Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wayne Escoffery - Vortex (Sunnyside, 2018)

A longtime veteran of trumpet great Tom Harrell's group, tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is also an effective bandleader. On this album, he is joined by David Kikoski on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums with additional percussion from Kush Abadey and Jacquelene Acevedo. "Baku" has a bright and bouncy uptempo feeling with crisp playing from the rhythm section and strong, swinging tenor saxophone from the leader. The piano, bass and drums stretch out with a solid interlude before Escoffery returns with a spirited solo of his own with impeccable timing, driving the band into more progressive territory before dropping out for a fine bass solo. There is a taut rhythm that provides the scaffolding for "To the Ends of the Earth" with piano comping evocative of McCoy Tyner, and Escoffery branching out into a billowing tenor saxophone solo, that develops a strong tone and complex performance, arcing up into strong and serious blowing. The interlude for the rhythm section is handled in a brisk manner, keeping the forward momentum of the piece intact, with crashing piano chords and lightning fast notes. The saxophone returns adding to the intensity of the piece, keeping the mainstream accessibility while pushing forward with a powerful statement. Escoffery moves to soprano saxophone for the mysterious sounding "The Devil's Den" with extra percussion and thick bass setting the pace, creating a reflective openness for the group to build upon. The saxophone spirals through the rhythm, creating a thoughtful improvisation that makes the most of the setting, swirling and swaying through the insistent percussion. He drops out for a quieter piano, bass and drums interlude which moves gracefully, before re-entering with a gritty solo that takes the performance to another level, with active percussion and potent saxophone creating a dynamic atmosphere. "Acceptance" is another lengthy and well played track with powerful drumming and tenor saxophone framing tight piano and bass. This supplies a tight and simmering groove to the music, that allows it to stretch out at length while still retaining interest. There is a short but potent performance on "Judgement" with Escoffery really digging in on tenor saxophone in a Coltrane like mode, making a connection with his accompanists, and playing in a stark yet soulful manner. The title track "Vortex" is aptly named as it is a very fast and complex performance with lightning fast saxophone and agile drumming driving the music forward along with tightly wound bass and drums. Escoffery plays with fluid grace even at high speeds like this, punctuating the music with higher register screams and gutsy growls. Solo sections for piano and percussion are well handled, and the leader comes back with a vengeance to complete the tune. Vortex - amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Sun Ra Arkestra - Kosmos In Blue: A John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2017)

John Gilmore was a great jazz saxophonist who spent most of his career with keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra. He was a superb and unique player, equally at home playing music from swing to free, and would probably have become much more well known if he struck out for a solo career. This album is a collection of mostly small band Sun Ra performances from the mid fifties to sixties that feature Gilmore in a soloing context, and it is a fine collection, demonstrating not only his prowess as an instrumentalist, but also serving as a pithy introduction to Sun Ra's music as a whole. "Search Light Blues" concludes the album with a thoughtful mid-tempo performance, with Sun Ra playing piano with bass and drums, and setting the stage for a beautifully lyrical saxophone solo. This may be one of the purest distillations of Gilmore on record, patiently building a solo filled with heart, soul and gritty determination. The standard "Sometimes I'm Happy" begins with an unusually florid Ra introduction on piano, but when the song licks into gear it allows Gilmore to stretch out and take a lyrical and spirited solo, one that shows his roots in bop and blues, but never gets bogged down in cliche. Ra bounces out, leading the core trio through a swinging interlude with taut bass and snappy drumming, before Gilmore glides back in easing the song to a fine and thoughtful conclusion. The title track "Kosmos in Blue" builds a powerful rhythmic sensibility with Ra locking in with the percussive bass and drums to carve a solid foothold that Gilmore is able to use in his own solo, one that comes nearly three minutes into the performance but is worth the wait. He develops a steely tone and slices through the accompaniment and less than optimal sound quality like a duelist looking for his next opponent. The full quartet takes a spirited collectively improvised section, making the most of one of Ra's more open ended themes and allowing a nod to the bassist and the drummer, before the saxophonist re-emerges to take the tune out. "Space Aura #2" has a larger horn section which Gilmore quickly lifts off from weaving from lumbering section play to quicksilver soloing in a dynamic fashion. He trades phrases with another saxophonist, probably Marshall Allen, creating a very exciting texture for the mid sized band to elaborate upon. One of Ra's more well known themes is "A Call For All Demons" with its memorable melody and riffing horn section that disgorges Gilmore for a short but memorable solo. The thick bass and Ra's percussive piano playing are equally well played on this track. All in all, this is a fine addition or beginning to a Sun Ra collection, and also serves as a much needed reminder of Gilmore, who John Coltrane famously said "got the concept," of playing rhythmically and melodically at the same time. Kosmos in Blue: John Gilmore Anthology, Vol. 1 - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Roscoe Mitchell and Matthew Shipp - Accelerated Projection (Rogue Art, 2018)

