Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield - Hudson (Motema Music, 2017)

This collective group refers to itself as Hudson, because they all live near to one another in New York's Hudson River Valley. Consisting of Jack DeJohnette on drums, Larry Grenadier on bass, John Medeski on piano and organ and John Scofield on guitar, this veteran band plays a variety of jazz versions of well known classic rock songs and a few original compositions. "El Swing" is aptly named, setting a neat groove accented with shards of electric guitar. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" gets a slightly funky groove with an almost reggae beat and pushes it forward with melodic waves of organ over tapped percussion as sharp spokes of guitar emerge, building to a nice series of solos over a more insistent rhythm. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is their second Dylan cover, developing a crisp rhythm with Scofield's guitar spelling out the melody. They develop a lyrical collective improvisation framed by washes of organ, gliding into a tumbling and cascading performance. The group's take on the Jimi Hendrix chestnut "Wait Until Tomorrow" comes with some fast and choppy guitar featured over funky drums and bass. Scofield develops a snarling guitar feature over keening organ which builds to a driving conclusion. Chimes or bells lead the band into the ballad "Song For World Forgiveness" with Medeski adding gentle acoustic piano which imbues the music with a gentle and meditative feel. "Tony Then Jack" becomes one of the straight up jazziest selections on the album, moving into a full throttle uptempo section allowing each of the members to take a short solo in round-robin fashion. Their final cover of the album is The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" which begins with some rolling piano and organ setting the stage for bouncy guitar, bass and drums easing into the country funk feel of the melody. The group plays variations of the theme without straying to far from the familiar melody. This is a pleasant well-played album, with the accessible repertoire and melodic nature of the improvising assuring that it will have wide ranging appeal and will  be a sure fire festival draw. Hudson - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thelonious Monk ‎– Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records, 2017)

In what must surely be acknowledged as one of the most important archival issues of the year, this album consists of two discs of the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk adapting his own personal music for film, accompanied by an excellent group featuring Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on bass and Art Taylor on drums, with saxophonist Barney Wilen also sitting in on a few tracks. 1959 was a pivotal year for jazz and Monk was in the thick of it, while he didn't compose any new music for this project, he powers through some of his own most widely known songs with great vigor and passion. Two versions of "Rhythm-a-Ning" are included and both the master and alternate are muscular performances, with ripe saxophone playing, fast paced bass and drum accompaniment, and Monk's unique percussive piano playing that sounds truly inspired, rippling across the keyboard and stabbing at individual notes. There are also two versions of the ballad "Crepuscule With Nellie" included, with the much longer master version making excellent use of the two saxophone front line for texture, and the alternate dropping out after a few minutes. There were even plans to issue some of this music on 45 RPM records, with separate versions of a dreamy "Pannonica" and gently bouncing "Light Blue" cut for this purpose. "Well You Needn't" is heard in a concise edited form and then later in the full unedited version, both of which are worthy, with Rouse demonstrating how attuned he was becoming to Monk's music, which he would play for the next decade as a member of the pianist's group and then continue to interpret as a solo musician and in the underrated group Sphere. Monk is as spiritedly impish as always on both version, with his piano instantly identifiable and sounding like on one else. The final track is a fly on the wall version of "Light Blue" as the band works through the tune and Monk instructs the musicians on how to play their parts. With Monk explaining the time and rhythm, it's a fascinating look behind the curtain at the man and his music. Much of Monk's music has a cinematic or narrative feel to it, so the lack of any new music for the film hardly matters. The band came into the studio and laid down over an hour of jazz of the highest quality, and fans of Monk or classic jazz in general will be very pleased with the results. Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ned Rothenberg and Hamid Drake - Full Circle: Live in Lodz (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2017)

This is an intimate and varied duet album featuring Ned Rothenberg on alto saxophone, clarinet and shakuhachi and Hamid Drake on drums and vocals which was recorded live in Poland, in July of 2016. Both men have quite a bit of experience in playing jazz and improvised music in various downtown settings and they bring this into a sympathetic meeting. They begin their performance with the lengthy "Full Beams Dazzling" which has strong and powerful saxophone playing met by muscular drumming that creates a flexible and vibrant combination. Rothenberg moves to clarinet for the succeeding piece, "Tupuri Gifts," which takes a more subtle approach with Drake developing an ever-shifting rhythm on drums and percussion, one that suits the music perfectly and allows the instruments to intertwine in a natural and organic manner. "Lotus Blooming in the Heart" takes the music in a more spiritual direction with Drake adding soulful vocalizing to soft and reverent percussion. Rothenberg adds the exotic shakuhachi to the mix creating a very charming and continuously interesting performance. They return to more traditional free jazz with "Full Circle" with the music unfolding gradually and episodically, without forcing anything. They finish the concert with another spiritual, playing a rich and vibrant version of the traditional standard "Wade in the Water" with Rothenberg's deep and rich saxophone met perfectly with Drake's gentle groove. This concert was very successful with two very talented and individual musicians meeting on common ground and creating spontaneous and memorable music. Full Circle: Live in Lodz - amazon.com

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Friday, June 16, 2017

John Lee Hooker - The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 (Acrobat Records, 2016)

