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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