Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Film: I Called Him Morgan by Kasper Collin (Kasper Collin Produktion, 2016)

This was a thoughtful and well done film that describes the relationship between the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common law wife Helen and the events that led up to the fatal shooting that took place at Slug's Saloon in New York City in February 1972. There were giants of the jazz trumpet walking the earth when Lee Morgan's career began with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in the late 1950's but it soon became clear that Morgan was a special talent that had a very bright future for himself in music. After leaving the Gillespie ensemble, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers during one of their most exciting and productive periods. He was also cutting solo records as a leader for Blue Note records at this time which were prime examples of the hard-bop sound that had developed during that time period. It was at this time that Morgan fell under the spell of heroin and he fell hard. Some sources say that Blakey, the functioning addict, may have introduced him to the drug. Regardless, Morgan hit rock bottom, neither playing or recording or even at times having no shoes to wear. It was at this period, in the early 1960's that Helen enters the picture in the beginning as an almost maternal figure as she was several years older than Morgan. She helped him get into a treatment program and come out clean, and worked tirelessly as a de-facto manager, helping Morgan rebuild his image as a responsible and sober musician and bandleader. The mid to late 1960's were the salad years of their relationship, Morgan had found massive success with his recording "The Sidewinder" and a series of popular albums followed. They were able to tour the west coast with Helen on some of these trips as a straw boss, and for all appearances things were going well. That started to change when Morgan began to take an interest in a young woman he had met in Atlantic City, and they began to spend more and more time together, stoking Helen's ire. Ironically, this woman states poignantly that their relationship was rarely intimate since Morgan's period of intense narcotics usage led to ongoing health and stamina issues. Everything came to a head the night of a raging blizzard in New York City. Helen had originally planned to decamp to Chicago, but decided to come to Slugs to see Morgan play. Morgan was accompanied by his young partner, and the friction between the three was becoming toxic. At one point Helen was thrown out of the club without her coat, and the pistol she kept for protection fell out of her purse and clattered onto the sidewalk. She picked it up, re-entered the club tapped him on the shoulder and and shot him in the abdomen upon turning around. Police responded quickly and placed Helen in custody, but it took the ambulance over an hour to navigate the snow clogged streets to the club and Lee Morgan was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, dead at just 33 years of age. Helen was convicted of second degree manslaughter, and was released after spending a comparatively short time in custody. She returned to her North Carolina roots, becoming very active in the church, and was taking classes to further her education when she met Larry Reni Thomas who was a jazz DJ in addition to being a history professor. Several years later and shortly before her death in 1996, Helen sat down with Thomas for a lengthy interview. This squeaky old cassette tape opens Helen's backstory from being a young unwed mother in North Carolina who fled for New York City, and became known as a character around town, someone who always had an open door and a pot of food on the stove. This was the time period where she met Morgan, he was at his lowest point and she helped him to get back on his feet and spur him on to some of his finest performances. But there was bitterness building, and Helen did not wish to be a kept woman while Morgan saw other women and circumstances and missed opportunities led to that tragic night when one of the leading lights of contemporary jazz was cut down by someone who was shattered and immediately contrite. But the damage had been done and the history of jazz was irrevocably altered. The structure and format of the film is straightforward and works well. Some famous musicians like Wayne Shorter, Billy Harper and others lend thoughtful and pithy comments and Thomas plays excerpts of the taped interview with Helen in addition to providing commentary and context. There is some wonderful footage of Morgan playing in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and then leading his own group for a local television station in New York City. This was a well done and compassionate film that tells the story in an organic manner, never getting in the way of the musicians and other friends and family, allowing them to tell their own story. The film does have a melancholy or elegiac air, but that is fitting given the subject matter. It is highly recommended and easier to find, now that it is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Riverside - The New National Anthem (Greenleaf Music, 2017)

Following up on their debut release from 2014, Riverside is a collaborative group featuring Dave Douglas on trumpet, Chet Doxas on clarinet and saxophones, Steve Swallow on electric bass and Jim Doxas on drums. This album has very impressive instrumental playing and interaction along with interesting compositions. The album was recorded in the summer of 2015 and begins with "The New National Anthem," which has a choppy melody of bass and drums leading into "Old Country" which bursts open colorfully with strong brass punctuated by sharp percussion and electric bass. Douglas contributes a concentrated trumpet solo set to pulsating accompaniment before Doxas's saxophone joins in for a keen collective improvisation and a solo spot of his own. "King Conlon" has a crisp full band theme statement which is punchy and exciting evolving into a powerful trumpet solo over bass and drums. Chet Doxas switches to clarinet and swoops in unexpectedly over rolling drum accents, and the whole band comes together with excellent interplay. Hollow sounding clarinet and punchy brass push forward on the following track, "King Korn," making for a taut and exciting performance. Solo electric bass opens "View From a Bird" building a medium tempo and adding languid saxophone and trumpet along with subtle brushes. Shimmering cymbals and trumpet join in to frame the bass with eddies of sound and motion. "Enormous Tots" has a funky and friendly feel to it, with the horns strutting and swaggering over strong rhythm. They joyously chant a nonsense vocal before embarking on a sharp melodic improvisation, sounding like modern day hot jazz with billowing saxophone and drums. The music on "Demigods" slows back down to a medium tempo, with sympathetic musical motifs at hand. Subtle bass and percussion builds to a slow groove, gaining pace as the saxophone and brass open the music further over a subtle backbeat. Finally, "Americano" ends the album in excellent fashion, with strong bass and drums setting the pace for the stylish horns to enter. Douglas unleashes an excellent trumpet solo over tight bass and drums, then makes way for a fine saxophone feature over a gleefully primal beat. This was a good album, the band is really tight and makes the most of their experiences to create wide ranging music. This is a bright and accessible album that should be well received. The New National Anthem - amazon.com

