Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nat Birchall - Cosmic Language (Jazzman Records, 2018)

Tenor saxophonist, and percussion player Nat Birchall has been unapologetically carrying the torch of mid to late sixties  John Coltrane, combining the post-bop, free and spiritual strains of jazz over several excellent albums. This album moves in a new direction, exploring the melding of jazz and Indian music, something that also interested Coltrane greatly toward the end of his life. This album also features Michael Bardon on bass, Andy Hay on drums and percussion and Adam Fairhall on harmonium. It is this last instrument, the harmonium, that plays a key role on this album, establishing ringing drones that the other instruments can anchor themselves to as they take flight on their improvisations. The album opens with "Man From Varanasi" setting a vibe that is a clear update of the exploratory jazz recorded on the Impulse! label in the late sixties and early seventies, with the harmonium getting a massive and otherworldly drone as a strong spiritual current runs through the performance. Birchall's deep and resonant tenor saxophone is well suited to this setting and his solo is an integral part of this long and ever evolving improvisation. "Humility" has raw saxophone circling the ringing drone, held fast by thick and elastic bass playing and drums that develop a deep rhythmic sensibility. The leader's saxophone grows in intensity and volume as the piece progresses, echoing the great Coltrane/Sanders performances amidst huge slabs of keyboard and and roiling drums that focus the spiritual jazz vibe of the performance, initiating an exotic rhythmic feel that includes bowed bass in its deeply flowing texture. Saxophone and harmonium rise up and harmonize and then circle one another ecstatically as drums and bass roll underneath. The near-Eastern drone and percussion instruments continue to set the pace on "A Prayer For" with the saxophone shining brightly like the rising sun. Clattering percussion complicates the rhythm with deep strong bass playing adding to the appearance and consistency of music which is of great substance. The keyboard playing boils like molten lava, paving the way for the saxophone to re-enter in a majestic fashion and escalate into well integrated interplay with the rest of the band, building to a memorable collective improvisation that has a great deal of spontaneity and dynamic shifting. "Dervish" concludes the album with a huge droning chord and slashing percussion, with the stoic bass and saxophone evoking a release of the building tension, as the music rolls forth like a wave. They rhythm section keeps the groove going as the saxophone steps aside, building a near psychedelic cacophony, that gets even more intense with Birchall's re-entry, scouring the music with powerfully played saxophone, bringing the band together for a raw and vital conclusion with fierce determination. This album worked quite well, and is a natural progression in Birchall's questing nature as a musician and improviser, clearing a path for future exploration. Cosmic Language - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Benito Gonzalez - Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound, 2018)

Pianist Benito Gonzalez crafts an excellent tribute to the legendary pianist and composer McCoy Tyner by taking the master's compositions and recording his own interpretations of them in the company of Gerry Gibbs on drums and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass. Gonzalez has the strong attack and lightning fast technique indicative of Tyner, clearly one of his greatest influences, but the Venezuelan pianist is clearly his own man, with a distinctive style, and he plays these songs are played with fire and spirit. Familiar compositions are performed in different ways like "Brazilian Girls" which is actually one of the concluding pieces of the album, with a flourish of lush solo piano opening allowing the bass and percussion to gradually fold in, as the music breaks out into a hard edged rhythmic powerhouse. The mixture of ripe chords and lightning fast runs around the keyboard is enthralling as is the thick bass and percolating drumming, coming together for a bewitching full trio improvisation, with a taut bass solo that is framed by hand percussion, followed by an impressive drum solo. They blast out of the gate on "Inner Glimpse" with elastic bass and loose drumming allowing the undulating melody to develop from the piano, and the trio moves in a quickly changing morphing the music in a fast paced manner. The band is a torrid three headed beast on this selection, moving from a driving beat to quick openings for bass and drums to shine through. The keep the level of spontaneity high, accelerating to a fast pace and then breaking things down into their component parts. "Atlantis" is one of McCoy Tyner's most powerful performances, anchoring a phenomenal live album of the same name, and Gonzalez is up to the task, with Gibbs and Essiet setting a deep rhythmic foundation and the pianist firing on all cylinders, creating a ceaseless and very impressive performance. Bringing the drums to the forefront, "Rotunda" generates a bouncing pattern that suits the music well, with Gonzalez dancing around the keyboard, balancing heavy low end chords, with startlingly fast notes splaying out of the upper end. The bass and drums are dialed in and the whole group takes on the feel of a percussion ensemble at times, with gales of sound and rhythm billowing forth. Finally, "Fly With the Wind" has subtly built textures, then launches itself forward with the trio maintaining the fast paced creative energy that pervades album as a whole. Gibbs uses a battery of percussion instruments along with the cascading piano that crackles with energy, developing a hypnotic dialogue between all three instruments. This was a very good album that displayed outstanding playing and commitment to MyCoy Tyner's musical vision that is a constructive interpretation of his music. Passion Reverence Transcendence - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Henry Threadgill - Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings, 2018)

