Sunday, March 31, 2013

Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Functional Arrhythmias (Pi-Recordings, 2013)

Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman takes a wide range of inspiration for the musical paths he forges. Previously astrology and aspects of computers have provided the impetus for his music, and this time the rhythms of the body provide the basis for his compositions. Coleman is accompanied by Sean Rickman on drums, Anthony Tidd on bass, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Miles Okazaki on guitar. The music is quite involved and complicated throughout the record, but the music remains accessible. The opening track "Sinews" demonstrates this as Tidd develops an excellent funk tinged bass line, making an solid pivot point for the music to revolve around. Coleman has a great deal of trust in his colleagues, and he will start to sketch a performance with a small notion of music, and then allow the other musicians to extrapolate on his brief motif, taking the performance into different areas and keeping everything fresh. Clip-clopping drum rhythm and swirling saxophone open "Cerebrum Crossover" and while the bass and drum provide an excellent foundation, Coleman is able to explore at will over the top. Eventually trumpet comes into the picture but the "crossover" happens when the bass/drums unit meets the saxophone/trumpet unit and the music really comes together like twin lobes of one musical brain. "Cardiovascular" is a throbbing, rumbling piece for bass, drums, saxophone and trumpet. There are a few brief solos, but Rickman's insistent drumming is the key. Many of the songs are of a brief duration, hitting hard and getting out fast. Coleman has a strong pointed approach to his music and saxophone playing which enables him to make brief statements that can be quite powerful. Powerful driving rhythms based on the ebbs and flows of the human body make for an in interesting pool of ideas to draw on. Drawing inspiration from all aspects of nature and humanity, Colman's music remains exploratory and fresh. Functional Arrhythmias - amazon.com

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Kahil El'Zabar Quartet - What It Is (Delmark, 2013)

Master drummer and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar leads a very strong modern jazz band through a set of jazz standards and originals indebted to the spirit of John Coltrane. On this album he is supported by Kevin Nabors on tenor saxophone, Justin Dillard on organ and piano and  Junius Paul on bass. The group is well integrated, and El'Zabar brings a great deal of experience to the music from his relationship with the AACM through his leadership of the the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. The El'Zabar original ""The Nature Of" leads off the album with thick bass and drums and Nabors' saxophone entering with an emotional cry. Swirling organ develops a deep meditative vibe, wrapping around Paul's bass to develop a potent groove. Everybody comes together with Nabors digging deep to a powerful conclusion. John Coltrane's "Impressions" gets a terrific reading developing a strong and muscular state. Powerful drums and saxophone lead the way with Nabors solo growing into a passionate storm, egged on by El'Zabar's splashy cymbals. After a deep piano and bass interlude, the saxophone and drums return, culminating in a thrilling cacophony of intense improvisation. The group slowly develops another John Coltrane composition, "Central Park West" with a great rhythm pattern for bass and drums, giving Paul a lot of space, and allowing Nabors to step off the throttle a bit and develop his improvisation in a more melodic fashion. The set ending original "Kari" delves deep into the Coltrane legacy with deep, dark piano accompaniment driving Nabors to bold or dramatic flights of improvisational fancy. This album will definitely appeal to fans that enjoy the music of the classic John Coltrane Quartet. They develop the tradition of the music of the past and bring it into the present with respect and dignity. What It Is! - amazon.com

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Filler Post

The new issue of Point of Departure is available, with articles about Butch Morris, The New York Art Quartet, Paul Dunmall and more.

Destination Out features the rare Buster Williams track "Bakuti" adding: It stretches out for a beautifully languid 15-minutes, highlighted by some understated Fender Rhodes playing, a burbling groove, and subtle percussion. The horns add soft colors and sharp solos. This is also a showcase for Williams’ bass playing, which alternately carves out new sonic spaces and stitches together the tune’s continually shifting sections.

The most recent podcast from Taran's Free Jazz Hour features new releases from the record labels Rogue Art, No Business and Leo.

