Over his career on the jazz scene, Matthew Shipp has patiently developed a unique manner of trio performance, especially in the company of like-minded musicians like bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey. The opening title track “The Root of things” leads things off with cascades of notes from Shipp building in patiently. They ramp in a powerful but lyrical fashion that sets the stage for the remainder of the album. Thick, elastic bass propels “Jazz It” with percussive chords orbiting around it. Shipp’s trademark low-end bass stomps are present but give way to a surprisingly swinging trio improvisation. They move thing back into a faster pace, but keep the accessible nature that wouldn’t feel out of place in a mainstream jazz club. “Code J” begins as a ballad, as solo piano moves forward, using the bass and drums as scaffolding to move into angular and more abstract territory. “Path” is a feature for Michael Bisio, whose low bowed introduction clears the way for Shipp’s piano which builds in progressively stronger and louder making for a dark and haunting performance. Whit Dickey’s feature comes next, opening “Pulse Code” with a strong drum solo and Shipp responds with scattered shotgun blast of notes rippling and fracturing in every direction. Finally, “Solid Circuit” shows Shipp using the entire keyboard as his canvas in a thoughtful and unhurried manner with bass and drums entering later, developing a mainstream piano trio sound, before lifting off, accelerating into hyper-space to the conclusion. I hope that this is the album that pushes Matthew Shipp and his colleagues into mainstream success. Like Jaki Byard before him, he has the whole history, past and present and is leading the way into the future. Root Of Things - amazon.com
One of guitarist Marc Ribot's many projects was a group that nodded in the direction of the great saxophonist Albert Ayler. This group features Chad Taylor on drums and Henry Grimes (who recorded with Alyer in the 1960's) on bass and violin. They play an interesting setlist of two Albert Ayler tunes, two John Coltrane compositions and two standards. Everything works quite well, with the Coltrane compositions, "Dearly Beloved" and "Sun Ship" bookending the album, with both starting slowly and reverentially with Grimes' bowed bass/violin sounding solemn at times, but as the music builds in intensity, the spiritual nature of the music transforms a mood that could be grim into an ecstatic celebration of Coltrane's experimental spirit and the talent of this trio. The Alyer tracks are centerpiece of the album, especially the glorious "Bells" which echoes the epic Ayler performance of that name (recorded live as well and originally released as a one-sided LP in 1965.) Ribot's group uses dynamism to keep the music continually interesting throughout. They walk on a narrow ledge, but that's part of the excitement, listening to musicians letting it all hang out, using the structure of the composition as scaffolding to build their own original performance. They take a fascinating look at Ayler's "The Wizard," transforming it from the haunting melody of the original to a fast paced jaunty shuffle. It's easy to imagine that the crowd at the Vanguard was a little more comfortable with the standard fare of "Ol' Man River" and "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You). But the trio still manages to make the music their own. It is nice to see a venerable jazz club like the Village Vanguard opening its doors to no holds barred avant-garde fare like this. And Ribot's group certainly doesn't let them down, rising to the occasion with a great performance. Live at the Village Vanguard - amazon.com
Miles Davis recorded for Blue Note for only a very short tenure, from 1952-1954, but it was at a very important turning point in his personal and professional life. After an apprenticeship with Charlie Parker and a successful stint recording a little heard but ultimately very influential nonet, Davis, like so many of his peers, fell into the clutches of narcotics addiction. From this period, Davis kind of drifted before kicking his demons and returning triumphant. But that's not to say that he wasn't making good music in this period. This set consists of three 10" albums: Young Man With a Horn, Miles Davis Vol. 2 and Miles Davis Vol. 3. Also included are a number of bonus tracks and alternate takes. He is surrounded by some of the heaviest hitters of the time (or any time, for that matter) like J.J. Johnson, Jackie McLean, Horace Silver and Art Blakey. The music is solid middle of the road hard-bop, nothing earth shattering perhaps (that would come a few years later) and it shows the band covering pop songs and bebop standards like "Dear Old Stockholm" and "Woody 'n' You" with strength of purpose and tight arrangements. Some of the participant's songs are also included like J.J. Johnson's brooding "Enigma" and Jimmy Heath's "C.T.A." Solos and full band performances are excellent and whatever problems Davis may have been facing he was able to rise to this level of his peers and move toward what would become his signature sound. This is a well presented package, 2 CD's and a liner essay, discographical data and some really wonderful photographs by Francis Wolff. This definitely worth picking up if you are fan of Miles Davis or well played hard-bop. Take Off: The Complete Blue Note Albums - amazon.com
Nate Wooley interviews Anthony Braxton.
