JP Schlegelmilch / Jonathan Golberger / Jim Black - Visitors

Label: Skirl Records, 2018

Personnel - JP Schlegelmilch: keyboards; Jonathan Goldberger: guitars; Jim Black: drums.

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This cohesive new organ trio co-led by Brooklyn-based keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and drummer Jim Black, ventures down creative paths of indie rock with a casual, serrated jazzy edge in its statements. Their album, Visitors, is staggeringly crafted with a rugged, psychedelic rock technique and assertive textural developments, featuring eight tracks whose instrumental depth is consummated by the magical interplay among the trio members.

Corvus” is a prog-rock archetypal that perhaps better illustrates this. Electronic manipulations precede the excavation of a 7/4 groove exalted by sturdy rock moves and fleshed out by an incandescent guitar solo that comprehends flickering sound waves, bluesy riffs, arpeggiated sequences, and jazzy chords. After a calmer passage, the groove shifts to six, seducing Schlegelmilch and Goldberger to embark on a cross-conversational dialogue while Black holds to a funky percussive flux.

Showcasing brighter tones and intense emotions, “Ether Sun” is a Pink Floyd-esque song elegantly arranged with soaring keyboard sounds, smooth bass coordination, and firmly fixed rhythm.

Stressing idiomatic rock textures, “Lake Oblivion” is divided into two distinct yet complementary parts. The first one carries a restless ambiguity in its classic hard-rock charisma, while the second, advancing at a 5/4 tempo, equips the same package with popish acoustic instrumentation and a distorted electric fizz.

The title track comes hooked in a triple meter. The versatile drummer moves with sheer boldness, supporting the use of methodical synth maneuvers for ambient and noisy guitar strokes for impact.

If “Chiseler” erupts with tactile dissonances and power chords in a clear inclination toward prog-rock, then “Terminal Waves” has its climatic peak with Goldberger’s cryptic metal-inflected solo over an exquisite textural work that becomes slightly tumultuous until mitigated by atmospheric organ layers and drones.

Being a deluxe product of like-minded cohorts, Visitors is also striking and rewarding, displaying enough personality and range to keep us thrilled.

 Grade A- [8/10]

Grade A- [8/10]

Favorite Tracks:

03 - Ether Sun ► 04 - Corvus ► 06 - Lake Oblivion II


Walking Distance - Freebird

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Caleb Curtis: alto saxophone, trumpet; Kenny Pexton: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Adam Coté: double bass, mellotron; Shawn Baltazor: drums, percussion. Featured guests - Jason Moran: piano, samples; Ben Rubin: bass, mellotron.

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Walking Distance, a quartet of emerging New York artists, takes inspiration on Charlie Parker to create bop-derived originals with a contemporary twist. For their sophomore album, Freebird, they invite virtuosic pianist Jason Moran to join them in 6 of the 9 tracks. Alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis signs nine of the twelve tracks, two of them co-penned with bassist Adam Coté, who also delivers “Quasar Halo”, a disciplined chamber musing sweetened by docile unisons traced by clarinet, alto sax, and arco bass, and contrastingly bolstered by enthusiastic piano injections and relatively busy drum work.

Relying on an unbending form and structure, “William” starts the album off as a pure hard bop exercise, thriving with Curtis and Moran’s eruptive vocabularies while Coté and drummer Shawn Baltazor assure an indestructible bass-drums foundation. An engulfing melodic crescendo announces a short drum solo, renewing its vows before the reestablishment of the theme’s vibrant energy.

Tenor saxist Kenny Pexton devises “Pexterity” as a primordial bop fantasy, having thrilling horn lines crossing the frantic rhythm led by Coté’s sturdy pizzicato and followed by Balatazor’s swinging drum flow. “Donnalise” is a recognizable contrafact of the celebrated “Donna Lee”.

Producer Ben Rubin plays mellotron and additional bass on the absorbing “Simple Ghilnoorty”, whose rhythmic suggestions bring a mechanical electronic feel, for which stationary noir-toned chordal layers also contribute. Feeling fresh, these mechanisms deviate from the briskly swinging pulse of “Ghilnoorty Classic”, whose walking bass and static saxophone lines confer it a moderate flow; and “Bigment”, which starts as a classic march before swinging with strategic coordination. This particular piece was built on Bird's “Segment” and features Curtis on trumpet.

On “Lost & Found”, Baltazor starts coloring with loose hi-hat hits but later infuses snare-driven transition fills while enjoying the thumping bass rambles of Coté. Both support the bright melodicism of the reeds.

Even idolizing this swing-to-bop core, the band vouches for variety, which is reflected on “Feather Report” (an allusion to the revered band Weather Report), a fusion delight, magnificently enhanced by Moran’s keyboard dexterity and containing multiple shifting passages and interesting rhythmic deconstructions. What had started as a sort of desert song due to the freedom of its bass plucks and sliding moves, ended up in a triumphant jazz-rock stride. Another example of variability is “Cheat Sheet”, whose magnetic funky bass and melodic punctuation invite us to an adjacent swinging passage before returning to the initial boiling point.

Baltazor’s “Fly By” gains ground as a transformative stretch, starting with considerable bop affluence but morphing into a danceable, uptempo 3/4 ritual marked by keyboard samples, vigorous bass, Eastern-tinged lines, and ebullient drum attacks. A breath of fresh air in an album that, enjoying the comforts of hard bop, empowers up-to-dateness so it can be considered colorful, modern, as well as a personal statement.

 Grade B+[7/10]

Grade B+[7/10]

Favorite Tracks:

02 - Feather Report ► 04 - Simple Ghilnooorty ► 11 - Fly By


Allison Miller / Carmen Staaf - Science Fair

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Carmen Staaf: piano; Allison Miller: drums; Matt Penman: bass; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet.

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Science Fair marks a successful collaboration between drummer Allison Miller and pianist Carmen Staaf, both accomplished musicians and composers. The album, produced by the avant-garde clarinetist Ben Goldberg, flourishes with great musical choices and dynamic interplay. Each tune, regardless of the group configuration, displays an attractive jazz-rock hybridity that sparkles with genuine vitality.

Miller’s “What?!” suggests a kaleidoscopic avant-garde explosion before a cool drum beat takes over. Agreeable yet challenging melodies are delivered by illustrious trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and saxophonist Dayna Stephens, both inventive soloists. Mood and rhythm are subjected to changes, impeccably designed by Miller, Staaf, and bassist Matt Penman, who rounds out the rhythm section. Together, they coordinate effervescent pulses, thick grooves, and dizzying undertows.