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Charles Lloyd New Quartet - Passin' Thru (Blue Note, 2017)

Tenor saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd has had a long career filled with highlights, from his popular early recordings on Atlantic that led to him playing psychedelic ballrooms in the late sixties to a lengthy purple patch with ECM in the nineties and oughties. Now on Blue Note, he reconvenes the New Quartet, featuring Jason Moran on piano, Ruben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. The opening track, a near eighteen minute version of the Lloyd classic "Dream Weaver" was recorded live at last year's Montreux Jazz Festival, and it encapsulates the leader's musical history in a suite-like performance that includes elements of blues, spirituals and more open-ended improvisational elements. The album's remaining tracks were recorded in Sante Fe beginning with "Part 5, Ruminations" which has a gentle and meditative melody that develops into a thoughtful and gentle improvisation which allows the rhythm section maximum freedom while Lloyd swoops and sways around them, building a thoughtful and lilting statement all his own. "Nu Blues" is a more recent composition, one that hints at the rhythm and blues of his hometown of Memphis, while encouraging the music to move into a little more intense state of being with crisp rhythmic playing and full throated saxophone soloing. There is a wistful, balladic feeling to "How Can I Tell You" and the band paces itself nicely developing a soft and patient performance that rides on the thermals of air in an organic improvisation that moves with the grain of the music. "Tagore On The Delta" opens up the throttle, making the most of the availability of space and time, taking a composition out of his past, and moving it completely into the moment with excellent piano playing and elastic bass and drums making an excellent construct. Lloyd's music has always had a deeply spiritual quality to it, and this is firmly demonstrated on the concluding piece "Shiva Prayer" which develops a hard won serenity showing all that he has learned during his long and successful career. He carries the rest of his band with genial authority, completely at home with the younger musicians who continually respect and challenge him. Passin' Thru - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Downbeat Readers' Poll Ballot 2017

Downbeat Magazine is accepting ballots for the 2017 Readers' Poll. My choices are as follows:
Hall of Fame: Sam Rivers
Jazz Artist: Ivo Perelman
Jazz Group: Lean Left
Big Band: Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017): Rodrigo Amado / Goncalo Almeida / Marco Franco - The Attic (NoBusiness Records)
Historical Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017) David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp Duo, Live in Sant'Anna Arresi 2004 (AUM Fidelity)
Trumpet: Amir ElSaffar
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Steve Coleman
Tenor Saxophone: Peter Brotzmann
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Piano: Matthew Shipp
Keyboards: Craig Taborn
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Brandon Seabrook
Bass: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Violin: Mark Feldman
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: David Murray (bass clarinet)
Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann
Female Vocalist: Leena Conquest
Composer: Roscoe Mitchell
Arranger: Nels Cline
Record Label: No Business
Blues Artist/Group: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: Gary Clark Jr., Live North America 2016 (Warner Bros.)
Beyond Artist or Group: Richard Thompson
Beyond Album (Released June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017): Sleater-Kinney - Live in Paris

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Peter Brotzmann / Steve Swell / Paal Nilssen-Love - Live in Tel Aviv (Not Two Records, 2017)

This is an excellent meeting of three of the most exciting musicians in avant-garde jazz with Steve Swell on trombone, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion and Peter Brotzmann on saxophone and clarinet. This album was recorded live at Leontin 7 in Tel Aviv, Israel October 24, 2016. These musicians have played with each other countless times in many different configurations so the trust level they have is very high and they have no problem letting their guard down and playing for the sheer love of the music. That affection comes shining through on the main track, wonderfully titled "The Greasy Grind" which begins with an all out collective improvisation that is very exciting. Nilssen-Love's crashing drums and cymbals make a fine foundation for guttural saxophone and smears of brass that hit with raw physicality but are also played with great tact and depth. The music stretches out for a thirty minute exploration of the disparate sonic terrain, with spaces for solos and duets as well as the superb trio interaction. The music exists at many levels, whether it is a muscular free jazz blowout or an abstract sound collage with varying colors and strokes evoking a wide range of emotion. The second and shorter piece is called "Ticklish Pickle" is also aptly named, because the trio creates a slower, prickly performance that is gritty and focused on the granular level of the music. Brotzmann plays clarinet, and the hollow, woody sound of the instrument is perfectly placed to improvise the with long rough tones of brass and skittish percussion. It takes a great deal of patience and trust to pull off a performance like this, and you can almost sense the audience hanging on every note as the trio navigates the thickets and underbrush of the music, emerging triumphant after ten minutes of risk taking on the edge creativity. This is another excellent entry in the collective discographies of these three great musicians. Playing wide open, unfettered modern jazz, they provide a beacon of hope and demonstrate what real freedom means. Live in Tel Aviv - amazon.com

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Evan Parker - City Fall: Live at Cafe OTO (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2017)

It's an interesting feeling to listen to the great British avant-garde tenor and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker on fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane. Parker has spoken at length about his debt to Coltrane, but he repays that debt in the best manner possible, not by covering the great man's compositions, but be creating his own spontaneous improvisations that take the baton from Coltrane and show the way forward for the saxophone in free jazz or free improvisation in the twenty first century. Parker has released many live albums and I am far from an expert on his music, but this seems to be one of his finest, recorded during September of 2014 at the Cafe OTO in London. He is in an excellent form, accompanied by friends and colleagues Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums. They open with a massive spontaneous composition "Hunting Moon" which they play with a headlong rush of ecstatic music. With the two reed players intertwining as they reach for the heights of the musical creativity, and an ever shifting rhythm from the bass and drums keeping the music hurtling forward. It's the fractured and unpredictable nature of the rhythm that keep things so interesting. Where the saxophones may skitter and squeal and the bowed bass casts stark shadows the percussion skips and jumps to its own accord. They all come together to create a massive blast of creative energy that is most impressive. This continues on "In Case of Fire" in which the musicians complement one another, producing a soaring, optimistic sensibility as if the band is giddy with excitement at the possibilities of their music. The improvisation is emotionally direct, and structurally sound and the quartet is deeply attuned to one another as the reeds make a wide range of sounds and the four players are utterly focused. The quartet develops dynamics with the sound moving from soft and open against full and brash, and using this structure to create powerful momentum. They can play with thunderous force, lashing gales of saxophone and bass clarinet against buttresses of stoic bass and drums, to a triumphant conclusion. The audience erupts with music deserved applause and the trio returns with the shorter performance "Eternity For a Little While" which acts as a coda and a capstone to a remarkable performance. City Fall: Live at Cafe Oto - amazon.com

