Friday, November 17, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

The third in a series of albums performed by Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Didi Kern on drums and Ken Vandermark reeds, collectively known as the DEK Trio. This album was recorded at Divadlo 29 in the Czech Republic, in March of 2017 and like their previous recording, this one has the format of two long, wide ranging improvisations and then a shorter palate cleansing closer. This album opens with the bracing "Cold Water Shock" where Vandermark plays alarm like saxophone in an excellent circular breathing pattern chased by shards of piano chords and fractured drumming which makes for a very exciting improvisation. They are a really tight and truly collective band with the tenor saxophone and drums turning up the heat, and the piano leading the group into a spacious middle ground against spare saxophone with popping accents and ghostly percussion. Vandermark leads the charge out of this relative quiet, drawing on a reservoir of power and strength framed by rippling piano and drums. The final passage of this performance has an arresting rawness to it, moving to a very exciting conclusion, which features blasting saxophone along side a boiling cauldron of piano and drums. "Accident Technique" takes a different approach, with subtle pops of bass clarinet (?) brushed percussion and prepared piano hanging in space. Long soft tones of reed hang in the air amidst subtle keyboard and spectral drumming. Returning to saxophone (I think) Vandermark offers swirls and squeals against the strums from the inside of the piano, making for a unique and unusual sound. The music draws in on itself like a figure skater spinning faster and faster through centrifugal force, gaining momentum for a very exciting final movement of this piece with some very interesting percussive piano holding its own against primal saxophone and drumming before the music drops off suddenly to conclude as quietly as it began. The album finishes up with "Falling Technique" which begins as a spacious three-way conversation which then flares up and disappears mysteriously. There is a great section of focused and intense improvisation with peals of cutting saxophone against stark shards of piano and percussion before gradually winding down and then out. This was another excellent and challenging album from the DEK Trio, their fourth in under a year. They create stimulating, interesting, and thought-provoking music that has an abundant amount of power and grace. Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 - Audiographic Records.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

R.E.M. - Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Craft Recordings, 2017)

Automatic For the People absolutely slayed me when I first heard it in college, and it has continued to be a touchstone recording in the succeeding years. It is rare in two respects, one being that it is one of the very few recordings in rock 'n' roll (or jazz or blues for that matter) that is improved by the subtle use of strings. The string arrangements were actually written by by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and they add subtlety and refinement to the record without sapping the raw emotional power of the lyrics, which are frequently heartbreaking tales of death and loss. This is a "mature" record that isn't stultifying, a ballad heavy album that thrived in the era of MTV with songs like "Everybody Hurts" and "Try Not to Breathe" broaching universal subjects of grief and pain that were rarely approached so honestly, in a fully developed manner that draws the listener and creates a very personal, intimate experience. They were still a rock band and the riveting political punk blast of "Ignoreland" spoke truth to power for both politicians and media outlets decades before the national nightmare of so-called "fake news." Throwing a nodding wink toward some American iconoclasts, the giddy "Man on the Moon" references comedian Andy Kaufman and the driving "Monty Got a Raw Deal" looks unflinchingly into the life and death of closeted screen legend Montgomery Cliff, much like The Clash did on their very own masterpiece, London Calling, with the song "The Right Profile." If there is any song that can hold a candle to The Kinks "Waterloo Sunset" as the most lovely popular song of 20th Century rock 'n' roll, it could be "Nightswimming" where singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by Mike Mills on piano, and the delicate and mysterious string section, weave magic using a minimal setting and a perfect song, they raise goosebumps. Here's something you might never hear me say again: this is a perfect album, flawless in material and execution. Which leads to the elephant in the room, this perfect gem of a recording is disc one in a three (four if you get the DVD) disc set in the 25th Anniversary Edition. It seems de rigueur in this day and age that any album that reaches a marketable anniversary is stripped bare and laid out on the autopsy table so we can weigh the brain and dissect the subject's last meal like we are in some kind of music based police procedural. Sometimes this works very well and adds a new level of enlightenment for the music it focuses upon, but sometimes perhaps discretion is the better part of valor (I adore King Crimson, but the Sailors' Tales box set is twenty-seven discs long and I will only hear it if some generous benefactor gifts it to me.)  In this case the package includes an period R.E.M. concert called Live at the 40 Watt Club 11/19/92. Now R.E.M. could be a dynamic live band but they seem oddly muted on this disc, which is further dragged down by long pauses between some tracks, Stipe stumping for a political candidate in a race long past due and Peter Buck complaining about the use of guitar capos. It was apparently a benefit concert, and it does have much of the music from the original album which is played well if a little bloodlessly. Most R.E.M. reissues have pared a concert with the original album, but there was surely a more exciting performance in the can than this one. Even more questionable is the nearly eighty minute long disc of album demos, and while this can be interesting (particularly for musicians)  and maybe the first time around for die-hard fans, there is something of sausage factory essence to the music (do you *really* want to see how it's made, or do you just want to enjoy it?) Songs are stripped bare of strings, and other trappings of production and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" has an alternate title "Wake Her Up" as they stretch to bring the song in for a landing. Guitarists will find "Arabic Feedback" and "Bill's Acoustic" interesting, but for every revelation there seems to be two or three instances of padding, snippets that were never meant for public consumption but were parts of the creative process that heralded a greater whole. This will excite some people but for me it seems to drain the whole, taking some of the magic away and making a flawless forty-nine minute record into a three hour long exercise in exhaustion. Your mileage may vary of course, and I didn't see the DVD or accompanying liner notes which may have added needed depth and context to the project. I think it is important to consider how the modern re-issue industry approaches classic material, and how it is presented. In short, if you don't already have it, get the original album, it is an absolute landmark. If you are a die-hard fan, and can get the box at a decent price (the list price is north of seventy dollars) then have at it. Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Deluxe Edition)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet ‎– European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (HatOLOGY, 2016)

