Friday, January 29, 2016

Francois Carrier, OUTgoing, with Michel Lambert, Steve Beresford, John Edwards

Alto saxophone colossus Francois Carrier and his integral partner in sound, drummer Michel Lambert, team up once again in a lively quartet format we first encountered here on the album Overground to the Vortex via the review posted on these pages on August 22, 2013.

The quartet of Carrier and Lambert, plus bassist John Edwards and pianist Steve Beresford are back in action on this album, recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club, London, on May 25th, 2014. It is in every way a fitting sequel to Overground. The music as before is a product of total improvisation, with the trio sans Beresford holding forth with inventive force for two long segments and Steve joining in for the rest of the program.

It is a chemistry of good things going on throughout. Francois is in his consistently inventive, tone-rich, fire-y and noteful mode on alto as always along with the sharply acerbic, vitally astringent Chinese oboe he unveils for a dramatic contrast. He has the cogent all-over bass ideas of John Edwards to work against along with Michel Lambert's continually artful open drumming, some of his best to be heard here. Then of course Steve Beresford brings a great deal of pianistic clout once he joins the threesome.

Beresford responds well to the challenge of the immediately free totality with a noteful personal unveiling of good ideas at times horn-like and then very pianistically, including a little of the inside-the-piano soundings, all right and creative, all up to the level Carrier sets for the quartet. He clearly inspires and is inspired by the Carrier expressive thrust and the foursome charting territory in less-explored parts of the note-al, timbral universe.

As nearly always with Carrier and his bandmates, this is post-ESP school, new new thing in all its glory, a rolling, tumbling artistic responsibility to create out of total freedom, with the onus for the results placed squarely on the shoulders of each participant, with Francois leading the way with his inspired line creations.

It is a prime example of the improvisatory arts and an excellent album for that. Avant-free acolytes will find much to appreciate, as indeed will anyone committed to hearing and/or making new sounds.

Another fine melange! Highly recommended!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Jason Kao Hwang, Voice

Jason Kao Hwang, on violin, viola and as a formidable composer, is an innovative force in the music of the present, an important voice in the avant jazz realms of today and a composer who manages to combine jazz and new music elements for a stirring, highly impactful sonics one must hear to appreciate.

His latest, Voice (Innova 938), brings that all home to us with a highly charged, two-suite presentation that straddles the avant garde of jazz and classical in highly dramatic and effective ways. "Lifelines" features mezzo-soprano Deanna Relyea, "Words of Our Own" centers on baritone Thomas Buckner. Both suites concentrate on the poetry of some of today's most fertile exponents: Lester Afflick, Patricia Spears Jones, davida singer, Fay Chiang, Steve Dalachinsky, Yuko Otomo.

Jason has composed the two suites around the vocalists' sung-spoken recitations, where they are given great improvisational leeway, articulating their parts totally ad lib in the spaces provided by the composer, to bring us a kind of nicely post-Pierrot Lunaire sprechstimme underneath which Hwang has composed sequences with improvisational freedom and structure for some of our finest avant jazz soloists: of course Jason Kao Hwang himself with (for "Lifelines") Taylor Ho Bynam on trumpet, Piotr Michalowski on sopranino sax and bass clarinet, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ken Filiano on contrabass. "Words of Our Own" brings in Joe McPhee on tenor and pocket trumpet, William Parker on contrabass, Sang Won Park on sayagum, ajeng and voice, and for a minute or two the Charles Gayle trio with Vattel Cherry and Marc Edwards.

The deft combination of experiential poetry, classically strong vocalists and innovative musical powerhouses operates excellently within the frameworks Jason Kao Hwang has constructed. The end result is a music that gives us full force sound-worlds filled with verbal and musical meaning, of expressions that capture something of life in the world today, of a music alive with a new modern intent born of the streets of experience as well as the great maelstrom of currents in the contemporary music world.

Jason Kao Hwang captures in his words, "essences I could not bring to consciousness before," through the words of the poems and the musical bringing-to-life that these talented ensembles make present via Hwang's exceptional conceptual and structural imagination.

This album is a landmark in vibrant, truly synthetic conjunctions of words and musical expressions, of the state-of-the-art in the avant today, with the world, history and time conjoined in two unified suites of great power and merit. It is a blockbuster and a tribute to the imaginative thrust of Jason Kao Hwang and his collaborative associates.

