Tuesday, September 26, 2017

James Blood Ulmer and The Thing - Baby Talk (Trost Records, 2017)

The venerable Scandinavian free jazz supergroup The Thing consisting of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on electric and acoustic bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion has kept their music fresh though building some excellent meetings with fellow musicians and this meeting with the legendary guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer is another feather in their cap. "Interview" starts somewhat quietly with guitar and bass probing the silence, the drums build in as does some raw and exciting saxophone as the track takes flight. They build a muscular collective improvisation, that is very impressive. Ulmer played with Ornette Coleman early in his career, so he fits right in with The Thing and their conception of music. Vivid and sonically powerful guitar with rolling drums and ripe electric bass opens "High Yellow" with a great trio segment before Gustafsson's saxophone accelerates the performance into the stratosphere. He produces waves of guttural sound that infuses the music with even more energy. The band at full bore is spine tingling, and sets up a dynamic range of possibility that is perfect for this group, and gives their sound a powerful impact. The title track "Baby Talk" is opened with subtle and patient guitar and bass before the group comes together with a tight groove around Haker-Flaten's buoyant electric bass and framed by Gustafsson's uncompromising saxophone playing. The group develops a wide range of sounds which produce powerful a sense of strong, vivid instrumental colors. The album concludes with "Proof," another exploratory piece that allows Ulmer to set the pace with some starkly played guitar. Saxophone and bass sidle in, with waves of baritone saxophone and acoustic bass developing a uniquely stark feeling of a building storm. They move forward with a directness of purpose, as the combination of voices comes together to connect everything that has come before. This was an excellent collaboration and is was clearly a group effort, creating modern jazz that really shines. The music was very well conceived and it was executed at the highest level. Baby Talk - amazon.com

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Chris Speed Trio - Platinum on Tap (Intakt Records, 2017)

This is a very good album by the trio of Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Chris Tordini on bass, and Dave King on drums. The album was recorded live in Brooklyn in March of 2016 and opens with "Arrival High" which has an understated drum rhythm, and painterly strokes of saxophone and bass. There is spaciousness of sound, and whispers that gradually become more voluminous, transforming the music into  a dynamic partnership. Subtle bass and drums underpin "Crossfade Cradle" while Speed concocts a memorable melody with diverse sounds suitable for improvisation, leading the trio to proceed in an interesting performance. The trio works well together, responding to each other's movements with a cat like quickness that allows the music to shimmer with the percussion encircling the soundstage and bass and saxophone reacting to the changes in rhythm. "Crooked Teeth" shows the trio playing in an unfettered fashion, not quite free, but wide open,with exciting drumming and thick bass interacting with Speed's saxophone which has a slightly muffled and scratchy tone and allows tension to flourish within the improvisation. There is a raw undercurrent to this performance, a spontaneity that suits it well as it builds to an exciting conclusion. The brief "Torking" spins a interesting tale at a medium-up pace, with the character of the music coming through and they dive into a deeper more abstract section. The music becomes darker and denser, weaving it's way to a strong and supple finish. There is a very thoughtful version of Albert Ayler's "Spirits" to finish the album on a high note. This tight three way performance, which shows how deeply ingrained the musicians are, recalling the great Ayler-Peacock-Murray trio of the past while putting their own distinctive spin on the music. This album works very well, with the compactness of the compositions and playing demonstrating the qualities of coherence and sharpness of this talented trio. Platinum on Tap - amazon.com

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book: Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium by John Corbett (Duke University Press, 2017)

This book is a collection of Vinyl Freak columns that jazz scholar and record label owner John Corbett wrote for Downbeat Magazine from 2000-2012, about the rare vinyl records in his collection complete with color thumbnails of the albums in question. There is a short introductory section where he details his formative years as a teenager catching the vinyl bug and his years as a college radio DJ. The columns themselves are presented in chronological order with Corbett adding a postscript to each entry about whether the album in question had been reissued and the detailing the unexpected resurgence in popularity of vinyl records which rapidly increased as his column progressed. Corbett writes well, and he has done admirable research for each entry, noting the musicians involved in each album and details about the recording sessions, and short biographical sketches of the musicians. There is a whiff of snobbishness, but he’s earned it, and his collecting stories and enthusiasm for the music which is mostly, but not exclusively, free jazz and European free improvisation shines through. There is a chapter of capsule entries of some of the more obscure and valuable items in his collection (both monetarily and culturally) and then he concludes the book with the story of how he was able to come in possession of a huge cache of rare Sun Ra material from the estate of longtime Ra confidant Alton Abraham. Half jazz scholarship and half Storage Wars, it’s quite a yarn and brings together all of Corbett’s passions and ties up all of the books themes of collection, obsession, and giddy excitement in a fine conclusion. Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium - amazon.com

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Omri Ziegele Where's Africa - Going South (Intakt Records, 2017)

This is an interesting band led by Omri Ziegele on alto saxophone, Uzbek flute and vocals, accompanied by Yves Theiler on keyboards, reed organ, melodica and vocals and Dario Sisera on drums and percussion. The songs on this album flow freely, playing with time and space to good effect. "Afreaka" opens the album with some funky keyboards and bright saxophone over a nimble rhythm. Ziegele stretches out with a strong saxophone solo, which gets more intense as it develops, powering through the music and pushed on by thrashing drums and overdriven keyboards. They space out to nearly complete silence before returning to the theme and concluding. This is followed by "Make Me Mad" which builds a choppy melody with rippling saxophone that develops a happy and upbeat feeling. There is a brightly colored saxophone feature over taut rhythm, with Ziegele getting more strident in tone but never changing the upbeat mood of piece. "Laughing Your Tears Away" is buoyed by thick and full electric keyboards with light and mobile saxophone and drums. The saxophonist solos against the light backdrop in a straight up modern jazz fashion, playing in a fleet and confident manner. Ziegele moves to flute for "Will You Marry Me After So Many Years" and it is a nice change of pace with gentle percussion and keyboards setting a spiritual vibe. Shimmering cymbals and brushes frame the scene and set up a quiet improvisation for the trio. After a couple of tracks that feature vocals and spoken word, "The Milkman Always Paid My Rent" has a gentle opening for mid-tempo saxophone, accompanied by the rhythm section. The improvisation bobs and weaves, leading to some intensifying saxophone that gets stronger, offering swells of sound, making it the most memorable solo on the album. "Ithi Gqi" concludes the album in fine fashion with soft pastel tones of electric piano, and a bubbling rhythmic foundation, creating a very interesting township/calypso feeling. There is a lengthy section for keyboards and percussion, before Ziegele reenters to take the tune out. This was a very enjoyable album, the music had a light and funky feeling to it, tinged with hints of African music that was well suited to the songs presented here. Going South - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shardik - Shardik (Tzadik, 2017)

