Thursday, December 07, 2017

Kjetil Møster / Jeff Parker / Joshua Abrams / John Herndon - Ran Do (Clean Feed, 2017)

This is a very interesting cooperative band consisting of Kjetil Moster on tenor saxophone, Jeff Parker on guitar, Joshua Abrams on bass and John Herndon on drums. The quartet was born out of Moster’s encounter with the talented Chicago music community, after a tour made by his band Møster in the United States. At this time he came into contact with members of that city's thriving and exploratory jazz and post-rock scenes. The music on this album is quite varied and interesting, incorporating aspects of abstract free improvisation and blazing free funk that wouldn't sound out of place on an early seventies Miles Davis recording. That part of their playing is most noticeable on the opening track "Orko" where the band comes out swaggering with snarling guitar, propulsive bass and drums and scouring saxophone. The develop large slabs of energy that moves around the soundascape of the performance, opening a wide field of view and incorporating blocks of guitar, raw bass and vital drumming that create a very strong rhythmic setting which is perfect for Moster's stoic saxophone playing and improvising. It's not all like that, and this heavy and bracing form of music is juxtaposed by "Annica" where the group takes a unique approach to the ballad form with Herndon making inventive use of brushes and open ended percussion techniques, while Moster plays light and breathy saxophone that moves between melody and abstraction, keeping everyone on their toes. They are framed by subtle guitar and bass which keeps everything within the frame and provides context for their ever evolving improvisation. It is also the longest track on the album unfolding in a dream like pattern, clocking in at over fifteen minutes, and providing plenty of time for the band members to explore the developing and morphing space and time that opens before them. This admirable sense of restraint carries on into the final track, "Pajama Jazz" which shows the group incorporating some swinging modern jazz into their musical vocabulary, and this allows them to provide further textures that are available for exploration, and it is the collective improvisation that develops out of this that is most impressive with everyone turning their shoulder to the wheel and creating a memorable performance. This was a rewarding album of modern jazz and an excellent cross-pollination of ideas between the fertile Scandinavian and Chicago jazz scenes. Incorporating ideas from post-rock of groups like Motorpsycho and Tortoise as well as the arena of post-bop and fusion jazz allows the group to have a wide arena of possibilities to explore, and they make the most of it. Ran Do -

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Ivo Perelman - Heptagon (Leo Records, 2017)

Heptagon is an excellent quartet album of stellar modern jazz led by tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman in the company of Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Bobby Kapp on drums which was recorded in Brooklyn NY during May of 2017. All of these musicians are well known to each other and they jump into this collectively improvised album with no fear, developing a crisp seven part, forty-five minute album that moves through a wide range of tempos and feelings from the blistering free jazz of "Part 1" which has the quartet locked in together and navigating an exciting and very fast paced performance with Perelman's raw and powerful saxophone leading the charge. Kapp is perfectly suited for the music at hand, dancing across the cymbals and adding just the right touch of rhythmic sensibility to the music. Shipp and Parker are longtime Perelman confidants, showing their ease with the graceful and flowing "Part 2" which has crystalline piano chords and longing bowed bass that add an emotionally charged aspect to the music, leading to a performance that is mysterious and thought provoking. Journalist Neil Tesser writes in this album's liner notes about the concept of lyricism in Perelman's work and that is underscored here with long peals of wounded saxophone and arcs of bowed bass create a deep seated beauty within the music. Shipp's percussive and insistent piano work provides the momentum for "Part 3" and the scouring bass and light percussion are the perfect foil for Perelman's deep yearning saxophone tones, and he uses this finely honed technique to build to a towering conclusion of harrowing intensity, rising to impassioned squalls from the highest range of his instrument, using this raw and rending tone to build the music to a natural and organic conclusion. The music on this album develops further the deeper it goes, with the music pouring forth like a planned suite of tunes rather than a spontaneously improvised collection. Kapp is able to deftly switch to brushes for the intimate opening of "Part 5" which combines the risk taking free improvisation these musicians are known for with a textural and woven structure which is all the more impressive when you consider that it was constructed on the fly and played with an impressive combination of close attention to detail and devil may care spontaneity. The searing saxophone leads the band through to the conclusion of the album, making for a complete and constructive whole, and one of the most finely realized of the albums that Perelman has released this year. It's a gem, and open eared modern jazz fans shouldn't miss it. Heptagon -

