Near the Oasis is a collaboration between pianist François Tusques and the criminally underrated alto saxophone and English horn player Sonny Simmons. Simmons was a contemporary of the great Eric Dolphy and used Dolphy's musical discoveries as a launching pad for his own unique style of playing. This album was recorded at the 16th Vision Festival, in the spring of 2011. The open with the lengthy track “Near The Oasis/L'Alexandrin Africain” which features Simmons’ English horn (Cor Anglais). They dig in deep soil turning over idea after idea before letting them loose. This is a rarely used instrument in jazz and it has a wonderfully evocative ancient and eastern feel, an exotic and biting tone and is carries this medley into unexpected and interesting places. They take on two Thelonious Monk compositions, “Round Midnight” and “Bolivar Blues” both of which work quite well. Tusques is in his element here, skirting the melodies and then referencing them in an unexpected fashion. Simmons clearly loves the possibilities that these songs allow him and responds accordingly. They even reference bebop with a performance of the Dizzy Gillespie standard “A Night in Tunisia.” It is noted on Simmons’ website that “He is a bop native, that’s where he comes from. Free-jazz was only an extension of the idiom, and, to his taste, still is.” This is a really fine performance and album. Simmons and Tusques are really focused in a simpatico fashion. Moving from free to bebop and remaining unpredictable throughout. Near the Oasis - Improvising Beings.
After guitarist Pat Metheny’s successful Unity album and tour, he keeps the crew from the last album intact, Chris Potter on saxophones, Ben Williams on bass and Antonia Sanchez on drums, but adds a few new wrinkles. First is the addition of his orchestrion contraption which allows him to fill out the sound further and can be used as an arranging tool to frame soloists. The second is the addition of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Giulio Carmassi, who adds a further dimension to the music. This works very well on the lengthy opener “On Day One” where the music builds and then unleashes Chris Potter for an outstanding saxophone solo, filled with vigor. The album as a whole is very good. I was a little skeptical at first, wondering why he would change a good thing, but clearly Metheny knew what he was doing. This could be a watershed album for Metheny, a middle ground where the more friendly and accessible sound of the Pat Metheny Group meets the strong modern jazz of the Unity Band and other jazzier Metheny albums like Rejoicing and 80/81. Kin - amazon.com
Drummer Franklin Kiermyer takes the legacy of the great spiritual jazz players like Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane and brings the sound into the 21st century with this excellent album of challenging and bracing jazz. Accompanying him on this album are Azar Lawrence on saxophones, Benito Gonzalez on piano and Juni Booth on bass. The music is akin to the wonderfully punishing albums McCoy Tyner recorded for Milestone in the early 1970’s Atlantis and Enlightenment, which were potent modal jazz albums that also featured a young Azar Lawrence. While it might not be entirely free per se, the music is extremely powerful and emotionally resonant. The band as a whole is a powerful machine, in both their solo sections as well as when they are collectively improvising. Lawrence in particular is a revelation. After keeping a low profile for a while, he has returned with a vengeance, plowing through these improvisations with great abandon. Kiermyer knows how to put together excellent bands that are tailor-made for his compositions, on his 1994 album he employed Pharoah Sanders and John Esposito to excellent effect on the album Solomon's Daughter and then on the follow-up Kairos, the very underrated Eric Person was featured. Franklin Kiermyer has only recorded sporadically over the past two decades, but when he has the music has been memorable. Hopefully this excellent album can spur renewed interest and more recordings. Further - Franklin Kiermyer.com.
NoBusiness Records is a small but scrappy music label based in Vilnius, Lithuania. They have grown over the past few years into into a major supporter of the avant-garde side of jazz, both in Europe and The United States, offering comprehensive reissues and contemporary projects on compact disc and LP. They can be reached by e-mail or through their website. This is a roundup of their most recent releases:
Daunik Lazro and Joelle Leandre - Hasparren This is a duet performance between Daunik Lazro on baritone saxophone and Joelle Leandre on bass. Recorded in southwestern France during 2011, this is very patient music that develops low textures over the course of a continually improvised performance that is nominally broken up into six parts entitled Hasparren 1-6. Just when they lull you into a false sense of calm, Lazro lets loose with a withering blast of sound just to keep you on your toes.
2° etage - Grey Matter This is a collective group made up of Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet and bugle, Christine Wodrascka on piano and Gerry Hemingway on drums and percussion. Recorded in France during 2012, the music has a quiet and subtle flavor, with barely perceptible brass and percussion and scattered piano notes. After setting the stage, the musicians are building the proceedings to a more complex and swirling swing of their very own.