Bravo! Hear this music and hear where we ARE today!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Paul Smoker Notet, Landings, 2012

Paul Smoker is an artist I have appreciated over the years but mostly due to the serendipity of chance not so much as a band leader, meaning that I have enjoyed some of that at friends's get-togethers and over the radio, and I have reviewed a number of fine albums where he is in a cooperative setting, but I have never had the opportunity to hear one of his recordings as a leader in depth until now.

Through the kindness of Phil Haynes, drummer of abundant talent and all-around good fellow, I have been communing with the 2012 album by the Paul Smoker Notet, Landings (Alvas Records 2105). It is a collection of ten Smoker originals and one standard as performed and interpreted by Smoker on trumpet, Drew Gress on bass, Phil Haynes on drums and Steve Salerno on guitar.

The band is highly focused and absorbed with reacting to one another and with the compositional structures in great ways. The written parts set the mood in each case and allow each member of the Notet to create worlds within worlds, the sum total of which is striking.

There are ostinatos, melodic flourishes and sophisticated music of an advanced avant sort to be heard in abundance. The band takes it all in stride, with a looseness that is not so much casual as open-ended. Thanks to that quality we get four-way movement that gives us a personal stamp of each artist. Paul is limber and subtle, original and fully sound-fingerprinted as himself wholly. Drew has a very musical role to fill which whether arco or pizzicato is always impeccably grounded in bass presence and creative flow. Phil has an open role as percussive colorist as much as rhythmic implicator and he comes through with some phenomenal playing. Steve's guitar acts as a worthy front-line instrument for the compositional material. He solos with a full range of stylistic implications, from electric to woody-classic and back again with intelligence and soul, and full musicality.

The arrangements vary the interactions and roles each play in ways that keep you listening with an eagerness born of the four-way artistry and what they do on this set.

The music stays in the head as primo avant-contemporary jazz played by a state-of-the-art quartet. It is music to fill you with warmth, lyrical yet hard-hitting torque and finesse. It is a peach of a set that you should grab without fear. It is a winner!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Arnold Hammerschlag, No Face, No Name

What's in a name, or for today, what's in No Face, No Name (Skirl Records 030), the recent album by new jazz trumpeter-composer Arnold Hammerschlag? The answer is, a great deal. It's a quintet running very nicely through ten Hammerschlag compositions in a manner one might dub "village jazz." I say that because there is a definite strain of peasant/Jewish music, dance music, old folk music and perhaps a touch of the more urbane cafe sound of yesterday.

The band's instrumentation helps that along, with Arnold of course on trumpet, Sam Bardfeld on violin, Will Holshouser on accordion, Brian Glassman on bass and Aaron Alexander on drums. They are very much stylistically in the zone for such things, playing a modern jazz in touch with those roots and melding the folk-populist strain with contemporary improvisatory ways.

The compositions structure how the music goes, nicely so, and the trumpet-violin-accordion front line has both song-voicing and improvisational clout. The rhythm team, too, does an excellent job straddling the two worlds.

Kurt Weill and Carla Bley are predecessors for this sort of thing, as one is pleasantly reminded of while listening. But this is a step into its own world, a nicely turned original set with excellent playing from all concerned. After the record-setting blizzard this past weekend here I am again reminded of Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, except once you hear this music you DO know what you are getting and it stays right there with compositionally alive melodic-harmonic turns and worthy solo efforts. Hammerschlag plays some exceptional trumpet, but then Bardfeld and Holshouser are no slouches, either.

A very striking set is what we have on No Face, No Name. Hammerschlag is a definite talent and this music sounds great, ever better the more you listen. Highly recommended!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fred Hersch, Solo

Surely one of the supreme litmus tests for an accomplished jazz pianists is in the unaccompanied solo realm. Not every great jazz pianist in the history of the music did much of it, Bud Powell for example, but these days many if not most of the best pianists give us some solo offerings.

Fred Hersch qualifies as one of the very best today and it is well for us that he does delve into the unaccompanied space where it is only the artist, the instrument and the creative, inventive abilities that hold sway. To celebrate his 60th year on earth he gives us an especially attractive and beautiful volume of such things, simply entitled Fred Hersch Solo (Palmetto 2180).

It was recorded live at a small wooden church for The Windham Chamber Music Festival in 2014. In fact it is his 10th solo album, I read. It sounds fabulous. It captures the master artist in a specially inspired mood and he himself believes it may well be his best.

His pianistic sense most certainly is untouchable. The piano sings. The lines and harmonic sensitivity are acute, alive.