The horn players become fully active once again on “Weightless”, a triple-metered piece that starts rambunctiously rhythmic, shining with pinpointed piano-bass articulations and lyric improvisations from sax, bass, piano, and trumpet. Not all of them are delivered under the same mood, and Akinmusire’s tremulous and lachrymose dissertation demands careful contemplation at the end.

The elegiac “Symmetry” sheds rich, emotional chord passages, featuring the pianist in the pinnacle of her lyricism. Her methodical dark voicings pair with Miller’s intelligent, multi-timbral drum chops, setting the perfect tone for Stephens’ poignant exhortation.

The band is reduced to a classic piano trio configuration for “Ready Steady”, which explores the shapes of space and rhythm with easygoing melodies surrounding the shimmering brushwork of the drummer and the tireless if undeviating trajectories of the bassist, who improvises upfront. However, Staaf dares to thrill by going through rowdy angular contortions at the same time that liberates delicious fragrances of Monk's music in the air. The bandleaders refuse additional accompaniment for the Latin-tinged duet “MLW” (a tribute to pianist Mary Lou Williams), which they eke out with an acute sense of timing. The song recalls “Caravan” in a crossing between Dizzy’s exotic spells and Jessica Williams’ rhythmic punches.

Staaf speaks sophisticated idioms on her breezy “Nobody’s Human”, a jazzy straight-eight piece with a fine melodic figure at the center; and on “West of the Moon”, a contrafact on the jazz standard “East of The Sun”, whose serpentine patterns perpetuate a certain uncertainty about which path to take: rock or swinging jazz? She ends up mixing both before the definitive installation of a frantic, combustible rhythm with Miller in absolute command.

And “Skyway” is a honey-toned ballad that closes out the album with minimalist fashion, featuring Penman in a double front: theme’s statement and improvisation.

Miller and Staaf's openness to exploration and their knowledge of jazz tradition allow great interactions to occur, with the rest of the members integrating this fantastic, hook-filled project with commitment and fun. The sonic aesthetics pack a punch, luring you in when you least expect it.

 Grade A- [8/10]

Grade A- [8/10]

Favorite Tracks:

01 - What?! ► 03 – Ready Steady ► 07 – West Of The Moon


Dave Anderson - Melting Pot

Label: Label 1, 2018

Personnel - Dave Anderson: soprano and alto saxophones; Dave Restivo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Memo Acevedo: drums; Roberto Quintero: percussion; Bryan Davis: trumpet; Itai Kriss: flute; Need Murgai: sitar, voice; Ehren Hanson: tabla; Deep Singh: tabla.

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Saxophonist/composer Dave Anderson celebrates New York City’s cultural differences in his latest album Melting Pot, for which he convened an incredibly professional world-jazz ensemble to dispatch five eclectic originals. The pieces, elegantly woven into an integrated sonic tapestry, are personalized with his unique signature.

Anderson starts off with the three-part Immigrant Suite, suffused with Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Indian influences. Its first part, “Juror Number One” has the rhythm section - pianist Dave Restivo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer Memo Acevedo, and percussionist Roberto Quintero - launching an irresistible Latin rhythm to sustain a blues progression that serves as a magic carpet for the jazz peregrinations of the improvisers. Propelled by an elated rhythm of drums and pandeiro, “Querida”, meaning sweetheart in Portuguese, is also the title of a Jobim song. However, there’s no relation between the two, aside from being impregnated with smooth Brazilian-jazz flavors. The suite is concluded with “A Candle For Isaac”, which additionally features Bryan Davis on trumpet, Itai Kriss on flute, Need Murgai on sitar, and Ehren Hanson on tabla. The song was penned for Anderson’s girlfriend’s father (whom he never met) and blends the vivacity of the post-bop and the distinctive aesthetics of the Indian ragas. Anderson’s tone is particularly attractive here, and his off-kilter hooks enhance the already coloristic instrumentation.

The bandleader cooks another great solo on alto on the closing “Trance-like”, discharging sequences of notes that show his propensity for combining inside and outside playing. As a product of emotional inspiration, the piece feels inebriant, lifted up by the exotic sounds of the sitar and tabla.

Mantra” is pure jazz-fusion anchored in a deft groove, departing from a funky slogan repeated by Fender Rhodes and sax. Emboldened by the presence of Deep Singh’s tabla, the band navigates chord changes with forceful impulsivity, also revealing high levels of proficiency in the art of rhythm.

Melting Pot provides memorable songs that I plan to revisit many more times. Anderson transpires integrity and versatility in a refreshing, concise work whose energizing aural vibe is also disseminated by his kindred accompanists.

Favorite Tracks:

   Grade A- [8/10)

Grade A- [8/10)

03 - Immigrant Suite: A Candle For Isaac ► 04 - Mantra ► 05 - Trance-like


Helen Sung - Sung With Words

Label: Stricker Street Records, 2018

Personnel - Helen Sung: piano; John Ellis: tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Reuben Rogers: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Samuel Torres: percussion + guests Jean Baylor, Carolyn Leonhart, Christie Dashiel, Charenee Wade: vocals

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Helen Sung keeps up the glowing sophistication in her way of playing that withstands any sort of a synthetic approach to music. She puts this skill into use in her new recording, Sung With Words, the first containing all original compositions. Every single piece was inspired by the words of Californian poet Dana Gioia.

Sung puts together a central sextet with saxophonist/clarinetist John Ellis, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Kendrick Scott, and percussionist Samuel Torres. The vocal tracks, in which every syllable is served with lyric refinement after Gioia’s spoken-word intros, are ‘entrusted’ to whether one or two accomplished guest singers such as Jean Baylor, Carolyn Leonhart, Christie Dashiel, and Charenee Wade.

Scott’s drumming announces “Convergence” even when Gioia is still reciting the introductory poem. This straight-ahead instrumental is infectiously swinging, sparkled by the bopish idioms of Ellis and Jensen, and having a rhythmically daring Sung synchronizing single-note melodies with bouncy chordal movements. Splitting up solos are interludes that propagate ephemeral yet surprising Afro-Latin winds.

Other instrumentals that stand out are “Into The Unknown”, a post-bop exaltation, first enlivened by Ellis’ fluent digressions on tenor and then cooled down by Sung’s delicate pianism before Scott bursts in a drum solo over an odd-metered vamp; and “In The Shadowland”, which, spreading a gentle bossa nova scent in the air, burns with positive statements by Ellis (now on soprano) and Rogers. The bassist is also active on the seductive “The Stars on Second Avenue”, the first of two vocal songs sincerely expressed by Ms. Baylor's voice.

