Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jon Davis - Changes Over Time (Posi-Tone, 2016)

Pianist Jon Davis has performed in a wide variety of settings from rockish fusion to big bands and jam sessions. On this recording he leads a fine mainstream trio with Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums. They open the album with the classic Mal Waldron composition “Soul Eyes” with the band taking the music at a medium loping tempo. The music is played in a very classy and melodic fashion and the band has a rich sound that takes up quite a bit of space. “Just For Fun” has a subtle cymbal rhythm from Rueckert leading Davis to respond with strong percussive piano that drives the band forward and swings hard with rippling and confident playing from the keyboard. There is an excellent bright sound to this performance that carries through to the end. The title track “Changes Over Time” has some excellent thick bass from Okegwo and develops a bouncy and funky vibe, with the trio playing jazz that is expressive and straightforward with good humor. Rueckert has a short drum interlude, before Davis takes command with hard charging deeply percussive and commanding piano that drives the performance to its conclusion. The wonderfully titled “Jazz Vampire” has Davis taking a slow solo opening probing the music before the bass and drums enter and begin to ramp up the pace. Davis leads with some fast rippling piano and the bass and drums respond making for a full band breakout and an electrifying performance. “It’s for Free” bumps things up again with a nice rhythm from drums and excellent insistent and propulsive bass pushing everything forward, and Davis develops a powerful touch that is akin to McCoy Tyner’s early 70’s recordings, layering a blizzard of notes over the proceedings. This was a very well done and accessible mainstream jazz album. Davis has a powerful and exciting way of playing that keeps the music moving briskly forward and Okegwo and Rueckert complement him very well, either supplementing or soloing the group works as a united whole and deserves to be heard. Changes Over Time -

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Matt Mitchell - Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings, 2015)

Pianist Matt Mitchell has become one of the most in demand musicians in jazz, playing with the likes of Dave Douglas, Tim Berne and Rudresh Mahanthappa. This is his second album as a leader for Pi, a double CD that allows him to stretch out and explore longer forms of his original compositions. Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Dan Weiss on drums and Chris Tordini on bass join him on this album. The music is complicated but accessible and Mitchell uses Speed’s hollow, open sounding clarinet and alternately soft and gritty tenor saxophone to great effect in setting the tone for these performances. “Utensil Strength” is very powerful, moving into a dynamic format that begins with deeper toned saxophone and then an eerie middle section of uneasy calm punctuated by Tordini’s creatively raw bowed and strummed bass. This develops into a beautiful duet with Mitchell who adds quiet drops of piano to the proceedings. The full band comes together at this languid but attractive pace, before taking their bows and closing the piece. Speed brings a gravelly form of saxophone to the intricate “Wearing the Wig of Atrophy” where the music deals with tension and release with a section of bass and milder saxophone followed by crystalline piano shimmering through the music, that is quietly emotional but never melodramatic. “Hyper Pathos” sets a tone of mystery, with mummers of percussion bubbling underneath and the other musicians harmonizing above. There is a sad quality to the music but never pity, and Speed’s clarinet is particularly melancholy as if he is pining for something lost that can never be regained, as Mitchell’s piano swells around him. “The Damaged Center” comes out of the gate hard with the full band pulling, but Speed is the key, jabbing and weaving his way through the music with Tordini playing thick powerful bass alongside him. They edge faster in a very exciting manner, really pushing and the music surges forward. Mitchell drives the band forward from the lower end of the keyboard and everybody responds, as the music keeps getting heavier, and then he develops one of his best solos on the album. This is a double album that doesn’t feel overlong in the slightest, Mitchell’s compositions and the band’s performances are very exciting and consistently engaging throughout. It’s a group of team players, and Mitchell is not flashy but thoughtful, allowing his music to speak for itself in a very affirming fashion. Vista Accumulation -

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Moster - When You Cut Into the Present (Hubro Music, 2015)