Anil Prasad's latest epic interview is with Mike Keneally.
Vijay Iyer's speech to Yale University's Asian-American alumni.
Miles Davis tears it up in Switzerland 1971, audio only. (Hat tip: C.P)
Ralph Bowen - Standard Deviation (Posi-Tone, 2014) Ralph Bowen is widely active in New Jersey and New York as a saxophonist and educator. This album finds him recording selections from the standard repertoire in the company of of Bill O'Connell on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Donald Edwards on drums. Although the material on this album is quite familiar, they play the music with self-confidence and assurance. Opening with the medium tempo “Isn’t It Romantic” in which they pursue the music in a patient and thoughtful manner, the group uses the melodic material to unlock more of potential of the music like on the well known song “Yesterdays” where Bowen begins the song at a ballad tempo before slowly ramping up his solo to a fine faster statement. This album may not reinvent the wheel, but for fans of the popular songbook, this is classy and accessible jazz that is sure to please. Standard Deviations - amazon.com
Xavi Reija - Resolution (MoonJune, 2014)Spanish drummer Xavi Reija leads a strong power trio with Dusan Jevtovic on guitar and Bernat Hernandez on fretless bass guitar. The music is frequently exciting as the group mines a jazz fusion/prog rock groove that carries them through the LP. “Dreamer” is an extraordinary performance, with the band building to a torrid improvisation with two guitars and drums pummeling the senses. “Unfinished Love” is another powerhouse, even more taut than the first song I mentioned, ripping into the music with abandon, making this an ideal disc for fans of progressive jazz or rock music. Resolution - amazon.com
It is a wonderful asset of Sonny Rollins, a titan of improvisation and composition, that he has nothing left to prove and can instead concentrate in sharing his wealth of experience. That spirit is sharing is on display here, the third volume of live music released under the Road Shows banner, cherry picking tracks from 2001 - 2007 in the company of Clifton Anderson on trombone and Bob Cranshaw on bass throughout with further accompaniment of guitar, piano, drums and percussion on selected tracks. “Biji” opens the album with one of Rollins’ patented Caribbean themed improvisations and gets things off to a rousing start. “Someday I'll Find You” is a wonderful ballad with an extraordinary saxophone solo, like he has tapped into an endless wellspring of ideas and his band is wise enough to quiet their own playing and let the great man hold forth. Things ramp back up with “Patanjali” which has bubbling percussion and some trombone riffing setting the stage for blastoff. Sonny uses surprisingly rough and guttural accents as part of his solo, really pushing himself, and clearly not content to allow himself to coast under any circumstances. On “Solo Sonny” dispenses with any accompaniment entirely and allowing his mastery of the instrument to float unencumbered. He spools out great melodic lines, occasionally hinting at a song, but mostly allowing for a sense of flowing joy that his playing can bring. “Why Was I Born?” doubles down to an epic 20+ minute length. It takes the form of a medium-up tempoed song, which seems to be his favored speed, and on this performance, he is very patient allowing the music to come to him before billowing out an epic extrapolation before coming back into the fold to trade phrases with the drummer and wrapping things up. There is a final rousing coda of “Don’t Stop the Carnival” before giving way to rapturous applause. It’s easy to see why Sonny Rollins prefers to release music recorded live: when the spirit moves him, nothing even comes close. Road Shows, Vol.3 - amazon.com
French pianist and composer Francois Tusques came up playing jazz in post war France and was a close associate of expatriate Americans like Don Cherry and The Art Ensemble of Chicago during the late 1960's. On this album he keeps that exploratory spirit alive in the company of Alexandra Grimal and Sylvain Guerineau both on tenor saxophone. For the most part, the saxophonists are in different channels of the stereo spectrum, on the left side, a raw and gruff sound and on the right a lighter and airier sound. Forgive me for not knowing which musician has which particular channel and sound. After an opening piano introduction to fellow influential pianist Dick Twardzick, Tusques leads the trio into a series of collective