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro - Rosa Dos Ventos (Anzic Records, 2017)

This album is the most recent foray into Brazilian jazz by clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen. She is joined on this album by the members of Trio Brasileiro: Douglas Lora on guitar, Dudu Maia on mandolin and Alexandre Lora on drums and percussion. The band is inspired by Brazilian choro music, which combines European musical forms with African and South American rhythms to make a fertile playground for improvisers. "Baião Da Esperança" opens the album with a jaunty and rich tune, one that the listener can easily imagine dancing to. The interplay of the strings is nimble and fleet, incorporating the percussion in a deft manner and allowing Cohen's deeply swinging clarinet to move at will. Stout guitar and mandolin introduce "Ijexa" with shaken percussion joining in to develop a very strong rhythmic foundation. The music swoops and sways in an intoxicating manner, coming together to develop a deep groove that Cohen solos over in a plaintive and emotional fashion, picking her spots, and not overwhelming the music or disrupting the feeling it has. After a dynamic downshift to a more melancholy setting, the musicians regroup and push forward to a grand conclusion. "Valsa Do Sul" has hollow sounding clarinet in open space, probing and setting the mood for the trio to jump into an grow into a charming melody. The way the strings and percussion can interact with one another is very impressive, weaving and building textures that are perfect to either encompass or challenge the clarinet in their midst. The light and nimble music is like a fluttering hummingbird, hovering between flowers as a soft breeze flows around it. Clarinet and percussion develop a choppy rhythm on "Sambalelê" which is quite exciting as they improvise beats and notes, channeling the swing tradition of pre-war jazz and the expansive history of Brazilian music. "Choro Pesado" is a lightning fast collective improvisation for the full quartet, with the percussion and strings developing an exciting rhythmic basis for the music that is thrilling to hear. Cohen is deeply intertwined within the music, and the sound she develops further aligns the scope of their improvisation, and allows it to become a whirling dervish of colorful sound. The quiet and thoughtful ballad "Lulubia" ends the album with subtle guitar and mandolin developing a memorable melody, aided by slight percussion, and eventually joined by Cohen's soft and supple clarinet with frames and engages with the other instruments beautifully. This album worked quite well and it is clear that this was a full meeting of the minds rather than soloist with accompaniment. The quartet traverses various styles and traditions of Brazilian music, but also keep in mind the improvisation based nature of the jazz tradition. Rosa Dos Ventos - amazon.com

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Burning Ghosts - Reclamation (Tzadik, 2017)

The band Burning Ghosts is a fascinating hybrid of heavy metal and free jazz consisting of Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Jake Vossler on guitar, Richard Giddens on bass and Aaron McLendon on drums. The album opens with "Ftof" which has an insistent rhythm being laid down by the drums followed by some nimble trumpet playing. The group develops a choppy and nervous feel to the music that is even more enhanced with the entry of electric guitar. This pushes everyone forward to a very powerful collective improvisation with guitar and trumpet punching in tandem with deep bass and frenetic drumming. Rosenboom's trumpet leaps over jolts of scalding guitar before laying out and allowing a nasty guitar and percussion battle to commence, where lashing drums lead the way. Trumpet re-enters, taking the music even further afield, and leading a full charge to the conclusion. A drone punctuated by blasts of raw sound opens "Harbinger," creating an imposing musical edifice where trumpet arcs over the massive rhythm trio, growing ever more assertive. They drop into an immense post-rock groove that annihilates anything in their path. The music is dense and towering, eventually yielding an intense climax with slashing cymbals, growling guitar and frenetic trumpet playing, while blending in some opens spaces to ramp up the tension even further. "Radicals" juxtaposes gnarly overdriven guitar with subtle brass to interesting effect, developing opposite roles that build upon each other. There is a nice bass solo interleaved between the two opposing forces, which opens space for the music to breathe. Rosenboom adds further texture with muted trumpet, before everyone enters the blast zone with some over the top full band playing, becoming a thrilling boil. The music strives forward vigorously over a punishing beat, with stoic trumpet and drums achieving excellent cohesion. Subtle and insistent bass ushers in "Catalyst," serving as a foundation for full throttle drums and guitar, with the mad riffs making way for the entry of the trumpet. The music spits fire and lightning, maintaining it's fast speed, regardless of the complexity of the music. The dynamics at play are powerful with the music moving from slow and ponderous to white hot and fast. "Revolution" is a short and ripe blast of power that ends the album in fine fashion. Trumpet soars over vicious guitar, bass and drums, driving the music into a majestic and exciting conclusion. This is heavy and dense music that is still able to retain a tenuous tie to the jazz tradition while blasting it relentlessly into the future. Reclamation - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Steve Coleman - Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman is an enigmatic musician who is always looking around the next corner, incorporating philosophical and non-musical ideas as inspiration for his compositions. He is a writer and performer of complex music, yet somehow that music remains accessible, with interesting themes constantly bubbling up abetted by witty improvised sections. Many of the musicians on this album have been in Coleman's extended circle for quite some time and they are more then up to the task of performing his knotty music. In addition to Coleman on alto saxophone, the band consists of Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Maria Grand on tenor saxophone, Rane Moore on clarinet; Kristin Lee on violin, Jen Shyu on vocals, Matt Mitchell on piano, Greg Chudzik on bass and Neeraj Mehta on percussion for about half of the tracks. The development of textures and the interplay among player is the is the foremost mission of the band, beginning with the composition "Inside Game" which slowly builds over nine and a half minutes, with reeds and brass developing sweeping forays into the source code of the song while wordless vocals and violin slip and sway around the music which is rooted by thick bass and piano. "Morphing" is the centerpiece of the recording, and at fourteen minutes in length it develops a suite-like structure, allowing themes and melodies to rise up from the simmering cauldron of the music and engage the musicians with open ended opportunities for self expression within the boundaries of the composition. This album was quite interesting to hear, especially when you place it in the context of Steve Coleman's last few LP's. His close relationship with Pi Recordings has given him the opportunity to record regularly while tweaking and modifying the music and the musicians as he sees fit. It is a daunting road that he has embarked upon, but with he is producing excellent results and has a clear-headed vision for the future. Morphogenesis - amazon.com

