Categories
2020 releases

Support Musicians via Bandcamp on Friday 3/20/20…and beyond

To support musicians during the Covid-19 pandemic, Bandcamp is waiving their revenue share on all sales Friday, March 20, from midnight to midnight PST.

Though certainly not exhaustive, I have assembled a list of some of my favorite recent and forthcoming releases on some of the greatest labels in the world available via Bandcamp. Just click on the label to see all their offerings on Bandcamp and/or click on the album title to see that specific release.  You can use the players on this page to listen.

Musicians are some of the hardest-hit by our new reality, so please consider supporting these and other artists now by loading up if you are able AND by spreading the word about this opportunity.

Don’t forget, you can pay in excess of the asking prices of releases on Bandcamp, making this an optimal way to enact your generosity for all that our favorite musicians do for us.

While you’re at it, ease into the habit of frequenting Bandcamp along with other great music retailers on the regular if you haven’t already!

Music matters friends, so let’s do our best to propagate it in any way we can.

Be safe and be well.

 

GEENLEAF MUSIC

Webber/Morris Big Band “Both Are True

listen here

 

 

INTAKT RECORDS

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil “The Fantastic Mrs 10

listen here

 

 

Aruan Ortiz “Inside Rhythmic Falls

listen here

 

 

Ohad Talmor Newsreel Sextet “Long Forms

listen here

 

 

INTERNATIONAL ANTHEM

Irreversible Entanglements “Who Sent You?

listen here

 

 

NORTHERN SPY RECORDS

Horse Lords “The Common Task

listen here

 

Jerry Cunningham “The Weather Up There

listen here

 

 

ORANGE MILK RECORDS

Nick Storring “My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell

listen here

 

 

OUT OF YOUR HEAD RECORDS

Curt Sydnor “Deep End Shallow

listen here

 

 

NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS / PANORAMIC RECORDS

Ali Can Pushkulcu “Gibberish Shreds

(pre-order, so no preview yet)

 

Hasco Duo “The Same Old Wonder

listen here

 

Luis Ianes “Instrucciones de Uso

listen here

 

 

PI RECORDINGS

Tyshawn Sorey “Unfiltered

(preview at link above)

 

Liberty Ellman “Last Desert

listen here

 

 

PYROCLASTIC RECORDS

Kris Davis “Diatom Ribbons

listen here

 

 

RARE NOISE RECORDS

Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, and Nels Cline “Music From The Early 21st Century

listen here

 

Giorgi Mikadze “Georgian Microjamz

listen here

 

 

RATTLE RECORDS

Steve Barry and Judy Bailey “Elements

listen here

 

Ferocious “Ferocious

listen here

 

 

CHRIS BROKAW

Chris Brokaw “End of the Night Band Live at the Lost Church

listen here

 

Chris Brokaw “End of the Night

listen here

 

 

FENNESZ

Fennesz “Live at Empty Bottle/Chicago”

listen here

 

Fennesz “Live at Jazz Café

listen here

 

 

OREN AMBARCHI

Oren Ambarchi “Simian Angel

(preview unavailable)

 

 

STEAMROOM RECORDS

Jim O’Rourke “Steamroom 46

listen here

 

 

SOUTHERN LORD

Caspar Brotzmann Massaker “Home

listen here

 

 

SHHPUMA

Bernhard Meyer and John Hollenbeck “Grids

listen here

 

 

BIRDWATCHER RECORDS

Jessica Pavone “Brick and Mortar

listen here

 

 

CHANT RECORDS

Curha “II

listen here

 

Randi Pontoppidan & Christian Rønn ” HEAD¨SPACE

listen here

 

 

EARS & EYES RECORDS

Nuturia “Meeting In Progress

listen here

 

Categories
2020 releases

Squarepusher, Dave Douglas, and Lele Marchitelli

Artist: Squarepusher

Title: Be Up A Hello

Label: Warp

Release Date: 02/07/20

Personnel: Tom Jenkinson – all sounds

Impression: Nobody perverts accessible themes with manic permutations until the listener must come around to another mode of perception the way Tom Jenkinson does and with his return to record-making as Squarepusher with BUaH after 5 years, he seems to have perfected this approach.

More Info: Squarepusher’s website

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Squarepusher’s website

Amazon

 

Artist: Dave Douglas

Title: Marching Music

Label: Greenleaf Music

Release Date: 02/14/20

Personnel: Dave Douglas – trumpet; Rafiq Bhatia – guitar; Melvin Gibbs – bass; Sim Cain – drums

Impression: Ferocity and persistence, two key ingredients in the resistance of toxic ideology/politics, are also central to Douglas and company’s Marching Music: Music To Protest By. Get access to this and so much more top-shelf material by subscribing to Greenleaf!

More Info: Greenleaf

Bandcamp

Listen Here: subscription exclusive

Buy Here: Greenleaf

 

Artist: Lele Marchitelli, et al

Title: The New Pope Original Soundtrack

Label: Milan

Release Date: 02/07/20

Personnel: original score by Lele Marchitelli; songs by Afterhours feat. Samuel; Agnes Obel; Angelo De Augustine; Be Svendsen & AYAWAKE; Flock of Dimes; Grasscut; Karmic; La rappresentante di lista; Lane 8 & Anderholm; Lean Year; Millie Turner; Paolo Conte; Recondite & Henrik Schwarz; Sofi Tukker feat. Charlie Barker; Sumie

Impression: Paolo Sorrentino’s series The New Pope has achieved must-see-TV status not only because of outstanding direction, inspired casting, and absurdist writing, but the seamless and affecting score of Italian composer Lele Marchitelli and the inclusion of some of the freshest minimal techno and pop bangers this side of an exclusive Roman nightclub keeps this viewer coming back every Monday at 9pm.

More Info: HBO

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Amazon

Categories
2020 releases

Jeff Parker & The New Breed, Aly Keïta, and Jim Black Trio

Artist: Jeff Parker & The New Breed

Title: Suite for Max Brown

Label: International Anthem

Release Date: 01/24/20

Personnel: Jeff Parker – drums, vocals, piano, electric guitar, Korg MS20, sampler, etc; Ruby Parker – vocals; Paul Bryan – bass guitar; Jamire Williams – drums Paul Bryan – bass guitar Josh Johnson – alto saxophone and electric piano; Katinka Kleijn – cello; Rob Mazurek – piccolo trumpet; Makaya McCraven – drums and sampler; Jay Bellerose – drums and percussion; Nate Walcott – trumpet

Impression: There is no shortage of catchy tune-age here…ranging from accessible and danceable jams to virtuosic flights of fancy, this is the most well balanced release of 2020 so far.

More Info: Parker’s Website

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp  or  Amazon

 

 

Artist: Aly Keïta

Title: Kalan Teban

Label: Intakt Records

Release Date: 01/17/20

Personnel: Aly Keïta –  Balafon, Kalimba, Voice; Jan Galega Brönnimann – Contra Alto- and Bass Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Kass Kass, Thumb Piano; Lucas Niggli – Drums, Percussion

Impression: Folky tunefulness is the refreshing and key ingredient in this delicious gumbo of mallet-magic and percussive propulsion.

More Info: Keita’s website  and Intakt Records

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp  or Amazon

 

Artist: Jim Black Trio

Title: Reckon

Label: Intakt Records

Release Date: 01/17/20

Personnel: Elias Stemeseder – Piano; Thomas Morgan – Bass; Jim Black – Drums

Impression: Black, who has never sounded better, leads this trio through polyrhythmically dense terrain with what must be telepathy and smoke signals, for the path abounds with fire.

More Info: Black’s website and Intakt Records

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp or Amazon

 

Categories
2020 releases

Invisible Ritual by Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey

The time for honesty is upon us…the world doesn’t need another person – certainly not me – carrying on about why he/she likes something. And really, who has the time to rummage for a new metaphor or embarrassing hyperbole to said end? However, it is still gratifying hipping people to new music that might otherwise fly under the radar.

This is my first attempt at this new approach to spreading the word about what I consider to be the good stuff…enjoy!

 

Artist: Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey

Title: Invisible Ritual

Label: Tundra / New Focus Recordings

Release Date: 01/24/20

Personnel: Jennifer Curtis – violin; Tyshawn Sorey – piano and percussion

Impression: This is a thoroughly riveting set of improvised music that at times seems composed due to the uncanny interplay between master musicians Curtis and Sorey.

More Info:

Curtis Website

Sorey Website

New Focus Recordings

Listen Here: 

 

Buy Here:

Bandcamp

New Focus Recordings

Amazon

 

 

Categories
2019 new releases

2019 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

Happy new year and best wishes to everyone for a beautiful 2020!  I have been decidedly inactive on this site for some time now, but I thought I would drop a note to reflect one last time on 2019.

The 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll has now been published, and Francis Davis has again let me chime in.  Go buy all of this great music!

The overview results are here

Davis’ commentary is here

…and my contribution is here

My favorite part of this poll is reading each of the contributor’s picks, which can be done here

My best of 2019 are as follows…

NEW RELEASES

  1. David Torn-Tim Berne-Ches Smith, Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)
  2. Anna Webber, Clockwise (Pi)
  3. Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra, Ambar (Sony Masterworks)
  4. Bill Frisell, Harmony (Blue Note)
  5. Timespine, Urban Season (Shhpuma)
  6. Tyshawn Sorey & Marilyn Crispell, The Adornment of Time (Pi)
  7. Gregg Belisle-Chi, Book of Hours (Ears & Eyes)
  8. Kris Davis, Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
  9. Sonar With David Torn, Tranceportation (Volume 1) (RareNoise)
  10. Stefan Aeby, Piano Solo (Intakt)

REISSUES/HISTORICAL

  1. Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance -3CD)
  2. Nat “King” Cole, Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) (Resonance -7CD)
  3. Paul Bley-Gary Peacock-Paul Motian, When Will the Blues Leave (ECM)

VOCAL

  • Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra, Ambar (Sony Masterworks)

DEBUT

  • Nick Dunston, Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head)

LATIN

  • Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra, Ambar (Sony Masterworks)

 

Categories
2019 new releases

David Torn, Daniel Herskedal, and Greg Chudzik

David Torn – Sun of Goldfinger (ECM Records)

Included in the artwork for guitarist, composer, and producer David Torn’s new release Sun of Goldfinger is the anonymous maxim, “long road wants me to abandon short-sight; but what kind of place is this, where I’d once believed we might rest?” Though I am in the dark with respect to inside information, SoG unfolds not unlike an inexorable and epic aural hero’s journey, reflecting perhaps an interpretation of the accompanying quote.

The core of the group consists of Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Ches Smith. On the centerpiece of the record, pianist Craig Taborn, guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, and the Scorchio String Quartet augment the trio. First, these are among the most inspiring musicians on the planet performing at the highest level, none more than Berne, whose showing here illuminates his intrepidly versatile musicianship. Second, Torn creates resplendent sorcery by assembling from extended performances, Teo Macero-style, sounds that are quite unlike anything else out there, really: alien textures give way to virulent grooves that give way to chromatic seas of bliss, which are then all reshuffled and varied with a freshness that epitomizes the mind of David Torn.

I haven’t marveled at anything else more than SoG this year. Get this in your life as soon as possible!

learn more at Torn’s site and ECM Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Daniel Herskedal – Voyage (Edition Records)

Norwegian composer and tuba player Daniel Herskedal has become one of the more fascinating musicians on the scene in the past handful of years, releasing two terrific records in 2015’s Slow Eastbound Train and 2017’s The Roc. A triptych of sorts is completed with Voyage, a stunning suite of pieces for ensemble members from his previous two recordings.