This album was taken from a concert recorded at the Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia in 2005 with Roscoe Mitchell on alto and soprano saxophones and Matthew Shipp on piano. These two great musicians have played together many times in a wide range of contexts but this improvised seven part suite pushes and challenges their musicianship to an even higher plane. "Accelerated Projection I" opens the concert quietly, as both men feel out the path before them, with Shipp gently raining down droplets of piano notes as Mitchell glides around, gradually gaining volume and speed. The music really begins to lift off as Mitchell gets pinched swirls of sound that penetrate the piano and the engagement of the two musicians is confident and thorough. The music emanates in waves that ripple out from the two musicians and this is shown even more clearly on "Accelerated Projection IV" where the music is more strident and forceful, and the two really lean into their respective instruments, creating a chaotic maelstrom of sound that is very exciting to hear. Mitchell is relentless on alto saxophone, playing with a power and sustained level of effort that is very impressive. Shipp responds beautifully with complex runs of notes and chords that cover the length of the piano and add fuel to the fire of an explosive improvisation. The music is taut and immediate with Mitchell's sharp and acidic saxophone underpinned by Shipp's mastery of the low end of the piano. The music they create is alarming and arresting, never resting on their laurels but continuously in search of the next adventure. Mitchell is simply a is a force of nature, taking the saxophone to the highest levels of improvised sound, as Shipp provides thunderous accompaniment and encouragement. "Accelerated Projection VI" has percussive piano shards opening their improvisation, and this leads to their longest performance on the album at over thirteen minutes. They trade notes and phrases, gradually building a structure and context for the performance, and developing a unique rhythmic setting. There is an intricate section for fluttering saxophone and skittish piano, which is very fast and develops an intriguing latticework of collective improvisation. Mitchell's soprano saxophone playing is astonishing, with the breadth and depth of sound which he is able to create, like a whirling dervish of otherworldly sound, relentlessly playing without stopping, and Shipp is the perfect foil, creating an ever changing landscape of piano alongside him. This was an excellent album, with two masters of their instruments perfectly matched, and creating vital music live and entirely in the moment. Accelerated Projection - amazon.com

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018)

