Monday, October 16, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017)

Trumpeter, composer and theorist Wadada Leo Smith has spent his life in search of new sounds and teaching and interpreting those sounds for the benefits of students, fans and mankind as a whole. Originally from Mississippi, he moved north, settling in Chicago, becoming active in the AACM, developing his own distinctive approach to composition and improvisation, eventually landing teaching jobs at respected universities and conservatories. One benefit of being in larger cities and musical communities was the ability to see other musical iconoclasts like Thelonious Monk in performance and to collect his records for future study. Monk's completely original approach to music became very important to Smith as his own performing and recording style developed, which eventually led to this solo trumpet meditation on the works of Monk as well as several Smith compositions written under the influence of Monk and his legacy. Trumpet must be one of the most difficult instruments to play unaccompanied, but Smith makes it feel completely natural, playing with a rich, golden tone that brings light to each of the performances on this album. The music is thoughtful and unhurried, sounding like the distillation of decades spent composing, playing, teaching and listening. This leads to a state of grace which imbues this recording with a nearly spiritual sensibility, an approach that works well on interpretations of Monk compositions like "Ruby My Dear" and "Reflections," which retain the rich wit and off kilter nature as the originals while using the trumpet to further interpret the music from Smith's own conception. His Monk dedicated originals, such as "Monk and his Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Cafe" recalls the awesome live stand Monk held at that cafe with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. "Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision" and "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery" take the form of short stories or vignettes which try to make sense of the man and musician who was often inscrutable in his methods and mannerisms. This album ends with a heartrendingly lovely version of one of Thelonious Monk's most well known compositions, "Round Midnight." The noirish sensibility of the music and the interpretation of the source material make for a fine summation of Smith's music on this recording. He draws the listener into a insular, personal world that not only makes you appreciate the the interpretive and compositional abilities of Smith, but makes you reevaluate the music of Thelonious Monk, taking this beyond a mere tribute into a treatise on the life and times of one musical great by another. Solo - Reflections And Meditations On Monk - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2017)

Who says outsider music can't be fun? Cortex has become one of the best bands on the modern jazz scene and a personal favorite. (In fact, their Live in New York release was my album of the year for 2016.) The band consists of Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxophones, Ola Høyer on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums. The album's opening track "Grinder" develops confidently with brash horns and crisp rhythm, with a saxophone breaking out for an emotionally resonant solo, raw and acid toned, met by manic drumming that forces the music inexorably forward. There is crisp full band interplay, developing the music further, akin to the classic Ornette Coleman quartet and subsequently launching a punchy and powerful trumpet feature, blasting the music into the stratosphere. An urgent fanfare from the horns launches the track "Chaos" with the stop and go theme leading into a ripe trumpet and drums section that is thrilling in its intensity. Not to be outdone, Alberts takes off on an inspired feature of his own, with a deep toned and well articulated saxophone solo, reaching for ecstasy in the music of pure energy. The thick bass is the glue that holds them together as the rip into the choppy finale. "(If You Were) Mac Davis" is a fast and furious full band opening, a collective improvisation that is very loud and exciting, destroying everything in their path. The raw throated saxophone and punishing drums are particularly evident, with the full band as tight as the classic Masada line up, developing little snatches of themes that open wide lanes of inventive improvisation. There is a taut and powerful trumpet section then the two horns intertwine over propulsive bass and drums in a thrilling full band blowout. There is a stoic melody to "Disturbance" that develops lyrically with the horns harmonizing over a tight rhythm. A tightly coiled trumpet solo develops, crisply hitting the notes and interacting with the bass and drums. They come together for a loopy and fun conclusion, lightening the mood back to party mode. "Obverse / Reverse" develops a choppy and urgent theme with a deeply felt bass feature that ties everything together. Nilssen's drum solo is a personal statement that rolls forward dynamically and relentlessly like a force of nature. The closer is "Off Course" with some punishing drum work to open the piece. The bass and horns roar in with an exciting fanfare, letting loose a torrential saxophone solo, that has a paint-peeling texture to it. It sets up a blistering saxophone, bass and drums blowout that finally ebbs and everyone falls i together to stick the landing, closing out a superb album of modern jazz in grand style. Don't sleep on this, it's one of the best albums of the year, and this band is unstoppable. Avant-Garde Party Music - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind Recordings, 2017)