Standards form the bulk of the musical subjects, "Caravan," "The Song is You," "In Walked Bud," Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," all get very considered treatment, the sort of deep subtlety that only a piano "genius" can provide, and there is much that spells out his brilliant originality in the process.

There are a couple of originals too, one for Robert Schumann, one for Suzanne Farrell, and both speak to us eloquently.

There is a continuous flow of ideas, of striking ways to articulate the implications of the song vehicles.

Fred Hersch is a national treasure by now. He has emerged from a near-death health crisis to gain a new depth and strength. This solo recital must be heard. He is a titan!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mayman-Pritsker Project, 2015 Annual Report

The Mayman-Pritsker Project is a collaborative effort between Gene Pritsker, an important contemporary multi-stylistic compositional force in the music of today, and Yaacov Mayman, a saxophonist of ability and a writer-arranger in his own right.

2015 Annual Report (Composers Concordance), gives us an album of the wild and wooly possibilities that are actualized when the borders between genres are ignored willfully and creatively. So Gene on guitar, melodica and as DJ joins forces with Yaacov's saxophone, with Yevgeny Lebedev on keyboards and Aleksandra (Mogilevich) Mayman on drums, plus guest Borislav Strulev on cello.

Gene's DJing gives us a wide arc of sampling possibilities and the band gives us some fine improvisational tenor sax while Gene plays some subtle guitar and the rock-hip-hop contemporary arrangements of all sorts of things carry the day.

Mayman and Pritsker give us some worthy compositional ideas but then the eccentric arrangements of Bach, Gershwin, Tizol, and Hancock open things up further. Tabla against the opening Prelude to "The Well-Tempered Clavier"? Why not!

It's all good fun and ingenious at that. There is an occasional smooth jazz gloss that maybe is a bit jarring but all the more unexpected.

It is music you might expect from Gene Pritsker, meaning that it is absolutely unexpected. It is a hoot!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nick Fraser, Too Many Continents, with Tony Malaby, Kris Davis

Nick Fraser is an imaginative drummer on the avant jazz scene, out of Canada, one I am not well acquainted with. Until now, anyway, and his trio recording Too Many Continents (Clean Feed 336) with his talented cohorts Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano) and Kris Davis (piano).

There are three Fraser-penned compositions; the rest are collective collaborations. The free interplay of three bountifully creative musicians is what this set is about, and it is very nice to hear. All three have no shortage of inspired interactive ideas. They put them to excellent use in the service of the whole.

Kris Davis is a pianist I have come to appreciate very much over the last few years. She is within the scatter and splatter piano zone, individually so. She can let loose with torrential noting but then do sparser phrasings too, all with a keen ear for detail and musical coherence.

Tony Malaby, most everyone will know, has his own ever brimming wealth of ideas and timbral presences. He sounds particularly well here with plenty of testificatory declamations that at times ride atop Kris and Nick's dramatic effusions like a person effectively and artfully riding a wild horse. But then there are quieter moments too and Tony phrases and invents rather brilliantly at those times as well.

Nick shows himself a world-class freetime drummer on the set. The openness of a smaller ensemble that knows what it is all about gives Fraser the space to sound his way artfully, with an ear to the totality of sounds and gestures within which a great drummer can both find and lead the way.

Kris is a player who interacts especially well while making her own personal pianistic statements. Tony and Nick do the same within the material particularities of sounding their respective instruments.

It is an impressive and consistently exhilarating blaze of considered sound we get to experience on Too Many Continents. It says a wealth about the creative originality of the three, but it at the same time summons you, the listener, into the orbit of sound ideas and expressions.

Yes, really good going to be heard on this one. A red-hot ticket item to warm your innards like an avant cup of hot chocolate!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Joseph Daley, Warren Smith, Scott Robinson, The Tuba Trio Chronicles

In the realm of jazz in our lifetime, Joseph Daley has consistently shown that he is one of the very most distinguished and original tuba players in the music. Especially important to his career was his appearance as an integral part of Sam River's Tuba Trio, consisting of Rivers, Daley and drums (Syd Smart or Warren Smith), with Joseph's tuba acting as the bass instrument in inimitable and innovative ways.

Of course Mr. Daley did not come out of nowhere. He was already the complete tuba master. But that trio gave him a prominence and a leg up and he has continued to do great work to move the music forward in all the years intervening between then and now.

As if to recall those heady days and to mark how far he has gone since then we have another tuba trio with Joseph at the head, in a significant album called appropriately The Tuba Trio Chronicles (JoDa Locust Street Music 004). It is dedicated to Sam Rivers and pays tribute to his tremendous importance to the music.

