RaaDie, TGB, Ralph Alessi, Bagland, and Wing Walker Orchestra

RaaDie – Vast Potential (Traumton Records)

For over a decade, Austrian musicians Lorenz Raab and Christof Dienz have been making music as a trumpet / zither duo, but have only just recently released their first full-length recording as RaaDie. This combo seems a bit wacky, no?

In some ways, there is nothing quite like the sound of these two instruments playing off one another, but on the other, it’s not all that different from other compelling music: propulsive rhythms in a cloud of interesting chordal/harmonic texture with affecting melodies floating above. As with much music being made in the 21st century, a healthy dose of electronics is in effect, which can, of course, go one of two opposing ways. The good news is that the result never falls in the category of trivial or weird for the sake of weirdness. In fact, the great news is that with Vast Potential, Raab and Dienz have made a rather accessible thing of lushness and beauty. Armed with a clear compositional vision and a mastery of both their instruments and their processing gear, the duo has succeeded in illuminating not just the vastness of their potential, but also the acuteness of their execution.

Hats off to folks trying something different with the tools at their disposal, odd as they may be…and that includes German label Traumton who continue their tradition of releasing top-shelf and left-of-center sounds.

learn more at Raab’s site and Traumton Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

TGB – III (Clean Feed Records)

Every town deserves a musical group featuring the tuba, especially one that can take requests. Porto has TGB (Tuba Guitarra Bateria, presumably), a trio comprised of Sérgio Carolino, Mário Delgado, and Alexandre Frazao on the aforementioned instruments. They self-identify as occupying the “space of interception between contemporary creativity and critical thought” and in doing so, show incredible range.

There is an infectious and dexterous playfulness on III that hooks you early on and hangs on tight. But one quickly realizes that it’s not all fun and games – these three not only flat out rip, but they also display great restraint and prudence in equal measure. Carolino’s versatility on his axe alone deserves mention here, as he defiantly re-situates the tuba as much more than an accompanying instrument or novelty. Anyway, I was quite enjoying III when about 2/3 of the way through they break into a terrific cover of King Crimson’s “Starless”, a tune on which I’ve been fixated since being reminded of it again last year when it was featured in the first act of Panos Cosmatos’ truly inspired film, Mandy…a cosmic sign, perhaps, that TGB are something special deserving sustained attention.

Definitely grateful for the fortuitous encounter with the sole cover on III, as well as the blast that I’ve had listening to the whole album all week. My vision for TGB is “Songs We’d Love To Hear At A Wedding Reception If People Had Any Taste”…next album, guys?

learn more at Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store, Squidco, or Amazon

 

 

Ralph Alessi – Imaginary Friends (ECM Records)

Trumpeter and composer Ralph Alessi assembled the elite crew of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Mark Ferber to work on some new tunes. After touring on nine new Alessi numbers, the quintet entered La Buissonne in France, the same studio where Alessi had previously woven magic on Florian Weber’s incredible, Lucent Waters – incidentally, this is the proper order in which to make a record.

Explaining his approach to working with ECM boss and album producer Manfred Eicher, Alessi said, “We slow down a bit and make the most of the space within the music, resisting the natural urge to fill up every space with notes. It isn’t easy to do – it requires a certain discipline.”   In fact, there is an almost an Eno-esque patience on the titular track and throughout this set. But it’s not all mellow-going…more upbeat numbers like “Melee”, “Improper Authorities”, and “Fun Room” are peppered throughout to create a thoroughly balanced record.

The assuredness on IF is palpable, so much so that one struggles to imagine anything approaching an accident having occurred here…and this kind of confidence in execution is no doubt rare. Undeniably sublime stuff here folks.

learn more at ECM Records and buy at your local record store and Amazon

 

 

Bagland – Cirkel (Jaeger Community Music)

For the past several years I have excitedly anticipated new music from Denmark, due in no small part to the work of the PG Sounds and Jaeger Community Music imprints. The excitement has continued with Cirkel, the new album by Danish trumpeter and composer Jakob Sørensen’s Bagland (Danish for “constituency”) project.

For Cirkel, Sørensen has reconvened the core group of guitarist Alex Jønsson, pianist Mathias Jæger, bassist Frederik Sakham, and drummer Frej Lesner. Armed with inspiration from yesteryear’s landscape of Denmark’s northernmost town Skagen, Bagland has sculpted Scandinavian balm to the soul. Outdoing the loveliness of their previous two releases, Sørensen and company tap deeper into a stream that apparently only flows through Nordic countries, resulting in what can only be described as – recklessly risking new age stigma here – healing music. When a collection of music invokes Santo & Johnny, ECM production aesthetics, and electric Miles, I’m going to be all-in pretty much every time, and Cirkel has done so in graceful fashion.