Shardik is an exciting new extreme jazz/post-rock group made up of Matt Buckley on drums and percussion, Matt Hollenberg on guitar and Nick Shellenberger on bass and synthesizers. Hollenberg also plays in the powerful jazz fusion group Simulacrum and like that group, this trio melds avant-garde jazz, speed metal and haunting ambiance into a brash and potent combination. Hollenberg is the primary composer of these intricate songs and leads this power trio in a very successful manner. "It Is What It Isn't" opens the album with some scalding electric guitar and rumbling bass over chopping and rolling drums. They stretch out and develop a complex rhythm that suits the volume and dynamics of the performance. Choppy riffs and figures abound before opening an eye wall into a calmer and more spacious flavor of music. Subtle synth and guitar glide into sight before the group recovers to a driving conclusion. They absolutely blow the doors off of "Inner Dimensions" sounding like a post-modern Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the torrid collective improvisation leading to the introduction of choppy, sharp riffs that cut deeply, interspersed with moments of uneasy calm. "Faustian Bargain" works sharp angles into the music, with the start-stop nature of the music giving things an edge, while the pacing and rhythm appears to unfold gradually. "Past Lives" develops a cool almost surf music theme, before blasting that out of the water with heavy slabs of guitar and pummelling drums, while there is a lighter feel to "The Great Attractor" which skips gingerly around the theme before they open up with some nice elastic bass and nearly swinging drums. "No Arrival" kicks things back into gear with turbocharged guitar and drums that interweave pockets of near silence which are used to frame the 'fire in the hole' blasting sections. The trio puts things over the top on "Vorga T:1339" with scalding guitar, playing fast interchanging sub-themes, like something you would hear on the Naked City album, cutting and juking like an unstoppable force. They use abrupt and jagged rhythms with a brutal attack, and deep imagination. The concluding "La Douleur Exquise" opens with an unexpected jazzy, cinematic feel, with spacey synth added for color, and the group forming a tight narrative. They switch gears suddenly and return to the loud and primal energetic setting which is their bread and butter while riding the dynamic nature of the track to its conclusion. While much of this album is contains blasts of raw power, there is subtlety to be found in passages throughout the record. The group is far from a one trick pony and makes a very impressive statement throughout the album. Shardik - amazon.com

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Ross Hammond and Jon Bafus - Masonic Lawn (Ross Hammond, 2017)

Masonic Lawn is a wonderful melding of the primary strands of American music, and you can hear the blues, country music, folk, jazz and more bubbling up within it. Moving far beyond any hackneyed idea of pastoral "Americana," the music has a stark honesty to it, reflecting the blood, sweat and toil that makes up the music of the American working class. On this album Ross Hammond plays various types of guitar: resonator, twelve string resonator and lap steel with Jon Bafus on drums and percussion. This album was recorded in December of 2016 in Sacramento, CA and achieves a very intimate feel where the duo focuses on collective improvisation and communication to create music in the moment as a cohesive unit. The two musicians work very well together and create a haunting, eclectic music that is quite unique. "Like Being Kissed by God Herself" opens the album with a shimmering golden glow, one that the duo is able to elaborate upon, taking their original malleable motif and stretching and pulling it in order to create a fast moving and powerful performance. They touch on hillbilly music, and stir that element into the powerful blend that is served up. The title track "Masonic Lawn" has a darker sensibility, with the music moving across a spare, dusty terrain. Sparks of slide move the music into more slippery territory, where all is not as it seems. There's a nervous caffeinated shuffle on "Subterranean Doom Coffee" which sets a perfect foundation for the longer arcing tones of guitar to complement and use as a jumping off point for a fine exploratory excursion. "New Life in the Old Cherry Tree" has some dark toned guitar developing a motif that you could imagine hearing on a Mississippi back porch, and the guitar and percussion work well together to advance the music at a fast clip, gaining an intense feeling that plows onward without pretense or ornamentation. This album was excellent the whole way through and deserves a widespread audience. Hammond and Bafus develop a deeply rhythmic sensibility by mining the history of roots and blues music and channeling that into their duo improvisations. By melding of the various strands of American music, they show that the idea of diversity and community in music and art bring out the best in all of us. Masonic Lawns - Bandcamp

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Andrew Lamb - The Sea of Modicum (NoBusiness Records, 2017)

This is an excellent free jazz album featuring Andrew Lamb (a.k.a The Black Lamb) on tenor saxophone, Warren Smith and Arkadijus Gotesmanas on percussion, and the album was recorded live in of October 2016 at the Vilnius Jazz Festival. The rhythmic foundations that the percussionists develop make for a fascinating foundation for Lamb's strong and strident saxophone tone. Lamb studied with the AACM before moving to New York City, and embarking on a successful career in the music and arts world. The album is broken down into three lengthy tracks, "The Sea of Modicum," "Kindred Spirits" and "The Angel of Lithuania." The music on each track develops in an appealingly organic fashion, with the drums and percussion of Smith and Gotesmanas developing a wide range of patterns and textures, beginning with soft feathering of their instruments on the side long title track, developing soft cymbal touches and a stealthy rhythmic structure which blooms into full force after a lengthy build up creating tension before Lamb finally enters on saxophone, blowing with force and conviction across the rumbling rhythm. They patiently develop an exciting and potent collective improvisation, with Lamb's arresting and raw saxophone gliding over and working within the percussive framework. He drops out at one point with the percussionists just simmering at a low boil, which leads into the second track. "Kindred Spirits" is an apt description for this trio, as Lamb inserts an urgent circular motif and the drummers crash into action making for a loud and bracing improvisation. They are stretching the boundaries of the music in their own way that is personal and powerful, continuing a long tradition of exploration that goes back to the free jazz pioneers like Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The concluding track has patient hand percussion setting the pace, moving in waves, with Lamb not entering until halfway through the performance. His clarion call is met with crashes of cymbals heralding in the next phase in the improvisation. He moves through the scene, adding splashes of color and sound, leading to a solid conclusion. This album will be a limited edition LP release, and fans of free improvisation are urged to jump on it while supplies lasts. The Sea of Modicum - NoBusiness Records.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM, 2017)

Expanding from his previous duo and trio outings, keyboardist and composer Vijay Iyer commands a sextet of exciting and forward thinking musicians including Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Mark Shim on tenor saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. "Poles" begins the album with some reflective piano, before the full band bounds up, kicking things into gear. The horns lead the way forward at a strong clip, playing with a profound angular momentum that propels the band onward including a taut saxophone solos, with the band tightly in sync, clearing the way for a declamatory brass feature which slows the tempo. "Far From Over" has percussive piano leading a rhythmic foundation which supports the strong multi-horn theme. Haynes more rounded sound is nicely juxtaposed by the sharp tones of the saxophonists, making for invigorating front line playing. Iyer's light but very fast touch is firm yet flowing, providing a perfect counterweight to the horns. The full band comes together as a seriously powerful unit, driving to the finish line. There is an openness to "Down to the Wire" with rippling piano, bass and drums gradually gathering pace and evolving to a vibrant improvisation. The horns don't enter until nearly the three minute mark, after the piano trio has built some excellent tension and they are met by vigorous and powerful horn statements. There is a forceful collective improvisation that is very impressive, with a fine drum solo folded in. "Into Action" develops a strong rhythmic foundation and a string of potent horn statements into a deep and moving performance. There is an engaging exchange of musical ideas, as strong and percussive piano with melds with the bass and drums for a more impressionistic bent and a soft controlled landing. They roar out of the gate on "Good On the Ground" with a punchy and exciting rhythmic feel constructing a steaming and powerful performance that pulls back to offers an opening for a particularly for an epic tenor saxophone solo from Shim, dovetailing into a colorful exchange for piano, bass and drums, and another sparkling Sorey solo. This was a superb state of the art modern jazz album, with every aspect hitting the marks from the compositions and arrangements through to the ensemble playing and solos, it is a brilliant and spirited performance. Far From Over - amazon.com

