Monday, November 20, 2017

Film: Chasing Trane - The John Coltrane Documentary (10 Spot Films, 2017)

Chasing Trane is a good biographical documentary film about the legendary saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. It combines concert footage with some genuinely touching rarely seen home movies along with interviews of musicians who were his contemporaries and those of later generations along with family members and various luminaries and interested parties. Denzel Washington reads the words of John Coltrane with grace and reverence while former President Bill Clinton and the foremost collector of John Coltrane memorabilia (a Japanese gentleman whose name escapes me) stand in for the legion of Coltrane fans. The film examines his life in chronological order from his birth in North Carolina and move to Philadelphia where he began to play in earnest. Following a stint in the Navy, he began to play in as many groups as possible to gain experience and after a few years he found a home in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. This was a great opportunity but it came with a price as he began to experiment with heroin at this time. There are some very interesting interviews of contemporaries Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson who comment on the talent and learning ability as well as Wynton Marsalis pontificating and Cornell West places Coltrane in a historical context. He joined Miles Davis’ band in 1955, relentlessly searching, only to be fired when the heroin overtook him. Through a herculean act of self will, he kicked cold turkey, as told in a heartfelt interview with his stepdaughter. After taking part in an apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk, he rejoined Miles has in 1957 and took off on the ferocious ten year journey that awaited him. At this point in the film there is more archival film footage that can be used of Coltrane with Miles and his own bands. The interview sessions with Santana and John Densmore are sincere, but the rock musicians add little to the tale as Coltrane reaches his creative peak with A Love Supreme. The last few years of his life saw him stretching further out into free jazz and while some of the interview subjects have trouble following him into that uncharted territory, fellow musicians like Golson and Wayne Shorter stand in awe of his trailblazing ability. The film ends on an elegiac note with him passing far to young, but with the understanding that his music and spirit will live on as long as humans have music. This was an enjoyable and well done biographical film, presenting a well rounded look at Coltrane’s life and achievements in a way that should satisfy long time fans and intrigue newcomers. Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary -

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Interesting Links 11/19/2017

The Village Voice profiles saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders.
Phil Freeman offers recommended jazz of 2017 in Stereogum.
The Guardian asks: Free improvisation: still the ultimate in underground music?
The Guardian also investigates the so-called demons and obsessions of jazz genius Thelonious Monk
NPR looks back at the classic recordings that Sonny Rollins made at the Village Vanguard.
NPR also provides a thoughtful eulogy for the departed pianist and AACM leader Muhal Richard Abrams.
Hank Shteamer celebrates guitarist John McLaughlin's final tour of the USA.
John Corbett pans a lengthy article about one of his favorite subjects, Sun Ra.
The Quietus reports on a recent performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Ethan Iverson writes about Thelonious Monk on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Charles Gayle / Giovani Barcella / Manolo Cabras - Live in Belgium (el NEGOCITO Records, 2017)

This is an exciting free jazz album featuring Charles Gayle on tenor saxophone and piano, Giovani Barcella on drums and percussion and Manolo Cabras on bass. The music presented here was selected from the live concerts in Brussels in January 2015. At nearly eighty, Gayle is playing as strongly and inventively as ever, blowing swift winds of raw tenor and rippling piano over ripe bass and drums. The album opens with "Chiaro Sguardo" which is an excellent track where taut elastic bass and a strong rhythmic sense give Gayle the support he needs to take flight in a blustery and immediate tenor saxophone solo. Gayle has led a difficult life from Buffalo to the streets and then to a hard won respect as an elder statesman of modern jazz, and that pain, strife and grace all come through in his playing. The music plows forth in an exciting fashion with rolling drums and scouring saxophone held together by excellent bass playing. There is a direct and uninhibited sensibility to their playing and the act of improvisation, a connection to each other and the act of spontaneous creation. "Tears" shows Gayle playing in a slow and scouring mode, showing kinship with the early sixties recordings of Albert Ayler, and he plows this fertile soil amidst fractured and uncertain bass and drums which allow him the freedom to express himself in such a way. The music is deeply emotional, it cries and sobs in a harrowing manner, but maintains a deeps sense of dignity throughout. The trio comes out hard again on "Di Piccola Taglia," returning to a fast paced collective improvisation, and it is an exciting meeting with their combined energy propelling the musicians, as a full band forward as they play aggressive free jazz, with Gayle encouraged by Cabras and Barcella to really dig in. Tenor, bass and drums rhythmically connected in the fray, setting off wildly screaming tenor saxophone solos, before Gayle steps aside for a nice drum interlude to end the selection. He takes to the piano on "Dimmi" playing in a spiritedly nimble manner that works well with snatches of cymbals and deeply rooted bass playing. Gayle is a natural at the piano, and indeed it was his first instrument as a young man. The influence of Bud Powell, Monk and Cecil Taylor bubble up in his sound, but it is clearly his own vision that leads the group into perilous open territory and through the other side in grand fashion. "Steps" hints at the John Coltrane classic "Giant Steps" in the theme Gayle establishes on saxophone, but he quickly moves into a driving improvisation, pulling the bassist and drummer with him into the slipstream. Gayle roars into the mix, and the trio makes for a perfect vehicle for exploring this fast paced modern jazz, grounded in a classic form. There is a frenetic interplay between the saxophone and drums, creating a very exciting rhythmic framework. The musicians are deeply committed to their art and the cooperative approach keeps the music intact, and this leads to a fine conclusion of a very exciting and rewarding recording. Live in Belgium -

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Friday, November 17, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

The third in a series of albums performed by Elisabeth Harnik on piano, Didi Kern on drums and Ken Vandermark reeds, collectively known as the DEK Trio. This album was recorded at Divadlo 29 in the Czech Republic, in March of 2017 and like their previous recording, this one has the format of two long, wide ranging improvisations and then a shorter palate cleansing closer. This album opens with the bracing "Cold Water Shock" where Vandermark plays alarm like saxophone in an excellent circular breathing pattern chased by shards of piano chords and fractured drumming which makes for a very exciting improvisation. They are a really tight and truly collective band with the tenor saxophone and drums turning up the heat, and the piano leading the group into a spacious middle ground against spare saxophone with popping accents and ghostly percussion. Vandermark leads the charge out of this relative quiet, drawing on a reservoir of power and strength framed by rippling piano and drums. The final passage of this performance has an arresting rawness to it, moving to a very exciting conclusion, which features blasting saxophone along side a boiling cauldron of piano and drums. "Accident Technique" takes a different approach, with subtle pops of bass clarinet (?) brushed percussion and prepared piano hanging in space. Long soft tones of reed hang in the air amidst subtle keyboard and spectral drumming. Returning to saxophone (I think) Vandermark offers swirls and squeals against the strums from the inside of the piano, making for a unique and unusual sound. The music draws in on itself like a figure skater spinning faster and faster through centrifugal force, gaining momentum for a very exciting final movement of this piece with some very interesting percussive piano holding its own against primal saxophone and drumming before the music drops off suddenly to conclude as quietly as it began. The album finishes up with "Falling Technique" which begins as a spacious three-way conversation which then flares up and disappears mysteriously. There is a great section of focused and intense improvisation with peals of cutting saxophone against stark shards of piano and percussion before gradually winding down and then out. This was another excellent and challenging album from the DEK Trio, their fourth in under a year. They create stimulating, interesting, and thought-provoking music that has an abundant amount of power and grace. Construct 3 : Divadlo 29 - Audiographic Records.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

