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