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Neil Young - Hitchhiker (Reprise, 2017)

It goes to show how prolific Neil Young was in the mid - to late 1970's that he could record an entire album of original music just to shelve it and then cannibalize the songs on his later albums. So these are essentially demos that were recorded by his producer David Briggs with Young on guitar and vocals with no backup. Recorded in 1976, but finally released in 2017, it's a fascinating and essential release for fans, one that connects some of his earlier singer/songwriter music through to his blistering Crazy Horse enhanced rock 'n' roll. Three of the songs would be re-made on Rust Never Sleeps, one of the finest albums in rock 'n' roll history (IMHO.) "Pocahontas" and "Ride My Llama" are narrative based music with evocative grounded imagery of nature and history as well as fantastic thoughts that link indigenous peoples, Marlon Brando and the Astrodome, which is as strange as it may sound flows beautifully as stream of consciousness poetry. "Powderfinger" would be radically reworked in its released form, becoming an electric dirge melding a snarling guitar solo to a coming of age narrative. On this album, it becomes more fragile with the acoustic guitar focusing the attention of the listener on his quavering vocals. "Captain Kennedy" would surface on the obscure Hawks and Doves LP, with ruminations about the sea and the nature of war making for an interesting song. "Hawaii" and "Give Me Strength" are previously unreleased, with the former song building a mysterious aura and the latter is a straightforward plaintive ballad. The title track "Hitchhiker" is a captivating one, which would emerge on the underappreciated LeNoise LP, and it is another coming of age song, but one that is connected to narcotics, emotion, and regret. "Campaigner" was on the excellent Decade compilation, and I've always had a soft spot for the goofy "Human Highway" which would be released on the Comes A Time LP. This was an excellent album and one of the best reissue/historical albums of the year. Fans will justifiably be thrilled, but I think the album can be appreciated by anyone who is looking for songwriting of the highest quality. Hitchhiker - amazon.com

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Eric Revis - Sing Me Some Cry (Clean Feed, 2017)

This is another fine inside/outside album from bassist Eric Revis, keeping some heavy company with Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Kris Davis on piano and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion. Each one of these musicians is a leader in their own right, but they work as a finely drilled team with Revis pointing the way forward. The group is very open minded, experimenting with both form and freedom while developing solid ensemble play and vivid soloing. The title track "Sing Me Some Cry" opens in a very atmospheric fashion, with thick bass and Davis strumming inside the piano. Skittish drums and saxophone add to the emotional content of the music wheeling through a series of variations. "Good Company" develops a percussive foundation, as Taylor sets the pace from the drum kit with a muscular bent. Piano fills in adding to the percussive feel, and the rest of the band joins in with a grandly swinging feel, that builds a very good up tempo collective improvisation, with powerful ensemble playing. Things stretch out quite nicely, allowing the musicians to really buckle down and play hard and true. Vandermark's raw and incisive playing is a real treat on this track, which is one of the album's highlights. There is another percussion intro with the bass on "Pat. 44" as the rest of the band fills in at a spacious medium tempo. Davis adds colorful chords, while Vandermark probes for an opening, which he finds and exploits with another interesting solo, with a strong rhythmic feeling set up along with him. Things change on "Obliogo" with a nice rhythm coming into focus and tight group interplay, especially in Vandermark's rich and meaty tone chewing up the available real estate and performing a high-quality feature. Revis takes a well-earned bass solo backed by some choppy percussion that works well before the group comes together to stick the landing. Another imaginative bass solo begins "Rye Eclipse," opening vistas for the group to explore, with Taylor folding in some nice percussion and Vandermark adding long gales of pure sound, causing the music to further develop episodically with the percussive piano of Kris Davis, meeting Vandermark's stark, rending cries. They all come together in a very exciting fashion, setting a fine sense of dynamism in their sound. "Rumples" opens with a nimble rhythm section interlude soon joined by saxophone developing a nice up tempo feel punctuated by sharp drumming, and tasteful piano notes and chords adding a provocative sound. Vandermark creates pithy saxophone statements that fit in very well with the overall sound of the track. A subtle bass and percussion pulse open "Drunkard's Melody" before Vandermark weaves in with slurs of saxophone, making a counter argument like the drunkard in the title. The rhythm section plays in an insular manner, carefully setting things out for Vandermark to come and bully through making for an excellent push-pull dynamic. "Glyph" is the album's final song, free and patient in its development, a collective improvisation performed at a low boil, underpinned by the leaders well-articulated bass. Gentle ripples of piano move across its surface before the music takes on a more balladic tone, developing a hue of understated grace. This album worked out very well. All of the musicians are at their highest level of their collective instruments, and they use this talent to work together in creating a memorable performance. Sing Me Some Cry - amazon.com

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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Tommy Smith - Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane (Spartacus Records, 2017)

John Coltrane has long been a guide star to Scottish tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, on his own solo albums and his albums leading the Scottish National and Youth Orchestras, as well as his excellent work with bassist Arild Andresen. This album is a heartfelt tribute to the master, on not only the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane's passing, but Smith's fiftieth birthdate as well. The group also includes Pete Johnstone on piano, Calum Gourlay on bass and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums and they play a pleasing mix of original and Coltrane covers, from all aspects of his career. Smith's own "Transformation" leads off the album, setting a deep spiritual vibe, before breaking into a tight swinging quartet improvisation with crisp rhythmic support to Smith's ample soloing. He stretches out at length, showing a great deal of stamina and passion that drives the music forward. After a rippling feature for the rhythm section, Smith comes storming back in to conclude an impressive performance. There is a brief version of Coltrane's "Dear Lord" taken at a reverent ballad pace, before turning into the bright, grooving original "Embodying the Light." There's a fine bass solo, with Gourlay making a excellent statement, and there is quite a bit of space for the rhythm trio to percolate before Smith returns and builds a fleet solo spot of his own. The tempo relaxes for the ballad "Naima," one of Coltrane's most famous compositions. Smith plays the melody beautifully, with a thoughtful and graceful approach, carrying that feeling into a nicely blended full band improvisation. "Resolution" is on the of the anchors of the A Love Supreme suite, and Smith comes out hard with a steaming tenor solo over supportive rhythm accompaniment. A strong and elastic section for piano, bass and drums keeps the energy high, then Smith takes control again, spooling out some more passionate saxophone playing. The group moves into some of Coltrane's freer music with "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" where they ratchet up the intensity slowly, reaching further and further into the music, allowing it to develop of its own accord. Gershwin's "Summertime" was a composition that Coltrane recorded, and the version included here matches some steely saxophone to the familiar melody, adding some grit to the mix, with a strong uptempo group performance as a result, and adds a bouncy trio section and drums solo good measure. "Embodying the Darkness" is another Smith original that takes Coltrane's modal work as a jumping off point, building a knotty and fast paced setting. Smith blows hard, playing some scalding solos over crushing piano and percussion. They conclude the album in style with the Coltrane track "Transition" where Smith demonstrates his interpretive abilities making the most of this track with potent saxophone playing, building a steaming lead solo with the rhythm section nipping at his heels. They are awarded with an excellent trio improvisation, before Smith returns with another strident concluding solo. This was a very good album, an impressive mix of original tunes and classics, with the band more than up to the task. Smith is particularly emboldened by this setting and makes the most of it. Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane - amazon.com

