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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Monday, May 14, 2018

Tim Berne / Matt Mitchell - Angel Dusk (Screwgun Records, 2018)

This is a very interesting duet album featuring Tim Berne on alto saxophone and Matt Mitchell on piano, continuing a collaboration of several years which has seen Mitchell perform in Berne's groups and record an album of the saxophonists compositions for solo piano. This album has them collaborating as equals, starting with "Perception/Reception" during which the phrases the two musicians develop slowly and engage one another, building forth as raw and exciting saxophone and crystallize droplets of piano, coalescing in a rending, yearning improvisation as Berne's saxophone moves from light to darkness dramatically and the music grows organically in a near suite like formation. This is followed by the short and very sweet "Not Too Two" which blasts out of gate fast and furious with low piano chords supporting the strong saxophone, turning this into a powerful collective improvisation, one that doesn't letup as they race for the finish line in an exciting and vital fashion. "Exception/Pest" expands an open ended and spacious yearning feel in which the musicians weave a story that gradually gathers pace, beginning with rounded melodic material, moving mysterious eddies of sound. The music comes into focus as a powerful duo improvisation as thrilling ripe squeals of saxophone combined with compelling piano chords. Pinched saxophone in a solo configuration sets the tone for "Conception" as Mitchell's spare piano frames the expressive reed playing, going more deeply engaged as the music develops. The music grows faster on "Starfish Blues" where deeply hewn chords of piano meeting unfettered saxophone playing in a very appealing fashion, pulling together with a great force of effort. "Chance" is lighter and more open, with the piano breaking through like rays of sunlight, which builds a gentle glow that pervades the piece. They come together and increase the music's heft to a powerhouse conclusion. "Snail's Pace" has an atmospheric spare sound to the piano, soon joined by stark saxophone as the music becomes edgy and restless, developing acute angles that keep the the improvisation fresh and interesting. The music reflects as if off of a funhouse mirror, raw and scouring saxophone glinting off of ripe piano playing. The album concludes with "Petulance" where the musicians develop a rippling and muscular interplay, interacting in a nimble fashion, flexing their musical knowledge in a riveting performance that really moves the air. Berne and Mitchell are inspired throughout this album with the taut saxophone and colorful piano making for an inspired match. There is a great devotion to the music that is captivating to hear and makes this a must-hear for fans of progressive jazz. Angel Dusk - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles (Blue Note, 2018)

The newest version of NEA Jazz Master pianist and composer Kenny Barron's band features new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. They create a very appealing modern mainstream jazz LP that displays excellent ensemble playing and some spirited solo statements. "DPW" opens the album with a brightly swinging full band romp, with the horns framing the rhythm section and everything meshing well together. A nice saxophone solo shakes loose, followed by a probing trumpet interlude, with Barron's piano leading the bass and drums through their paces in a rapid and rhythmic trio section, as boiling drums simmer to the end of the performance. This rich rhythmic foundation continues in the undercurrent of "Blue Waters," setting a medium pace for the horns to glide into. They ease into a bouncy rhythm that is quite pleasant, setting up a strong trumpet feature, which develops a punchy and propulsive solo, before passing the baron to Stephens who develops an intricate statement of his own. Barron's own centerpiece is rich and patient, allowing the music to breathe and interacting well with the bass and drums. "Von Hangman" has a fast paced rhythm and is arranged to have a little big band feel to the opening portion of the performance. This leads to a string of impressive solo statements, beginning with Stephens, whose tone is engaging and hot enough to keep pace with the opening. Barron's piano playing is masterful, as he lopes grandly through the thicket of bass and drums, then bringing the horns back to take the tune out in fine fashion. The group establishes an engaging mid-tempo setting for "Baile" with Barron taking the reins for an intricate and slightly exotic melody that is embellished by the saxophone and trumpet, in solo and conversational configurations. Kitagawa's rich tone on the bass anchors the group and provides a firm foundation for the trumpet and saxophone to trade inventive short phrases over. The rhythm section bubbles in an enticing fashion with Barron's bouncy and buoyant piano leading group in a congenial manner. "L's Bop" has a rapid and intricate melody with the musicians intertwining with one another and then setting Rodriguez loose for a fast paced and well articulated solo with the rhythm team pushing hard, and Stephens taking over and engaging with loping elastic bass to good effect. The band swings briskly, allowing the appealing melody and the story of the bebop idiom to flow as Barron effortlessly demonstrates a lifetime's worth of polishing his craft in a wonderful feature. "I'm Just Sayin'" develops a sly and spirited groove that allows much room for excellent ensemble playing and soloing, with a bluesy hard bop feel permeating the whole performance. Barron concludes with a solo version of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" that ends the album on a thoughtful and gracious note. Concentric Circles - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eddie Henderson - Be Cool (Smoke Sessions, 2018)