Mostly Music interviews Steve Coleman on the eve of his new album's release.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Sonny Rollins - Now's the Time (RCA, 1964)

Recorded from February through April of 1964, this album shows the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins revisiting his past with an album of bebop and hard-bop songs. Since Rollins came up in the late 40’s and the 1950’s it would be possible that he could coast through these well known compositions that he had undoubtedly played many times before. But he does nothing of the kind, blazing through the music in both trio and quartet format with a rotating cast of supporters including Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes and Ron Carter. The title track opens the album in fine fashion with a swinging medium tempo bass and drum foundation setting the stage for Rollins’ confident saxophone. “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” is a blasting trio recording with Bob Cranshaw on bass and Ron McCurdy on drums. Rollins and McCurdy lock in right away playing off each other at high speed before stepping aside for a bass solo. Sonny Rollins played in the legendary band Clifford Brown co-led with Max Roach and these memories lead to a short and referential reading of “I Remember Clifford.” The bebop anthem “52nd Street Theme” comes out blazing and taken even higher with Thad Jones sitting in on cornet and taking a massive solo. Sonny Rollins’ classic “St. Thomas” is revisited with the wonderful theme understated by tasteful drum accompaniment. McCurdy and Rollins are particularly locked in and the drum and saxophone interplay is the key to the success of this performance. The album is rounded out in classy fashion with a patient and lush version of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and a briefly swinging take on “April in Paris.” They wrap up the album with a rousing rendition of “Four” with Sonny Rollins rolling over a roiling backdrop of bass and drums. This album came out near the end of Rollins' tenure with RCA records, he would be off to the Impulse label for a breif time before taking another sabbatical from recording in the late 1960’s. Despite its backward looking setlist, this album crackles with energy and Sonny Rollins sounds inspired and plays with extraordinary quality throughout. Now's The Time! - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sonny Rollins - What's New (RCA, 1962)

This album was recorded in the spring of 1962 in New York City for RCA Records, when the record company was trying to cash in on the burgeoning bossa-nova craze of the period. They tried a nifty bit of subterfuge by subtitling the album Sonny Rollins Brings to Jazz a New Rhythm From South America. Actually most of the rhythms were brought from the Caribbean but regardless of their provenance the music is excellent and Rollins is in supurb command of his formidable talents. Joining him on this LP are Jim Hall on guitar, Bob Cransaw on bass, Ben Riley on drums and several extra percussionists. Despite the setting in which he finds himself (and he experimented with several different configurations during his RCA tenure) Rollins sounds as powerful and vigorous as ever. He opens with two lengthy performances “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Jungoso” both of which work with strong tempo and rhythm. Jim Hall provides subtle shading to the proceedings with a light and sparing tone. Rollins, however, is remarkable, playing with a sharp-edged tone and great potency, developing lengthy solos full of bracing ideas and blustery gales of saxophone. “Brownskin Girl” is the odd tune out on this album with multiple percussionists and vocalists singing a somewhat hokey island song. The song that may have been most palatable to hipsters of the day looking for something along the lines of Jazz Samba is “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” in which choppy guitar and percussion give a slight bossa-nova hint to the music, with Rollins laying off the throttle a bit, developing a patient solo in a breezy and accessible manner. The albums that Sonny Rollins recorded for the RCA label are quite fascinating in the breadth of scope in which they investigated. It was as if they tried the kitchen sink approach: quartet, bossa-nova, quasi free-jazz, and a star studded encounter. Every album is worth looking into and this one is no exception. What's New - amazon.com

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Sonny Rollins - The Standard Sonny Rollins (RCA, 1964)

