Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dr. Lonnie Smith - All In My Mind (Blue Note, 2018)

Dr. Lonnie Smith is a longstanding jazz organist in the relaxed and popular soul-jazz vein, he is originally from western New York State (snowy Lackawanna) and eventually rose to prominence in the 1960's with some popular and well received albums for Blue Note Records. He was recently proclaimed an NEA Jazz Master and this live album was recorded during the celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday at the Jazz Standard in New York City. On this album he is accompanied by Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar Johnathan Blake on drums with drummer Joe Dyson and vocalist Alicia Olatuja sitting in. Wayne Shorter's "Juju" is a wonderful way to kick off the proceedings, showing that Smith is as comfortable with progressive jazz material as he is with more groove based performances. The readily indefinable melody gives them a firm foundation to develop a swirling and swinging group improvisation that also incorporates some stinging soloing for organ and guitar and crisp propulsive drum work, while the version of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" allows the band to establish a ballad format and stretch out on the material. This is a lengthy and at times meditative performances, with each of the members of the trio contributing to and returning to aspects of the original melody throughout their slow burning improvisation, adding bursts of energy to liven up the dynamics of the performance. "Devika" is also a ballad that sways gently and then builds swells of energy from the organ and Smith is able to use some orchestral effects to broaden and deepen the sound of the music along with sitting at the command console of the mighty Hammond B3 organ, capable of dancing on bass pedals and (literally) pulling out all of the stops to make for exciting and accessible music. There is an ethereal nature to the vocal performance "All In My Mind" with soft swells of keyboard and guitar with plaintive and emotional singing. The organ takes on a spiritual and church inspired vibe, gaining strength and rising inexorably like the tide overflowing the musicians and the audience in waves of sound. Vocals arch out over the music seeking grace and understanding, and beautifully holding some final notes for added resonance. "Up Jumped Spring" ends the album in a joyfully jaunty foundation, with the Grant Green inspired guitar lines from Kreisberg and the agile drumming keeping things on point. Smith takes command quickly, moving over the length and breadth of his keyboards with facility and grace, weaving snatches of melody and rhythm into an intoxicating brew, and taking the band out therefor concluding a thoughtful and memorable concert, one that should be accessible to all jazz fans and enthusiasts. All In My Mind - amazon.com

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Marker - Wired for Sound (Audiographic Records, 2017)

Marker is one of the many groups associated with multi-reed instrument player and composer Ken Vandermark. On this album, he is joined by Steve Marquette and Andrew Clinkman on guitar, Macie Stewart on keyboards and violin and Phil Sudderberg on drums. This album was recorded in Milwaukee during August of 2017 and begins with "Okinawa Bullfight (for Chantal Akerman)" which has a strong and tight rhythm from the drums and guitar with keyboard shadings. The music has a sense of urgency to it, made even more present with the addition of Vandermark's saxophone. There is a very powerful improvisation for grinding guitars and a wicked beat that underscores and supports the music. Electronic keyboards frame the sound, providing depth and texture, with biting saxophone adding grit and an element of danger that is present in the best music. The saxophone is deep toned, muscular and virile, perfect for the setting, devolving into a massive full band blowout at one point, then dropping off into abstraction. Vandermark moves to clarinet, squeaking and swirling in space, and the music turns more atmospheric, with long tones of violin. The music accelerates with Stewart shifting back to keyboard and everyone coming together for a mighty push. Vandermark's saxophone emerges with a forceful howl, leading the charge with excellent drums alongside him. "Every Carnation (for Pina Bausch)" follows with a strong full band opening for acoustic piano and scrabbling guitars with the saxophone integrating itself well, creating rhythmically complex and exciting music. The clashing piano and guitar give the music friction, and sparks some inventive interplay. Vandermark again moves to clarinet, adding subtle strokes to the musical environment, with yearning violin providing support. Guitars, violin and drums create an interesting soundscape that gains more heft from gritty tenor saxophone getting a stark and rending feature. Shimmering electric keyboards take the music in an unexpected direction, opening vistas that everyone jumps to take advantage of leading to a powerful collective improvisation, adding some epic keyboard droning to the overall sound to excellent effect. The final performance is "Doctors In The Shot (for Anthony Braxton and Bernie Worrell)" beginning with delicate guitar and clarinet, creating a delicate and intricate patchwork. Building to a choppy rhythm, the music picks up pace and volume, adding grinding guitar and steep drumming, wild electronics making for a thrilling ride. They drift into a spacier section of atmospheric violin taking a beautiful and poignant solo, before the music again blasts of dynamically for the outer limits. Stewart is very impressive on this recording moving between instruments with aplomb and adding just the right touch to the music. The band as a whole is stellar and the music that they create is thoroughly interesting and exciting. Hopefully this will be the first album of many for this excellent band. Wired for Sound - Bandcamp