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals (ECM, 2017)

Alto saxophonist Tim Berne has been a leading light on the creative music scene since he studied with master musician Julius Hemphill in the 1970s. This is the fourth album on ECM for Berne's Snakeoil band which includes Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano and electronics and Ches Smith on vibraphone and percussion. David Torn sits in on guitar for a few tracks as well. The music has a deeply woven textural context with floating unmoored sections balanced by areas of bracing improvisation."Hora Feliz" opens the album with spacey and atmospheric piano and percussion building a ambient sound, then after four minutes saxophone and fuller full band sound erupts, building a medium uptempo strident sound with biting saxophone as the focal point. Clarinet and strong currents of piano, bass and drums punctuated by shrieks of clarinet and waves of rhythm makes for a propulsive and exciting performance, as saxophone and clarinet play off one another strong collectively improvised finish. Deeply textured full band with undercurrents of guitar and subtle vibes are the setting for "Stingray Shuffle" which evolves into Berne's saxophone in subtle space, with his fine grain sandpaper tone playing off against scrapes of guitar creating an ominous soundscape. There is a haunted house feel to the unusual sounds and textures, which are alarming and exciting simultaneously. The epic twenty-six minute "Sideshow" opens quietly with spritely solo piano and swirling saxophone and guitar building in, creating an energetic and complex full band improvisation with multiple layers and textures to the development of the music. There is an excellent spirit of collaboration as the musicians meld their sounds and ideas spontaneously by trusting their instincts, leading to a dynamic downshift to reeds and piano in space, with harmonized saxophone and clarinet giving the music structure and a solid foundation. Music rolls on in waves lapping or crashing against the shore, with smears of electric guitar arcing out across percussive piano maturing to a complex weaving of group improvisation that becomes fast and furious. Pockets of near silence are also part of the music, with percussion or vibes giving it a suspended sound, before the music comes crashing through in conclusion. "Incidentals Contact" has a dense and exciting full band introduction, with individual instruments bubbling up and then sinking down in the music. A patient saxophone solo breaks out against vibes and spikes of electric guitar, then leading to a fast and volatile full band cascade of sound, which is muscular and exciting. There is a storming piano feature for Mitchell, who plays with great depth and resonance, concocting a wild and thrilling avalanche of notes and chords. Noriega's clarinet swirls in against a stark backdrop of heavy drums, ringing in the soundscape. Light and nimble reeds fluttering, framed by vibes set the stage for the concluding track "Prelude One / Sequel Too." The music is patient and eerie, with dark piano moving amidst the music and setting a foundation which allows Berne's saxophone to fly above it, while subtle bass and percussion keep the music from flying apart. This was a fascinating album with the music never resolving quite the way you might expect. Improvisations are often without a clearly defined shape or form allowing for a wide range of freedom and possibility that is subtly shifting throughout. Incidentals - amazon.com

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Book: Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay-Z edited by Jonathan Letham and Kevin Detmar (Library of America, 2017)

This is a wide ranging survey of American rock 'n' roll criticism from the early 1960's to the present day. When the music first took hold of the American (and then the world's) imagination in the 1950's it was beneath contempt from the leading newspapers and magazines of the day, which tended to report on the payola scandals and the purported rise of juvenile delinquency rather than the aesthetic merits of the music itself. This began to change in the late 1960's when The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and other groups and artists proved that rock music could be genuine art. The book begins with a nod to the earlier generation with socially charged criticism from Nat Hentoff and Amiri Baraka. Some of the leading lights of rock criticism begin to emerge like Stanley Booth, who is best known for writing about The Rolling Stones, but in this collection he is looking into the signature sound of his hometown of Memphis. Lenny Kaye would go on to fame with the Patti Smith group and his curation of the Nuggets compilation, but here he presents a look at doo-wop and acapella. Blowhard Richard Meltzer is represented with a section from his self-important book Aesthetics of Rock, while they hold the estimable Robert Chruistagu for the middle of the book, which is loosely chronological, printing several of his Consumer Guide capsule reviews about the music of Prince. Paul Nelson is plucked from obscurity to report on the New York Dolls, while his contemporary Lester Bangs writes about the death of Elvis Presley. To the editors credit, they do include several women writers in the anthology like Donna Gaines on Lou Reed, Ellen Willis' superb article on Janis Joplin and Eve Babbitz's epic send up of The Doors and Jim Morrison in particular. Most of the articles are enjoyable to read, and if one doesn't strike your fancy then there are many others to choose from. One wishes that more non-caucasian writers could have been represented, but the paucity thereof may be due to the lack of opportunities for non-whites in journalism rather than any overt racism on the part of the editors. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and encourages readers to dig more deeply into the writers that they are interested in, by providing capsule biographies and suggested reading for each of its entries. Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z - amazon.com

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Interesting links 9/6

Popmatters profiles bassist Ben Allison after the release of his latest album.
The seminal L.A. punk band X celebrates their 40th anniversary.
The latest 5049 Podcast features pianist and blogger Ethan Iverson.
The Chicago Reader profiles drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo.
Trumpet player Kirk Knuffke is profiled by Francis Davis in the Village Voice.
Bandcamp profiles the Eremite Records label.
Coastal Jazz presents an interview with saxophonist Tim Berne.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Peter Bernstein - Signs LIVE! (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