The Standard Sonny Rollins  is an interesting mix of music that Sonny Rollins was recording after his famous sabbatical and practice sessions under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn. A mix of lean trio recordings and quartet pieces with Jim Hall sitting in on guitar or Herbie Hancock on piano, the music shows Rollins' trademark gruff lyricism, but also his curiosity in the burgeoning avant-garde. Most of the compositions are well known in the jazz repertoire and were familiar to Rollins. Interestingly, the performances except for an alternate take of “Travellin’ Light” are very short. Running time for brief sketches like “Three Little Words” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” are barely a minute or two long. “My One and Only Love” has a very interesting dynamic between Hancock and Rollins and the leader is able to move in space and develop a thoughtful and powerful statement as the pianist glides underneath. The first two tracks on the album, “Autumn Nocturne” and “Night and Day” place Rollins in a stark trio setting with Bob Cranshaw on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. These tracks are very interesting, harkening back back to the famous albums he had recorded in the trio setting at the Village Vanguard in the 1950’s. The bass and drums provide an outline of the music and plenty of open space for Rollins to develop angular improvisations on familiar melodies. The performances were short but pointed in their excellence. This album was quite varied in the music made available, showing how malleable Sonny Rollins found the standard material of jazz even when the music was at a time of great flux. Standing with one foot in the past of swing and bebop and cautiously looking at the “new thing” this is an interesting period in Rollins musical development, and one worth checking out. The Standard Sonny Rollins - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

David Murray and Jamaaladeen Tacuma - Rendezvous Suite (Jazzwerkstatt, 2013)

This is a nice dose of funky jazz co-led by electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray. Rounding out the band are Murray’s song Mingus on guitar and Ranzell Merrit on drums. The band takes aspects of jazz fusion and R and B funk and meld them together very well to make a cohesive and exciting album. “Rendezvous - The Opening” is a short pointed statement of purpose that sets the stage for what is to come. Guitar and bass lay down a solid foundation for smears of saxophone. “Bring It On” matches the macho boast of the title, opening as a slow jam that ramps up with Murray taking command with a fast and hard-charging solo, aided and abetted by snarling guitar. “Theme On A Dream - 80's Downtown - Movement 2” shows Merrit throwing down the gauntlet on drums and Tacuma responding beautifully with throbbing bass and Murray adding some probing saxophone. Tacuma’s bass is again the the key along with light bouncy piano on “Hotel Le Prince - Movement 2” which is taken at a fine medium tempo swing feel. David Murray develops a thoughtful and patient saxophone statement with excellent bass support. This was a well played and exciting album, Tacuma and Murray are an excellent team. The free-funk that the bassist learned under Ornette Coleman and then defined into his own signature sound works a support and a lead instrument, giving a new dimension to the music. Rendezvous Suite - amazon.com

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Jared Gold - Intuition (Posi-Tone, 2013)

This is a light and nimble organ unit featuring Jared Gold on the Hammond B-3, Dave Stryker on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums. This album feels like a real leap forward for Gold, he is channeling more energy than on previous releases and letting loose a strong Larry Young influence that serves him well. The middle section of the album is where they strut their stuff the best, beginning with “Hoopin’ On Sundays” where Gold develops strong, pulsating organ with strong drum interplay to excellent effect. “Shadowboxing” is a dynamic performance that comes storming out of the gate with a strong progressive feel (Young’s influence is felt particularly strongly here) but the musicians are well in control and able to throttle back and forward the intensity as necessary. Hunter gets a nice spot to shine on “Bedo’s Blues” with is nimble drumming supporting viscous organ before they both deftly drop into a perfect pocket for Stryker’s guitar interlude. “Right Nowish” has a very cool rhythm and blues vibe to it with a quicksilver guitar solo paving the way for Gold’s most interesting statement of the record, grinding the organ, digging deep, and testing his imagination. Intuition - amazon.com

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels (Legacy, 2013)