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup

Rock 'n' Roll Roundup 2017 marks the anniversary of several  important albums in the history of rock music, and special editions of classic albums are landing regularly with a ponderous thud that makes one think of aphorisms like "gilding the lily," but the reissue machine grinds relentlessly forward regardless. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a titanic release in 1967, and has often (especially in Rolling Stone magazine) been held as the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll music. It's hard to listen to this album with fresh ears, especially if you were born after the release of the album, taking all of their innovations for granted because they are indelibly stamped in the DNA of much of the music which followed. This Fiftieth Anniversary edition of the reissue comes in two formats: a two disc set, with a remastered stereo version of the album on disc one, sounding bright and shiny enough to make a Pepper agnostic blush, and a selection of outtakes, loops, alternate takes and chatter on disc two. The second disc is interesting for a behind the curtain look at The Beatles creative process, but it's not compelling enough to be returned to very often. For the hard core Pepperologist, especially one that has deep pockets comes the four disc plus DVD/Blu-ray Super Deluxe Edition, which have various mixes of the record and outtakes in mono, stereo, surround sound, and the requisite big book of essays and photos. Another band who is not known for their modesty is U2, and they are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of their lauded album, The Joshua Tree. The album may be their most enduring work, containing hits and memorable deep cuts. Like the Pepper set, this re-issue comes in two flavors: the poor man's two-disc set that has remastered album, then a live recording of a 1987 Madison Square Garden concert. The big spender edition beefs the package up to four discs, with the two aforementioned along with a deep dive into album remixes along with period B-Sides and outtakes. The Rolling Stones grind out re-issues at a dizzying rate, with live music making the bulk of the material. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones was recorded in Texas on the 1972 Exile On Main Street tour, so it catches the band playing a hot set at near the peak of their powers. Playing cuts from that album and tweaking them on the fly in addition to judicious reprising of some of their earlier hits. The only thing that holds this back from really standing out among the scads of Stones live LPs is the bootleg quality sound, one that wraps the music in a in a muddy miasma that is perhaps appropriate considering how much of the Exile on Main Street album itself was such a gloriously murky sprawl. The three disc deluxe edition of The Doors first LP also celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, gave me a vivid synesthetic flashback of wandering around my first college, spinning this tape in my Walkman (remember those?) This package has a cleanly remastered version of the original LP itself in both mono and stereo in addition to a period live recording and the obligatory expanded liner notes with rare photographs. Nick Cave has always been an enigmatic presence on the rock 'n' roll scene beginning with the band The Birthday Party, and eventually forming his own band called The Bad Seeds. The two disc collection Lovely Creatures - The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is an excellent introduction to his solo work, covering the length of his career, hitting all of the high spots and including some interesting album tracks that give a well rounded look into his musical vision. Finally, The Grateful Dead release what to diehard fans may be the holy grail, a professionally mastered release of the complete concert from Barton Hall at Cornell University in May of 1977. This concert can be purchased separately or as part of the deluxe Get Shown the Light boxed set which includes the concerts immediately preceding and following the Cornell show. The Dead were at a mid career peak, performing at a very high level as well improvising and re-arranging new and familiar material. If you are still in need of more Dead, the soundtrack to the new documentary film Long Strange Trip is available, mixing familiar tracks with previously released songs.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Interesting Links 7/10/2017

A short but revealing interview with Henry Threadgill.
AAJ interviews Steve Swell about the state of Jazz.
The Ravi Coltrane Quintet plays a Tiny Desk Concert.
A lengthy interview with percussionist Milford Graves.
Winners of the Downbeat Magazine Critics' Poll.
An interview with Sonny Rollins.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Machine Mass - Plays Hendrix (MoonJune, 2017)

