Tuesday, May 24, 2016

John Zorn - The Mockingbird (Tzadik, 2016)


This album was inspired by the character Scout from the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird and shows John Zorn’s compositions at their most subtle and graceful, floating across the divide between literature and music. The trio has become a regular group that Zorn has convened to interpret some of his more understated compositions, featuring Carol Emanuel on harp, Bill Frisell on guitar and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and chimes. “Scout” opens the album with shimmering vibes which are met with some snarling guitar sounds (Zorn always brings out the best in Frisell) and there is a near chamber sound to some of the music, like on “Riverrun” where the harp glistens and the chimes twinkle, before things take a darker turn, hammering sounds and then pulling back to show their dynamic muscle. The milder “Child’s Play” builds through Wollesen’s melodious ringing sounds, which take center stage as guitar and harp hold back. He develops an interesting rhythm his own for this entire piece. Gentle guitar that sounds like it may come from an old time ballad opens “Porch Swing” and that deep emotional feeling that Frisell is able to conjure deepens the emotional resonance of the music as the harpist gently orbits around with gentle strums and the vibes further frame the music. Wollesen makes his mallets spritely dance as the trio joins together for the conclusion. There is a sweet and haunting melody to “Innocence” that the trio builds louder chiming together, then like a fairy tale gone wrong, the music turns progressively darker and spectral, as the heavy handed vibes become more urgent in their tone. “A Mystery” is a great track and really lives up to its title by having a quiet unsettled aura before Wollesen comes in with heavy clangs and lashes of metallic vibes sounding like the cry for help of a lost soul that deepens the mystery even further. His excellent playing allows the music to cover a range of emotion, and the wailing sound of the vibes and electric guitar is head filling and unforgettable. There is a lighter and defter movement to the music on “The Mockingbird” and while the vibes stay urgent to give the music a propulsive forward movement, the harp and guitar are in fine mettle. As the hard vibes ring out, taut guitar moves in with glistening harp to develop fine concluding textures. This is their sixth album and one of their best, presenting quiet and subtle music touching upon themes of hope and fear, sadness and courage with great tact and dignity. Mockingbird - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Peter Brotzmann and Heather Leigh - Ears Are Filled With Wonder (Not Two, 2016)


This is another fascinating combination between the legendary German reedist Peter Brotzmann, here playing tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and taragato and an unheralded and unexpected musician, in this case Heather Leigh a pedal steel guitar from the United States now living in Scotland. It is a great combination, one you may not initially think would work, what with the pedal steel normally associated with country music and the blues, but like another steel player, Susan Alcorn, Heather Leigh is really making a bold and powerful statement and holding her own with one of the heaviest of the heavyweights of freely improvised music. The music is an unbroken twenty eight minute stretch, and it unfolds like a suite, with Brotzmann at turns blustery and raw which is how we know him best, but how we might not be prepared to hear him is as a thoughtful, patient and thoroughly empathetic partner that is allowing the music to build to scale, whether that needs blasts of deep dark tenor saxophone, eerie moans of bass clarinet or the haunted exoticism of the mysterious taragato. Leigh is a sympathetic and thoughtful partner, engaging Brotzmann offering up new musical textures that allow for collective improvisation and conversation on a very high level. The album is short, but it is really as long as it needs to be, it retains the sound of surprise throughout, allowing new vistas and possibilities to open up in the way the individual instruments meld and clash and the way the individual people interact and improvise. It shows that one can never stop learning, never stop exploring, because when you continue to search with passion and deeply hewn emotion, the next state of grace could be right around the corner. Ears Are Filled With Wonder - amazon.com (album excerpt) (live clip)

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ivo Perelman - Soul (Leo Records, 2016)


