Thursday, April 30, 2015

Glenn Wilson, Timely

When we mentally list the names of living baritone sax titans chances are we do not think to list Glenn Wilson, yet he has been doing excellent work for decades. He deserves wider recognition, surely. The reasons why he is relatively unsung are various and part of that has to do with not always living in locations where recognition is easy to gain. The rest may be just a product of chance. Either way it is very good to see him back on the recorded scene with a live album of his band recorded at the Havana Nights Jazz Club in Virginia Beach, circa 2012. Timely (Cadence Jazz 1255) is the apt title of the album. His reappearance is definitely that.

It's Glenn and his band playing a couple of originals and a good selection of numbers by jazzmen both well-covered and less so: Wayne Shorter, Larry Willis, Pepper Adams, Bob Dorough and Bob Belden. It is a treat to hear the band do an instrumental version of Dorough's "Nothing Like You," which Bob of course made well known when he sung it as part of a mid-sixties Miles Davis album. All the material suits the band well and allows them to launch some nice solos.

Glenn is joined by John D'earth on Trumpet and Flugel, a talented voice in the bop-and-after brassy mode. John Toomey plays some very good, harmonically rich and line savvy modern mainstream piano, and the rhythm team of Jimmy Masters on bass and Tony Martucci, drums, have the drive, expertise and sensibility to get everything swinging right.

The band sounds classic, in a '60s Blue Note-ish way, old school but with their own solo personalities and distinctive rhythm section presence. D'earth and Toomey solo extensively and well, but the primary attraction in the end is Glenn Wilson for his considerably inventive solo presence, his ability to weave beautiful lines with that big baritone sound.

The set is an excellent one, with a generous playing time and some consistently inspired playing. It has the fire of conviction and shows us why Glenn Wilson and his band are something to hear and appreciate. Glenn can PLAY! I am glad to have this one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tim Berne's Snakeoil, You've Been Watching Me

Tim Berne and his ensemble Snakeoil are entering a phase of full-flower. That is on the new album You've Been Watching Me (ECM B0022874-02). The ensemble engages in a musical direction that's been implied and partly realized in their very worthy previous albums. But it seems that the implications have moved forward to a fruition that places them in a stylistic zone very characteristic of Tim Berne's musical tendencies but now squarely situated in very much their own space.

The band consists of Tim Berne, alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega, bass and b-flat clarinets, Ryan Ferreira, electric and acoustic guitars, Matt Mitchell, piano and electronics, and Ches Smith, drums, vibraphone, percussion, timpani. Each group member has a specific set of roles to play in the very integrated compositional-improvisational event horizons.

Pianist Mitchell is often in a gravitating, pivotal role as the center of the many perpetuum mobile cycles of repetition, which are rhythmically precise but cross-positioned against a two or four beat pulse so they act polyrhythmically and poly-semantically, or in other words you hear the whole in multiple dimensions.

The repeating figures are more and more contrapuntal, and the role of all here is to extend and expand in between the crevices of the mobiles, to act within and outside of the event horizons in improvisational ways when they are not called upon to be a direct part of the orbiting motives.

What's exhilarating about it all especially on this new album is how the multiple dimensional presence of the orbital figures and the free expressions that pulsate around and outside of them work together for a complex whole that has free energy but yet functions in a very compositionally structured framework.

There is a little of the rabbit or duck oscillation that happens in the listener's ear at key points, like a gestalt poly-image that you can see two ways and continually shift back and forth between them.

All the artists contribute their very personal sound signatures in the best ways while doing something always within the original world of Berne's Snakeoil. That is a group-concept accomplishment worthy of the highest praise and of course not often the rule in the jazz world except when the melding of artist and group reach a symbiotic stage--Duke's bands, Miles, Trane all come to mind as the most enduringly successful music mind melds. Snakeoil has reached something of that stage. Now of course we will look forward to how that can proceed, continue, develop even further.

But all that is secondary to the sheer mental-emotional pleasure one feels once one has gotten inside this music. It's pretty seminal! You must dive into this one ears first. The rewards are considerable. Listen and grok!

Oh, by the way, the band is touring the USA now through May if you are interested. Google Tim Berne's Snakeoil for the details.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charles Evans, On Beauty, with David Liebman

Baritone sax phenom and jazz composer Charles Evans has been giving us much to like with his consistently worthwhile albums, more than a few by now, and he shows no signs of letting up. If there is such as thing as sophomore jinx in jazz, and I am not sure there is, he is not one prone to it. Quite the opposite.