This is a very strong mainstream jazz album led by veteran trumpet player Eddie Henderson in the company of Kenny Barron on piano, Donald Harrison on saxophone, Essiet Essiet on bass and Mike Clark on drums. They come together for a fine, egoless session of originals and well known jazz standards that make for an enjoyable and accessible album. Mike Clark is quite well attuned to the rhythmic possibilities of the drums, and he and Essiet lay down the law on “Loft Funk” setting a strong foundation with pleasant chords from Barron building a fresh and funky feel for the brass to develop an interesting theme and short series of improvisations. This leads into a trio of excellent performances of well known jazz standards, beginning with “Fran-Dance” by Miles Davis, who was actually a friend of Henderson's family whom he met while growing up. A longtime admirer of Davis’s playing, this gives him excellent insight into the composition and inspires him into a slow burning solo that smolders throughout the performance. The rest of band plays in a subtle and refined manner which allows the familiar melody to really shine through. Another legendary trumpet player gets their due with their performance of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane.” This is a bright and punchy track with strong full band ensemble playing and some outstanding solos. Henderson’s solo is punchy and forward looking, driving the music forward with some deep seated saxophone on the side and powerfully swinging playing from the rhythm section. They top off this triumvirate of covers with an accomplished version of John Coltrane’s famous composition “Naima.” This is another attractive ballad from this collection, leaving plenty of space for Harrison to construct a well designed saxophone solo. Henderson held down the trumpet chair in some of Herbie Hancock’s electric ensembles in the early seventies which he alludes to in the original “The Sand Castle Head Hunter” and it builds a funky and snappy momentum which results in a fine ensemble performance and a tight groove. They take this up again with Hancock’s own “Toys” performed by the band in a respectful and classy formation. This album works very well, with a first rate selection of tunes, and crack playing from a very talented band. Smoke Sessions is really on a roll, with this collection joining the recent Renee Rosnes album among the best mainstream jazz LP’s so far this year. Be Cool - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jeff Cosgrove / Ken Filiano / Scott Robinson - Hunters and Gatherers (Grizzley Music, 2018)

This is a very interesting modern jazz album, featuring the trio of Jeff Cosgrove on drums, Scott Robinson on saxophone and Ken Filiano on bass. All of the selections of the album are collectively composed by the except an excellent cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" that concludes the album. Jeff Cosgrove has made a several album as a collaborator with the likes of Matthew Shipp and he plays a propulsive rhythmic focus that fits in very well with the other two musicians, switching between blistering stick playing and subtle percussion in a nimble and unexpected fashion. He keeps the short to medium length performances moving along briskly playing in fine fashion with his veteran collaborators. "Don't Look (Just Run)" has an ominous and propulsive elasticity from the bass playing and drumming, which is met by bursts of expressive saxophone. The music moves along quickly with bowed bass adding to the tension along with deft cymbal play and quivering gales of saxophone, creating an emotionally resonant performance. The deeply textured saxophone leads the trio into "High, Low" which builds to an impressive collective improvisation that uses the notions of space and time to allow greater flexibility as the music develops. Quick bursts of high pitched saxophone keep the sound from becoming stale and Robinson juxtaposes these high sounds with rolling guttural bursts making for an exciting and dynamic performance. This carries through to the all too short "Instinct" which is a thrilling blast of free jazz lasting under a minute. "Simple Justification" is the longest track on the album, a slowly building performance that begins with subtle interplay between the three instruments that gradually rises in volume and intensity, with long tones of saxophone and bass that lays the groundwork for what is to come. The musicians weave their individual sounds together and create a cohesive trio approach that is very appealing in that the improvisation is well paced, and a truly collective endeavor. The group ends the album with a very thoughtful and well played version of "Lonely Woman" that takes the haunting and instantly memorable melody and uses it as a foundation for a spacious improvisation incorporating bowed bass, quavering saxophone and deft percussion. Overall this album worked quite well, showcasing three musicians that are very well attuned to one another and the material they present, creating an enjoyable and exciting album. Hunters and Scavengers - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 05, 2018