Joining Joseph is drummer-percussionist Warren Smith, who of course was there for the flowering of the original Tuba Trio, along with Scott Robinson on reeds--tenor and bass sax, bass flute, contra alto clarinet, etc.

The idea was to recreate the open, spiritually uplifting freedom of the Rivers Trio days, without recourse to literal River compositions except "Beatrice," but instead improvising around some very worthy Joe Daley compositions and the freedoms inherent in this trio today.

It is a very cohesive and moving freedom they attain here, in every way parallel to the open yet directed Rivers ensemble. Joseph is a marvel as ever, with creative invention never at a shortage. Warren reminds us just how complete a drummer-percussionist he is, with a wide range of creative responses and initiations. Scott Robinson shows he is no stranger to Sam River's inspirational ways, as he channels that fire and spirit into his own way of playing free.

The album is essential listening in itself, not just a tribute but a living extension of the legacy of the master.

I strongly recommend this one to you. It is an event, a beauty of a set!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dave Ballou, Solo Trumpet

How you react to a solo wind recording in the new jazz improvisational sweep is nearly unlimited. Some find it all annoying, some are automatically enthusiastic, and the rest are indifferent. The latter reaction is probably the most sensible. After all, it is all about the hearing. What happens? Dave Ballou gives us a full CD of improvisational soliloquies on Solo Trumpet (Clean Feed 349).

His background and abilities somewhat uniquely situate him as an unaccompanied artist of interest. He is a composer and a trumpet master who has been involved both in contemporary "classical" camps, performing new music by Gunther Schuller and Larry Austin, and he has been an important part of the jazz-spectrum via ensemble presences with Maria Schneider, Joe Lovano, Andrew Hill, Oliver Lake and the like. Now of course all that does not necessarily tell you that a solo trumpet outing would necessarily be interesting, or that any number of other possible backgrounds would not also make up an artist who could generate interest alone.

But in fact this is something to get and keep your attention. Ballou has a wide range of conventional and less-conventional techniques he puts into play for a ten-segment program that puts a series of coherent solo events into our listening space.

There are affective and structural zones that Dave evokes in his expressive playing. You can hear both jazz roots and the spectrum of contemporary sounds at play throughout the course of the program. Whether "straight horn" melodic spinning or speech-phrase trumpet soundings, growls or wide-ranging creative note-weaving that combine any number of these elements, Ballou comes through with a musicality that may take you several listens to appreciate, but then you get it.

No one is likely to set the world on fire with a set of unaccompanied trumpet outings. This does not do that, yet it satisfies in its singular directness, its unpretentious expressivity, its imaginative thrust.

It's a real addition to the solo brass jazz avant recitals to be had out there. It makes you want to hear him with his own group, too. So you may well want to check this one out.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bob Gluck, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Infinite Spirit

Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band was one of the most innovative and important jazz creations of the late-'60s early-'70s. But the outspoken proponents of Neo-Trad conservatism from the '80s on denigrated the reputation of all bands that used electricity and electronics. So the legacy of Mwandishi like other key period outfits was for a time eclipsed.

With the new millennium all that has come to be reconsidered. Bob Gluck's You'll Know When You Get There, the excellent recent book on the band, its history and its importance has done much to restore for good and all Mwandishi's reputation as one of the high achievements of the period.

Since Bob is a seminal pianist and electronician in his own right, it is fitting that he express his appreciation in directly musical terms. He has done just that on the album Infinite Spirit (FMR Records CD398-0915).

For the project Bob unites with two key Mwandishi members, drummer Jabali Billy Hart and trumpet master Mganga Eddie Henderson, rounding off the ensemble with the very adept acoustic bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan.

Wisely the band does not try to duplicate the original arrangements and stylistic parameters of classic Mwandishi. Even if that were possible what would be the point? Instead the four adapt some of Mwandishi's best compositions and some original material, and take the music wherever it will go, relying upon a present-day mode of being that is free yet centered on the idea of playing off of the thematic impetus of the numbers. And all that is in the spirit of what Mwandishi did back then anyway, only this present-day outing features fruitfully extended improvisations in the moment of now as the artists feel it.

We get new interpretations of Hancock's "Sleeping Giant" and "You'll Know When You Get There," plus Maupin's "Quasar" paired with Gluck's "Sideways," Maupin's "Water Torture," and a Sullivan composition, "Spirit Unleashed."