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sun Ra - Exotica (Modern Harmonic, 2017)

Exotica is a strain of music that draws from around the world, especially Brazilian, East Asian and Oceanic cultures and neuters those influences to make a form of early Muzak that was popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Given his interest in the music of different cultures, it is not surprising that Sun Ra created at this time a form of exotic jazz that had some parallels but was more adventurous than the aural wallpaper of exotica. The use of flutes and hand is percussion with lush piano playing on tracks like “Space Mates (Abridged)” and many other of the early performances, create a cinematic mood music suitable for the space age bachelor pad, and the subtle use of bells or vibes add further color and texture to “Star Bright.” These songs are at a relatively slow tempo, but that changes with “Eve” which develops a small group swing, with shaded horns and gently propulsive piano from the leader. “Tiny Pyramids” has a hypnotic horn arrangement that is cascading over a heavy beat, as flutes break out and soar over the musical landscape, shaded by brass and percussion with Ra’s piano developing Monk like chords. He moves briefly to an electronic keyboard for “The Lady With The Golden Stockings” which has a bracing saxophone solo amidst the now customary flute and percussion. Ra’s beautiful piano (acoustic and electric) is at the heart of “Paradise” amidst a thicket of percussion and bass developing a spacious melody and then interpreting it with embellishments. “India” is the type of proto world jazz that Sun Ra thrived on, creating a slashing percussion pattern to boost the droning bass, horns and electric piano. Bounding drum sounds add further heft and Ra’s ripples of buoyant electronics keeps things fresh. “Ancient Aiethopia” is a kaleidoscope of color and rhythm with Ra’s Afro-futurist philosophy driving a fascinating performance with light flutes paring off against a stout horn arrangement and driving percussion and vocalizing. A previously unreleased version of “April in Paris” is a beautiful small group keyboard performance, with full blooms of notes, and soft hand percussion accenting the leader's playing. The lengthy “Island in the Sun” has slapping percussion underpinning saxophones and flute with an arresting rhythm. Ra weaves in and out of the thick bass and drums, adding further color to the arrangement. “Africa” is very interesting with baritone sax, harmonized vocalizing and ominous percussion creating quite an impression. The rattling drumming drives the music forward and offsets the light flute and dark baritone. Trumpet is featured on “Friendly Galaxy” with a tight solo sparking the tune, with Ra playing some poorly mixed keyboard alongside the requisite flute solo. “Cha Cha In Outer Space” is a riot with layers of percussion rattling around Ra’s percussive piano, they get into the spirit of things and create quite a racket of kitschy fun. The album ends with “Overtones of China” and and obvious gong blast to let you know it is an eastern pastiche. The horns strut a fine riff as Ra leads the rhythm section dropping heavy chords and notes amidst the hollow drumming. This was an interesting if overblown compilation, originally for Record Store Day, but now more widely available. Too much of the music has a similar sound and thematic format to last two hours, but a more tightly edited set would reduce the tedium and shine some light on an interesting period in Sun Ra’s career. Exotica -

Send comments to Tim.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Francesco Cusa Trio Meets Carlo Atti ‎– From Sun Ra To Donald Trump (Clean Feed, 2017)