Falling neatly between progressive rock and jazz fusion, Machine Mass is in a good position to re-imagine selections from the Jimi Hendrix catalog in a predominantly instrumental context. This current iteration the band consists of Michel Delville on guitar and electronics, Tony Bianco on drums and percussion and Antoine Guenet on keyboards. All of these musicians have deep roots in the progressive music scene and they bring that experience to the fore here, developing a music that is less pyrotechnical than you would expect, although there is enough of that the keep rock fans focused. Instead the trio focuses on the textures and possibilities inherent in Hendrix's music that are available for an improvising unit. "Third Stone From the Sun" opens the album with a space rock vibe that uses the song as a jumping off point for some interesting colors and hues to be developed. The wide range of instruments and technology that the band brings to the project are used judiciously, allowing the music to swing thoughtfully will encompassing some more muscular moments like the strident riffing on "Purple Haze." There is subtlety at play in much of the music like their approach to one the honoree's most enduring melodies, "Little Wing." The sound the band creates are sampled and returned allowing them to build further structure upon them. Henrdix's voice itself is sampled and then presented within the track as the group reverently plays around it, creating textures that weave in the words that are buried within the music. "Fire" allows them to circle around the theme, gaining speed and intensity, which is released with the eruption of strong drumming and snarling guitar and keyboards taking the music into overdrive, stretching it out into a powerful and fast paced performance. They play with "Voodo Chile" in a similar fashion, teasing at the well known theme, with electronic bursts and blasts, before jumping into the melody and allowing some hot drums and guitar to carry the trio into the meat of the song. There is acoustic piano incorporated into "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" that builds an unexpected new twist on this song, before bursting into full electrically infected bloom. The longest track of the album is "You Got Me Floatin'" re-arranged from its pop roots into a progressive ten minute blowout that takes the driving rhythm and blues riff of the original and blasts it off into the stratosphere. The band wraps up the album nicely with another sample of Hendrix's words, juxtaposed by their interpretation of "The Wind Cries Mary" which is presented in a respectful manner framed by piano and percussion. This album worked well, with the music clearly indebted to its subject while never lapsing into hagiography. This might be a good "gateway album" to entice classic rock listeners into more progressive music like fusion and jazz. Plays Hendrix - amazon.com

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Mike Reed - Flesh and Bone (482 Music, 2017)

While on tour in 2009, drummer Mike Reed and his group was caught in the middle of a neo-Nazi rally in the Czech Republic. It was a terrifying experience, one that Reed made the best of by writing music that became this powerful and thought provoking album. He leads an excellent band featuring Greg Ward on alto saxophone, Tim Haldeman on tenor saxophone, Jason Roebke on bass, Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Marvin Tate on vocals. The album opens with "Voyagers" which is a strong brisk modern jazz track with tight rhythm and excellent saxophone playing. The group develops a strong theme and make pointed and thoughtful weaving of the horns which develop powerful riffs, which allow the horns to weave in and out over strong bass and drums. There is spoken word anchoring "First Reading SF Sky" with deep words hankering back to The Last Poets, but moving forward to today, over light clarinet and percussion. "Conversation Music" blends clarinet with horns in a pleasing manner, building the music step by step as light clarinet leads into the rest of the band joining, with patient trumpet playing over soft bass and drums, he takes a nice solo turn as the other horns frame the trumpet. A tight funky groove introduces "A Separatist Party" with nimble saxophone and bass clarinet leading the charge of bright horns and danceable beat. The saxophone breaks out for a nice improvised solo over a strong bass and drums pulse, then the whole band comes together for a delightful collective improvisation. "The Magic Drum" is a short interlude for gentle percussion, leading into the bursting horns of "My Imaginary Friend (Tyshawn Sorey)" which poke at the surroundings with a fine unaccompanied saxophone feature. The full band enters with a glorious blast of noise, sounding like a big band while making space for short solos from Stein on bass clarinet, followed by a section for trumpet that is framed by excellent bass and drums, and the colorful horn section. "I Want to Be Small (For Archibald Motley)" is a lush ballad that moves in a stately manner, with breathy saxophone shadowed by the horns and soft percussion, which leads into further spoken word on "Second Reading Me Day." Thick bass anchors "Watching the Boats" opening with a fine solo statement, then horns build in, fluttering around like birds approaching a nest. Defiant words and scat are at play on "Call Off Tomorrow" which continue at a fast pace with the band egging Tate on all the way. The group then blasts off on its own with explosive riffing and taut soloing. Mike Reed was looking to make a direct response to a traumatic incident, and he was very successful. This is a potent album is protest music of the highest order, in the tradition of We Insist by Max Roach and Freedom Suite by Sonny Rollins. They create a thoughtful response to the incident, and use their music to make listeners think about their own worldview. Flesh and Bone - Bandcamp.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM, 2017)

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser Roscoe Mitchell uses the distinctive characteristics of several of his groups in this large ensemble recording that was made at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, during the 50th anniversary celebration for the AACM in 2015. The music is a summation of the amazing impact that Roscoe Mitchell has had on modern music, both as a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and his many solo recordings and collaborations. This double album opens with “Spatial Aspects of the Sound," which develops an interesting soundscape with piano, flute and chimes that grows into the track "Panoply" that has choppy percussion opening space for reed and brass with their bleats and squeals building into a epic crushing improvisation of saxophone and drums. "Prelude To A Rose" has horns progressing a melancholy fanfare which twists and tugs against itself, building tension and textures with different hued saxophone juxtaposed against one another. Gentle chimes in open space ushers in "Dancing In The Canyon" with light and nimble percussion and keyboard contributing a very mysterious feel to the music before erupting into another excellent saxophone and drums blowout that just raises the roof. This is contrasted by the dark and moody atmosphere of "EP 7849," where vocalized sounds create an eerie sound that the rumbling drums and keyboard drive into cinematic territory. The title track "Bells For The South Side" opens appropriately as bells sound an alarm followed by a siren that really grabs your attention. Emotive trumpet arcs across the musical landscape framed by bells and long tones of saxophone, played in a haunted and hymn-like manner. Disc two begins with the epic "Prelude To The Card Game, Cards For Drums, And The Final Hand" where bowed bass and strident saxophone create a deep seated groove for the music that opens to a long and very impressive drum solo which is the hallmark of the piece. "The Last Chord" has crystalline piano building a spare structure, as the drums enter and for a skittish counter-movement. The sound builds architecturally, intensifying with the entry of a horn, and another ripe drum feature. More long tones of saxophone open "Six Gongs And Two Woodblocks" with Mitchell's tart saxophone darting and weaving, building a mystic and spiritual vibe as the percussion evolves accordingly. The massive medley "Red Moon In The Sky / Odwalla" ends the album on a rousing note with the band probing the silence of open space before developing swathes of color. Choppy percussion rattles and clanks as the horns build in and develop a harrowing collective improvisation that brings all of the energy of the band to a fever pitch. Just when it seems about to crack under the weight of the scalding forces at play, the music breaks like a wave coming ashore, opening up with melodic piano accompanied by stoically riffing horns and scattered percussion. This was an extraordinary piece of work, one that sees Mitchell reflecting on his own history while looking toward the future, which is very bright indeed. Bells For The South Side - amazon.com