Bob prepared some electronic sound universes that enter into the music effectively and appropriately at times, which of course recognizes an important element of the original Mwandishi in the hands of Patrick Gleason. Here we get Bob Gluck's own intriguing parallels and it adds much to the musical ambiance throughout.

The beauty and originality of this musical offering rests especially upon the lyrically ruminating creative improvisations. Bob Gluck has his own approach to the music which echoes Hancock's own harmonic-melodic brilliance but then gives it a spin that is all Gluck. His piano playing is a high point throughout. Eddie Henderson sounds as accomplished as ever here, too. He is still the master these many years later and sparks the group with some of his best work.

Christopher Dean Sullivan makes a strong case for his essential presence in the ensemble with, yes, some ostinatos but also with an openly free interactive melodic sense that goes perfectly well with the wide-ranging ideas expressed by his bandmates.

Billy Hart, as most everyone knows, remains one of the outstanding drummers in the music today. His time is a thing of beauty and he uses cymbals and drums to create real MUSIC as always. He sounds here as ever inventive and subtle in his special driving ways.

What we have most happily on Infinite Spirit is not a typical tribute album, but a genuine refashioning of the Mwandishi legacy according to the open-ended vision of the four in the ever-expanding now of original personal expression and the improvisatory arts as it has evolved since the time of the classic band.

And it is most rewarding to hear this foursome come up with a music that is an exemplary contemporary outing yet nonetheless pays homage to another very impactful era without remaining held fast to its dictates.

This is a quartet that holds its own as an entity very much itself--and gives us one of the finest new jazz performances of last year. Thank you all for your continued excellence! Readers, do not miss Infinite Spirit.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sylvaine Helary, Antonin Rayon, Hugues Mayot, Sylvain Lemetre, Printemps/Spring Roll

What is worth hearing remains so in time. I am late in covering the album at hand, which appeared last summer. It is no less interesting as I write this in the thick of winter.

It is the quartet of Sylvaine Helary (flutes, voice), Antonin Rayon (piano, synthesizer), Hughes Mayot (saxophones, clarinets) and Sylvain Lemetre (vibraphone, percussion) plus guests in the double CD offering Printemps/Spring Roll (Ayler 144-145).

This is new music composition and improvisation, straddling the avant jazz realm while also stressing the pre-improvised possibilities inherent in the ensemble. Each disk encapsulates an interrelated set of numbers that coheres as a whole. "Printemps" uses the spoken sound expressions of Julien Boudard, Xavier Papais and Aalam Wassef (an Egyptian blogger) along with the music of the quartet to give us an impression of the "Arab Summer," a movement filled with promise and hope for the participants. If you do not know French very well the words may remain as abstractions in the mix, but the music has such vitality and originality that it does not deter.

"Spring Roll" is an all-instrumental suite that continues the theme of freedom.

Both are filled with meaningful collective and individual soloing and compositional strengths. There is a continual directionality to all of it, a decisive stance on where the music should go. Sylvaine Henry apparently is responsible for the compositional elements, and they are impressively advanced and fluidly effective.

It is music that must be heard to appreciate. The quartet rises to the occasion with fully worked-out ensemble performances, both of the written and the improvised sections.

It may perhaps be a bit of a sleeper...until you give it a close listen. At that point you unexpectedly come to grips with a richly intricate and genuinely original jazz-new music intersection, one of the more important such releases of last year to my ears!

Get this one if you can and listen well. It's great and Ayler Records deserves your support!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

John Carter, Echoes from Rudolph's, 1976-77

I was introduced to the music of clarinetist John Carter, as many of us were, via several excellent albums featuring himself and Bobby Bradford in a quartet. They were thoroughgoingly advanced and most unequivocally themselves. Later John went on his own with solo and group efforts that gave us an even deeper appreciation of his special world.

There was a trio album Echoes from Rudolph's that came out on an Ibedon LP that was especially fine. It has become quite rare these days, but No Business has come to a rescue with a CD reissue of the 1977 album and a full CD's worth of unreleased tracks from the sessions that produced the album--resulting in a new two-CD set (No Business NBCD 80-81).

It is John on clarinet and soprano, Stanley Carter on bass and William Jeffrey on drums doing a program of Carter compositions and giving us an excellent free-wheeling experience.

The level of music does not at all lag on the second CD of unreleased tracks. It is more state-of-the-art music from the band.

Stanley Carter and William Jeffrey are very much in form and equal to the challenge of playing with John Carter at a peak. They burst forward with a rolling, tumbling excellence that is fascinating and worthwhile in itself. But then John sounds just fabulous on both clarinet AND soprano here, reminding us of how beautiful a player he was, how original, how soulful and creative.