Despite the non-traditional instrumentation, Voyage presents a signature sound that is both strikingly tuneful and rousing, so much so in fact that even the nautical theme of the song titles doesn’t bother me. Herskedal handles the tuba and bass trumpet duties alongside pianist Eyolf Dale, percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, violist Bergmund Waal Skaslien, and oudist Maher Mahmoud, who despite limited playtime, is my mvp for the collection. In addition to his virtuosity on the seemingly untamable tuba, Herskedal showcases great skill in employing ostinato, syncopation, and theme/variation in ways that insert his unique aesthetic into each piece, and the effect is dramatic and infectious.

It’s immensely gratifying to witness a young musician as gifted as Herskedal furthering his concept year after year in inventive ways right before our very ears. Big props to Dave Stapleton and company at Edition Records for providing a nurturing home in which this type of notable progress might continue.

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

 

 

Greg Chudzik – Solo Works, Vol. 2 (Panoramic Recordings)

Readers might recognize bassist Greg Chudzik from his playing on Steve Reich’s Pulse / Quartet on Nonesuch Records, Steve Colman’s Morphogenesis from a few years back, or from The National’s High Violet. But if you were a listener to my former radio show you would have heard nearly the entirety of his Solo Works, Vol. 1 from 2015. Chudzik has followed up that superb set of pieces for solo electric bass with Solo Works, Vol. 2, a collection of four extended pieces for a quartet of layered acoustic double basses.

The bassist’s wide-ranging workload as a player is reflected in Chudzik’s impressively diverse compositional approaches on SWV2: “Wind Hymnal” is a sullen and folksy, almost Asian-tinged number while “The What” is a catchy, dare I say poppy, hit in 7; “Y’Chi” is a slowly-evolving spectral monolith while “Automated Ocean” is a midi-enhanced/effected and rhythmically dense piece of contemporary composition. In the wrong hands, this type of multiplicity could come across as overly ambitious or even jumbled, but Chudzik’s exceptional compositional voice is more than strong enough to unify this set in considerably rewarding ways. It is certainly worth noting that Chudzik’s traditional and extended bowing technique is masterful and adds another layer of excellence to what is already compelling material.

The album ends on a fittingly rhapsodic and triumphant note, leaving the listener with chills of optimism, not an easy task in 2019. The first two doses of Chudzik solo works have me hooked and in a state of already very much jonesing for Vol 3!

learn more at Chudzik’s site and New Focus Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

Categories
2019 Live Music Louisville

Live Music in Louisville, 03/09/19 – Tyshawn Sorey world premier performed by Louisville Orchestra

A very unique opportunity has presented itself to music fans in the Louisville, Ky area: experience a top-shelf, world premier performance of one of the most important living composers…right down the block!

Louisville’s majestic Kentucky Center for the Arts will host the Louisville Orchestra under the direction of Teddy Abrams Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m. as they present the world premier of commissioned piece, For Bill Dixon and A. Spencer Barefield by Dr. Tyshawn SoreyThe performance will feature soloists trumpeter Ansyn Banks and guitarist Craig Wagner.

Also on the bill are another LO world premier by Gabriel Evens called Run For It, Michael Tilson Thomas’ Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. 

No-brainer and highest possible recommendation here, folks…

learn more about the composer at Tyshawn Sorey’s website and buy tickets here!

Also, buy Sorey’s most recent release Pillars (that I wrote about here) at bandcamp as well as his earlier releases on Pi Recordings at bandcamp

Categories
2019 new releases

Anna Webber, Cyrille Aimée, Chris Potter, Julian Lage, and Marilyn Mazur

Anna Webber – Clockwise (Pi Recordings)

Taking influence from percussion pieces by Xenakis, Feldman, Varése, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and Cage – the Big-6 of 20th century composition, maybe – composer and saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber descends like a friggin’ superhero onto new home Pi Recordings with Clockwise.

This music is heavy, like King Crimson or Don Caballero-heavy. No surprise here, considering the propulsive capacity of three-headed beast Matt Mitchell, Chris Tordini, and Ches Smith. In choosing master improvising soloists/extended technicians Jeremy Viner, Jacob Garchik, and Christopher Hoffman for the project, Webber has deftly adorned and accentuated the proceedings’ weight. According to Webber, “The goal was not to re-contextualize the composers’ original intents or ideas, rather it was to find hidden sympathetic points of resonance within the primary compositions that I could abstractly develop into new works.” Riffin’ on the germs of the ideas of the oldies, perhaps? On Clockwise, pitch and harmony take a back seat to texture/timbre and rhythm/meter, just like in the best, heaviest rock music. This does much to make Clockwise some of the most accessible highly complex music imaginable.

Webber has created an environment so wonderfully conducive to solo and group improvisation with these inspired pieces, which is particularly exciting with such a creative and skilled group of players. Clockwise is a total grand slam!

learn more at Webber’s site and Pi Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Cyrille Aimée – Move On: A Sondheim Adventure (Mack Avenue Records)

Acclaimed vocalist Cyrille Aimée seems to have found in the work of singular Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim more than sufficient material with which to tell her own story. With Move On: A Sondheim Adventure tell it she does, and with great aplomb. Her first studio recording since moving from New York to New Orleans, Move On features a cast of nearly twenty musicians masterfully supporting Aimée’s personal statement of journey and transition. In addition to a literal “moving on”, Aimée has gone through the significant personal changes of ending relationships with both band mates and a significant other.

The core group on this session is comprised of the French trio of pianist Thomas Enhco, bassist Jérémy Bruyère, and drummer Yoann Serra. Additional top shelf work came from the hands of Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, as well as from keyboardist and Aimée’s old friend Assaf Gleizner, who also co-produced and beautifully co-arranged the album. There is an infectiousness on MO that seemingly only comes from an artist’s full immersion in the creative act: the pained reverie of “I Remember”, augmented in no small part by Warren Walker’s electronically processed saxophone, is profound, and the gospel-tinged delivery of “No One Is Alone” is supremely affecting.

The album ends with an up-tempo samba version of “With So Little To Be Sure Of”, the cherry on the top of this weighty testament to the therapeutic and redemptive power of music.

learn more at Aimee’s site and Mack Avenue and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Chris Potter – Circuits (Edition Records)

As one of the most accomplished and in-demand improvisers for the past nearly three decades and twenty-some-odd leader records later, Chris Potter needs no introduction, but there you go with one anyway.

For his first outing for England’s Edition Records imprint, Potter, as is his wont, dons many hats: ​composer, tenor and soprano ​saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, sampler guru, guitarist, keyboardist, and percussionist. He also recruited some players of the highest order: keyboardist James Francies, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Linley Marthe. The playing by all on Circuits is, no surprise, clairvoyant and spectacular, but it is the locked interplay within the rhythm section that really shines here. Harland tests the limits of a groove’s relationship to meter in signature fashion while Francies and Marthe reside splendidly in the pocket. Though Circuits is a decidedly rhythm-forward affair, it is also one in which the players are given the high sign to go off. And go off they do, none more than Potter himself, who nearing 50, is doing some of the sharpest playing of his life.

Truth be told, I’m not easily wowed in the presence of technically proficient playing, but Circuits is really quite impressive, and quite unique in that these guys are on another plane of skill and are also saying something quite compelling. It’s heartening that Potter is off to such a swell start at his new home of Edition Records.

learn more at Edition Records and buy at bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Julian Lage – Love Hurts (Mack Avenue Records)

I have plenty of time for a record that kicks off with the musical centerpiece of cinematic juggernaut Eraserhead, David Lynch’s “In Heaven”.   Love Hurts is one such collection, and fortunately, there is much more to guitarist Julian Lage’s new one than a cool bookend.

At 31, Lage has already carved out an illustrious career, working with some of the greatest musicians on the planet including Gary Burton, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Dave Douglas, Charles Lloyd, and Fred Hersch. On top of his side-work, he has released several records under his own name, included two trio records with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. For LH, Lage recruited bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, effectively opening wide the door to an elevated scrappiness that was perhaps missing on his two previous trio recordings. The song selection on LH is impeccable, including a sating triptych of “pairs”…1) original numbers: “In Circles” and “Lullaby”, the almost Ayler-esque highlight of the record; 2) Keith Jarret tunes: “The Windup” and “Encore (A)” 3) Roy Orbison-associated classics: “Love Hurts” and “Crying”. According to Lage, “the covers on this record are like when you move into a new apartment, the last thing you do is hang your pictures on the wall…. those pictures define your aesthetic in a way. So the tunes we chose kind of define the aesthetic I natively love but hadn’t put on a record yet.”

Julian Lage’s trajectory is one that is impossibly ever onward and upward, given the ashes of excellence and innovation that are still smoldering in its trail. One can only imagine what wonders he still has in his bag, and how much fun it will be to find out.

learn more at Lage’s site and Mack Avenue and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Marilyn Mazur – Shamania (RareNoise Records)

If you’re like me (ill-informed, lazy, etc.), the name Marilyn Mazur might not ring a bell at first. Upon further digging, it turns out she is the same Danish percussionist who played on Miles Davis’ Aura record, a pair of Gil Evans releases, a handful of Jan Garbarek’s albums, and in fact, has numerous recordings under a variety of monikers on ECM, Storyville, and Stunt Records. In sum, she is a seasoned professional who has been kicking ass since well before many listeners were born.

Mazur began making adventurous music back in the mid-1970s with her multi-discipline music/theatre group Primi Band. More than forty years later, she has resurrected that concept with Shamania, a collective of ten of Scandinavia’s most creative female musicians who, according to their new label, draw “from a deep well of primal energy and experimental audacity”. What Mazur and co have created on their eponymous RareNoise Records release is somewhat indescribable given their holistic approach to music making. The reed/percussion/string/vocal music grooves, floats, bobs, weaves, and it quenches. Suffice it to say, and this is no secret, the best music throws genre to the wind, and that is what Mazur has done with Shamania.

I’m not saying we should leave it to women to do it right, but far more often than not, given the opportunity, they will. More appropriately, we should let women show the world what it could be and then the world can and will likely fall in line. Big ups to RareNoise for again presenting terrific sounds to a world filled with noise.

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

Categories
2019 new releases

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

Categories
2019 new releases

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

Categories
2019 new releases

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

Categories
2019 new releases

Human Feel, Eric Dolphy, Layale Chaker & Sarafand, Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, & Bobby Previte, and Greg Ward

Human Feel – Gold (Intakt Records) 

When you perform with a group of musicians for three decades certain modes of non-verbal communication tend to develop so that picking things up where you left off is quite simple. Such is the case with saxophonists Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer
 Jim Black, who as Human Feel released their previous album twelve years ago and sound more vital than ever.

No bass, no problem…this quartet has talent to burn, and burn it does! The amount of ground covered by HF is staggering, from serene, minimal meditations to hyper, maximal catharsis, seemingly exhausting all sensible musical permutations. While Gold is certainly a group effort, with original tunes penned by all members, I can’t help but hear Black as the fire of the recording, perhaps because in nearly all cases, he is perpetually MVP, impressing with both refined simplicity and awe-inspiring complexity. This is no easy task given his esteemed company in HF.

Black has stated, “We believe more than ever that the four of us making music together is a necessity, and we intend to keep doing it wherever and whenever we can”… This is golden news for us all.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance Records)

Eric Dolphy is among three soloists – joining Thelonious Monk and Tony Williams in this grand distinction – who galvanized what I continue to love about the greatest improvisatory playing. His level of performance and communication on a musical instrument has yet to be surpassed and his preventable death at the way-too young age of 35 is among the worst tragedies in music history.