The second album this year from the legendary composer and milti-reedist Henry Threadgill is a nonet affair, with Curtis Robert Macdonald on alto saxophone, Roman Filiu on alto saxophone and alto flute, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Jose Davila on tuba, David Bryant on piano, Luis Perdomo on piano, David Virelles – piano and harmonium and Craig Weinrib and drums and percussion. "The Game Is Up" opens the album with a massive twenty-two minute sprawl of sound, with strong piano and drumming and raw cello arcing through the music with the tuba acting as its beating heart. Combining harmonium and tuba makes for a fascinating and alien sound as the piano and drums bubble underneath, leading to an off-kilter collective improvisation that uses wonderful colors and textures to create a long form gem. Probing piano and spare saxophone open "Clear and Distinct from the Other A" with bowed bass and low harmonium creating a distinct atmosphere. The sense of space and moody nature of the music is quite cinematic, with bumps of tuba creating unexpected sounds as stronger and sharper saxophone breaks out as they meld into a fascinating full band improvisation, along with a sparkling piano feature. "Clear and Distinct from the Other B" has Davila's Tuba growling underneath, with low cello and piano creating a sound of great substance. Glittering piano and wheezing harmonium add to the soundstage, creating bright and shining music, and everyone comes together in the end for a grand conclusion. The final performance is "Clear and Distinct" where puckered saxophone and tuba meet bowed cello, and a downpour of piano and percussion establishing a deep groove along with the tuba. The music grows bolder and more fierce, with a collective improvisation featuring more crushing piano chords and sparkling keyboard runs, creating a grand finale. This was an excellent album, there is just nobody in jazz that can compose and arrange like Henry Threadgill. His stretch is Ellingtonian, writing for particular instruments including ones like harmonium and tuba (and three pianists!) and allowing opportunities for the musicians to improvise within the unique setting, he is simple a treasure.Double Up Plays Double Up Plus - amazon.com

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Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (AUM Fidelity, 2018)

This was a wonderful collective improvisation recorded live at Tufts University in Massachusetts during April of 2017. The trio of Daniel Carter on flute, trumpet, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones plus clarinet, William Parker on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano is made up of three of the most experienced and forward thinking musicians on the modern jazz scene. This three part long-form work is not the free jazz blowout that may be expected, but rather a subtle and nuanced performance that resonances, melding lyrical ideas with open ended improvisation. The music is fully collaborative, allowing each member to bring their own distinctive personality to the music and interact with their colleges with respect and dignity. "Part I" opens with beautifully lilting flute and piano chords and notes melding with emotional bowed bass creating quite a memorable sound, somewhat reminiscent of the early Eric Dolphy recordings with Ron Carter. The music is low in volume but shimmers with a quiet tension and creative impulse, with Parker deftly switching between plucking and bowing and Shipp adding dark and increasingly percussive chordal accompaniment. Carter moves to  trumpet, easing the flow of the music into a new channel, with ripe piano pushing the music forward, as taut bass courses underneath. This is a long track that ebbs and flows but remains vital, as Carter deftly switches instruments (much like the grand master Sam Rivers did during his trio concerts) and Shipp and Parker contribute unexpected rhythmic variations. The pianist takes a stellar solo at the midsection of the piece, creating constellations of notes and shapes that lead into Carter's return on tenor saxophone, taking a soft and supple tone along with Parker's elastic bass and Shipp's surging piano, as they use elasticity to stretch the form of the music in tone and temperament. They glide into "Part II" without stopping, showing that fertile ground that has sown between these musicians remains strong as the music opens up and breathes, and the playing is light and nimble. The music becomes gradually steeper, with cascading piano and the musicians merge into their improvisation an an sympathetic manner, coming to this music from that place outside of strict form and function. Parker's bowed bass playing is stunning, creating this very rhythmic orientation, aligned with the piano and light and airy soprano saxophone. Moving placidly into the closing "Part III," it is clear that these musicians have a deep connection and communicate on a near telepathic level. Carter's saxophone glows in the open space of the theater, with piano and bass soon joining in to create a fascinating musical journey, filled with imagination. The music calls forth a more humble and pure vision, one that is shared by all three men, and together they form an unshakable bond that shines forth from this excellent album. Seraphic Light (Live At Tufts University) - amazon.com