The new one delves deeply into an avant chamber jazz that consists of a multi-part composition-improvisational platform called On Beauty (More is More 152). It is a through composed suite by Charles featuring himself of course on baritone, his mentor David Liebman on soprano, Ron Stabinsky on piano and Tony Marino on bass.

Evans and Liebman have a very inspired improvisational presence, both separately and collectively, as they weave improv with the compositional material. Ron Stabinsky plays his very modern harmonically extended parts and adds some brilliant improvisations as well. And bassist Tony Marino brings up the bottom with a full tone and good ideas.

This is music that plays structure against freedom in ways that may remind you of early AACM or even Jimmy Giuffre in his more outside period when Paul Bley and Steve Swallow were key members in his ensemble. But that only covers precedents, not things imitated, for Charles comes through once again as a determined and eloquent musical personality, a baritone of stature but also a music composer-director who has direction and purpose, who succeeds in carving out his own new jazz turf in ways that make you listen and appreciate.

It is one more landmark-signifying notch in the musical belt of Mr. Charles Evans. It is more-or-less required listening for anyone who wants to explore the newness to be had out there today. Formidable music!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Simon Frick, Solo

To my knowledge I have never had the pleasure of hearing violinist Simon Frick before. He is an extremely adroit virtuoso with apparently considerable classical training. He puts that schooling into very distinctive use in a solo violin album that makes of the violin a rock vehicle.

Solo (Boomslang) begins with a most unusual version of Nirvana's anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and goes on from there with a series of very metallic solo violin pieces, making excellent use of effects and it seems double-tracking to give us a powerful jolt.

Beneath it all are real virtuoso abilities. Much of the music has a cadenza-like quality but also a driving hard-rock heft. Not since Jerry Goodman's work with the Flock has so much violin gone into a rock setting. And here as a solo violin effort the virtuosity and the heavy aspects join together as a unified single-source power thrust.

There are clearly improvisational elements as well as worked-over compositional routines on display. And the whole thing works together to give you an iconoclastic, genre-bursting wholeness that is most impressive.

If you come out of the rock side, you will be flabbergasted. If you come out of the classical side you may be shocked. If you have been musically exposed to both camps you will not feel that this is a shotgun marriage of styles. It works so well because Frick stays true to the rootedness of his violin heritage as well as the hard-rock world he so successfully engages.

It is a real ear-opener! Maybe even an era-opener! You will undeniably get something out of this music wherever you come from. He is an artist, truly, an innovator, and a creative force that needs to be heard.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Abdelhai Bennani Trio, The Crawling Snake, with Alan Silva, Makoto Sato

Tenor avantist Abdelhai Bennani has been rather prolific with releases on the JaZt Tapes label. I have covered a number of them and today we have another. It is a trio of Bennani, Alan Silva on digital keys and piano, and Makoto Sato on drums, which is a very potent threesome on this live date from Rennes, France. The album is called The Crawling Snake (JaZt Tapes CD 053).

It is a continuous 50 minute performance of the free jazz sort, as you may have imagined. Makoto Sato gives us his dynamo all-over drumming style, Alan Silva reminds us that he is an imaginative avant conceptualist whether on bass or on keyboards, and Abdelhai gives us a robust over-the-top tenor madness very much in keeping with his approach. Everyone gets in-your-face in very good ways here.

With the recent demise of Bernard Stollman, founder of ESP Disks, we are reminded of how the legacy of the visionary artists who first recorded for that label lives on with a recording like this. It is an updated "new thing" we hear on The Crawling Snake, surely. And it sounds to me as fresh as ever. Alan Silva was one of the breakthrough artists of course in those early New York days. And he continues to thrive as evidenced by this recording, with Bennani and Sato giving us very vibrant fellow-artists for a pleasingly out excursion.

For further info and to find out how to order, go the the JaZt Tapes site:

This is "free jazz" the way it sounds when everybody is attuned to the spirit feel. Recommended!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spin Marvel, Infolding

I first heard Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer with his group opening for Terje Rypdal in a live New York appearance sometime around 1997, the same year his ECM album Khmer was released. I liked what I heard on the bandstand and I liked the album, too. But somehow I got sidetracked (mostly in overwork) and lost sight of his very electric post-Milesean trumpet and group sound, though other albums followed.