One of the most revered musicians in rock ‘n’ roll history, Jimi Hendrix still inspires a cottage industry more than forty years after his death. This album contains twelve “previously unreleased” recordings of tracks he was working on for the planned follow-up to his last studio album Electric Ladyland. The primary musicians for the album are Hendrix on guitar and vocal, Billy Cox on bass guitar, Buddy Miles or Mitch Mitchell on drums and Juma Sultan on congas. Other musicians make guest appearances as well. “Earth Blues” sets the stage for the album with a strong electric guitar riff and stream of consciousness lyrics. “Somewhere” and especially “Hear My Train a Comin’” mine a thick vein of blues that that runs through the album with epic guitar-hero soloing and deeply potent drumming. “Let Me Move You” breaks up the formula by adding organ, percussion and the saxophone and vocals of Lonnie Youngblood. They make an infectious and danceable rhythm and blues boogie-jam. Although it sounds a bit skeletal and not fully formed, “Crash Landing” benefits from a strong, stoic guitar statement. He really takes his time and builds the solo block by block, creating an impressive edifice. “Inside Out” features strong snarls of guitar and drums that sound slightly derivative of some of the riffs he was experimenting with on other performances, but then showing where the true greatness of his talent lay, he shrugs this off to push the music forward are away from cliche. “New recordings” in this case means mostly tracks that have been released on previous posthumous Jimi Hendrix collections that have been shorn of added overdubs and sweetening. As an album this works and holds together quite well, while a few of the performances like “Villanova Junction” and “Inside Out” are sketches, the remainder of the performances are well fleshed out. Hendrix collectors and fans of classic rock will find a lot to enjoy. People, Hell and Angels - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bill Frisell - Silent Comedy (Tzadik, 2013)

It is exciting to hear guitarist Bill Frisell stepping outside of the comfort zone of his well worn "Americana" context. What at first seemed like an interesting arena for him to explore has become something of a box that has hemmed in his more adventurous instincts, developing into a series of pleasant but forgettable albums. This however, is different as he sits solo and improvises on electric guitar in real time using effects and loops to create an otherworldly and at times quite caustic sound world. "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" demonstrates many of the techniques he will use on this album, juxtaposing blasts of snarling feedback with ominous silence, and developing a taught narrative which builds to an eerie strummed finale. "Babbit" develops science-fiction like sounds, sending coded signals out into the cosmos, with a lot of reverberation attached, and looping that makes the music unusual and very fresh. Grating feedback opens "Lake Superior" giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. He's getting close to Nels Cline territory here, which is very exciting to hear. Waves of pure sound crash against the listener in a majestic manner, downshifting to a sinister and portentous shade but never quite resolving, leaving the listener with a vague sense of unease. "The Road" continues to mine the vibe of uneasy apprehension, setting up a looped drone for Frisell to drop processed notes against. This performance has a late night and cinematic feeling to it as if it could be used to build tension in a crime drama set on dark and forlorn streets. I enjoyed this album quite a bit. I have always been a Frisell fan, but have been a little disappointed by some of his recent albums which have focused on the pastoral aspects of his style. This goes in an entirely different direction and is a bracing set of powerful, challenging improvisations that are awash with fascinating ideas executed in a spirited fashion. Silent Comedy - amazon.com

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

King Crimson - The Night Watch (Discipline US, 1998)

In my continuing exploration of the King Crimson catalog, I came across this fascinating two-disc set, recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1973. This album is notable, not only for the exciting performance, but for the fact that some of the instrumental sections of this performance were stripped of crowd noise and grafted into their subsequent studio LP, Starless and Bible Black. The Crimson lineup changed regularly, at this time it consisted of Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir on drums and percussion. They open up hard with the dynamic “Easy Money” featuring Wetton’s strong clipped British diction over a rumble of percussion and driven guitar. “Lament” and “Book of Saturday” follow at a slightly slower pace, with the lyrics in the former about a guitarist (Fripp?) wyrly hoping that his unique guitar style would catch on while the latter is a haunted cry of despair. From the end of the first disc to through the second the group embarks some high-wire improvisation, complicated and powerful music that hints at jazz fusion and free jazz while developing its own unique sound world. A scalding “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic II” ends the concert proper, before the group is brought back by much deserved applause to encore with their signature song “21st Century Schizoid Man” that stomps furiously to a withering conclusion. Wetton notes in the liner booklet how exhausted the band was at this time, but they sound far from it. This concert was quite impressive, running the gamut from wild improvisation to rock and pop forms and set the stage for the chaotic future of this (soon to be decimated) Crimson iteration which would last until dissolution in 1975. The Nightwatch: Live at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw 1973 - amazon.com