Bill Frisell - Music IS (Okeh / Sony Masterworks, 2018)

Bill Frisell has put out a couple of stellar solo guitar records like the extraordinary 2000 album Ghost Town, and my 2013 Album of the Year, Silent Comedy. While this album may not climb to the heights of those masterpieces, it is still quite good and well worth hearing. This album is a mix of new and old Frisell compositions, beginning with "Pretty Stars" which has a soft and gentle melody with lullaby like accessibility. He takes a simple and uncluttered approach to the theme and improvisation, with the use of effects and loops allowing him to harmonize with himself. "Winslow Homer," a tribute to the famous artist uses swathes of sharp notes and chords in an approach that is more strident and less dreamy than the prior song. The music becomes louder and more rhythmic with choppy loops bouncing off of one another. There is a darker nighttime feel to "Change is in the Air" with lonely tones and a haunting cinematic noir sensibility creating spare and quiet sustained ringing notes and loops that hang in the air mysteriously. "Thankful" is full sounding track with the loops wrapped around the improvised section, with other effects giving the music an otherworldly air. First released on his Blues Dream LP "Ron Carter," his tribute to the great bassist is this time is given a treatment that would be at home in the soundtrack to some dusty western film, perhaps a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. "Think About It" goes in the other direction entirely, a one minute blast of Naked City era snarling and overamped electric guitar, making for a bracing wake up call. Another remake of an earlier composition is "In Line" which is full of intensity as he discovers new threads to pull in this old song. The electronic manipulation of the sound offers a more intimate and dynamic performance that shifts mood halfway through, blooming with louder thematic material. "Rambler" is one of Frisell's most famous songs, and it is presented here as the longest track on the album, allowing him to divide up the familiar melody with electronic accents, allowing color and shade to shape the evolving improvisation. Precise patterns of beautiful melody emerge with loops and effects framing them. There are a couple of melodic fragments at work on "Monica Jane" that intertwine with well articulated notes and chords veering back into uneasy coexistence as the song develops. "Kentucky Derby" has some surprisingly grinding guitar with loops and electronics adding a futuristic tinge that makes the music glow as shards of guitar and backward looping sounds allow the proceedings to swell and expand. The album ends with a shorter alternate version of "Rambler" that has a friendly nature to it, like watching the setting sun, simply played with no accouterments, making it a fitting end to a fine album. Music IS - amazon.com

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Angelika Niescier - The Berlin Concert (Intakt Records, 2018)

Polish born saxophonist Angelika Niescier was awarded the 2017 German Jazz Prize, as "one of the most interesting musicians on the European jazz scene." This level of praise is well deserved considering the playing on this album which has her in the august company of Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Chris Tordini on bass, presenting a concert took place after she received the award. The three musicians create a unique sound that emerges from their musical curiosity and attention to detail. "Kundry" opens the album in fine fashion with bright and choppy saxophone leading the trio into a brisk and exciting performance. The instruments are very well integrated and the trio works fluidly as a team with igneous streams of saxophone porting forth matched by bursts of percussion and thick, powerful bass playing. Their collective improvisation is bracing and powerful, with raw exclamations met by sharp interplay, embracing new challenges presented by the music, weaving inside and outside, between form and freedom. The group follows with "Like Sheep, Looking Up" where they have an interesting melody to begin with, which is then developed in the direction of a free form exploration. The playing is intricate and shows real depth, with the bass and drums developing a complex and fascinating rhythm that Niescier can engage with or soar over at will, allowing the the drama of the music to unfold in a natural and organic manner. On stage the group has clearly developed a very strong rapport, with intuitively knowledge about how the improvisation should proceed, as dark toned and gritty saxophone meeting stoic bass and kinetic percussion in an impressive approach. There is a quiet and thoughtful bass solo, before the group returns to the original melody to conclude. "5.8" moves into more abstract territory with subtle bowed bass and saxophone layering sounds and building patterns in the air with soft percussion folding into the mixture. The music is very free and  unrestricted, drifting with brushed percussion and searching saxophone showing also endlessly curiosity about how music and open space can coexist. The group returns to a collective uptempo setting for "The Surge" as colorful saxophone comes bursting forth with ripe bass and drums in support. This is a very fast and exciting performance, a long uptempo collective improvisation that shows the group at their best. The leader's saxophone playing is thrilling, as she romps through the music with unrestrained joy, and the improvisation is unpredictable and rhythmically dexterous as the performance develops in a freewheeling formation, with ample solo space for bass and drums which allows the musicians to make dynamic adjustments on the fly. The Berlin Concert - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 03, 2018