Kidd Jordan, Alvin Fielder and Peter Kowald - Trio and Duo in New Orleans This is a wonderful recording of a avant-garde jazz super-group consisting of Kidd on tenor saxophone, Fielder on drums and Kowald on bass. Consisting of three different sessions, all recorded in New Orleans, and as the title indicates the group plays as a trio on some tracks but also breaks off into different duo couplings as the music progresses. The recording waxes and wanes between raucous free jazz passages and subtle sections to excellent effect.
Mikołaj Trzaska, Devin Hoff and Michael Zerang - Sleepless in Chicago This a taught recording featuring the collective group of Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone, Devin Hoff on bass and Michael Zerang on drums. This is a limited edition LP (300 copies available) and consists of two side-long tracks: “Elastic” recorded in 2011 and “Skylark” in 2012, they have the opportunity to spin out into open space and allow their performances to develop organically. You would hardly know that the two sides were recorded a year apart.
YAPP - Symbolic Heads YAPP is a collective band consisting of Bryan Rogers on tenor saxophone, Alban Bailly on guitar, Matt Engle on bass and David Flaherty on drums. Recorded in Philadelphia during December of 2011, this is a limited edition LP (300 copies available) and a quite melodic album. The music flows quite naturally and gently, coursing along plot-lines derived by the musicians who make a quietly powerful statement.
The Magic Band is led by former members of the band of the great avant-garde rock musician Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vleit. Original members John "Drumbo" French, Danny "Feelers Reebo" Walley and Mark "Rockette Morton" Boston delve deeply into the Captain’s music in their own unique way. Recorded live in London on March 16, 2013, the band is involved in making a true musical statement of the legacy of the great Captain Beefheart. The album begins with some classics from the Beefheart canon like the wonderfully titled “My Human Gives Me Blues” and the absolutely stomping “Diddy Wah Diddy.” The music is quite angular but it remains accessible throughout, like on “Owed T’Alex” with shards of guitar and deeply rhythmic percussion. The ominous “When It Blows Its Stacks” is a revelation, with the band building the tension along with the haunting and disturbing lyrics Better watch out there’s a man eater around/Hide all the women in town/When it blows its stacks… Things build to a deeply coiled tension before a powerful release. Overall this is a well done album, and must have been a great show to attend in person. The Magic Band does a wonderful job of keeping the music and legacy of one of America’s most unique musicians alive and well. The Magic Band Plays the Music of Captain Beefheart - Live in London 2013 - amazon.com
Alto saxophonist and composer Mike DiRubbo is a Connecticut native with many years experience on the New York jazz scene both as a leader and as a sideman. A student of the legendary Jackie McLean, DiRubbo has developed the same sharp and cutting tone of his mentor, and uses this to great advantage. This is a well performed album that touches on bebop, ballads and a few nods to more exploratory material. The music was recorded in late 2013 in Brooklyn featuring John Evans on trumpet, Brian Charette on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The opening tracks “Threshold” and “Where There’s a Willis There’s Way” begin the album with a driving swing. DiRubbo and Evans make for a potent front line that develop from the same vein of the forward-thinking hard bop McLean pioneered on Blue Note in mid 1960’s. Royston has been omnipresent on the jazz scene recently and he shows why on “Pace” where his fast and deft rhythm puts the music into overdrive and gives just the right support for a lightning fast trumpet solo and bold and muscular saxophone feature. There are a couple of ballads to balance the cookers, “Faith” and “Salter of the Earth” slow the tempo and develop melodic textures and hues. But the group ends the album right where they began however, with a torrid bebop centered performance called “Bloomdido” sounding like a Charlie Parker inspired fast and complex performance that works well as does this album as a whole. Threshold - amazon.com
Saxophonist Jon Irabagon has spent years at the forefront of modern jazz, as a solo artist, member of the wonderful group Mostly Other People Do the Killing and as a sideman for numerous artists such as Dave Douglas. This album has eight original compositions recorded live at the 2013 Peitz Festival, supported by Barry Altschul on drums and Mark Helias on bass. Irabagon has a very interesting way of improvising, often taking a short idea and repeating it over and over, building momentum, spinning with centrifugal force, before breaking free from orbit on a fast paced and deeply personal journey. This is demonstrated on “Wherewithal” where the tension builds and builds until finally breaking free into a torrid improvisation. The interaction between the group members is excellent and while this album may be under Irabagon’s name, it is really a united trio effort between the three musicians. Irabagon was featured on Altschul’s 3Dom Factor album last year and they have a simpatico understanding of rhythm and pacing. Helias is excellent as well, and his bowed bass is particularly interesting adding texture that allows the other two musicians to take the music in new and unexpected ways. Irabagon’s small group performances are always exciting, whether ripping through explosive improvisations with Mike Pride, or starting his relationship with Barry Altschul with the epochal 70 minute plus non-stop improvisation Foxy. This album takes the best of both aspects of his musical approach combining lyrical song with flat-out free improv to make an excellent and compelling album. It Takes All Kinds - amazon.com