The group consisting of Peter Bernstein on guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Gregory Hutchinson have played on various configurations for over twenty years. They have all grown into successful band leaders in their own right, some of the leading lights of modern mainstream jazz, but here they reconvene under Bernstein's name for this celebration of their music which was recorded live during January of 2015 in New York City. The musicians are truly present and cognizant to the possibilities of the live setting, and you can tell that they have a lot of experience playing together, and great respect for each other, considering the egoless nature of the music and the support each musician pays to the others and the group as a whole. All of the music stretches out, ten of the eleven tracks are over ten minutes long, and Bernstein's compositions allow for a wide range of expression, beginning with "Blues for Bulgaria" which gives a bright and accessible approach to the blues and it allows the musicians to really jump right in and play, with fine results. Bernstein has a "classical" jazz guitar tone, coming out of the likes of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, and he has superb control over his instrument. Along with Bernstein's original songs, the group takes on two Thelonious Monk compositions which also work quiet well. Mehldau really shines during these performances, comping and soloing with wit and grace, sounding freer and more engaged than on some of his own records, since he is among longtime friends and without the burden of leadership or the expectation to do anything but play well. The individuality of the Monk tracks, "Pannonica" and "Crepuscule With Nellie / We See" allow for varied approaches of tempo and volume and also makes great fodder for the musicians to improvise on in a knotty and intricate manner. The former has some particularly excellent bass playing, while the latter has Bernstein playing the first half of the medley unaccompanied, before the reminder of the band get intelligent and lyrical solo features as the performance moves along. Tracks like "Jive Coffee" and "Let Loose" give this album the exciting feeling of a blowing session for a jam session between friends that the listeners are eavesdropping on. Gradually working up the dynamic pace, the playing fast and fluid, and each of the musicians is more than up to the task whether taking generous solos, playing as a complete unit, or supporting one another. Overall, this album worked very well and those that are interested in making mainstream jazz will find a lot to enjoy. The musicians are at the top of their game and make music that is fresh and accessible. Signs LIVE! - amazon.com

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Nate Wooley - Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) (Clean Feed 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Nate Wooley is a student of jazz and improvised music in all its forms. Taking the ideas and cadences of a famous poet and developing them into a wide open free jazz palate is an interesting and thought provoking idea. On this album, he is accompanied by Chris Pitsiokos on alto saxophone, Brandon Lopez on bass and Dre Hocevar on drums. The album is a varied one where lengthy portions of open space or quiet instrumental playing is offset by bash steamrollers of brass and saxophone, thick bass and rolling drums. Snatches of melodies, motifs and themes bubble up and then mark a point where the band or smaller sections of it can begin another thoughtful improvised section, taking the smallest nugget of an idea and transforming it into a spontaneous composition in its own right. The idea of trumpet or cornet with saxophone backed by bass and drums with no other instrument like a piano or guitar has supplied the context for some great moments in jazz. Groups like Ornette Coleman's classic quartet of the late 1950's and early 1960's, whose trumpet player Don Cherry would jump ship and join another saxophone hero, Sonny Rollins in a short lived quartet that made some of the most exploratory music of both men's careers. In the early 2000's trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Chris Potter made two stellar albums in the format, demonstrating that this sense of openness and possibility is the lingua franca of modern jazz, allowing the soloists, rhythm team and band as a whole great opportunities for self and group expression. The early parts of "Knknighgh-6" show this particular group at their most unfettered, with a walloping collective improvisation and some particularly vivid free saxophone playing. The band allows members to break out into solo sections as needed, and Wooley builds a statement of his own leading into a portion of relative quiet. Emerging from this open space is a well woven bass solo, knitting the band a foundation that they can further create from. This shifting dynamic range is originally presented in "Knknighgh-3," the opening track. Running over sixteen minutes in length, we get a powerful demonstration of the abilities of each member of the band and their ability to create together as a unified whole. "Knknighgh-7" uses some raw drones to develop a setting of emotional unease, one that the musicians carefully probe and explore. They are able to grow from these musical seeds a followthrough of faster cells punctuated by short bursts of pinched and puckered brass. The concluding track "Knknighgh-8" waxes and wanes through sections of dynamism, comparing and contrasting structures that bring the album to a compelling and logical conclusion. Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) - amazon.com

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Mette Rasmussen / Tashi Dorji / Tyler Damon - To the Animal Kingdom (Trost, 2017)

Mette Rasmussen is a Danish alto saxophone player currently making her base of operations in Norway. She builds off of a wide range of influences, and demonstrates all of them on this album moving from free jazz to abstract soundscapes with equal facility. This is a very exciting album with Rasmussen joined by Tashi Dorji on guitar and Tyler Damon on drums, beginning with "To The Animal Kingdom" which plunges right in at the deep end with raw and guitar and saxophone met by pummeling drums. The music is very exciting with blistering shards of guitar sparking off against gale force saxophone and drums. Rasmussen has a very raw and appealing tone to her instrument, playing with a heart on her sleeve emotion that is very powerful, and leads the group into some over the top full band interplay. Torrential sounds burst forth with deep and guttural saxophone illuminated by flashes of guitar and the epic rhythm set of the drums. The trio breaks into a section of uneasy calm, as if pausing for breath before long tones of saxophone branch out and begin to howl as the maelstrom returns and carries to group to the conclusion. "To Life" is the second track and there are raw scrapes of guitar and ominous breathy saxophone meeting choppy sounds to form an uneasy opening. The group coalesces into a tight organic unit that builds the volume and intensity back up with thrashing drums and frantic morse code sounding notes from Rasmussen's saxophone, segueing into a thrilling collective improvisation of all out passion from the three musicians. This massive twenty minute plus track is consistently engaging due to the dedication of the musicians to ceaseless exploration, building to a full on assault with deep rhythmic drive underpinning the proceedings. The music opens up to evolve into a spacious section that is yearning and present, creating interesting textures as they build back up to the end of the track, playing with urgent physical power. The final track, "To the Heavens and the Earth," begins with pointillistic guitar and low tones of saxophone and percussion. They develop scratchy music that gradually folds in some more harrowing sounds that unite the group into a cohesive whole. The volume increases as great slabs of sound are conjured with blustery saxophone leading to a scalding trio improvisation. Bleats of saxophone with choppier guitar and drums lead the music into a more open and abstract section, with subtle saxophone framed by spacey and haunted guitar and drums that gradually build in as the track concludes. This was an excellent album of very exciting free jazz, with three very talented and focused musicians meeting on common ground and creating spontaneous and powerful music. To the Animal Kingdom - Bandcamp.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Not Bound (For Tune, 2017)

The trio of Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums have recorded very successfully together in many configurations and they do here as well. The wild card on this particular album is the inclusion of the iconoclastic Daniel Carter who comes equipped with an arsenal of instruments including flute, trumpet, tenor and soprano saxophone and clarinet. This makes for a wide ranging and exciting set of music that was recorded during June of 2016 in New York City. "Soul Secrets" opens the album in a subtle and thought provoking manner with Carter playing light and nimble flute that moves through the music very cleanly while the piano, bass and drums keep the music pointed forward. Switching to trumpet, Carter takes "Is" even further out, playing golden brass tones and clearing the way for some dynamic piano playing, contrasting light and dark tones. Thick bass and waves of percussion join them in a thoroughly present collectively improvised section that encapsulates all of the possibilities of modern jazz. "Totality" is the focal point of the recording, ideally so in this year of the eclipse, with Carter transitioning to tenor saxophone and Dickey's rattling and rumbling drum solo setting the pace for the recording. The group circles and probes the music's surface, with Shipp's deeply percussive piano playing providing just the right counterweight to Carter's saxophone filigrees and the agile bass and percussion playing. The music dives deeply only to surface with occasional calm patches of nearly romantic quietude. Carter glides over the rippling trio playing, skating over their sounds and adding sly commentary as he goes. He then moves to soprano saxophone, with a lithe and sweet sound that contracts nicely with some of the darker piano chords that Shipp favors. "This Coda" has a quiet and slightly sombre opening for just piano and clarinet, and the bass and drums holding out until the halfway point. Caret then moves back to tenor saxophone as the tempo of the piece increases and fills out. This was a very successful album, with all of the music continuously engaging and flush with inventiveness, fitting for four of the most imaginative musicians on the modern jazz scene. Not Bound - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Matt Lavelle - Quartet (Unseen Rain, 2017)