R.E.M. - Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Craft Recordings, 2017)

Automatic For the People absolutely slayed me when I first heard it in college, and it has continued to be a touchstone recording in the succeeding years. It is rare in two respects, one being that it is one of the very few recordings in rock 'n' roll (or jazz or blues for that matter) that is improved by the subtle use of strings. The string arrangements were actually written by by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and they add subtlety and refinement to the record without sapping the raw emotional power of the lyrics, which are frequently heartbreaking tales of death and loss. This is a "mature" record that isn't stultifying, a ballad heavy album that thrived in the era of MTV with songs like "Everybody Hurts" and "Try Not to Breathe" broaching universal subjects of grief and pain that were rarely approached so honestly, in a fully developed manner that draws the listener and creates a very personal, intimate experience. They were still a rock band and the riveting political punk blast of "Ignoreland" spoke truth to power for both politicians and media outlets decades before the national nightmare of so-called "fake news." Throwing a nodding wink toward some American iconoclasts, the giddy "Man on the Moon" references comedian Andy Kaufman and the driving "Monty Got a Raw Deal" looks unflinchingly into the life and death of closeted screen legend Montgomery Cliff, much like The Clash did on their very own masterpiece, London Calling, with the song "The Right Profile." If there is any song that can hold a candle to The Kinks "Waterloo Sunset" as the most lovely popular song of 20th Century rock 'n' roll, it could be "Nightswimming" where singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by Mike Mills on piano, and the delicate and mysterious string section, weave magic using a minimal setting and a perfect song, they raise goosebumps. Here's something you might never hear me say again: this is a perfect album, flawless in material and execution. Which leads to the elephant in the room, this perfect gem of a recording is disc one in a three (four if you get the DVD) disc set in the 25th Anniversary Edition. It seems de rigueur in this day and age that any album that reaches a marketable anniversary is stripped bare and laid out on the autopsy table so we can weigh the brain and dissect the subject's last meal like we are in some kind of music based police procedural. Sometimes this works very well and adds a new level of enlightenment for the music it focuses upon, but sometimes perhaps discretion is the better part of valor (I adore King Crimson, but the Sailors' Tales box set is twenty-seven discs long and I will only hear it if some generous benefactor gifts it to me.)  In this case the package includes an period R.E.M. concert called Live at the 40 Watt Club 11/19/92. Now R.E.M. could be a dynamic live band but they seem oddly muted on this disc, which is further dragged down by long pauses between some tracks, Stipe stumping for a political candidate in a race long past due and Peter Buck complaining about the use of guitar capos. It was apparently a benefit concert, and it does have much of the music from the original album which is played well if a little bloodlessly. Most R.E.M. reissues have pared a concert with the original album, but there was surely a more exciting performance in the can than this one. Even more questionable is the nearly eighty minute long disc of album demos, and while this can be interesting (particularly for musicians)  and maybe the first time around for die-hard fans, there is something of sausage factory essence to the music (do you *really* want to see how it's made, or do you just want to enjoy it?) Songs are stripped bare of strings, and other trappings of production and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" has an alternate title "Wake Her Up" as they stretch to bring the song in for a landing. Guitarists will find "Arabic Feedback" and "Bill's Acoustic" interesting, but for every revelation there seems to be two or three instances of padding, snippets that were never meant for public consumption but were parts of the creative process that heralded a greater whole. This will excite some people but for me it seems to drain the whole, taking some of the magic away and making a flawless forty-nine minute record into a three hour long exercise in exhaustion. Your mileage may vary of course, and I didn't see the DVD or accompanying liner notes which may have added needed depth and context to the project. I think it is important to consider how the modern re-issue industry approaches classic material, and how it is presented. In short, if you don't already have it, get the original album, it is an absolute landmark. If you are a die-hard fan, and can get the box at a decent price (the list price is north of seventy dollars) then have at it. Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Deluxe Edition)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet ‎– European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (HatOLOGY, 2016)

This is a nicely remastered version of some of free jazz legend Albert Ayler’s finest live recordings, with perhaps his best working group consisting of Ayler on tenor saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums and percussion. The first six tracks were recorded on Hilversum, The Netherlands, while he final three were recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops the short folk like themes on this album, and they allow the group to take these short motifs and use them to lift off into unbridled exploration of the nature of the avant-garde stream of jazz that were being codified by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Unlike the caricature, Ayler’s improvisations were often thematic, and developed a narrative that the group can follow. Some of Ayler’s most well-known themes are present on this album,  like “Ghosts” which has a quavering, vulnerable melody that is less about freaking out than developing form from chaos, often over short concentrated bursts. It’s this vulnerability that sets Ayler apart from John Coltrane, Coleman and Taylor and the other free jazz pioneers of the era. While their relentless and herculean improvisations are thrilling and innovative, Ayler’s were focused around all too human themes and his egalitarian bandleading style really cut to the core of what not only jazz but freedom really means. Two versions of “Spirits,” one from each session look at the impact of spirituals on jazz, which would come to be called “Spiritual Jazz” and give birth to hundreds of compilation albums in the digital age. Ayler was able to distill the essence of spirituals, anthems and folk songs and use them to ground his music in simple, memorable themes that were the sugar that helped the medicine of free improvisation go down. The only non-Ayler composition on this album is Cherry’s “Infant Happiness” where the music isn’t about infantilism, but rather that childlike wonder of tabula rasa freedom. Cherry came up with Ornette Coleman in one of the most (in)famous bands of the era, and he knew that a lot of Coleman’s appeal came from his pithy and memorable themes he wrote like “Lonely Woman” “Peace” and “Focus On Sanity.” This allowed Cherry to fit right in with Ayler and bring his hard won experience to Ayler’s music. Now, they can put the pedal down and wail too, if necessary. “Vibrations” is a bracing performance with Sunny Murray’s percussion, freed from its traditional role, develops cascading pulsation along with Peacock’s beating heart bass to carry the music through in a thrilling headlong rush. This is an excellent and important re-issue of genuinely valuable music, that fits in with Ayler’s acknowledged classic Spiritual Unity and another recent Hatology re-issue Copenhagen Live 1964 to give a comprehensive view of Albert Ayler’s contribution to jazz at its most creative. European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 -

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Jeff Cosgrove - Baltimore (Leo Records, 2017)

The lucky audience members who were in attendance at An Die Musik in Baltimore, Maryland on June 25, 2017, saw a particularly fulfilling performance from tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Jeff Cosgrove. Considering the quality of excellent music that Perelman has released this year, that is really saying something. This album consists of an uninterrupted fifty-one minute collective improvisation simply called “Second Set” that is absolutely thrilling to listen to with each member of the trio going all out to spontaneously create very exciting and potent music in real time. Perelman has one of the most immediately recognizable tenor saxophone tones in modern jazz, recalling the bold swaths of sound that were once employed by Albert Ayler and and the early recordings of Gato Barbieri, he can move from a whisper to a scream, and his ability to pace himself and develop a form and narrative seemingly out of thin air is one of his most impressive attributes. Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a frequent improvising partner and foil of Perelman’s, and it is easy to understand why they work so well together. Shipp makes use of the whole breadth and width of the piano, and he makes up for the lack of a traditional bass player on this album by adding blasts of low end piano chords which provide depth and structural integrity to the music, while also stretch out to add gentle chords when the music opens up, allowing light and space to flood into the proceedings. Jeff Cosgrove has made a couple of albums with Shipp in the past but this may be his first encounter with Perelman and he acquits himself to music very well, playing a rippling rhythmic current that fits in very well, switching between blistering stick playing and subtle brushwork in a nimble fashion. These three musicians take all of these qualities and combine them in a collective improvisation that flows naturally and organically, enveloping sections of blistering free jazz and juxtaposing them against some soft and velvety areas which are moderate in tone and effect, creating an interesting departure from the harsh or severe portions of the performance. This was an excellent album and one of the highlights of Perelman’s most productive year, because the musicians use the language of jazz and free improvisation to codify their sound in distinctive and impressive fashion. Baltimore -