This is a nicely remastered version of some of free jazz legend Albert Ayler’s finest live recordings, with perhaps his best working group consisting of Ayler on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums and percussion. The first six tracks were recorded on Hilversum, The Netherlands, while he final three were recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops the short folk like themes on this album, and they allow the group to take these short motifs and use them to lift off into unbridled exploration of the nature of the avant-garde stream of jazz that were being codified by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Unlike the caricature, Ayler’s improvisations were often thematic, and developed a narrative that the group can follow. Some of Ayler’s most well-known themes are present on this album,  like “Ghosts” which has a quavering, vulnerable melody that is less about freaking out than developing form from chaos, often over short concentrated bursts. It’s this vulnerability that sets Ayler apart from John Coltrane, Coleman and Taylor and the other free jazz pioneers of the era. While their relentless and herculean improvisations are thrilling and innovative, Ayler’s were focused around all too human themes and his egalitarian bandleading style really cut to the core of what not only jazz but freedom really means. Two versions of “Spirits,” one from each session look at the impact of spirituals on jazz, which would come to be called “Spiritual Jazz” and give birth to hundreds of compilation albums in the digital age. Ayler was able to distill the essence of spirituals, anthems and folk songs and use them to ground his music in simple, memorable themes that were the sugar that helped the medicine of free improvisation go down. The only non-Ayler composition on this album is Cherry’s “Infant Happiness” where the music isn’t about infantilism, but rather that childlike wonder of tabula rasa freedom. Cherry came up with Ornette Coleman in one of the most (in)famous bands of the era, and he knew that a lot of Coleman’s appeal came from his pithy and memorable themes he wrote like “Lonely Woman” “Peace” and “Focus On Sanity.” This allowed Cherry to fit right in with Ayler and bring his hard won experience to Ayler’s music. Now, they can put the pedal down and wail too, if necessary. “Vibrations” is a bracing performance with Sunny Murray’s percussion, freed from its traditional role, develops cascading pulsation along with Peacock’s beating heart bass to carry the music through in a thrilling headlong rush. This is an excellent and important re-issue of genuinely valuable music, that fits in with Ayler’s acknowledged classic Spiritual Unity and another recent Hatology re-issue Copenhagen Live 1964 to give a comprehensive view of Albert Ayler’s contribution to jazz at its most creative. European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 - amazon.com

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Jeff Cosgrove - Baltimore (Leo Records, 2017)

The lucky audience members who were in attendance at An Die Musik in Baltimore, Maryland on June 25, 2017, saw a particularly fulfilling performance from tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Jeff Cosgrove. Considering the quality of excellent music that Perelman has released this year, that is really saying something. This album consists of an uninterrupted fifty-one minute collective improvisation simply called “Second Set” that is absolutely thrilling to listen to with each member of the trio going all out to spontaneously create very exciting and potent music in real time. Perelman has one of the most immediately recognizable tenor saxophone tones in modern jazz, recalling the bold swaths of sound that were once employed by Albert Ayler and and the early recordings of Gato Barbieri, he can move from a whisper to a scream, and his ability to pace himself and develop a form and narrative seemingly out of thin air is one of his most impressive attributes. Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a frequent improvising partner and foil of Perelman’s, and it is easy to understand why they work so well together. Shipp makes use of the whole breadth and width of the piano, and he makes up for the lack of a traditional bass player on this album by adding blasts of low end piano chords which provide depth and structural integrity to the music, while also stretch out to add gentle chords when the music opens up, allowing light and space to flood into the proceedings. Jeff Cosgrove has made a couple of albums with Shipp in the past but this may be his first encounter with Perelman and he acquits himself to music very well, playing a rippling rhythmic current that fits in very well, switching between blistering stick playing and subtle brushwork in a nimble fashion. These three musicians take all of these qualities and combine them in a collective improvisation that flows naturally and organically, enveloping sections of blistering free jazz and juxtaposing them against some soft and velvety areas which are moderate in tone and effect, creating an interesting departure from the harsh or severe portions of the performance. This was an excellent album and one of the highlights of Perelman’s most productive year, because the musicians use the language of jazz and free improvisation to codify their sound in distinctive and impressive fashion. Baltimore - amazon.com

