Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D'Agala

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Lineup - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Drew Dress: double bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums and percussion.

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Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based Sylvie Courvoisier is an outstanding pianist whose style falls under the avant-garde and free improvisation. She recurrently performs in duo and trio formats with names such as Mark Feldman, Ikue Mori, Evan Parker, Erik Friedlander, Nate Wooley, and more recently Mary Halvorson. 
On D’Agala, her eleventh record for Intakt, Courvoisier dedicates the nine originals to people (musicians or not) she admires and was influenced by. Her textures find sustenance in the effortless rhythmic work delivered by two old associates, bassist Drew Dress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The trio had already teamed up before on the pianist’s Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014).

Imprint Double" (For Antoine Courvoisier), a piece with an irresistibly galloping pulsation that allures and transfixes, was love at first listen. The work of the pianist is remarkable, not only on the lower register, from where the main rhythmic force arrives, but also while designing the main statement with scientific precision. After the stimulating ecstasy of the first minutes, the trio embarks on a meditative journey that includes a bass solo over demure ambiances coordinated by the bandleader. Comfortably striding the keyboard from end to end, she adorns with dreamy classical progressions, occasional atonal scintillations, and subtle crescendos, before repossessing that initial throbbing cadence.

An unfettered funky groove laid down by the bassist and corroborated by the drummer establishes the foundation of “Bourgeois’s Spider" (For Louise Bourgeois). Here, Courvoisier goes for more sound exploration, employing prepared piano and string piano techniques. Sometimes massive and turbulent, the tune feels energetically compressed, never eschewing the groove, but fluctuating between the explosive, the tense, and the untroubled.

The vivid “Éclats for Ornette" (For Ornette Coleman) is a worthy stretch fueled by intricate melodies over a swinging flow, frequently interrupted by aesthetic rhythmic accentuations. Following the pianist, who delivers an infectious marriage of angularity and exuberance, Wollesen makes his refined chops shining.

Pierino Porcospino" (For Charlie) and “D’Agala" (for Geri Allen) have nothing but a bass solo in common. While the former is an extrovert hectic dance, the latter was penned with mournful introspection, having Wollesen’s subdued rattlings and creaks running in the background. 

Fly Whisk" (For Irene Schweizer) starts off with widely sparse phrases uttered timidly on the piano. They are the beginning of a story that also leans on shimmering brushes and hummed arco bass to compose the whole. As the time advances, the pianist rushes her narrative by intensifying the conversational flow, while the bassist veers to a restless pizzicato with occasional pedal sustains, having the encouragement of several sly twists put up by the drummer. 

The trio warmed my heart with “South Side Rules" (For John Abercrombie), where Gress shows off a sterling control of his instrument through incisive, full-bodied plucks that have in Wollesen’s tasteful cymbal work a faithful ally. On one hand, Courvoisier infuses some obscurity with low-pitched strikes enforced by her left hand, but illuminates on the other, as intriguing harmonies and clear-sighted melodic lines are appended. Driven by true emotion, this piece exudes sadness, yearning, and exultation. 

D’Agala maintains a strong bite throughout and comes dressed with ingratiating sonorities that are a joy to explore. Much more can be said about it, but the best thing to do is to let the music spin, so it can speak for itself.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Imprint Double ► 03 - Éclats for Ornette ► 09 - South Side Rules


John Surman - Invisible Threads

Label: ECM, 2018

Lineup - John Surman: soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet; Nelson Ayres: piano; Rob Waring: vibraphone and marimba.

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British multi-reedist John Surman continues to touch hearts, sounding miraculously good on his new ECM outing, Invisible Threads. His intercontinental new trio features Brazilian pianist Nelson Ayres and American vibraphonist Rob Waring, who occasionally switches to marimba on a few tracks. The pair often provides the underpinnings for stellar improvised lines developed by the saxophonist, who shows great presence. However, they are not limited to that function, also soloing within the reflective spirit that this music requires and providing extra flexibility through texture.

The shimmering contemplation of “At First Sight”, the opening track, conveys a sublime pleasure that stems from listening to radiant soprano sounds floating on top of melancholic harmonic fluxes. Despite unhurried, the chord progressions are naturally less lingering when compared with the minimal synth changes in the form of loops made by Surman on his previous solo records. That sense of flowing motion is reinforced on “Autumn Nocturne”, an amiable classical tune fueled by crystalline folk delineations and where the threesome finds space to create spontaneously.

Within the Clouds” starts with penetrating phrases emanated from the bass clarinet, which quickly takes me out of the solid ground to a sky freckled with stars. The beautiful buzzing sounds created by Surman over an enchanting aura of piano and vibraphone help us reach that ecstatic momentum that precipitates us into the fluffy, misty textures of a cloud. The trio describes this concentration of suspended particles with perplexing infatuation and admiration. The peaceful folk dance “Byndweed” passes that strange sensation it could also be turned into a pop song, differing from “The Admiral” and “Pitanga Pitomba”, which I imagine describing a coastal landscape, from South America to Africa, with the marimba conferring them an exotic taste. The former incorporates a rubato introductory section with interlaced bass clarinet and marimba, before acquiring a soft ternary flow. The latter brings exciting variations in intensity, mood, and tempo.

The flair for ternary cadences continues with Ayres' “Summer Song”, an amusingly playful waltz with a classic Brazilian touch, reminiscing some of Chico Buarque’s compositions. Also the final track, “Invisible Threads”, is a jazz waltz with characteristics of an American jazz standard. It displays a precise melodic theme plus the delicate branching patterns of Surman’s baritone. The immense sounds of this instrument got me into another trance on “Concentric Circles”, where the placidness becomes slightly moody without ever entirely abandoning that initial state. It’s a great work by the lower vertices of the triangle, gracefully spreading crepuscular radiances of energy from below.

Expect rich, velvety textures with timbral abundance in an album that sometimes feels balmy and spacious, and other times, active and kindled.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Track:
01 – At First Sight ► 03 – Within The Clouds ► 10 – Concentric Circles 


Kris Davis & Craig Taborn - Octopus

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2018

Lineup - Kris Davis: piano; Craig Taborn: piano.

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Two of the most formidable pianists and master improvisers of today’s jazz, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, let their endless creativity fly high with a live recording session that comprises magnetic originals and ingenious reimaginations of pieces from Carla Bley and Sun Ra.

The idea came up after the studio collaboration between the two musicians for Davis’ last album Duopoly (Pyroclastic Records, 2016). Their unmistakable rapport triggered a series of live performances across the country, including the University of Michigan, the Wexner Center, and the UC San Diego, where the pieces of Octopus were recorded.

Opening with whispering invocations, Taborn’s “Interruption One” escalates into thoughtful reflections, ultimately inflating through gusts of melodic whirlwinds supported by regular sparse chords and tense strokes anchored in the lower register. Inexorable, these are consequentially transferred to high-pitched zones to work in counterpoint with other premeditated phrases or extemporaneous ideas. The finale includes an erudite cyclic movement with 14 beats per measure that easily catches the ear.