So now I am pleased these years later to find him back into my earspan as a part of the band Spin Marvel, on the recent album Infolding (Rarenoise 34849).

It is an excellent spaced-out electronic free-jazz-rock sound the band gets on this delightful slab. With Nils is a solid lineup of Martin France on drums, Terje Evensen on live electronics, and Tim Harries on bass. These are free group improvs that have a pronounced and varied group routine that comes through distinctively on the six tracks of the album.

Nils sounds as good as ever in his post-Miles lyrical outness, whether his trumpet is redolent with effects or not. There are some excellently spooky moments when Nils creates sonic auras that grab you and thrust you outwards into cosmic territory.

France on drums is a very creative force, not content to just lay down time but also straying into the open-field arrhythmia that he approaches very creatively, with some Floyd-Hendrix-Baker toms as well as free jazz inflections. Bassist Harries also does not remain in a riffing zone so much as he brings up the sonic bottom with electric freedom. And Evensen is a key factor in the mix, too, giving much color and texture to the sound with expansive electrical clouds.

For those who like to dwell in high musical places Spin Marvel carry on the post-psychedelic art and bring it to original places. Those who eschew electronics may not care for the music, but if they give it a chance they might see how the present is an evolvement when done so nicely as this of our not always halcyon days musically speaking, that is, as a very legitimate contemporary presence and advanced musical art form.

The electric free sound continues to grow and progress. Spin Marvel is one of the glowing examples of how that is happening. This album will take you back to the future in ways both original and moving!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eric Normand, Philippe Lauzier, Not the Music

On tap today is a CD by Eric Normand and Philippe Lauzier entitled Not the Music (Tour de Bras). It is a Quebec Canadian release that gets your immediate attention by sporting a cover which is in fact a small brown paper lunch bag imprinted with red ink and tied together with a plain white string.

Musically it features Eric Normand on electric bass and clarinet and Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and soprano sax. It is free improvisation in a definite avant zone, with a new music feel that extends outward from some of the classic avant sounds of MEV and AMM. Unconventional sounds and unusual playing techniques are the rule, effectively so, as what apparently is an unconventionally bowed electric bass, prepared it seems in various ways, and the two wind instruments lay out a carpet of unusual sound colors and textures.

This does not have as much in the way of obvious jazz roots as it has experimental musical affiliations. To appreciate the music it helps to approach it with a blank slate rather than a set of expectations. If Lauzier sometimes sounds a bit reminiscent of Evan Parker on soprano, it is not in some obvious way and the overall context is the very advanced avant ambient rather than what is more typical in free improvisational circles.

It may put some people off but I find the entire album rather invigorating. There isn't a stitch of compromise to be heard here. They are not out to please the crowd so much as stretch the sonic boundaries of timbre. And for that they do very well. Very well, indeed.

Recommended for those who respond to the very daringly experimental. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mike Osborne, Dawn

The brilliant and short-lived English alto saxophonist Mike Osborne left us too soon, initially due to a debilitating mental illness and then from a physical departure, his death in 2007. While he was actively on the scene he carved out an avant style of jazz largely all his own, though of course squarely within the outside vocabulary that was in the wind then.

With Dawn (Cuneiform Rune 392) we have some excellent barely released or unreleased examples of his music, starting with a marvelous set of 1970 sessions featuring his trio with Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums). They are very fired up and show just how evolved and original a unit they were already.

The second half of the album features a rare session from 1966 that spotlights Osborne and John Surman on the front line and Alan Jackson on drums, Harry Miller on bass. They are clearly at this stage under the spell of Ornette and American New Thing masters, playing a Pharoah Sanders composition, one by Carla Bley and a Booker Little chestnut. There is also an Osborne original. It is a complete view of the first flowering of English avant, not just a historical document but very good music in itself.

Like Cuneiform's release a while ago of unknown SOS recordings (in which Surman and Osborne were key members, type "SOS" in the search box above for that review), this release broadens the picture with some essential examples of the burgeoning of British avant jazz and by so doing gives you a look at the talent and special ways of Mike Osborne.