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Made to Break - Trebuchet (Trost Records, 2017)

Made to Break is one of the most exciting modern jazz and improvised music ensembles active today. Consisting of Ken Vandermark on reed instruments, Christof Kurzmann on electronics and lloopp, Jasper Stadhouders on bass and Tim Daisy on drums and percussion. The music is a powerful and compelling mix of acoustic instruments with electronics and loops that is light years away from standard jazz fusion. "Hydroplane (For Shellac)" opens the album with strong grinding bass and drums with deep rich tenor saxophone, from the opening beat they envelop the science, with episodes of electronic interference adding variety. The vibrant saxophone and ripe bass are excellent, with the drums kicking in with the electronics swirling to drive the music hard. Vandermark sounds particularly inspired in his saxophone playing with an powerful and furious solo before the pace of the music drops considerably. There is a quieter section of abstract electronics, with smears of reeds and rumbling bass. and there's room for a bass solo against the spacey smears of the electronics. Chirpy reed and thudding bass build the dynamics back up making room for further percussion and saxophone soloing, leading to a very powerful conclusion. It is a long track, but continuously interesting throughout, with a dynamic push and pull creating a strong narrative presence to the musical evolution. "Contact Sheet (For Susan Sontag)" is nearly as long, beginning with light saxophone and feathery brushes, giving the music subtle shading that allows the pace to gradually pick up with the addition of the electronics and the power of the saxophone and percussion increasing accordingly. The music builds to a frenetic section of sculpted electronics buzzing and fizzing along with taut bass and drums. Vandermark re-enters, adding raw tenor saxophone to create a deeply textured free collective improvisation, that draws its power both from modern jazz and post-modern music collage. A quieter passage for the group adds and eerie and abstract angle to the proceedings, before there is a shocking jump in volume for the finale "Slipping Words Against Silence (for Kerry James Marshall)." This shows the group at their most potent, pushing their instruments to the brink, and then bringing them back. Kurzmann creates layers of unexpected sounds as Vandermark counters by switching to clarinet, swooping around the field of view. Tension builds as space opens up giving a group a clear vision of what lays before them. From a moment of silence, the musicians re-emerge, with Vandermark moving back to caustic tenor saxophone, unaccompanied in space, before the band kicks back in with an infectious groove with whistling and ringing electronics amidst popping bass and percussion. This was a really wonderful album, filled with excitement and very powerful playing and it is very highly recommended. Trebuchet - amazon.com

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 2 and 3 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