The following two pieces, “Ossining” and “Chatterbox”, were penned by Davis and are very dissimilar in nature. While the former, inspired by her recent move to the Hudson Valley, combines metallic timbres of prepared piano, smothered ticking sounds, and contrapuntal ostinatos in order to enrich the pulse and texture that lead to a serene finale, the latter sounds like a verbose abstraction of a bluesy swing song built through dense and expressionistic maneuvers delivered at a busy pace. Despite the free posture at the surface, tempo and coordination are addressed with unmistakable intuition, a fact that is noticeable again on “Interruption Three”, where the duo’s go-getting demeanor creates an untamed groove armored with agitated phrases and swift harmonic sequences. You’ll also find shrill trills and lively spirals dancing atop.

The 14-minute rendition of Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” is drowned in pure experimentalism and comes attached to “Interruption Two”, traversing the realms of classical and avant-jazz.

The album closes with a devoted version of Sun Ra’s “Love in the Outer Space”, whose slow awakening in tones of classical throws us into a state of dreamy idleness before falling into the irresistible African groove in six presented in the original.

Davis and Taborn’s fingers, like the tentacles of an octopus, have the ability to pull simultaneously this music in many directions or, in certain circumstances, make it flow within the same current. As spunky experimenters, their interplay is both surefooted and focused, aiming at a voluminous overall whose parts are congruously attached. There’s a lot to digest here, but this is definitely worthy of your time and attention.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Interruption One ► 02 - Ossining ► 06 - Love in the Outer Space


Bobo Stenson Trio - Contra La Indecision

Label: ECM, 2018

Lineup – Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: acoustic bass; Jon Fält: drums.

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Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson’s musical aesthetics is all elegance and graciousness. He earned a sterling reputation while accompanying the brilliant saxophonists Charles Lloyd and Jan Garbarek, as well as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.

As a leader, Stenson gained notoriety with his classic piano trio, which went through several changes along the way. Bassist Anders Jormin replaced Arild Andersen in 1993, right after the trio’s debut, and since 2008, Jon Fält earned the drummer’s chair, replacing Paul Motian, who had stopped by in 2005, also replacing the original member Jon Christensen.
 
Following a hiatus of six years, Stenson and his associates re-emerge with Contra La Indecision, another poetic work comprising ravishing originals (one by the bandleader, five by Jormin, and one by the collective) and world-class interpretations of compositions by Erik Satie, Bela Bartok, Silvio Rodriguez, and Frederic Mompou.

Just like it happened on Cantando (ECM, 2008), they open the album with a tune by the Cuban singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, “Cancion Contra La Indecision”, which battles against the indecision with an enviable resoluteness of soft pianistic touch and tuneful melody throughout.

Jormin's tunes pervade a modernistic vagrancy that is quite absorbing - “Doubt Thou The Stars” starts delicately with Fält’s fully-integrated drumming, but turns into an awe-inspiring sort of dance played in six, revealing much of the trio’s spirit; “Oktoberhavet” is a richly harmonized song advancing at a simple triple tempo; “Stilla” boasts a magnanimous bass groove that, feeling like a rock riff, is grist to the mill for Stenson’s deft interventions; and “Three Shades of a House” turns to its advantage the independence of the three instrumentalists to compose a picturesque musical setting containing bright piano notes, occasional bass harmonics and fainted arco cries, metallic clanks and scratches, and plenty of conversational cymbal flair.
 
Whereas Stenson’s sole composition, “Alice”, was penned with relatively innocuous abstraction, featuring crying bowed bass and resolute brushwork, “Kalimba Impressions” is a short collective improvisation with a nice percussive flow.

Contrasting elements within a body of work can be extremely valuable and Stenson opted to deliver the Slovak folk song “Wedding Song From Poniky” by Bartok with an introductory rubato feel, subsequently throwing in some dramatic jolts on the lower register to shake the free-floating romanticism and dreamy classical intonations of the tune.

They render Satie’s “Élégie” with a blossoming vernal atmosphere and Mompou’s “Cancion Y Danza VI”, taken from Cançons I Danses collection, with intimate lyricism and ultimately groovy propulsion set off by Jormin.

Avoiding standards in his repertoire, Stenson displays the highly developed language that has been characterizing his cultivated playing throughout all these years. He also evinces a distinctive complicity with his trio mates, which obviously has positive repercussions in their sound. And how they seemed to have fun riding these sonic waves!

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Doubt Thou The Stars ► 06 - Cancion Y Danza VI ► 10 - Stilla


Wes Montgomery - In Paris

Label: Resonance Records, 2018

Lineup - Wes Montgomery: guitar; Harold Mabern: piano; Arthur Harper: bass; Jimmy Lovelace: drums + guest Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone.

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Released as a deluxe 2CD-set and digital edition, In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording signals the memorable Paris concert by the super jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. The event took place at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées during his 1965 European tour.
 
The 10 tracks of this recording are split equally into two discs, with the first of them opening and closing with classics by the guitarist, namely “Four on Six” and “Jingles”, respectively. Both tunes comprise killer solos by Wes, typically packed with flawless octaves technique, rhythmically stirring block-chords, and melodic phrases imprinted with a smooth touch and an impressive musicality.

Coltrane’s “Impressions” showcases the idiomatic fluidity of the bandleader, whose speed reductions and accelerations are delineated with inventive rhythmic agility. While the pianist Harold Mabern inflames his discourses with a steamed urgency, the foundation builders, composed of bassist Arthur Harper and drummer Jimmy Lovelace, restlessly encapsulate the sturdiness of the bebop era in their playing.

Popular standards such as the balladic waltz “The Boy Next Door”, here with its title altered to “The Girl Next Door”, and “Here’s That Rainy Day”, devised with a propelling bossa nova flow, complete the disc one.

The disc two starts rhythmically responsive with Mabern’s uptempo “To Wane”, a composition dedicated to Wayne Shorter, and then there is saxophonist Johnny Griffin enriching three pieces in a row with his vibrant vocabulary. They are Wes’ “Full House”, Monk’s “Round Midnight” (mounted with a Latin final section), and the bluesy merger “Blue ’N Boogie/West Coast Blues”, in which he sounds amazing with and without accompaniment.

The session ends in satiating grace with “Twisted Blues”, the opener of Wes’ brilliant 1961 album So Much Guitar.  It’s bebop at its best, revealing that the guitarist’s sound is just as brilliant live as it is in the studio.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01(disc1) - Four On Six ► 02 (disc1)- Impressions ► 04 (disc2)- Blue ’N Boogie/West Coast Blues


Wayne Escoffery - Vortex

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Lineup – Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophone; Dave Kikoski: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.