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

This is an interesting album of jazz/world fusion made by a classy band consisting of Anouar Brahem on oud, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and percussion and Django Bates piano. They make a smooth as silk sound that is comparable to music that bands like Codona and Oregon made for ECM in the 1970's. Brahem is originally from Tunisia, but is based mostly in France and he gets an appealingly warm tone from his instrument, which isn't used all that often in jazz, apart from the Lebanese born Rabih Abou-Khalil. The album starts out in excellent fashion with the track "Opening Day" with the subtle oud setting an exotic foundation for the music, followed by DeJohnette's subtle percussion primarily on cymbals. The oud has a character or quality of musical sound that is distinct from that of a guitar, and it fits in well with the remaining instruments, especially Bates' gentle and spacious piano which allows the music to ebb and flow in a graceful manner. "Bahia" also opens with unaccompanied oud, resonating in open space, along with subtle vocalization. After about two and a half minutes the remainder of the band gradually enters, with beautiful bass playing from Holland acting as the perfect counterweight to the other stringed instrument. DeJohnette plays a very light and nimble rhythm that suits the music very well, while Bates seems to sit out for most of the track. Silence frames the opening of "Bom Dia Rio" as Brahem carefully plucks out quiet notes and places them carefully in the open space. After a couple of minutes, the keyboard, bass and drums enter, filling out the sound nicely, but never overwhelming it. Bates frames the music with well articulated notes and chords, while Holland and DeJohnette engage Brahem directly. The group develops a fine full band improvisation that has a delicate and precise groove that provides the forward motion. Bates' cascade of notes are capable of making fine distinctions within the music, and Holland steps out for a very impressive bass solo which is delicately complex and understated. Brahem solos over the bass and drums, making use of clever and indirect methods to achieve success, with a sound that is sharp or penetrating, while perceive or recognizing his role in the music. This was a very interesting album and a fine example of how jazz and world music can successfully collaborate and draw inspiration from one another. Blue Maqams -

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Christoph Erb, Jim Baker & Frank Rosaly - ...Don't Buy Him a Parrot... (hatOLOGY, 2017)

It's hard to believe that this was only the second meeting of Christoph Erb on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jim Baker on piano and Frank Rosaly on drums, but they just click like they have been playing together forever. This is a very well played album of modern jazz with the Swiss born Erb fitting in very well with the pianist and drummer, who are stalwarts on the fertile Chicago creative music scene. The album begins with "...Don't Buy Him a Parrot..."  which develops raw and visceral circular motifs of saxophone that are well met by the piano and drums, swirling and gaining strength, building to a kaleidoscopic improvisation that takes the brawny Windy City groove and splices in just enough European free improvisation to make for a healthy and vigorous performance. "Parrot, Figuring..." begins with a gentle and melodic opening statement, but becomes more abstract with spooky smears of reed noise and probing piano. With Rosaly's entrance the music tips the balance to a hard bitten collective improvisation. The music stretches and expands to meet the needs of the musicians and as the volume increases and the tempo gets faster and more intense, the nature of the trio's intuitive interplay adds strong robust character to the music. Low pitched reed with piano slowly gains momentum on "For Canaries, Career Opportunities in the Mining Industry" as the percussion enters leveraging the excellent and thoughtfully played narrative improvisation with guttural whinnying saxophone and bright piano chords soaring over the wonderful drumming. The final track "It Isn't Hard to Follow a Man Who Carries a Bird Cage With Him Wherever He Goes " develops slow from loose pops and crackles of puckered sounds and abstract reeds, fractured piano and drums. Erb builds bird like trills and calls, moving into a sizzling sound as the trio begins to pull together, devoted to the act of spontaneous creation in their collective improvisation. This was a very well played album, potent modern jazz played with wit and energy that was inspired by technological innovator and gadfly Richard Stollman whose insistence on on radical freedom flows through this music. Don't Buy Him a Parrot -

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tomas Fujiwara - Triple Double (Firehouse 12 Records, 2017)

Tomas Fujiwara is a New York City based drummer and composer who has created a wide variety of music both as a leader and as a sideman. His new band Triple Double features Gerald Cleaver on drums, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. The music they create is complex and exciting with the twin guitar, brass and percussion setup offering a great template for the playing of Fujiwara’s compositions. “Diving for Quarters” is the opening track and the longest on the album, establishing their bona fides with scratching and scrambling guitars, and smears if brass with ever shifting percussion underpinning it all. Halvorson and Seabrook are an explosive combination but one that works well together, as do the trumpet and cornet in the following track “Blueberry Card.” It is interesting to hear the instruments weave in and around each other, making bracing and challenging music, while managing not to step on each other’s toes. “For Alan”, is a drum duet and it is framed by clips of conversation between a very young Tomas Fujiwara and the legendary jazz drummer Alan Dawson, who was his teacher. This works well by placing Dawson’s wisdom alongside the leader showing just what he learned from his mentor and putting that into action. Family is very important to Fujiwara and he takes inspiration from his ancestors which leads to more melodic and thematically centered material such as "Love and Protest" which uses a yearning statement to develop a stern and serious performance where the drums rumble ominously under the stoic horns. Shimmering, ghostly guitar comes through to take the performance in a new direction, reverberating throughout the improvisation, providing shading and color. Powerful brass and percussion interplay takes over, making for a potent improvised section, leading to a collective blowout that is as exciting as it is impressive. "Decisive Shadow" follows, with skittish guitar and drums creating interesting rhythmic patterns before the horns enter with a burnished fanfare. The brass stretch out against the full band with interesting solo statements, then fascinating spidery guitar playing takes over from there, urgently pushing the music into faster and more idiosyncratic territory, with declamatory horns framing the frenetic improvisation leading to a riotous conclusion. This is a very interesting group that makes the most of the unusual configuration of instruments by developing a confident group identity and a unique manner of performing. The music often changes so suddenly that it seems to be in continuous motion, and it's impressive in its complexity and quite immersive as each member of the band is focused on the spontaneity of the others. Triple Double -

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Rights - Schnellertollermeier (Cuneiform, 2017)