It’s heartening that such young musicians are making such profoundly lovely music and it’s safe to say that I can’t get enough of this sort of thing. Fantastisk herrer!

learn more at Jaeger and Bagland Quintet and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Wing Walker Orchestra – Hazel (ears&eyes Records)

Composer, arranger, and reeds man Drew Williams’ Wing Walker Orchestra has been knocking around in New York and its surrounding environs for about six years, but Hazel marks their first recorded output. And what a recording it is, dripping with as much vitality and flexibility as anything else released this year.

In addition to Williams, the ensemble consists of some of the most accomplished young players in the northeast United States: saxophonists Brad Mulholland and Eric Trudel, trumpet players John Blevins and Danny Gouker, trombonists Karl Lyden and Nick Grinder, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, pianist Marta Sánchez, bassist and Out of Your Head Records honcho Adam Hopkins, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. Half of the record is comprised of a suit of pieces inspired by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s sci-fi graphic novel Staples, taking musical cues from a terrifically diverse spectrum of approaches both accessible and challenging, but the result is always satisfying. The remaining handful of tracks on Hazel is made up of a pair of Williams originals and inspired cover versions of Michaël Attias and tUnE-yArDs numbers. The biggest takeaway from the multiple listens I’ve already given Hazel is that the notion of genre is immaterial to these gifted musicians, and this is a great sign of hope for the future of large ensemble music being made in America.

Hazel is undoubtedly the strongest debut of 2019 so far, and it is not at all surprising that it has been lovingly presented on Matthew Golombisky’s ears&eyes imprint. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

learn more at ears&eyes and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

Allison Miller, Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Christoph Irniger, and Miho Hazama

Allison Miller – Glitter Wolf (Royal Potato Family) 

Accomplished drummer/composer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom project returns with the follow up to 2016’s first-rate Otis Was A Polar Bear with an even more cohesive set in Glitter Wolf. The group, audibly strengthened by a heavy touring schedule, has revealed the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that can only come from technically advanced performances within the realm of serving the music.

Miller, along with violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford has assembled a quilt of so many of the elements that make music worthwhile: hooks galore, frisky Frisell-ian melodies, optimal expressivity, swinging grooves, and astounding execution. Taking inspiration from the #MeToo Movement and Black Lives Matter, Boom Tic Boom are operating on a much-appreciated spiritually conscious level that belies so much of the divisive trash heap that is 2019 existence in the US. On top of all that, the recording, produced by Julie Wolf (“glitter wolf”?) at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA is masterfully present and virtually tangible.

Check Miller’s site regularly as she is nearly always bringing her thing to the people in a town near you. GW is a total blast, and I can only imagine it would be even more rewarding to experience live!

learn more at Miller’s site and Royal Potato Family and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux – Path of Totality (Whirlwind Recordings)

The title of the sophomore release from Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux, Path of Totality, takes its name from the moon’s total eclipse of the sun back in 2017, an event that brought the world together in observation of a fleeting totality of darkness. Likewise, the moniker of the group, “Flux”, meaning “continuous change”, hints at an optimism that, no matter how dire our socio-political conditions might become, nothing is permanent. The bass-less core of the group is saxophonist David Binney and pianist/keyboardist Matt Mitchell, with drumming duties split between Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood. They are joined on various tracks by a handful of guest musicians including trombonist Ryan Keberle and trumpeter Matt Holman.

PoT is profoundly heavy music with a staggering amount of commitment behind it, evident from the complex compositions, arrangements, and playing. Flux stretches out within these extended and multi-layered jams – a mere 6 tracks run over 2 hours – leaving the listener with an epic Beowulfian journey’s sense of completion at its end. All of the elements I love about the longform works of Charles Mingus, George Russell, or John Coltrane are present on PoT: thematic development, improvisational prowess, melodic richness, masterful arranging, pan-genre, and harmonic depth.

This is an important set of pieces expertly composed and performed for our time. One could, and should, spend considerable time with PoT and discover new stratums of excellence with each visit. Bravo, Flux.

learn more at Whirlwind Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord – Harder on the Outside (Hot Cup Records)

Halfway through its second decade as a band, Jon Lundbom’s Big Five Chord have taken a new approach to composition. Guitarist Jon Lundbom and saxophonist Bryan Murray worked with samples from previous Big Five Chord tunes and other Hot Cup Records-released source material, crafting them into beats around which new tunes were created. Then saxophonist Justin Wood, bassist/producer Moppa Elliott, and drummer Dan Monaghan were brought in to flesh out the material, resulting in Harder on the Outside.