This album competes an excellent series of records which combine modern jazz with aspects of the music of guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi's south Asian ancestry. Accompanying him on this album are Vijay Iyer on piano, Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Dan Weiss on drums and guest Elizabeth Mikhael on cello. "Propensity" charges confidently out of the gate with fluid guitar playing and a complex yet accessible rhythm. Mahanthappa takes a very fast and exciting solo playing long, rippling sequences of notes that have a tart, citrus flavor. Abbasi's solo paints at the edges of the performance, gradually filling up space, urged along by percussive piano and thick bass and drums. Iyer plays a delicate solo that becomes very fine in texture and structure, leading the full band back to a rousing conclusion. There is as effects laden guitar solo on "Thoughts," with the unusual sounds creating a very interesting landscape. His tone becomes clearer on "Thin-King" leading the band into a lush and full sounding performance. The music is able to shift in tempo and volume, creating a dynamic tension that propels Mahanthappa to a short burst of saxophone, followed by the remainder of the band improvising together, with the lightning fast saxophone juxtaposed against the rhythm section, with a well played bass solo woven in for good measure. "Agree to Disagree" adds the cello for a peacefully rinsing opening statement that gathers speed quickly, as the band develops an expressive and imaginative improvisation. Thick bass with skittering drums and lush piano makes for a fine combination, the other half of the band re-joins them for music that is created and performed with spontaneity and vigor. There is another captivating saxophone solo, and a guitar feature that has with a particularly impressive quality. Finally "Dance Number" has a sultry melody that leads to music which is played with strength and vitality. Abbasi's guitar solo is intricate and graceful, leading to another fine saxophone feature, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape in a grand and impressive fashion. Dropping out to spacious piano and bass, the music moves forward in a elegant manner, regaining volume and stature in its conclusion. Overall, this album worked quite well, it was an admirable display of skill that is worthy of respect and widespread attention. Unfiltered Universe - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima (rudreshm.com, 2017)

Riding high from his appointment at Princeton University as Director of Jazz and Musical Performance and a Downbeat Magazine cover story, alto saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa re-convenes his band the Indo-Pak Coalition with Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on drums and tabla for their first release since the Apti album which came out in 2008. The music on the album takes its sound from the Indian sub-continent with the intricacy of modern jazz and a boost of rock energy to make for a unique and compelling sound. "Snap" has a twisting and turning saxophone melody with deeply rhythmic tabla/drums combination and guitar framing the performance. Mahanthappa's saxophone is altered by electronics at times, allowing him to create a wider range of sounds for his compositions and improvisations, and allowing the music to develop a hypnotic quality. These fusion aspects are understated and thoughtful, and never overwhelm the music. The title track "Agrima" has Weiss developing a funky beat under streams of electronically processed music, which acts as the foundation for the saxophone and guitar to lift off from. Their trio improvisation is quite colorful and compelling, driving forward while leaving space for the music to breathe and grow, amidst sections of saxophone led thematic statements. "Rasikapriya" is a absorbing and exciting performance, one that develops a sense of urgency with a rhythm that changes in position and direction, developing a sense of dynamism that allows the music to shift between well articulated solos and abstraction. The lengthy track "Revati" allows the music to emerge from electronically manipulated sounds into a three way conversation that gradually builds in volume and intensity. This album was very good and the changes which the group added including a modified drum/tabla setup and greater use of electronics allow the them to work with a wider scope in their compositions and improvisations. Agrima - rudreshm.com

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient - Dear Everyone (NotTwo, 2017)

Combining sections of free jazz with electro-acoustic improvisation and and poetic recitation within a tight framework, Degradient features the leader, Kyle Bruckmann, playing oboe, English horn and electronics, Aram Shelton on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, Jason Hoopes on electric bass and Jordan Glenn on percussion with Weston Olencki on trombone and several people reading the poetry of Matt Shears aloud. "Overt? Sure" opens the album in a very spacious manner then blasts into sections of loud collective improvisation, using crushing drums and blistering horns, interspersed by brief pauses, and sections of spoken recitation. "Excisions, Autocorrections" is a brief track that uses powerfully played bass as it's foundation, supporting the weight of the horns and drums. A muscular saxophone solo develops with a tight and strident tone and approach, making use of the thermals provided by the bass and drums to really soar. There is a cacophony of voices on "Predictable Epiphanies" with curls of bass clarinet and electronics. The instruments weave within and frame these spoken word sections, which pile up upon one another as squeaks and squeals of the reeds play off against the voices. The instrumentalists re-assert control on "Things to Fear, Include" which has deep bass and drums interacting with meaty and substantial horn playing. It's a fine modern jazz blowout and serves as a much needed respite from the voices, anchored by a slashing drum solo and squiggly electronics. There is a funky blend of electronics and horns on "Sound Byte Culture" with the readers piling words upon one another. There are hints of call and response, and also of avant-garde music and spoken word experiments like "The Murder Mystery" by The Velvet Underground followed by a choppy instrumental ending. "Elements Include" have cut-up poetic recitation juxtaposed by pile-driving instrumental sections, and skittish percussion with electronics, while "Incursive Recursions" has deep booming bass and serious horns setting the tone for the track. Alarming electronics add further color to the soundscape, as the drums provide a massive beat and the horns blare. Declamatory poetry opens "Significant Details" with instrumental sounds popping up, ranging from a quickly played note to a short blasts of collective improvisation. "Despite the Facts" is a short and moody track, with languorous spoken word, the speaker seemingly broken by life, while "Poetry is Not Political" has growled and scatted sounds against bass and drums. "Eccretions/Arosions" has the full band back in play with an angular theme that recalls Eric Dolphy's work, leading into an impressive electric bass solo. The collective improvisation that follows in exciting and engaging. "Commissive Obpulsions" pumps up the electronics to distort and alter both words and music, with smears of sound offset by percussion and spoken word, creating an interesting performance. The album is concluded with "Recessional and Postlude," which develops a quiet and stoic, even ominous sound, framing the poetry with deep resonance. This is an occasionally exhausting double album, but it impresses due to its experimental nature and the hard work on behalf of the musicians and readers, and ultimately it is a successful project. Dear Everyone - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Brandon Seabrook - Die Trommel Fatale (New Atlantis, 2017)