Ken Vandermark was struggling to put together an American tour, with promoters and venue owners reluctant to host to mini festival of improvised music that he envisioned. Eventually, they found  studios in Nashville and Chicago that would host them, and this double disc set was born. The Nashville session, from April 2016 features Tim Daisy on drums, Christof Kurzmann on ppooll (an audio networking system), Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass, Vandermark himself on reeds, Nate Wooley on trumpet and C. Spencer Yeh on violin, voice, electronics. This is highly experimental stuff, opening with sampled human and electronic noises building an uneasy cohesion. As the short tracks of the suite "Momentum 2: Brüllt" build upon one another, drums move in, brushes, fluttering in and around, creating odd textures, and adding a weird percussive mixture of drums and samples. The full band jumps in, with very exciting horns and all leading to an excellent blowout of collective improvisation. Drawing on strings and a ripe, potent trumpet solo, the music is followed by guttural, free form saxophone and drums led section which is very compelling. Dropping back down to eerie and haunted tones in space and taking a nuanced approach, the music, swirls and squeals with electronics and industrial clanks developing a horror movie aesthetic. Bouncing back to bright horns and skittish percussion, the push and pull between accessibility and abstraction continues as the sound devolves into grinding a electric bleeping with static like a mis-tuned radio. Horns reemerge and fly about, reveling in their freedom, with scrapes of frantically bowed strings adding to the tension with bursts of sound join to create a complex rhythm. Horns develop a melodic riff with circular brush patterns adding heft, creating a very attractive and easy going section that is unexpected. As the suite continues to evolve, space opens for subtle percussion and electronic devices, creating an odd sound sensation akin to little birds fluttering about in the bushes outside an open window. Strings move within the overall sound, placed against the groaning electronic noises, which gradually fade to allow space for fragile clarinet to emerge. A hard to describe electro-acoustic improvisation emerges, concerned with texture and dynamics rather than form and rhythm. There is a long developing section anchored by feathering percussion framed by sounds that seem to emerge if their own accord as if willed into existence followed by strings that grow in volume, altered by the magnetic field of the surrounding electronics. Trumpet breaks free to emote in pursed and worrying tones, breaking into more peaceful sounds offset by the unusual backdrop, and weaving through the thicket with addition of strong tenor saxophone, bursting into a colorful free improvisation. The first suite closes as it began, with a mysterious transmission of alien signals, that skirt along the sides of comprehension. Two long improvised tracks make up the second suite "Momentum 3: Monster Roster" recorded in Chicago on August with Tim Barnes on drums and percussion, Nick Macri on acoustic bass, Lou Mallozzi on turntables, CDs, microphones and mixer, Vandermark on reeds and Mars Williams on saxophones and toys.  The music opens with a startling drum shot, with loping bass and powerful horns developing a strong flank. There’s a pinched sounding saxophone breaks free to solo over bass and drums, with electronic instruments framing the acoustics, and the tight bass and drums making all the difference as the saxophone that is stretching out nicely, playing with an angular sensibility. The music evolves into abstraction with sub-vocalized sounds, choppy clanks and swirls, then ominous quiet. Drums allow the music to keep some form of momentum through the strangeness, and Barnes plays with a master’s touch, as the electronic noises skulk about and low horn sounds rise from the ground. The final section adds light toned saxophone and swirls of sound and a light rhythm. Electronic cracking and snatched of spoken words, add a sense of general weirdness to the proceedings. This collection can be a bit exhausting, but it is admirably ambitious in the melding of free jazz and abstract electronic music. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but when everything clicks, the results are  undeniably impressive. Momentum 2 and 3 -- Audiographic Records Bandcamp.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Scott DuBois - Autumn Wind (ACT Music, 2017)

Celebrating the beauty and heartbreak of autumn, this album that melds aspects of modern jazz, contemporary classical music and Americana to create a musical impression of that most mercurial of seasons. The main quartet consists of Scott DuBois on guitar and conduction, Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Thomas Morgan on bass and Kresten Osgood on drums. They are aided and abetted at times by further quartets of strings and reed instruments. Opening with the juxtaposition of angular shards of slashing electric guitar with piercing melodic notes of beauty, there builds a spacious open section for guitar and bass quietly performing in freedom. Using patience and using the sonorous nature of their instruments, acoustic and electric working together and moving forward, the music builds a sense of synaesthesia, with the enveloping golden glow of calm and safety present as the song progresses to its conclusion. There is a low horn, Ullman's bass clarinet that adds further textures and possibilities to the music, melding very well amidst the electric guitar and acoustic bass. The addition of drums drives the music forward with a greater sense of urgency, as bass and percussion provide an elastic groove that can soothe or shape the music into sharp angles, further aided by the appearance of strident saxophone. Storm clouds build on the horizon but also assume a framing structure for streaks of melodic guitar that run through the playing on this album, allowing the music to develop its own character and cohesive identity, with a sense of release as the music resolves in a flurry of activity. The full band performance is quite impressive, building a wide array of colors and hues, a wide textural palette completed by the range of instruments on hand like the raw and stark bass clarinet which interweaves through a variety of thoughtful composed and improvised sections. There is an arc of emotional development to the music that can move from thrashing drums and whinnying saxophone to pastoral temperament and use both motifs equally well, culminated by a thrilling blowout of strings, reeds and percussion that creates a massive edifice of sound and fury. The music serves to beautifully illustrate the moods and modes of autumn as a season and the autumnal frame of mind, seeking peace amid the squalls of life’s travails. From the riotous blooms of autumn's color in the landscape to the stark and barren trees of early winter, the music takes the listener on a personal journey, echoing the season’s many hues within its structure, a gradual unveiling of the nature of the inner and outer world. The stoic bowed bass of the latter music joins with further strings at times to usher in the chill of the approaching winter, leaving a sense of melancholy as the colors fade, and the birds take flight for warmer climes, and the guitar and drums urgently fly across barren fields, yielding to the dark enveloping night of the string section. A patient saxophone solo buoyed by updrafts of bass and strings bring home the autumnal glow of the music and serves to encapsulate the strength of the music and the musicians who made it, carving out their own identity within the overall theme of the concept. This is a long album, but it has a story to tell that makes use of that time, never rushing the arc of its narrative journey that is immersive in scope and ambition. Autumn Wind - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Myra Melford Trio - Alive in the House of Saints, Part 2 (hatOLOGY, 2018)