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Matt Mitchell - FØRAGE (Screwgun Records, 2017)

This is a solo piano album by Matt Mitchell which uses the source material composed by Tim Berne and makes it into a fascinating journey that leads you to have much respect for not only Mitchell as a pianist and interpreter, but provides overdue notice for Berne as a composer, who writes compelling songs for an assortment of settings. The source material has several dimensions that can be explored, and Mitchell is more than up to the task. "TRĀÇĘŚ," has powerful, muscular playing, akin to Thelonious Monk playing sharp postmodern jazz. Mitchell makes the most of the entire keyboard with blasts of low end chords, juxtaposed against brighter notes and runs, and these come together as a simultaneous whole that is very impressive. He is able to stretch the music out and create a very exciting sound world that is as imposing as it is thrilling. Mitchell is constantly looking for the properties that lay inside of Berne's music, the DNA of his creations which he uses as inspiration for his own improvisations, imbuing the sound with energy, evidenced by "ÀÄŠ," which opens as a spare and thoughtful ballad with gentle chords and subtle ripples of descending notes that give the proceedings a mysterious air. This is a lengthy track that develops patiently over time, with silence and open space acting as an unspoken partner. The music builds a little more intensity on "RAAY" with bouncy and buoyant notes dancing around the pianist and which are balanced a driving sensibility of relentless forward motion and dramatic pauses and crashes of hard hitting chords, weaving everything into a densely packed improvisational rubric. "ŒRBS" has strong propulsion moving the music forward, starting with melodic urgency and a palpable sense of light and shade that gives the music a wide dynamic range. Nimble rapid improvisation, which references the source material, then re-assembles and elaborates upon it in a manner that seems like the musical version of the William Burroughs "cut up" technique of writing. "CLØÙDĒ" has a spare ballad formation, with chords and notes glistening in the light, as the pianist muses around them thoughtfully. The music unfolds and reveals its secrets gradually, with careful precision and articulation allowing it to glide with little friction tethering it to the ground and leaving space for an unfolding lyrical narrative, which makes full use of its long run time. Matt Mitchell is a member of Berne’s band Snakeoil and has a great deal of experience with the composer’s songbook, and he uses this insight to create a well crafted and powerful album of interpretations. Matt Mitchell FØRAGE - bandcamp.com.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

William Parker Quartets - Meditation / Resurrection (AUM Fidelity, 2017)

The latest album from bassist and composer William Parker is a generous double disc set featuring music from The William Parker Quartet, and the Parker led band called In Order to Survive. The Quartet album, subtitled Meditation, features Hamid Drake on drums, Rob Brown on alto saxophone and Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson on trumpet and begins with the topical track "Criminals in the White House" which matches it's anger and scorn for politicians with a direct and melodic approach to modern jazz. Parker and Drake make for one of the most potent rhythm combinations in jazz, and longtime compatriot Rob Brown's acerbic saxophone and the stoic brass of the new member Nelson make for a very powerful performance that speaks truth to power. With two tracks dedicated to the legendary hard bop pianist Horace Silver, the band moves in a different direction, beginning with some joyful blues based swing in attendance on "Horace Silver Part 2" met a few tracks later by a thoughtful and pointed performance on "Horace Silver Part 1," with the musicians switching from their normal instruments into a more exotic setting, which fully demonstrates the versatility of the band. "Give Me Back My Drum" is the set closer and the longest track on this first album, allowing open space for Drake to masterfully demonstrating his incredible precision and vision on drums and percussion. The second disc on this collection, subtitled Resurrection, keeps the main group of Parker, Drake and Brown, but swaps out the trumpeter for Cooper-Moore, here solely focusing on piano and leaving his unique homemade instruments to the side. Cooper-Moore's piano is lush and bright, complementing his fellow musicians perfectly whether performing solos in open space or improvising with the rest of the band and making it sound larger than the some of its parts. The group creates five lengthy performances, filled with memorable themes and melodies which allow the musicians to use those as platforms for collective and individual improvised sections. The upbeat and soaring nature of the opening track, "Sunrise Over East Harlem," is a bright and all-encompassing  performance that makes the most of the setting and the compositional materials. "Some Lake Oliver" is a well deserved tribute to the great alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, and it is the perfect setting for Rob Brown to develop a well constructed solo using Lake's influence as an inspiration, and his fellow band mates frame the music perfectly. This is a very well executed collection of music, which is accessible for all jazz fans. The compositions and improvisations are fresh and the musicians are deeply in-tune with one another, creating small band modern jazz or profound grace. Meditation / Resurrection - amazon.com

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Monday, July 03, 2017

David S. Ware Trio - Live in New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity, 2017)