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Saxophonist, flutist and composer was inspired to form a new group and write new music by the conceptual art installation “The New York Earth Room” and the sculptures of Stephen De Staebler. These works must have been very thought provoking, as Threadgill formed this large ensemble with some of the core musicians he has worked with in the past, while also injecting new blood to create two suites that are steeped in nuance, using a wide range of color, light and shadow to excellent effect. "Dirt - Part III" is a wonderful example of this as the leaders lithe and gliding saxophone weaves around tuba, percussion and piano creating a very interesting musical concept that is able to build into a complex improvised section. This shifts to an interesting brass interlude, supported by percussive piano and drums, framed by wheezy harmonium. Cutting saxophone emerges to push the group further along with a strong solo section over complex background interaction. The large ensemble has instruments that weave in as out as the arrangement and conduction desires as evidenced on "Dirt - Part IV" where the palate of the music waxes and wanes, leading to short solo sections for differently tuned trumpets, moving over the thick tuba and drums. While the music can seem unconventional, it unfolds logically and rationally, and each of the compositions is a strong unit within the greater whole. "Dirt - Part VI" ends the first suite in a very exciting fashion with a complex arrangement of instruments opening the piece, before the colors branch out in a kaleidoscopic fashions with horns interacting with reeds playing with brass who are frolicking with drums, creating a multi-layered and complex setting that drops off unexpectedly for a section of spare flute playing. This moves seamlessly into "More Dirt - Part I" where spacious drumming sets the stage for the return of the other instruments which build a lightly toned theme with flute and other reeds taking charge. The tuba, central to so much of Threadgill's work, solos in a clean and pure fashion adding the bottom, but also fresh ideas to the proceedings. The collective improvisation is fast and intricate as one of the pianists stretches out over insistent percussion and melded reeds, and then takes a brief unaccompanied solo. This is the longest track on the album and it unfolds episodically as cells of musicians are called upon to improvise and interact within the performance itself. "More Dirt - Part III" is a short and light feature for flute and other reeds, taking flight and fluttering rapidly like a group of hummingbirds in search of nectar. The interplay is complex and intricate, but always accessible to the listener. This was an excellent album, with a very talented ensemble led by one of the most iconoclastic performer on the modern jazz scene. Henry Threadgill's work is unique, inspiring and completely unpredictable. Dirt... And More Dirt - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book: Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden (Dey Street Books, 2018)

Hyden presents an entertaining look at his journey through the mythology and reality of classic rock, beginning as a teenager listening to the radio and collecting tapes. He winkingly likens it to the heroes journey, beginning with his adolescence and yearning to understand the music he loves, but he is not blind by the limits and foibles of the genre. While people bemoan the loss of the stature of rock music in the modern day pop structure, the author is willing to cast a critical eye as people of color, women and LGBT fans are left at the threshold which is seemingly stultified with aging while males only. His obsessions with particular musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen echo the love of many suburban fans, but the author is able to dig deeper into the search for literary meaning in Dylan and the nature of class and poverty in Springsteen. That isn't say this is a dry academic book, far from it, Hyden is a journalist and this is a general interest book that has wit and charm. He delves into into the lives of aging rock stars and the phenomenon of "dad rock" and the interest people carry into such "uncool" bands as Phish, who he feels actually represent a portion of the classic rock continuum in the form of guitar solos, instrumental virtuosity and honoring their ancestors through the elaborate staging of concerts covering the entirety of a classic rock LP. Finally, he asks what will happen when all the classic rock heroes have passed away? Not with a sense of morbidity, but with clear eyed eventuality, and the possibility of carrying the torch of classic rock into that distant future. This was a fine book to read, Hyden is a very good writer with some interesting ideas, making this book well worth your time. Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sun Ra - The Cymbals​/​Symbols Sessions: New York, 1973 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