When I worked at record stores in my 20s I bought every single disc I could order involving Dolphy and listened to them all… a lot. Although I have yet to grow tired of his musical output, both as a composer/leader and as the single greatest sideman in the business, it was with a childlike sense of jubilation that I audibly shrieked when I heard at the end of last year that unreleased Dolphy was coming to us soon via Resonance Records. Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is exciting not only because it collects his 1963 studio albums The Conversations and Iron Man, two of the great achievements in music making in the 20th century, but also adds, as I mentioned, UNHEARD DOLPHY MATERIAL…ALMOST 85 MINUTES OF IT!

Look, the world doesn’t need me to say even one more word about his previously issued releases mentioned above – many have written extensively about how singular those records are and why. What I will say is, if you don’t already own The Conversations and Iron Man, just buy this now and your life will almost certainly move in a more positive direction. If you already own those two records, buy this now because the radical 15-minute 12-tone/ Schoenberg-influenced opus “A Personal Statement” (somewhat of a remake of “Jim Crow” from Dolphy’s 1962 LP Other Aspects) alone is worth the price of admission.

Also, the set comes with an almost 100 page book full of interviews, commentary, photographs, recording notes, etc, etc that will make any Dolphy fan drool like a fiend. Just do it.

learn more at Resonance Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Layale Chaker & Sarafand – Inner Rhyme (In A Circle Records)

The work of Lebanese violinist and composer Layale Chaker just recently arrived on my radar with the release of her debut recording, Inner Rhyme, and I couldn’t be happier that it did. Merely seeing on paper the lineup of violin, cello (Jake Charkey), bass (Nick Dunston), piano (Phillip Golub), and percussion (Adam Maalouf) and I knew that I was in.

Taking inspiration from a number of diverse musical traditions including Arabic Maqam, Chaker has hit upon a gorgeous blend of sounds both familiar and less familiar to the typical western ear. With a passion for poetry, she translated twelve classical Arabic poetic meters into rhythmical meters in which to write the material included on this record. Discussing her inspiration for IR from an existentialist perspective, Chaker stated, “From the cradle to the grave, in nuptial festivals as in funerals, the very same rhythms and melodies trace and mark every stage of life for Assyrians, Syriacs, Kurds, Arabs and Gypsies. What could possibly transcend geopolitical deals and whirlwinds more than that thought?”

Finding common ground in the face of deeply polarized and deadly conflict is a sensible and natural response and one of which our leaders continue to prove they are incapable. Even so, hopeful young artists such as Chaker will continue to bring art into the world not only for art’s sake, but also to shine a light on our commonalities. Mission accomplished with grace and agility, and on a debut, too!

learn more at Layale Chaker’s site and at In A Circle Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte – You Don’t Know The Life (Rarenoise Records)

From the same label and trio that brought us 2014’s The New Standard and 2017’s Loneliness Road with Iggy Pop, comes You Don’t Know the Life, the new collection of originals and improvisations, as well as standards by Bacharach, Bill Evans, and Roswell Rudd performed by veterans Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte. On first glance at the space-age art-deco cover, the listener realizes something wicked this way comes…in the form of Hammond B3 deliciousness and magical Baldwin electric harpsichord vibes.

Surprisingly, Saft, himself a gifted recordist/producer, did not commit this material to tape. Engineered by Christian Castagno
at Sear Sound in NYC, YDKTL is not a tentatively documented batch of music: an attractively compressed, bass heavy mix in which even the subtle resonances of the drums envelope you plays perfect foil to this invigorating material. At times the music hints at the cinematic approaches of Francis Lai, pop group Air, ambient 70s Miles, or dreamy Badalamenti / Lynch concoctions, but it’s something other than all of those, though no less curiously moody or undeniable. This record would belong in the “swinging, psyched out jet set jams” section of your favorite record store, if your favorite record store were sufficiently hip.

The Rarenoise / Jamie Saft partnership continues to pay dividends to listeners with yet another terrific set of tunes, and if last year is any indication, might yield one or two more releases this year.

learn more at RareNoise Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Greg Ward – Stomping Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)

Everyone already knows that Greg Ward is one of the premier musicians working in 2019 and his 2016 record Touch My Beloved’s Thought is a stone cold masterpiece. Well, he and his group of Chicago’s finest, Rogue Parade, are back at it and in a big way.

For Stomping Off From Greenwood, Ward joins the dual guitar frontline of Matt Gold and
Dave Miller, supported by the fantastic young rhythm section of Matt Ulery and Quin Kirchner on bass and drums, respectively. It’s interesting and impressive to hear his writing for guitars rather than the horns of his previous outing, showcasing not only his already-known impeccable skills as an arranger, but also his versatility and creative drive. This impulse groups him with the some of the most compelling composers / performers of our time who also have no use for genre. SOFG contains super-catchy tunes, conveys a wide breadth of moods, and it is just a total blast to listen to. Did I mention that Rogue Parade can flat out play? They can and do throughout the record.

I don’t see any way for a guy as talented as Ward to keep making music and not be looked back at as one of the great musical minds of the early 21st century. He already is by many, including yours truly.

learn more at Greenleaf Music and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

Categories
2019 new releases

Fredrik Nordström, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, Mick Rossi’s Anti-Matter, Rudy Royston, and Christopher Trapani

Fredrik Nordström – Needs (Clean Feed Records)

Although Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Nordström has gathered a “double quartet” in the Coleman sense of instrumentation (two times sax, trumpet/trombone, bass, and drums, each panned in the stereo field, joining their respective quartet), it would be unwise to expect Ornette-style harmolodics and free improvisation from this group on Needs. In fact, the band presents more as a densely charted and tightly syncopated, well-oiled octet / big band machine than a “double quartet”…but this ain’t your old man’s big band either. Nordström has called Needs “progressive jazz with unquestionable influence of contemporary classical and rock music”, and while that might suffice for a press kit, the music contains too many dimensions to be adequately summarized in a couple handfuls of words.

The fact that this album was recorded in one day reveals the high degree of musicianship with which we are dealing.  As far as Needs personnel goes, Nordström and Fredrik Ljungkvist handle the reeds, Mats Äleklint and Niklas Barnö play trombone and trumpet respectively, Filip Augustson and Torbjörn Zetterberg man double basses, and Christopher Cantillo and Fredrik Rundqvist do the drumming. The two rhythm sections in particular are notable for their anchor-like steadiness, freeing the horns to do what they do best within the parameters set by Nordström’s terrific charts and conduction cues.

Needs is an especially gratifying near-48 minute listening experience, one that could only really be improved upon by witnessing it live. So, what say you Fredrik…any stateside dates soon?

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

 

 

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord)

It was 1993, and there I was, 22 years young and bright-eyed, sprinting across Houston Street after wrapping up my gig at the Knitting Factory with my band Rodan, b-lining towards CBGBs on Bowery, my first time in said establishment and only my second time in the city that never sleeps. All fingers were crossed that I hadn’t missed any of the set of a band I had just been hipped to very recently, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker. I showed my CMJ pass to the door guy and recklessly power-walked through the crowd towards a most menacing sound coming from deep within the room. Then, bam, I ran headfirst into Swans force of nature Michael Gira, who did not flinch or yield, but exited the room. The brief encounter was sobering, no doubt, but significantly less so than what I was about to witness on stage. Massaker were touring on Koskofen, an album I was obsessed with at the time, and one that can only be described as insistent, pummeling brilliance. Suffice it to say that I was completely unprepared for how excellent and world-altering guitarist Brötzmann and his trio with mainstay bassist Eduardo Delgado-Lopez and drummer Danny Arnold Lommen were that night. I tracked down everything I could find by the group, including their first two German import-only records The Tribe and Black Axis.

Forward to 2019 and venerable imprint Southern Lord have re-mastered and reissued Brötzmann’s first two releases so that the uninitiated might experience the origins of one of the most vital groups of the past 30 years. This is absolutely indispensable listening for anyone who pursues music that moves beyond the safety of genre and/or casual listening. Unfair as it might be, to get you in the ballpark, imagine if Hendrix had been angrier and hadn’t been raised on the blues and you’re there. Some of the band’s strongest material is included on these two albums: “The Tribe”, “Tempelhof”, “Massaker”, “Hunter Song”, and “Böhmen”… Coincidentally, this is the track list of 1994’s Home, a greatest hits of sorts, re-recorded with supernatural and ex-Gore skin-mauler Lommen who supplanted Massaker’s two previous drummers Jon and Frank Neumeier.

The release of The Tribe and Black Axis marks phase one of Southern Lord’s Massaker re-issue project, to be concluded at a later date in 2019 with the release of all five Massaker’s albums individually, as well as in a collectable box set with extensive liner notes, etc. Additionally, according to the label, “Caspar is also rumored to be working on brand new material”, so there’s that too. This right here is the good stuff!

learn more at Southern Lord and Southern Lord and buy at your local record store or at bandcamp, bandcamp, Amazon, or Amazon

 

 

Mick Rossi’s Anti-Matter – Live at Barbes (Chant Records)

Perhaps best known for his work with Philip Glass or for backing mega-star Paul Simon, Mick Rossi is a remarkably well-rounded keyboardist / musician by any metric. With his own group Anti-Matter, Rossi cuts loose and takes a hard left turn, producing some of the most exceedingly grooving and expertly executed roof-raising music north of New Orleans.

Alongside Billy Drewes (reeds) Ron Horton (trumpet) Alan Ferber (trombone) Michael Sarin (drums), Michael Bates (bass), Rossi has hit upon the perfect combination of accessible and challenging, nearly all the while remaining infinitely danceable. Not unlike Steven Bernstein’s unstoppable Millennial Territory Orchestra, Anti-Matter get the party started, sustain the crowd’s attention with a ever-evolving combinations of pyrotechnics and impeccable feel, and don’t let up until the job is complete, not an easy feat when one realized that they never succumb to banal jam-band tactics. Although there is no shortage of startling solos on Live at Barbes, the lasting impression is that these guys play so dang well together as a unit.

I am certain that if I were to host a block party in celebration of a certain individual being removed from a certain high office in our nation’s capital, I could do no better than to hire Anti-Matter as the musical act.

learn more at Chant Records  and buy at your local record store or bandcamp

 

 

Rudy Royston – Flatbed Buggy (Greenleaf Music)

It is no secret that Rudy Royston is one of the most technically accomplished and creative drummers on the scene in 2019, particularly when his resume boasts high-profile spots in the groups of and on recordings by Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and JD Allen. What we are now realizing, however, is that Royston has fully come into his own as a masterful and original composer with the release of his third album, Flatbed Buggy.

Inspired by Royston’s youth in Texas, FB ranges from capricious scrappers like “Bobblehead” to heartfelt ballads like “girl….WOMAN” and everything in between: Texas-sized ground is covered from start to finish, more than enough in deed to please even the most fussy music lover. Surrounding himself with an all-star crew of reedman John Ellis, accordionist Gary Versace, cellist Hank Roberts, and Joe Martin on bass, Royston makes daring and downright fun compositional choices throughout, not the least of which is the material’s inspired instrumentation.

If you’re like me and find yourself missing the childlike sense of wonder afforded by late 80s/early 90s downtown music scene of Bill Frisell’s Have a Little Faith or Lounge Lizard’s Voice of Chunk, FB might be for you.

learn more at Greenleaf Music and buy at your local record store or bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Christopher Trapani – Waterlines (New Focus Recordings)

Waterlines is Christopher Trapani’s premier portrait release, consisting of five pieces composed between 2005 and 2013. Master performers abound, JACK Quartet, vocalist Lucy Dhegrae, pianist Marilyn Nonken, and Longleash are featured, among others.

Trapani draws from a respectable array of influences from folk forms and Bob Dylan to spectral composition and microtonal approaches. He composes for combinations of traditional acoustic and electronic instruments, voice, and folk instruments and idiosyncratic string instruments. To be honest, this all reads as “sounds that could be particularly offensive to me”, and as such, I approached Waterlines with great caution. Even so, I came to enjoy Trapani’s aesthetic more and more with each successive listen.