In what has become a highly anticipated yearly event, this years release from the archive of reed master David S. Ware is a very satisfying live album, recorded at the Blue Note in New York City on October 4, 2010. He is joined by longtime compatriots William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums for two sets of completely improvised jazz. Recorded on the heels of their successful album Oncept, they show a nearly telepathic sensibility with the opening tracks of each set beginning with an extended unaccompanied reed feature. The unaccompanied tenor saxophone introduction to "#1 A" really sets the tone for the music to come, and it is even more potent when the bass and drums come barreling in, developing a whirling collective improvisation. Ware touches on his mentor Sonny Rollins, and then goes on to demonstrate a thoroughly original conceptual framework, making way for his partners to join him in creating music that is joyous and emotionally resonant, complete with overblown accents, boisterous upper register shrieks and bellowing dark long tones. Ware is patient and thoughtful, exploring the boundaries of his instrument and the improvisational opportunities contained within. "#1 C" begins with some slow probing of the space, which gives them a whole lot of range within which to create powerful music. Guttural lines of saxophone meet with thick bass and rolling drums to give a sense of perpetual motion, playing with loose motifs, and expanding upon them. The grandeur and honesty of the music become almost overwhelming at times like on the opener of the second set, "3" where Ware switches to the stritch (or straight alto,) and uses the unique sonorities of the instrument to ever so slightly alter the group's sound, opening unexplored vistas and leading to a powerful collective improvisation, as they have a conversation with sound rather than words. The eastern tinge of the instrument is very compelling, and Ware is a master of pacing and dynamics, building a solo that grows into a coherent narrative, one that encompasses a wide swath of musical culture and history. Deep and resonant bass and malletted drums quietly build into the music, expanding the horizon even further, and Parker develops a superb bowed bass feature, backed by gently rolling percussion. There is a powerful drum solo to open "#4 A" with Smith gaining a deep and compelling rhythm that is further focused with Ware and Parker entering and then using this foundation for a potent improvisation. This was a tremendously successful release, and is highly recommended to anyone interested in modern jazz. Ware was a shining beacon of inspiration during his life and that notion deserves to be continued and celebrated. Live in New York, 2010 - amazon.com

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Jaco Pastorius - Truth, Liberty and Soul (Resonance Records, 2017)

Electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth Big Band, which for this gig included jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans, were recorded in New York City in June of 1982, as part of the Kool Jazz Festival, and some of that performance was broadcast on NPR at the time. This package contains the whole concert, beginning with "Invitation" which opens the album in a warm and ingratiating fashion with Jaco's bass developing a thick and inviting tone and the rest of the band filling in with him. Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer anchor the horn section and the band's secret ingredient is the steel drums of Othello Molineaux, which is one of the most distinguishing aspects of this band. He is playing an instrument rarely used in jazz, but sounds right at home in this setting. "Soul Intro/The Chicken" casts a glance back at the leader's rhythm and blues roots. The band riffs hard and Jaco's bass underpins a wicked groove and a powerfully built string of solos. Jazz standards play a role in the album as well, whether it is a blistering run through the bebop standard "Donna Lee" or sensitive ballad treatments of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" or Toots Thielemans taking the lead on his own subtle and intricate composition "Musette." Disc Two takes even more risks, like on the blistering medley "Reza/Giant Steps" with Pastorius taking the lead solo. The electric bass had been played in jazz before, but rarely with the speed and facility that is shown here, as evidenced by the lengthy "Bass and Drum Improvisation" where he folds in some credible Jimi Hendrix into the mix. "Fannie Mae" is a blasting move to the finish line, as Jaco introduces the band and the concert ends with a flourish. The result of a delicate dance between the Pastorius Estate, Warner Music Group and NPR Music was worth it, and this is highly recommended. Truth, Liberty and Soul - Live In NYC - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Raoul Björkenheim Triad - Beyond (Eclipse Music, 2017)

American born guitarist Raoul Björkenheim spends most of his time in his ancestral homeland of Finland where he has recorded in a wide range of settings as a leader and sideman. His new trio is called Triad, with Ville Rauhala on bass, Ilmari Heikinheimo on drums. They work very well together, leavening some scalding guitar workouts with spacey musical exploration that makes the most of the trio format. "Act of Will" opens the album with a raw and ominous smear of sound and broken beat, gradually building into a more frenetic feel, one that can barely contain the energies within. There is a piston like rhythm and shrieks of guitar as drums thrash and bass and guitar swoops and snarls, leading to a powerful conclusion. A strong backbeat anchors "Move On" that is soon joined by thick bass, setting up a deep pocket and groove. Bjorkenheim comes blasting in, heaving shards of electrically charged guitar playing into the potent mix. They develop a scalding improvised section, with rockish guitar wailing against the fast rhythmic backdrop, building to an abrupt ending. There is an understated jazziness to "Petals" which still manages to retain an undercurrent of menace, with fractured rhythm and intertwining guitar and bass interplay. The group comes together in a taut and nimble improvised section in which the bass and drums take control for a bit, adding subtle brushes to good effect, contributing an eerie overall feeling to the music. A huge scalding guitar riff introduces "Katarsis" along with heavy bowed bass and sharp drumming. Developing a provocative near metal vibe, the music lashes out with lines that slash and parry, enveloping the listener into a three-way tangle of riotous and resonant improvisation. "Beyond," the title track, is aptly named because it falls out of any readily identifiable category, with echoes of sheer sound waxing and waning creating chilly, and haunting music that defies genre conventions. Electronic distortion wavers in the background, framed by supple percussion, further adding to the mood of the performance. Sharp, potent guitar along with thick bass and drums rip into "Arise" which displays a ripe, swaggering interplay of instruments. The leader solos in a very impressive manner as the drums are encouraging him every step of the within a scalding performance that is anchored by deep bass.  "Blunt Stunt" has a choppy funk rhythm, with guitar ripping across the jumpy bass and drums. This the most fusion like setting on the album and it suits the band well, with a bouncy bass and drums interlude in the middle, enveloped by unusual sounds. "The Rain Is Over" has riotous guitar focused by bowed bass and rolling drums. The music is very intense and exciting with waves of guitar feedback echoing around the soundscape, then echoing into a spacey section to end the album. Beyond - amazon.com