I am very glad to have it to hear repeatedly. It does its job well, to remind us of the centrality or Mike Osborne in those heady days. And it sounds refreshingly new listening today. Bravo!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago

A good case could be made for the stylistically innovative jazz drumming of master Jack DeJohnette. I would go so far as to say that in the past half-century, the influence of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams is paramount, but that DeJohnette certainly belongs up there as well. If one were to make a few more choices things might get controversial, but there is more or less a consensus that those three have stood out and established model drumming styles that remain very much a part of the vocabulary of the new jazz today.

Jack reminds us he is very much still on the cutting edge with a live reunion of his Chicago colleagues from the early AACM period, when Jack had Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill as classmates and musical collaborators, and all three joined Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, all this in the period of 1962-65. All four reunited for a special concert appearance for the Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennial Park, August, 2013. Larry Gray appeared as the bassist to complete the group. Happily the tapes were rolling and we can now hear the concert on the new CD Made in Chicago (ECM 2392).

Five long numbers represent compositions by each of the principals; they conclude with a freely improvised piece. Of course it is the interactions between and solo adventures of DeJohnette, Mitchell, Threadgill and Abrams that we anticipate on contemplating the music, and on hearing we are not disappointed. All are most certainly up for it and fall naturally into free dialogues. And the compositions themselves give us something very good as well.

As much as Jack has flourished during his lengthy tenure as the drummer with Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, it is great to hear him break loose in the company of Chicago's legendary innovators. And Jack's presence plus an enthusiastic audience seems to inspire the quintet to a very focused openness.

In short this is more than just a nostalgic reunion. It produces some avant jazz of real consequence. DeJohnette and Manfred Eicher mix down the original tracks for a very worthy sonic result, too, so all is just right.

It is music of importance. Do not hesitate!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Francoise Toullec, Francois Tusques, Eric Zinman, Laisser l'Esprit Divaguer

So just what is "jazz?" It's the total sum of important historical styles that went under that name, plus what it is right now and what it will become in the future. There is no music made under that name, in the serious practice of the art, that does not have some relation to the past styles, but of course to greater or lesser degrees. Needless to say jazz came about as Afro-American elements freely mingled with local vernacular music of the brass bands, popular song and any number of other things we need not go into here.

The most advanced exponents of avant garde jazz have traces of the past mixed into the matrix if you listen closely. And so it is nicely the case with a series of two piano duets in a very advanced realm, Laisser l'Esprit Divaguer (Studio 234 010), featuring a CD length piano duet from Francois Tusques and Francois Toullec, and another one filling a second CD by Eric Zinman and Tusques.

Tusques of course is an avant vet who has made his mark over the years as an original force on the European scene. Eric Zinman is a well-seasoned American exponent who has been rapidly gaining more attention in recent years as a pianist to hear. I am not that familiar with Francois Toullec, but she is a important figure in French circles and sounds well on the album.

The first duet employs prepared pianos part of the time and has a pronounced new music feel much of the time, though roots in jazz show themselves, especially towards the end. The second disk of Zinman-Tusques has more consistently pronounced jazz improvisational roots, but also has an uncompromising advanced stance.

It is a tribute, first off, to the long-standing originality of Francois Tusques, but also a showcase equally for the very together playing of Zinman and Toullec. Both sessions give us inspired improvisations that pack an explosive charge in the very sympathetic two-way interactions of the pianists. Everything remains very much in focus. There are no tentative gropings to be heard. All three get to it from the start and stay in good zones.

Anyone interested in the art of avant improvisations on piano should hear this set. It is the real thing, superb in its own way!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Zanussi 5, Live in Coimbra

Composer-bassist Per Zanussi and his Zanussi 5 have something very together happening which you can hear readily and excitingly on their recent Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed 314). They are an excellent illustration of what's going on today in the vibrant European improv-jazz scene.

Though only a quintet they have a deceptively large sound thanks to Zanussi's effective compositional use of a three-horn frontline and the interaction the three get going on this set. Kjetil Moster gets some good sounds on tenor, soprano and clarinet; Jorgen Mathisen expands the sound with his tenor and clarinet; and Eirik Hegdal rounds it all out on baritone and clarinet. As a clarinet trio they sound very striking but the various combinations via doubling give us plenty of additional sound color variations which Zanussi puts to very good use. The rhythm section has drive and presence with Per of course playing a central pivotal role on bass, riffing, improvising and anchoring everything very well. Gard Nilssen has a vibrant and swinging presence on drums.