The titles of the album and the tracks may betray a sly wit, but make no mistake, this is serious business, and the band which consists of Carlo Atti on tenor saxophone, Simone Graziano on piano, Gabriele Evangelista on bass and Francesco Cusa on drums are a rock solid modern jazz group. The meeting of the established trio with the impressive saxophonist allows sparks to fly, beginning with "Adam Smith Counts Every Penny" which opens spaciously with subtle bass and percussion and with gentle tenor saxophone completing the group improvisation. The track begins to get a little more feisty with tightly wound saxophone (pleasantly reminiscent of Steve Coleman in nature) leads the group into an exciting and fast paced collective improvisation. They stretch out nicely and develop a firm grasp on progressive improvisation, developing the tune as if it were a living entity. The music comes tumbling out on "Economic Boom And Stasis In The Capitalistic Illusion" with peals of saxophone arcing across fractured rhythm, marking a spontaneous unfolding of musical ideas. Atti's saxophone lays out and the rhythm section is fleet in his absence, before everything come back together for an episodic collective improvisation. The music weaves in and out of spacier sections confidently which allows the dynamic nature of the music to be felt, and the nearly sixteen minute long track never lags. "Deficit In The Economies Of The Black Jazzmen In The Sixties" is certainly a provocative title, and the band uses it as a springboard to look at post-bop jazz through a modern lens. Cascading notes of piano are met by long rending tones of saxophone, while a spiky rhythm flows through the heart of the performance. Piano chords dance lightly through a feature for Graziano, like bright raindrops, and the patient reentry of the saxophone is perfectly timed, weaving his sound gradually into the overall context. There is an engaging piano trio melody to "Delivering A Load Of Musical Boxes To Wall Street" that is warm and inviting, and they expand the palette of the performance by adding saxophone while keeping the light melodic structure of the composition. The rhythm section is playing very well, with a heart-on-sleeve eloquence that is quite appealing. The main event of the second half of the album is “Sun Ra vs. Donald Trump (Wrestling Bout, Refereed By Roland Barthes)” a performance that brings together all of the disparate strands of music the group had been weaving leading up to this point. The group develops an episodic almost suite like nature in the music which ebbs and flows, alternating squalls of fast and free music with the abstract development of space and solos popping up as the music evolves in a graceful manner. This was a very good small group modern jazz album, with the addition of a socially aware concept. Protest music in jazz goes back to “Strange Fruit” and beyond, and this album makes valid commentary available without taking away from the inherent power of the music itself. From Sun Ra to Donald Trump -

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Joe McPhee, Pascal Niggenkemper, Stale Liavik Solberg ‎– Imaginary Numbers (Clean Feed, 2017)

The great progressive jazz musician Joe McPhee, here playing pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone, has been building partnerships with musicians from around the world for decades. On this album, which was recorded in Brooklyn in December of 2015 he is in the company of Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Stale Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. The trio plays three lengthy collective improvisations which work very well, and the musicians are deeply in sync with each other beginning with "I" which is the lengthiest piece, clocking in at over twenty three minutes. They investigate the open field before them, taking tentative stabs into the darkness with thick declamatory bass and skittish drumming that frame McPhee's trumpet playing. This creates a vibrant synthesis that allows their improvisation to coalesce and move forward, and keeps the music in a state of flux throughout, never staying still. Niggenkemper moves to the bow, adding a low droning sound to the music that is met with spare percussion, and equally low toned trumpet. Creating eerie swathes of sound and incorporating a very interesting drum rhythm, which allows McPhee to switch to tenor saxophone and add long breaths of emotionally resonant sound to the proceedings. McPhee's tenor develops a raw, rending sound that weaves through the complex rhythm of bass and drums and adds an element of continuity to the group's improvisation, diving deeply into the extemporaneous nature of the music. Moving into "A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)" they take that master saxophonists often overlooked later work as a license to create a spontaneous improvisation from the ground up with rattling and clanking bass and drums creating an unsettling feeling, and using the rapport and trust that they have built with each other to patiently develop a strong piece of music. McPhee majestically enters adding long stoic lines of saxophone, playing in an oblique manner, while gaining volume and intensity as they evoke the spirit of Coltrane without ever slipping into hagiography. Finally, "Zero" has unmoored percussion and bass providing a wide open foundation for the piece, with quick shivers of bass and percussive replies. McPhee adds smears of sound from his trumpet, accenting the bowed bass and drumming, while developing proper context for music that uses dynamic light and shade to good effect. The excellent timing of the musicians assures that these shifts occur seamlessly, with grinding bowed bass and spitfire trumpet at the fore, the music heads for the arena of raw sound. Moving out of this, the musicians develop a caustic free collective improvisation that is very exciting, pushing the limits of their instruments and reveling in the freedom that they obtain in the process. Imaginary Numbers -

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ivo Perelman with Matthew Shipp and Joe Hertenstein - Scalene (Leo Records, 2017)