Dashiell and Leonhart team up on “Hot Summer Night” and “Too Bad”. The former composition is an R&B-tinged feast marked by a warm rhythm and great horn fills, also having saxophone, trumpet, and piano exchanging lines; whereas the latter, flowing with a three time feel, is enhanced by Jensen’s grooving solo, beautifully articulated with on-spot timbral variations. Sung follows her tenderly. Dashell also collaborates with Wade on “Mean What You Say”, a soul-jazz manifesto recalling the work of Horace Silver.

Based on a sad story of injustice, “Lament For Kalief Browder” kicks off in obscurantism, featuring Leonhart, who vocalizes ethereally with stable piano support. A wistful bass clarinet ostinato fortifies the foundation, yet the intensity of the music varies according to the shifting passages. There’s an opportunity here for Kendrick and Torres shine in a percussive coalition.

The rhythms and textures devised by Sung, an intelligent composer, somehow restore and revitalize Gioia’s poems in an ingenious combination of jazz and poetry. This work feels like a necessary, certainly confident step in the pianist’s career.

 Grade A    [9/10]

Grade A [9/10]

Favorite Tracks:

02 - Convergence ► 05 - Hot Summer Night ► 11 - Into The Unknown


Marcin Wasilewski Trio - Live

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double bass; Michal Miskiewicz: drums.

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Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski showcases his first-time live album, recorded two years ago at the Jazz Middelheim Festival in Belgium, in the company of his pace-setting partners: Slawomir Kurkiewicz on double bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums. On Live, Wasilewski follows the same methodology that hailed him as a spellbinding pianist whose charming jazz propagates warmness and comfort. The three musicians, all former members of the Tomasz Stanko Quartet, thank the late trumpeter on the CD booklet for ‘the inspiration as well as precious and unique experiences in music’.

Wasileswki’s collage of “Sparkle of Life” and “Sudovian Dance” opens the session with delicate reserve but diffusing light in abundance. The refined integration of breathable yet vigorous bass plucks, scintillating brushwork, and tearful pianism promotes an emotional splendor that morphs into a dance of freedom set at an unobvious tempo. The pianist's fully developed technique stands out through beautiful details, dazzling swirls, and precise chordal movements successfully anchored in low notes.

Night Train To You” is another highlight where the pianist assembles several influences. He evokes the intimacy of Bill Evans, the effervescence of Keith Jarrett and the out-of-the-box groove/tempo of Esbjorn Svensson. Here, each phrase is delivered with assertiveness and eloquence, filling an extended vamp whose spiritual tones get close to John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins. Before the epic finale, one can enjoy Miskiewicz’s exteriorization in a rich rhythmic confluence with his co-workers.

The two remaining originals are “Three Reflections”, poured out with lush delicacy, even when the melodic and rhythmic densities escalate; and “Austin”, a ballad that flows in rubato mode before holding on to a sober 4/4 tempo.

Invigorating pleasures stem from a pair of exciting covers. One of Sting’s most familiar pop songs, “Message in a Bottle”, is taken to new heights through a fluid, cool-tempered post-bop drive. The song had been included in the 2013 album Spark of Life, but here is re-contextualized and pushed forward with freeing determination and thirst for groove, featuring a jaunty bass solo with interesting rhythmic figures; a stellar excursion by the bandleader, who flies and soars with inside/outside rides; and a mature drum work that closes out the improvisations. 

The album comes to an end with Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof”, which, brought by an imaginative interpolation of bass and drums, becomes a perfect vehicle for Wasilewski’s fluttering, disorienting curls of notes, a component of his articulated commanding prowess.

The material speaks to me gracefully and the trio roses to the occasion with inventive interpretations of an excellent set of songs.

 Grade A-    [8/10]

Grade A- [8/10]

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Sparkle of Life/Sudovian Dance ► 02 - Message in a Bottle ► 04 - Night Train To You


Charles Pillow Large Ensemble - Electric Miles

Label: Mama Records, 2018

Personnel – Charles Pillow: alto and soprano sax, flutes; David Liebman: soprano sax; Colin Gordon: alto and soprano sax, flute; Luke Norris: tenor sax, clarinet; CJ Ziarniak: tenor sax; Karl Stabnau: bass clarinet; Michael Davis: trombone; Abe Nouri: trombone; Jack Courtright: trombone; Gabe Ramos: bass trombone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Charlie Carr: trumpet; Clay Jenkins: trumpet; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Julian Garvue: electric piano; Chuck Bergeron: electric bass; Mike Forfia: acoustic bass; Jared Schonig: drums. 

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Besides being a sought-after sideman in both pop and jazz genres, saxophonist Charles Pillow is also a qualified bandleader whose musical adroitness shines through on his latest work for large ensemble, aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bitches Brew and the strong heritage of the early electric period of Miles Davis’ music. 

Conveniently entitled Electric Miles, the album features amazing soloists such as saxophonist Dave Liebman and trumpeters Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins in a cross-pollination of jazz and rock with ample textural dimension. Aggregating 8 tightly structured compositions (four by Miles, three by Joe Zawinul, and one by Wayne Shorter), the program is competently handled by a 17-piece big-band comprising gifted multi-generational musicians with an unaffected ability to read and improvise.

Zawinul’s “Pharaoh’s Dance” opens with a deep-running tranquility, indicating that this music can be satisfyingly funkified with coolness and strongly boosted by legitimate solos. Pillow’s voice erupts with clarity after a short interlude that echoes trumpet riffs. Before him, it was Hagans who delivered a great solo with pure post-MIles intention.

Also penned by Zawinul and popularized by Miles, “In a Silent Way”, displays a blatant variation in the rhythmic intensity, having the inaugural docile atmosphere veering to an electrifying rock groove populated by Jared Schonig’s stupendous transition fills and Julian Garvue’s keyboard ecstasy. The drummer takes the liberty to embark on a short solo ride before concluding the piece with the rest of the band.

Rendered with grandiose counterpoint and delicious unison lines, “Bitches Brew” never boils over, except when Hagan's trumpet hits the stars. In turn, the solo-free “Sanctuary”, which honors Wayne Shorter, is filled with abundant serenity, in opposition to the relentless, outgoing moves of Miles’ “Spanish Key”, fueled with passionate improvisations from Jenkins and Pillow..

Coaxing wide dynamics with broader hooks “Black Satin” and “Yesternow” are set on fire due to Dave Liebman’s stunning flights on soprano. His discourses are designed with flashy outside efforts, lavish emotional crescendos, and brilliant resolve. While “Satin” thrives with the rhythmic magnetism of powerful bass lines and rocking drum fluxes, “Yesternow” is elegantly brought to life by a creamy alto flute.