The compositional routines are invigorating, with the three-horn lines defining the sound well and the individual soloing communicating nicely as do the interactive three-ways that come to the forefront now and again. I like especially Hegdal's baritone acrobatics, but everybody sounds quite good.

The music has an original feel, an accomplished togetherness and individuality. Zanussi writes some beautiful charts. It is new jazz of real stature! I heartily recommend you hear this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Keiko Higuchi, Yasumune Morishige, Awai

Today's recording illustrates well why streaming, aside from economic considerations, is not a good idea for really new music, music that transcends borders and boundaries and has originality. I was happily sent the CD by Japanese avant artists Keiko Higuchi and Yasumune Morishige, entitled Awai (Improvising Beings 19). It is an extended performance in eight segments of Keiko on vocals and Yasumune on cello. The first listen left me puzzled and unsure. The second, pretty much the same. But on the third, complete listen I started to "get it." The fourth listen confirmed that and now when I listen the fifth time as I write this I am convinced. If I had been surfing around on a streaming service and came upon this music I would have listened for a few minutes and no doubt would have switched off in impatience, ready to go on to the 100 or so other examples that I could hear of new music where if the result was immediately palpable and gratifying I would have stayed with it. The truth is, some music cannot be casually engaged with if you are going to grow to like it. And that sort of "difficult" music is often what new music can give you. But you cannot flirt with it. You must engage seriously.

For your ears to grow there is a good deal of effort needed, in other words, which streaming does not always lend itself to.

So this brings us back to the CD at hand. This is music that requires time and patience to appreciate. Then, at least for me, it started to stand out as a pretty extraordinary thing. Keiko Higuchi vocalizes in ways that are both avant and very musical. The pitched perfection of her note choices are given presence by her use of vocal, syllabic tone color and a vivid sense of space that seems very Japanese somehow, in the classic minimalist sense of some of the architecture and classic traditional music. It is firmly avant garde and "free" improvisatory, but not as linear and dense as most of the music we have heard. Yasumine Morishige on cello brings us the instrumental equivalent. Sound utterance is surrounded by space. The sounds of the cello are very much colored by harmonics and unconventional playing techniques. There is never a sense of abundance to the cello as much as a subtracting out of anything superfluous, so that the combination of vocal and cello is weeded of all extra soundings and we are left with a starkly vivid essence.

And as I said, it does not come together without the repeated presence of the fully listening musical mind. Then it becomes something extraordinary. Further description does not seem necessary in the spirit of the music. This is something very different and in its own way a landmark of sonic profundity. You must listen to get it. So get it and you'll eventually get it. All adventurous souls will, with a bit of work, find this most revealing, I think. An impressive outing, extreme but very deep, it seems to me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Carlos "Zingaro," Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha

Hearing the music of Carlos "Zingaro" for the first time at this later date is a little like walking into a room in the middle of a conversation, except his music speaks for itself whether you know past recordings or not. I missed his earlier work but have covered several later ensembles where he is featured (type his name in the search box above for those reviews). And I am very happy to hear his latest, a free solo violin concert, Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (Cipsela 001).

Zingaro is a legend on the Portuguese musical scene, having flourished in spite of Salazar's anti-art repressive rule, which lasted through 1974. Zingaro's group Plexus thrived with an innovative melding of rock, classical and improvisational styles. He gave Portuguese artists the possibility of improvisation and it is to him we look as the founder of the now very vital improvisational scene in Portugal today.

The current recording shows us a Zingaro far more than just a foundational artist. On solo violin throughout, Zingaro gives us some extraordinary extemporizations. His violin alternately soars into a melodic stratosphere, then thickens the texture with various color techniques showing non-standard combinations of pizzicato and bowing techniques that extend his sound and give expressive weight to the phrasings.

He is a real original and this concert brings home to us how good he is. It is a must-not-miss release for anyone concerned with free improvisation and a true joy to hear!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Matthew Shipp Chamber Ensemble, The Gospel According to Matthew & Michael

There is no doubt in my mind that pianist-improv composer Matthew Shipp is on a roll these days. Perhaps it has to do with the inspiration of teaming up with bass-giant Michael Bisio, and/or any number of reasons, but he has been touching to gold like Midas everything he's been trying recently. The last outing To Duke (type that in the search box above for my posting) gave us a respectful inside-outside tribute that glowed with creativity.