The discography of the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lee Hooker is a perilous trek for the uninitiated. Hooker not only recorded for a vast array of labels, but he also recorded under a variety of pseudonyms which allowed him to record for several labels simultaneously taking cash up front in an era that did not see paying royalties to African-American musicians a priority. Hooker was part of the great migration during the second world war, moving from the deep south to Cincinnati and then eventually Detroit where his career began in earnest. This is a budget four-disc collection that tries to cut through the confusion of Hooker's early career by focusing on sides that were released under his own name for a selected few labels during the first phase of his career. In so doing, it hits most of the high points, beginning with the immortal "Boogie Chillun'" with its primal guitar and massive foot stomping beat became an unexpected hit on the rhythm and blues charts and set the mold for his music during these first few years. The hugely overamped guitar, and pounding beat that Hooker employed would be massively influential not only on fellow blues artists, but also to a wide audience of white musicians in the decades to come. Also recorded for the Modern label at this time was the stark "Hobo Blues" and another of his signature works, the extraordinary "Crawlin' King Snake." Chess began legal action against Modern, so Hooker's music was split between those two labels, ensuring that there was plenty of Hooker music in the bins during the early 1950s. Memorable titles like "Louise" and "Bluebird" came out of these sessions, and this success led some producers to try to alter the Hooker formula resulting in some ill-fated experiments like double-tracking and speeding up his vocals, adding roller rink quality organ and even xylophone on "Cold Chills." The move from to the Vee-Jay label in the mid-fifties thankfully did away with that, and added one of Hooker's most successful collaborators, guitarist Eddie Kirkland. Hooker recorded many sessions for this label, released as singles and then packaged for the blooming LP market. Notable tracks during this period include the memorable "Dimples" and "I'm In the Mood" as well as full-band remakes of some of his earliest solo recordings. One of his final hits, the swaggering "Boom Boom" comes at the end of the collection, finishing on a solid note. This collection is well done, and would best suit those that are a little familiar with Hooker's music and looking to dive deeper. There is a fine booklet with recording information and liner notes that help the listener digest the music. John Lee Hooker was one of the titans of post-war American popular music, and this set will show you the reason why. The Modern, Chess and Vee-Jay Singles Collection 1949-62 - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound - Not Two (New Amsterdam Records, 2017)

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra is a seventeen member improvising big band that weds music of the Middle East to jazz with excellent results. This generous double album shows the band tearing down cultural divides and creating a unique hybrid, beginning with "Iftitah" which has a slow droning opening, creating music that is patient and low in tone. Stringed instruments and piano enter and develop an exotic sound. Horns build in like a heraldic announcement, with the brass becoming loud and powerful and accompanied by a piano flourish. The music is episodic in nature with the sound flowing naturally, leading to brash waves of horns accompanied by insistent bass and percussion. Guitar and percussion usher in "Penny Explosion" which has a broad array of sounds that create an unusual and beguiling structure with music which builds and swirls hypnotically. The music is spacious and breathes easily, sounding light and mobile with a wide vocabulary of sound. Horns gradually build in, rising gracefully and creating a large group sound that is very interesting and multi-faceted. ElSaffar's trumpet breaks out for a short solo before the music drops out to bass and hand percussion. They are joined by some quiet and nuanced saxophone and the volume rises to a percussion feature that is fast and fluid. There is a slow opening for percussion and horns to open "Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni (My son, my son)" with Eastern tinged horn solos showcasing the richness of their instruments, with subtle vibes shading the music. The music gradually evolves and other instruments fill in, broadening the sound. There is a patient and rich feature for piano, which develops a lush rhythm with bass and percussion. "Layl (Night)" has dramatically played strings, both plucked and bowed, swooping and swelling dramatically leading to a section of powerful vocals and vocalizations, with the music crashing like the sea with a single saxophone soloing gently against the heavy music in a beautifully subtle manner. A complex and appealing rhythm sets the mood for "Hijaz 21/8" with fine interplay among the musicians especially subtle guitar and percussion. Horns swirl and whirl dizzily, making for fine company with the strings and discreet horns that join the percolating rhythm. Trumpet arcs over deep seated accompaniment of shimmering vibes and percussion creating an alluring sound. The longest performance on the album is "Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy" which begins with light horns interacting with strings and percussion. Saxophones and trumpet are playing in space, in and out of phase, shifting over the vibes and rhythm. The music becomes faster and more strident, with the horns moving in tandem and a shifting rhythmic center creating excitement as instruments collide, merge and emerge. There is great collective playing as suite like interconnected sections of music show different aspects of the ensemble. Vocals are framed by strings and percussion, further communicating the drama of the music, which is restlessly creative. The band builds a powerful edifice, with saxophones blasting forth powerful sound concluding with a light fanfare. The album finishes with "Bayat Declamation" a travelogue of strings and percussion with a sound that is mobile and variable. Strong horns frame this cinematic music with a flavorful full band featuring expressive hand percussion strings and glistening vibes. This was a very successful album, and it is highly recommended to fans of jazz and world music. The performances are strong and varied and this marks a triumph for Amie ElSaffar and his exciting blend of music. Not Two - amazon.com