I am particularly taken with the disc’s two lengthiest pieces, “Waterlines” and “Cognitive Consonance”. “Waterlines”, written in response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of Trapini’s hometown of New Orleans, features settings of five songs about flooding from the delta blues cannon. One senses reverence for the source material rather than a sort of musical gentrification on these recordings, a pleasant surprise to say the least, due in no small part to the artistry of Dhegrae and Talea Ensemble / James Baker. “Cognitive Consonance”, the jewel in the crown of Waterlines, also references source material, this time traditional Ottoman classical music, as studied by Trapani while in Istanbul. Featured on the piece are seemingly disparate elements Turkish qanûn performed by Didem Başar, icy and spectral electronics, and compelling and tripped-out micro-tonalities courtesy one hexaphonic electric guitar that Trapani himself plays on this recording.

Despite reservations, I’m so glad I gave Waterlines a fair shake, uncovering a massive and unique talent in Trapani, and one I will continue to follow. I anticipate that many of you who choose to dive in will feel similarly.

learn more at Trapani’s website and New Focus Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Categories
2019 new releases

Drone Trio, Du Yun & International Contemporary Ensemble, Timespine, Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa, and Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca, and Simone Scolari

Drone Trio – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed Records)

When one considers a trio of pipe organ, electric guitar, and saxophone, the initial expectation is not likely, “a minimal, dark-ambient masterpiece!” Alas, here we are with Lantskap Logic. Lovingly recorded in the chapel at Mills College in Oakland, California, Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, and Phillip Greenlief deliver one of the most mesmerizing documents of improvised music in recent memory.

As the all-purpose group name “Drone Trio” might suggest, this was an ad hoc meeting, presumably executed with little or no preparation. This is all the more impressive considering the almost alien subtlety and responsiveness of the performances of Davis, Frith, and Greenlief: at times it’s impossible to discern three distinct instruments within the drone they are so in sync. Also, there is something about hearing music in a sacred space, performed by true masters, that is deeply affecting, and even through the medium of hi-res digital files, this is the present case. It is only at the tail end of LL, as sirens sound in the streets, that the spell is broken.

LL has transcendence in spades and I know I am not alone when I say, at the risk of sounding greedy, I could use another two hours of this asap.

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

 

 

Du Yun / International Contemporary Ensemble – Dinosaur Scar (Tundra Records)

Caveat: I am not an expert on 21st century orchestral music, or any other for that matter, but I do come across music written from a variety of perspectives and sometimes decide to write about it, so here goes…

Du Yun is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and a founding collaborator with the International Contemporary Ensemble and Dinosaur Scar is a retrospective of sorts released on ICE’s own Tundra imprint documenting her time working closely with ICE the past decade or so. Characteristics that have become hallmarks of ICE are all present on DS: masterful execution, stagnation-averse, extended techniques, fearless expressivity, improvisatory, and aesthetically exceptional.

While there is so much to digest with DS, a few highlights, coincidentally, of the release’s lengthiest pieces, follow: “Air Glow”, here adapted for four trumpets, flugelhorn, and electric guitar/bass is irrefutably majestic, like some demented ritual music; “by, of … Lethean” is also stunning, presenting a confounding-ly woven tapestry, perhaps of forgetfulness – Lethean was the river in Greek mythology that caused those who drank from it oblivion – and features Du Yun performing on zheng; “Run in a Graveyard” features flautist and founder / former artistic / executive director of ICE, Claire Chase, at first skipping, then, um, running, through a slowly detonating landmine of electronics, and is a tense dynamo!

The most accurate description these unqualified ears can conjure of Du Yun’s music is “subtlety edgy”: it is no hurry to make its point, but it will bite you if necessary. Much more exploring of her work is undoubtedly forthcoming.

learn more at Du Yun’s website and New Focus Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Timespine – Urban Season (Shhpuma Records)

Let’s just start with this: Urban Season is home to the most compelling use of field recordings this side of Steven Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound. Listening to US, I found myself physically leaning in in an attempt to uncover what in the world was happening sonically within its mysterious backdrop. Though the secret was never quite revealed, the attempt made for great sport.

The foreground of the 21st century string band Timespine is made up of zither player Adriana Sá, bassist John Klima, and guitarist Tó Trips, also of Portuguese band Dead Combo. There is a fascinating chemistry between the three musicians, who interpret Sá’s graphic scores with grand sensitivity and innovation. Though electronic manipulation is utilized in sculpting an inexplicable vibe, it never interferes with the fact that three musicians are interacting in a profoundly creative act.

Because such a substantial leap forward has been made from the Portuguese group’s eponymous debut release, also on Shhpuma, I can only imagine the volume of brains that will melt upon release #3. Excelente trabalho!

learn more at Timespine’s new site, Clean Feed Records, and SHHPuma and buy at your local record store, Squidco, or Amazon

 

 

Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa – Born Baby Born (Clean Feed Records)

The most essential question for a musician is how do I fill up this space with sound? Formulas have been devised for and dutifully used by groups of musicians about the “best” ways of doing this over the years involving who plays what and how. The issue is complicated when the group is “limited” by its membership, resulting in nearly as many outcomes as there are groups.

In the case of the bass instrument-less trio, Motian/Lovano/Frisell and Baron/Swell/Eskelin come to mind as having made some astoundingly effective decisions that have resulted in terrific if very different music. In this lineage, trumpeter Flavio Zanuttini has convened with eight of his tunes and saxophonist Piero Bittolo Bon and drummer Marco D’Orlando, collectively known as Opacipapa, to bravely accept and smash this personnel challenge. Born Baby Born is not only a total success with respect to making a go without the traditional notion of bass, but it is a jubilant frolic of a good time, not unlike a crafty and thrifty second line.

Each player is so dialed-in to the tunes and each other’s nuanced performances that the resultant whole is truly another galaxy apart from the few parts: no holes here, at all. Cranking BBB is a fantastic way to start anew in 2019!

learn more at Flavio Zanutti’s site and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store, Squidco or Amazon

 

 

Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca & Simone Scolari – Natural Impulse (Principal Records)

There is a something old/ something new vibe to Natural Impulse: at times, particularly early in the disc’s just over 60 minute run time, familiarity of harmony and form acts as reliable comfort food of sorts. As NI continues though, drummer Claudio Scolari, multi-instrumentalist Daniele Cavalca, and trumpeter (Claudio’s son) Simone Scolari explore more and more interesting territory for the more adventurous palette….and to delicious effect!

NI is the third album released by the trio and finds them locating a happy place between acoustic and electronic sounds. The elder Scolari describes the group’s approach as “composing in real time with no rules”. The secret weapon here appears to be Cavalca who handles synths, rhodes, piano, vibraphone, bass, and occasionally, second drum kit!

Though I’m not sure how this project jibes as a live unit, this recording is an overdubbed or unnatural response to a natural impulse…and this is not a dig, because as always, technology in the right hands is very much an ally to creativity.

learn more at Claudio Scolari’s site and buy at your local record store, CD Baby, or Amazon

 

Categories
2018 releases

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Happy new year and best wishes to everyone for a brilliant 2019!  Before I break the slumber and write some new reviews, I’d like to look back at the best of 2018…

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll is out, and Francis Davis let me contribute again this year.

The overview results are here

Davis’ commentary is here

and my contribution is here

My best of 2018 are as follows…

 

NEW RELEASES

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)

Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

Mary Halvorson, Code Girl (Firehouse 12)

Poline Renou, Matthieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre, Adieu Mes Très Belles (Yolk)

Tyshawn Sorey, Pillars (Firehouse 12)

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet, Time Like This (Intakt)

Sungjae Son, Near East Quartet (ECM)

Dan Weiss, Starebaby (Pi)

Nick Millevoi’s Desertion Trio with Jamie Saft, Midtown Tilt (Shhpuma)

Snowpoet, Thought You Knew (Edition)

 

REISSUES

John Coltrane, 1963: New Directions (Impulse!)

Alice Coltrane, Carnegie Hall ’71 (Hi Hat)

Keith Jarrett, La Fenice (ECM)

 

VOCAL

Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

 

DEBUT

WildSonicBlooms, Where We Overlap (Rattle)

 

LATIN

David Virelles, Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II (Pi) *

 

* somehow, my vote for David Virelles’ excellent Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II didn’t make it onto the list.

 

Categories
2018 releases

Zack Clarke, Eraldo Bernocchi, Andrew Cyrille, Friends & Neighbors, and Ant Law

Zack Clarke – Mesophase (Clean Feed Records)

  • The best thing about listening to new music is hearing something that outright confounds. Mesophase is a scientific term used to describe a state of matter that is neither liquid nor solid, but shares properties of both. Mesophase is also the title of the new album by New York composer and pianist Zack Clarke, and is a suitable title given the mercurial nature of the approaches and sounds contained.

To orient you as to sort of what is going on here,it’s like a technologically advanced and better documented version of what Dolphy was up to on his more abstract pieces from the final period of his life…or perhaps a less aggressive, more lyrical variant on AMM’s mid to late-60swork.  But, neither of these comparisons do justice to the captivating art and supreme weirdness captured on Mesophase. Clark did well in choosing a compatible roster of up and coming New York improvisers for the record (Chris Irvine on cello, Charlotte Greve on saxophone, clarinet, flute, Nick Dunston on double bass, Leonid Galaganov on percussion, waterphone, shakuhachi).

At times I find myself questioning what instruments are being played, which sounds are affected and/or overdubbed and which are not, how much is written vs. improvised, and from what kind of room(s) were these sounds originally emanating. The only thing I know for sure after listening to Mesophaseis that I’ll likely be doing so again and again.

learn more at Zack Clarke’s site and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store or at Amazon

 

 

Eraldo Bernocchi – Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise Records)

Imagined and produced by Michele Bongiorno and written and directed by Andrea Bettinetti, Cy Dear is the recent documentary about the polarizing and inimitable American abstract expressionist painter-sculptor-photographer Cy Twombly. The film was initially shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the spring of 2018 and had a short festival run in the fall, never reaching my neck of the woods.

Although I have yet to see the film, I have been enjoying its soundtrack for some time now. Italian multi-instrumentalist and co-boss at RareNoise records Eraldo Bernocchi scored the film using primarily guitar and effects, and it is as soothing as much of Twombly’s work is quite the opposite of that. Imagine the work of Harold Budd (with whom Bernocchi has collaborated) and Brian Eno and you’re in the ballpark. Despite the vastness of the ambiences on Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It, there is a wise economy to Bernocchi’s pieces and playing. As he has said, “I hate overproduced music. Super-layered tracks make me nervous. I trust one note, one single note, a riff. That riff can say more than a whole orchestra.”

As I patiently wait for the film to stream into my home at some point in the future, I anticipate that I will continue to submerge deeply into the cool lake that is LAFTCABI.

learn more at RareNoise Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Andrew Cyrille – Lebroba (ECM Records)

It is a stretch for me to imagine an Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell trio record being anything other than fully satisfying, particularly one where the material is all originals, as on Lebroba (contraction of Leland, Brooklyn and Baltimore, birthplaces of the three). It’s no surprise that these three masters didn’t let me/us down in this case.

Of all the remarkable aspects of Cyrille, Smith, and Frisell, the one that stands out most is that nearly every note by each is a signature that is instantly recognizable. This is no easy task when one considers that none of them is “going off” per se, but rather, the focus is on how he can contribute to the whole in the most efficient way possible. Also, the absence of a grounding bass instrument is never even the slightest consideration. There is no way to appropriately stress the difficulty of this approach to playing in a group setting, especially since one feels throughout as though these three are so dialed-in. All of this is to say that Lebroba breathes so deeply and intently, and quite unlike most anything out there today, lulls us into a sort of euphoric trance state.

