Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Film: Thomas Chapin - Night Bird Song

Thomas Chapin was one of my musical heroes when I was getting deeply into jazz in the 1990's and his death in 1998 was a shocking loss of one of the most interesting and joyful voices in progressive jazz. This documentary film goes a long way in demonstrating to people who might not be familiar with his work what a protean voice he was on saxophone and flute, and that he was an original composer to boot. He recorded a remarkable series of albums for the Knitting Factory label, each one one audaciously adventurous than the last, anchored by his legendary trio with Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin, one of the finest working groups of the post-war era. Whether playing in the trio format, or adding strings or brass to augment them, the music has a sense of spiritual discovery with each recording, a sensibility that wasn't forced, but one that came from the sheer act of creation and improvisation. As the documentary shows, he embraced the idea of jazz as a "big tent" as Jackie McLean, one of his mentors would put it, anything from swing through free jazz was fair game and was played with equal grace and fire. He was the bandleader for the Lionel Hampton big band for many years in the 1980's and further demonstrated his mainstream jazz credentials with albums for Arabesque and Brazilian jazz experiments. The film is able to take a holistic view of his life and career, moving through his years at music school and then interweaving footage of him in concert, especially some electrifying trio music from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1995, with revealing interview segments with friends and colleagues. There is a very touching interview with his wife, detailing how they met after he stopped her in her tracks while playing flute in Grand Central Station, and then his lengthy trip through Africa, through to his diagnosis and eventual passing away from leukemia. But this isn't really a memorial film, it is a celebration of a remarkable musician and person who made the most of his incredible talent in the short time he had available. Thomas Chapin Film Project

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Harriet Tubman - Araminta (Sunnyside, 2017)

Named after the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman consists of Brandon Ross on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and JT Lewis on drums. On this album, they are joined by the legendary trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and it was an inspired invitation, making this a strong and vital album. "The Spiral Path To The Throne" opens the album with bouncy fuzz distortion, creating stark relief for the trumpet's soaring sound, focused by light subtle drumming which opens space for trumpet and electric guitar accents. The group creates a wide spectrum for trio and trumpet, developing fast tempo and pushing hard in the final minute, with a ripe guitar solo leading the way. Bass and drums create a fractured funky rhythm for "Taken," with strong trumpet lashing and prowling, using the space to develop a strong track that has shards of guitar, blasts of trumpet and an unusual rhythm that anchors it all. Smith's tone and technique allow him to fit in and thrive, developing a real rapport with the trio. "Ne Ander" has wild overdriven electric bass and guitar with crushing drums clearing the way for Smith's trumpet. Thumping rhythms and unrestrained guitar and effects create a very hot trio improvisation, stratospheric music, improvising through cosmic jazz as Smith rejoins and blasts the music to new heights with an epic trumpet solo. They head for home with snarling and distorted bass and guitar with a thudding beat, framed by sparks and swirls of trumpet. There is a respectful opening with golden tones of trumpet on "Nina Simone," slowly filling the space with melancholy sound, stark yearning trumpet framed by subtle electronics and cymbals. This is a tribute created on its own terms, thoroughly modern and as mysterious as the dedicatee. "Real Cool Killers," named after an excellent Chester Himes novel starts out in an appropriately noirish fashion before unleashing gritty bass and drums with smears of distorted guitar piercing the air around them, playing loud muscular power trio music. There were definitely some more avant-garde things at play, but the music remains very accessible. Smith returns on the fast and exciting performance "President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge" with stoic trumpet and fast paced drumming unfolding into a powerful statement with strong guitar and bass along for the ride. There is a definite electric Miles vibe here, with Ross firing off Pete Cosey level blasts of guitar, met with sections of throbbing bass and drums. "Sweet Araminta" concludes the album on a thoughtful note, opening space for electronics, deleting a reflective coda for what has come before. This was an excellent album of wildly exciting music that combines many aspects of modern music, and focuses them into a concentrated and powerful set of performances. Araminta -

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Max Johnson - In the West (Clean Feed, 2017)