Norwegian saxophonist Kjetil Moster is a very busy man, playing in jazz, improvised music, electro-acoustic noise, free rock, hip hop, pop and groups. In his own band Moster, he combines all of these influences in a powerhouse band that also employs Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan on guitar, Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen on bass and Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen  on drums. “Nebula and Red Giant” shows Moster’s raw and ominous saxophone sounding possessed, along with eerie and haunted smears of guitar. Driving bass and drums kick in pushing the saxophone harder, until it is digging deep and really going for it, and the whole band starts really wailing with elements of jazz, fusion, krautrock and progressive rock all woven together. There is a slow grind to “Bandha” akin to the blues with nice sultry saxophone and bass and smears of overdriven guitar. The music feels grungy and dirty, with deep baritone saxophone and crushing drums as if this were their Black Sabbath tribute number. There’s a funky section toward the muddle, where’s Kapstad’s deep pocket is used to great success by the other musicians. They all cut loose with a deep darkfunk collective improvisation close out the song. Cool guitar and percussion usher in “The Future Leaks Out” with a massive beat that you might expect in a downtown club rather than in a “jazz” band. They develop a deep psychedelic groove as shards of guitar arc through the music and swirl around it, and powering an absolutely crushing full band improvisation. Mind Blown. “Journey” takes us back into jazz territory with a full throated and yearning saxophone soloing seemingly looking for something lost or unattainable. There is a solo bass segue to a misty ballad feel ballad as the music drifter before the guitar beams sharp lasers through it, a loud wake up call. “Soundhouse Rumble” gets everybody up and moving again right out of the gate as they blast forward behind Moster’s lead. The full band is in sync and their three albums and touring together has made them a very tight unit.  Kapstad breaks it down again into a fine tight solo and then everybody is back in the act driving this excellent first rate crowd pleaser to the end. This was a cracker of an album, short and sweet. All of the musicians are excellent and well attuned to one another, and they are perfectly happy throwing the rulebook out the window. When You Cut Into the Present -

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

DVD: Jaco - The Film (Iron Horse Entertainment, 2015)

When he was feeling his oats, Jaco Pastorius would introduce himself to people as “the greatest bass player in the world.” To listen to the testimonials of his contemporaries in this DVD biography, it wasn’t too far from the truth. This video follows a roughly chronological order, beginning with his youth in south Florida. His absentee father was a Sinatra like crooner, and his mother did whatever she could to make ends meet. Pastorius’ musical talent became evident early on and soon he was a young man with a wife and child gigging in territory rhythm and blues bands. After backing up a particularly brash boast to members of Blood, Sweat and Tears, he was whisked away to New York City to record his debut album, which ran the gamut from funk to bebop and opened a lot of ears, including those of keyboardist Joe Zawinul, of the popular jazz fusion band Weather Report, beginning a rocky relationship that would last years. He was at his finest at this period in the late 1970’s and you year this in the interviews: Joni Mitchell felt that he was the only bassist who could play her music properly, and drummers Peter Erskine and Lenny White were particularly impressed. But trouble was brewing, Zawinul was unhappy with Pastorius’ brash out front charisma, and also delivered withering witticism of his World of Mouth solo LP. He had divorced and remarried, becoming father of twins but also became more deeply involved with alcohol and drugs, episodes of homelessness and latent issues of mental illness became more prominent. Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, suffering episodes of hypomania and severe depression, he checked into Bellvue Hospital for treatment. Not too long after, a vicious beating at the hands of a Fort Lauderdale nightclub bouncer provided an inglorious end to his life that was filled with so much promise. The film itself is quite good, filled with a lot of footage of Pastorius playing in a variety of situations. Interviews with his colleagues are thoughtful and poignant, especially from Erskine as he saw much of Pastorius’ downfall and did the best he could to help. Wayne Shorter’s always unique perspective on life and music is particularly interesting. Also included are interviews with modern rock musicians like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo who co-produced the film. JACO-The Film -

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Albert Ayler - Bells/Prophecy Expanded Edition (ESP Disk, 2016)