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The exceptional language and broad range of expressiveness of London-born, New York-based saxophonist Wayne Escoffery can be reported as sagacious and enthralling. He has been using his bright ideas, frequently colored by a blazing timbre, not only to pump up works from Mingus Orchestra and Mingus Big Band, Eric Reed, and Tom Harrell Quintet, but also to bring his own albums into life, usually delivered in quartet or quintet formats.

A former protégé of Jackie McLean, Escoffery gathers a deluxe quartet for his new album, Vortex, his third Sunnyside release. To give wings to a collection of nine marvelous compositions, the saxophonist summoned the creditable pianist Dave Kikoski, the reliable bassist Ugonna Okegwo (a bandmate in Harrell's quintet), and the vibrant drummer Ralph Peterson.

Vortex, shaped in an urgent, socio-political way that aims to racism, bigotry, and hate in the US, is a tour de force and the title track exemplifies this better than any other track. It’s an attractive post-bop discharge whose kicking-and-screaming locomotion is absolutely stunning. The bandleader shows his magnificent soloing capabilities, showing an affinity to explore deeply and widely with irrepressible inventiveness and bristling provocation. Kikoski and Peterson don’t squander their chances to be noticed when called to intervene. 

Judgement” is a short Coltrane-influenced prayer of gratitude, trust, and abandonment that functions as an introduction to “Acceptance”, a piece penned and propelled by Peterson, who buoys it up with a rhythm impregnated of complexity and sophistication. Kikoski is the first to shine by swirling through intertwining lines, while Escoffery, eloquent as ever, establishes his momentum through extravagant interval combinations and expeditious melodic lines crammed with hot rhythmic figures.

February” cools down the impetus with its balladic intonation, yet, this slightly Latinized slow burner arrives exuberantly harmonized and reveals a conscious melodic orientation. Peterson’s exotic dry drumming extends to “The Devil’s Den”, where the bandleader brings into play a flickering, vertiginous soprano.

Tears for Carolyn”, a thriving song with a catchy melody, takes us to familiar soundscapes in a sort of McCoy Tyner catches up with Michael Brecker, while the swift ternary “To the Ends of the Earth” expresses a myriad of edgy rhythmic accentuations, attaining the perfect balance between group interdependence and individual ego.

In a more traditional line, the gently swinging “In His Eyes” displays dreamy horn unisons with the addition of guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Closing the record, “Baku” returns that post-bop vitality of Coltrane, Dexter, and Rollins.

Vortex, definitely a highlight in Escoffery’s career, starts the new year with lancinating energy and hope in a better world. It’s an engrossing exercise on tension and release, as well as on tightness and flexibility.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Vortex ► 03 - Acceptance ► 07 - To the Ends of the Earth


Marta Sanchez Quintet - Danza Imposible

Label: Fresh Sound New Talent, 2017

Lineup - Roman Filiu: alto saxophone; Jerome Sabbagh: tenor saxophone; Marta Sanchez: piano; Rick Rosato: bass; Daniel Dor: drums.

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Madrid-born pianist Marta Sanchez has been an influential voice on the New York jazz scene since she moved to the Big Apple seven years ago.

Danza Imposible, couldn’t have been a better follow-up to Partenika (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2014), exceeding all the expectations by presenting music that challenges, intrigues, and bewilders. Just like the previous, her newest body of work was mounted in a quintet format, but the band denotes alterations in the rhythm section. Bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Daniel Dor were enlisted, replacing Sam Anning and Jason Burger, respectively, while the extremely pliant team of saxophones is maintained with Jerome Sabbagh on tenor and Roman Filiu on alto.

The sparkling “Copa de Luz” opens with paralleled sax ostinatos supported by relentless piano chords and alluring phrases excavated on the upper register. A strong Spanish feeling arises from the accompaniment, especially during the saxophone solo, while the navigated meter, counting nine beats per measure, feels not strange but splendid. If Sanchez based herself on Eric Revis’ In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed, 2014) to write this first tune, she used a digital delay effect by Aphex Twin as the inspirational source for the title track. In this sophisticated, shape-shifting piece you’ll find superb polyphony and delicate if intricate sonic streams. The improvisers are Sabbagh and Sanchez.

With “Scillar”, a shimmering feel of suspension is attained through elliptical piano reflections and double saxophone agglomerations. The floating mood quite differs from the one set in “El Girasol”, a seven-metered piece with a nice flow, galvanized by intense rhythmic accentuations. It takes wing with Filiu’s inspired solo and continues with the bandleader’s pianistic dexterity. Before she finishes her solo, the wonderful contrapuntal work by the saxophonists bursts with activity. Their presence, a major asset in the art of coloring Sanchez’ writing style and idea of fluency, is also noticeable on “Board”, whose groovy side brings strains of electronic music along with smooth funk and hip-hop. The beautiful drum fills and exciting timbres of Daniel Dor are a joy to behold.

The nocturnal “Nebulosa”, a rubato lyrical forlornness, is pure noir exploration, and “Junk Food”, a modernistic portraiture of the contemporary itself, finishes the album in great style, bringing a panoply of intensities, groove, and punchy improvisations in the package.

Conquering her space with a triumphant confidence, Marta Sanchez, proves she is a top 21st-century composer. This seminal work takes us to unexpected places, radiating energy in its most varied forms and passages. This outstanding Danza is not Impossible at all!

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Copa de Luz ► 04 - El Girasol ► 08 - Junk Food 


Lupa Santiago & Anders Vestergard Quartet - Inside Turnabout

Label: Drumvoice Records, 2017

Lineup - Lupa Santiago: guitar; Rodrigo Ursaia: tenor saxophone; Mattias Hjorth: bass; Anders Vestergard: drums.

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Brazilian guitarist Lupa Santiago and Finish drummer Anders Vestergard first recorded together in 2015, co-leading an international quintet that gigged in Lisbon for a week. The album Lisbon Sessions was the result of that musical experience, but its follow-up, Inside Turnabout, sounds even richer.
 
For this new outing, packed with diverse rhythms and meters, they gathered a highly flexible quartet that includes Brazilian tenorist Rodrigo Ursaia and Swedish bassist Mattias Hjorth. 

Vibrantly energized, the title track opens the record with strong improvisations, starting with Santiago, whose language develops with stirring motion, and then Ursaia, who expresses himself with ascendancy over the dexterous comping of the guitarist. The final honors are reserved for Vestergard, who fits his competent rhythmic vocabulary over a vampy coda, before the theme is recaptured. The mood is similar to that created by Chris Cheek’s quartet on the album I Wish I Knew.
 
