Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 Downbeat Reader's Poll Ballot

Downbeat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll follows its usual format of using a web-based survey, where they suggest a large number of musicians per category and than allow for write-in votes. Results should be published in their November issue.

Hall of Fame: Thomas Chapin
Jazz Artist: Matthew Shipp
Jazz Group: Henry Threadgill’s Zooid
Big Band: Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album: Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Epicenter
Jazz Re-Issue: Sonny Rollins w/ Don Cherry - Live at the Village Gate 1962 (write-in)
Trumpet: Rob Mazurek
Trombone: Jeb Bishop
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Tenor Saxophone: Chris Potter
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Henry Threadgill
Piano: Kris Davis (write-in) (WTF – how is she not on the ballot?!?)
Keyboards: Craig Tayborn
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Marc Ribot
Bass: Ben Allison
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Violin: Jeff Gauthier
Drums: Rudy Royston
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Dave Rempis (write-in)
Misc. Instrument: David Murray – bass clarinet
Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann
Female Vocalist: Jen Shyu (write-in)
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Ryan Truesdell
Record Label: Tzadik
Blues Musician: Gary Clark Jr.
Blues Album: Gary Clark Jr. – Live
Beyond Group: Sleater-Kinney

Beyond Album: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charles Gayle Trio - Christ Everlasting (ForTune Records, 2015)

Charles Gayle, tenor saxophonist and pianist, has long been one of the most fascinating figures on the New York City free jazz scene. Moving from Buffalo to New York in the early 1970's, he fell on hard times, enduring lengthy stretches of homelessness for the next twenty years. He began recording regularly in the late 1980's playing torrid free jazz influenced by his extreme evangelical Christianity. This album was recorded live at a Polish jazz club in 2014 and has Gayle supported by Ksawery Wojcinski on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. What is particularly interesting is the mix of music, with Gayle's fire breathing, pulpit pounding, spiritual avant grade jazz on tracks "Joy in the Lord" where his raw and stringent tone opens the record by cutting through the air like a lance. Also, the epic "Eternal Life," which begins with Gayle playing tenor saxophone unaccompanied with a scouring raw sound before the bass and drums slowly glide in to offer support. Balancing these are a surprising selection of jazz standards; Albert Ayler's eerily beautiful "Ghosts" is a natural, with Gayle’s quivering tone weaving in and out of the bass and percussion and the slower, more open setting allowing for an appropriately anguished and pleading performance. Sonny Rollins's "Oleo" has a few raw squeaks getting started, but moves into a very immediate sounding performance that is actually reminiscent to the Sonny Rollins at the Village Gate boxed set released recently. Gayle’s music is full of angles and sharp turns, so perhaps Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" isn’t so surprising after all. He plays it on piano, with some ornamentation but the strong sound of the music is highly indebted to the composer and is very impressive. These songs anchor the middle of the album, as well as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" which begins with a deft drum solo before Gayle enters. He can’t match the speed of Coltrane (few can) but he does well to turn the melody to a solid free improvisational section, creating a fascinating melding of one of Coltrane’s most enduring early melodies and a free jazz meltdown that was influenced by music from the end of his life. Overall, the album works pretty well; Wojcinski and Kugel acquit themselves well to the music, providing a foundation for Gayle's unique style of playing, whether it is in a way out free setting or a recitation of a hard bop standard. Charles Gayle is one of the few remaining descendants of the deeply spiritual free jazz scene, carrying on the work of his contemporaries, who saw their spiritual life as the guiding force in their music. Christ Everlasting - iTunes

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Miles Davis - At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Legacy, 2015)

The latest in the bootleg series of (mostly) unreleased recordings is a wonderful collection of live recordings, which provide a thumbnail version of bands Miles Davis led during this period. Moving from bebop/hardbop to the most cutting edge of acoustic jazz and then to no-looking-back fusion, this set shows a thoroughly defiant Davis moving forever forward for twenty years. Miles Davis demanded that George Wein put him in the 1955 festival as he was trying to claw his way back from addiction and wound up in an ad hoc band that wasn’t even on the program, with Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan and others. His beautiful playing on Monk’s “Round Midnight” wowed the audience and led to him being signed to Columbia Records. The music moves forward to 1958 and the band that would eventually record the famous Kind of Blue album. They are working toward that masterpiece, playing torrid bebop on Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha,” moving seamlessly back to Monk with “Straight, No Chaser,” finishing up with “Two Bass Hit” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Disc two tracks extraordinary music from the “second great quintet” of Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums from 1966 and 1967. The music is wide open and fierce with Williams’ slashing drums taking even subtle themes like “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Stella By Starlight” and electrifying them and pushing the music relentlessly forward. It is very interesting to hear this band a couple of years on from the famous Plugged Nickel concerts, and if anything they were even faster and more wide open, running theme after theme without a break, at an extraordinary level of musicianship. Disc three moves to 1969, the year that Wein opened the festival to rock bands and Davis responded by bringing Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Dave Holland on electric bass, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. It’s a great band and it is a shame that the set is only twenty five minutes long, but it’s enough to give a preview of what was to come on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” The package breaks chronology to jump to Newport in Europe for a concert from Berlin in November 1973. Here the group is expanded to seven musicians and is playing a deep dark jazz funk. The band plays a continuous set of music that will occasionally touch on recognizable themes like “Ife” but was for the most part a collective improvisation of a scalding two guitar, two percussion lineup with heavy electric bass and Davis’s blasts of electrified trumpet and smears of organ. It is ominous and thrilling music. Disc three ends with an exhausted Davis playing “Mtume” in 1975 just before his six year retirement. Percussion and bass are front and center and the music goes out on a strong note. The reason that disc four is out of order that the 1971 Newport in Europe concert from Switzerland is over sixty minutes long. (According to the liner notes it is the first of two concerts Davis gave that that evening. Where the heck is the other one? Are they holding it back for Volume Five?) It’s a killer performance too, with Davis stalking like a panther delivering swathes of electrified wah drenched trumpet making music that must rock guitarists could only dream of. Keith Jarrett would never play electronic instruments again after this but provides waves of fender rhodes and organ, while a drummer and two percussionists ley down an ever shifting carpet of rhythm for music that is mostly drawn from the Bitches Brew LP, but remade into a heavy funk powerhouse. This is another excellent archival boxed set from Columbia’s seemingly bottomless archive of Miles Davis recordings. The music is simply extraordinary and the packaging is fine as well with solid liner notes and discography and wonderful photographs. Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Michael Bates - Northern Spy (Stereoscopic, 2015)