We probably don’t deserve this document of the maiden recorded union of three of the greatest in superb form, but maybe if we all bring some good into the world, we’ll get another helping down the road.

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

 

 

Friends & Neighbors – What’s Next (Clean Feed Records)

I have grown accustomed to expecting new creative music from Norway to have a certain chilled aesthetic: patient, melodious, and expansive. This is not the case on What’s Next?. the new third release from Friends & Neighbors. Not that those qualities are entirely absent here, rather, they are less a priority than executing with an elevated sense of urgency.

Saxophonist and primary writer André Roligheten, trumpeter Thomas Johansson, pianist Oscar Gronberg, bassist Jon Rune Strom, and drummer Tollef Ostvang aren’t afraid to wear their classic American influences from Ornette, Monk, and Shepp, to maybe a little George Russell (?)…on their collective sleeves. But F&N aren’t just rehashing the past or hoisting their influences as a gimmick. More likely, they are taking what excites them about music and using it as a roadmap or language or world in which to explore. It’s worth commending Dag Erik Johansen and Kai Andersen at Athletic Sound, Halden, Norway who have done an exceptional job of capturing five guys in an ambient space without getting in the way.

F&N have hit upon the sweet and elusive spot between composed and improvised that few successfully do. It’s safe to say that the present album is indeed What’s Next!

learn more at F&N HQ and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Ant Law – Life I Know (Edition Records)

You might know Ant Law from his playing on a few of saxophonist Tim Garland’s records, but Life I Know is the guitarist/composer ‘s 3rd leader outing. It is also an impressive showcase of both British talent and the almost dizzying spectrum of stylistic influences on Law’s music. From rocking fusion jams to South Indian konnakol to the perennially welcome soaring melodies of “Pure Imagination”, virtually no stone is left unturned.

For LIK, Law has enlisted some of the best and brightest of England in pianist Ivo Neame, saxophonist Mike Chillingworth, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer James Maddren, and away they went. Although I wouldn’t call it “showy” they guys certainly like to play, and Law left plenty of room for that. The end result is a fun annotated ride through what one might imagine a supremely gifted guitarist’s record collection might look like.

Ant Law continues to grow and evolve as a player and as a composer, and with Life I Know, we are starting to get a good look at his core as a musician, and if he stays near this path, his future looks quite bright.

learn more at Edition Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

Categories
2018 releases

Ingrid Laubrock, David Virelles, Anguish, Marcus Strickland, and Patrick Shiroishi

Ingrid Laubrock – Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra (Intakt Records)

Ingrid Laubrock’s Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra has to be one of the most ambitious recording projects of 2018. So many things can, and usually do, go wrong when writing to achieve a faithful orchestral performance, let alone capture an acceptable recording of that performance – it’s a wonder anyone would ever take on such an absurd task. Laubrock has attempted a first recording of her works for orchestra on CCP, and has succeeded splendidly.

She initially wrote “Vogelfrei” for the second Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Reading, performed by the American Composers Orchestra at Columbia University in 2013, and subsequently wrote “Contemporary Chaos Practices” for the 2017 Moers Festival. Augmented by soloists Mary Halvorson on guitar, Kris Davis on piano, Nate Wooley on trumpet, and Laubrock on saxophones and double-conducted by Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum, the two pieces that comprise the record explore a full spectrum of performance/improvisation and of sound itself.

CCP is a wide world in which to spend a great deal of time in order to absorb the many intricacies of the music. A video component would have been most instructive, particularly to witness the conduction component at play with the soloists, but beggars can’t be choosers. Perhaps on volume 2…

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

David Virelles – Igbó Alákọrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II (Pi Recordings / El Tivoli Music)

On the surface, a rootsy Cuban big-band and piano record seems out of place on Brooklyn’s Pi Recordings: consonance, symmetry, and tradition are not words that typically come to mind when thinking of perhaps the most progressive label on the planet. But then you spend time with Igbó Alákọrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II by pianist and composer David Virelles and you quickly realize that it all makes sense because, like the other releases on the label, this one has excellence (and a sprinkling of signature Pi-quirk – see/hear “Sube La Loma, Compay”) written all over it.

Look, it’s no secret that I am no expert in Cuban music, but I do know that all of the classical-like tunefulness, jubilance, and repetitive drive found therein is also on magnificent display on Igbó Alákọrin. Virelles set out to celebrate the lesser-known musicians of Santiago de Cuba, and what a party it is. So much fun is had that a well-deserved break from the daily grind of global political turmoil is granted, if for a moment. The nine songs of volume 1 are with Orquesta Luz de Oriente featuring the wonderfully expressive vocals of Alejandro Almenares and Emilio Despaigne Robert and the five on Volume 2 are performed by Virelles alongside güiro player Rafael Ábalos.

Turn off the tv, put down the newspaper, and spin this record. Both your head and your heart (and your nerves!) will thank me later. Virelles’ deep commitment to research and building upon his already stellar body of work continues to impress and yield damn fine sounds!

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

 

 

Anguish – Anguish (RareNoise Records)

Will Brooks and Mike Mare from New Jersey group Dälek have started a new project called Anguish, and it is an undeniable exercise in creating the darkest of moods, not unlike a Bill Laswell production from the late 80s/early 90s. They have brought keyboardist Hans Joachim Irmler from German krautrock legends Faust, as well as tenor saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Andreas Werliin from Fire! Orchestra along for the ride…and what a heavy, head-knoddingly excellent ride it is.

The tone of Anguish is decidedly bleak, a result of not only the maniacal blowing of Gustafsson, but also the hard-hitting, hyper-realistic lyrics and gritty, teeth-barring production of Brooks. Recorded in just three days during the summer of 2018 at Faust’s Scheer, a repurposed factory in Swabia, Germany, this is not music for the faint of heart. That said, Anguish does more in its little over 40 minutes to energize me than most releases this year – it’s a rally cry for those who refuse to stand idly by while injustices pile up by the minute.

Even if it might not initially sound quite right on paper, this collaboration makes perfect sense and the fruits of it are outstanding. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

learn more at RareNoise Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Marcus Strickland – People of the Sun (Blue Note Records / Revive Music)

I really dig how Brooklyn composer-saxophonist Marcus Strickland continues to shoot for a fresh approach with his new Blue Note release, People of the Sun. Continuing the work he started with Meshell Ndegeocello on 2016’s Nihil Novi, there is no doubting the appeal of the band, production, and arrangements, and I anticipate a hit with this one, inasmuch as there can be a hit in 2018.

Strikland convened his Twi-Life group (organist Mitch Henry, bassist Kyle Miles, and drummer Charles Haynes) for POTS to take a stroll through all the great black music that has help shape him into the musician he is in 2018, namely West African griot and Afrobeat as well as post-bop, funk-soul, and beat music. The stew he has created here is quite delicious and always heavily grooving. He has also apparently really gotten into the bass clarinet, which is always a plus in the right hands, and in Strickland’s, it is.

This record works in no small part due to the fact that it’s not trying so hard to be a jazz record on Blue Note: the inclusion of undeniably non-jazz vocal performances by Bilal, Pharoahe Monch, Greg Tate, Akie Bermiss, and Jermaine Holmes is a very smart step forward in getting great music in front of a bigger audience without spinning wheels or sacrificing integrity.

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

 

 

Patrick Shiroishi – Sparrow’s Tongue (Fort Evil Fruit)

Patrick Shiroishi is a Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer based in Los Angeles, CA who is building quite a resume with an array of interesting creative musical projects, most recently, The Musical Tracing Ensemble, Danketsu 9, and Sunreader. He has also just released his sixth solo saxophone record, Sparrow’s Tongue. 

ST features Shiroishi on alto, tenor & soprano saxophones, field recordings, and snare drum, with poetry (tankas) by Shiroishi’s grandfather, Seiji Inoue, which is recited by his mother, Uzuko Shiroishi. In the artist’s words, “two pieces focus in on overtones via tenor and alto, two pieces focus on playing the alto and soprano simultaneously, with the fifth piece playing the soprano into a snare drum to create a kind of feed-back with the instrument interplaying with an audio recording of an atomic bomb slowed and reversed.”

Overall, it is quite a minimal affair, creating intriguing impressions through subtle extended saxophone techniques, the juxtaposition of disparate ambient environments, and recited Japanese poetry – one tanka translates to “I know my spirit will separate from my body someday / but now, my spirit heats me up”. This being my first experience with Shiroishi’s work, I am intrigued to see where he goes from here, as I like what I hear.

learn more at Shiroishi’s website and buy at your local record store or bandcamp

Categories
2018 releases

Música de Selvagem, Trio Heinz Herbert, Florian Weber, John Coltrane, and François Houle, Alexander Hawkins, & Harris Eisenstadt

Música de Selvagem – Volume Único (ShhPuma / Selo Risco)

While living in France, São Paulo-born bassist Arthur Decloedt was faced with the insult música de selvagem, meaning “music of savages”, to describe music from his beloved Brazil. This xenophobic remark became fuel for Decloedt and saxophonist Filipe Nader as they decided to use the songs of contemporary Brazilian songwriters as the springboard for their next project. Adding drummer Guilherme Marques, trumpeter Amilcar Rodrigues, and saxophonist Cuca Ferreira to the mix, they formed Música de Selvagem and recorded said songs with the singers who penned them.

The result is Volume Único, the terrific new record joint released by Shhpuma and Selo Risco. There is an immediacy and strength conveyed through the minimalism of the tunes and brevity of the just four songs on Volume Único that is both undeniable and quite satisfying. The four songwriters/singers (Sessa, Tim Bernardes, Luiza Lian, and Pedro Pastoriz) bring contrasting material to the group, resulting in a balanced collection that runs the spectrum from aggressively dynamic to soulfully moody to dramatically dirgy to peacefully placating.

This is yet another example of how love wins out over hate, how something terrible like racism is again drown out by the beauty of art. Hopeful stories like this one make it easier to wake up anew in 2018, and I’m already looking forward to Volume Dois!

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

 

 

Trio Heinz Herbert – Yes (Intakt Records)

The lure of electronic music and its devices is a landmine for the composer/performer. Many have fallen by treating it as an ingredient to spice up their compositions, and in the process, came across as pandering or novel. That is decidedly not the case for Trio Heinz Herbert, particularly on their new release, Yes.

Brothers Dominic and Ramon Landolt (guitar and keys, respectively) and drummer Mario Hänni have a way of seamlessly integrating electronic processing into their more or less traditional instrumental playing, resulting in an exciting artistic expression. Some of the projects of Christian Fennesz and Supersilent and even This Heat come to mind as sonic references here, but THH’s compositional approach is something different. Utilizing piano/keyboards, guitar, and drums, they are something of a modern day bass-less piano trio, dub-mixed, perhaps even musique concrete-d, in real time, by themselves!

The ubiquity of sound processing software and hardware makes it easier than ever to attempt what THH do, but the work has to be put in to learn the gear and to actually have compelling ideas before the knob-turning commences. You also have to execute, effectively maniacally multitasking. Fortunately, these Swiss bosses have done so proficiently on all fronts and continue to grow in strength with each successive release.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Florian Weber – Lucent Waters (ECM Records)

This time of year in the Midwestern United States jibes most perfectly with the ECM aesthetic: spatial, remote, impeccable, suggestive, and impressionistic all come to mind. This list of adjectives is appropriate in describing a glowing oceanic panorama, Lucent Waters as it were, which is coincidentally inspiration for and the title of the new Florian Weber record on ECM.

