Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile (Impulse!, 2018)

The signing of saxophonist and composer Shabaka Hutchings to the legendary Impulse! imprint was an inspired choice, his bands The Comet is Coming, The Ancestors, and this group, Sons of Kemet are infused with the spiritual jazz of that label's heyday. Hutchings is joined by tuba player Theon Cross and a trio of percussionists and guests on this album, dedicated to great women in history, beginning with "My Queen is Ada Eastman" which has some heavy percussion and tuba holding down the low end, creating a thick and tight rhythm that Hutchings weaves through on saxophone. This is tight and focused music that responds well to pressure and the spoken word / rap section by guest Joshua Idehen unfolds organically adding lyrics about race, politics and social justice. It's great to hear the tuba in jazz and Cross's playing lends texture to "My Queen is Harriet Tubman" as fast drumming and saxophone turn up the heat even further. The music has a tough and realistic urban feel, with just the right amount of grit in the music to keep the edge. "My Queen is Angela Davis" again features the growling tuba amidst the saxophone and percussion thicket. Hutchings was quoted in Jazz Times as stating that he wanted to move away from the dependence on soloing, and indeed it is the group interplay that really stands out here and on the album as a whole. He'll develop small motifs and then use repetition to build the tension raising the music to a full boil in an exciting fashion. Hand percussion and an extra saxophonist (Nubya Garcia) keep "My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa" moving forward in a propulsive fashion. Horns weave above and around the tuba and drums ground assault, developing a tight groove that comes together as a deeply rhythmic and full sound. "My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu" show the saxophone and brass really doubling down, with a skittish rhythm being developed on drums adding to the tension. The drums and percussion are bright and vibrant, resulting in a ripply, galvanic performance. The album ends with "My Queen is Doreen Lawrence" where the uneven rhythm keeps everyone on their toes, adding bellows of tuba and the tenor saxophone burrowing within the full band. The uneven foundation provides the perfect launching pad for Idehen to provide some more defiant lyrics about identity and inclusiveness, before the band takes the music home with emphatic playing. This was a really good album, drawing on a wide range of ideas from hip-hop to dub and Caribbean music, but with an overarching modern jazz conception. The musicians were very talented and the compositions memorable, do check it out, it's well worth your while. Your Queen Is A Reptile -

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jared Gold - Reemergence (Strikezone Records, 2018)

This is a fine album of accessible modern jazz, incorporating standards, pop songs, ballads and blues, in the classic organ jazz tradition of the music made by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Brother Jack McDuff. Jared Gold has made a name for himself on the Hammond B3 organ playing as a sideman for many prominent leaders, along with a developing a series of fine albums as a leader for the likes of Posi-Tone and other labels. He is joined on this album with an excellent support unit featuring Dave Stryker on guitar, and Billy Hart on drums with Jeremy Pelt sitting in on trumpet for three tracks. The setlist is nicely developed between standards like the George Gershwin compositions "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "How Long Has This Been Going On," pop song covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Lookin' for Another Pure Love" and "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles. This is balanced by original compositions "Reemergence" and "One for John A" which is dedicated to the great guitarist John Abercrombie and a progressive jazz song in Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." The album comes together quite nicely and it is an enjoyable hour of grooving, soulful jazz. Gold locks in quite well with the drum legend Hart and guitarist Stryker and they work the melodies of the songs with passion and the resulting improvisations are quite strong, both in terms of full band playing and individual solo statements. So, for those interested in modern mainstream jazz that is friendly and easy to listen to, they will find a lot to enjoy here. Reemergence -

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Renee Rosnes - Beloved of the Sky (Smoke Sesssions, 2018)

Renee Rosnes is an accomplished pianist and composer with many albums as a leader and a side person playing insightful modern jazz. This album sees her employing a crack band of Chris Potter on saxophones and flute, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Peter Washington on bass, and Lenny White on drums. "Elephant Dust" opens the album in a vibrant fashion with an edgy melody, on that engages the musicians, and climbs in volume and speed. Potter's tenor saxophone is powerful, cutting through the band like a lance, and scouring the soundscape, aided by powerful rhythmic support. The music grows in a very exciting fashion, with sandpapery saxophone leading the charge, before stepping aside for a crisp and well articulated piano led section and a spritely vibraphone solo. Potter returns and there is a very impressive drive to the finish of the performance. Elegant piano sets the mood for "Mirror Image" with an evocative melody, which allows musicians much room for improvisational interpretation. There is a nimble part for vibraphone with bass and drums, adding a cool and fresh feeling to the music, leading to an eloquent, well-organized piano solo played with fluid grace. Potter steps out, again on tenor saxophone developing tension in his improvisation that is resolved with a flurry of propulsive notes, leading to an excellent collective improvisation to wrap up the performance. "Black Holes" develops an restless motif, aided by thick, elastic bass and crisp drumming that dances on the cymbals. Rosnes takes a complex and invigorating piano solo before Potter enters, surveying the landscape and offering a variety of fast paced ideas, in an agile and brisk fashion. His robust playing soars above the music, hinting at the avant-garde with steely grit and passion, before resolving the melody. Potter moves to flute for the gently swinging "Rhythm of the River" which has Return to Forever overtones of amiable bass and percussion and bright piano chords. There is a beautiful solo piano opening to "The Winter Of My Discontent" that is richly melodic, evoking an emotional response within the ballad format. The notes and chords hang like crystals, glinting in the light, then allowing the rest of the band to glide in. Potter is a masterful ballad player, and he caresses the music with a velvety tenor touch, echoing the old masters like Ben Webster, sounding timeless and not at all dated. A mellow sounding bass interlude with ghostly brushes continues the mood, before the band returns to the melody and slowly eases out. The brawny performance "Let The Wild Rumpus Start" takes the album to the finish line with a witty interplay for vibes and piano trio, with the saxophone gradually entering and making its presence felt. Potter digs in with a fantastic tenor saxophone solo, playing with blinding speed and momentum, before stepping aside for a taut bass section and choppy drumming. This was an excellent album of modern mainstream jazz, with excellent ensemble playing and exciting soloing and it is highly recommended. Beloved of the Sky -

