music, famously practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn so he wouldn't disturb a pregnant neighbor, he reentered the music world in the early 1960's with a fresh conception and a desire for new challenges. To that end, he cut a widely praised album with guitarist Jim Hall appropriately titled The Bridge, and a fascinating album with his childhood idol Coleman Hawkins. Rollins had been listening hard to Ornette Coleman's revolutionary and controversial free or harmolodic jazz. Intrigued by that music, end he borrowed a few musicians associated with Coleman, drummer Billy Higgins and trumpeter Don Cherry to join him and his longtime bassist Bob Cranshaw on a fascinating journey that had the melodic sensibility of Rollins and Cranshaw clashing and melding with the wide open style of Higgins and Cherry. There was an LP of this music officially released at the time by RCA called Our Man In Jazz, and the twenty minute version of Rollins' composition "Oleo" hinted at what was really going down at the Village Gate in 1962. This boxed set expands the music to six compact discs, four of which run over seventy minutes. It's a massive slab of music and shows "Sonny Rollins and Company" (that's how they are billed by the announcer) taking the music into fully exploratory mode, and lengthy improvisations lasted anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes long. The band is on the cutting edge of jazz for that time, playing Rollins’ standards like "St. Thomas," "Doxy" and "Oleo" and some standards such as "Three Little Words" and "Dearly Beloved." But there are several performances that the compilers are unable to identity, leading me to wonder if these weren't free experiments a la Coleman. The music is raw and fascinating all the way through. It's not just the Sonny Rollins show, as some of his later concerts would become. Cherry gets plenty of solo space and really challenges Rollins to get out of his comfort zone with excellent results. Cranshaw is a rock and an excellent fulcrum for the band to depend on, and Higgins is just a blast, changing beats, shifting, moving things all around all with a sense of joy at the opportunities the music offers. This set is exhausting, but very highly recommended. The music is extraordinary, the sound quality is raw but very solid and there is an excellent book of liner notes and photographs included. There is one caveat to think about: just like the John Coltrane set So Many Things, this is another "grey market" release from Europe where copyright laws are different than the United States. Sonny Rollins won't see a dime from the sales of this amazing music – which begs the question - if Solar Records can get a hold of this music, why can't RCA, presumably the legitimate copyright holder, go to town with their own legitimate boxed set? Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962 -

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Dave Douglas - High Risk (Greenleaf, 2015)

Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas returns to a format that he has explored on a few occasions in the past, that is the melding of jazz and contemporary electronic music. Shigeto on electronics, Johnathan Maron on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums join him on this album. “Molten Sunset” opens the album with shimmering synth and trumpet and “dry” sounding drums. The bass and spinning electronics lay a foundation for the processed brass to arc overhead. There are electronic and acoustic beats front and center on “Household Item” developing a funky texture that is more adventurous except for Douglas’s trumpet which has a tone that seems quite cold, almost clinical in nature. The heavier bass sounds of “Etiquette” allow for longer smears of brass and electronics and bass over a funky drumbeat. The leader is much more lifelike and passionate here, playing a lengthy heartfelt solo against rattling drums that Guiliana turns into a fine spotlight segment of his own. After a very short trumpet and electronics interlude on “First Things First,” comes the title track “High Risk” where there is low, almost mournful trumpet in the beginning. Subtle beats and bass pick up the pace with glimmering electronics, allowing room for bass, drums and trumpet to ride the thermals of the music. Douglas develops laser sharp jabs of sound that slice through the noise and the drumming pushes the music forward more rapidly. Guiliana is epic on this record and he leaves everybody behind him on this track with violent but precise solo and support playing. There is dreamy trumpet against a pastel backdrop on “Tied Together” where the trumpet sounds a little more emotional and engaged than on some of the other tracks. Shiny electronics envelop the other instruments but the tinkling background seems a little out of place. Douglas makes haste to rectify this with a well paced solo which is drawn out beautifully. Finally, “Cardinals” builds from a mysterious electronic vibe through long tones of trumpet that can’t help but recall In a Silent Way, although the beats are more pronounced. Subtle and understated bass enter the mix and it isn’t until the very end of the piece that everyone comes together to form a unified band. This was a very up and down and inconsistent album. The title is ironic because Douglas has made much riskier music in the past on albums like Witness and Freak In. What really could have helped flesh out the music would have been another musician on the front line. A saxophonist like Chris Potter or Marcus Strickland would have filled out the music and would have given Douglas a foil to play off against. High Risk -

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jack DeJohnette - Made in Chicago (ECM, 2015)