The Swedish trio Fire! consists of Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werliin on drums. They stake out a twilight area of music where free jazz meets heavy metal, with thick sludge being punctuated by blasts of raw unadulterated power. "The Hands" opens the album with huge slabs of grinding sound taken at a fast tempo, as a crisp drumbeat echoes against arcs of electronic feedback. The saxophone comes in after a minute, pushing a huge column of air before it, adding it's weight to the music making the whole sound feel like a force of nature. Squalls of higher pitched saxophone are juxtaposed against lower end rumbles. Some distorted dialogue with an ominous beat develops into "When Her Lips Collapsed," which has a low metallic crushing weight, intensified by the addition of saxophone casting further shade into the proceedings. Raw bellows and roars are heard across the soundscape, like a giant lumbering across a meadow, creating an atmosphere of dread. "Touches Me with the Tips of Wonder" continues in this vein, slowly gathering in volume and scope with light brushes and spacious nature of the music. Long tones of saxophone meet the subtle percussion and bass, giving the performance a dreamlike countenance. The wonderfully titled "Washing Your Heart in Filth" picks the pace back up with tight bass and percussion getting a fast and nimble rhythm going, and allowing the saxophone to blow taut gales of sound across the action, engaging with it, framing and commenting in due course. Raw, rending sounds add to the excitement of the track, pushing the collective improvisation further into the red, with excellent and frenetic drumming driving the music forward. The full band lurches forward on "Up and Down" which has a fast paced full band improvisation that is very good, with the group creating a full thick post-rock sound that is further enhanced by the ferocious saxophone that really digs into the meat of the performance, and the relentless drumming that gives the music structure and coherence. The guitar and bass create an appropriately heavy atmosphere, but ultimately it is the titanic saxophone and percussion meeting that defines this performance, ending eerily with fractured and garbled dialogue. At nine minutes, "To Shave the Leaves. In Red. In Black" is twice as long as any other track on the album, and unfolds gradually until there are massive gales of saxophone over an unnervingly static backdrop with bellows and roaring sounds aplenty. "I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence." concludes the album is a dreamy and moody fashion with a quiet beat, thick bass and low mournful saxophone. This is an excellent album that defies categorization, melding elements of jazz, rock, metal and more into a crucible of energetic freedom. The Hands - amazon.com

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

David Murray featuring Saul Williams - Blues for Memo (Motema Music, 2018)

The great tenor saxophonist and bass clarinet player David Murray combines talent poet Saul Williams on this interesting and successful meeting of improvised jazz and spoken word. They employ an excellent band featuring Orrin Evans on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums with additions from Craig Harris on trombone, Jason Moran on keyboards, (Murray’s son) Mingus Murray on guitar, Aytac Dogan on Qanun and Pervis Evans on vocals. "A Mirror of Youth" has strident spoken word with bright piano chords and active percussion. Murray’s saxophone bobs and weaves amidst the stream of words, getting progressively stronger but keeping a groove going aside strong rhythmic drumming. This creates a full band performance with vocals well integrated into the whole. There is bass integrating with words on “Cycles and Seasons” strumming in a percussive manner, plus droplets of piano notes, developing a choppy rhythm and cadence allowing Murray to shade and frame the music while biding his time, building a tight full band outing with strongly comped piano and gritty saxophone solo.  “Blues for Memo”has mysterious plucked guitar strings creating a haunting opening that becomes a more mellow mid tempo track with added brass. The music is spacious sounding, and members respectful of others' space as Murray enters midway through with patient and probing solo. The uptempo instrumental playing on “Obe” meets the socially conscious poetry head on, with cascading piano and percussion and steaming tenor saxophone driving the music forward with subtle brass commenting. A torrent of words and drum rhythms emerges with lyrics evoking the late arranger Butch Morris. Guitar with bass clarinet and words open “Citizens” with a choppy start stop rhythmic structure and trombone accents adding heft and depth to the performance, with a lush and flowing piano section aside bass and drums support. Bowed bass and sung lyrics then bass clarinet blows with quiet grace, taking the piece out. “Red Summer” features soulful a gospel sound, and heavy lyrics about the Charleston shooting, and shootings of unarmed black people in America. The song evokes civil rights and and Martin Luther King backed by piano trio. Murray breaks through like a ray of sunlight with a powerful tenor saxophone solo that is very moving then frames and accents the singing. There is an excellent and unexpected Sun Ra cover, “Enlightenment,” sounding bright and bouncy, and Murray and pianist sound inspired by this choice. Trombone arcs across the music like a shooting star, hinting slyly at “Space is the Place” before the full band brings it home nicely, adding a bass and drum solo for good measure. Blues for Memo - amazon.com

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Gregory Lewis - Organ Monk Blue (Self-Produced, 2017)