Van Morrison and Joe DeFrancesco - You're Driving Me Crazy (Legacy Recordings, 2018)

Van Morrison has jazz in his very DNA, and it has infused his music from the beginning. He’s made two successful albums within the genre, the Mose Allison tribute Tell Me Something, and the swinging How Long Has This Been Going On. Organist and occasional trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco was a smart choice as a collaborator, leading a small to medium sized group with Morrison singing standards and reinterpretations of some of his original material. His extraordinary voice and unique mannerisms allow him to tweak and tinker with the material in a loose live in the studio setting. After growling through the opening “Miss Otis Regrets” he moves into a finger snapping and toe tapping version of “Hold It Right There” which gets the band moving, a small and nimble group, with guitar, bass and drums in a subtle rhythm section, with a few horns including Morrison's own saxophone. He revisits some of his own work, with a jumping version of "All Saints Day" from the underrated Hymns to the Silence LP, and a very nice rearrangement of "The Way that Young Lovers Do" originally the blistering overtly jazzy track on the Astral Weeks LP that broke up some of the more meditative pieces on that landmark album. Here, the pace is slowed a bit, allowing the music to breathe and open up to a more spontaneous feeling with Morrison feeling the words, belting them put but never forcing them, and while it may lack the passion of the original recording, it is replaced by a hard won wisdom, that imbues this song and the album as a whole. They dive into the deep blues on "The Things That I Used To Do," Guitar Slim's heartbreaking anthem to remorse and regret. Morrison's voice is well suited to this emotional song, taking the music at a slow or medium tempo, the band opens up and allows Morrison to really make his case, singing the blues in a jazzy manner in the tradition of singers like Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner, combining the grit of the blues and the sophistication of jazz and singing the lyrics in a liven in way that is very impressive. "Close Enough For Jazz"  reunites him with a song from another underrated album, Too Long In Exile, a collection that was rooted in blues and jazz, and this track is snappy and lively with Morrison skipping around the band with a light and skillful demeanor that allows the band to swing and the singer to scat, repeat and declare the words. The group takes a medium up-tempo approach to the standard "Every Day I Have the Blues" which allows for some fine riffing from the horns and Morrison making a declamatory statement with the lyrics, before the band moves into an autumnal duet on "Have I Told You Lately" with a female vocalist that keeps the hymnal structure  of the original while allowing the singers to soar. This album worked quite well, Morrison's voice is as strong and ever, deep and resonant and he has the feel to work very well in an improvisational and informal setting. The songs were chosen well, and DeFrancesco's organ works well in the music, giving it the lift and structure that allow it to succeed. You're Driving Me Crazy - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Marc Edwards / Mick Barr - The Bowels of Jupiter (Gaffer Records, 2018)