While “Caixa Cubo” conjures a feel-good vibe that stems from a formidable groove and a catchy melody, “New Houser” is rhythmically elaborated in its prime statement but pretty linear throughout the 4/4 improvisational sections. Ursaia takes off in a glowing solo, letting his language flow through an effortless articulation reminiscent of Joe Lovano and Mark Turner. Responding to his longtime collaborator, Santiago fills the scenario with his charismatic presence, striking with an impressive technique that lets the emotions flow. By the end, the guitarist brings up a conspicuous synth guitar effect as the band trades eights with the drummer.

Marked by 5/4 time signatures and a shimmering melodic sensitivity, “Stu” and “L.O.V.” are mandatory points of interest. The latter is delivered as a sweet, tasty ballad, while the former brings another improvisational elan by saxophonist and guitarist, who embark on transitory unisons during the theme’s statement. 

Tinged with pronounced Brazilian rhythms, “Lakran” counts seven beats per bar, and comes seasoned with warm harmonic progressions. The quartet closes the album in a more traditional way with “Two Step Leap”, a subtle hybridity of post-bop and Latin that is actually very pleasurable.

A myriad of dynamics and moods, ranging from intimate to uplifting to zippy, creates beautiful moments of jazz. You'll find auspicious musical settings without borders.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Inside Turnabout ► 03 - New Houser ► 05 - Stu


Kjetil Moster/Jeff Parker/Joshua Abrams/John Herndon - Ran Do

Label: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Kjetil Moster: tenor saxophone; Jeff Parker: guitar; Joshua Abrams: bass; John Herndon: drums.

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As an adventurer who explores with no concrete boundaries, Norwegian tenorist Kjetil Moster couldn’t have found a more suitable foundation for his sounds than the streamlined rhythm team composed of Jeff Parker and John Herndon, Tortoise’s guitarist and drummer, respectively, and bassist Joshua Abrams, founder of Natural Information Society, whom we could hear recently in projects such as Rempis/Abrams/Ra trio and Jason Stein Quartet.

After gigging together for some time, the musicians decided to hit the studio, and Ran Do is a positive payoff that dignifies their talent.
 
Orko” resonates affirmatively with the impromptu drumming of Harndon. The rest of the members join him, one after another, starting with the bandleader, who pours out chant-like phrases, and then the bassist, who integrates his throbbing flippancy with the disentangled yet often disconcerting guitar sounds of Parker. The musical scenario feels simultaneously volatile and strapping as the improvisations occur.
 
Dig Me Out” takes a darker and more intriguing sonic path. On top of that, it is noisy and polyrhythmic. The deeply cavernous blows freed by Moster are strongly imprinted on a surface that also exhibits long and distorted guitar lunges and a multitude of percussive elements. These are intensified in order to uphold bowed bass euphoria, quirky guitar vagaries, as well as the hissing and growling of the saxophonist. Even climaxing in an approachable rhythmic cadence nurtured by bass and drums, it all becomes very ghostly.

The absorbing “Annicca”, the longest piece on the record at more than 15 minutes, serves up African ritualistic pulses, raucous saxophone expressions peppered with vibrato effect and dark timbre, wha-wha guitar dipped in modern funk, and incessant marching bass lines. After Abrams’ monologue, the tune changes skin like a chameleon, presenting a more melodious sax operating with a sweeter timbre on top of permeable guitar chords.

The last tune is funnily entitled “Pajama Jazz” and puts us in orbit with an ostentatious groove reclined in glory. Dripping until coagulate, the piece thrives with the magnificence of Moster’s ramblings filled with revolutionary, spiritual, and charismatic freedom. While accompanying, Parker sounds more surrounding than incendiary, but shows he can also be a wirepuller, delivering a spectacular solo and showing off his matchless sound.

These self-determined orchestrators, provided with instinctive stimulus and scintillating inspiration, are valid voices on today’s vanguard jazz scene.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Orko ► 04 – Annica ► 05 – Pajama Jazz


Gordon Grdina Quartet - Inroads

Label: Songlines, 2017

Lineup - Gordon Grdina: guitar, oud; Oscar Noriega: alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Russ Lossing: piano, Fender Rhodes; Satoshi Takeishi: drums.

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If you feel like listening to something atypical, something that organically blends creative jazz, free-form improvisation, and Arabic classical music, go for the Vancouver-based guitarist/oud player/composer Gordon Grdina. Inroads finds this innovator teaming up with the visionary multi-reedist Oscar Noriega, consolidated pianist Russ Lossing, and multi-tasking percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. And I have to tell that this bass-less quartet sounds amazing. 

Surprisingly, the record opens with a brilliantly executed solo piano piece entitled “Giggles”, whose affectionate, oneiric ways captivated me instantaneously. The second version of this piece, “Giggles II”, closes the album like a spacious tone poem generated by the complemented lyricism of guitar and piano, and accompanied at some point by a brief, considerate, and never-intrusive percussive fondling.

Rambling like a taut folk dance, “Not Sure” mirrors indecision (so, good title!) about where to land, but all the passages probed by the quartet feel engrossingly connected. The journey includes animated guitar-clarinet polyphonies, followed by Lossing’s lofty solo over a distorted guitar groove. Meddling written passages anticipate moments of sheer abstraction, some of them intense, other even-tempered. The final three minutes of this piece are simply marvelous, having piercing saxophone shrieks and incisive melodic bursts implanted into a massively noisy wall of distortion erected with gutsy impetuosity.

Piano and Fender Rhodes merge as one to bring “P.B.S.” into life. Simultaneously roving and complex, this composition also embraces experimentation, feeling pretty much stately in its rock-inflected conclusion. This posture has a total discrepancy with the one adopted on “Fragments”, a still-explorative yet balmy meditation where we may indulge in the sentimental exoticism of the oud. The bandleader, a confessed adept of Hamas Aldine and Rabih Abou Khalil, interacts with Lossing, combining cleverness and pathos to create wistful cadenced movements that get deeper in plangency with the addition of bass clarinet. 

Noriega makes use of the hollowness of this beautiful instrument again on “Kite Flight”, a two-minute juxtaposition of free thoughts he co-wrote and exchanged with the guitarist.

The modernistic, Eastern-tinged “Apocalympics” starts with a pure guitar sound before allowing the clarinetist to phrase his ideas. He does it with wails and warbles, flying high above the supple yet rugged sonic textures. The outstanding control and temporal poise of Takeishi’s drumming takes further expression throughout his improvised stretch.

Grdina distills his music with lancinating virtuosity and deft narrative arc, integrating avant-jazz and world fusion with savoir-faire. Consequently, Inroads feels like a multicultural hymn to spontaneous creativity.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Giggles ► 02 - Not Sure ► 03 - P.B.S.


Pedro Melo Alves' Omniae Ensemble

Label: Nischo, 2017

Lineup – José Soares: alto saxophone; Gileno Santana: trumpet; Xavi Sousa: trombone; Mané Fernandes: electric guitar; Zé Diogo Martins: piano; Filipe Louro: double bass; Pedro Melo Alves: drums. 