Anyone who has not spent much time with the late Carter's music needs to do so. This album set is an excellent place to start. And of course those who know John's music will want to get a hold of this set, too. He was one of the most important stylists on clarinet in the flowering of the avant garde (along with Perry Robinson). Echoes from Rudolph's provides you with a generous amount of his music in peak form.

Get it if you can!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Satoko Fujii Tobira, Yamiyo Ni Karasu

Here we have another engaging album by pianist-composer Satoko Fujii, in this case with her new trio, who recorded Spring Storm several years ago (see my review here by typing the title into the search box above), and went on to tour extensively, with or without the addition of her partner Natsuki Tamura on trumpet. For the new recording Yamiyo Ni Karasu (Libra 204-038) she includes Tamura and redubs the group Satoko Fujii Tobira. Tobira is Japanese for "door." The idea is that the group utilizes the door "to bring some fresh air into the music," in her words, to keep an open stance.

So we have Satoko, Natsuki, plus Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums in a program of seven Fujii originals. As is often the case with Ms. Fujii's music the compositions are landmarks, frameworks which the artists then freely respond to and against, showing marked thematic elements and inspired improvisatory dialogs. Natsuki jumps into the band at key spots. The trio often works on their own for the rest of the program. And that all works out well.

The ensemble makes for an excellent confluence of spirit and inventive poise. This is music of three- and four-way freedom with Satoko playing some excellent piano and giving us compositions of substance. Nicholson, Itani and Tamura come through as well with integrated looseness and inspiration. To hear what they do inside and outside the compositional foundation is to hear superlative creative mastery in play.

Satoko Fujii has been remarkably prolific in her recorded output. This one is especially good. Those new to Satoko's music could quite profitably begin here. Those who know Ms. Fujii's music will find this one an excellent addition, an essential release in the small group mode.

Satoko Fujii is one of the world's avant jazz treasures! Hear this one to understand part of why that is so.

I understand she will be touring Australia January 14-19 and Japan January 23-30 with her band KAZE. Check the internet if you are interested.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bobby Bradford / Frode Gjerstad Quartet, The Delaware River

On the docket today is a very together recording of the Bobby Bradford / Frode Gjerstad Quartet live in Philadelphia called The Delaware River (No Business NBLP 87). The quartet includes Bobby Bradford on cornet, Frode Gjerstad on alto sax and Bb clarinet, Ingebrigt HÃ¥ker Flaten on bass, and Frank Rosaly on drums. which not surprisingly is a very game proposition.

In the tradition of No Business's keen appreciation for the avant jazz music scene, this is a first-rate window onto the quartet's world that night in March of 2014. The rhythm section is, as you'd expect, completely focused on the music at hand, giving the front line a very creative wash of free momentum that Bobby and Frode draw from as a catalyst. For anyone who knows the work of Bradford and Gjerstad, it will come as no surprise that the two are well suited to work together. Frode has held his own for years as a very important reed presence in free jazz Europe and of course Bobby Bradford is a legend in the US for his association with Ornette Coleman and his partnership with the late John Carter in a landmark quartet.

But of course no one can be sure of what an outcome might turn out as until the hearing. This set is a confirmation of the rightness of this quartet, of the continued creative excellence of Bobby Bradford, the equally inventive Frode Gjerstad in a non-compromising "new thing" world, and the righteous chemistry of the quartet as a full-bloomed entity.

This is music with space for all. Bradford and Gjerstad get some remarkable interplay together with their simultaneous two-way soloing, each clearly hearing one another and responding with parallel ideas. Their space openings for the rhythm team are judicious as well. Ingebrigt and Frank are two of the liveliest artists in their own right these days and they know how to extend the music accordingly with good ideas and open support as well as independance.

So as the Delaware River flows so does this quartet. It is not a floodtide of histrionics nor is it in a drought condition of narrow trickling. This is the quartet like the river in steady-state continuity. And so the program gives us a fascinating earful of these four in productive and fruitful togetherness.

It is a nice addition to the discography of all four artists. It satisfies. I am clapping enthusiastically with these words. Listen to this one.

Friday, January 8, 2016

AKA Balkan Moon, AlefBa Double Live

Music can do what politics and endless battalions of soldiers seemingly cannot, that is, take the musical commonalities of adjacent and at times opposing cultural groups and make (in the right hands) for a peaceful coexistence or even a mutual flourishing. AKA Balkan Moon is such a musical force. On their two-CD set AlefBa Double Live (Outhere/Instinct 657) they show us how to make a very vibrant music combining Mid-Eastern, Baltic and jazz-rock influences and transforming them into something very vibrantly modern.