This is a riveting duet album with Marc Edwards on drums and percussion and Mick Barr on guitar, recorded at Menegroth; The Thousands Caves in 2015. Edwards is a legendary free jazz performer who has played and recorded with artists such as Cecil Taylor, Charles Gayle, and David S. Ware and Mick Barr has vast experience in the metal and avant rock spheres. "Molten Lava" is an appropriate title for the opener as Edwards and Barr waste no time, going all out with squalls of electric guitar and pummeling drums and working together in a very fast and exciting manner. The music is extremely intense, welding the complexity of free jazz with the sonic assault of post rock or metal. They are both fully engaged in this piece, they were on fire throughout. "The Asteroid Belt" opens with a concussive drum solo, with Barr gradually easing in, intertwining with the drums to create powerful music. The music is complex and intricate, inhabiting in insular space, that gradually unfolds, with pulsating rhythms around them and drums that evoke a sudden storm. "Lightning Strikes" is an all out blast furnace of scaling guitar and accelerated drumming, combining to become a force of nature that barrels down anything in their path. The whip cracking electric guitar and thrashing drums are a joy to behold as the music overtakes the listener and demands acquiesce. The duo plays with frenetic abandon, in a wildly excited and enthusiastic whirling dervish like maelstrom of sound, creating magic seemingly out of thin air. There is a fascinating rhythmic conception to "Deep Space, African Drums" with Edwards slowly and inexorably building the beat and circling around it while Barr frames him gentle with swirls of guitar. The percussion is hypnotic and trance inducing, with the guitar and drums coming together in a mesmerizing fashion like an ancient musical rite pulled into the 21st century. "Solar Flares" returns to the fast and hard dynamic with explosive drumming meeting fleet and scouring electric guitar for a massive and all encompassing free collective improvisation. The gale force percussion is lightning fast but always in control and in service to the music as a whole, and Barr's guitar is shredding, developing a violent commotion, which combined with the drumming equals a grand tumult. This album reminded me of the Gregg Bendian / Nels Cline drums and guitar duo Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane, which combined free jazz with post rock in an exciting way. This album is just as successful with Edwards and Barr finding a deep vein of common ground and mining it very powerfully. The Bowels of Jupiter - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Logan Richardson - Blues People (Ropeadope, 2018)

Logan Richardson (check out the Burning Ambulance interview) is a smart young saxophone player with an admirably wide field of view. He not only nods toward the classic book Blues Peopleby Amari Baraka, but he incorporates ideas from rock music, hip-hop and acoustic blues into his overall conception. He is joined in this album by Justus West and Igor Osypov on guitar, DeAndre Manning on bass, Ryan Lee on drums. They create a rough and ready sound, heavy on the grinding electric guitar with a tight rhythm section holding court and Richardson weaving through and around the thicket of sound. He mixes longer performances with shorter interludes like “Country Boy” which ingeniously melds old school slide guitar with glitchy electronic music. After a short spoken word opening, the group moves into "Hidden Figures" building up from a drumbeat and distorted guitar with yearning saxophone patrolling the perimeter of the music, and allowing it to unfold gradually, with short peals of saxophone breaking out of the murky backdrop. The the group moves into "80's Child," an interesting pastiche of period sounding percussion and electronics with yearning saxophone caught in the middle, building to a jazz-rock setup with a strong rhythmic component. "Class Wars" has the saxophone and guitars setting an emotional base of operations, yielding to thick bass and subtle drumming. Richardson plays long tones of heartfelt saxophone into the maw of the music, working hard to establish a groove that will allow the music to grow organically. The group blasts out with some dirty funk on "Rebels Rise" layering the guitars and bass to create a thick molten mass, using the electronics and saxophone alter the sound and keep it unruly but civil. Richardson's tone is very appealing, he has an emotionally vulnerable saxophone sound, one that pierces through any accompaniment in a memorable manner. "With U" has heavily distorted guitars and a scattered drumbeat creating an eerie soundscape, before the fluid saxophone pours in, negotiating an uneasy peace. The music moves forward with some stinging electric guitar playing, grinding through to the conclusion buoyed by long calls of saxophone. Lee develops a cool beat on "Urban Life" with chunky guitars and bass setting up a fine rhythmic foundation for Richardson to solo over, combining jazz fusion with gritty post-bop in an appealing way as the funky beat supports the lyrical saxophone. Finally "Pure Change" ends the album with shimmering electronics, that is a setup for a very funky fusion improvisation with tight rhythm and strong interplay between the guitars and saxophone. Blues People - amazon.com

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