It has become engraved in urban legend and folklore that many prominent entertainers, particularly musicians, die during the 27th year of their lives. The author of this book, Howard Sounes, examines this phenomena through the lens of six of the most prominent members of the "27 Club," musicians Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. What results is a mix of dogged journalism and TMZ-like gossip mongering. A sordid path of addiction runs through the six musicians examined here, hard drugs: heroin and heavy pills washed down with copious amounts of booze led them down the road to ruin. The book becomes a series of cautionary tales as we watch musician after musician squander their talent and then their lives. To Sounes credit, he does not try to mythologize the musicians he writes about, and he tries to bring a well rounded portrait of each. It does get to be a bummer after a while, the stories are very similar: musician rockets to fame, takes to alcohol and drugs to alleviate the grind of touring and the hangers-on and sycophants that surround them. Addiction takes its toll and the musicians begin to crumble, felled by suicide, overdose and accident. Alas, some of those very toadies that caused the stress are the ones supplying many of the quotes for this book. It's a sad story, but captivating at times. 27: A History of the 27 Club - amazon.com
If anyone ever tells you that jazz is too difficult or abstract for them, this is the perfect antidote. Drummer Matt Wilson has made a career out of making exciting and accessible music. To this end, his quartet, consisting of Jeff Lederer on tenor and soprano saxophone plus clarinet, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Chris Lightcap on bass and John Medeski on piano swing for the fences. To his great credit, Medeski melds himself seamlessly into the band and any notions of this being a “special guest” type album are quickly swept aside. ”Main Stem”opens the album with an up-tempo pace aided by nice ebullient saxophone and trumpet over snappy drums. Choppy then happily swinging drums usher in “Some Assembly Required” with trumpet to the forefront. Lederer’s saxophone breaks in for a fast solo over percussive piano, then Medeski assimilates this into his own fractured piano solo. Then Knuffke’s cornet comes in encouraging the whole band to move ever faster. “Get Over, Get Off And Get On” begins at a medium-up tempo with Lederer’s saxophone swaggering in before Medeski takes a wonderful piano solo, bright, clear and beautiful. listening to his playing on this song it is easy to see why he was invited to join this project. Wilson is a joy to hear as always, swinging hard and totally locked in with the band. Not to be outdone, Lederer comes back with a climactic clarion call to end the performance. Rollicking drums and powerful horns muscle through “Gathering Call” this short and exciting performance, similar to the shorter bursts of music are interspersed between the longer pieces. an example of this is “Dreamscape,” this short free interlude for clattering drums and leaping and loping horns. “If I Were a Boy” and “Juanita” round out the album is fine fashion, with excellent interplay and soloing. Gathering Call - amazon.com
During the late 1960's and early 1970's, Miles Davis wasn't the only trumpeter to add elements of funk and rhythm and blues to his playing. Donald Byrd recorded an excellent series of electrically tinged albums for Blue Note during this period. They might not have gotten the same attention as Davis' audacious albums but they are ripe for rediscovery. This album has a large ensemble, including Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Joe Sample on organ and Harold Land on tenor saxophone. On "The Emperor" the music is quite funky and accessible with guitar, electric piano and bass developing a deep groove. Byrd enters, flying over the deep stew of music below him, led by strong funky drumming. Electric rhodes piano and vibes work well to provide shading and context for the music as the large ensemble builds to envelop them. There is an interlude for saxophone and then Byrd comes back in, he doesn't dominate, but flows with the music that surrounds him. "Jamie" provides a respite, it's a short quiet ballad interlude with Byrd playing softly. The atmosphere is built up again on "The Little Rasti" with an opening for drums building a deep pocket with electric bass. Wah-wah flavored guitar builds the atmosphere further before pulling back slightly for Land's entrance on saxophone’s entrance. He builds strong saxophone building over the funky groove, creating a hypnotic groundwork for Bryd's belated enterance. Ethiopian Knights - amazon.com
This will be an irregular section of the blog where I prattle on about some of the non-jazz music I have been listening to recently.
