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

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

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
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

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