Guitarist Brandon Seabrook is a very interested and multi-faceted musician, one who fits in no genre comfortable box, but that can contribute in any form, or lack thereof. He seems to be the most engaged when combining all types of music from folk to heavy metal and this particular laboratory experiment shows him blending the aspects of many different types of music in the company of Chuck Bettis on electronics and vocalization, Dave Treut and Sam Ospovat on drums, Markia Hughes on cello and Eivind Opsvik on bass. The music comes for the most part in unsubtle waves of torrential noise, with some spots left open for eerie and haunting abstraction. This album uses a great variety in its rhythmic presentation investigating the way in which these instruments can be used together when freed from their traditional roles. "Rhizomatic" is one of the more open ended and spacious of the performances with subtle brushing of the drums met by spare guitar and cello and spooky swirls of electronics. "Abscessed Pettifogger" has sampled and chopped up voice and electronics along with dynamic cello and bass moving in and out of phase while creating a wide palette of instrumental color. The full band engages in cut-up almost Naked City like improvisations at their harshest point, but like Zorn's group, they are off in a different ADD dimension before the dust can settle. The centerpiece of the album is the track "Shamans Never RSVP" which opens with quieter cello and guitar setting a mysterious feel while operatic sounds are barely heard circling around like a bad dream. Drums enter as the volume of the music begins to rise, exploding into an angular improvisation that lurches and claws its way forward, letting loose a ferocious drum solo toward the end. Part One of "The Greatest Bile" comes at a ferocious pace with Bettis' vocals adding an element of terror that is reflected by a scalding guitar solo and taut bass section. Part Two retains the funhouse feel, with garbled vocal sounds, and torrential band playing. Menacing and propulsive, there's little in contemporary music that sounds like this group. Their antecedents likely lie in the world of heavy metal or experimental noise, but this shouldn't discourage the open eared from checking out this unusual album. Die Trommel Fatale - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Matt Mitchell - A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings, 2017)

Pianist Matt Mitchell has already made his mark on 2017 with an excellent album of solo interpretations from the Tim Berne songbook. This album goes in the opposite direction entirely, gathering a large ensemble of some of the finest talent on the progressive jazz scene for a wildly imaginative collection of music. Mitchell plays a wide range of keyboards and also develops solo electronic soundscapes on four occasions beginning with the opener “Bulb Terminus.” The music explodes vividly into color on the following track “Plate Shapes” which bursts into view with a fascinating opening that recalls some of Andrew Hill's most expressive work. Saxophonists simmer in the music while Mitchell adds urgent, percussive piano. There is a complex rhythm with percussion, vibes and bass which develops the foundation of the music and allows it to bring such unpredictable results. The ensemble passages get more dense as the instruments fill in with cries of saxophone and currents of percussion and drums. Some deep raw biting saxophone opens "Mini Alternate" giving the music a brawny swagger, and the rhythm section offers an interesting retort, building a choppy and muscular sensibility that pushes the music forward. "Brim" produces powerful colors and images with the full ensemble developing sounds that have varied hues and tones but which mesh perfectly. The dynamic nature of the music allows it to interweave sections of abstract tension into the overarching whole of the performance, creating music that is full of life and energy. Mitchell returns to the piano after a few more electronic experiments on "Gluts" with subtle bass and drums in support. Flute and quiet horns move in at the halfway point, melding with the piano trio and concluding the performance. "Heft" crashes in with a dramatic opening movement, and the passion of the musicians really comes to the fore, building a fantasia of sound and color that reaches the apex of their considerable creativity. This was a fine album of truly experimental jazz. The compositions and high quality playing of the band are very well aligned which allowed the music to reach its full fruition. A Pouting Grimace - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.