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran - Hagar's Song (ECM, 2013)

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd develops a soft and reverential tone on this album, a duet featuring Lloyd’s tenor saxophone and flute with Jason Moran’s piano. During his career, Lloyd has worked with a number of outstanding pianists from Keith Jarrett to Michel Petrucciani. Lloyd and Moran worked together on the live album Rabo de Nube as well as Lloyd's studio album Mirror, and this recording takes the meditative vibe further. The most involving performances were covers, a beautiful reading of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” which was respectful and deferential to the classic melody. Thelonious Monk’s “Bolivar Blues” shows them digging deep and playing with a little more strength and power than the hushed ambiance they develop on the remainder of the recording. Moran’s piano pushes dark and probing while Lloyd develops a more roughly hewn tone. “Journey Up” has Lloyd switching to a ethereal sounding flute with Moran moving to shaken percussion and gentle accompaniment, while “Rosetta” is a nice composition with Lloyd peeling off layers of saxophone. A couple of meditative pop covers close the album, a hauntingly beautiful version of “I Shall Be Released” and a hopeful meditation on “God Only Knows.” This album was certainly beautiful and played with delicate grace by two masters of the music, but the quiet and lush veneration of the music led my my mind to wander. The music is a thoughtful and meditative mix, hymn-like and just became something of a soft and gentle breeze that passed me by without much effect. Hagar's Song - amazon.com

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Quest - Circular Dreaming (Enja, 2013)

Saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Bierach have been longtime compatriots, whether playing in each others groups or in cooperative groups like Pendulum or Quest. This lineup is rounded out by Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums and delves into the fertile songbook of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, which was active in the mid 1960’s. The album opens with “Pinocchio” featuring Liebman’s quicksilver swirling soprano saxophone, supported by strong percussive piano, bass and drums. This makes for a powerful and attention getting first track with an excellent saxophone solo. “Prince of Darkness” throttles things back a bit, for a moodier statement with solos from McClure and Liebman. Wayne Shorter’s famous composition “Footprints” engages everyone in the group to their very highest level. Refracting the song into jagged shards builds tension in an excellent way, resolved by Liebman, now on tenor saxophone, coming in strong and teasing the melody while leading the razor sharp band through its paces. Liebman digs deep showing his Coltrane influence, deep and protean, before stepping aside for the piano trio and a fine solo from Hart. An explosive and memorable performance all around and the highlight of this album. “Hand Jive” sets the tempo as medium-up on saxophone where Liebman keeps things interesting by playing “squiggly” lines that swoop and sway and seemingly never do as expected. This is one of the aspects of the band when they are at their best, taking the source material and melding it like clay into something of their own. Some of the ballads on the latter half of the album don’t soar quite as much, but at their most powerful, this is a formidable band that makes memorable music. Circular Dreaming - amazon.com

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Africaine (Blue Note 1959, 1979)