Rights is an interesting band, one that combines progressive rock, minimalism and jazz fusion into an alluring and compelling sound. These three musicians, Andi Schnellmann on bass, Manuel Troller on guitar and David Meier drums attended jazz schools in Switzerland and Scandinavia and have been working together as a band for more than ten years. They use sections of repetitive sounds to build up the drama of their opening piece "Rights," which gradually draws from that power to become darker and more imposing as the performance proceeds into the arena of grinding prog fusion. The pressure is high, and the band concentrates their sound to make the music lunge forward like a venomous snake, before backing off into the hypnotic repetitive figure that began the piece. They haunt the middle ground of the performance gathering strength, regulating the intensity of their sound with nuanced precision, adapting their source material, taking it apart for clues on how to proceed. The trio is gradually increasing the volume and dynamic power of their music by alternating short blasts of percussion with intricate guitar and bass. Subtle cymbal play ushers in "Piccadilly Sources" which has aspects of minimalism in its opening stage, and their hard won experience and expertise allows them to take the riff that they develop and use it for a range of variations that may not be jazz, although you could certainly see it from here. This music is hard to put your finger on, and that aspect of their sound keeps their music open for a a range of theme and variation sections that become quite compelling especially after they blast into a King Crimson (circa '73-'74) takeoff, adding a section of blistering drums that carries them through to the conclusion. "Praise/Eleven" has a gentler oping for guitar developing colors and shading with the remainder of the band gradually folding into an intricate and complex rhythm. They take a musical form and then develop an idea that will allow them to and play it through and see where it leads. This track allows them to investigate light and shade, and how they can use these concepts in their music. After a period of navel gazing they are able to kick the music up to another level, making powerful, imposing sounds that reverberate with purpose. "Round" is the concluding track on this album, developing a complex interwoven rhythm immediately that winds itself tighter, building up forces that are released with spasms of pure energy with strands of theme and melody woven into the fabric. The speed builds faster and faster to a frenetic level and then they blast off with the full force of the band playing powerful prog rock/fusion at a grand volume. The band regulates the intensity of their sound by dropping off of the heavy music to sections of whirling rhythm allowing the listener to hear concise, repetitive patterns which are the true DNA of their musical organism. This album worked quite well and it is clear that the band has been working hard at their craft. While it might not appeal to a jazz audience, those interested in intricate rock and roll that is played with integrity and concentration will find much to admire. Rights -

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Myra Melford Trio - Alive in the House of Saints Part 1 (Hatology, 1993, 2001, 2017)

This is third edition of one of pianist and composer Myra Melford’s most highly regarded albums, and the sparkling remaster of this album done in 2017 brings the crispness and clarity of the music to the forefront. This album was recorded live in Germany in 1993 with Lindsay Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums, and they transcend the usual expectations of a piano trio, developing an organic interplay that serves them well in the four lengthy performances found on this disc. It is easy to understand why this album is so revered, with the music developing a bright and percussive sound that really carries the listener along with like a wave. There are four lengthy performances beginning with "Evening Might Still" which shows the band locked in together with Melford's bright and percussive piano playing building gradually into a headlong rush of piano, bass and drums. The music isn't necessarily free per se, but it is very wide open and confident which allows the music to develop organically with each of the instruments supporting the rhythm of the music but also allowing for individual features. In this track and the follow up performance "Now and Now 1" allude to the classic piano music that Don Pullen made during his brilliant career with Charles Mingus, George Adams and his own solo album. Melford's exiting cascades of notes are in the Pullen mode but are also her very own as she has an a unique way that she interfaces with the instruments, working in tandem with the bassist and drummer to compile an elastic groove that can ground the music in blues a bop, but has the ability to stretch into more outsider territory. The lengthy performance "Between Now and Then" shows the mastery that the trio has over space and time, with the proceedings developing their own individual cadence which leads up to a portion of near silence, showing the patience and stoicism that allows the music to proceed in an unexpected direction. The concluding track "Parts 1 and 2 Frank Lloyd Wright Goes West to Rest" brings together all of these disparate portions of the band's manner of approaching improvisation and interaction over eighteen kaleidoscopic minutes that takes an appropriately architectural approach to the performance, setting up a scaffolding of melody and rhythm and using that as a setting off point for a powerful and exciting collective improvisation. This was an excellent album, featuring a trio that had it's own unique sound and trust in one another and using that to create potent and thoughtful modern jazz that has stood the test of time. Hopefully a remastered version of Part 2 of this collection is in the pipeline, because more music from this great trio would be very welcome. Alive in the House of Saints Part 1 -

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Ivo Perelman - Octagon (Leo Records, 2017)

Considering the wealth of great music that tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has released this year, this album is one of his most unique. Not only is his regular partner, pianist Matthew Shipp, taking a breather for this keyboard-less quartet session, but it marks only the second time that Perelman has recorded with another horn, and the first time with a trumpeter. When he first heard trumpeter Nate Wooley for this first time, playing with Shipp, he was knocked out by the trumpeter's vision and skill, and vowed to make a record with him. It took a little time for the schedules to line up, but this album, rounded out with Brandon Lopez on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums was finally recorded in June of 2017 in Brooklyn. The results are well worth the wait, as the music unfolds over the course of eight improvised performances, with the quartet playing at a very high level, incorporating aspects of free jazz and incorporating some interesting spontaneous motifs that develop as the music progresses. Wooley is a ideal foil for Perelman, and his ability to coax a wide range of sounds, textures and colors out of his horn fit in perfectly with the saxophonists open ended aesthetic. The combination of trumpet and tenor saxophone has been part of jazz since the beginning of the music's history, and has been featured in groups that set the standard for modern music such as the bands that Miles Davis led with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. While respecting this history, Perelman and Wooley strike out for deeper territory, rarely jumping out as soloists, but interacting almost like visual artists, applying light and shade, and using the full range of each of their instruments to create unique soundsacpes that are well suited to the natural flow of their improvisations. Guttural sounds made in their instruments are played off against high pitched bursts and squalls making for a very robust, and exciting interaction. Lopez and Cleaver are also excellent in this setting, maintaining free and open pacing and rhythm that allows the music to breathe and the members of the group to develop their own unique statements. The music moves seamlessly from modern jazz to free improvisation and the individual tracks on this album move from abstract and ethereal through to flat out blasting collective improvisation. All in all, this was an excellent meeting of the minds and a very well played album, filled with realized potential. Octagon -

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raoul Bjorkenheim's Ecstasy - Doors of Perception (Cuneiform, 2017)