For the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival, drummer Jack DeJohnette put together a supergroup of his colleagues who were founding members of the AACM collective. Joining him are Henry Threadgill on alto saxophone and flute, Roscoe Mitchell on sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones, recorder and flute, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano and Larry Gray on double bass and violoncello. The leadoff track, “Chant,” opens with piano and saxophone building and developing the music slowly. A second saxophone with a raw tone builds the tension further as the saxophones take flight and swirl around one another. The bass and drums support is very striking as is the piano, which moves in waves, laced with darker hues. The piano, bass and drum unit plumbs the very marrow of jazz, emerging into a wonderful section of fierce drumming and squalls of saxophone. This is an astonishing performance, with extraordinary intensity and powerful emotion. “Jack 5” then moves the music into more abstract territory, opening with subtle drums and piano, and the saxophones sliding in while keeping the wide open feel to the music. DeJohnette is always the consummate team player but he allows himself to step out here for a drum solo that hangs open in space and time, but is quite disciplined throughout. Some soft and lonely flute opens “This” as the music keeps the notions of open vistas at the forefront. There is a delicate and precise interlude for flute and bowed bass, and the leaders rolling drums keep the music from becoming two somber. Lush piano on “Museum of Time” harmonized horns and spirals of piano developing a floating, dreamlike sensation. Drums thunder underneath as the horns rise in power and lift the music skyward. There is an exploratory piano, bass and drum section, punctuated with the occasional flyby by one of the saxophones. Abrams is really the star here; his piano playing is brilliant and focused throughout. “Leave Don’t Go Away” has Abrams as the focal point again with his beautiful touch on display along with with skittish bass and drums. The trio gains speed at a remarkable rate before allowing the saxophones back into the game. “Ten Minutes” ends the performance with a completely improvised piece, which develops the life and excitement that the band showed in the opener. The saxophones, of different pitches really take flight here and move the music to a whole new level. Made In Chicago -

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The John Coltrane Quartet Featuring Eric Dolphy - So Many Things: The European Tour 1961 (Acrobat Records, 2015)

This is a four CD set of the John Coltrane Quartet on tour in Europe in the late fall of 1961 with special guest Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute. Coltrane alternates between tenor and soprano saxophone, and the band is rounded out with McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Let’s get the preamble out of the way first: these are relatively muddy sounding radio broadcasts that have been floating among bootleg collectors for years. Another caveat up front is that Acrobat Records’ quality control is not exactly stellar: the first disc of the collection that I received turned out to be America’s #1 Hits of the 1950’s. Instead of going through all the hassle of returning it I just downloaded disc one. Also the discs are so flimsy that you can see right through them, although the remaining ones did seem to play adequately. While the music may lack the wallop of the Village Vanguard recordings of the same year, they are still quite interesting and worthy of checking out. The concerts presented here took place on November 18 in Paris, November 20 in Copenhagen, November 22 in Helsinki and November 23 in Stockholm. The setlists were fairly similar from night to night, with wonderfully exploratory versions of “My Favorite Things” each night, with the band, especially the leader, approaching the familiar tune as a blank slate each evening, and building upon it in their own unique way each time. It’s interesting to hear “Blue Train” each night as well, without the trumpet and trombone that added to the somber feeling of the studio version. Here the song is much more open, with room to breathe and the musicians take full advantage of it. “Impressions” as always is a great platform for the band to stretch out and Coltrane is a wonder on these versions with his remarkably fast playing that is just extraordinary to behold. There is an excellent and lengthy booklet that comes with the set with outstanding pictures and essays. This set is recommended with reservations, the playing by the band is first rate as can be imagined and the notes are great, but the uneven sound and potential quality control issues make this set essential for deep John Coltrane fans only. So Many Things: European Tour 1961 -

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Kamasi Washington - The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015)

Much has been made of saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s association with hip-hop luminaries on records and on tour, but his jazz pedigree is equally strong. Graduating from UCLA as well as Gerald Wilson’s big band prepared him for just about everything. He uses all of those influences and his own style on this appropriately titled three CD jazz band plus choir and strings extravaganza.  The opening  “Change of the Guard” features heavy saxophone and McCoy Tyner influenced piano, with choir and strings that recall Alice Coltrane’s early 70’s Impulse Records recordings. Using guitar against lavish orchestral backdrop, Washing builds a solid foundation for a powerfully built and occasionally overblown solo that recalls Pharoah Sanders, before returning the choir to the front juxtaposed against thrashing drums. “Final Thought” has a keyboard opening before the gales of piano and saxophone that have notions of the great early McCoy Tyner live albums Enlightenment and Atlantis allowing Washington to really double down and show what a deep and powerful musician he is. The music he is hot and fast, and coming in at 6:32 it is the shortest track on the album: pithy, fast and a true highlight. After that “The Rhythm Changes” throws us a curveball with subtle female vocals and a spacious trumpet solo, before the swelling strings and choir swallow everything up. “Miss Understanding” puts Washington back in the driver’s seat with slamming saxophone over the choir and hot drums and some challenging trumpet. There is a fine bass and drum pulse and an especially inspired bass feature. The drums and bass also feature prominently on “The Magnificent 7” moving on their own and supporting Washington along with and muscular piano, which cut through the musical thicket. There is a very interesting arrangement of “Cherokee” with soulful vocals remaking the bebop flag-waver into a funky soul jazz piece. Washington bides his time and shows some some very confident saxophone playing, caressing the melody along with fine rhythm accompaniment. In the end this is an exhausting album, and while he doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it is an admirable and audacious one. Kamasi Washington is an excellent saxophonist and his arrangements put jazz, funk and the kitchen sink into the blender with mostly successful results. The Epic -

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