Friday, April 30, 2021

Dave Sewelson, More Music for a Free World


Baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson shows what he's made of on a quartet date he leads that's worth checking out. It's called More Music for A Free World (Mahakala Music MAHA 20-002). It features three collectively improvised, expansive tracks that allow all to stretch out and explore open-ended quartet possibilities.

Each of the quartet operates in a meaningful free musical space that plays off against the others to create long-form dialogs both exciting and moving. The quartet is in a finely creative frame so that all rise above the mundane world and make great improvisational sense. So Sewelson's baritone sax asserts itself and enters in a sublime musical conversation with Steve Swell's trombone, William Parker's contrabass and Marvin Bugalu Smith's drums.

It's freedom with a substantial dose of jazz inflection--Sewelson cleaving to open yet bluesy and soulful phrasings that loosely yet surely unfold to bring space for Swell's always open excitement, William's always meaningful bass lines and Marvin Bugalu's swinging but loose drum shaping.

It is music with that happy togetherness where each artist understands the space they are occupying and work their way to a mutual hipness, a set of expressions that mark the best of Jazz-directed freedom.

Baritone and trombone carve out a special front line, but then bass and drums take up rhythm team movements that have both a free time playing and a complimentary third and fourth line role to play in the totality.

As we listen we get an excellent slice of Dave Sewelson the consummate baritonist with a beautifully gruff tone, a spontaneous tumbling and swinging sureness and an inventive presence that Swell, Parker and Smith respond to wonderfully well in kind and in contrast.

This is inspired music making from first to last.  It confirms Dave Sewelson as an important voice on the baritone while giving us one of the finest improvisational quartet sets that I've heard in a long time. Each solos meaningfully and the sum total is a climbing over the top of possibility to extend a collective meaning rewarding and exciting to hear.

Bravo! Check this one out for sure if you can.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Edward "Kidd" Jordan, Joel Futterman, William Parker, Hamid Drake, A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV


Alvin Fielder (1935-2019) was an important and influential drummer, a pioneering charter member of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago as well as the Black Arts Musical Society. He was an essential force on Roscoe Mitchell's first album, played and recorded with the Improvisational Arts group with Kidd Jordan, appeared with Ahmad Abdullah, Charles Brackeen and Dennis Gonzalez, gigged with Joel Futterman and Andrew Lamb, and etc.

New York's Vision Festival XXIV in the summer of 2019 honored Maestro Fielder in memoriam. Happily it was recorded and released last year as A Tribute to Alvin Fielder Live at Vision Festival XXIV  (Mahakah Music CD 086, Digital DL at Bandcamp). It is a lively gathering of four artist colleagues, friends, collaborators with Fielder over the years. 

So we have Kidd Jordan on tenor saxophone, Joel Futterman on piano, William Parker on contrabass, and Hamid Drake on drums. It is one continuous set, a free improvisation lasting 45 minutes. 

Everyone sounds motivated, committed, filled with ideas and mutual flow. Though Kidd Jordan was no "spring chicken" when he took the stage with the quartet, he was totally on the case, warm, post-Trane in depth and ideas, fired up. Joel Futterman's piano playing too is lucid, slam bang on top of the world, filled with ideas that combined well with the others.

William Parker as always has energy, fire and note-choice smarts that firmly anchor everything with immense strength and imagination. Hamid Drake is a firebrand throughout, putting in one of his very best mid-sized group wash performances of explosive drive.

In short this is a fabulous set you may well want to hear frequently. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Larry Ochs Aram Shelton Quartet, Continental Drift


After more than a year of social distancing we should appreciate more than ever our artists, musical or otherwise, for they keep on in spite of  extraordinary hardships. Performing artists have special challenges with the temporary loss of the all-important in-person audience as a key means of earning daily bread.

So we continue anyway and of course for the music makers recordings and in some cases live internet feeds keep on to give us direct access to what is new as well as what is classic. An excellent piece of newness can be heard in a recent release of the Larry Ochs Aram Shelton Quartet and their album Continental Drift (Clean Feed CF555CD).