Finnish/American guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim's band Ecstasy is a tight and exciting jazz fusion outfit featuring Markku Ounaskari on drums, Jori Huhtala on bass and Pauli Lyytinen on saxophones and flute. The band has been together for over six years and the experience shows on this crisply played album. The album opens with "The Ides of March" which has an apprehensive air, with grinding guitar, thick bass and skittish saxophone. The group's collective playing develops a groove that moves about vigorously, making for a murky but alluring full band sound. "Answer It" on the other hand has shards of prickly electric guitar, sparking across the soundscape like heat lightning, with a fractured rhythmic beat from the drummer. It has a tight and claustrophobic feature for guitar and drums that works well, with added heft from the bass that enters into the mix. Raw saxophone makes the music even more potent and the musicians are patient enough to allow their improvisation to develop organically. "Buzz" develops an ominous repetitive groove that is framed by strange sounding saxophone and insistent cymbal playing. The music is alarming and arresting, with some overcaffeinated interplay that builds through a number of short cells. Lyytinen moves to flute for "Surf Bird" with subtle rhythm in support with the band allowing a lot of open space to envelop the the performance. They move into a mysterious and interesting performance that has an exotic tinge to it. "Elemental" has guitar chording that moves gracefully forward with dancing cymbals and bass in support. Light and airy soprano saxophone joins the group as they develop a sleek full band improvisation, with the saxophone taking flight in a nimble fashion and the leader slashing bright groups of notes behind him. The music progresses in a twisting or spiraling pattern that works quite well and holds the listener's attention. Popping and hooting saxophone and crashing drums add swagger to "Talkin' to Me?" which is met by gnarly electric guitar lurching forward in a harsh and grating fashion. They develop the dirty and raw Taxi Driver vibe even further, developing strong and undisguised jazz fusion. There's a break into a section of savage saxophone over cruising bass and drums before Björkenheim’s guitar screams back in, creating some delightful mayhem. Light bass and drums usher in the title track "Doors of Perception" which seems to refers more to Huxley than a certain LA rock band. The quartet makes interesting music with low toned strings and light cymbals creating a unique feel, as the saxophone gradually folds into the proceedings. The music is being created spontaneously, with the sense of an ongoing conversation which develops into an intriguingly disorienting sensation. "Jitterbug" is an uptempo track that has a fun and frolicking feel to it as the group plays with a tight groove and making short work of the themes that percolate, and sharp strident guitar and saxophone leading the charge. There is a subtle flowing sensation on "Sunflower" with the gentle taps of Ounaskari's cymbals meeting the shimmering guitar and low toned saxophone, to create a colorful almost psychedelic performance, leading to the expansion of consciousness that the album's title alludes to. The album concludes with "Ecstasy Dance" which is an exciting, highly charged performance with a driving tempo and soprano saxophone that has an intense, vivid color or a swirling abstract pattern. Bjorkenhem's snarling guitar then takes the lead and performs a very exciting solo backed by driving bass and drums, leading the band into the home stretch. This album worked quite well, with the experienced and polished ensemble stretching the textures and rhythmic and melodic narratives in an exciting and enthralling manner. Doors of Perception -

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Borderlands Trio - Asteroidea (Intakt Records, 2017)

Borderlands Trio is a very interesting new group featuring Stephan Crump on acoustic bass, Kris Davis on piano and Eric McPherson on drums. The album was recorded in December of 2016, in Queens, New York City, and it starts out in an audacious fashion with the twenty-six and a half minute track "Borderlands" which begins with cool percussive piano and bowed bass. The drums and percussion slide in and conjoins with the bass which is both bowed and plucked as the performance develops, deepening and allowing more resonant sounds to come to the forefront. The group plays with great nuance and subtlety, creating space for the music to take both form and freedom as it develops, and allowing for the use of prepared piano throughout the evolution of the performance which helps the trio develop a unique feel of a percussive ensemble as they use varying types of rhythm throughout their improvisation. Davis uses fast shards of sound that develops into a creative mixture of different forms or styles of piano, played both inside and outside the instrument. The group is able to repeat a hypnotic percussive pattern like some kind of progressive musical number station. The remainder of the album is composed of shorter pieces, which continue the percussive nature of the music and continues the group's willingness to take risks and playing the totality of their chosen instruments which makes tracks like "Clockwork" and "Ocre" so memorable. They are able to develop a wide ecology or ecosystem of sounds, and react and improvise with them in real time, mixing tenderness and strength, and presenting a mysterious performance that is very attractive to listeners. The name of this group is apt, because they do investigate the borders in their music, whether that is between composition and improvisation, volume and silence, or darkness and light. This is a true trio, and everyone uses their energies to further the greater whole, making for a memorable and thoughtful album. Asteroidea -

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Mike Moreno - Three For Three (Criss Cross, 2017)

Mike Moreno is an accomplished modern mainstream jazz guitarist originally from Houston. Joined on this album by Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, they develop a very interesting program of music that runs the gamut from Wayne Shorter to Radiohead with many stops in-between. "The Big Push" is the opening track and it opens with some nimble guitar chords before the bass and drums join in, making for a pleasant medium up-tempo performance. Moreno strikes out on a solo with an enjoyable and flowing tone from his instrument which is met by faster paced swinging bass and drums. The group works together nicely, building an exciting improvised section that has real legs. There is an interlude for a well articulated bass solo, framed by light percussion and spare guitar chords. The drummer offers up a deeply rhythmic solo of his own, trading phrases with Moreno's guitar to excellent effect, then everyone falls back in line to end a fine performance. There is a slightly restrained feel on "For Those Who Do" with liquid toned guitar playing off against restrained bass and drums. The group takes a lyrical approach to this performance, elaborating upon themes and confidently improvising on the source material, with clean sounding lines of guitar reaching out to envelop the music's progress, and keeping a firm hand on the throttle. "Clube da Esquina No. 1" has a very pleasant feel to it with acoustic guitar along with subtle and atmospheric bass. The song unfolds gradually as a lilting ballad that is steeped in romance and mystery. The music moves fluidly in and out of different sections with electric and acoustic guitars in space that works in an immediate and engaging manner. The standard "April in Paris" gets a fine workout, with the group hinting at the familiar melody in an oblique fashion, before stretching out in a lengthy improvised section. The trio works together very well, advancing the music by gradually increasing the volume and pace, and developing a dynamic narrative which the musicians can work off of. There is a taut bass solo, stretching out nicely with gentle guitar and percussion hanging back. The drummer takes subtle and shaded mini-solos against the bass and guitar, trading ideas as they go before Moreno resumes the lead and guides the performance to a stately conclusion. "Perhaps" is a brisk and bright tune, setting the pace for the ensuing improvisation, where the music they play was is melodic and swinging, crisply articulated and performed with panache. The musicians throttle down to a quieter section encompassing a thick well recorded bass solo which was quite impressive, and another feature for the drummer developing crisp solo with a wealth of rhythmic ideas. This album worked very well, and will hopefully garner some much deserved attention. The music is excellently played and the songs and their accompanying improvisations are thoughtful and interesting. 3 For 3 -

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

DEK Trio - Construct 2: Artacts (Audiographic Records, 2017)

This is another very exciting collectively improvised performance by a powerhouse group consisting of Didi Kern on drums, Elisabeth Harnik on piano and Ken Vandermark on reed instruments. This album was recorded live in concert at the Artacts Festival in Austria during March of 2017, and it is the second part of a trilogy of albums falling under the broader Constructs mantle. These musicians have been performing together quiet a bit, beginning with Vandermark's residency at the Stone in New York City and in other festivals and club settings, and use the camaraderie they have developed to excellent effect. The music on this album consists of a three-section improvisation, beginning with "Xerox Collage" which opens with some initial probing, followed by everyone focusing on the music and building a very compelling performance, drawing upon a combination and collection of various ideas from music and art and using them as guideposts from which to build the performance. The drums and piano are freed from keeping a strict time or pulse and this allows Kern and Harnik to play in an unpredictable manner and really engage with Vandermark's saxophone in a raw and powerful performance. Vandermark drops out entirely for a section of expansive piano and drums and then uses peals of loud repeated and reverberating sound to embrace the other two instruments. This music has the ability to weave together quieter passages, and juxtapose them against great bursts of sound, using sections of solos and duets in addition to the full trio. The rhythmic conception of the music is full of surprises and open minded shifts, dropping to silence at some points. Vandermark moves through a range of reed instruments to develop a ever changing sound that is met by his partners, and it is turned into an exciting focused performance. A thrilling section of trio improvisation closes the first section of the performance in a memorable way. "Paper Tongues" gives the musicians more room to work with, developing a wider canvas for them to create upon. The music is dynamic and very active, it's energy bubbling just below the surface, creating a tension that powers the performance. It is music that patiently gains volume around the piano, building potential energy all the way, and then releasing it at just the right time. The music has a agitated nature that is quite interesting to hear and everyone in the group has an wide range of sounds to add to the interplay and the overall structure of the music. There is a short coda entitled "For the Birds" a taut and spirited improvisation that sums the entire performance up nicely. The DEK Trio seems to be one of Ken Vandermark's go-to ensembles, and it is easy to see why. The musicians are well matched for each other and have the ability to take composed or freely improvised material and make the most of it. Construct 2: Artacts -