Hammond B3 organ player Gregory Lewis began playing the instrument while in college at the New School, developing an affinity for the it while backing singers and jamming at the 55 Bar and Minton’s. His love of the music of Thelonious Monk has led to a series of self-produced albums including this one which features Marc Ribot on guitar and Jeremy Bean Clemons on drums. Monk's "Green Chimneys" opens gradually with reedy sounding organ meeting a subtle drum beat and guitar comping. Waves of keyboard thicken the sound adding a slightly overdriven feel, enveloping all that comes before it then dropping out for an interlude of soulful guitar and drums, which add a gently funky feel to the proceedings, reminiscent of Ribot's Young Philadelphians project, after which Lewis leads the group back to the melody and brings the piece to a close. On "Raise Four" Lewis states the melody a light speed, while Ribot lends fractured commentary framing the organ and drums with heat. The group develops an improvisation that mixes swinging jazz that drives forward from the organ and drums streaming ahead while offering a break to offer Ribot to dig deep with a snarling guitar solo, one that gets heavy without ever losing sight of the original goal. They return to the wicked fast melody, driving hard to the conclusion. "Misterioso" has a more respectful reading of the melody, with the group taking it's time delving into Monk's secrets, using a gradually ascending groove from the organ amidst crisp drumming and guitar playing. Ribot's guitar solo is extra soulful, drenched in the blues and hinting at soul jazz master guitarists like Grant Green and Boogoloo Joe Jones. Lewis also makes the most of this funky mid-tempo, carving an impressive solo of his own that makes use of all the organ has to offer, allowing the band to get a full rich sound that is very impressive. The longest track on the album is "Blue Hawk" which fades into volume with the trio establishing a funky groove that they can extrapolate upon. They develop a deep and soulful groove, and are patient enough to let that set their direction as Ribot breaks out for a sharp and pointed guitar solo that would sound at home on a steamy club date, before taking the group into the stratosphere. Lewis steps up next with a very interesting solo, adding choppy clusters of notes and longer organ drones to the fine rhythmic structure provided by Clemons. "Blues Five Spot" has a solid melodic sensibility, with Ribot adding bright clean notes to the improvisation, gradually gaining speed and fluidity, and Lewis responds by taking a solo grounded in the work of the past masters like Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, before returning to the original melody. One of Monk's more complex tunes, "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" ends the album in a fine fashion, with the trio calmly reconstructing the music in their own manner, jamming as a trio, with Ribot adding sly commentary and Clemons laying a firm foundation for the music's success. Organ Monk Blue - amazon.com

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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Julian Lage - Modern Lore (Mack Avenue, 2018)

Julian Lage is a jazz guitarist from California, one that was recognized early on as an emerging talent who began recording after graduating from the Berklee College of Music. He has made some interesting collaborations with the likes of Nels Cline, in addition to leading a trio which is featured here with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. This album adds a more angular sensibility to his music, incorporating aspects of rock and roll, developing a strong rhythm sense which creates well articulated music for the trio. "The Ramble" kicks off the album off in fine fashion with a bright uptempo swing, tossing a respectful nod to Bill Frisell's "Rambler" and developing a nice fast paced rhythmic structure with the bass and drums. Lage develops a stinging solo amidst nimble cymbal play and taut bass, slinging waves of notes and snarling chords into the air. There is a tidy bass solo before the band finishes the song with a flourish. There is a quiet strut to "Atlantic Limited" nodding to blues and roots music, before ramping up slowly to a textural fullness and slightly edgy guitar tone. "General Thunder" is the longest track on the album (although still rather short at 5:26) and it benefits from a solid drum beat that provides a firm foundation for the music, with ebbs and flows of guitar lapping at the shore of the overall sound. The music takes flight on a strong improvised section led by flinty shards of guitar, and framed by the steady rhythmic nature of the percussion and bass. There is a tight intricacy to "Look Book" which has sharp guitar notes and slashing cymbals creating a fine texture as the bass bubbles and simmers underneath. There is an interesting collective improvisation as the band digs in deep together at high speed, and the leader takes a very rapid solo section with excellent rhythm section support. "Earth Science" is the most progressive track on the album, a short and powerful blast of music that is anchored by thick bass and strong bowing and ever changing percussion textures that allow Lage to really step out and play heavy electric guitar that is fast and furious. Overall this album works quite well, the trio was very tight and the songs were thoughtfully designed. Mainstream jazz fans and aficionados of the electric guitar should find a lot to like here. Modern Lore - amazon.com

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