Mr. Pillow shaped up Electric Miles with scrupulous arrangements containing fluttering horn lines and expressionistic individual solos. Everything flows with an electrifying poise. 

 Grade B+ [7/10]

Grade B+ [7/10]

Favorite Tracks:
 01 - Pharaoh’s Dance ► 04 - In a Silent Way ► 07 - Yesternow 


Rich Halley 3 - The Literature

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2018

Personnel - Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Clyde Reed: double bass; Carson Halley: drums.

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Tenorist Rich Halley, a native of Portland, releases The Literature, his first album of covers in 20 years. With bassist Clyde Reed and his drummer son Carson Halley, he homages musicians who influenced him in a career that spans almost 40 years. The powerhouse trio plunges directly into the eclectic jazz of Miles Davis with “Little Willie Leaps”, a groundbreaking oeuvre where Rich’s effulgent tone resonates fabulously. Navigating avant-jazz logic sequences with enjoyable expansions and contractions, the trio takes the blues as their final destination. The genre is also brought up on Ornette Coleman’s playful “Broad Way Blues”, Jimmie Rodgers’ vintage number “High Powered Mama”, and Charlie Mingus’ “Pussy Cat Dues”, another blues-saturated shout primarily furnished with free instrumental rambles.

The burning “Law Years” is another one by Ornette, in which the saxophonist initially echoes the bassist’s phrases but concludes it in unison. Without surprising, he borrows two famous pieces from Monk, putting his own stamp on them. “Misterioso” is given a vagrant impression as he improvises over a diffuse rhythm that later gains a Latin touch; in turn, the snake-charming “Brilliant Corners” is shouted with honking low notes of considerable rhythmic impact in an avant-gardish setting that integrates a hard-swinging gush.

Also swinging, Sun Ra’s early composition “Kingdom of Not” is marked by an irreverence that stems from the saxophonist’s inventive lines, whereas “Mood Indigo”, a classic ballad by Duke Ellington, has its soothing melodies sliding over the supportive, malleable rhythmic conduction of pizzicato bass and murmuring brushed drums.

The bright percussive allure of the drummer stands out on “Chano Pozo”, a composition by Mongo Santamaria that merges jazz and Latin, and on “Motherless Children”, which cheerfully revives the early country/folk music of The Carter Family.

Although not choosing a tune from Charlie Parker, Halley imprints a vinyl of Bird Symbols on the cover of his album, another way of paying tribute to the bop giant. Comfortably straddling the familiar and the adventurous, the trio packs their infectious playing with grit, tenacity, and explorative vein.

 Grade B+ [7/10]

Grade B+ [7/10]

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Little Willie Leaps ► 07 - Brilliant Corners ► 12 - Law Years


WeFreeStrings - Fulfillment

Label: self produced, 2018

Personnel – Melanie Dyer: viola; Charles Burnham: violin; Gwen Laster: violin; Tomeka Reid: cello; Ken Filiano: bass; Brandon Lopez: bass; Michael Wimberly: djembe and trap set.

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Combining written lines and spontaneous interjections with expertise, the string sextet WeFreeStrings, named after Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s album We Free Kings, showcases five original compositions and six ‘paraphrases’ (collective improvisations that pay tribute to important free thinkers and artists) on their debut recording, Fulfillment. The classically trained violist Melanie Dyer spearheads the group, which effortlessly provides a certain degree of avant-gardism within an organized musical setting. Violinists Charles Burnham and Gwen Laster, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassists Ken Filiano and Brandon Lopez, who take turns, and percussionist Michael Wimberly, catch up on Dyer’s interesting personal ideas, turning them into positive collective synergy.

Multi-toned statements, lyric and hopeful, set “Hope & Fulfillment” in motion. The resultant chamber reflection on womanhood takes a more joyful direction as the tune advances. Also waltzing and centered on the womanhood topic, “I’m Still Here” employs both diatonic and atonal segments, featuring efficiently smooth improvisations.

Evoking the rhythm of Harlem, “So(u)lstice Song” is brought up with tension before embarking on a Herbie Nichols style that comprises a bump-free swinging rhythm, intelligible melodic lines (unison or isolated), and a deep sense of freedom. 

Inspired by Sonny and Linda Sharrock’s “Black Woman”, “After Linda, Say Her Name” sets a folk melody against flickering texture while the band members say the names of black women who tragically died due to police/mob violence in the US. 

Bayaka/Yangissa”, a traditional Batwa song from the Congo rainforest, denotes a lovely blend of world music and avant-jazz, whose spirituality and rhythmic flow encourage everyone to fight and pray for a better world. Tempo is shifted with ease in the last two and a half minutes, with a groove in five supplanting the prior cadence in six, which later regains the command. This particular piece demonstrates some affinity with violinist Billy Bang, one of the free artists revered on the short, collectively composed ’paraphrases’. Sun Ra, Leroy Jenkins, and Ornette Coleman are other honorees whose artistic impact inspired moods ranging from sinister laments to exultations to extremely percussive tracts with chirping puncture and colorful tonalities.

Fulfillment is a solid first effort from a promising, socially conscious ensemble that knows which direction to take. 

    Grade B+ [7/10]

Grade B+ [7/10]

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Hope & Fulfillment ► 04 - So(u)lstice Song ► 10 - Bayaka/Yangissa


Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Live at the Village Vanguard-Vol. 1

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Miles Okazaki: electric guitar; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Sean Rickman: drums.

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How infectious and original is the music of M-Base disciple and pioneer Steve Coleman! The alto saxophonist/composer has been a true creative force on the jazz scene for more than three decades, contributing with great recordings where he showcases striking new ways of improvising along with an impressive ability to play with texture and mood.

On the trail of last year's Morphogenesis, orchestrated with the extended Natal Eclipse ensemble, the saxophonist releases the double CD-set Live at the Village Vanguard-Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets) with his most emblematic group, The Five Elements, featuring Johnathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on electric guitar, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. 

The band not only brings the necessary tension but also illumination on several tunes of the first set, starting with “Horda” (from the previous album), superiorly driven by a spasmodic rhythm section that underpins powerful staccato notes expelled by the frontline. Coleman overcomes conventions and transcends in an inflamed improvisation before embarking on unison lines with Finlayson, who also gleams in his own idiomatic style.