Bassist and composer Max Johnson has had a wide ranging musical career, performing with luminaries from the jazz, rock and bluegrass world in addition to developing an excellent series of albums as a leader in the progressive jazz vein. This album has a very interesting setting, featuring Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Kris Davis on piano and Mike Pride on drums. Pulling from a disparate variety of sounds, this group moves through four diverse compositions, beginning with "Ten Hands," which builds in a suite like configuration, continually shifting the focus of the music and its inherent improvisation as it develops and expands motifs as well as solo sections and duo pairings within the overall structure of the piece. Whether it is percussive piano, droning steel guitar and bowed bass or a rattling drum feature, the music remains vibrant and colorful. "Greenwood" uses a large amount of space and takes its time in development, bringing about a spontaneous creative environment with spare piano framed by light guitar, bass and drums. There is a sense of freedom and drive that is further advanced by the performance by increasing volume and adding complex rhythm, with touches of piano notes and chords meeting ropes of steel guitar and shimmering cymbals before fading back to a quiet conclusion. Piano and percussion percolate and flutter against the steel guitar on "Great Big Fat Person" eventually opening the music to a wide range of ideas. Subtle but complex themes are built and extrapolated upon, and interesting details brought into the foreground. Drops of golden sounding guitar accents the frenetic pace of the piano and drums leading to a powerful collective improvisation. “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the only non-original, having been composed by Ennio Morricone for the classic western film of the same name. Here the song is re-arranged by Johnson, but it retains the dynamic and cinematic outlook, over an impressive twenty-one minute length. Incorporating mournful bass bowing which leads to an excellent free sounding improvisation where all the instruments are deep in conversation. This track also resolves itself over several sections, such as ones for spare piano or bass and others for the full band, and builds to a large and wide ranging soundscape. The group is able to evoke the huge landscapes and wide vistas of the American southwest over the course of the album, drawing on the rich musical, cinematic and artistic history of the area to develop a compelling statement. In the West -

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Interesting links 8/13/2017

Rolling Stone re-examines the impact of The Beatles on the crimes of Charles Manson and his Family.
Hank Shteamer reviews the early to middle 1970's work of Deep Purple.
AAJ features an interview with modern jazz musician Craig Taborn.
Henry Rollins takes a rueful look at his burgeoning record collection.
Phil Freeman takes an interesting look at the 1970's recordings of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Jim Knipfel reflects on the music of Sun Ra.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey carves a very interesting path on this album, investigating the areas in which jazz improvisation, classical music and modern composition mingle. He is joined on this album by Cory Smythe on piano, toy piano and electronics and Chris Tordini on bass, and they make their way through this shadowy music with tact and dignity. "Cascade in Slow Motion" is the opening track, featuring subtle and spacious percussion using both brushes and sticks, along with spare piano and bass. The music waxes and wanes, but retains an air of mystery throughout. The concept of space and comfort with it are the hallmarks of the second performance, "Flowers for Prashant" which blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and melds them together allowing the music to develop its own language and cadence. Tordini's bowed bass matches the quiet, soft piano which uses slow tumbling notes that probe at the silence, creating motion that lingers just beneath the exterior. Smythe's piano rings and reverberates moments of crystalline beauty which fracture and disperse the path of the music, storing potential energy, and then releasing it to open into a deeper meaning. "Obsidian" develops eerie strokes of sound, and mysterious subtle manipulation of the music with electronics adds a new dimension to the proceedings. Dark piano chords, skittering over the keyboard and scattered percussion allow the musicians to investigate a wider musical soundscape. The group is able to use repetition to build the tension in the music, which is a hallmark of Sorey's music that goes back to his first album, That/Not, which used aspects of minimalism and non jazz techniques. This music utilizes a wide array of percussion, combined with judicious use of electronics to explore a wider textural soundscape, allows for flexibility in interpreting the music, which develops into a faster undercurrent of anxiety with thick bass and alarming chords focused by circling rolls of the percussionist which succeed in building an ominous sense of foreboding.  "Algid November" and "Contemplating Tranquility" are each massive performances that investigate the nature of silence and quiet within the music. It sounds like the instruments are in a large empty room and trying to close the gap between them. This is an apt metaphor for the music as a whole, a deeply meditative experience that allows ideas of deep substance to be conveyed with the utmost restraint. Verisimilitude -

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Sun Ra and his Astro-Infinity Arkestra - My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 (Cosmic Myth Records, 1970/2017)