The core of the group is the trio of Fabrizio Cassol on alto saxophone, Michel Hatzigeorgiou on Fender Jazz bass, and Stephane Galland on drums. The core is joined by two different live congregations of musicians, basically distinct for each disk. Disk one adds a more Baltic-Western instrumentation of vocals, violin. kaval, piano, soprano saxophone, tupan drum and morsing. Disk two features a Mid-Eastern oriented instrumentation of vocals, flute, ouds, trumpet, santur, violin, darbuka and guitar.

And they do what ISIS would most certainly despise, that is, find musical grounds for a pan-regional solidarity, a peace of musical understanding. But as that goes it does so with some really engaging music, a fusion of jazz-rock elements with world Mid-Eastern/Baltic intricacies.

It does so with really superb arrangements and performances, world-class with original brilliance. As the old ad slogan had it (at least around New York) when I was a kid, "You don't have to be Jewish to Love Levy's." So also you don't have to be Mid-Eastern or Baltic to love Balkan Moon! This is music so accomplished and engaging you can appreciate it even if you are not part of the cultural complexes that make such a wonderful hybrid music possible.

It is some extraordinary music. It is the music of peace! But it is the music of excellence, too. Hear this one, by all means.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Steve Swell's Kende Dreams, Hommage a Bartok

Some projects come about in ways that have an important impact on the final result. Take today's album by Steve Swell's Kende Dreams, Hommage a Bartok (Silkheart 160). It all started when Lars-Olaf Gustavsson, producer and director of Silkheart Records, encountered Steve Swell during the Vision Festival in 2014. Lars-Olaf brought up the possibility of doing a kind of Bela Bartok tribute album (as most will know, an important modern composer from Hungary in the last century). Steve jumped at the chance and Lars-Olaf suggested some of his favorite Bartok works that Steve might use as a springboard, including Bartok's "Microcosmos" piano works and the String Quartets. An excellent set of choices, there. Lee Konitz did some arrangements, fairly literal, of three "Mikrokosmos" pieces for his album Peacemeal many years ago, so there was a nice precedent.

But precedent does not equal duplication, for Steve's approach is a good deal more oblique. Anyone who knows Steve's creative presence on the new jazz scene would not expect anything not ultra-creative. And that's what we get. Steve immersed himself in the works, did some research on the history of Bartok's Hungarian homeland, and discovered in the first years of the local federation of groups that later became the Hungarian nation per se, very long ago, that as various Magyar tribes gathered together they divided their governing bodies into the military and the spiritual, the latter known as Kende. In time the military powers predominated and the Kende were in effect disenfranchised. As Steve states in the liners, this seemed to him an example of how humanity in general can get off the track of what constitutes their essence, of what makes them unique and generative beings, the Kende realm. We know this directly in our time, as the endless wars continue and it seems increasingly to be at the expense of what nourishes our inner beings. Music of course is a vital part of that. It is for this reason that Steve calls his project band Kende Dreams.

At any rate Steve dove into a Bartokian preoccupation, listening and examining the music closely. In the end Swell fashioned seven compositions that were informed and inspired by Bartok, that were faithful to the composer's musical outlook and intent, but were not by any means a literal re-arrangement of Bartok's music.

Steve assembled a quintet that consisted of some of his very favorite musicians. It so happens that they are also some of the very best of the best in the new jazz. After several rehearsals they went into the studio with Lars-Olaf Gustavvson heading the production.

The results are available as Hommage a Bartok. The sextet, collectively and individually, sound as wonderful on this album as they ever have. William Parker on bass is a magnetic dynamo of power, playing his role as only he can do. There is great soul and intelligence to everything he does, whether it is a matter of sounding the compositional ostinato riffs and other pre-prepared lines, driving the music forward with dramatic force, or soloing with great ideas, he is central to how this music is made to come alive.

Drummer Chad Taylor makes for an ideal rhythm teammate in the way he works with William and catapults the band forward with drumming that exemplifies smarts, feeling and subtle drive.

Connie Crothers is exceptionally inspired with some of her breathtaking best on piano. As an ensemble member she opens up the music rhythmically and harmonically and in her solo spots she literally stops the clock with some fabulous statements that fit in totally with the modernist hommage yet are very much personal, very much Connie in all her most concentratedly intense glory.