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Omniae Ensemble is a Porto-based, 7-piece debutant group led by Portuguese drummer José Pedro Alves, whose well-founded artistic statement is made by orderly congested strides and breathable organic textures. Their debut CD features three originals by Alves and another three by the late pianist Bernardo Sassetti.

Ubi”, the 22-minute overture of this Braxton-esque long opus, brings us vertiginous waves of intricate sounds accommodated as fractal soundscape collages. The group interaction is favorable in its most diverse circumstances, from exciting soloing sections to gripping textural passages, where the accompaniment assumes the form of drones or repetitive chord progressions. The work that surfaces from piano and synth guitar deserves a mention, and it all flows in an engaging hybridity between composed avant-jazz blissfulness and overdriven rock urgency.

Oscillating with acerbic tension and controlled drift, “Phelia” exalts the cinematic as it searches for dynamics through hushed repose, locomotive rhythmic progressions, and horn counterpoint. The post-bop incursions by pianist Zé Diogo Martins are highlights.

Sassetti’s “(In)Diferente” marks the great moment of the record with a patient introduction, vigorous pulses, and suspended sonic emanations. Amid the glancing encounters between light and darkness, one can find a consummate interdependency between classical piano movements and articulated saxophone lines drawn from modern jazz. The same idea prevails when the trombone runs against atmospheric guitar strokes.

With a looking-forward posture, “Onírea” finds a strange balance between the booming and the murmured. After the bass roams of Filipe Louro, the tune falls into a balladic mode to receive a fairytale-ish improvisation by trumpeter Gileno Santana.

After the powerful spasmodic reflex that launches “Reflexos, Movimento Circular” and some convulsive giddiness provoked by the collective, we can identify Sasseti's beautiful waltz. The strong classical feel veers momentarily to an odd pulse that better emphasizes Mané Fernandes' distorted guitar solo before the theme is brought back.

The album closes with “Da Noite”, another piece of Sasseti that deliberately embraces the shadowy and soothing. 

Omniae Ensemble, composed of invigorating practitioners of new music, sounds like a modern symphonic work imbued with overwhelming emotion and deep resonance. The Portuguese jazz is well represented here.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Ubi ► 03 - (In)Diferente ► 04 - Onírea


Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille!

Label: Delmark Records, 2017

Lineup - Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet; Joshua Abrams: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Chicagoan bass clarinetist Jason Stein flaunts a categorical, spirited sound that can be concurrently explosive and melodic. For the new outing, Lucille!, he reunites his exciting quartet to explore compositions he penned plus hard-groovin’ renditions of classics by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Warne Marsh, and Lenny Tristano, in a sort of a conceptual follow-up to his previous album, The Story This Time, released in 2013.

As it happened before, Stein teams up with Keefe Jackson, who alternates between tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, to create an unabashed double-horn frontline. He also probes an unprecedented rhythm section with regular bassist Joshua Abrams and the new-arrived Tom Rainey in the drummer's chair, replacing Frank Rosaly.

Opening with Rainey’s jittery drumming, here empowered by unexpected thumps, Warne Marsh’s “Marshmallow” thrives with a vivid bass pizzicato, falling into a modern swing suffused with unisons and polyphonies delivered by the reedists, who show an intricate, powerful, and still amiable phraseology. Following a similar approach, “Wow” and “April”, both by Lennie Tristano, bestow this pleasurable insouciance that wants to tell us that swing can be something else nowadays but is still alive! There’s a direct parallelism with the original versions and its force comes not just from the coincident boppish lines in the head but also from the reciprocity of ideas.

Recreating different paces, intensities, and moods within a well-defined structure, “Halls and Rooms”, a Stein’s original, has Rainey’s brilliant rhythmic inventions constantly popping in my ears.

The raucous inflections of the contrabass clarinet can be heard on Parker’s “Dexterity” and Monk’s “Little Rootsie Tootie”, bringing amusingly attractive low-pitched tonalities to pin down a confluent steadfastness. The latter piece starts by embracing a thunderous cacophony before entering in an immodest rasping celebration of hooky clarinets immersed in abstract crosstalk. 

Carrying another unflinching swinging verve at the base and elated melodies on the top, “Roused About” showcases the wide-eyed energy of the improvisers.
Distinct from all the rest, “I Knew You Were” stratifies spiritual intonations, resorting to droning bowed bass, irregular cymbal shatters, and percussion chops scattered throughout. Freedom and unity are claimed through devotional improvisations and counterpoint whose kinetic nature perpetuates the depth and the fervor.

In addition to inflaming classic pieces with their scintillating straightforwardness, Jason Stein and his partners build interesting originals with a panoply of patterned and uncommon sounds that have much to be admired.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Marshmallow ► 04 - Roused About ► 07 - Little Rootsie Tootie


Burning Ghosts - Reclamation

Label: Tzadik, 2017

Lineup - Daniel Rosenboom: trumpet; Jake Vossler: guitar; Richard Giddens: bass; Aaron McLendon: drums.

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Blending musical genres to sound unique is an art. Despite commonly practiced nowadays, only the most skillful artists have the privilege of being truly called innovators, and that is the case with the Burning Ghosts, an L.A.-based fiery quartet that aims at today’s world injustices by verging on electric fusion genius to impress. Led by trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, who soars in several glorious solo sections, the band features a massive rhythm section composed of Jake Vossler on guitars, Richard Giddens on bass, and Aaron McLendon on drums.

Following the well-received self-titled debut album, released last year on the trumpeter’s label Orenda Records, Reclamation sets the bar even higher, captivating with a musical approach whose muscle, inspiration, intensity, and responsiveness have opened the doors of John Zorn’s record label, Tzadik.

The first track, “FTOF”, erupts with the drumming endurance and incendiary beat stresses of McLendon, whose actions synchronize impressively with Rosenboom’s articulated phrases. The punky distortion spilled out of Vossler’s frantic guitar strokes creates a propitious scenario for elliptical trumpet runs, which, despite boisterous, encompasses moments of sheer melody and even funky groove at some point. It’s legit to think of a wild crossing between avant-jazz and prog-rock.

Like a cavernous heavy metal symphony, “Harbinger” is shrouded in a much darker brume, opening with jagged bowed bass as the primal foundation and quickly adding unruly, ultra-fast drumming and lots of electric noise. This is what you have when the jazz-metal of Otomo Yoshihide meets with the esoteric darkness of Harriet Tubman and the noisy guitar slashes of Black Sabbath.

Still dark, yet beautifully textured with sparse harmonies and precise snare drum rudiments, which confers it the shape of an unhurried march, “The War Machine” stands between Cuong Vu and Dave Douglas's High Risk ensemble. It features a vociferous guitar solo infested with ultrasonic hammer-ons and hot licks.