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Paint (Hot Cup, 2017)

It is hard to imagine the venerable modern jazz band Mostly Other People Do the Killing as a hornless piano trio, but they pull it off in style, using their trademark wit to carry them through a stressful period of lineup changes. Pianist Ron Stabinsky joined the group in 2014 for the Red Hot album, and he has a Jaki Byard like ability to call upon the whole of jazz history in his playing, or to quote a Beaver Harris album title, the ability to play "From Ragtime To No Time." Group co-founders bassist and composer Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea round out this version of the band and they are very tight making for music that is uniformly excellent, beginning with  "Yellow House" which has a gracefully strutting rhythm, building to a kaleidoscopic improvisation that moves through several interesting sections that are linked together by a memorable melody. They weave in percussive accents of Latin jazz within a bright and bouncy hard bop structure, with cascading ripples of piano pouring forth from Stabinsky and thick bass and drums providing a firm foundation for the band. There is a fast opening for "Black Horse" which sees the trio sprinting forward with a light and nimble theme and improvisation. The interplay between the members of the trio is excellent and allows them to shift the tempo and intensity of the music on a dime. The trio keeps the fast paced groove and builds different statements off of that foundation, like an excellent bass solo which is framed by bursts of piano and percussion. "Plum Run" has a gently swinging opening, developing the music slowly and dramatically, with Elliott stretching out with another excellent bass solo and the piano and drums adding filigrees to his firm handed improvisation. Stabinsky's piano solo builds to a very exciting climax before concluding with a return to the mellow and relaxed theme. "Green Briar" has an impressive fast pace which serves as a opening for Stabinsky to improvise some very stylish piano over ever shifting bass and drums. Finally, "Whitehall" has a subtle theme that allows the band to mold it into a very interesting improvised section, using dynamic loudness and abrupt pauses with dramatic swells of volume that make for an exciting and unpredictable performance. This was an excellent album that melds jazz tradition with a modernist edge. I was a little skeptical about the changes to the band's lineup, but those concerns turned out to be groundless, and everything works in a thoughtful and interesting manner. Paint - CDBaby.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith is no stranger to the electric guitar, having joined forces with Henry Kaiser to make two stellar electric Miles Davis styled jazz fusion albums under the name Yo Miles! This, however, is an album of entirely original compositions in the company of Kaiser, Michael Gregory Jackson, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith on guitar, Bill Laswell on electric bass, Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Adam Rudolph on percussion. They made the music by recording a session and followed up by re-recording some of the music, which Laswell and Smith edited and remixed it to further strengthen the overall sound of the group. There is never a danger of having too many cooks, because the band is a powerhouse unit and they make a wonderfully unique sound, beginning with "Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic Sonic Hierographic Forms: A Resonance Change In The Millennium" which echoes the music of Coleman's Prime Time bands and especially the early electric music he made with James "Blood" Ulmer on guitar, creating extraordinary albums like Dancing in Your Head and Body Meta, recorded in 1976. Thrashing drums and percussion push the music relentlessly forward as the guitars smear neon light and Smith ignites the music with sparks of flinty trumpet. To my knowledge John Coltrane never recorded with an electric guitarist but his massive influence was felt far and wide and it imbues "Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: The Master Of Kosmic Music And His Spirituality In A Love Supreme" with a spiritual fervor that allows the guitarists and percussionists to drive the music forward as Laswell's buoyant electric bass glues the whole thing together. The great drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was force of nature in Coleman's groups as well as his own band, The Decoding Society. "Ronald Shannon Jackson: The Master of Symphonic Drumming and Multi-Sonic Rhythms, Inscriptions of a Rare Beauty" looks into the free funk that Jackson was best known for. The percussionists really get a chance to shine here, creating complex settings for the rest of the band to interact with. "The Empress, Lady Day: In A Rainbow Garden, With Yellow-Gold Hot Springs, Surrounded By Exotic Plants And Flowers" is a spare and thoughtful tribute to Billy Holiday with ghostly guitar and percussion framing Smith's golden arcs of trumpet which carve the silence around him. Overall the album worked very well and it makes a perfect counterpoint to the solo trumpet record he released simultaneously with this one. Smith has been on an unstoppable roll lately as a bandleader and collaborator and this is yet another feather in his cap. Najwa -

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Matt Wilson - Honey and Salt (Palmetto Records, 2017)

Drummer Matt Wilson has long been fascinated with the poetry of Carl Sandburg, as evidenced by one of his earlier solo albums, As Wave Follows Wave, which was named after a Sandburg poem. This album focuses on the poems, with sections of spoken word and singing backed by an excellent group that features Christian McBride, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Carla Bley, Joe Lovano and Rufus Reid speaking the words of the poet, in addition to Dawn Thomson on vocal and guitar, Ron Miles on cornet, Jeff Lederer on reeds, harmonium and voice, Martin Wind on bass and voice and Wilson himself on percussion and voice. The vocals/spoken word and the instrumental play mesh well, beginning with "Spoon" whose slightly goofy lyrics are sung with a wry wink to a gently swinging beat and rhythm. "As Wave Follows Wave" is reprised with a stoic multi voiced reading, and the moody "Night Stuff" has room for an excellent extended cornet solo from Miles, leading the band through dark and noir scented passages. "We Must Be Polite" has a bright and swinging feel, and the improvisation tumbles joyously forward, and the off-kilter rhythm and strongly riffing horns framing the spoken recitation, and then uncorking a raucous saxophone solo. They use Sandburg's own voice juxtaposed against Wilson's light and rolling percussion on "Fog," perhaps one of the poet's most well known creations (the fog rolls in on little cat feet...) Wilson's martial drumming launches "Choose" into a rattling clanking full band march, with chanted vocals leading the music forward, making for one of the most exciting pieces on the album, as thick bass and ever-shifting drums pushing the tempo faster and Lederer's flute bubbling up from the mix. Wilson's drum solo is excellent, and the other instrumentalists fall back into line crisply leading to a pinpoint conclusion. There is a backporch acoustic country song called "Offering and Rebuff" with Dawn Thomson's beautiful voice and acoustic guitar leading the band though a respectful performance, before heading to deeper waters on "Stars, Songs, Faces," where the stoic instrumental passages include brushed percussion framed by horns and lilting vocals. "Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz" has the gravelly voice of Jack Black intoning the lyrics, before the band crashes in with taut drumming and soprano saxophone leading the way. Lederer and Wilson duet in a raw and exciting fashion, making the most of the improvisational space to inject some exciting modern jazz into the proceedings. This album was clearly a labor of love for Matt Wilson, and that comes through in the attention to detail paid to both the rendering of the poetry and lyrics and the arrangements for the instrumentalists. Honey and Salt -

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl Records, 2017)