This album was recorded in a burst of creativity in February of 2016. Just a week after recording the duet record Corpo with his longtime friend and colleague pianist Matthew Shipp, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman decided to strike while the fire was hot and convene a quartet project with Shipp returning on piano, Matthew Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. “Metaphysical” opens the album with rich piano and saxophone developing a supple sound as drums and bass quietly shade around the edges. Shipp builds tension slowly from the piano, with the bass and drums in tow. Perelman’s saxophone returns for the ending of the song, sounding both pensive and emotional. There is a choppy and nervous sensibility to “Crossing” with exciting ripples of piano playing off against skittish saxophone and drums. The music is never still, but moves like shifting sand along desert dunes as Shipp sends out dense chorded information and there is a great reaction from the saxophone and cymbals which dig in and play well in conjunction with strong piano and bass. “Eyround” is open and abstract with smears of dark sounding piano and stark silences that Shipp is the master of. The music is taut and impressionistic, and the dynamic between sound and silence is jarring. “Fragments” opens with Dickey developing very interesting textured percussion that skitters lightly across the music while saxophone and piano quietly enter and Bisio’s bass probes for an opening. There is a very interesting section where Shipp lays back allows wide open space for saxophone, bass and drums to improvise in collectively. Thoughtful piano, bass and shimmering cymbals lay down beautiful patterns for Perelman’s yearning saxophone on “Belvedere.” His saxophone playing is deeply emotional and resonant, never resting, always searching for more. Soulful saxophone and piano are suspended in space for the beginning of “Landscape,” bowing gracefully and dancing before subtle but fast bass and percussion who arrive to pick up the pace. There is an excellent section of fast collective improvisation that shows superb control of the dynamic edge of a performance, and of a group playing as one united whole. There is spare and beautiful solo piano on the beginning of “Soul” and Pereleman enters with long exhalations of breath through his instrument making for a dreamy atmosphere. The leader breaks free with a beautiful solo, one which seems to gleam with energy, like the golden sunlight of a beautiful autumn day, and the music is played with blissful patience that borders on timelessness. On “Joy,” saxophone and bass work into the higher registers of their instruments and the duet beginning works well, as they set the stage for the full bands improvisational section where everyone kicks nicely up to speed as Perelman’s squalls of saxophone are ably matched by driving piano, bass and drums. “The Unknown” is the culminating track on the album, with Perelman leaping out free and unfettered, playing excited circles of sound along side Matthew Shipp’s luscious piano. The music is fast and hypnotic, yet the musicians are able to stop on a dime and move in a different direction, evoking spare wide open spaces. The leader’s horn weaves amongst deep bass and nimble piano and drums to the conclusion. In Neil Tesser’s liner essay, he notes that Perelman took several months off from the studio in late 2015 to reconnect to classical music. Through study and practice, he developed a “muscular yet relaxed” method of playing that he compared to tai chi. On this album you definitely hear the fruits of this intense period of woodshedding, because Perelman’s sound is natural and individual. He retains the strength that he has always played with, but there is no sense of forcing the music, rather it flows organically, fitting in perfectly with his longtime colleagues to produce an excellent album and great enthusiasm over what might be on the horizon. Soul - Leo Records.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Rez Abbasi and Junction - Behind the Vibration (Cuneiform Records, 2016)