Embracing a 3/4 time signature that periodically flips to a 4/4, the striding “Radicals” contains an eloquent, catchy bass solo that made my ears rejoice. It boasts an intoxicating funk-infused metal à-la Rage Against the Machine.

Another great example of eclecticism is given with “Betrayal”, where the amalgam of colorful sounds involves lofty unisons, rock pulses, Eastern melodies, and authoritative bass flows that are seamlessly transferred to the following tune, “Gaslight”, acquiring a jazz swinging flux.

If “Zero Hour” deals with concurrent doses of playfulness and eeriness while evolving from atmospheric to cacophonous, “Revolution” initially recalls the grunge of Nirvana, employing as much trailblazing revolt as tangy political elucidation.

If you’re the adventurous type, Burning Ghosts will make you spin with the immense force of their underground volleys. I trust this band will have all the attention they deserve to keep protesting with this quality.

       Grade A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - FTOF ► 03 - The War Machine ► 04 - Radicals


Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima

Label: Libra Records, 2017

Lineup - Satoko Fujii: composer, arranger, conductor; Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin: tenor sax; Oscar Noriega: alto sax; Andy Laster: baritone sax; Dave Ballou, Herb Robertson, Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Joey Sellers, Joe Fiedler, Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Nels Cline: guitar; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Ches Smith: drums.

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Creative Japanese pianist, composer, and bandleader Satoko Fujii had a particularly appealing year in terms of new music and enrichment of a prolific and audacious career marked by consistency and innovation.
 
Following the stimulating album Aspiration, a quartet session recorded with the virtuosic trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura and electronics wizard Ikue Mori, the pianist focuses on a wider scenario, commanding her famous Orchestra New York, a 13-piece big band that includes some of the best improvisers and sound explorers on the scene. The work expresses feelings and sensations related to the nuclear power plant disaster of Fukushima occurred in 2011.

Devised as a continuous one-hour suite, the piece was divided into five untitled parts for this record, starting with air noises that can be associated with wind blows or sea waves coming and going, intercalated with aching silences. In the periphery of this irregular hissing, we have percussive garnitures such as irregular rattles, screeches, and impulsive baritone notes surrounded by atmospheric guitar chops. It’s a slow awakening, but a powerful one. And that can be testified when the guitarist Nels Cline applies his tart chords, joining Stomu Takeishi’s electric bass plucks before a mysterious sonic mass of short cacophonous phrases and rueful cries grows in anxiety and dimension.
 
Track 2” is a mutable 16-minute odyssey that flourishes with the consistent drumming of Ches Smith, who roots it through the regularity of his breathable cymbal strokes. It obtains an ominous, electrifying textural persuasiveness while assorted saxophones murmur upon. A beautifully melodic moment comes to our attention when the written lines, delivered in parallel motion by the reedists, fill our ears with a magnified certitude. The saxophonists, often resorting to flutter-tonguing and other extended multi-timbre techniques, cause a great impression, operating over a malleable, thin, yet absorbing foundation built by bass, guitar, and subdued brushed drumming. This piece flutters with extraordinary dynamics and its segments are sometimes light and easygoing yet, at moments, dense and severe due to occasional collective ascendancy. Everything ends like in the beginning (with air sounds) but not before the establishment of a stylish passage where the horn section holds on a predetermined phrase laid down over a solid, tendentiously dark tapestry rooted in the rock genre. 

Far more reserved, “Track 3” brings us Noriega's saxophone roams with multiple ticking sounds aside, featuring trumpet wails and laments, collective warbles, and a relentless buzzing intensified by a trombone that begs for backup. He gets it by the end in another grandiose instrumentation packed with emotion and color.

Before the concise heavenly contemplation of “Track 5”, the record's encouraging final piece, “Track 4” packs another great instrumental juncture that begins unhurriedly with four bass notes implying a sparse yet revelatory harmonic sequence. It scrumptiously unfolds into a groove as the baritone of Andy Laster joins the bassist, welcoming the improvisers to share something from their own. After a few indignant collective roars, the victory of human resilience arrives with the regeneration of the unyielding 5/4 groove.

Painfully contemporary and garnished with off-kilter elements and conscientious coalescence, Fukushima is another triumph for Ms. Fujii, an insightful orchestrator.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Track 2 ► 03 – Track 3 ► 04 – Track 4


Joe McPhee / Pascal Niggenkemper / Stale Solberg - Imaginary Numbers

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone, pocket trumpet; Pascal Niggenkemper: double bass; Stale Liavik Solberg: drums and percussion.

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Multi-reedist Joe McPhee, a respected artist of the New York free jazz movement, has been around for five decades, demonstrating that his procedures are filled with as much irreverence as freedom. Prolific and self-taught, he has been an influence for many adventurous musicians of multiple generations. 

Imaginary Numbers, his most recent album on the Lisbon-based label Clean Feed, comprises three free-form improvised pieces recorded live at Jack in Brooklyn on December 13th, 2015. The musical content bursts with high-caliber sounds exerted by his robust international trio, which features the German-French double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and the Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg.

They start off with “I”, an extended piece with almost 24 minutes, where McPhee starts by sibilating, squeaking, and holding discussions on the pocket trumpet, while the drummer is kept busy with erratic rim shots, programmatic scraping, and wet snare tonalities that feel enchantingly adherent. Passing through different moods and rhythmic variations, the tune benefits from Niggenkemper's beautifully jagged textures, whether bowing enthusiastically or projecting dried bass mechanizations through consecutive athletic plucks. Taking advantage of the solid rhythmic alliance of his associates, McPhee unleashes rough-edged saxophone attacks, occasional cutting shrills, and even some easy melody that was particularly reserved for the beginning of his improvisation and the tune’s the last section.

If the latter piece lets us identify some phrasal twitches of Coltrane, the following one, entitled “A Supreme Love” (an obvious dedication to the ‘giant’ and his masterpiece A Love Supreme), sounds pretty suggestive with McPhee invoking his idol, but also following his own voice, hurling mighty sonic waves with a heavy timbre. The tune starts with a variety of percussive sounds, from chimes to screeches to bass grunts, becoming a rhythmically spunky workout along the way and ending in a phantasmagoric pool of wails and creaks. 

Zero” closes the session, gradually evolving from a quiet percussive setting into a tempestuous sprawling of rhythm and tonality defined by cacophonous sax assaults on top of a dense carpet weaved by bass and drums. It all becomes playful and temperate by the end.

With a titanic obstinacy for sound exploration and a virtuosic spontaneity to create tense atmospheres, this powerhouse trio channels bulky transferences of energy into our ears.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - I ► 02 - A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)


Brian Charette - Kurrent

Label/Year: Self Produced, 2017

Lineup - Brian Charette: organ, electronics; Ben Monder: guitar; Jordan Young: drums, electronics.