The music of drummer and composer Kate Gentile is highly improvisational in nature with modern jazz intertwined with influences ranging from classical music to punk and metal. The team she brings together is more than capable with Jeremy Viner on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and electronics and Adam Hopkins on bass. They open the album with a soundscape called "Stars Covered in Clouds of Metal" which uses heavy and oppressive electronics and drumming to set an unusual and interesting mood. There is some tightly wound saxophone that emerges from the murk, but then is overwhelmed by the sheer massiveness of the sound. A choppy theme which is developed on "Trapezoidal Nirvana" is complex but engaging. The band weaves through a group of rhythmic ideas made up of discrete parts or elements. There is a section for piano led rhythm section that tumbles forward, leading to a section of spacious nearly free improvisation. They build back to a headlong rush of sound with the music growing in scale and power. "Wrack" features excellent bass and drums work, underpinning the piano and saxophone which push forward with a fast theme and variation. Viner solos nicely, getting different gradients of tone from his instrument, from breathy asides to stoic, sure footed blowing. Mitchell dances across the keys in a light and nimble fashion, zipping through a breathless improvisation with the bass and drums nipping at his heels. The blistering "Cardiac Logic" is a short collective improvisation for the quartet, with Gentile setting an memorable tone that allows for the use of electronics, woven into the performance, and an off-kilter rhythm that suits the nature of the music well. Crashing piano chords and deep thick low-end piano playing are present on "Alchemy Melt [With Tilt]" and Mitchell is very impressive setting an ominous tone for the music, with the drums and very subtle electronics moving in. There are cascades of notes, gradually opening into a quieter section, as the saxophone gradually folds in. This performance and the closing one, "Ssgf" are long and winding improvisations, that will envelop sub themes, and solos of varying length. This is handled very well, and it is to Gentile's credit that the music remains exciting and engaging throughout the album. Consisting of many different and connected parts, everything comes together nicely for a coherent and thoughtful album of modern jazz. Mannequins - Bandcamp.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble Feat. Vijay Iyer - Transient Takes (Ernest Dawkins, 2017)

Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins and his band the New Horizons Ensemble encompass the history of modern jazz within their playing with Dawkins on saxophones, Isaiah Spencer on bass and Junius Paul on drums along with pianist Vijay Iyer, who is a guest on this session. The music moves easily from tight hard bop to ecstatic free jazz with a clear sense of purpose beginning with "Dawkness" which comes on strong to open the album with ripe saxophone and potent playing from the rhythm section. They set up a very solid modern jazz improvisation, with the saxophone repeating figures to gain momentum and then launching into an impressive solo. Drums are muscular and pounding, driving the music forward in an exciting manner. As the saxophone drops out the rhythm becomes more pliant, developing a relaxed groove that works quite well. Dawkins comes back in with some urgency, pushing the music forward and developing a sense of propulsion the suits the music quite well, as he stretches the boundaries of modern jazz with overblowing, before fading to a stop. Yearning saxophone opens "And the Light" making for a heady atmosphere, building a punchy theme that has percussive piano and drumming setting the stage for the saxophone to leap into action with tart flurries of notes that are raw and scalding in their action. There is a fine piano solo, with Iyer pulling at the fabric of the music while it continues to swing. The steely sounding saxophone returns, enveloping the rhythm section and demanding more, taking the full band's improvisation into deeper and harsher terrain. "Simultaneous Realities Of A Parallel Universe" is a mouthful, but it is a wonderful performance with very fast paced piano, bass and drums adding an earnest and persistent quality; insisting that the music push onward with a riffing horns adding spice, and then rushing ahead to a powerful statement bracketed by pummelling drums and thick stoic bass. The sharply swinging "South Side Breakdown" encompases the brawny history of Chicago jazz with its swaggering rhythm framing another fine piano interlude played with great discipline and control. Lighter toned saxophone moves in, weaving around the soundscape, carving a very impressive furrow through the rhythmic foundation. The music drops out to a very impressive feature for the bassist, as the band shares the spotlight throughout this lengthy improvisation. "Transient Sounds" shows the band at their most out, with strident free playing making quite an impression, with the rawness of the saxophone meeting a skittering free for all accompaniment creating a collective improvisation of great nerve and stamina. It's a blowout of epic proportions, with relentless pummelling drums and squalls of torrential saxophone. This was an excellent album of modern jazz, and Dawkins is deserving of more attention as a saxophonist and bandleader, bringing together heavyweights with young burgeoning talent and creating excellent music in the process. Ernest Dawkins' Bandcamp Page.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter, composer and theorist Wadada Leo Smith has spent his life in search of new sounds and teaching and interpreting those sounds for the benefits of students, fans and mankind as a whole. Originally from Mississippi, he moved north, settling in Chicago, becoming active in the AACM, developing his own distinctive approach to composition and improvisation, eventually landing teaching jobs at respected universities and conservatories. One benefit of being in larger cities and musical communities was the ability to see other musical iconoclasts like Thelonious Monk in performance and to collect his records for future study. Monk's completely original approach to music became very important to Smith as his own performing and recording style developed, which eventually led to this solo trumpet meditation on the works of Monk as well as several Smith compositions written under the influence of Monk and his legacy. Trumpet must be one of the most difficult instruments to play unaccompanied, but Smith makes it feel completely natural, playing with a rich, golden tone that brings light to each of the performances on this album. The music is thoughtful and unhurried, sounding like the distillation of decades spent composing, playing, teaching and listening. This leads to a state of grace which imbues this recording with a nearly spiritual sensibility, an approach that works well on interpretations of Monk compositions like "Ruby My Dear" and "Reflections," which retain the rich wit and off kilter nature as the originals while using the trumpet to further interpret the music from Smith's own conception. His Monk dedicated originals, such as "Monk and his Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe" recalls the awesome live stand Monk held at that cafe with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. "Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision" and "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery" take the form of short stories or vignettes which try to make sense of the man and musician who was often inscrutable in his methods and mannerisms. This album ends with a heartrendingly lovely version of one of Thelonious Monk's most well known compositions, "Round Midnight." The noirish sensibility of the music and the interpretation of the source material make for a fine summation of Smith's music on this recording. He draws the listener into a insular, personal world that not only makes you appreciate the the interpretive and compositional abilities of Smith, but makes you reevaluate the music of Thelonious Monk, taking this beyond a mere tribute into a treatise on the life and times of one musical great by another. Solo - Reflections And Meditations On Monk -

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2017)