For LW, his second ECM release, German pianist Weber has assembled one of the strongest groups on record in 2018 with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Nasheet Waits. The result is everything described earlier, and in stunning fashion. In the liner notes, when asked about Weber and LW, Lee Konitz said of his protégé, “His music is totally free. He has got the texture, the feeling, just beautiful…it feels divine to me.” I couldn’t agree more.

There is a programmatic approach to the music, about which Weber describes the “twilight atmosphere of the touring musician’s world”. It’s no secret to any musician who has spent time on the road that this can be a lonesome place, for sure, and this quartet has encapsulated that mood purely here. It’s not all dark though as the jubilance of the perfect gig is reflected in tracks such as “Time Horizon” and “Fragile Cocoon”. Come on in, the waters are just fine.

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

 

John Coltrane – 1963: New Directions (Impulse! Records)

First off, what more can be or needs to be said of the legacy of absolute excellence of John Coltrane? He and his core crew of Jones, Tyner, and Garrison climbed the pinnacle of what music is capable in a way that nearly no one else ever did or ever will.

As the title of this set suggests, 1963 was a time of transition for Coltrane wherein he moved from the tradition of jazz that he had already altered forever with his extended solo-flights of spontaneous and limitless imagination, to a new place entirely the following year with the release of the genre defying A Love Supreme. This 3-CD or 5-LP set culled from his 1963 recordings Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Dear Old Stockholm, Newport ‘63 and Live at Birdland is a fascinating document of a genius becoming even greater.

Look, you don’t need me to tell you that this is a brilliant collection, and though I’m not a proponent of the old “repackage and sell at Christmas” game, 1963: New Directions makes perfect sense for the uninitiated and for those to whom certain younger musicians, and I’m not naming names here, are considered masters. This is the genuine article.

learn more at Coltrane’s website and buy at your local record store or Amazon


 

François Houle, Alexander Hawkins, & Harris Eisenstadt – You Have Options (Songlines Recordings)

A Brit, a Canadian, and an American walk into a recording studio…except this is no joke… far from it, it’s the setup for the new album, You Have Options, from clarinetist François Houle, pianist Alexander Hawkins, and drummer Harris Eisenstadt. To say this is some serious chemistry and seriously impressive music is an understatement.

The range of material on display on YHO is staggering. Included are compositions penned by each of the three musicians involved, as well as pieces by Steve Lacy, Andrew Hill, and Charles Ives. In the hands of lesser players/improvisers, the challenge would result in butchery, but these three brought their A-games and nailed it. I surprised myself by deeply enjoying the space afforded in no small part by the absence of bass on the recording, an omission that I typically lament: not a problem here given the superhuman sensitivity and exemplary musicianship of Eisenstadt, in particular.

Although it’s more undeniable now than ever that You Have Options, I submit the present release as one of the stronger options. Go get it!

learn more at Songlines Recordings and buy at your local record store, Houle’s website or Amazon


 

 

 

 

Categories
2018 releases

Poline Renou, Mattieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre, Ingrid Jensen and Steve Treseler, Matthew Golombisky’s Cuentos, Wolfgang Muthspiel, and PJ5

Poline Renou, Mattieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre – Adieu Mes Très Belles (Yolk Records)

Following an impeccably recorded and drop-dead gorgeous solo vocal intro by Polline Renou, just as Sylvain Lemêtre’s hand drumming commences with a gripping rhythm, the stage is set for something very distinct. For the duration of Adieu Mes Très Belles, the captivating new recording by the aforementioned two musicians with clarinetist Mattieu Donarier, the thrall never lets up.

The unlikely pairing of Medieval plainchant and European Renaissance chanson and balladry with advanced 21st century improvisational techniques, as well as a deeply ruminating overall atmosphere not often on display from an acoustic trio makes AMTB, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating recordings of 2018. So very economical, so very efficient, so very expressive, and so very effecting, this trio traverses territory over which major metropolitan orchestras routinely stumble.

I can’t help but think that many people who read this type of blog would be way into this kind of singular project, but who knows, maybe it’s too perplexing for some listeners of creative music to enter uncharted waters. Naturally, I hope not…Regardless, a note to self: go back and check out Poline Renou and Matthieu Donarier’s Kindergarten project, because, as David Letterman used to say, I’ll take all of this you’re selling!

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

 

 

Ingrid Jensen and Steve Treseler – Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler (Whirlwind Recordings)

The music of Kenny Wheeler is a beautiful confluence of the harmonic language developed by the masters of the past like Ellington, Mingus, and Miles AND the singularly innovative restlessness of Monk and Braxton. It’s no wonder that musicians of such considerable agency as trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and reedsman Steve Treseler felt compelled to pay tribute to the fairly recently deceased iconoclast.

Jensen’s crack band of pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Jon Wikan were brought on board for Invisible Sounds, and to stellar effect. All of the melancholy, spunk, and even madness of Wheller’s compositions were conveyed in the animated playing of all involved, including guest saxophonist, and Ingrid’s sister, Christine Jensen, as well as vocalist Katie Jacobson.

If artists don’t seize the opportunity of allowing the vision of another artist to actually breathe in tribute, that tribute is a blunder. Jensen, Tresler and company have not fallen into this all too-common trap and have instead stayed true to Wheeler’s aesthetic approach by making his music their own on Invisible Sounds. Well done, indeed!

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

 

 

Matthew Golombisky’s Cuentos – Volume 3 (ears & eyes records)

Composer, bassist, and prime mover Matthew Golombisky returns with another wonderful set of Cuentos (Spanish for “short stories”) with Volume 3, this time set in Chicago, Il. The idea with his Cuentos is that Golombisky writes a terse motivic framework with minimal guidelines around which a group of improvisers would briefly converse on their instruments – most pieces run around three or four minutes. This time around he has convened in Chicago, Il with some of the best of the best: longtime collaborator, drummer Quin Kirchner, trombonist Naomi Moon Siegel, trumpeter James Davis, and saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi.

Keeping with the tradition begun with last year’s Volume 1 & 2, there are no names given to the pieces, only numbers, freeing the listener of preconceptions or artistic intent. That said, one couldn’t help but sense pathos within much of the material on Volume 3, as if the resultant musical discussions quickly turned to the current political climate in the U.S.   The good news is that it’s not a bummer, at all. To the contrary, I take solace in these terse meditations, like a maritime prayer or a healing lamentation.

At any rate, there is no shortage of beauty to be made through the Cuentos approach, particularly in the hands of Matthew Golombisky and his astutely chosen compatriots. Let’s hope he continues this process of documenting his travels with fresh batches of these cuentos for years to come.

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

 

 

Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes (ECM Records)

What happens when you assemble five of the most accomplished musicians on earth to record for one of the most prestigious record labels of the past 40 + years? Loaded question, for sure, but one that can only be answered when the leader of said project is revealed. In this case, it is guitarist and composer Wolfgang Muthspiel, author of some of a few of the finest records of the past decade or so. In a word, the answer is sublime.

The accomplished ones are Ambrose Akinmusire, Brad Mehldau Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland, and the label is ECM…I mean, come on. All parties do precisely what they are capable of, and the result is a jaw-dropping collection of originals by group members, mostly penned by Muthspiel. Therein lies the X-factor: great ingredients can be unpalatable in the hands of a poor chef. Simply put, I love Muthspiel’s tunes and his approach to and priority placed on space. His musical sweet spot is a magical elixir.

It’s almost odd for me to have to say this, but you need to buy this record and spend significant time with it. Just trust me on this one.

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

 

 

PJ5 – I Told the Little Bird (Jazz & People)

I have enjoyed French guitarist Paul Jarret and his band PJ5 since I heard their 2016 release, Trees. I can’t quite put my finger on what kind of music this band makes: it is at times very accessible, danceable even; their methodology reflects a wide array of influences without succumbing to any one of them for too very long – the music bears it’s sharp teeth one moment and the next it displays a resplendently patient Scandinavian-like sensitivity. Somehow, it all works without sounding contrived or novel, and with I Told the Little Bird, the group has taken another step forward with a suite of pieces tied together with the grandparent of all themes: the circle of life.

The five core members of Jarret, saxophonist Maxence Ravelomanantsoa, trombonist Léo Pellet, bassist Alexandre Perrot, and drummer Ariel Tessier, have all returned and are in fine form, augmented by guests Jozef Dumoulin on the Fender Rhodes and vocalist Isabel Sörling. It is commendable that PJ5’s top priority remains the compositions rather than virtuosic playing.

It’s refreshing to hear emotionally charged pieces (titles include “The Nest”, “Peaceful Struggle”, and “Cycles: The Soil”) performed without a trace of smugness or irony. Although they never answered the question posed in track nine, “Where Do Butterflies Sleep”, it becomes apparent that as in most good art, it is not the answer but the question that is of the primary importance.

learn more at Jazz & People and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

Categories
2018 releases

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, Albatre, Wayne Horvitz, Adam Hopkins, and Casey Golden

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)

One thing is for sure: you’d be hard pressed to gather a more impressive group of players/improvisers than Bay-area pianist/composer Myra Melford has done with her Snowy Egret project.  As she has said, “I really feel like it’s the vehicle that expresses where I am as a composer, performer, and bandleader right now”. It is only with such a remarkable vehicle that a group of artist can so seemingly effortlessly navigate the improvisational and compositional terrain that SE explores on The Other Side of Air.

For their second release together, Melford and company have run the gamut through what a quintet is capable, covering territories from the sublime to the revved-up to the ridiculous. These five are so locked in to these compositions and to each other that it is beyond clairvoyance at times.

I love how on a number of these pieces, Melford has created divisions or movements in which one or two soloists are featured: micro concertos, almost! It is in these moments, as on “Attic” (greatest bass solo of 2018?) and “Living Music” (Ellman and Sorey tear it up), that a very rare transcendence takes place.  Some very inspired work here, for sure.

learn more at Firehouse 12 Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Albatre – The Fall of the Damned (ShhPuma)

Relentless, aggressive, cathartic, concerted, guitar-less, and odd meters are apt descriptors of The Fall of the Damned, the new album by Rotterdam-based Albatre. And this is just what the doctor ordered to fight the chaotic dumpster fire that is 2018.

There are more than a few comparisons that can be made between Albatre and Kevin Martin’s battering “God” project from the ’90s.  For starters, harshly effected drums, bass, and saxophone intent on relaying the paramount importance of rhythm take center stage on both. Philipp Ernsting, Gonçalo Almeida, and Hugo Costa convincingly bring the noise on said trio of instruments, respectively, but not respectfully. Compared to their terrific 2015 release, Nagual, there is an even more deliberate middle-finger-to-the-state-of-the-world vibe at play here, and it’s one that I can get behind.

Although these sounds are not necessarily for the faint of heart, they are a mollifying space to occupy as you plan your daily acts of resistance. Coincidently, albâtre is French for “alabaster”, the stone material artists have diligently chipped away at for millennia to immortalize greatness through sculpture. Viva L’Albatre!

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

 

 

Wayne Horvitz – The Snowghost Sessions (Songlines Recordings)

As a key member of Naked City, Pigpen, Zony Mash, and The President – bands who illustrated to me early on just how out music can be taken – Wayne Horvitz will always hold a special place in my consciousness. Since relocating from New York to Seattle in the late 80s, Horvitz has covered an absurd amount of musical territory from popular and experimental band-work, theater and dance pieces, chamber and orchestral writing, sound design, TV and soundtrack work and so on. It has been a full ride, indeed…and the ride continues.