The great drummer and bandleader Art Blakey recorded loads of music for the Blue Note label during the 1950's and 60's, all of it good, some of it excellent. What is surprising is that this excellent session lay in the vaults for 20 years before an archival release in 1979. The lineup is stellar: in addition to Blakey, we have Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Walter Davis Jr. on piano, Jymie Meritt on bass and Dizzy Reece sitting in on congas for a few tracks. "Africaine" opens the album at a swinging uptempo clip with some jaunty trumpet for Morgan. The track features Meritt, who plays vibrant and propulsive bass setting the stage for Reece and Blakey develop an excellent percussion dialogue. A sense of strutting swing ushers in Wayne Shorter's tribute to Lester Young, "Lester Left Town." both the saxophonist and trumpeter solo in a confident and brash manner before Blakey breaks in to trade phrases with each before the tune winds down. The remainder of the compositions on the album are by Lee Morgan beginning with "Hiana", arguably the highlight of the album. Blakey throws down the gauntlet with a storming uptempo drum opening which Morgan responds to with a scalding statement of his own. Things settle down with a simmering piano, bass and drums interlude before Reece enters with some clattering hand percussion goading Blakey onto an explosive drum solo. "The Midget" and "Celine" wrap up the album, both very good performances in the hard bop vein. Shorter speaks his piece with excellent solo sections on both songs and the ensemble playing is top notch. This is an excellent album of hard bop and is recommended to any fan of the sub-genre. Shorter and Morgan were new to Blakey's group and would go on to make great strides with the Messengers over the next few years, and this is where the magic started. Africaine - amazon.com

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Monday, March 04, 2013

King Crimson - Discipline: 30th Anniversary Edition (DGM, 2004)

When guitarist and conceptualist Robert Fripp broke up the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson in the mid 1970’s, it seemed like the bands days were finally over. Fripp spent the rest of the decade working with new wave groups and producing his own solo LP. Then in 1981 he formed a group called Discipline with guitarist and vocalist Adrian Belew, bassist and “stick” player Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford. After working and performing publicly for a while, Fripp revived the King Crimson name for this band and named their resulting album after the earlier moniker. What resulted was one of their most accessible albums, using shorter song forms and instrumentals and a bit of wit and whimsy where there may have been grim faced virtuosity before. “Elephant Talk” opens the album with a driving rhythmic chant merging vocals to music, keeping both edgy and potent. Haunting and a bit slower, “Frame By Frame” would become one of their most well known songs of this period, with Belew shifting between the dreaminess of the chorus and the slashing music that follows. “Indiscipline” is a seriously fun song about an artist who can barely can to look at their work despite their obsession with it. The spitfire refrain “I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat myself when under stress” is classic. Equally fascinating is “Thela Hun Ginjeet” where complex music is used as a backdrop for a breathless Belew recounting a story about being harassed on the street in London and then by the police. The album ends with two quite beautiful instrumental songs, hinting at jazz fusion, but definitely unique in their two guitar interplay. “The Sheltering Sky” has a majestic feel, developing slowly over a length of eight minutes but fitting in well with the overall vibe of the album. The set ending “Discipline” features complex music with intricately woven guitars in a potent performance. I had been meaning to check out King Crimson more deeply after reading Bill Bruford’s biography and was really impressed by this album, it draws on a number of different influences and melds them together in a powerful and effective manner. Discipline - amazon.com

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Friday, March 01, 2013

NEXT Collective - CoverArt (Concord, 2013)

Jazz and pop music have always had a symbiotic relationship so it's not a far stretch for modern jazz musicians to draw from contemporary rhythm and blues and rock music. This group consists of Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III on saxophones, Matthew Stevens on guitar, Gerald Clayton and Kris Bowers on keyboards, Ben Williams on bass, Jamire Williams on drums, and Christian aTunde Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott) on trumpet. To their credit, the group plays quite well together, and this is far from any type of slick confection. They take the modern tunes, arrange them imaginatively and then improvise upon them. “Twice” opens the album with electronic manipulation setting the stage for horns to blast off and lead the full band into a fine saxophone statement buoyed by bass and drums. Sparkling electric piano introduces “Africa” developing a suspended ballad feel carried forward by lightly harmonized horns developing a dreamy, floating texture. “Refractions In the Plastic Pulse” adds some flute into its creamy texture before Stevens and Williams awaken the proceedings with jolts of guitar and drums. A close attention to melody carries much of this album, making it quite accessible particularly on “Perth” where melodic guitar and harmonized horns meld nicely into a faster led saxophone solo that takes the performance to its conclusion. Cover Art - amazon.com

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