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The extreme agility of Grammy-nominated Hammond organist, Brian Charette, is widely known, regardless the musical style he decides to jump into. Working with a wide range of musicians from different backgrounds such as Chaka Khan, Lou Donaldson, Joni Mitchell, and Will Bernard, the virtuosic musician applies his refined musical skills to a dashing, revolutionary new work entitled Kurrent, where he leads an extremely bendy trio with Ben Monder on electric guitar and Jordan Young on drums.

Charette’s genre-bending experiments, enhanced by a debonair amalgam of electronics and soaring layers of synth, immediately earned my sympathy on the opening tune, “Doll Fin”. A floating bass groove transports us to a sleek soul with hints of funk, so typical of the 70s. Psychedelic organ-driven melodies are set against the catchy current braced by the sustained atmospheric sounds of Monder. The latter sets the house on fire with a quick-witted solo that shows his outgoing musicality, and the tune re-acquires the loungy expression for Charette’s improvisation before segueing into a rock-infused discipline propelled by an effusive polyrhythmic approach and galloping unisons. 

Time Changes” boasts a pretty memorable riff as a basis, embarking on a progressive jazz-fusion that would be approved by bands such as Return To Forever or Soft Machine. The danceable rhythm, nearly Brazilian, is emancipated by Young, whose drumming style is tailored for this record.
 
Besides a wonderful organist, Charette reveals his adroitness in electronic manipulation and voice sampling. “Mano y Mano” is a good example, combining Kraftwerkian robotic words, breezy psychedelic soul, and striking heavy metal passages with a feel-good posture. A cutting guitar improvisation confirms what we already knew: Monder is as much effective playing limpid jazz textures as uncompromising distorted rock.

When the smooth jazz of George Benson hugs the contemporary post-bop/fusion of Pat Metheny, you get “Honeymoon Phase”, which precedes “Schooby’s Riff”, an outlandish exercise devised with an obstinate bass groove upfront and a routined backbeat. This groovy setting, crisply textured by Monder’s mind-blowing chords, is periodically interrupted with vocalized samples and giddily weird vibes. The final moments bring once more the irreverence of the guitarist, who unveils the hard rocker in him.

Boasting a rising sense of playfulness while positively quivers with edgy melodic pointillism, “5th Base” has something of Funkadelic but particularly reminisces Frank Zappa in its jazz, funk, and rock instigations drowned in bluesy undertones.

Opposing to the classical suggestions and some experimental textures of “The Shape of Green”, the deep funky spirit of the last track, “Catfish Sandwich” invites us to move our bodies uncontrollably, somewhere at an underground dance floor. 

Kurrent, a riveting spiral of unprecedented modern fusion with reverence for the dandy sounds of the past, is likely the boldest record from Charette, a visionary artist to be followed very closely.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Doll Fin ► 03 - Time Changes ► 09 - 5th Base


Michael Zilber - Originals For The Originals

Label/Year: Origin Records, 2017

Lineup – Michael Zilber: tenor and soprano saxophone; David Kikoski: piano; James Genus: bass; Clarence Penn: drums + guests.

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Vancouver-born, San Francisco-based Michael Zilber, a talent of the saxophone, a dexterous composer, and a respected educator, exhibited his impressive skills side by side with jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dave Liebman, Miroslav Vitous, and Dave Douglas.

Now, leading an elastic quartet whose reliable rhythm section includes David Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums, Zilber prepared Originals for the Originals, a beautiful 11-track album that homages several jazz saxophone masters. Here, he explores the boundaries beyond those traditional melodies and harmonies that served him as an inspiration.

The opener, “Breckerfast Club”, the first of a pair of earnest dedications to Michael Brecker, literally made my feet move and my body shake such was the rhythmic punch and swinging urgency of its straight-ahead efflorescence. Playing with nerve and spectacle, the band serves up jabbing improvisations, starting with Kikoski who, cooking up as fast as objective, embarks on euphoric rides full of melodic and rhythmic intention. The bandleader showcases an extensive collection of brisk phrases and lucid rhythmic figures rooted in the post-bop prime directive. A vamp is put up near the end, allowing and inviting Penn to percolate his percussive imagination through a creative jaunt.

Not every piece fly so high, and the ballad “Leaves (For Michael Brecker)” soars steadily with a low-key mood, like a dreamy cloud in the blue sky. Genus puts his bass to sing a nice melody upfront, being interrupted by the main theme. He resumes the solo afterward with unclouded expression. Because ballads always crave bass solos, he does it again on “Late Night Trane”, where Penn’s luminescent brushing hinges on the melodic cadences uttered by piano, bass, and sax.

Another tribute is prepared for Coltrane on “Coltraning Daze”, a more expeditious episode triggered by a drum solo and enhanced with breezy soul-jazz flavors whose harmonic engagement feels more like Tommy Flanagan rather than McCoy Tyner.

Steeped in the ways of the progressive jazz/fusion celebrated by the Weather Report, “Weather Wayne”, moves with the help of heavy rock beats in a dazzling rhythmic synchronization with the piano strokes. Zilber’s soprano cascades, never too harsh and never too polished, find a dedicated ally in Kikoski’s responsive plasticity. Definitely a peak moment.

Both “Autumn Lieb” and “Lieb Dich” are praise for the great Dave Liebman. Opposing to the former, steeped in “Autumn in New York” and "Autumn Leaves" (its inspirational sources), the latter tune is an accelerated hard swinger that boasts a vibrant section featuring cute soprano inflections with only drums paving the ground, as well as interesting dialogues between sax and piano by the end.

A proper homage to master saxophonists would never be complete if Sonny Rollins wasn't considered. “Partly Sonny”, propelled by an Afro-Latin pulse, is perfectly descriptive in its title, attaching an original melodic segment to Sonny’s celebrated “St.Thomas”.

Zilber blends influences with purpose and insight without ever compromising his own creative voice. It’s time to pay attention to his many musical qualities and if you're not familiar with his work, start with this alluring past-present effort.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Breckerfast Club ► 05 - Weather Wayne ► 09 - Lieb Dich


Nick Fraser - Is Life Long?

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophone; Andrew Downing: cello; Rob Clutton: double bass; Nick Fraser: drums.

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Canadian drummer/composer Nick Fraser, a stalwart in the Toronto jazz scene, targeted a sequence for his previous albums, Towns and Villages (Barnyard Records, 2013) and Starer (independently released, 2016), with a new Clean Feed outing, which features exactly the same chord-less chamber quartet with Tony Malaby on saxophones, Andrew Downing on cello, and Rob Clutton on double bass.

Is Life Long? comprises six intuitively connected tunes that, mirroring freedom, develop within mood-changing structural blocks.