Now we have a serious foray into improv new music chamber realms with the Matthew Shipp Chamber Ensemble and the album The Gospel According to Matthew & Michael (Relative Pitch 1035). The ensemble is indeed a platform for Shipp and Bisio but also Mat Maneri on viola, so that the Matthew perhaps refers to both? No matter, since it is the music at hand here that matters and it is extraordinarily varied, avant and thoughtful.

There are free threesomes of much inspiration, moments where Matthew, Michael or Mat take center stage in some solo spotlights, some ostinato-minimal tangents that are anything but predictable, and a great deal of true inspiration. The guiding vision of Shipp brings to bear at all times, yet there are individual contributions of a breakthrough sort at all times by all three.

We get throughout exploratory, probing music that does not content itself to repeat "free" vocabulary as much as it is determined to carve new ground. And it does. Bisio is a wonder here, with playing that demands your ear, but Michael comes forward with a pianistic pilgrimage into uncharted zones as well. Mat Maneri brings his own wide-ranging openness to the mix too, and his presence does much to help all three get to different places.

This set is one of the more ambitiously successful outings you are likely to hear this year, re-establishing Shipp as a master helmsman with one of the least predictable and most satisfyingly original pianistic sensibilities today. Bisio shows why he is at the top of the list for avant bassists with some pretty incredible work. And Maneri clocks in as a viola force of one.

This is the real thing, inventions as brilliant and original as they are "free."

Do not hesitate. Get this one! Bravo!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ryan Truesdell Presents Gil Evans Project, Lines of Color, Live at Jazz Standard

Ryan Truesdell has selflessly and superbly given himself to realizing Gil Evans arrangements and compositions, notably unearthing music we have never heard in recorded form. Centennial was the album that gave us so much obscure Gil Evans, impeccably done, that it was almost as if he had returned to earth to fill us in with what we missed. I gave the album a rave on these pages last July 3rd, 2012 (see that post).

Now Ryan and the Gil Evans Project return with a live date recorded at New York's Jazz Standard, Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare). It is a remarkably tight and versatile band and they run through a wealth of Evans charts, some fairly well-known ("Time of the Barracudas," 1964 version) or unknown ("Avalon Town," an unrecorded Thornhill chart from 1946).

Evans appreciators will find the album a treasure-trove of Evans from virtually all periods of his career. The sound is great, the performances sterling and very stirring.

It's a beautiful record, a must for the Evans aficionado and anyone interested in innovative compositional-arranged big band sounds from the last century.

It captures your ears from the start and gives you a full picture of Gil Evans and the great artist he was.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nick Sanders Trio, You Are A Creature

We have an interesting piano trio date up today. Pianist Nick Sanders and his trio give us the new CD You Are A Creature (Sunnyside 1389). The music stands out for the quirky and appealing off-center nature of Sander's originals, which have a sort of post-Monk, post-Herbie-Nichols angularity and unpredictableness. Perhaps there is also a hint of early Carla Bley to be heard, but very much as filtered by Sanders' own sensibilities. This is music with a very personal, original stance. Along with Ornette's "The Blessing" we get 12 Sanders compositional inventions. The trio of Sanders, Henry Fraser on bass and Connor Baker on drums run through the numbers with both a tightness and a free looseness, everybody contributing to the end result in cohesive interactive ways.

It is one of those sets that keeps on sounding better the more you listen. The improvisations are very much integrated into the compositional structures so that they all have a through-composed feel that is not lacking in spontaneity and in-the-present presence.

Nick's piano style is brittle and almost playful. It is refreshing and very contemporary without quite sounding like anybody else out there. The trio does an excellent job realizing the music.

Sanders is doing something very musical and very involved. I am very glad to hear this one and will no doubt listen frequently. You should check it out. It's very good music!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dave Burrell, Steve Swell, Turning Point

Although Dave Burrell was one of the original, key pianists of the "new thing" and appeared on many critical recordings that have much more than historical importance, he is not readily classifiable. He has as time goes by given us a very particular way, a style all his own, along with a compositional approach that falls into no camp except that of the Burrell school. When I had the pleasure to hear his BYG recording of La Boheme years ago, it woke me up to a sort of fearlessness and original stance from Maestro Burrell on the possibilities classical form had for both Afro-American tradition and the free approach and also made me very aware that Burrell was not content to follow only the prevailing trends. And stemming from that time I have always welcomed new examples of his music and come to appreciate fully his originality.