Full-throttle riffs resonate on “Djw”, inspiring a pressurized funky thrust that never loses intensity. After Okazaki’s congruent exploration, coordinated with timbral perspicacity, Coleman forges ahead in his statements by infusing incredible patterned cadences and steep accentuations. By the end, Rickman puts his flexible percussive technique at the service of the band through colorful attacks.

Slow-moving clouds are gently portrayed on “idHw” and Bunky Green’s “Little Girl I’ll Miss You”, here gradually layered with the sequential addition of drums, guitar, and then bass, flowing with a slightly Latin feel.

Marvelous intricacies and rich details are detectable, even when the groove is primal, like on “twf” or “Figit Time”, a jazz-funk piece written by Doug Hammond. This latter tune keeps bouncing oddly before touching the spiritual with Coltranean inspiration in its final segment. 

Nfr” is a legitimate swinging explosion of avant-funk and neo-bop that convinces and captivates with enraptured sensitivity. It anticipates the arrival of the closing tune, “Change of Guard” (first recorded in 86), where Coleman even scats at a blazing tempo and then slows down the pace to a swinging 4/4 finale.

Even avowing form and structure, the sense of freedom/adventure is everywhere. Coleman excites the listeners, constantly stepping outside comfort zones through unpredictable arrangements suffused with spiraling movements and a free-funk infectiousness that dazzles.

 Grade A- [8/10]

Grade A- [8/10]

Favorite Tracks (first set): 
01 – Horda ► 02 – Djw ► 07 - Nfr


Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson - Temporary Kings

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson: piano.

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Tenorist Mark Turner and pianist Ethan Iverson, two resplendent titans of the current jazz scene, join forces for an intimate outing. Temporary Kings aggregates nine compositions - six by Iverson, two by Turner and one by Warne Marsh - that, besides bristling with competence, allow for space, reflection, and expansion. Ten years after meeting for the first time in New York, the two distinguished players and members of the Billy Hart Quartet release their first duo album on the ECM label, opening with the introspective wistfulness of Iverson’s “Lugano”, whose melodic traits recall “Autumn in New York”. Turner’s ethereal contribution tints everything with a celestial blue, while Iverson, a marvelous accompanist, creates intriguing textures, contributing for the permeation of yellow sun rays through the scattered soft clouds. The title refers to the Swiss city where the album was recorded.

The title track offers great contrapuntal sections with folk-like melodies running on top of stunning chords colored with contrasting tonalities. Iverson’s initially spacious solitary incursion is transformed in patterns of pointillistic notes as soon as Turner starts to explore unanticipated melodic trajectories, which continue in a brisker way on the luminous “Turner’s Chamber of Unlikely Delights”. Composed by Iverson, this chamber piece doesn’t hide jazz, classical, and even pop influences, evoking at times the successful aesthetic of Marsh/Tristano. However, a bona fide tribute to these two musicians arrives with a strong swinging feel on Marsh’s “Dixie’s Dilemma”, a bop-derived study with the same harmonic progression of “All The Things You Are”, frank bluesy lines, and propelled by Iverson’s nimble bass conduction on the left side.

The game of timbres becomes particularly noticeable on the final section of “Unclaimed Freight”, a blues with a scent of third stream, whose theme blossoms through repetitive phrases expressed in unison. 

Delivered with a cool, quiet precision, “Yesterday’s Bouquet” is a lyrical ballad that sounds more ambiguous than Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, despite some similarities between them. Iverson digs it alone, finding rich sonic palettes within an interesting arrangement.

Turner’s “Myron’s World” kicks off with a radiating saxophone introduction that shines further with the emergence of the pianist’s intuitive steps. Here, the mood comes closer to the snug post-bop of Kenny Wheeler/John Taylor, in a mix of charm and complexity.

The 3/4 melancholy of “Seven Points” is another product of Turner’s mind, closing out the record with a dreamy ambiance, equally graceful and intriguing.

Temporary Kings is a guileless jazz session whose bi-directional moves converge and diverge with an astounding conviction.

 Grade  A-  [8/10]

Grade A- [8/10]

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Lugano ► 06 - Unclaimed Freight ► 09 - Seven Points


Jeff Siege Siegel Quartet - London Live

Label: ARC, 2018

Personnel - Erica Lindsay: tenor saxophone; Francesca Tanksley: piano; Uli Langthaler: bass; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel: drums.

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Drummer Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, a sculptor of rhythm with a tendency to spiritual post-bop and gospel-inflected modalism, showcases London Live, an 8-track album recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on the last night of a 2010 European quartet tour. The band features habitual co-workers Erica Lindsay on tenor saxophone and Francesca Tanksley on piano, both contributing with originals, plus Vienna-based bassist Uli Langthaler.

Lindsay-penned “Meet Me at The Station” anchors in a radiant modal jazz, evoking the work of Coltrane, McCoy, and Chico Freeman. The piece has Siegel’s effervescent drumming highlighting ride cymbal attacks and evincing a natural ability to swing distinctively. The quartet maintains the Coltrane invocations and spiritual connotations on Tanksley’s exuberant “A New Freedom”, in which the saxophonist embarks on circular agitation and angular figures, having the pianist building harmonic blocks with perfect pedal-points. Defining the layer beneath with magical tension, Tanksley works together with the bandleader and Langthaler, who both improvise after employing skittering percussive methods and grooving pizzicatos, respectively.

If Siegel’s “Art’s Message” follows a blues-based modal form to honor the inspiring drummer Art Blakey, then “Crescent Sound” opens with the bandleader dancing on the toms before adding cymbals in an Elvin Jones-inspired drum solo. A brief hard-swinging passage holds up Lindsay’s rhythmically inventive improv fueled by crisp exclamations, which totally come to a halt when Tanksley takes the lead. Having just bass as accompaniment, she becomes unpredictably bluesy prior to the reinstatement of the avant-gardish short theme. 
 
Tranquility is found not only on Coltrane’s “Peace On Earth”, which opens with a bass solo, but also on “M Song”, a ballad Siegel wrote for his wife, implementing harmonic movements typical from jazz standards.

With the exceptional level of interplay that characterize them, the band renders the African American spiritual “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me”, arranged by tenorist Arthur Rhames, with rock-steady tonalities and a riveting pose.

Even if not so strong as last year's King of Xhosa, London Live has an uplifting quality deriving from a rich combination of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic senses that also shows the generous and thoughtful temperament of Siegel’s compositional style.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Meet Me at The Station ► 02 - A New Freedom ► 04 - I Want Jesus To Walk With Me


Gilad Hekselman - Ask For Chaos

Label: Hexophonic/Motema Music, 2018

Personnel - Gilad Hekselman: guitar; Aaron Parks: keyboards; Rick Rosato: bass; Jonathan Pinson: drums; Kush Abadey: drums.

