Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa (TUM Records, 2017)

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

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

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

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

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl Records, 2017)

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

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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

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

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Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

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

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

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017)

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

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