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Sound Prints - Scandal (Greenleaf Music, 2018)

Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas use the enigmatic mid nineteen sixties acoustic music of virtuoso saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter to create an album that embraces freedoms of both the past and the future. They are aided in this endeavor by an excellent accompanying unit that includes Linda Oh on bass, Joey Baron on drums and Lawrence Fields on piano. The group nods to Shorter directly on  their renditions his compositions “Fee Fi Fo Fum” and “Juju” with the former coming from Shorter's mysterious and influential album Speak No Evil, and where the band makes the most of the atmospheric nature of the music, playing together on the alluring melody while also branching out for solo statements which allow for several possible meanings or interpretations of Shorter's theme. The latter performance is the title track to my favorite Wayne Shorter album, one where he is at his most direct and pointed, playing in a quartet setting. This group peels back the layers of the melody like an onion making their own slower and spacier subjective take on the source material, before breaking out into a powerfully improvised section. "Dream State" is the opening original composition (by Douglas) and it shows that he is containing to absorb and direct his music since his first Shorter inspired album, 1997's Stargazer, allowing the master's laconic but always questioning sensibility to seep into his own work. The group allows itself to become unmoored from their thematic statement and drift through clouds of improvisation and interpretation. Going in their other direction, the band is at there most straightforward on "High Noon" (by Lovano) with it's crisp drumming and bright piano chords pushing Lovano's soprano saxophone and Douglas's pithy trumpet into the fast lane. Linda Oh's bass playing is an excellent fulcrum, anchoring the group to the surface, but allowing enough slack in her playing to encourage exploitative improvisation. Overall, this album was quite solid, with the influence of Wayne Shorter informing but never overwhelming the music. Each of the musicians has a profound gift for their instrument, but also use their talent in the development of a refined whole, through tight ensemble playing and quality soloing. Scandal -

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed (Verve, 2018)

When one hard fought survivor plays the music of another, sparks can fly. That is definitely the case on this album, because vocalist Bettye LaVette is a gifted interpreter, having performed soul, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll over a lengthy career. Bob Dylan hardly requires an introduction, save that his songs have inspired legions of interpreters from The Byrds to Michael Moore's progressive jazz band Jewels and Binoculars. LaVette has a powerful voice, and dry wit, amply demonstrated on the opening track "Things Have Changed." This song had a noir sensibility in it's original format, but LaVette just owns it, changing the gender of the protagonist, spitting profanity and making a true statement of purpose that she may have been down, but she is by no means out. A crushing drumbeat and snarling guitar solo drive the music forward relentlessly, but it is the singer's force of spirit that makes it so memorable. Keith Richards guests on "Political World," but this song, as appropriate today (if not more,) than it was in 1989 when Dylan originally recorded it, is actually quite understated with subtle percussion and bass, and LaVette alternatively speaking and singing the thought provoking lyrics. Richards's solo is short and pointed leading to an organ drenched outro, feeling a bit tacked on and unnecessary. LaVette is a superb ballad singer and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" seems tailor made for her, imploring the lyrics over a soft and sympathetic backdrop, with melodic piano at the center of the accompaniment. There's a slinky and soulful groove to "Seeing the Real You at Last" with the leader's voice stretching across the accompaniment, holding notes and syllables effortlessly, and declaring the lyrics with a steely eyed defiance. "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" puts the pedal to the metal with swirling bluesy power, guitars chopping a stern rhythm as the bass and drums lock in as LaVette powers through the lyrics with ferocity. This album was quite successful, partly because they cover some material that are not the most obvious compositions in the Bob Dylan songbook, but mostly because Bettye LaVette is such a powerful and talented singer and interpreter that she is a force of nature that makes each of these songs her own. Things Have Changed -