SnowGhost is the relaxed, top-shelf recording studio in Whitefish, Montana where the sounds of Horvitz’s beautiful piano playing and electronically augmented keys, along with exceptional accompaniment from bassist Geoff Harper and drummer Eric Eagle were immaculately committed to tape (or disc). There is a filmic quality to The Snowghost Sessions, not because it requires an image to complete an artistic statement, but because it reveals imagery upon listening: a profile of a man falling down and getting back up again, a snapshot of the jarring yet taciturn winter that inevitably descends on the Midwest year after year, or a family gathered in silence, in mourning.

Like all the best art, The Snowghost Sessions improves with each listen, vying hard for the top spot on year-end lists that will be rampant before we know it. Kudos to Horvitz, Harper, and Eagle, and to Songlines Recordings for this gift.

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

 

 

Adam Hopkins – Crickets (Out Of Your Head Records)

Evidently, Adam Hopkins learned a great deal about how to play the bass (and likely much more) from luminary Michael Formanek and how to effectively lead a group (and likely much more) from heavy-hitters Henry Threadgill and John Hollenbeck, both in whose groups he has served time. Crickets is Hopkins’ first release under his own name, and what a fine and feisty romp it is.

The groundwork for much of the record is the mighty riff, delivered with potency by Hopkins and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and reflective of the influence of 80s and 90s punk/indie rock. Onto this framework Hopkins has grafted the triple-sax threat of Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg, and Josh Sinton, deftly delivering glorious wails of charted lines and spirited solos over said riffage. Drummer Devin Gray completes the group with both agility and judicial backbeat, serving the music well at every step.

It’s heartening to see the DIY spirit of yesteryear alive and well as we do on Crickets – Out of Your Head Records is run by Hopkins and his friends – particularly at a time when the artist’s slice of the pie continues to shrink. PSA: remind a musician, especially with your wallet, that you are still listening and that what they do matters and they won’t go away.

learn more at Out of Your Head Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Casey Golden – Atlas (self-released)

For the better part of the past decade, pianist Casey Golden has been active in Australia, releasing well-received trio records with Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues, and more recently has begun to make a splash in London with his quartet with guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Henrik Jensen, and drummer Will Glaser.

The sensitivity that Golden and his UK quartet demonstrate in their interplay on their first release Atlas is undoubtedly impressive and is a considerable step forward for Golden. The tunes are just so agreeable and the playing is refreshingly in service of the music rather than the ego of the player. This is not to say that these four don’t have chops; quite to the contrary, these four can play.

Whatever Golden is up to in England agrees with him, and I look forward to more of the fruits of this creative activity in the future.

learn more at Casey Golden’s site and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

Categories
2018 releases

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet, Devin Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs, Jakob Bro, Master Oogway, and Satoko Fujii and Alister Spence

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet – Time Like This (Intakt Records)

There is an ominous cloud permeating Time Like This, the new and first release by bassist and composer Michael Formanek with his group Elusion Quartet. Titles such as “The New Normal”, “This May Get Ugly”, and “The Soul Goodbye” speak loudly about our current political predicament. That said, it’s hard to imagine music being made since November 2016 to be anything but glum.

The seven Formanek originals on the album also exude a density and complexity, all while leaving ample room for this top-shelf ensemble of saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist Kris Davis, and percussionist Ches Smith to freely emote and explore, in a way not dissimilar to Coltrane Quartet’s “Alabama” … as they do on the album opener “Down 8 Up 5”.

Serious times call for serious measures and bearing witness and commiserating are crucial first steps in exacting socio-political change. Formanek and company have done so with their art at the absolute highest level on Time Like This and for that, this listener is most appreciative.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Devin Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs – Amaranth (Shifting Paradigm Records)

Not only is Amaranth Milwaukee drummer Devin Drobka’s debut album as a leader, it is also an impressive showcase for his adept writing and versatile playing. Released on the Minneapolis label, Shifting Paradigm Records, this is a collection of effective compositions deconstructed with inspired improvisation, making for a sound that isn’t quite like anything out there today.

Drobka’s group Bell Dance Songs weaves a tapestry of sonic goodness that resides primarily outside of the constraints of time keeping. The triple sax threat of Chris Weller, Patrick Breiner, and Daniel Blake absolutely tear it up and then sew it back together again with the acumen of a somewhat incensed but highly skilled fiber artist. Boston bassist Aaron Darrell completes the rhythm section with Drobka and is the anchor by which the ship escapes the tempest of raging waters.

On Amaranth, close friends gathered to make art that is meaningful to them. I hear a love for the music and between the musicians that is both pleasing and refreshing. More of this, please.

learn more at Shifting Paradigm and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Jakob Bro – Bay of Rainbows (ECM Records)

The music of Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is an exquisite dance and it is never bettered than when the consummate master Joey Baron is behind the drums, especially with a pair of brushes (or anything really…or nothing) in his hands. As on 2016’s stellar Streams, this is the case on Bay of Rainbows, the new live album by Bro’s trio, rounded out by Bro’s “musical soul mate”, rock solid bassist Thomas Morgan.

To take the surface simplicity of this music as anything short of entrancing would be a mistake: what is not played by these three most astonishing listeners is of far greater importance than what is actually played. The tune selection is wonderful and is from Bro’s ever-growing arsenal of originals, going as far back as his independent releases from the late aughts, Balladeering and Pearl River.

The album is named after the deed to a plot of land on the moon given to Bro’s infant daughter, in Latin called Sinus Iridum…a fitting title for a collection of celestial and transcendent sounds at which to marvel from afar.

learn more at ECM and buy at your favorite record store or Amazon

 

 

Master Oogway – THE CONCERT KOĀN (Clean Feed Records)

Master Oogway is the elderly and wise tortoise and now resident of the spirit realm who created the ancient martial-art of king fu and is responsible for the maxim “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that is why it is called the present”…he is also the inspiration for the name of a collective of four Norwegian musicians responsible for one of the more satisfying releases of 2018, The Concert Koān.

Saxophonist Lauritz Lyster Skeidsvoll and electric guitarist Håvard Nordberg Funderud take turns artfully disrupting stasis alongside the telepathic and sometimes psychopathic rhythmic propulsions of Karl Erik E. Horndalsveen and Martin Mellem, double bassist and drummer respectively. It’s not all shrapnel and smoke though: on the substantial “Mørk Materie”, one is lulled into thinking that the time has come to settle in for some typically Scandinavian blissed-out action, but pleasant as it is, the letup is only fleeting as the pummeling vibe returns with a welcome vengeance.

This is a terrific record to ready oneself for the hopeful catharsis of election day 2018, America, due in no small part to Funderud’s ferocious guitar tone and playing, at times reminiscent of McLaughlin’s work with Lifetime or Ribot’s Shrek project. I am very much looking forward to hearing what the future has in store for him and for Master Oogway.

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

 

 

Satoko Fujii and Alister Spence – Intelsat (Alister Spence Music)

On the staggering ninth of twelve 2018 releases celebrating Japanese pianist and composer Satoko Fujii’s 60th birthday, she has rung in another year of fruitful musical explorations in top form! The effect of Intelsat, a duo with Australian keyboardist Alister Spence, is situated along the lines of Musique concrète and film noir: intricate mystery leads to great wonderment.

The material is culled from a September 2017 performance at Intelsat Jazz Club in Kiracho, Nishio, Japan, and evidences a workout for the improvisational instincts that these two adventurous performers have in abundance. Both Fujii’s piano and Spence’s Fender Rhodes are dutifully prepared for maximum expressivity that makes for, at times, a totally alien soundscape.

When two musicians from somewhat disparate scenes convene, one never knows quite what one will get. While this is not Fujii and Spence’s first duo performance together, it is their first duo release. The reason that this improvisation works is the same reason that it always works: the musicians are actually listening. Here’s to more actual listening and more duets between these two!

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

 

Categories
2018 releases

Tyshawn Sorey, WildSonicBlooms, John Blevins’ Matterhorn, Jonathan Finlayson, and Cuong Vu 4-Tet

Tyshawn Sorey – Pillars (Firehouse 12)

For the past decade or so, Dr. Tyshawn Sorey has busied himself making some of the most absorbing music of the 21st century, creating entire universes out of personal musical meditations. Only one thing is certain about his music: if you want in on the secret, active listening is required.

Nearly four hours of music spread out over three discs comprise Pillars, so listening to all of it in an initial sitting might very well be at your own peril. As a suggested entry point, begin perhaps with disc two, the most initially arresting of the three, then work your way into the music in the order it has been officially presented to us for consumption.

Although it is performed by an octet of trumpet, trombone, electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and percussion, Pillars has a quality that is not unlike Roscoe Mitchell’s Trios wherein numerous and varying groupings of players make for optimal interplay. In execution, however, this is quite a different beast.

Extended, upended, and distended instrumental techniques, cascading electronic delay effects, ancient horns, and the deliciously judicious combination of restraint and blow make for a singular listening experience that defies category and description. A stellar ensemble of Stephen Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, alto horn, small percussion), Ben Gerstein (trombone, melodica), Todd Neufeld (electric and acoustic guitars), Joe Morris (electric guitar, double-bass), Carl Testa (double-bass, electronics), Mark Helias (double-bass) and Zach Rowden (double-bass) proves to be the perfect foil for Sorey’s variegated compositional approach. The good Dr. Sorey handles the drum set, percussion, trombone, Tibetan ritual horn dungchen, and conducting with the grace and certainty of a Zen master. BRAVO, MAESTRO!

learn more at Tyshawn Sorey’s website and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

WildSonicBlooms – Where We Overlap (Rattle Records)

From the opening moments of Where We Overlap, I am transported to the late 80s and early 90s when post-everything champions Talk Talk and dark ambient stalwarts Brian Williams, Bryn Jones, Robin Storey, Vidna Obmana, and Mick Harris roamed the earth. For those artists, high priority was placed on readying the studio environment to perpetually engender and capture the spontaneous creative act…. so it seems with WildSonicBlooms, the moniker of the maiden meeting between some of New Zealand’s finest musicians.

Traditional and unconventional instruments enhanced by electronic stardust at the adept hands of Jeremy Mayall, Kent Macpherson, Horomona Horo, Haco, Reuben Bradley and Megan Rogerson-Berry blend to form a dream-space into which one can temporarily escape. Drones chill, voices suggest, percussion pulse, synths interpose, and effects obscure to define this space’s curious parameters.

Though “cinematic” is a cheap way to describe this place, I can’t help but consider Deckard’s ensconced apartment as the rains incessantly fall outside in the alarmingly near dystopian future of 2019’s Los Angeles in Blade Runner as I listen. This is one to which I will return as our social and political situation stateside grows bleaker.

learn more at Rattle Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

John Blevins’ Matterhorn – Uzumati (ears&eyes)

Any time uncannily consistent Chicago imprint Ears & Eyes Records releases new material, I take note. The newest on the label, Uzumati, starts off pleasantly enough with a sufficiently grooving vamp with fine solo exchanges between guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, reedman Drew Williams, and trumpeter and leader John Blevins, but then quickly kicks into another, unexpected gear altogether.

The rhythm section of Jesse Bielenberg (bass), Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums), and John Doing (percussion) rounds out the group in no small way: unyielding pulse is crucial to the bulk of this material. Hints of King Crimson and even The Police present themselves more apparently than, say, Miles Davis, though Matterhorn never settles on mimicking any of that.

Uzumati is a sound-gumbo that works…weirdo pop and adventurous world-music forms, long ambient murmurations, and 12-tone Zappa-esque melodies are on the menu and I’m ordering seconds. Fittingly recorded in Queens, NY, the multicultural capital of the world, and inspired by the majesty of the Sierra Nevadas, this is some mountainous stuff.