improvisations. Fine examples of this can be found on "Au Chat qui peche" where the light and dark tones of the horn players are juxtaposed like elemental beings of earth and air. "Orgue a bouche" ups the ante even further with both saxophones developing their intensity in search of a Coltrane-like free jazz ecstatic bliss. "Don Cherry Blue" nods to that trickster figure with an impish motif allowing for the saxophonists to develop a light and flowing improvisational nature. The culminating performance "Move The Blues" builds a Monkish piano figure around which the saxophones drift in and around the piano which holds the central position. The saxophones become raw and defiant but eventually yield to the bouncing piano and well deserved applause at the end of the program. la jungle du douanier rousseau - Improvising Beings
Max Johnson, Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri and Tomas Fujiwara - The Prisoner (No Business, 2014) Bassist Max Johnson has been building up quite an impressive resume as both a leader and a sideman for a variety of labels. His second release of this year is a collaborative effort with Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri on viola and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. You might think that this unit could blow up quite a storm, and indeed they do on a few sections of the recording, but most of the music is given over to slow and atmospheric improvisations. The group shows quite a bit of cohesion and self control in the building of their music, and Maneri’s subtle and patient bowing meshes very well with Ingrid Laubrock who is quite comfortable at low volume and long narrow bands of sound. This is an interesting album, definitely worth picking up if you are interested in patient and slowly developing music that envelops you in a sense of unease. It is all the more powerful when the band really lets loose on more feverish improvisational sections, coming as a shock and keeping the listener on their toes throughout the album, developing the sound of surprise and not knowing what might be around the next corner. NoBusiness - The Prisoner
Jason Roebke - High/Red/Center (Delmark, 2014) Jason Roebke is another progressive bassist and composer, based in Chicago, and making the best of that city’s fertile progressive jazz scene. He has a heavy hitting lineup here including Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Josh Berman on cornet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone and Mike Reed on drums. Leading a little big band here, the obvious comparison is to the great Charles Mingus, and indeed the uptempo performances on this album have their spiritual antecedents in Mingus albums like Ah Um and Blues and Roots. But this is far from any type of emulation, tracks like “Ballin” swing hard, but with an angularity that comes from a seasoned and adroit conception. Looking to challenge his band, the compositions and arrangements are knotty but always logical and allow for both full band playing and individual soloists to be expressive and creative. The secret ingredient is vibraphone player Jason Adasiewicz who adds accents akin to Out to Lunch on some of the more angular tracks and tight support on some of the swinging tracks and ballads like “Shadow.” This is classy and exciting music! High/Red/Center - amazon.com
Medeski, Martin and Wood with Nels Cline - The Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 (Woodstock Sessions, 2014) What seems on the surface to be an unlikely combination, the jam band/groove jazz trio of John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and Chris Wood on bass meshes quite nicely with unclassifiable outre guitarist Nels Cline. When MMW last tangled with a guitarist it was John Scofield, who was well versed in groove. Cline is another matter entirely, ready and willing to play anything from free jazz to arena rock. This LP was recorded live before a very small audience and taken in one long uninterrupted track, it shows the music ebbing and flowing, with periods of spaciness led by Medeski's organ and range of keyboards. Noise and power will raise it's head like a snarling beast at several points during the performance, making for the most memorable portions of the album. When Cline cuts loose, he's a wonder to behold, swooping and wailing and charging into the breach. Although this might not be in MMW's wheelhouse, they are more than up to the challenge. This is an album that grows on you as you learn the dynamic shifts in improvisation and the texture and sound collages that are at play. amazon