Guitarist Rez Abbasi’s new album takes a fresh look jazz-rock fusion inspired by his own widely varied influences. This album pulls the energy from rock music and has that musical world to collide with a top-notch jazz band consisting of Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and MIDI Wind Controller, Ben Stivers on keyboards and Kenny Grohowski on drums. “Holy Butter” opens the album at a medium-fast tempo that has a rather mild tone. The guitar and drums are at the center of the music, with some spacey electric piano providing atmosphere. Grohowski’s drums drive the piece with swells of percussion met by exciting swathes of electric guitar. There is a sense of ominous warning to “Groundswell” with mysterious dynamics that build and then drop off. Abbasi develops a scarred toned guitar that snarls like a cornered animal and Shim’s saxophone enters in halfway through with a complex solo of tension and release. “Uncommon Sense” opens with the leader’s guitar sounding stark, twisted and exotic. Saxophone and drums slam in hard and then group is off on a very intense improvisation, ripping it up to the fullest and then dropping off once again. There is open space for an exciting saxophone solo, and Shim lets go with great vigor, charging forth with Grohowski’s drums riding point. Sparks of heavy guitar flare up, grinding out a hot solo over powerful drumming before everyone pulls together for a great full band conclusion. The full band comes out strong on “Self-Brewing” with the strange sound of Mark Shim’s MIDI Wind Controller sounding like an overdriven bass guitar. It’s busy and exciting music with electric piano and percussion in continuous motion. Abbasi’s guitar smears light like it is a distant galaxy seen through gravitational lensing. “New Rituals” has the guitar, bass and drums unit in a tight improvising formation with some synth shading the corners. There is a pale and limpid guitar synthesizer sound akin to Pat Metheny, but then a dramatic shift to old school Hammond organ and guitar. The track seems to be showing some of the outlets for the electric guitar in jazz over the decades culminating in a strident tone of guitar over organ and strong drumming. For the culminating song, “Matter Falls,” Shim’s saxophone takes a decidedly darker tone and Abbasi’s guitar emits strong sparks like there is an electrical storm on the horizon. The band pushes hard, making for strong, bracing music that slams you back and forth dynamically and leaves you very impressed with Mark Shim who can switch between groaning wind instrument and soaring saxophone. The music on this album really strives for eclecticism, and while it may be rooted in fusion, it takes a very broad view of what that word means and seeks to reclaim it, shorn of baggage and carry it into the future. Rez Abbasi is very successful on this album in the pulling together and merging of his many diverse interests. The musicians in the band were well chosen for the project and worked together selflessly for a very noteworthy project. Behind the Vibration - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review - How to Write About Music by Marc Woodworth and Ally-Jane Grossan eds. (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)

I've been writing a blog about jazz and other subjects since 2003 and even put my ramblings into a book last year, so maybe it was time to learn how to write about music after all. This was the first oversized book I had seen in the 33 1/3 series, a longtime series of pocket sized books that examine a particular musical album in detail. This book leaned pretty heavily on those books as examples of excellence in music writing, but some of the best examples came from elsewhere. Lester Bangs' extraordinary meditation on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album for example, or Lou Reed's surprising review of Kanye West's Yeezus. The book breaks the writing process down by areas of music writing, and there were some very interesting examples in each setting, such as novelist Jonathan Lethem writing about Talking Heads Fear of Music LP or James Wood's personal essay about Keith Moon. It is interesting to read Alex Ross write about Radiohead in 2001 just as A Heart Shaped Pool is released in 2016 and wonder what has changed. Some of there alternatives are interesting as well, like the example from musician John Darnielle's 33 1/3 book on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality where he writes in the guise of a young person in a psychiatric care facility. I don't think it works, and wonder if that format would have been accepted if it hadn't been from a respected indie musician. A few pages from a rejected graphic novel of Black Flag's Damaged LP shows a major mis-step, what little we see is great, and it's a shame it wasn't brought to press. At the end of each chapter there's an assignment (good for college journalism courses, I suppose) and a section called The Go-Between's (a sly hint at another critic's darling band) where critics give short hints of advice on the topic at hand. The problem being that there are too many cooks, and they spoil the broth by contradicting each other to the point where one person's seemingly good idea is nearly always rebutted by someone else. This book worked best for me as a compendium of some fun and interesting pieces to read. There is a section on blogging, but it really wasn't what I was looking for, so I no longer feel any shame about being a gushing fanboy with a third-grade vocabulary... How to Write About Music: Excerpts from the 33 1/3 Series, Magazines, Books and Blogs with Advice from Industry-leading Writers - amazon.com

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Friday, May 13, 2016

David Murray / Geri Allen / Terri Lyne Carrington - Perfection (Motema, 2016)