Trombonist Steve Swell in his own way is in the same league. His overall sympathies surely come out of the free zone, but he extends that in his own way, having roots in earlier styles as well as an eye to the future. You never quite know where his music will go from year to year, yet you know that whatever comes it will be expressively "Swellian."

And so quite understandably we have the two together in an ambitious live date from 2013, Turning Point (No Business CD70).

It is a composition by Dave Burrell that depicts and commemorates in suite form a critical period in the American Civil War, the third in a series of five such suites by Burrell.

The music centers around the point in the war where the Northern forces gained momentum, but it also marks the advent of Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation."

The suite expresses military themes, Afro-American "pre-jazz" roots, and a grand sort of expressiveness that captures the highs and lows, the victories but also the real suffering and sacrifices made, the sorrow and joy of the period.

It is a tour de force of Burrell today. The simple duo instrumentation aside, the music is deeply expressive and masterful. Swell plays his role to perfection, combining the old and the new. Burrell is an orchestral force on piano, giving us the compositional particularities with ease and grace but also investing the music with the special qualities of his improvisatory originality in the way he articulates and expands/expounds the compositional framework.

It is a sort of musical monument to a decisive period of American history, the first steps toward Afro-American emancipation and a heightened consciousness of what equality must in the end become. That the struggle has not ended today makes these real beginnings all the more poignant, and Burrell gives us music only he could write, performed in ways perhaps only he and Swell can do full justice to right now, that puts in significant musical forms the hopes, the strife and the first triumphs of the period.

It is a very moving suite, a beautiful present-day example of Burrell's unmatched originality in a performance that goes back in time as it goes forward as well.

Masterful music! Do not miss this!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Jeff Cosgrove, Frank Kimbrough, Martin Wind, Conversations with Owls

Talented and multi-faceted drummer Jeff Cosgrove last graced these pages last June 2nd with a trio recording that included the ever-inventive twosome of Matt Shipp and William Parker (Alternate Currents). He returns today with another piano trio lineup and a new CD called Conversations with Owls (self-released).

This time out it is Frank Kimbrough on piano, who I've come to appreciate over the years and reviewed fairly often for Cadence and then the Gapplegate Blogs. Martin Wind is on bass and acquits himself well.

This is loose and free yet harmonically involved music, a sort of free offshoot that pays respect to classic Bill Evans trios while it opens the structures up and tends towards rubato, open-form time. There are poignant, lovely versions of "I Loves You Porgy" and "My Favorite Things," along with a series of three-way compositional improvisations.

Jeff Cosgrove once again impresses with his open-time creativity and melodic sense. Kimbrough shows again that he has giant ears and a real pianistic touch. Martin Wind creates the bass voice with skill and selectivity. All three work together to achieve a synergy that makes the piano trio art still viable and very much alive.

This is an album all who appreciate an advanced trio effort will respond to. Very recommended.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Joe Henderson, Mirror Mirror, 1980

It seems that the stature and reputation of jazz tenorman Joe Henderson keeps growing as the years pass. He has always been well-appreciated by those in the know, but as time moves by he perhaps is getting the wider recognition he well deserves.

It's sometimes simplistic to generalize too much, but Henderson's career might be divided into a number of style periods: the hard bop notoriety he received as a member of Horace Silver's band and in the early Blue Note recordings, a turn to a free-er approach and an incorporation of rock-funk elements in the wake of Miles's innovations, and a return synthesis of hard-bop and after in the final period. In all the shifting allegiances nothing in his output ever suggests formulaic or uninspired work. It all has a mastery to it that centers around his completely individual sound and style on the tenor, Coltrane influenced perhaps, but all his own.

In 1980 he went into a studio in Los Angeles to record an album that was released on MPS at the time as Mirror Mirror (MPS 0209734). It is now happily reissued on CD. He chose a very compatible and brilliant set of sidemen in Chick Corea on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. This was not just an all-star grouping but one very attuned to what Henderson was after.

It marks in a way the beginnings of his period of synthesis, where he both returns to some of the hard bop roots but transcends them while keeping a looser free-ish approach.

This is very much a group effort, all four contributing to the special sound and dynamic of the whole. As if to underscore this, the originals (all very good) are penned variously by Joe (one), Chick (two) and Ron (two). There is also a nice version of the standard "What's New."