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

This is an interesting album of jazz/world fusion made by a classy band consisting of Anouar Brahem on oud, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and percussion and Django Bates piano. They make a smooth as silk sound that is comparable to music that bands like Codona and Oregon made for ECM in the 1970's. Brahem is originally from Tunisia, but is based mostly in France and he gets an appealingly warm tone from his instrument, which isn't used all that often in jazz, apart from the Lebanese born Rabih Abou-Khalil. The album starts out in excellent fashion with the track "Opening Day" with the subtle oud setting an exotic foundation for the music, followed by DeJohnette's subtle percussion primarily on cymbals. The oud has a character or quality of musical sound that is distinct from that of a guitar, and it fits in well with the remaining instruments, especially Bates' gentle and spacious piano which allows the music to ebb and flow in a graceful manner. "Bahia" also opens with unaccompanied oud, resonating in open space, along with subtle vocalization. After about two and a half minutes the remainder of the band gradually enters, with beautiful bass playing from Holland acting as the perfect counterweight to the other stringed instrument. DeJohnette plays a very light and nimble rhythm that suits the music very well, while Bates seems to sit out for most of the track. Silence frames the opening of "Bom Dia Rio" as Brahem carefully plucks out quiet notes and places them carefully in the open space. After a couple of minutes, the keyboard, bass and drums enter, filling out the sound nicely, but never overwhelming it. Bates frames the music with well articulated notes and chords, while Holland and DeJohnette engage Brahem directly. The group develops a fine full band improvisation that has a delicate and precise groove that provides the forward motion. Bates' cascade of notes are capable of making fine distinctions within the music, and Holland steps out for a very impressive bass solo which is delicately complex and understated. Brahem solos over the bass and drums, making use of clever and indirect methods to achieve success, with a sound that is sharp or penetrating, while perceive or recognizing his role in the music. This was a very interesting album and a fine example of how jazz and world music can successfully collaborate and draw inspiration from one another. Blue Maqams - amazon.com

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Christoph Erb, Jim Baker & Frank Rosaly - ...Don't Buy Him a Parrot... (hatOLOGY, 2017)

It's hard to believe that this was only the second meeting of Christoph Erb on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jim Baker on piano and Frank Rosaly on drums, but they just click like they have been playing together forever. This is a very well played album of modern jazz with the Swiss born Erb fitting in very well with the pianist and drummer, who are stalwarts on the fertile Chicago creative music scene. The album begins with "...Don't Buy Him a Parrot..."  which develops raw and visceral circular motifs of saxophone that are well met by the piano and drums, swirling and gaining strength, building to a kaleidoscopic improvisation that takes the brawny Windy City groove and splices in just enough European free improvisation to make for a healthy and vigorous performance. "Parrot, Figuring..." begins with a gentle and melodic opening statement, but becomes more abstract with spooky smears of reed noise and probing piano. With Rosaly's entrance the music tips the balance to a hard bitten collective improvisation. The music stretches and expands to meet the needs of the musicians and as the volume increases and the tempo gets faster and more intense, the nature of the trio's intuitive interplay adds strong robust character to the music. Low pitched reed with piano slowly gains momentum on "For Canaries, Career Opportunities in the Mining Industry" as the percussion enters leveraging the excellent and thoughtfully played narrative improvisation with guttural whinnying saxophone and bright piano chords soaring over the wonderful drumming. The final track "It Isn't Hard to Follow a Man Who Carries a Bird Cage With Him Wherever He Goes " develops slow from loose pops and crackles of puckered sounds and abstract reeds, fractured piano and drums. Erb builds bird like trills and calls, moving into a sizzling sound as the trio begins to pull together, devoted to the act of spontaneous creation in their collective improvisation. This was a very well played album, potent modern jazz played with wit and energy that was inspired by technological innovator and gadfly Richard Stollman whose insistence on on radical freedom flows through this music. Don't Buy Him a Parrot - amazon.com

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