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

 

 

Jonathan Finlayson – 3 Times Round (Pi Recordings)

Like two of his musical mentors – Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman – Jonathan Finlayson is a musician and composer bent on the pursuit of innovation. On his third album for Brooklyn’s venerable Pi Recordings, Finlayson has taken the step of including two additional horns, both saxophones, to the mix. The resulting harmonic discourse is phenomenal.

The band on 3 Times Round reads like a Downbeat critics poll list: saxophonists Steve Lehman and Brian Settles, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Craig Weinrib, the last three from Finlayson’s Sicilian Defense outfit. As with nearly all music in which he is involved, Mitchell takes MVP, covering the court here with chordal blankets like Scottie Pippen. He makes wicked soloists like Finlayson, Lehman, and Settles (the Jordans in this by now bad and exhausting analogy) look really, really good…and solos his ass off as well!

There are two major-centerpieces of the album: “A Stone, a Pond, a Thought” and “The Moon is New”. On the first, the band stretches out effectively on a somewhat looser form, making for a terrific counterpart to the relentless rhythmic complexity of much of the rest of the record. On the second, there are poignantly dramatic interludes that give respite from the otherwise vigorous sections of the staggering14+ minute opus.

On his third time round as a leader, Finlayson has hit on some genuine inspiration that will hold us fans over ’til the fourth!

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

 

 

Cuong Vu 4-Tet – Change In The Air (RareNoise Records)

London’s RareNoise Records is on quite a roll in 2018, releasing stone cold gems from Jamie Saft (two actually!), Bobby Previte, Sonar w/ David Torn, and The Joshua Trinidad Trio. The run continues with Change In The Air, the second RNR release by Vietnamese-born, Seattle-based trumpeter Cuong Vu in as many years. Here, Vu is again joined by singular guitarist Bill Frisell, as well as drummer Ted Poor and bassist Luke Bergman, as solid a rhythm section as could be asked for.

The tunes are provided by all members of the group and are quite lovely, but what is crucial when soloists of the caliber of Frisell and Vu are on the session is that the tunes provide room for the conversation to go where it may. Mission accomplished, perhaps not more effectively on this record than by Poor on his gorgeous and melancholic “Lately”: the dialog between Frisell and Vu here is some of the richest of 2018, bearing similarities to a Frisell/Hank Roberts heart-to-heart from Frisell’s flawless 1991 record, Where in the World.

There is so much to enjoy about Change in the Air, more of which continues to come to light upon each repeated listen. Maybe if we all listen between now and November 6, the title will materialize and we can begin to peel away the layers of awful that have fallen over our country.

learn more at RareNoise Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

Categories
2018 releases

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Cory Smythe, Phronesis, Fred Frith, and The Lie Detectors

Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window (Mack Avenue)

Let’s start with this: Cécile McLorin Salvant is one of the three or so most compelling and excellent vocalists making music in 2018. On her new duo album The Window, her magnificently refined aesthetic and masterful interplay with pianist Sullivan Fortner sets Salvant apart in a way that is profound and likely discouraging to others in the singing game. More obscure gems from the torch and pop cannons and beyond sit comfortably aside enchanting takes on standards by Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Dori Cayimi, and other all-time greats of songwriting.

Dense spells are cast at will as Fortner receives the go-ahead to brandish his French-Impressionistic meets German-Romantic (filtered through Monk-ish stride) dexterity as he does on Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and on the Winstone/Rowles classic “Peacocks” when they are joined by Melissa Aldana on tenor sax. When in this trance-state, one almost forgets that these are primarily songs about the total desolation that love can bring – beguiling, not unlike love’s spell itself. Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter, this remains one of the most splendid records of 2018 and one can only hope that Salvant returns to this seamless duo format with Fortner again and again in the future.

learn more at Mack Avenue and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Cory Smythe – Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic)

As part of Tyshawn Sorey’s exceptional trio, pianist Cory Smythe’s extraordinarily reactive playing was one of the absolute standouts at the most recent Big Ears Festival. Smythe furthers his trend of astounding on Circulate Susanna, a kind of otherworldly song-cycle inspired in part by a version of his musical upbringing in rural Illinois, particularly as it was informed by America’s dark past as reflected in the paradoxically light tone of its popular music. He is joined by the gifted and imaginative duo of guitarist Daniel Lipell and vocalist Sofia Jernberg.

Lipell’s deft acoustic guitar playing is purposefully detuned and at times liberally doused in electronic processing that only enhances the Partch-like alien-ness of the proceedings. Jernberg vocalizes in a wholly unique and gripping way: part throat harmonizing, alien binary code, part western art music master, and part possessed and/or rabid animal. There are numerous moments on this recording when I have no concept of who is playing what and how, not unlike a Kagel piece, and that is a decided plus in my book. A seemingly Burroughsian lyrical cut-up of the classic “Strange Fruit” adorns the final powerhouse track “To Gather the Wond” that I have now listened to over 20 times in a row…the mood is chilling, but I cannot get enough of it. Big props to pianist Kris Davis for releasing this one on her new imprint Pyroclastic.

learn more at Smythe’s website and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Phronesis – We Are All (Edition Records)

For their 8th studio release, Phronesis – the vehicle for bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame, and drummer Anton Eger to throw down – shows no sign of taking it easy.  In fact, We Are All is a rallying cry for unity in a time of profound divisiveness.  Kinetic, syncopated, deliberate, direct, and jagged are words that initially come to mind when describing the sounds on WAA, but that is selling it short.  These guys are undoubtedly playing their asses off here, but it’s not simply a wank-fest by any barometer – there is a sum > parts certainty about this recording.

Collectable artwork and collectable sounds abound from the venerable Edition Records, this is a release that encapsulates 2018’s cloud of anxiety as well as its resilient pushback. At six tracks in just fewer than 41 minutes this is and will always be my kind of record.

learn more at Edition and Phronese’s website and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Fred Frith Trio – Closer to the Ground (Intakt Records)

Legendary guitarist and musical maverick Fred Frith has covered a lot of territory over 50+ years, but, as he mentions in the liner notes to his new album Closer to the Ground, he has always been in a band for what only that kind of arrangement can bring.  Not only is his trio with bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn another of those many bands, but it’s one of Frith’s most superlative since his much-beloved Henry Cow.

As an improvising soloist of the highest order, I can’t imagine Frith wanting for a single thing more from his latest rhythm section – they lay down metronomic and/or shifting grooves, they create sunset-like colors on which Frith eviscerates and/or gently highlights with an array of engaging tremolo and reverberant effects, and they are acutely aware of their supporting-yet-not-passive role and play and/or don’t play accordingly.  Bravo to Swiss imprint Intakt Records for being home to such a vital statement from a singular artist and his inventive crew.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

The Lie Detectors – Part III: Secret Unit (Chant Records)

The duo of guitarist Eyal Maoz and drummer Asaf Sirkis aka The Lie Detectors is at ease stretching out, perhaps a result of their longstanding rapport, stretching back to when they were 10 years old growing up in Rehovot, Israel.  In the intervening years, Maoz and Sirkis have amassed resumes that read like a who’s who of creative music in NYC and Europe, and for good reason: these guys rip!

TLD is a finely-tuned vehicle replete with rack and pinion steering, precision gearbox, four-piston aluminum monobloc fixed caliper brakes, and on P3:SU they prove more than capable of leaping into and traversing whatever terrain presents itself.  The music freaks out like early Mothers of Invention, pummels like Tony Williams Lifetime, zigzags like another wicked duo, Ruins, and locks into cruise control like a kind of majestic Endless Summer.  Hop in the back and hold on to your hat…it’s heck of a gratifying ride.

learn more at Chant Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

Categories
2018 releases

Stefan Aeby Trio, Günter Baby Sommer, Marc Ribot, Sungjae Son, and Tord Gustavsen

Stefan Aeby Trio – The London Concert (Intakt Records)

Swiss pianist/composer Stefan Aeby’s new trio release The London Concert commences with “Shi”, an impressionistic Prelude to the Afternoon of Stefan of sorts: an amuse bouche for what later proves to have been a brilliantly-balanced meal.  From there, the telepathic interplay that is a hallmark reserved for top-shelf piano trios becomes quite apparent.

Combinations of playful, deft, scrappy, and patient exchanges between drummer Michi Stulz and bassist André Pousaz drive forward and then reign in the proceedings while Aeby dazzlingly and gracefully juggles all manner of theme and variation, at times subtly and artfully augmenting his playing with Ableton’s electronic processing.  This is a record that initially checks all the boxes for a fully satisfying listening experience and then immediately begs for another even deeper dive.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Günter Baby Sommer – Baby’s Party (Intakt Records)

Have you noticed that septuagenarians are getting it done in 2018?  The jubilant spirit of freedom that fuels 77 year old master improviser, educator, composer, and percussionist Milford Graves is very much alive and well evidenced not only in his own infectious performances at last year’s Big Ears Festival, but also throughout the world of free and improvised music, and nowhere more profoundly than on Baby’s Party, the new release of 75 year old German improvisational drummer / vocalizer Günter Baby Sommer.

The aesthetic chemistry between Sommer and album cohort trumpeter Till Brönner is an absolute delight, not unlike a warm blanket in late autumn.  The sometimes frisky, sometimes delicate musical tit for tat throughout this set traverses the history of improvisational alchemy, replete with entry points for any fan of music – no small task for two artists throwing down sounds on the fly.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Marc Ribot – Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti Records)

2018 being what it has become to anyone with a soul and a brain, it is far too easy to forget that there is still beauty and compassion in the world.  Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 is a not-so-gentle reminder that, not only do some still care, but also that some will make noise about it until change follows.  For this set of protest songs whose history spans the larger part of the 20th century and beyond, Ribot surrounds himself with disparate musical foils such as former boss Tom Waits, badass vocalist/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, rock vocalist Syd Straw, Mexican actress and performance artist Astrid Hadad, and many others…and to stirring effect.

To be sure, these are primarily accessible songs of all varieties of Americana, but in the singular hands of Ribot, they become something greater. Despite the substantial weight of much of the lyrical content, S.O.R. is effectively an unexpected letter from an old friend at just the right time, just to check in.

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

 

 

Sungjae Son – Near East Quartet (ECM Records)

The bass-less ensemble is a fascinating beast, and can go one of two ways:  sink or swim.  Seoul’s Near East Quartet led by composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist Sungjae Son undoubtedly goes in later direction…in Olympic fashion too, though theirs is less a brutish marathon and more a freestyle event.  Like much other music on the ECM imprint, what the group of Son, guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh decide not to play/sing is of paramount importance: restraint, my personal favorite artistic quality, is the raison dêtre here.

Incorporating traditional Korean gugak musical elements, dirge-y rock grooves, majestic chromatic harmonies, as well as swing, the NEQ scratches a number of the same itches that another excellent bass-less group from the eastern hemisphere, Dirty Three, did.  Clocking in at just less than 37 minutes, this gem leaves the listener wanting more, which is certainly one of greatest endorsements that can be given to a recording in 2018.

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

 

 

Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Other Side (ECM Records)

For Norwegian pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen, bassist Sigurd Hole, and drummer Jarle Vespestad, intentional breathing seems to be a key improvisational/compositional device: as the breath goes, so goes the music.  Consequently, The Other Side is not so much about bold edicts delivered from on high, as it is about complex, if somewhat muted and/or obscured suggestions.

There is a deceptive folk-like simplicity and placidity that is persistent here, manifesting itself in a similar Scandinavian, less-is-more approach found among the ranks of the Rune Grammofon, NORCD, and Hubro rosters.  In addition to inventive settings of traditional tunes and originals, there are three Gustavsen arrangements of J.S. Bach that are stunning revelations, leaving me waiting in anticipation for the next trio release from Mr. Gustavsen, hopefully in less than the decade+ that it took to get this one.

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