Who says outsider music can't be fun? Cortex has become one of the best bands on the modern jazz scene and a personal favorite. (In fact, their Live in New York release was my album of the year for 2016.) The band consists of Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxophones, Ola Høyer on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums. The album's opening track "Grinder" develops confidently with brash horns and crisp rhythm, with a saxophone breaking out for an emotionally resonant solo, raw and acid toned, met by manic drumming that forces the music inexorably forward. There is crisp full band interplay, developing the music further, akin to the classic Ornette Coleman quartet and subsequently launching a punchy and powerful trumpet feature, blasting the music into the stratosphere. An urgent fanfare from the horns launches the track "Chaos" with the stop and go theme leading into a ripe trumpet and drums section that is thrilling in its intensity. Not to be outdone, Alberts takes off on an inspired feature of his own, with a deep toned and well articulated saxophone solo, reaching for ecstasy in the music of pure energy. The thick bass is the glue that holds them together as the rip into the choppy finale. "(If You Were) Mac Davis" is a fast and furious full band opening, a collective improvisation that is very loud and exciting, destroying everything in their path. The raw throated saxophone and punishing drums are particularly evident, with the full band as tight as the classic Masada line up, developing little snatches of themes that open wide lanes of inventive improvisation. There is a taut and powerful trumpet section then the two horns intertwine over propulsive bass and drums in a thrilling full band blowout. There is a stoic melody to "Disturbance" that develops lyrically with the horns harmonizing over a tight rhythm. A tightly coiled trumpet solo develops, crisply hitting the notes and interacting with the bass and drums. They come together for a loopy and fun conclusion, lightening the mood back to party mode. "Obverse / Reverse" develops a choppy and urgent theme with a deeply felt bass feature that ties everything together. Nilssen's drum solo is a personal statement that rolls forward dynamically and relentlessly like a force of nature. The closer is "Off Course" with some punishing drum work to open the piece. The bass and horns roar in with an exciting fanfare, letting loose a torrential saxophone solo, that has a paint-peeling texture to it. It sets up a blistering saxophone, bass and drums blowout that finally ebbs and everyone falls i together to stick the landing, closing out a superb album of modern jazz in grand style. Don't sleep on this, it's one of the best albums of the year, and this band is unstoppable. Avant-Garde Party Music -

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017)

This album competes an excellent series of records which combine modern jazz with aspects of the music of guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi's south Asian ancestry. Accompanying him on this album are Vijay Iyer on piano, Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Dan Weiss on drums and guest Elizabeth Mikhael on cello. "Propensity" charges confidently out of the gate with fluid guitar playing and a complex yet accessible rhythm. Mahanthappa takes a very fast and exciting solo playing long, rippling sequences of notes that have a tart, citrus flavor. Abbasi's solo paints at the edges of the performance, gradually filling up space, urged along by percussive piano and thick bass and drums. Iyer plays a delicate solo that becomes very fine in texture and structure, leading the full band back to a rousing conclusion. There is as effects laden guitar solo on "Thoughts," with the unusual sounds creating a very interesting landscape. His tone becomes clearer on "Thin-King" leading the band into a lush and full sounding performance. The music is able to shift in tempo and volume, creating a dynamic tension that propels Mahanthappa to a short burst of saxophone, followed by the remainder of the band improvising together, with the lightning fast saxophone juxtaposed against the rhythm section, with a well played bass solo woven in for good measure. "Agree to Disagree" adds the cello for a peacefully rinsing opening statement that gathers speed quickly, as the band develops an expressive and imaginative improvisation. Thick bass with skittering drums and lush piano makes for a fine combination, the other half of the band re-joins them for music that is created and performed with spontaneity and vigor. There is another captivating saxophone solo, and a guitar feature that has with a particularly impressive quality. Finally "Dance Number" has a sultry melody that leads to music which is played with strength and vitality. Abbasi's guitar solo is intricate and graceful, leading to another fine saxophone feature, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape in a grand and impressive fashion. Dropping out to spacious piano and bass, the music moves forward in a elegant manner, regaining volume and stature in its conclusion. Overall, this album worked quite well, it was an admirable display of skill that is worthy of respect and widespread attention. Unfiltered Universe -

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima (, 2017)

Riding high from his appointment at Princeton University as Director of Jazz and Musical Performance and a Downbeat Magazine cover story, alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa re-convenes his band the Indo-Pak Coalition with Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums and tabla for their first release since the Apti album which came out in 2008. The music on the album takes its sound from the Indian sub-continent with the intricacy of modern jazz and a boost of rock energy to make for a unique and compelling sound. "Snap" has a twisting and turning saxophone melody with deeply rhythmic tabla/drums combination and guitar framing the performance. Mahanthappa's saxophone is altered by electronics at times, allowing him to create a wider range of sounds for his compositions and improvisations, and allowing the music to develop a hypnotic quality. These fusion aspects are understated and thoughtful, and never overwhelm the music. The title track "Agrima" has Weiss developing a funky beat under streams of electronically processed music, which acts as the foundation for the saxophone and guitar to lift off from. Their trio improvisation is quite colorful and compelling, driving forward while leaving space for the music to breathe and grow, amidst sections of saxophone led thematic statements. "Rasikapriya" is a absorbing and exciting performance, one that develops a sense of urgency with a rhythm that changes in position and direction, developing a sense of dynamism that allows the music to shift between well articulated solos and abstraction. The lengthy track "Revati" allows the music to emerge from electronically manipulated sounds into a three way conversation that gradually builds in volume and intensity. This album was very good and the changes which the group added including a modified drum/tabla setup and greater use of electronics allow the them to work with a wider scope in their compositions and improvisations. Agrima -

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient - Dear Everyone (NotTwo, 2017)

Combining sections of free jazz with electro-acoustic improvisation and and poetic recitation within a tight framework, Degradient features the leader, Kyle Bruckmann, playing oboe, English horn and electronics, Aram Shelton on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, Jason Hoopes on electric bass and Jordan Glenn on percussion with Weston Olencki on trombone and several people reading the poetry of Matt Shears aloud. "Overt? Sure" opens the album in a very spacious manner then blasts into sections of loud collective improvisation, using crushing drums and blistering horns, interspersed by brief pauses, and sections of spoken recitation. "Excisions, Autocorrections" is a brief track that uses powerfully played bass as it's foundation, supporting the weight of the horns and drums. A muscular saxophone solo develops with a tight and strident tone and approach, making use of the thermals provided by the bass and drums to really soar. There is a cacophony of voices on "Predictable Epiphanies" with curls of bass clarinet and electronics. The instruments weave within and frame these spoken word sections, which pile up upon one another as squeaks and squeals of the reeds play off against the voices. The instrumentalists re-assert control on "Things to Fear, Include" which has deep bass and drums interacting with meaty and substantial horn playing. It's a fine modern jazz blowout and serves as a much needed respite from the voices, anchored by a slashing drum solo and squiggly electronics. There is a funky blend of electronics and horns on "Sound Byte Culture" with the readers piling words upon one another. There are hints of call and response, and also of avant-garde music and spoken word experiments like "The Murder Mystery" by The Velvet Underground followed by a choppy instrumental ending. "Elements Include" have cut-up poetic recitation juxtaposed by pile-driving instrumental sections, and skittish percussion with electronics, while "Incursive Recursions" has deep booming bass and serious horns setting the tone for the track. Alarming electronics add further color to the soundscape, as the drums provide a massive beat and the horns blare. Declamatory poetry opens "Significant Details" with instrumental sounds popping up, ranging from a quickly played note to a short blasts of collective improvisation. "Despite the Facts" is a short and moody track, with languorous spoken word, the speaker seemingly broken by life, while "Poetry is Not Political" has growled and scatted sounds against bass and drums. "Eccretions/Arosions" has the full band back in play with an angular theme that recalls Eric Dolphy's work, leading into an impressive electric bass solo. The collective improvisation that follows in exciting and engaging. "Commissive Obpulsions" pumps up the electronics to distort and alter both words and music, with smears of sound offset by percussion and spoken word, creating an interesting performance. The album is concluded with "Recessional and Postlude," which develops a quiet and stoic, even ominous sound, framing the poetry with deep resonance. This is an occasionally exhausting double album, but it impresses due to its experimental nature and the hard work on behalf of the musicians and readers, and ultimately it is a successful project. Dear Everyone -

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