Lucinda Williams - self titled (Rough Trade 1988/2014) Singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams had two acoustic folk blues albums for Folkways Records under her belt when the staunchly indie rock label Rough Trade offered her a chance to record a full band album. The resulting self titled LP has been in and out of print over the years, finally getting the deluxe two-CD treatment which includes a remastered version of the original album and a disc of live material. The music on the original album is uniformly excellent, as she melds together roots rock, blues and country into a seamless gumbo, and has an excellent backing band to boot. “I Just Want to See You So Bad” sets the pace of the album with yearning country rocker that is miles away from the poseurs in today’s Nashville. A scalding spiteful rocker “Changed the Locks” sows her lyrics tumbling end over end in a thrilling fashion. There’s a nice cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked For Water” with Williams purring the lyrics in a menacing fashion. The flip-side is “Passionate Kisses” which is the poppiest and most radio-friendly track on the album. Years later she would win a Grammy for this album in the best country song category after Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded it in the mid-1990’s.The second disc is made up of live material from the period, consisting of a well recorded show from the Netherlands and some performances at radio stations. There’s nothing revelatory here, but the live tracks reinforce the power of Williams vocals and songwriting. There is an excellent booklet of liner notes included which talk about the making of the album and Williams’ career. Lucinda Williams - self titled - amazon.com
Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (Legacy 1990/2014) Of all the great rock bands that came blasting out of the midwest in the late 80’s/early 90’s very few can claim to have spearheaded a new musical genre. The idea of “alternative country” was born here and a magazine that would chronicle the movement would take it’s name from this very album. Uncle Tupelo consisted of Jay Farrar on guitar and vocals, Jeff Tweedy on bass and vocals and Mike Heidorn on drums. Combining roaring punk and garage rock with a country twang this is a powerful statement, and the original album is given the deluxe treatment with the inclusion of the group’s Not Forever, Just for Now EP as well as demo recordings. Disc one consists of the original album plus bonus tracks and powerhouse performances where the blasting “Graveyard Shift” and “Factory Belt” are balanced out by the gospel of “No Depression” and the folk/country of “Screen Door.” For a young band, their songwriting was unusually deep and haunting, investigating the themes of dead end jobs, alcoholism and broken hearts as reported from the front lines of playing every bar and dive from St. Louis to St. Paul. The second disc shows how it all came to be with demo recordings and EP material that show the band honing their edge into a powerful and unique sound. There is an very well done liner booklet included with this release also, discussing how the album came together with interviews and press clippings. No Depression (Legacy Edition) - amazon.com
This is an interesting LP consisting of two improvised performances by Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone, Devin Hoff on bass and Michael Zerang on drums. This sounds like a coherent date but one side of the record was recorded in Chicago in 2011 and then the and the second the following year. The music in both of the performances follows an unpredictable path of free jazz. Trzaska is a very powerful saxophonist and his burly strength powers the opening track "Elastic - Chicago" with raw blowing and excellent support from Hoff and Zerang who are relentlessly driving the music forward. They slowly back off from the full throttle approach and move into a more abstract free section that uses a quieter and more open framework for the music to conclude. "Skylark - Chicago" continues the probing nature of the music allowing each musician to express themselves in an open and thoughtful manner. It is interesting to hear when the musicians coalesce into a ferociously powerful unit that are the masters of dynamics, tact and pacing. Sleepless in Chicago - NoBusiness Records.
Saxophonist Dave Rempis has long been a stalwart on the Chicago jazz scene performing with Ken Vandermark and a host of others. This is the fourth album released on his new artist run label Aerophonic which so far has showcased a wellspring of ideas. This album is a collaborative endeavor between Rempis on alto and baritone saxophone, Joshua Abrams on bass, guimbri and small harp and Avreeayl Ra on drums and percussion. “Ruah” opens the album with slow and exotic percussion and low saxophone tones, buoyed Abrams' array of stringed instruments. On “Noria” Rempis focuses on slow long tones of saxophone and Abrams answers on bowed bass. Things slowly ramp up with skittish percussion, bowed and plucked bass and an increasingly ripening saxophone that leads to a fiery maelstrom. Moving into thrilling free jazz, there is a section of wailing saxophone over nimble drumming and bass. The group backs backs off to a fine bass solo accompanied with gentle spacious drumming and long tones of saxophone all working together in a patient fashion. Dynamics from hard to soft and from fast to slow keep the music unpredictable as the waves of music build tall and powerful as strong hard blowing encourages the whole band coalesce in rippling muscle. Raw powerful saxophone cries out emotionally, culminating in massive full throttle playing followed by a drop off to circular wails of saxophone and bowed bass. They wrap up this epic improvisation with strong full band section, and there is a killing conclusion of over the top sax blowing and crashing drums and bass. Joshua Abarams has a bass solo to open “Saqiua” in a Jimmy Garrison like fashion, followed by crying and keening long tones of saxophone. Ra’s gentle malleted precision keeps the music open and breezy with unusual tones. All instruments are on a level playing field, working together for a greater good. Abrams takes another bass solo, and he carries it off very well showing many ideas, before Rempis enters once again and the piece ends with raw and circling saxophone probing. Aphelion - Aerophonic Records.