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Silke Eberhard Trio - The Being Inn (Intakt Records, 2017)

Silke Eberhard is a saxophonist, clarinetist and composer based in Berlin, and on this album she focuses on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, in the company of Jan Roder on bass and Kay Lubke on drums. This is the trio's third album, and it also marks ten years as a working group. The conceptual inspiration of the album is of an an imaginary inn that the saxophonist pictured as she composed songs for this project, which vary between a lengthy suite and short vignettes. "Ding Dong" begins this album and opens the door, creating an appealing performance that takes into account the historic music of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman with ripe alto saxophone building a taut and exciting improvisation in consort with flexible bass and drums. The most ambitious piece on the album, "Willisau Suite," is a lengthy and episodic performance that takes melodic sub-themes and uses the them as the basis for an ever evolving collective improvisation that stretches out to nearly twenty minutes. The remainder of the album alternates between short three to five minute songs interspersed by even briefer improvisations lasting thirty to fifty seconds. The most noteworthy of these are the spacious "Minatur" which has Lubke deftly using brushes and creating a soft rhythm that is made whole with the addition of subtly played saxophone and bass, creating a melodic and mellow performance. "Kanon" mines the Dolphy influence, making a bass clarinet feature that is supported by bass and drums. The music created has a thoughtful forward looking approach, allowing much open space to permeate the sound allowing for a wide range of possibilities. The short but very urgent "Towels" leads to "In Drei" which has very taut and impressive bass and drums setting the foundation for the music. Eberhard's saxophone weaves in an out of the accompaniment creating an upbeat and infectious sound, with the improvisation developing its own inner logic. "8915" is another saxophone based piece, an uptempo and pithy performance, with a fine feature for bass included, and the musicians reacting to one another in a very creative fashion. This was a very good album, one in which, the musicians take their influences and internalize them, and then create their own music, stretching language of jazz in new and interesting ways. The Being Inn - amazon.com

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Heads of State - Four in One (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

Heads of State is a group of veteran jazz musicians consisting of Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Larry Willis on piano, David Williams on bass and Al Foster on drums. The group plays strong and swinging hard bop, ballads and mainstream jazz, beginning with the title track "Four in One," a Thelonious Monk composition, creating a fast paced version of the memorable tune. The band plays the theme quickly, then moving into a round of solos, and Bartz is particularly fluid in his playing. "And He Called Himself a Messenger" looks back on time spent as part of Art Blakey's band, and they are able to explore a deep groove akin to the music that was made by his groups. Foster sets the pace with an excellent beat and allows the group to anchor a string of potent solos. The music takes on a more subtle focus on Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" with another excellent solo segment from Gary Bartz, one that is well constructed and makes excellent use of the source material before moving into the Charlie Parker bebop flag-waver "Moose the Mooche" with a fast and pithy performance. The group keeps the music compact and bright sounding, allowing it the room to move while keeping a tight hand on the reigns. A deeply rhythmic drum solo opens "Aloysius" with Foster making the best of the space before the rest of the group comes crashing in for a driving theme and improvisation. The music is joyful sounding and very accessible, and there is a palpable sense that the musicians are very happy playing together and are completely engaged by the material.  After the ballad "The Day You Said Goodbye," the band doesn't skip a beat revving into the Miles Davis “Sippin’ at Bells.” After a springy reading of the melody, a deep pocket is developed for ripe interplay of the instruments including a sparkling piano trio section and another impressive drum solo. Foster also leads them into the finale of the Eddie Harris composition "Freedom Jazz Dance" which develops a lightly funky groove and mines it for a lengthy and exciting improvisation with further solos for saxophone and bass. This band began as the Larry Willis All-Stars, assembled to pay tribute to the pianist McCoy Tyner, but gradually grew into a collective ensemble. They play a wide variety of post-bop jazz, and everything is performed in an enthusiastic and exciting manner. Four in One - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield - Hudson (Motema Music, 2017)

This collective group refers to itself as Hudson, because they all live near to one another in New York's Hudson River Valley. Consisting of Jack DeJohnette on drums, Larry Grenadier on bass, John Medeski on piano and organ and John Scofield on guitar, this veteran band plays a variety of jazz versions of well known classic rock songs and a few original compositions. "El Swing" is aptly named, setting a neat groove accented with shards of electric guitar. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" gets a slightly funky groove with an almost reggae beat and pushes it forward with melodic waves of organ over tapped percussion as sharp spokes of guitar emerge, building to a nice series of solos over a more insistent rhythm. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is their second Dylan cover, developing a crisp rhythm with Scofield's guitar spelling out the melody. They develop a lyrical collective improvisation framed by washes of organ, gliding into a tumbling and cascading performance. The group's take on the Jimi Hendrix chestnut "Wait Until Tomorrow" comes with some fast and choppy guitar featured over funky drums and bass. Scofield develops a snarling guitar feature over keening organ which builds to a driving conclusion. Chimes or bells lead the band into the ballad "Song For World Forgiveness" with Medeski adding gentle acoustic piano which imbues the music with a gentle and meditative feel. "Tony Then Jack" becomes one of the straight up jazziest selections on the album, moving into a full throttle uptempo section allowing each of the members to take a short solo in round-robin fashion. Their final cover of the album is The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" which begins with some rolling piano and organ setting the stage for bouncy guitar, bass and drums easing into the country funk feel of the melody. The group plays variations of the theme without straying to far from the familiar melody. This is a pleasant well-played album, with the accessible repertoire and melodic nature of the improvising assuring that it will have wide ranging appeal and will  be a sure fire festival draw. Hudson - amazon.com

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