Matt Lavelle is a scholar and musician who has developed a thoughtful and  deep philosophy though his blog which informs his music, whether it is with his progressive big band The 12 Houses, or smaller settings like this one. Lavelle plays trumpet, flugelhorn, alto and bass clarinets in the company of Lewis Porter on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Tom Cabrera on drums. The album opens with "Matt's Mode" which is a very cordial track that channels the modal music that Miles Davis made with his second great quintet. But the musicians make their own spin on that concept, with Lavelle employing a pleasing and accessible trumpet tone that he uses to solo in an imaginative manner. Porter and the rest of the rhythm team provide an excellent foundation and also make the most of their trio section. There is an unaccompanied opening for clarinet to begin "Tamir Rice" which is dedicated to a young man who tragically died at the hands of the police in 2014. Lavelle pays tribute with an unhurried and emotional clarinet feature which is played with subtle grace. The track opens up after a few minutes with thoughtful rhythmic statements and raw sounding reed giving the music a spiritual vibe. The piano, bass and drums develop a deep groove, which the clarinet joins with them to conclude the performance. "Matt Bop" has a punchy medium-up tempo with Lavelle's trumpet stating a bright and shining theme. He breaks fee for a pleasant solo spot, framed by rippling piano and percussion and strong elastic bass, and everything comes together with tight in the moment modern jazz. A bouncy section for the rhythm team follows before the tune is taken out with exchanges between trumpet and piano. The lengthy "No More Shootings" is the centerpiece of the album, with stoic bowed bass and mournful clarinet stating the theme. Spiritual sounding piano sends rays of hope that lights the darkness and rains down like a sudden cleansing shower. Hollow ringing clarinet gains intensity and reaches a swirling potency leading the band into a free collective improvisation. "Fear Has Got To Go" has tight trumpet and rhythm setting a march like feel. The piano, bass and drums develop a gently swinging statement, tinged with earthy blues. When the trumpet reenters, the music grows to a fine full band interplay, making no-frills hard bop. The concluding piece, "For Taps," opens with rich sounding bass clarinet solo in open space, walking the path that Eric Dolphy paved, accompanied by amiable piano and bowed bass. The music coalesces into a balanced swing and a delightful conversational approach building up to lengthy solo sections that are devoted and energetic. This was an excellent album and shouldn't be missed. Matt Lavelle and the group draw from the length and breadth of jazz history to create powerful and consistently interesting music. Matt Lavelle Quartet - bandcamp.com.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 1: Stone (Audiographic, 2017)

This excellent album features more music from Ken Vandermark's week at The Stone in January 2016, the same run that led to the Momentum boxed set, and this is the first installment in an ambitious three disc collection of music from this potent trio featuring Vandermark on tenor and baritone saxophones plus clarinet, Elisabeth Harnik on piano and Didi Kern on drums and percussion. The group is a dynamic trio that is able to draw upon a wide range of ideas both composed and improvised, and resist categorization, having the freedom to engage with the material as they see fit. There are two lengthy tracks on this album, beginning with "Speed Cable" which makes the most of a fast paced free jazz blowout. The music is upbeat and dynamic with Vandermark mostly on tenor saxophone blowing billowing gales of raw and exciting sound while embracing and challenging the percussive and skittering piano and propulsive drumming. The track unfolds in an organic way, with Vandermark switching instruments to add flavor and color to the music, and the collective improvisation evolves in the same manner, developing dynamically with sections for piano and percussion, but most excitingly, the trio locking in as a whole and playing driving and thrilling modern jazz. All three instruments are able to jump into a stream of fast, loud and joyous playing and develop deeply expressive and unique music. The drums and piano are played in a fractured and fluctuating style and Vandermark's saxophone is rough hewn and brawny. The second track, "Stop the Clock," goes in a different direction, with Harnik inventively using extended techniques on the piano to get unique and diverse sounds that meet with spare and ominous percussion and low bellows of reeds. The music is able to weave together quieter and spacier sections, with waves of sound, including sections for solos and duets in addition to the full trio. The music builds a very interesting approach to the texture of the music, dropping into some more straightforward improvising, and then shifting into music that becomes a collection unexpected sounds and that develop and move in an animated fashion that keeps the lengthy improvisation consistently interesting and compelling. This album works very well, with the music well suited to the players and the musicians responding with inspired playing, addressing the music with complete authority. Construct 1: Stone - Bandcamp.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Harold Mabern - To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

Veteran pianist Harold Mabern has found his sweet spot, playing with familiar and sympathetic colleagues and recording music that fits snugly within his hard bop and soul jazz comfort zone. Accompanying him on this album are Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Nat Reeves on bass, with guest spots for Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The music they play is energetic and lyrical, like on Lee Morgan's composition "The Gigolo" with Mabern playing insistent chords, behind the horns which meld into one and give the music the feeling of a classic Blue Note session from the days of yore. Cobb sets a subtle groove and Hendrix breaks out for an impressive solo of punchy well articulated brass. Alexander solos with steely resolve as the rhythm section churns beneath him, playing with a strident and focused precision. Mabern's own feature is punctuated by ripples of notes and a bouncing, buoyant feel, before leading the group back to a fine concluding statement. "Inner Glimpse" ups the tempo further with the front line of saxophone and trumpet carving a path for the leader to weave through with a spritely and fast paced solo bracket by excellent bass and drums. The horns trade spitfire solos, clearly in their element, making for a very exciting ride, building scalding uptempo statements that are potent and powerful, before stepping aside for an formidable drum feature and then a crisp reprise of the original theme. "The Iron Man" has a bouncy opening for the rhythm trio, unfolding to a section of tenor saxophone making for a fine medium-up performance with plenty of room for the players to stretch out, particularly Jimmy Cobb. The iconic Miles Davis song "So What" is an interesting choice, considering that Cobb was the drummer on the original recording. They take the tune a little faster, stating the memorable theme and then breaking out into a lengthy tenor saxophone solo filled with twists and turns. Hendrix takes a fine solo section for himself, playing in an impressive manner that reaches high into the trumpet's range. This was a very well played mainstream jazz album, the band makes accessible music that a wide range of music lovers would find enjoyable. To Love and Be Loved - amazon.com

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Barry Altschul 3dom Factor - Live in Krakow (NotTwo, 2017)