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Lean Left - I Forgot to Breathe (Trost Records, 2017)

Lean Left is an inspired combination of guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels from the legendary Dutch punk band The Ex with free jazz luminaries Ken Vandermark on saxophones and clarinet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. This is their seventh album together, and it was recorded in Amsterdam in 2015, beginning with "Coastal Surface" which opens with heavy grinding as all of the band's gears engage in a very cool fashion. This is a high impact balls to the wall conflagration, pushing the music to the outer limits before they pull back to allow some open space leading to a delightfully skewed portion of extended techniques then to a graceful conclusion. "Margo Inferior" has some rattling and clanking percussion with squeaks and pops which turns into a budding collective improvisation that is fast and forceful. The juxtaposition of the fast, hard exciting section and the open spaced areas comes forth like an invitation to dance. The epic "Groove for Sub Clavian Vein" is the centerpiece of the recording beginning with probing saxophone and guitar zig-zagging through the available space. They begin to slash and burn at a boisterous high volume which has an exhilarating impact. The music is wide open and unpredictable, moving massive blocks of sound becoming alarming and imposing while still thrilling the listener with strong pummeling drumming that keeps everything focused as Nilssen-Love builds a creative solo from his cymbals inward. There's a dynamic downshift for electronics and then Vandermark's blazing saxophone re-enters creating a thick sound that charges forward making a full band improvisation that is exciting and well articulated before moving to a quieter more nuanced conclusion. The spacious and abstract vibe is continued on "Oblique Fissure" beginning with choppy guitar and muddy saxophone then developing gradually to a stark and potent collective improvisation which kicks and tears at the firmament with spring loaded intensity bursting forth with dizzying excitement. "Pleural Lobe" has some alarming and imposing sounds, with music that opens and closes like breathing. Shards of electric guitar and percussion leading to a scalding improvisation that is unpredictable and exciting. The album closes with "Cardiac Impression" which takes abstract sounds and builds them into a powerful improvisation that takes the band to an over the top finish. This was another excellent album from this band, their first new release in three years. Hopefully this will rekindle the excitement in this group, leading to more performances and albums. I Forgot to Breathe - amazon.com

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

JD Allen - Radio Flyer (Savant Records, 2017)

Tenor saxophonist JD Allen releases about one album per year, and it is always an event. There's little fanfare but those in the know wait with baited breath. This year's album has a quartet setting with Allen accompanied by Liberty Ellman on guitar, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The music revels in the twilight world between the mainstream and the avant-garde, making exploratory jazz that draws from many sources. The opening track "Sitting Bull" has a dark and rich vein of emotion running through it, with deep toned saxophone and free ranging drums framed by guitar and bass. There is a stern feel to the music that begins to lighten as the improvisation takes shape with Allen's raw saxophone lightening ever so slightly and beams of guitar poking through, and leading a fine full band extrapolation. A fine opening for guitar, bass and drums allows the rhythm team makes the most of it. Everyone comes back together at a simmer, directing the music to a carefully considered conclusion. Strong and supple playing lays the groundwork for "Radio Flyer" with stoic saxophone and resonant bowed bass leading the way with humility and maturity. The music is taken at an open-ended mid-tempo, with sparks of guitar providing juxtaposition within the heavy atmosphere. Drums gain in power providing a jumping off point for Allen's saxophone and Ellman's waves of shimmering guitar, and provoking a tight collective improvisation, and a well played guitar solo. "The Angelus Bell" has the trio barreling out of the gate at high speed, and with a lot of mass behind that velocity. The boiling bass and drums support the leader admirably, as quieter guitar accompaniment adds color to the proceedings. There is an opening for the trio with subtle percussion and guitar, slowly rising in intensity for a quick finishing move from Allen. There is a return to medium tempo on "Sancho Panza" featuring some fine and patient bass playing and subtle percussion. The music develops into a dark toned ballad approach with occasional piercing sounds of saxophone. Gentler percussion with brushes and guitar make the most of some open space, then Allen's melancholy saxophone return to guide them to the conclusion. "Herueux" has the band playing at a medium pace, allowing for maximum movement within the music, building to a tight and powerful full group improvisation. The band flexes and moves through their paces in an impressive manner, eventually making way for a well played guitar solo,and  building to a robust improvised section for guitar, bass and drums. A choppy rhythm opens "Deadalus" led by some fine drumming and angular saxophone, coming together for a very interesting quartet improvisation, buoyed by thick bass. Ripe and powerful saxophone surges through the music with touches of guitar and rolling drums keeping pace. There is a nice fluid guitar solo included, and a powerful drum solo. "Ghost Dance" slows things down considerably, with bass and drums laying the groundwork, building in suspense with the addition of a moody guitar line, creating edgy interplay between the musicians. Allen's pinched saxophone startles upon entry, his acidic tone burning through the music that surrounds him, driving the music into further unexplored territory before an abrupt finish. This was another excellent album from JD Allen, who is one of the most consistently capable performers on the modern jazz scene. Each of his albums has been a unique gem, and this is no exception. Radio Flyer - amazon.com

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