The new Sun Ra webpage on Bandcamp is an embarrassment of riches, with dozens of the bandleader's albums for streaming, downloading and ordering physical product. The first album on the list is My Brother the Wind Part One, recorded in 1969, released the following year, and containing some of Sun Ra's earliest experiments with the Moog Synthesizer. This is a small band recording with only Ra, John Gilmore on drums and tenor saxophone, Marshall Allen on alto saxophone, piccolo and oboe, Danny Davis on alto saxophone, alto clarinet and drums and Gershon Kingsley programming the Moog itself. The recording is fascinating, running the gamut from electronic experimentation to free jazz and everything in-between. "My Brother the Wind" is a spacey performance with Ra probing the textures and possibilities of the instrument. Things get stronger in "Intergalactic II" with squalls of saxophone placed against Ra's kneading of electronic notes and chords. He has a unique conception of the instrument, taking it in a vastly different direction than progressive rock groups like ELP and King Crimson or composers like Wendy Carlos. The fractured electronic bells and chimes of "From Nature's God" are framed by Allen's piccolo getting a light and airy sound with subtle percussion from Gilmore. This would lead into the sprawling track "The Code Of Interdependence" which begins with Ra exploring the nature of the instrument, trying different approaches pushing it into electronic overdrive. Subtle percussion focuses the experiment, while reed swirl around the performance. The music gets progressively wilder as the group locks into a groove and the reeds are able to make solid statements over the keyboards and drums. Ra holds a massive sustain note that pierces your brain and then goes to town improvising against his own tone, blasting out sounds of future video games as Gilmore thrashes the drums. This is where the original album ends, but this expanded edition adds almost thirty more minutes of music, beginning with two takes of "The Perfect Man" with slick keyboards and saxophone and a functional drum beat. These are compact and well contained performances, but the real treat is the nearly eighteen minute version of "Space Probe" which stands with "Atlantis" and "The Magic City" as one of Ra's most exciting long form works. He's got the machine working for him now, bending it to his will and blasting off laser sounds into the cosmos. The other musicians stand down and he is able to get a wide range of fantastic textures and color from the instrument, and seems giddy at the possibilities, building massive swathes of sound from the patches available on the synthesizer. This is a fascinating and at times astonishing album. Sun Ra takes the Moog and creates thoroughly original music that is extraordinary and completely his own. My Brother The Wind, Vol. 1 - Bandcamp

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Matthew Shipp - Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zürich (hatOLOGY, 2017)

Matthew Shipp is one of the most reliably exciting pianists in the world regardless of how he chooses to record, and this excellent album is another example of his mastery of the solo piano format. This album was recorded live in May of 2016 at the Taktlos Festival and features a concentrated burst of improvisational vigor. One of the most interesting aspects of Shipp's piano style is how he makes the most of the entire length and breadth of the piano, juxtaposing cascading runs with powerful low end depth charges. It makes every performance unique and allows him to draw on a vivid palate of sound. "Intro Z" begins with a gentle and melodic opening, that slowly gathers pace, developing themes and improvisations and gradually working them into the overall improvisation, changing the tactile nature and temperament of the music. The music becomes complex and fleet of foot, expanding the improvisation into a focused core. "Pocket" is a short concentrated burst of musical energy, with Shipp rippling across the keyboard, punctuating his light runs with booming bass chords. This leads to "Gamma Ray" with its deceptively gentle opening subsumed by crashing sounds and urgent clusters of notes. He makes the most of changes in dynamics, with the spaces that in-between the musical poles. There is a lush opening to the standard "Tenderly" which is a surprise, but Shipp finds much to use within this song, stretching and pulling at the various threads of the music until something interesting begins to emerge. The music develops a sharp-angled tone, with an edginess that cuts and slices where very low tones are suddenly present in the music throwing the lighter portions into sharp relief. There is an urgency to "Monk's Nightmare" that takes the percussive piano attack of Thelonious and uses it to develop reverberating blasts of chords, moving into a relentless current of sound that is very exciting to listen to. Motifs and lines of though carom off one an other in a dynamic fashion, as the music spools out making it the longest track and centerpiece of the album. There is a crystal clarity to "Blue in Orion" with notes hanging in space like stars in the sky, mixing melodic lines and improvisations, before the music evolves into "It" which features cascading avalanches of notes punctuated by dramatic silences. Matthew Shipp stays true to his own style, no matter what the musical situation, and this is a powerful example of music that channels the spirit of exploration and a personal philosophy of continuous growth, allowing him to bring his inner strength of character to forefront. Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zürich -

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