According to the press release, “the title can be taken at least four different ways: (1) as metaphor for one’s personality “hardening” with age; (2) as a political statement, about alienation due to rising fascism and xenophobia; (3) as a statement about purity in free/”outside” music/improvisation; and (4) as fact, that it’s really hard to make an album when you live in Austin and the rest of your band is in New York.” Regardless, Harder on the Outside is the sound of old friends having a blast making music, which ultimately is what it’s all about.

The unique creative process used to produce HotO seems to have rejuvenated Big Five Chord seeing as all involved delivered terrific performances. It would come as no surprise to see this approach used more and more in the future, given the success here.

learn more at Lundbom’s site and Hot Cup Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Christoph Irniger Pilgrim – Crosswinds (Intakt Records)

On their third album together as a quintet, Christoph Irniger’s Pilgrim sounds as if they are judiciously exploring the two (or more) sides of the same coin: each piece is both bright and dark, spacious and crowded, heavy and light, subtle and evident, electric and acoustic, etc, etc.

In the disc’s liner notes, Irniger explains, “Most of the music I write at the moment is about the duality or plurality in things… the compositions are mostly based on sparse materials, even if there are several parts. The idea is to have one story or context, and to show different emotions or pathways. Some is composed, some freely improvised, but always painted as a song.” Irniger and comrades guitarist Dave Gisler, pianist Stefan Aeby, drummer Michi Stulz, and bassist Raffaele Bossard have crafted a poised artistic statement with Crosswinds…a statement that is made both loudly and quietly.

Like Newton’s third law of motion or a delicious plate of food, Crosswinds is undeniably balanced, with compositions and playing that are both restrained and free, and the result is 100% appealing. This is some of the most engaging music to be released this year.

learn more at Intakt Records and Irniger’s site and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, and Squidco

 

 

Miho Hazama – Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside Records)

Miho Hazama is a skate park architect whose immaculate designs are with some of the most agile and daring athletes in the world in mind. Hers is the beautiful and inspiring space where art and science meet, a space once occupied by the likes of Duke Ellington or Gil Evans.

Quickly following up last year’s impressive The Monk : Live At Bimhuis, Dancer in Nowhere is Hazama’s third outing with her “m_unit”, the celebrated and versatile 13-piece chamber ensemble. This set also features a top-shelf roster of guest talent including guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Steve Wilson, drummer Nate Wood and vocalist Kavita Shah. No surprise, the performances throughout DiN are at the highest level of technical excellence and Hazama’s tunes and arrangements are magnetic. The title track and album closer is especially ebullient, featuring dizzying pyrotechnics from drummer Nate Wood. Describing the musical expressiveness on display in the track, Hazama said, “There are times when you feel something, but you can’t really describe it in words… I started wondering if I could somehow describe this through music. Not necessarily a struggle or something negative: it could be happiness, fear, passion, energy. The challenge of capturing these things became a theme for me.”

It continues to be encouraging to see a gifted artist putting out work that improves upon his/her previous work. It seems as though, nearly a decade into an already remarkable career, Hazama is just getting started.

learn more at Hazama’s site and Sunnyside Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

Hifiklub, Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Kobe, Lansing McLoskey and The Crossing, Yonathan Avishai, and Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline, and Larry Ochs

Hifiklub – E Lisboa (Shhpuma Records)

Having already shown proficiency in collaboration with high profile acts likes Lee Ranaldo, Christian Fennesz, and Mike Watt, French ensemble Hifiklub turn their sights on the exceptionally resourceful and varied Portuguese music scene. Thus was born E Lisboa, an album the tone of which approaches Crime and the City Solution or early Bad Seeds territory, which also happens to be precisely my headspace of late.

Guitarists Jean-Loup Faurat and Nico Morcillo, bassist Régis Laugier, and drummer Anthony Belguise have brought aboard a wide array of talent from the western Iberian Peninsula including Rafael Toral, Bernardo Devlin, Carlos Zingaro, and experimental duo Von Calhau to concoct an inspired document of pan-genre exploration. To paraphrase the inimitable Os Mutantes, it’s time now for me to learn Portuguese…so I can understand the lyrics on this record. Regardless, there is an emotional depth to the work here that is undeniable, culminating in the idyllic wash of the album closer “Continuar Sem Fim”, of which I could use at least an additional hour.

Shhpuma have become one of the most reliable hosts of excellent new sounds from around the globe and the release of E Lisboa is no exception. Incidentally, there are some very cool session videos on Hifiklub’s website that are worth checking out to experience some of their recording process.

learn more at the cool Hifiklub site, Clean Feed Records, and Shhpuma Records and buy at your local record store or at Squidco

 

 

Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Kobe – Imagine Meeting You Here (Alister Spence Music)

Just a handful of months after the release of the terrific collaboration Intelsat, Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii return with Imagine Meeting You Here, this time backed by Orchestra Kobe and captured at the Big Apple jazz club in Kobe Japan.