Rob Brown on alto is ever directionally himself, which means he can quickly get to the core of a solo statement and work inside and outside thematic elements of the music at hand for some of the most challengingly great performances on new jazz alto today.

And then of course Steve Swell on trombone. Clearly the compositional intricacies and the intense beauty of his bandmate's involvement inspire him to some of the best trombone soloing out there. Not a note is wasted, there is nothing inessential, all is most surely Kende.

The seven compositions are wonders of concision and advanced modern movement in ways very true to what Bartok stands for. It is hommage not so much by rote re-presentation, but rather by sympathetic parallel-drawing, by fashioning an analog in the new jazz mode of what he was in the classical mode. So it is all about the intricate line drawing and part interlocking, the harmonically edgy, the linear consciousness of newness, and all acting as superb springboards for the sextet in full bloom.

These may be some of Steve's favorite musical friends, but they are the collective listener's boon aural companions as well. They are players of infinite talent, of the present-day refusal of Kende to be silenced, of Kende to triumph with music of total commitment, of the flourishing of the creative spirit against all odds. It is music like this that will push the world forward into a new age of humanity as their best collective selves. Not violent, viable, violets in fresh and striking bloom, vibrations of the human soul at its best. That is what the music is for me.

Needless to say, this is music of a startling excellence, something to play for anyone who asks, "so what is great about the contemporary scene?" This is. An album to be reckoned with, a wondrous tribute to Bartok and a tribute to the exceptional musicality of Steve Swell and this formidable sextet.

Get this one if you only buy ONE album this year. Can I make any stronger case here? That is my happy feeling and I surely suspect it will be yours.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Caroline Davis, Doors: Chicago Storyline

Chicago-associated alto Caroline Davis gives us her second album, Doors: Chicago Storyline (eyes & ears ee:15-o39). It alternates Caroline's advanced jazz compositions as played by her regular band with spoken dialogs from local musicians on the Chicago jazz scene from the '80s to the present day, roughly.

The dialogs tell the story of the clubs, the players, the ups and downs. The music gives us modern new mainstream jazz of a worthy sort. Caroline is joined by Mike Allemana on guitar, Matt Ferguson, bass, Jeremy Cunningham on drums, plus guest Russ Johnson on trumpet for most of the album, and cameo appearances by Ron Perrillo on piano and Katinka Kleijn on cello.

Caroline has a rather lush, darkish tone and well-executed, very good ideas on alto. The band is very much a together thing thanks to what I take is a lengthy collaboration. Strong soloing is going on throughout and the compositions are memorable.

The dialogs have a real sense of history and anecdotal we-were-there authenticity.

And the music is first-rate, top-notch, a testament to Caroline's strong musicianship and the cohesive talents of her band. At times the compositions have an almost Dukish-Strayhornesque classicism. Other times they sound hip and contemporary.

I missed her first album but this second finds me enthusiastic. She is someone to hear, surely, and this is a fine way to get introduced. Good music and another excellent example of the Chicago scene! Recommended.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Amina Figarova, Blue Whisper

Amina Figarova keeps putting out some beautiful contemporary jazz. The pianist-composer originally from Azerbaijan gives us her 13th album with Blue Whisper (In + Out 77128-2), a fine collection of ten Amina originals played by her regular sextet plus guests. So we have of course Ms. Figarova on piano, Bart Platteau on flutes, Alex Pope Norris on trumpet and flugel (spelled on one number by Ernie Hammes), Wayne Escoffery on tenor, sharing the chair with Marc Mommaas, Luques Curtis on bass, spelled by Yasushi Nakamura, Jason Brown on drums, Anthony Wilson on guitar for a number, with a touching statement on the senseless violence over the world from Salhiya and Shamiyl Bilal Tumba, and an appearance on one number by vocalist Sarah Elisabeth Charles.

The music is a further development in the lyrical post-Blue-Note voicings and compositional acumen of Ms. Figarova, along with her formidable pianism and the clout of first-rate soloists.

It is a ravishing set, well burnished and filled with the ultra-musical sensibilities which Amina consistently brings to us in abundance. She as always has clear direction and great ideas at her fingertips and in her mind's eye. She gets her horn ensemble arrangements to sing as much as ever, and the rhythm-plus-Amina block goes forward with plenty of fire and drive.

Amina Figarova is a master of swinging, contentful contemporary sophistication and soul. This is surely one of her very best examples and you should hear it!! Nice, nice, nice!