The great saxophonist Albert Ayler was at the peak of his powers when these two albums were recorded live in 1964-65. Although they were recorded and originally issued separately, most subsequent reissues have paired the two records and CDs together. The first album Bells is the actually the latter recording chronologically, recorded at Town Hall in New York City on May 1, 1965. In this concert, Ayler was accompanied by his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto saxophone, Lewis Worrell on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. The only track, “Bells” is a nearly twenty minute free improvisation that was originally released as a one-sided LP, one side of a clear vinyl LP where the other side was empty of music. Although it is a complete improvisation, there are themes that surface during the course of their playing and even a moment of dead air where people start clapping before the musicians re-adjust and dive back in. The group sounds excellent, and once they get into the flow of the music they are in step with each other throughout. Ayler’s groups often open operated by collective improvisation, but there are solos that develop with both saxophonists making bold statements and some powerful and punchy trumpet from Donald Ayler. Sunny Murray is the perfect drummer for this music, he is wide open and free and was experienced enough with Ayler to allow things to flow beautifully. Prophecy was recorded a year earlier, near the time of Ayler’s masterpiece Spiritual Unity was recorded, and this version is expanded to two CD’s with the addition of further material from the date that appeared on the Holy Ghost boxed set. This is the lineup that cut the epic Spiritual Unity, Albert Ayler on tenor saxophone, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, recorded at The Cellar Cafe in New York City on June 14, 1964. They stick close to the themes that they would record less than a month hence, with three versions of the extraordinary “Ghosts” where Ayler takes the legitimately spooky theme and whips it like dead leaves on a dark night and the trio proves that it isn’t just power that drives a free jazz band but empathy and coordination as well. Ayler took short melodies, from folk music and rhyme and used them as jumping off points for the band and their improvisations like on their versions of “The Wizard” and “Spirits.” Like many musicians on the burgeoning free jazz scene of the he was drawn to spiritual themes, and you can hear him reaching an almost ecstatic state of grace, speaking on saxophonic tongues and developing a new language of jazz on these two very important albums. Bells / Prophecy: Expanded Edition -

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pete McCann - Range (Whirlwind Recordings, 2015)

Pete McCann is a jazz guitarist who leads a strong band featuring John O'Gallagher on saxophones, Henry Hey on keyboards, Matt Clohesy on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. The music is robust modern jazz with fusion overtones and it works quite well. “Kenny” leads off the album with a wash of keyboards and harmonizing saxophone and guitar. McCann breaks out for a nice lengthy solo, building a liquefied tone into something harder and faster before handing off to a the rhythm section for a nice fast section with great piano from Hey. A ripe sounding saxophone solo takes off from there, sounding fast and loose. Everybody comes back and they stick the landing nicely. There is a moody sensibility to “Seventh Jar,” opening with droplets of fractured piano, bass and drums. McCann begins a snarling fusion guitar solo that really rips forth and takes command, before allowing the dynamic to downshift to the calmer yet volatile melody. “Realm” is fast, developing a nimble and sharp melody, with a high speed full band improvisation section, developing a very complex interaction with each other. O’Gallagher rips off a strong and muscular saxophone solo toward the middle of the piece, really making the most of the surroundings to make a great improvised statement. “Mustard” has a choppy and complex melody with thick bass before the group really bursts out very loud with a fanfare that moves into an interesting organ spotlight, and McCann unleashes one of his most rockish guitar solos on this album, sure to delight any John McLaughlin fan with his raw energy and grit. They develop a massive riff to close the tune in a ferocious style. We New Jerseyians are well versed in the real “Bridge Scandal” so it’s nice to hear someone play a musical piss-take on it. Again there is some is some heavy riffing and some strong and bluesy saxophone which surely would have made for great listening if you were trapped in your car in Fort Lee in the middle of summer. McCann takes a solo of laser beams driving the tempo faster really wailing over the top. “Rumble” keeps the speed, but the mood is much more jazzy, with nimble and complex melodies giving way to lightly toned and lively guitar soloing. There’s a strong and swinging saxophone solo that is punchy, bobbing and weaving through the music. The spotlight is handed off to Hey on electric piano for a brightly colored fender rhodes interlude, before everyone comes back in together for a fine conclusion. This album worked quite well, with a combination of strong modern jazz and fusion, the music is kept interesting. The musicianship is first rate and the solos, particularly by the leader and O'Gallagher, were fantastic. Range -

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