Penned by Spence as part of his doctoral work, IMYH is a five-part composition for improvising orchestra and it is a stunning amalgam of so many of the things that intrigue about music making in the 21st century – it has teeth, it leaves ample room for thoughtful improvisation, it is the result of teamwork on a large scale, and it throws the notion of genre to the wind. As Spence has said, “I was trying to create what I considered to be a balanced work in terms of energies and weight, tempo, rhythm, my ideas versus the ensembles ideas”. He has achieved just that, utilizing to great effect the considerable talent and dedication of Fujii and the Orchestra Kobe.

It is safe to say that the Spence / Fujii partnership is a winning combination, and bringing in Orchestra Kobe is a homerun that seems to come around only once in a lifetime. If you are a fan of the large-scale works of George Russell, Gil Evans, or Charles Mingus IMYH will most likely be your bag.

learn more at Alister Spence Music and buy at your local record store, CD Baby or Amazon

 

 

Lansing McLoskey / The Crossing – Zealot Canticles (Innova Recordings)

If I had to name one category of music that thoroughly compels me, it might be religious. From Sufi music of Damascus to Washington Phillips, and from the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention to a muezzin’s call to prayer in Chefchaouen, Morocco, there is an unrivaled passion and certainty in delivery that only faith can bring.

Lansing McLoskey conveys this sense of conviction on Zealot Canticles, a collection of 20 hymns of sorts, with libretto from the work of Nigerian human rights advocate and Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka. Composed by McLoskey during the 2016 US presidential campaign and election, ZC is effectively a prayer of tolerance, denouncing religious and political fanaticism: a meditation on the fine line between piety and extremism. The music is at times energized, contemplative, enchanting, and jarring. It is also always stunning. Devotedly performed by commissioning chamber choir The Crossing, and conducted by Donald Nally, ZC is no doubt a profoundly spiritual work, and one that gains in depth with each successive listen.

McLoskey has created imperative art for 2019, as we see hate crimes on the rise and a general sense of entitlement for extremists to say or do whatever they please, and with impunity. If great artists are supposed to be the voice for the greater good of a harmonious society, McLoskey is certainly doing the work of a great artist.

learn more at Innova Recordings or McLoskey’s site and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Yonathan Avishai – Joys and Solitudes (ECM Records)

Now more than ever, I am drawn to music that is efficient in content and delivery: less has become more in a profound way, particularly when presented succinctly. So, when pianist, composer, and longtime friend and collaborator with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai says, “I saw at some point that I become more expressive with less notes”, my interest is piqued.

Turns out, he is speaking truth, as evidenced by his new trio release, Joys and Solitudes. His “Modern Times Trio”, featuring bassist Yoni Zelnik and drummer Donald Kontomanou, is the perfect vehicle to bring this minimalist vision to life. All the tunes are Avishai originals save for Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, of which the trio takes ownership through the magical process of reduction. Perhaps, as he has suggested, this aesthetic was inspired by his early exposure to kabuki theater while growing up in Japan. In any case, although minimal, Avishai’s approach on JaS is also decidedly cosmopolitan, which in the wrong hands can spell disaster. Fortunately, the trio’s are the right hands, lovingly presenting, as the title suggests, the range of emotion.

ECM is the perfect home for Avishai and JaS, adept as Manfred and co have always been at investigating artistic minutiae with a microscope. More of this, please.

learn more at ECM Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline, and Larry Ochs – What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed Records)

It’s interesting when three master musicians convene in the recording studio for the first time, particularly when it’s a 100% improvised date. What will the mood be? Who will take the lead? Will they listen to each other? Will it be any good?

The three masters in question are Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, perhaps known best for his playing with Henry Threadgill or Craig Taborn, Larry Ochs of the ROVA saxophone quartet, and ubiquitous guitarist Nels Cline. Three pieces were recorded in Richmond, Virginia at Gallery5 Arts in late 2016, two of them longer than 20 minutes each. This is not Sunday morning music, which is good because most of the time it is not Sunday morning. What Is To Be Done is primarily a ripping collection of cathartic improvisation, no surprise when titles such as “Outcries Rousing” adorn the back cover. Abundant shredding aside, there is a cohesion to this trio that can only come from reactive listening, plus Cleaver is unafraid to lock into a groove from time to time, which is a plus in my book of improvisation dos and don’ts. (It is worth noting that I have neither sold a single copy of this book, nor bothered to write it.)

Although I dig WITBD as the high-energy and downright exciting result of spontaneous expression, I would be curious to hear these three in a more composed setting. Hint, hint fellas.

learn more at Clean Feed Records or Larry Ochs site and buy at your local record store or Squidco or Amazon