After a long time scuffling and building an audience, the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was finally recognized with a major label contract in 1973. His agreement with Impulse! Records, was supposed to release a wide range of material, but it was curtailed after just a few years. This is a two disc set, has the album Cymbals on the first disc and previously unreleased material from the same sessions on the second. Cymbals was never released by Impulse!, but it did come out on Evidence as part of the The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums package (along with Crystal Spears.) Regardless, this is a very good session with Ra playing his own open ended compositions with his group playing in quartet and sextet formations. "Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light" is the longest track on the album, and it offers thick acoustic bass and splashy cymbals amidst Ra's electric keyboard and riffing horns. Gritty tenor saxophone branches out for a distinctive solo framed by the organ and keyboards and strong rhythmic support. The great saxophonist John Gilmore gradually takes his solo farther out, testing the boundaries of the music, while maintaining the raw soulfulness at the core of his sound. He really hits his stride about six minutes in with torrid runs of emotionally resonant sound that is something to behold. Ronnie Boykins' bass playing is the lynch pin of this whole session, and he is utterly unperturbed by the chaos around him, as he anchors the music to the ground. Sun Ra adds swaths of organ crystallizing around hand percussion and bass, while punchy trumpet from Akh Tal Ebah emerges late in the piece, increasing the tempo and leading to the fade out. "The Mystery of Two" has epic grinding organ that prog rockers could only dream of as Harry Richards's cymbals slash underneath. Strong bass and trumpet fill out the sound and create a strong edifice that supports a relentless trumpet solo over swelling organ, drums and stoic bass. The shorter "Land of the Day Star" initially sounds like Chicago era Sun Ra with the wonderful bowed bass and riffing horns, but it's the leader's exotic keyboard that makes it thoroughly of its time, as saxophone billows out and drums push the music forward. "The Universe Is Calling," a quintessentially Ra title, mines a nice organ groove with taut and citrus alto saxophone from Danny Davis stretching out into the cosmos, increasing the elasticity of the continuum of music that the band explores. Ra opens up, riding the bubbling bass and percussion as Elmoe Omoe's bass clarinet burbles underneath. Sci-Fi keyborards and a full compliment of horns clear the path for "Space Landing" with raw saxophone and strong drums making this one of the freest performances on the album, looking to transcend the boundaries of jazz and improvised music. "Of Otherness" develops a bright and bouncy feel, with Ra's organ pinwheeling around the band, threatening to cheese out but then always pivoting in a direction you don't expect, and the track "Myth Evidential" takes this even further. Ra's mines the possibilities of the electronic keyboards for all they are worth, moving from krautrock to post-bop and beyond. It's classic Sun Ra, and the restlessness and refusal to be categorized that makes it so appealing today, is probably what doomed it to be unreleased in its time. Regardless, this is an excellent album with some relatively unknown players joining Ra stalwarts to create some very memorable music. The Cymbals - Symbols Sessions - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Akira Sataka - Proton Pump (Family Vineyard, 2018)

Alto saxophonist Akira Sakata is one of the most famous members of the Japanese free jazz scene, with a unique scouring tone and an unfettered and exciting approach to the music. On this album he adds clarinet, vocals and percussion to his repertoire in the company of Masahiko Satoh on piano, Chris Corsano on drums and Darin Gray upright bass and percussion. This album was recorded live at the Pit Inn, Tokyo in October 2015 and opens with with the title track, the roaring “Proton Pump” which shines a light on Sakata's raw and righteous saxophone playing. The band falls in behind him, hurrying to keep pace and developing a wide open rhythmic approach. There is a top notch collective improvisation, with Corsano's rolling and clattering drums matching up with Gray's stoic bass and the unpredictable piano playing of Satoh. The music moves forward at a burning clip, ratcheting up to a very exciting level of volume as Sakata digs in deep and soars against the powerful backdrop, before laying out for a sparkling area for the rhythm section to explore. Satoh is featured and he has a very interesting approach to the instrument, reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Sakata returns with a stark and yearning solo to minimal accompaniment, with the band coming together for a bracing race to the crashing and cunning finish. "Bullet Apoptosis" follows with Sakata swirling on clarinet, probing and looking for an opening. The music is open and breathable, with taut bass playing meeting crisp drumming and punchy piano chords to create a balanced atmosphere. I'm not really familiar with Sakata's clarinet playing, but he just owns it, leaping gymnastically around the soundstage as bright piano and raucous drumming give chase. after a breather he cruises back in with neon toned clarinet swooping and swaying joyously through the relentless thicket of sound making for a nearly overpowering full band improvisation. "Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn" has spacious bowed bass and Sakata's vocalizing - this is something of an acquitted taste, but he's all in and clearly feeling it as he bellows and cries over subtle bass and percussion. The piano glides in as the volume gradually increases with close interplay, and Sakata scats with bravado and the music flows forth effortlessly. He returns to saxophone in duet with his old compatriot Satoh, before the bass and drums roar in and take the music to another level of thrilling all out free jazz collective improvisation, this is just mind melting stuff on par with any Brotzmann or Vandermark unit. The concluding track "Voyage of the Eukaryote" is a spacious clarinet, bass and percussion track, with the sound slowly building around Skakta's quicksilver playing. They create a fast paced and interesting improvisation that is the perfect conclusion to a stellar album that all open eared music fans should keep an eye out for. Proton Pump - amazon.com

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