Yes - The Yes Album (Panegyric, 2014) Originally released on Atlantic Records in 1972 this was Yes's first truly classicalbum , matching their cosmic ambitions and pretensions with excellent songwriting and playing. Musician and producer Steven Wilson has been remixing and remastering classic progressive rock LP's by King Crimson, Yes and others and now he brings his magic touch to this album. It's not a radical re-fit, Wilson's idea is subtle re-touching, brightening the vocals and harmonies, bringing the musical instruments into strong relief. The stereo mix is spot on and sounds excellent bringing a new luster to well known songs like "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Starship Ttooper." You can pick your poison between two-CD sets which include either a DVD audio or 5.1 surround sound version in edition to the stereo remaster. Both sets expand the original album even further and add OCD touches like alternate stereo mixes, surround sound, singles, live tracks and even a "needledrop" of a first pressing of the LP. The package is a bit overwhelming, but the wonderful stereo mix makes any bonbast well worth it. amazon
JD Allen - Bloom (Savant, 2014) Tenor saxophonist JD Allen has built a formidable catalog of records, lean and thoughtful, either as the leader of a trio or quartet or on sideman appearances. On this album, he is accompanied by Orrin Evans on piano, Alexander Claffy on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums. Allen has a deep woody tone that has developed into an original sound and is best felt on the title track “Bloom” which is an up-tepmo tune that simmers nicely and allows for excellent expression. One of the most effective ideas of Allen’s is brevity - his songs rarely exceed five minutes, and his albums are usually LP length. This perspective allows for a tight, coiled tension and the sense that Allen’s band is taking care of business honing the music to its core essence. The patience pays off well on ballads too, such as on “The Secret Lives of Guest Workers” which is a quartet performance of compassion and dignity allowing the music to flow naturally, while never falling into repetition. This album was enigmatic, and hard to pin down and that is a good thing. Allen leaves weaves in a sense of the mysterious, and makes the listener think long and hard about the meaning of his music. amazon
The Singers is one of many groups that guitarist Nels Cline in involved in, one that cascades through preconceived boundaries in music and develops their own unique system. The basic band consists of Cline on guitars, effects and voice, Trevor Dunn playing various basses and effects and Scott Amendola on drums and percussion, along with several guest musicians. “Companion Piece” opens the album in a slow and sparse manner with guitar and brushed percussion gradually building into sheets of scalding electric guitar and overpowering drums. Rock solid bass grounds “Canales' Cabeza” as fault lines crack and splinter with Nels’ guitar moving from a jazzier opening to envelop a three piece slash and burn, laying burning tracks in their wake. “Resperia” has clattering rhythmic percussion developing a nice groove with a little vocalizing setting the mood before they ring in the reverberation and gradually bring up the noise refracting and reflecting the music. “The Wedding Band” is one of the centerpieces of the album with funhouse electronic manipulation of the sound and great rhythm from the bass and drums. Thick and exciting music builds layer by layer, as smears of guitar navigate the music in three dimensions. Developing an XY&Z axis allows the music to move with geometric grace, before the final apocalyptic boost sends them into the cosmos. Strong stomping drums introduce “Climb Down” as laser beams of electric guitar evokes a science fiction battle scene from the far future with loops and swirls showing that nothing is as it seems. “Seven Zed Heaven” is another powerhouse with fast fusion playing moving into an ever increasing range of sounds. Nels’ guitar emerges from the maelstrom, rearing up like a movie monster. It is an exceptional performance and encapsulates all of the potential this amazing group has. I really liked the music on this album and the unpredictability and devil may care attitude of the musicians make the music all the more fascinating. The cinematic nature of the music gives even the freest of their music a sense of coherent narrative. Macroscope - amazon.com