This is a very exciting album from a group of veterans: David Murray on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. The album is dedicated to Ornette Coleman, who passed away just days before the recording. It album features (and is named after) “Perfection,” Coleman's never before recorded composition. “Mirror of Youth” opens the album with the wonderful, deep and resonant tone of David Murray’s tenor saxophone, playing against a tricky rhythm set up by Allen and Carrington. This soon becomes a strong thicket, as the drums begin to thrash and strong rippling piano washes through it. Murray is at his ripe and muscular best and he tears right through, bursting through into the highest register of the saxophone as he often does to punctuate the performance in a very exciting manner. There’s a big brawny sound that opens “Geri-Rigged” before Allen and Carrington drop down to a nervous chatter. But not for long as three musicians burst forth and build with strapping power. Murray sounds truly inspired by Carrington’s no hold’s barred drumming as they take off in a pianoless setting. This is hard-core post bop jazz at its finest and it is just thrilling to listen to. Murray taps out and Allen re-enters for a stomping piano and drums section before Murray returns, the trio becomes whole and there is a lights-out conclusion. “The David, Geri and Terri Show” has a very cool rhythm being developed from piano and drums, and shows Murray coming in swinging hard. The music is edgy with tinges of funk, and Allen holds Murray on his toes by comping aggressively and tossing in some Thelonious Monk like skewed notes, that keep things deliciously off kilter, and Carrington and Murray respond to her beautifully. The title track “Perfection” is the ringer, adding three musicians to the mix, Charnett Moffett on bass, Craig Harris on trombone and Wallace Roney Jr. on trumpet. The group sounds even bigger, like something from a classic David Murray Octet album such as Ming or Home. With the trombone pushing and Moffett’s massive bass tone the music hits with a huge like wallop. Murray lopes in, sounding ecstatic, as if he had found the fountain of youth like when he was making his 1980’s classics. The younger Roney sneaks in a stomping trumpet solo along with some epic piano, bass and drums. Perfection indeed. It wouldn’t be a David Murray album without sampling his fine bass clarinet playing, and “D Special (interlude)” gives us a short dose of that unusual instrument. Murray plays the unwieldy horn with grace and the piano and drums fall in with him, giving him a nice angular swing that is perfect to showcase the unique timbre of the instrument. This was a wonderful album and an inspired meeting of the minds. All three of these musicians have busy schedules, but I hope that they can make recordings a regular occurrence. Perfection - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ivo Perelman / Karl Berger - The Hitchhiker (Leo Records, 2016)


This is a quiet and intimate duet album recorded between tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and vibraphonist Karl Berger. Both men are longtime veterans of the avant/free jazz scene, and the space created by the format and the sound of the vibraphone allowed a hushed dynamism to prevail over the course of the music. The album opens with “The Shadowy Path” which has a slightly yearning saxophone tone playing off against dancing vibes. Subtle peals of air and darting mallets and then metallic sounds that the vibes can achieve prod Perelman’s saxophone into higher pitches. Punchy, sharp squeaks and hollow clanks work very well as the music develops. Moving further afield, “The Well of Memory” paints with quiet shades of vibraphone and breath, it develops a haunted air akin to a misty meadow under shrouded moonlight, until Perelman breaks the spell, pushing his instrument into a more strident tempo. Tap dancing mallets with circling saxophone make their entrance on “Twilight” and give the music a sense of energy that is building through centrifugal force looking to break free. The music is in constant motion, as Berger takes his vibes through descending trails of notes, Perelman meets them with high pitched saxophone calls. “Unspoken Feelings” begins with Perelman alone, playing with a lonely and hushed sound, soon to be shaded patiently by Berger’s vibes in a quietly emotional performance. Some of the forlorn sensibility overflows in emotional squalls of saxophone toward the end and carries on into “The Hitchhiker” where Perelman becomes very dynamic in his improvising, ascending and descending in stridency and volume while Berger’s vibes move in the free space created by the harsh sounds. “Pride and Prejudice” is a beautiful interlude for solo saxophone, with Perelman playing with a raw and wounded sound that is emotionally open and free from pretense. His tone is captivating and similar in sound to the classic Albert Ayler sound of Spiritual Unity or Witches and Devils. Patient tones of saxophone and vibraphone usher in “The Sound of Bliss” which has ecstatic blasts of percussive mallets and bursts of raw saxophone that meet and converse and delve even deeper into the aesthetics of improvised music, with strong waves of saxophone and clamoring vibes. The album is completed by “Well Behaved Quarter Notes” where the squeaks and squiggles of fast saxophone meet the shimmering nature of the vibraphone in an example of great interplay. It becomes a cat and mouse game, playful and fun, between two old friends who have nothing but the highest respect for one another, and it is a very good way to end a fine album. Ivo Perelman The Hitchhiker - Leo Records

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