It may take a couple of listens to enter fully into this one, for there is much excellent interplay to be heard. Once you do that you no doubt with be very much there for this one. It is perhaps not as well known as some of Joe's albums but it is a sleeper, an excellent date that deserves to be heard by all into serious jazz of the era.

I am glad to have it to hear often in the years to come! I think you will be, too.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Remembrance, 1978

Elvin Jones was one of the monstrously innovative jazz drummers of the second half of the 20th century, of course, belonging at the top of a very small pantheon of greats. With his extraordinarily influential way of swinging with Coltrane and later in a wonderful series of his own bands, he set the pace for both playing time and establishing a post-Trane style that combined the in and the out in convincing and exhilarating ways. His series of Blue Note recordings after leaving Trane are unparalleled, but there is much excellent music to be heard in the years following as well.

A very good example is with us happily as a reissue from the MPS revival going on right now. It is the 1977 date Remembrance (MPS 0209724) with a very good edition of the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. It shows the band in a tight and energetic mood, with some very sparkling band originals. By then Pat LaBarbera had become a central member on tenor and soprano. He sounds great on the album. Joining him in the reed section is Michael Stuart, again on tenor and soprano. Both channel a post-Trane approach with artistic elan and team up for nice two-horn soundings of the head melodies.

Roland Prince on guitar gave the band a very capable instrumentalist who supplied a different, more transparent sound through a lighter comping than a Tyner sort of pianist might. He could weave a good solo too. Andy McCloud III had the bass chair then, providing a rock-solid foundation so essential for Elvin to set his time against.

Pat LaBarbera wrote four of the seven tunes, Don Garcia wrote one, as did Michael Stuart and Andy McCloud III. They are memorable and perfectly fitting vehicles for the improvisations that follow.

Elvin is at a peak as the wonderful drummer he was...and the band drives hard and loose as classic Elvin ensembles did.

This one may not be well-known but it is surely one of Elvin's very best in the post-Blue-Note discography.

Get it and you won't be disappointed. Long live Elvin!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chris McNulty, Eternal

You know you are in for something good with the very first cut, an obscure but beautiful Steve Kuhn song "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers." It's the album by singer Chris McNulty, Eternal (Palmetto 2176). Chris is a singer of real poise, perfect intonation and much nuance. She comes to us with a good program of well-known and lesser-known standards, with nice backing from the trio of John Di Martino, piano, Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and Gregory Hutchinson, drums, but then some stunning chamber orchestral arrangements on top of that by Steve Newcomb, in a sort of post-Gil-Evans impressionism that adds an extraordinary touch to it all.

The music glows and sets off Ms. McNulty's beautiful voice in the best possible way. We get "Star Dust," "What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" among others, all presented to us with precise diction and real musicality. The arrangements are gorgeous.

With all the elements combined so deftly, Eternal is quite a stunner! It just keeps sounding better every time I hear it. Perfect for the spring in your heart, no matter what the season. Very recommended.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston, Larry Ochs, Spectral

When avant chamber jazz turns its attention to small ensembles of horns the emphasis generally turns to color and texture and sometimes less to rhythmic momentum. The playing routines and structure brought to the music, either spontaneously or in terms of pre-planned sequences, usually put the emphasis on the personal intermixtures of the stylists involved.

We can hear this readily and notably in the three-horn presence of Dave Rempis (alto sax), Darren Johnston (trumpet) and Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxes) on the recent album Spectral (Aerophonic 006).

This gathering conjoins the Chicago-based Rempis with two key players associated with the West Coast (Johnston and Ochs) for a series of seven improvised segments that excel in the inspired variety of sounds the three make together, seemingly with pronounced improvisational spontaneity.

Larry Ochs of course is best known for his key association as a member of the Rova Saxophone Quartet, but all three are no strangers to the horn-based chamber style.

All three thrive in their association here. They listen closely to one another and respond with extraordinarily creative utterances. This is music that can go from volcanic explosions of energy to more subdued melodic interplay. The timbres evoked show the great control the artists have gained over the sound possibilities of their respective instruments and the note choices open up the musical universe to subtle or exhilarating melodic variations, sometimes one following close upon the other.

In the end we hear great things, the art of three excellent improvisors forming a synergy that ranks with some of the best such outings in recent years. It is fascinating and ever-moving.

This is real-deal freedom!