This is the second volume of a highly regarded series of live recordings that pianist and composer Myra Melford recorded during 1993 in Germany in the company of Lindsay Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums and percussion. This particular volume contains six Melford compositions, and it shows her at an early peak, having digested the history of post-war jazz and developing the ability to write her own material and then improvise upon it in such a way that she portrays a unique voice, one that can move from a modernist swing feel to free improvisation quickly, while still sounding thoughtful and intricate. Horner and Nicholson are the ideal band mates for Melford, since Horner has a massive tone on bass, one stretches the music elastically whether he is playing inside the ensemble or soloing, and Nicholson develops a varied rhythmic setting that is essential to the flow of the music. The three meld together seamlessly when working as a cohesive unit, but they all take solo spots when the opportunity becomes available to further stamp their individuality upon the proceedings. "Breaking Light" is the opening track, one that develops slowly from caresses of bass and brushes and subtle piano, stretching out melodically into open space as a carefully woven ballad. There is a mid performance crescendo with hints of the energy, before Horner takes an impressive solo. After one more flourish, the music makes a quiet and graceful exit. Bass and drums lay the foundation for "Some Kind of Blues" setting an earthy tone, with Melford gracefully entering and allowing the music to develop organically by adding bright chords and ripples of sound to the forefront. The music slowly develops a patient ascent into their improvised section, adding snippets of thematic material and developing a rich, full sound. The band is able to dig deep into the blues with flourishes of dynamic sound that breathe life into a more complex section of crashing percussion and bright showers of keyboard. "That the Peace" belies it's title by becoming one of the stormiest and freest performances on the album, making for a powerful and progressive performance of cascading collective improvisation that is built around the solid footing of a grounded opening section. The music is intricate and filled with information, which allows the group to slip the bonds and fly unencumbered with increased volume and density, making for a very exciting and memorable performance. Heading back to a slow boil, the music shimmers like heat rising on a sunny day, while the following track "And Silence" moves in the opposite direction with discreetly played percussion and bass to balance the cells of piano, which results in a spacious and thoughtful improvisation that has the time to develop nicely with strong trio sections and openings for squalls of Don Pullen like piano from the leader, and another fine bass solo for Horner. "Now and Now 2" rumbles and spits ominously before coming together splendidly with a rippling and rhythmic trio improvisation, as the three rampage gleefully over the soundscape. This leads into the nervous energy of "Live Jump" with rapid solo piano creating an interesting setting, with the bass and drums coming in strong to add further lift to the performance. Their collective improvisation sounds effortless, incorporating excellent solo bass and drum passages, gliding on waves of sound as the music pours out of them, which makes for an apt metaphor for this enjoyable album as a whole. Alive In The House Of Saints, Part 2 - amazon.com

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Samuel Blaser Trio - Taktlos Zurich 2017 (hatOLOGY, 2018)

You wouldn’t know it from just listening to to this album, but trombonist Samuel Blaser was taking strong pain medication to mitigate a broken rib and other injuries suffered in a bicycle accident shortly before the show. He is playing as well as ever though, able to arc long tones of brass and short bursts of sound that fit in perfectly with partners Marc Drucet on guitar and Peter Brunn on drums and percussion. The play four wide ranging compositions, beginning with Drucet’s “Stoppage” which runs nearly twenty five minutes in length and provides plenty of room for the trio to really stretch out with the musical instruments entering single file and then patiently falling into a collective improvisation that stretches and pulls at the matrix of time and tempo as Drucet’s guitar alternates between complex spidery playing and strong amplified growls of feedback. Brunn’s skittering, open ended percussion style keeps the playing field wide open on this performance and Stravinsky’s “Fanfare for a New Theatre" which melds into Drucet's "Useless Knowledge.” The trio branches out into classically inspired avant-garde improvisation, and open by playing in tight formation, developing a thematic statement and the carefully staking out territory, as Drucet’s guitar grounds the performance popping and slapping like a bass as the trombone slurs and the percussion keeps everything in frame. Blaser’s own “Jukebox” has him playing in open space, thoughtfully carving the air, as brushes provide a very quiet accompaniment. It’s a slow developing performance, but one that uses dynamic tension to keep things moving. Finally, another Drucet composition “How to Lose” concludes the album with some rousing playing complete with snarls of electric guitar and stoic growls of trombone. The build up to a rousing collectively improvised finish, which garners a round of well deserved applause. Taktlos Zurich 2017 - samuelblaser.com

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