Bassist Michael Bates has been a force to be reckoned with as a leader, sideman and composer on several projects on the modern mainstream jazz scene for many years. Drawing inspiration from soul singers and jazz instrumentalists Bates put together a tight trio for this project, including Michael Blake on tenor saxophone and Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums. They kept the music as spontaneous as possible, with no edits and using only first or second takes to develop a raw, live sound.  After “Theme for a Blind Man” sets the pace akin to “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by the spiritual bluesman Blind Willie Johnson the group moves into “Essex House” which has a raw, nearly burlesque saxophone opening before the playing moves from sultry to bright and then back again, as Blake’s saxophone probes and looks for handholds. “Roxy” begins with unaccompanied saxophone, with the remaining members of the trio filling in, allowing Bates’ dark hued bass to mesh with the drums and saxophone for a well integrated and adroit performance. The emotional cry of the saxophone and shimmering cymbals move the music into ballad territory on “An Otis Theme On Curtis Changes” as Blake makes his opening statement warm yet firm. The music develops from spare patience to a more frantic section where drums crash, bass strings are pulled deeply and the saxophone scours and grates in a wicked collective improvisation. Clemons gets an excellent feature on “Bean,” where his hypnotic solo percussion weaves in and around before Blake’s saxophone barrels in leading to slashing drumming as the two musicians duke it out. “Wingnut” finds the band up and moving strongly with a great bass and drum foundation allowing things to move frighteningly fast and freeing Clemons to slip the leash for a short drum solo. There is an emotional ballad sensibility to “End of History” with Blake’s soulful saxophone playing up against the rumbling splash of drums. The slow pulls of Bates’ bass ignites Blake into high pitch screams of music akin to early Pharaoh Sanders, followed by a deep down bellow. There is a dynamic version of the standard “The Days of Wine and Roses” which starts out with a liquid mellowish feel, before Blake unleashes strong rending cries from his instrument, and there is a wonderful bass feature for Bates, playing slowly and patiently. Martial drums usher in “Northern Spy” amid thick bass and developing into collective trio improvisation that is strong and true. There is an excellent saxophone turn that is rough and honest, and the band just plays well as a fully integrated unit devoid of any egotistical manner. “Neptune” ends the album in a majestic fashion with a slow and deep bass solo, before the music begins to move faster, and like a locomotive picking up speed, the trio howls ever onward into the night. This was a very well done album where the musicians played in a very tight fashion, supporting one another selflessly and also counting on that support when their own solo turns came. The trio context worked out quite well for all concerned, allowing a wide open area for them to move with their ideas. Northern Spy -

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Mario Pavone - Blue Dialect (Clean Feed, 2015)

The great bassist Mario Pavone combines his talents with two of the most prominent younger member of the progressive jazz scene, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey for a truly inspired album that goes way beyond anyone’s notion of a jazz piano trio. “Suitcase is Savana” opens the album with the trio playing at a medium tempo. What makes this group so exciting throughout the album is their openness to doing the unexpected, as evidenced by the ripe piano playing against skittering drums tied together with thick bass. Sorey takes a solo toward the end of the performance, but he is never showy and fills this music with thoughtful rhythm. His brushes slow the pace on “Xapo” before moving back to sticks as swollen drops of piano notes fall from the sky. The trio plays confidently together and Pavone stakes his own claim, bubbling up over softer drumming. “Two One” has a darker and more urgent tone, it’s a fast and harder hitting track, giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. Pavone’s bass is the muscular glue that holds the band together. Mitchell takes a forceful and rippling solo, before the leaders own section, which exerts great force and pressure with the grace that he has developed through his long and successful carreer. Matt Mitchell’s thick and strong piano notes fall like a storm and ripple through the length of the keyboard on “Silver Print.” He is really reaching deep within himself and within his instrument for a potent statement. The music envelops the full trio in a whirlwind of fascinating sound. “Language” begins with everybody playing together in a very percussive nature, hollow sounding drums; pounding piano and thickly pulled bass. It moves into a series of solos: excellent bass, which is true and confident, probing mysterious piano and quickly fluid drumming. They are screaming hot on “Trio Dialect” playing as one single organism, improvising as one, amazingly locked in at this speed, Mitchell’s piano is fast and fleet, Sorey’s drumming is fast and nimble and Pavone’s bass is an absolute rock. The group is a little more fractured on the concluding track “Blue” swirling freely, and there is a great and well earned solo feature for Tyshawn Sorey where he is really going for broke driving everything relentlessly forward before the trio pulls back for a bass led ending. This was a wonderful album, not so much a meeting of master and pupils, but a true meeting of equals, all of which whom bring their extraordinary talent and play selflessly to great success. Blue Dialect -

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