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dan Weiss - Starebaby (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Drummer and composer Dan Weiss is one of the leading lights of the progressive jazz scene, recording widely as a sideman, and often as a leader, whether it's with a piano trio, a large ensemble and now a very exciting quintet featuring Ben Monder on guitar, Trevor Dunn on electric bass, and Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards and piano. What makes this group so interesting is Weiss's goal to bring musicians together to create music that combines the improvisational nature of jazz with the enormity of heavy metal and electronic music. The result works very well, creating music that is edgy and powerful without falling into any jazz fusion cliches. They open disarmingly enough with the subtle acoustic guitar of "A Puncher's Chance" which gradually fills in with heavier sounds, creating an early 70's King Crimson vibe. "Depredation" adds organ an keyboard textures to create a mysterious sound backed by an ominous drumbeat and snarls of guitar flashing like heat lightning in the distance. Short motifs bubble up and are expanded upon before falling back into the overall stew, and thick sludgy bass and keyboards take over from below, punctuated by grinding guitar feedback. They shift back to a spacey and haunting sound on "Annica" with large droplets of piano hanging in space and dropping into the void, before the sound gradually fills in with bass and drums resonating though the overall sound. The interplay of the acoustic and electric instruments creates some very exciting and ominous tension within the music's structure, especially when drifting back unexpectedly to solo piano improvisation, before the music electrifies into a skull crushing conclusion. Electronic keyboards frame a pulsating bass and drum groove on "Badalamenti" with shards of neon toned electric guitar shooting through the soundscape. The band builds a collective improvisation that is cohesive and powerful, with a killer guitar solo from Monder, and a wonderful rhythmic foundation and drum solo from the leader, with warped keyboard sounds taking the music to the outer realms before gracefully evolving to an acoustic piano finish. Heavy piano plays off against thick bass and electric keyboard on "Cry Box" creating an eerie and cinematic atmosphere, becoming quite complex with the addition of stinging electric guitar soaring over the strong rhythm and leading to a scouring full band improvisation, dynamically shifting back into open space with subtle brushwork and melodic piano and guitar. "The Memory of My Memory" is spacey, with haunting and reverberating sounds creating an auditory funhouse, gradually creating stratified layers of music that meld and blend with massive slabs of bass and punishing drums kicking the music into an entirely new direction, imposing a harsh and bracing manner of playing that is more at home in post-rock experimentalism. Crisp drum rhythms are the focus of the lengthy concluding track "Episode 8" with manic keyboard playing and slashing percussion cutting the music to ribbons. The music unfolds episodically with nuanced waves of guitar and keyboard leading into a vicious percussion and bass led power rock extravaganza. Although perhaps better described as improvised progressive rock than heavy metal, this album is groundbreaking and forward thinking, allowing the musicians unfettered access to their own creativity and providing a wide screen canvas upon which to display it. Starebaby -

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sun Ra - Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz, 1980 / Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2018)

Recorded during Sun Ra's tenure in Philadelphia, and now getting a much needed wider release after originally coming out on a very small label in 1980, this might be one of the albums which is perfect for enticing a neophyte into Ra's particular universe. It has a well known melodic standard, free jazz, ballads and blues, vocals and chanting, basically encapsulating Sun Ra ethos in one excellent album. They open with a blast of Ra exotica called "Mayan Temples" that begins in ritualistic fashion with organ, flute and low reeds creating a hypnotic medium tempo groove. Swirling flute and organ obit a slow tribal beat, with thick grounding bass keeping the proceedings from flying off into the ether. The music is continually atmospheric and impressive in its patience as it is exploring the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. The standard "Over the Rainbow" is the perfect vehicle for Ra to explore, ostensibly cheese, but with the kernel of an idea that he can use for his own ends. Like opening with a massive blurt of drums and horns, before dropping back into solo piano where he incorporates stride like elements which provide the momentum for the music to move inexorably forward. He can move from abstract to melodic at the drop of a hat, ranging from a haunting melodic statement to the howl and clang of pure freedom. "Inside the Blues" showcases Ra absolutely romping around the piano, with some of his most joyful playing on record. Bass and drums fall into line, building an epic foundation for the leader to ripple the keys over, urging everything forward and communicating his worldview through the form of the blues. Things get a little more outside with the medley "When There Is No Sun / Space Is The Place," with Sun Ra's piano developing an oriental tinge to it, and then gradually folding in vocal harmonies like a master chef. The horns riff and the vocals grow until the Ra showstopper "Space is the Place" is in full bloom. High pitched trumpets and vocals create a wonderful refrain, dropping out to feature waves of piano that gives the whole performance a rhapsodic feel. Finally, there is another melody which closes the album in fantastic fashion, melding "Door Of The Cosmos / Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here / We Travel The Spaceways" in a kaleidoscopic manner, with the band chanting to open the door moving beautifully into a call and response section of lighter voices answering the lower ones. Bright piano notes and rumbling bass chords restate Ra's authority, moving improbably to the shout about the gang being here before finally falling perfectly into one of his finest space chants "We Travel the Spaceways." This was an absolutely stellar Sun Ra album, one of many good ones he made in Philadelphia, and one that also focuses one his excellent piano playing. This one is a keeper, don't pass it by. Of Mythic Worlds (Remastered 2018, download only) -

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