The audio program consists of two recording dates, one from July 2013 and the other from July 2018. They feature lively and fitting compositional frameworks by both Aram and Larry, which set up the improvisations nicely and help allow each player to assert his identity and meld together cohesively as a unit. Shelton co-heads the front line on alto sax; Ochs holds up his end on tenor and sopranino. Both players are not only distinctive in their approaches and sound, they also have made noteworthy advances in their open-form ability to play with others in notable melding, Ochs most famously with the ROVA Saxophone Quartet among others, Shelton equally notably in various contexts as well.

Aram began his playing career in Florida, had an important phase in Chicagoland and eventually resettled in the San Francisco Bay area. Ochs has been California rooted much of the time. The mutual California confluence of course formed a happy coincidence-circumstance for their collaborative quartet--and we hear the results gladly in this set.

Swedish drummer Kjell Nordeson nails down the percussion section single-handedly throughout. He has a recognizable sound and an adventuresome attitude whether playing time or breaking free of absolute pulse. Mark Dresser gives us his contrabass presence nicely for the first session; Scott Walton anchors the bass on the second. Both sound perfect for this special quartet format. 

The dual saxophone interplay between Aram and Larry forms the most extraordinary element in this album of music. Their close rapport coupled with the always forward moving rhythm team makes for something very good, very original. If you recall the trombone tandem of JJ and Kai or of course the twin tenors of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, well imagine something equally together but with a thorough update in tune with the advanced Avant Jazz of today and you would not be far off in preparing yourself for what you will hear on this moving album.

Outstanding solo sax presences and sterling moments of dual reed excursions with first rate modern rhythm set this album apart as exceptional.

Listen to this one by all means. Ochs and Shelton win the day and I hope for many days and years to come. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Lisa Cameron, Damon Smith, Alex Cunningham, Dawn Throws its First Knife


A year into the pandemic and it is still far from an ideal world for music and music making but that does not negate its centrality for those that are called to make it, talk about it, hear it, live it. 

So today an album to consider, something available now in the realm of Free Jazz, by Lisa Cameron, Damon Smith, Alex Cunningham. It is entitled Dawn Throws Its First Knife (BPALTD 11811). It has a serious and creative ring to it all.

The threesome on this album may not be totally familiar to you, or then  again you may know of them. Regardless all three work together to create a free music of considerable technical and expressive extension. It is a sort of series of spontaneous sound sculptures, five excursions with poetic titles taken from Lysander Kemp translations of Octavio Paz poems, for example "The Endless Instant."

Of the three artists in this trio Damon Smith on double bass may well be the most familiar to you. He is a master of free bass extended technique and poetics, both pizzicato and arco and has a sizable discography and an impressive series of interactions with some of the avant improvisational greats. Go to my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog and type his name in the search box for a number of reviews of his releases. For this trio date he is nicely himself, adding a good deal to the three-way dialog at all times.

Alex Cunninghan is a violinist and visual artist based in St. Louis. He shows a great range of sound color on this album and a good deal of aural imagination. Lisa Cameron is a drummer new to me, but shows herself to be a extraordinarily sensitive artist who listens carefully and responds with soundings that help propel the music forward in ways that put everything in continuous gear and give us a kind of all-over continuity of timbral variation without overtly swinging.

Indeed the three make rewarding sense out of the challenge of total freedom as a remarkably close knit trio that doew not so much try to produce torrents of applause but rather to bring an inside introspection to an outside spontaneous expression of great subtlety. This is the sort of improv which does not draw obvious lines backwards into Jazz history so much as it uses the idea of the Jazz trio to remake the music anew.

As one listens one finds oneself getting increasingly drawn into the musical dialog. That is perhaps the ideal situation for the listening--a music that sounds better with each repetition. There is much to appreciate in this program. Congratulations to all three for giving us this specially lucid free immediacy! Very recommended.