Quicksand”, opening with long, contrasting-in-pitch, and quite ominous notes from arco and soprano, tinge a mysterious canvas with their eldritch presence. Thoroughly coordinated in these moves, Malaby and Downing devise the right wispy strains of melody to compose an unsettling atmosphere, having Fraser’s ruminative percussion as an underpinning. After dwelling in this vague suspension for one-third of the piece's duration, parallel movements of sax and cello commence, conveying a wider sense of cohesiveness but only to split up again for an organic polyphonic exploration. The tune shakes with turbulence in its final section, emphasizing Malaby's classy timbral work, acutely affixed to his peremptory exclamations, while flanked by the increasingly muscled thumping of the bandleader. At this point, one feels impelled into a tumultuous sonic epicenter.

A timing bass groove, obeying to an odd meter, sets the tone for “Disclosure”, an atypical yet majestic march where Fraser resorts to the hi-hat rather than the common snare rolls to set the pace. There are engaging chamber flourishes that suggest some relation with distant oriental places, creating in simultaneous a sensation of pure avant-garde ecstasy.

The fugue-like “Empathy” couldn’t have been given a better title since all the instrumentalists worked for a universal melodicism/organicism whose fluency encases dramatic classical movements delivered to the point.

Dissociating from the remaining tunes, the more-docile-than-acerbic “Skeleton” is a pleasurable swinger that shines from one end to the other via well-delineated jazzy unisons, a bouncy bass pizzicato, and constructive brushed drumming. Although nodding to tradition and advertising Mingus (mostly due to Malaby’s tenor rides), it feels utterly up-to-date in its unlocked musicality. 

The curtains close after “The Predictor”, a slow-cooked recipe that takes time to shape and evolve. After a bemused embryonic state, it morphs into peppery percussive cadences and heavy, provocative agitations.

Fraser’s stylized signature is well patented on Is Life Long?. Whether unobstructed or congested, the gripping ambiances sketched by his deft quartet surround us with an unfaded, exploratory impressionism.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Quicksand ► 02 - Disclosure ► 04 – Skeleton


Steve Slagle - Dedication

Label/Year: Panorama Records, 2017

Lineup – Steve Slagle: alto sax, flute; Lawrence Fields: piano; Scott Colley: drums; Bill Stewart: drums + guest Dave Stryker: guitar.

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Experienced American altoist/flautist Steve Slagle, the former director of the Mingus Big Band, has a curriculum filled with fruitful collaborations in a wide variety of genres with respected names such as Joe Lovano, The Beastie Boys, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Carla Bley, Steve Kuhn, and Milton Nascimento. 

The successor of last year's Alto Manhattan is called Dedication. Released on Panorama Records, the album, an organic brew of post-bop statements frequently boosted by Latin infusions, comprises nine tracks dedicated to people or things that were relevant in Slagle’s musical career. In regard to the last album, the saxophonist maintains the pianist Lawrence Fields, drummer Bill Stewart, and percussionist Roman Diaz in the lineup, replacing the bassist Gerald Cannon for the ultra-competent Scott Colley and inviting his longtime collaborator, guitarist Dave Stryker, to participate in six songs.

The elated “Sun Song”, dedicated to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, spreads an uplifting lightness, conveying a fire-hose charm that feels very celebratory within its Latin nature. Slagle’s fluid, off-kilter language comes out with a brittle and tempered timbre, and on the tail of Fields’ unnerving solo, the band trades eights with the percussion team.

It’s definitely a strong start that doesn't lose steam when we go to “Niner”, a piece that honors the electric bassist Steve Swallow, and “Major In Come”, an ode to the art of swinging built on major chords in five different keys. The former composition, showing off the theme’s statement under a sax-guitar unison, is rhythmically dominated by an animated bass groove and funky pulse, while the latter provides us with a hard-swinging gush that would make Joe Lovano satisfied and features Stewart’s readable drum solo.

The band attests an easily bent temperament when digging “Triste Beleza”, an illustrative bossa nova appointment propelled by Stryker’s luxurious acoustic guitar voicings, Stewart’s gentle brushwork, and Diaz’s fortifying conga sounds.
 
The hefty swinger “Opener”, evoking the energy of saxophonist Jackie McLean, is adorned with hot rhythms and the bandleader’s double-faced output, first on alto sax and then wrapping up on flute.

Slagle incorporated two external compositions on the album: Stryker’s “Corazon”, a meek tribute to Weather Report’s keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter’s “Charcoal Blues”, harmonically defined by the guitarist’s amiable chords and spoken with the incumbent blues stratum in mind.

Dedication was aligned to furnish a sturdy opening, but the album wanes in vibrancy after the fourth track. Even feeling limited in extraordinary stretches, it fulfills its objectives with an unperturbed orderliness and should earn the attention of both classic post-bop and Latin jazz supporters.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Sun Song ► 02 – Niner ► 04 – Triste Beleza


Cameron Mizell - Memory/Imagination

Label/Year: Destiny Records, 2017

Lineup – Cameron Mizell: guitar and effects.

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After the enjoyable Negative Spaces (Destiny Records, 2016), recorded with his trio mates Brad Whiteley on keyboards and Kenneth Salters on drums, American guitarist Cameron Mizell deliberately plunges into experimental waters to explore a giddily new universe, Memory/Imagination, a solo improvisational effort that reflects on the fight for social justice in America.

Employing a geometric disposition of sonic layers to form contemplative neo-folk sceneries, the title track opens the record with dreamy tones, overlapped phrasing, and scrupulous electronics. A fine balance was achieved between the acoustic and the electric perceptions.

With the climate change in mind, the guitarist delivers “Melting” as an opaque, static exercise seated in an infinite drone whose relentless frequency serves as a pointer for extemporaneous adventures. This weird oscillation between the spacious and the spectral is felt even harder on “We’ll Find Our Way Out of This Mess”, which starts like an innocuous meditation but grows into an intimidating, feverish dream as the time passes. Somehow, the final section reminded me of the dark textures so characteristic in some of the works by the bassist Bill Laswell.

Sounding like a topsy-turvy version of “Happy Birthday”, “Toast” could play a valuable role in an eerie indie film due to its nebulous contortions. Also very cinematic and equally depicted with shades of noir, “A Turning Point”, creates a scenario dominated by delaying propagation waves, percussive tic-tacs, and jazz-blues axioms. Despite explorative, it is probably the most orthodox piece in this recording.

Mizell’s pinpoint control of the guitar is patented on “Vulnerabilities”, a sort of requiem that boasts a beautiful acoustic sonority in its intersection of effulgent fingerpicking and open chords. I can almost hear a touch of gypsy lament among the melodious, yearning folk chops. It differs from the static composure of “The View From Above”, where the guitarist counterpoints shrill-note pointillism with the shrewd work done at lower registers, letting the hope hovering in the skies.

Skillfully pairing controlled abstraction with American roots, Cameron Mizell probes new conceptions for his musical creativity, stepping on offbeat yet appetizing territories.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Memory/Imagination ► 05 - Vulnerabilities ► 07 - We’ll Find Our Way Out of This Mess