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The demand for and accomplishment of New York-based jazz guitar stylist Gilad Hekselman, a native from Israel, is a predicted reward for his enormous talent.

Comprising 10 striking originals brought into play by two distinct new trios, Ask For Chaos is to be released on his own imprint Hexophonic Music in partnership with Motema Music. Following the classic guitar formation, The gHex Trio features bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jonathan Pinson, whereas the adventurous bass-free ZuperOctave has Aaron Parks on keyboards and Kush Abadey on drums. Strategically, Hekselman interspersed the work of both bands so surprising effects hailed from the contrasting sounds could be a constant.

The album kicks off in ZuperOctave-mode with “Prolog00001101”, a 23-second exercise on guitar pointillism mixed with a binary-patterned electronic vibe that clearly alludes to digital technology. This piece serves as an introduction to “VBlues”, an asymmetric blues with round and methodical funky bass lines and conspicuous hi-hat monitoring the pulse. Displaying his terrific technique, Hekselman naturally builds a highly developed vocabulary with an incredible sound and extremely tasteful guitar effects. Although the melodic paths of the blues throughout the theme are easily identifiable, the piece sounds unconventionally agreeable through shifting tempos, hauntingly scintillating chord changes, and the alternation of passages that range from strenuous to delicate.

The other pieces delivered by ZuperOctave are the well-cooked “Tokyo Cookie”, where pinpointed keyboard and guitar sounds give its place to a blend of acid funk and electronica before veering again toward a prog rock direction; “Stumble”, a downbeat item based on Wayne Shorter’s “Fall”, which still allows the shinning rays of the sun crossing through its texture; “Home To You”, an enchanting song harmonically driven by Parks’ tonal chords and with improvisational guitar-piano interspersion; and the lifting “Clap Clap”, a crossover jazz celebration with Metheny-esque passages and an impactful percussive work by Abadey.

The gHex Trio starts with the hopeful ballad “It Will Be Better”, featuring Rosato’s hefty bass solo over a moderately intensive yet texturally rich guitar-drums accompaniment; the sparkling Brazilian-jazz of “Milton”, a tribute to the musical genius of Milton Nascimento; the folk-tinged “Little Song For You”; and the country pop feel of “Do Re Mi Fa Sol”, whose indelible melody can be easily whistled.

The two trios cohabit the same space seamlessly, creating a diverse program outlined with fresh artistic ideas. This is definitely a career peak for Hekselman, an already consummate young guitarist whose fulfilling music consolidates rock-steady rhythmic engagement and singing quality. 

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - VBlues ► 04 - Tokyo Cookie ► 07 - Home To You


Carol Liebowitz / Bill Payne - SpiderWebMandala

Label: Line Art Records, 2018

Personnel - Carol Liebowitz: piano; Bill Payne: clarinet.

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Pianist Carol Liebowitz and clarinetist Bill Payne show their uncurbed appetite for sonic exploration in a spontaneously improvised setting. The amorphous nine tunes on their new album, Spiderwebmandala, were recorded live at Albuquerque’s Output Performance Space in May, 2016. 

American poet Mark Webber, besides curator of the concerts, enriches “Spiderweb Mandala Flower Explosion Poem: Drishti” with his confident, hypnotic words: ‘I do not ask you to accept me, I ask you to release me…’, which sound ideal for a film noir or any enigma directed by David Cronenberg. Quite attractive in its restlessness, the piece is an intermittent boil that never escalates into a proper climax but rather scouts striking chordal movements, an interspersion of incisive runs and facile melodic susurrations, as well as multiple sharp moves coming from both instruments. Webber also narrates “Mixtures of Aroma in the Smoke” with an unhurried pace and insouciant posture. The course of action gradually leads us to places where the lyrical and the turbulent cohabit. 

Dancing to the “Desert Dance” may be hard due to its sinuous contortions and asymmetries, but it's definitely doable. The soft and tender clarinet goes along with the dreamy piano textures on certain occasions, yet, colliding here and there with the vehemence of Liebowitz's harmonic dissonances.

If “Secrets” upholds communication by having complex yet never meandering pianistic textures and fragments responding to the clarinet’s melodies, then the dramatic “Tempest” becomes one of the most satisfying collective improvisations on the album, offering rapid clarinet squawks on top of lower and middle-register mosaics of pianistic energy.

Expertly controlled in intensity, mood and timbre, “Hidden Canyon” contains floating labyrinthine lines over whether delicate or gusty harmonic drives delivered in a broad registrar range. The skittish “Vanishing Point” encloses all the above in its entangling parts, but also has Payne probing several rhythmic figures with a wider sense of melody.

Spiderwebmandala is a purely explorative duo album that, without transcending, should be well received by the avant-jazz communities.

         Grade  B-

        Grade B-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Spiderweb Mandala Flower Explosion Poem ► 05 - Tempest ► 09 - Vanishing Point


Trygve Seim - Helsinki Songs

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Trygve Seim: tenor and soprano saxophones; Kristjan Randalu: piano; Mats Eilertsen: double bass; Markku Ounaskari: drums.

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Norwegian reed player Trygve Seim puts a new quartet together with Kristian Randalu on piano, Mats Eilertsen on bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums.  Most of the material on Helsinki Songs, his eighth album as a leader/co-leader for the ECM label, was written in the capital of Finland, conveying a lyrical sentiment that gravitates toward the contemplative. Throughout the 11 originals, autumnal and wintry tones are combined in gracious perfection.
 
The crystalline opener, “Sol’s Song”, emulates ravishing landscapes that take over our imagination thanks to the efficacious integration of relaxed melodies, simple pop-derived harmony, and a velvety rhythm, in a replication of Jan Garbarek’s space/time aesthetic.

Sweetly waltzing at its core, “Helsinki Song” is another idyllic trip to a forlorn, untouched piece of nature with no peaks nor valleys. Eilertsen never abandons completely the rhythmic figure of his bass ostinato, working together with the disciplined harmonic progressions of the piano to sustain the lethargic unison phrasing by Seim and Randalu. The Estonian pianist was emotionally catchy in his inventive improvisation.

Unfolding like Eastern laments, “New Beginning” and “Sorrow March” show deep spiritual intention. The former develops from a static course of action, created by low-toned pedal suspensions and effective mallet drumming technique, to an unclouded ballad; the latter, as the name suggests, is a melancholic meditation sparked off by Ounaskari’s amiable snare gnarls and cymbal colors. In turn, the pastoral reverie in “Katya’s Dream” took inspiration from Stravinsky.