Recorded at Alchemia club in Krakow, Poland during December of 2016, this is the third album for drummer Barry Altschul's 3dom Factor, and he is once again in the company of Jon Irabagon on tenor and sopranino saxophone and Joe Fonda on bass. The music is a very strong series of collective improvisations and these veteran musicians make the most of the open ended setting and the friendly and supportive audience. Irabagon is a powerhouse saxophone player, and he provides gales of sound along with Fonda's thick bass, meeting Altschul's deeply rhythmic drumming. "Martin's Stew" opens with a solo percussion feature, with the leader developing a diverse range of textures and rhythms. Irabagon glides in with a complex freebop approach that matches the percussionist very well. They move into a powerful collective improvisation that is impassioned and very fast paced. The music barrels forward relentlessly, before calming and offering a fine bowed bass feature. The shimmering drum work suits the edgy bowing perfectly. The saxophonist rejoins and draws squiggles of sound against the pummeling background. The Monk standard "Ask Me Now" gives the group ample ammunition for a raw and gritty performance. The music is more spacious and probing, hinting at the melody. Subtle saxophone and percussion frame another great bass solo, making for a more relaxed and understated conversation. "For Papa Joe, Klook and Philly" honors three great drummers from jazz history with some explosive percussion from Altschul and tight bass and saxophone in firm support. The group performance is very impressive with a muscular flexing rhythm and driving fast paced improvisation. After another strong bass solo, the focus shifts to dynamic exchanges of raw energy between the drums and saxophone, loud and thrilling, driving to the finish line. There is a subtle and gentle touch to "Irina" developing as a yearning ballad. Bass and brushes intersect and then are rejoined by Irabagon's high pitched sopranino saxophone. The album ends with a massive blowout on "The 3dom Factor" starting with riveting percussion and saxophone playing chunks of rhythm and melody. The group reaches a blistering tempo with their improvisation richly textured and tightly focused with concentrated energy. Irabagon backs out leaving a complex interaction between drums and bass with occasional saxophone comments. All three instruments then plunge back into a torrent of fast, loud and joyous free jazz playing deeply expressive and unique music. It's a stunning concert all told, with the music making for one of the most exciting albums of the year. The three members of the group are perfectly aligned and are able to move freely with complete confidence. Live in Krakow - amazon.com

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound 6 - Celebrating William Parker at 65 (NotTwo, 2017)

This excellent album was recorded live in Philadelphia during January of 2017 with an all star band consisting of Bobby Zankel on alto saxophone, Muhammad Ali on drums, Dave Burrell on piano, Steve Swell on trombone, Diane Monroe on violin, and the dedicatee, William Parker, on bass. They create torrid, swaggering free jazz, smilier in scope and scale to the scalding music made by Albert Ayler's mid 1960's group with Michael Sampson. The group plays one four part suite entitled "Celebrating William Parker at 65" that makes for a tremendously exciting album, taking the humanistic and joyous swing of Parker's own music and conjuring up a wide range moods with powerful solos and very impressive ensemble playing. Parker is extraordinary throughout, blending his voice with the other musicians whether bowing or plucking the bass. The intensity of the music is heightened by the dramatic interplay of the musicians, with some brilliant solo spots emerging like the swooping and swaying violin and epic bowed bass features which are exchanged during the third part of the suite. Zankel is a very lively saxophonist, and his unfettered and emotional solos during parts one and four of the suite are highlights of the set. The music may be one continuous improvisation, but there is an overarching structure that builds a real sense of tension and develops through the malleable intensity of the rhythm section. It is the spontaneity of the music that is one of its most heart warming features because the musicians interact with each other individually and as a group whole in real time, creating music that is in constant motion, using gradations in volume and texture to explore all of the musical possibilities that this setting allows. The music flows like a deep and powerful river, filled with eddys and currents of melody and rhythm. The music has a deep seated spirituality, but not something that is dogmatic, rather a sense of inclusiveness that is a balm in these troubled times. Celebrating William Parker at 65 - amazon.com

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano - Compassion: The Music Of John Coltrane (Resonance, 2017)

Originally recorded during 2007 in New York City for BBC Radio 3's program Jazz on 3, this album features Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano on saxophones, clarinet and flute, Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Nodding to the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane's premature death, the music is respectful and well played, beginning with "Locomotion" which is from the 1958 John Coltrane album Blue Train, and it sticks to the hard charging hard-bop of the original recording with the saxophonists playing strong riffs and keeping the theme of the performance moving inexorably forward. It's a taut and powerful performance, with a no nonsense approach and driving rhythm. This is followed by a medley of "Central Park West" and "Dear Lord" notable for the ease in stringing together themes from different periods of Coltrane's musical and personal development. The former is one of his most well known and recorded songs, but the latter is from the extraordinary posthumous Transition LP and it is a theme of hard won spiritual growth closely related to A Love Supreme. "Ole" was a sidelong exploratory piece in its original configuration, one of of his earliest performances to include music of different cultures and lands. Liebman uses some haunting flute to set the mood in an exotic hue, before the music returns to strong classic jazz improvisation with tight playing from the rhythm section and solid saxophone solos. There is some more beautiful flute along with clarinet on the thoughtful version of "Reverend King." Another composition from Coltrane's Atlantic Records period is ""Equinox," presented here with a stoic feeling for harmonizing saxophones, and some slashing cymbal play from Billy Hart making way for some interesting solo statements. John Coltrane's "Compassion" was featured on the Meditations LP (later on First Meditations for Quartet) and this also gives Hart space for some excellent percussive work, setting the stage for the group as a whole to come to grips with the musical and philosophical ramifications of the composition. It may lack the go for broke intensity of the original, but like the album as a whole it presents a respectful and thoughtful summation of the influence that this music has had on modern jazz. Compassion - The Music Of John Coltrane - amazon.com

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Monday, August 21, 2017

King Crimson - The Elements Tour Box 2017 (DGMLive, 2017)

When the venerable progressive rock band King Crimson began their 2017 tour, they offered fans another helping of unreleased tracks and rarities, a two disc set containing a mixture of extracts from rehearsals, new live recordings, clips from studio recordings, alternate takes and studio tomfoolery. It's an interesting and compelling set, not one for the uninitiated, but the cognoscenti will be pleased if occasionally flummoxed by the selections. A brief clip of Greg Lake's vocal track from the original "21st Century Schizoid Man" segues into the most recent edition of that band playing an edited version of that iconic song in 2015. Instrumental edits of "In The Wake Of Poseidon" and "Islands" show some rethinking of the band's past, while a crushing live versions of "Easy Money" and "One More Red Nightmare" also from 2015 shows how the current band is reinterpreting the music of the groups past and bringing it fully into the present. There is a nice balance between historical recordings like a manic run through of "The Great Deceiver" and scalding improvisations like an edited version of "Asbury Park" from 1974 and some highlights from the Adrian Below period of the band featuring Steven Wilson's alternate mix of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and live versions of "Heartbeat" and "Sleepless." The second disc goes into a different direction entirely, featuring all four parts of the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" composition, and presenting the four in live performances that date from 1975 - 2015. These tracks are interspersed with extracts from a session reel entitled "Keep That One Nick" that show snippets of the band in the studio experimenting with motifs and arrangements. Rounding out the second disc is a pounding version of "THRAK" and a fine contemporary version of "Level Five." I found this to be a very interesting and enlightening compilation, with some excellent examples of the band throughout the years although it is not meant to be a historical compilation (that might best be served by the Frame By Frame box set. While it may feel a little little dated, it is a fine overview of the band's work 1969-1991.) But this particular album should please the fanbase, with a mix of unreleased tracks, live recordings and studio chatter, it goes a long way in helping you understand this most inscrutable band. The Elements Tour Box 2017 - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Film: Thomas Chapin - Night Bird Song