Drummer Joe Hertenstein is part of the ever widening circle of excellent musicians that surrounds tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. The saxophonist has played with a tight knit group of collaborators for years, especially pianist Matthew Shipp, but has recently developed contacts to further the reach of his music while continuing the aspects of his sound that has made him so successful. This is an album of collective improvisations, an album that develops over the course of ten relatively short, four to six minute, performances. Perelman and Shipp are a potent combination under any circumstances, but adding Hertenstein to the picture pours gas on the fire and makes the music even more exciting and edgy. "Part 1," the opening track of the album, develops at a very fast pace with kinetic drumming and piano playing combining with the gales of sharp toned tenor saxophone to make for a very exciting venture. The drummer is far from some wide-eyed rookie, having several albums of his own as a leader or collaborator, and having a lot of experience playing live and as an artist in residence. This is his first album with Perelman, but the trio clicks well, not only on the fast paced frenetic free jazz sections of the album, but playing with excellent restraint when the music becomes more open ended and abstract. Matthew Shipp as always is an absolute rock, creating in the moment superb squalls of spontaneously developed piano. Perelman is playing at a very high level, having consolidated a manner of playing that allows for the maximum amount of freedom, whether blistering fast paced free improvisation or slow and patient exploration that investigates texture and nuance. "Part 5" is one of the best examples of this trio working together for the greater good. Beginning with saxophone and piano probing the silence, it is the entrance of the drummer, playing a weighty rhythm, that causes the music to catch fire and then the group is off to the race with a deep and exploratory performance. Shipp bounds through the track, balancing light notes with darker heavier chords and Perelman plays ecstatic saxophone which paint swathes of bold color across the musical canvas their sounds develop. The near reverse pattern takes place on "Track 9" where the music begins fast and strong with explosive drumming, deep piano and scorching saxophone, but then slowly abates, leaving the musicians suspended in open space, and navigating their way out by constructing a fearless latticework of short filigrees of sound that builds a bridge to a satisfying conclusion. This was another fine Perelman album, one out of an embarrassment of riches that he has given to music fans this year. He sounds very excited at the prospect of playing with new people in addition to familiar faces, and this should ensure that he has many more surprises on the horizon. Scalene -

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille! (Delmark, 2017)

Jason Stein specializes in the bass clarinet, the unwieldy yet beautiful instrument that Eric Dolphy popularized in the 1960’s. Stein’s work nods to Dolphy’s groundbreaking music, especially the angular beauty of his Out to Lunch album, but he has developed a unique and personal approach to the instrument that is all his own. He is joined on this session by Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, Joshua Abrams on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This is an excellent album of bracing modern jazz that mixes original compositions with thoughtful covers and cover a wide dynamic range from spacious and abstract through to blistering fire music. "Marshmallow" opens the album with tight bass and drum playing setting a fast pace for the two reed instruments to harmonize over and then to break out into solo formations. Stein plays a fast paced feature moving adroitly within the thicket of rhythm provided by the bass and drums. Jackson's saxophone is an excellent foil for the bass clarinet, making for an excellent full band improvisation and theme. There is a darker and more angular feel to "Halls and Rooms" with the group exploring the music at a medium tempo. The space allows the reeds to stretch out and offer interesting textures while being gently framed by bass and drums. The pace slowly grows toward a collective improvisation, then backing out for an expressive and emotional tenor saxophone solo. "Roused About" has an active and complex feeling with the clarinet and drums circling and engaging with each other, slowly raising the stakes before the band breaks into a strutting and memorable theme. The musicians build from the riff into a confident and witty bass clarinet feature, working with the other instruments to for an excellent performance. There is a patient medium tempo established on "Wow" that quickly moves into a complex and nimble thematic statement. This makes for excellent source material for the horns to improvise on and they do so in an admirable fashion. There is a muscular section on "Little Rootie Tootie" that was very exciting and unexpected, adding a dose of free playing to contrast against the memorable melody. The album concludes with "April," a thoughtful and carefully played melody, with a fine feature for Stein's bass clarinet, it shows how well rounded his music and this album is, encompassing melodies and rhythms that support the natural growth of the music. His conception of small group modern jazz is a fine one, and this album deserves to be widely heard. Lucille -

Send comments to Tim.