Thomas Chapin was one of my musical heroes when I was getting deeply into jazz in the 1990's and his death in 1998 was a shocking loss of one of the most interesting and joyful voices in progressive jazz. This documentary film goes a long way in demonstrating to people who might not be familiar with his work what a protean voice he was on saxophone and flute, and that he was an original composer to boot. He recorded a remarkable series of albums for the Knitting Factory label, each one one audaciously adventurous than the last, anchored by his legendary trio with Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin, one of the finest working groups of the post-war era. Whether playing in the trio format, or adding strings or brass to augment them, the music has a sense of spiritual discovery with each recording, a sensibility that wasn't forced, but one that came from the sheer act of creation and improvisation. As the documentary shows, he embraced the idea of jazz as a "big tent" as Jackie McLean, one of his mentors would put it, anything from swing through free jazz was fair game and was played with equal grace and fire. He was the bandleader for the Lionel Hampton big band for many years in the 1980's and further demonstrated his mainstream jazz credentials with albums for Arabesque and Brazilian jazz experiments. The film is able to take a holistic view of his life and career, moving through his years at music school and then interweaving footage of him in concert, especially some electrifying trio music from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1995, with revealing interview segments with friends and colleagues. There is a very touching interview with his wife, detailing how they met after he stopped her in her tracks while playing flute in Grand Central Station, and then his lengthy trip through Africa, through to his diagnosis and eventual passing away from leukemia. But this isn't really a memorial film, it is a celebration of a remarkable musician and person who made the most of his incredible talent in the short time he had available. Thomas Chapin Film Project

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Harriet Tubman - Araminta (Sunnyside, 2017)

Named after the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman consists of Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and JT Lewis on drums. On this album, they are joined by the legendary trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and it was an inspired invitation, making this a strong and vital album. "The Spiral Path To The Throne" opens the album with bouncy fuzz distortion, creating stark relief for the trumpet's soaring sound, focused by light subtle drumming which opens space for trumpet and electric guitar accents. The group creates a wide spectrum for trio and trumpet, developing fast tempo and pushing hard in the final minute, with a ripe guitar solo leading the way. Bass and drums create a fractured funky rhythm for "Taken," with strong trumpet lashing and prowling, using the space to develop a strong track that has shards of guitar, blasts of trumpet and an unusual rhythm that anchors it all. Smith's tone and technique allow him to fit in and thrive, developing a real rapport with the trio. "Ne Ander" has wild overdriven electric bass and guitar with crushing drums clearing the way for Smith's trumpet. Thumping rhythms and unrestrained guitar and effects create a very hot trio improvisation, stratospheric music, improvising through cosmic jazz as Smith rejoins and blasts the music to new heights with an epic trumpet solo. They head for home with snarling and distorted bass and guitar with a thudding beat, framed by sparks and swirls of trumpet. There is a respectful opening with golden tones of trumpet on "Nina Simone," slowly filling the space with melancholy sound, stark yearning trumpet framed by subtle electronics and cymbals. This is a tribute created on its own terms, thoroughly modern and as mysterious as the dedicatee. "Real Cool Killers," named after an excellent Chester Himes novel starts out in an appropriately noirish fashion before unleashing gritty bass and drums with smears of distorted guitar piercing the air around them, playing loud muscular power trio music. There were definitely some more avant-garde things at play, but the music remains very accessible. Smith returns on the fast and exciting performance "President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge" with stoic trumpet and fast paced drumming unfolding into a powerful statement with strong guitar and bass along for the ride. There is a definite electric Miles vibe here, with Ross firing off Pete Cosey level blasts of guitar, met with sections of throbbing bass and drums. "Sweet Araminta" concludes the album on a thoughtful note, opening space for electronics, deleting a reflective coda for what has come before. This was an excellent album of wildly exciting music that combines many aspects of modern music, and focuses them into a concentrated and powerful set of performances. Araminta - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Max Johnson - In the West (Clean Feed, 2017)

Bassist and composer Max Johnson has had a wide ranging musical career, performing with luminaries from the jazz, rock and bluegrass world in addition to developing an excellent series of albums as a leader in the progressive jazz vein. This album has a very interesting setting, featuring Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Kris Davis on piano and Mike Pride on drums. Pulling from a disparate variety of sounds, this group moves through four diverse compositions, beginning with "Ten Hands," which builds in a suite like configuration, continually shifting the focus of the music and its inherent improvisation as it develops and expands motifs as well as solo sections and duo pairings within the overall structure of the piece. Whether it is percussive piano, droning steel guitar and bowed bass or a rattling drum feature, the music remains vibrant and colorful. "Greenwood" uses a large amount of space and takes its time in development, bringing about a spontaneous creative environment with spare piano framed by light guitar, bass and drums. There is a sense of freedom and drive that is further advanced by the performance by increasing volume and adding complex rhythm, with touches of piano notes and chords meeting ropes of steel guitar and shimmering cymbals before fading back to a quiet conclusion. Piano and percussion percolate and flutter against the steel guitar on "Great Big Fat Person" eventually opening the music to a wide range of ideas. Subtle but complex themes are built and extrapolated upon, and interesting details brought into the foreground. Drops of golden sounding guitar accents the frenetic pace of the piano and drums leading to a powerful collective improvisation. “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the only non-original, having been composed by Ennio Morricone for the classic western film of the same name. Here the song is re-arranged by Johnson, but it retains the dynamic and cinematic outlook, over an impressive twenty-one minute length. Incorporating mournful bass bowing which leads to an excellent free sounding improvisation where all the instruments are deep in conversation. This track also resolves itself over several sections, such as ones for spare piano or bass and others for the full band, and builds to a large and wide ranging soundscape. The group is able to evoke the huge landscapes and wide vistas of the American southwest over the course of the album, drawing on the rich musical, cinematic and artistic history of the area to develop a compelling statement. In the West - amazon.com

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Interesting links 8/13/2017

Rolling Stone re-examines the impact of The Beatles on the crimes of Charles Manson and his Family.
Hank Shteamer reviews the early to middle 1970's work of Deep Purple.
AAJ features an interview with modern jazz musician Craig Taborn.
Henry Rollins takes a rueful look at his burgeoning record collection.
Phil Freeman takes an interesting look at the 1970's recordings of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Jim Knipfel reflects on the music of Sun Ra.

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