You won’t find the quartet only creating feathery moments of pure reflection like on “Ciaconna Per Embrik” and “Birthday Song (For Mats Eilertsen)” - nostalgically penned for the bassist’s 40th anniversary, but also ensuring bolder adventures while stretching musical boundaries like on “Randalusian Folk Song”, a piece driven by beautiful drum attacks and depth of groove, and the surprising “Yes Please Both”, a short Ornette-inspired composition that boasts a malleable foundation through expressively plucked bass statements and responsive drumming. A glorious ascendant movement from Seim produces a great point of entrance while Randalu supplements through audacious swirls that burn with melodic engagement.

Stimulating in its quietness and hauntingly poignant in its textures, Helsinki Songs favors slow-drag tempos and embraces a memorably dusky lyricism, exposing an attractive anti-climax nature. It’s an endearing work by Trygve Seim, who definitely deserves wider attention.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
03 - New Beginning ► 06 - Sorrow March ► 08 - Randalusian Folk Song


Tord Gustavsen Trio - The Other Side

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Tord Gustavsen: piano; Sigurd Hole: acoustic bass; Jarle Vespestad: drums.

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Generating deeply moving sounds through a close interplay, the Tord Gustavsen Trio, inactive since 2007, takes us to The Other Side with staggering new originals and admirable renditions of traditional songs and classical pieces, including three by J.S. Bach. The Norwegian pianist and composer plays alongside his longtime drummer Jarle Vespestad and the new bassist Sigurd Hole, two excellent accompanists who provide him with all the rhythmic sustenance and enchanting texture he needs to make this one of the most gratifying releases of his career.

The opening title, “The Tunnel”, shows Gustavsen and his partners plunging into tranquil, limpid waters that reflect their ability to create beautiful, intimate moods with a ample musical spaciousness. The graceful pianism stresses the poignant primacy of the melody while the autonomous pulse emphasizes it even more.

The piece that follows, “Kirken, Den Er Et Gammelt Hus”, was penned by the 19th-century Norwegian composer Ludvig Mathias Lindeman and comes to life through a radiant bass intro. It maintains a haunting sophistication in sound as the folk intonations increase. The melodies, true poetic declamations, have a remarkably soothing effect, soaring on top of an undeviating pulse that never ceases to underline diligence, unity, and generosity.

If “Re-Melt” is a sensitive 3/4 composition with a few occasional Jarrett-esque rhythmic accents, then, I would call “Duality”, a pure, free, and minimalist improvised meditation where scattered tom-tom initiatives, gliding bow work, and profound melodic inspirations carve out abundant room for us to picture immeasurable, resplendent landscapes.

The influence of classical music is unconcealed on tunes like the traditional “Ingen Vinner Frem Til Den Evige R”, a parade of deep-toned textures that make up a mournful love song; “Taste and See”, which I can imagine being sung by Sting with the same expressionism of “My One and Only Love”; and the soft-as-a-whisper “Jesu Meine Freude - Jesus, Det En”, where the interpretation of a chorale by Bach splices with a traditional song, falling in between the liturgical and the nocturnal. 

The downbeat yet fluent “O Traurigkeit” is another Bach’s hymn, which, despite taciturn in tone, is rich in emotion and solid in texture. It’s a good example on how the trio puts delicate fragility and tensile creativity in the same context.

Returning to a slow triple meter, they dig the sedate title track with the habitual curvy lines that characterize Gustavsen’s music, but it is on the introspective “Curves” that they get closer to perfection. This is a magnificent illustration of an extramundane world filled with bliss, tenderness, and sensitivity.

There are no extravagances but plenty of utterly beautiful moments that take you to another dimension. The record is soulful and inspired, and Gustavsen and his bandmates are all refined musical taste, originality, and perception.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Tunnel ► 02 - Kirken, Den Er Et Gammelt Hus ► 12 – Curves


Matt Lavelle & Reggie Sylvester - Retrograde

Label: ESP Disk, 2018

Personnel - Matt Lavelle: trumpet, flugelhorn, clarinet; Reggie Sylvester: drums.

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Trumpeter/clarinetist Matt Lavelle and percussionist Reggie Sylvester, two former members of the Bern Nix Quartet, have been active participants in the New York avant-jazz scene. Lavelle was a student of Ornette Coleman and recorded with William Parker, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, and Jameel Moondoc. The latter two also played with Sylvester, who has saxophonists Charles Gayle and James Brandon Lewis on his list of collaborators.

Retrograde, the duo album they are now releasing on ESP Disk, was envisioned as a sonic interstellar journey that continues Interstellar Space, Coltrane/Ali’s outstanding enterprise. It’s a risky move that couldn’t have been more successful. Taking alternative routes and orbits to reach five other planets and one star, they invite us to sonic realms where the gravity varies according to the different sites.

Uranus” is their first stop and the sounds brought from there are marvelous. They assemble cuíca hums, soft and intelligible flugelhorn melodies that are later expanded into circular or motivic movements with occasional perplexing runs, and a percussive approach that may rely on the simplicity of a single drum stroke or on the energetic flux of multiple cymbal colors.

The following destination is “Neptune”, another icy planet, whose sounds are more scorching than frigid. Devised as an odd dance with rhythmic discontinuances, it’s slightly more aggressive than its predecessor. Well backed by the percussionist, the clarinetist blows emphatic lines, whether creating sweet or ferocious passages that are brought to an equilibrium through a gritty avant-jazz facility.

The self-restraint “Pluto” starts off with dry and wet percussion thumps and cavernous cuíca timbres. Progressing at its own leisure, the tune finds unimposing meows that get further momentum when Lavelle makes his clarinet descend to lower registers.

The thermometer reaches high levels on “Mercury”, a torrid experience with heavy trumpet-percussion crossfire. The undimmed rhythmic figure placed at its center follows the direction of the blues while Sylvester’s rhythmic adherence feels very supportive of the force and ardor that comes out of the melodic construction.
If “The Sun” attaches the rumble and wail of the clarinet to resonant spanking cymbals, “The Earth” blossoms with jauntiness while funneling trumpet perambulations into a pop/rock rhythm that grows in syncopation.

Highly energizing, Retrograde is a mature conceptual work; an intense set of music that shines with brilliance. It was dedicated to late guitarist Bern Nix.

         Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Uranus ► 02 - Neptune ► 04 - Mercury 


Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams - Vanished Gardens

Label: Blue Note Records, 2018

Personnel - Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute; Lucinda Williams: vocals; Bill Frisell: guitar; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar and dobro; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

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Exceptional saxophonist Charles Lloyd reconnects with The Marvels - Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums - in order to release their conjoined sophomore album, Vanished Gardens, on the Blue Note imprint. For this work, the band summoned singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams, who lends her voice to half the tunes on the ten-track album.

Among the songwriting credits for this work we find not only Lloyd and Williams but also Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, and Tommy Wolf/Fran Landesman. The latter’s “Ballad of the Sad Men”, a tune popularized by Roberta Flack and instrumentally rendered by Keith Jarrett, is amiably cooked with Lloyd jumping in halfway to blow our minds with his sui generis vocabulary. This strategy is also put into effect on “Monk’s Mood”, a marvelous duet with Frisell, who prepares the ground for the saxophonist’s musical enlightenment with a relaxed introduction. This song is the closest they get to jazz since the project’s philosophy falls more into a blend of country, folk, blues and rock genres.

Take Lloyd’s brand new “Defiant”, for example. Molded as a country jazz song, it explores the lyrical quality of the melody with reflexive intuition, taking us to vast green landscapes swept by a smooth, breezy wind. If the sturdiness of Rogers’ bass lines feels great with the guitars soaring atop, then the title track pushes us to more explorative adventures. An effect-infused guitar riff borrows some influence from traditional Japanese and electronic music alike, while the band interlocks it with a country-rock tinge. Lloyd breaks free with avant-garde ambiguity and flanked by a compound of stellar riffs and voicings on top of a static rhythm. After flickering guitar waves and a rhythmic decrescendo, he concludes the tune alone.

Sporting interesting timbral idiosyncrasies, Williams is confident and strong on “Dust”, an original in which she shows off brittle and compact tones in the lower and higher registers, respectively. While she sings with deep sentiment, we occasionally hear Lloyd’s fills in the background. He phrases with elliptical elasticity, fervor and sophistication. Also from Ms. Williams’ repertoire we have “Ventura”, a Tom Waits-esque 4/4 pop song; “We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around”, a 3/4 country pop tune with introductory Eastern sounds by Lloyd; and “Unsuffer Me”, which recalls the demonstrative country rock style of Patti Smith, here delivered with a bluesy feel.

The album is complete with one of those magnificent flute-driven blues by Lloyd, “Blues For Langston and LaRue”, and a soulful rendition in trio of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”, beautifully sung by Williams and adapted to befit her style.

Drawing inspiration from the roots of American music, the band effortlessly coat these songs with a charming charisma. With The Marvels establishing an unshakable bridge between styles, Lloyd/Williams collaboration is indeed successful.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Defiant ► 03 - Vanished Gardens ► 09 - Monk’s Mood


Jason Robinson - Resonant Geographies

Label: PfMentum Records, 2018

Personnel - Jason Robinson: tenor and alto saxophones, flute; JD Parran: alto saxophone, contra-alto clarinet, bass flute; Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Oscar Noriega: bass clarinet, clarinet, alto saxophone; Michael Dessen: trombone; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Bill Lowe: tuba, bass trombone; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Drew Gress: bass; George Schuller: drums; Ches Smith: drums, glockenspiel.

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Jason Robinson is a sure-footed reedist, composer, bandleader and improviser, who might not be as prolific as some of the ten peers that join him in this seven-movement suite recording, but he definitely knows where he wants to take his Resonant Geographies. All tracks on the album have different sonic topologies as they were inspired by specific locations and memories. 
 
Robinson’s unaccompanied saxophone suggests a sort of chant in the preliminary statements of ”Facing East”, a jaunty post-bop imagination that has 1981 Presidio as picturesque stimulus. However, instead of following that approach, he exerts circular and elliptical movements, multiphonics, and configures nimble ostinatos before embarking in extended unison phrases with the horn section. His inflamed, fluent, groove-inflected solo finds room to breathe on top of a percolating swinging rhythm. He is preceded by Marty Ehrlich on alto saxophone, and followed by guitarist Liberty Ellman, also a fabulous accompanist, who picks up the tail of his solo to give a great speech tinted by vigorous horn fills. Going in an opposite direction, “Facing West” doesn’t hide Henry Threadgill’s blatant influences in a smart orchestration that has tuba, trombone, guitar, and shuffled drum sounds as key textural elements.

Sonically picturing Virgin Creek in 1996, “Confluence” challenges our ears with intricate accents and rhythm juxtapositions, dissolving into a frantic swing that rolls forward after Drew Gress’ extrovert bass solo. Robinson conducts a soulful, boppish statement with invigorating excitement until a vamp spotlights Ches Smith, who innately infuses ritualistic Afro thumps. 

Borrowing the Afro groovy moods of Nubians of Plutonia by Sun Ra, “Futures Unimagined” moves with an irresistible, temperate rhythm, and is spiced by sinuous melodies commanded by flute. The single improviser here is Bill Lowe, who pervades his muted bass trombone digression with hoots.

Dreaming” exposes a 3-minute introductory dance for reeds and woodwinds before setting off in a collective journey whose caravan pace allows the full range of JD Parran’s clarinet to standout. The pace is accelerated in the final section, ending up as a whimsical snare-driven parade.

The final piece, “Outcropping”, is a searching expedition that, besides thriving with fidgeting improvisations by Oscar Noriega on bass clarinet and Michael Dessen on trombone, comes energetically charged with intense percussive permutations between Smith and Schuller.

Although flooded with aesthetic influences, Jason Robinson preserves a strong artistic identity through captivating arrangements of his original material. There is certainly jazz tradition here, but also a blissful sense of contemporary vitality.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Facing East ► 02 - Futures Unimagined ► 05 - Facing West


Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas' Sound Prints - Scandal

Label: Greenleaf Music, 2018

Personnel – Joe Lovano: tenor and soprano saxophones; Dave Douglas: trumpet; Lawrence Fields: piano; Linda May Han Ho: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

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Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano, two incredible composers/arrangers and stalwarts in the art of playing trumpet and saxophone, respectively, co-lead the Wayne Shorter-inspired quintet Sound Prints, for which they composed original material. Their high caliber rhythm section - pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Ho, and drummer Joey Baron - spends time creating intuitive bounces that would better serve the soloists while solidifying rapport. Scandal was released on Douglas' Greenleaf Music imprint and marks the band’s first studio session, following Sound Prints - Live at Monterey Jazz Festival, released on Blue Note Records in 2015.

The album’s opener is Douglas’ “Dream State”, a 5/4-metered piece whose magnificent groove underpins a pungent, gospel-inflected motif uttered with conjoint twin-like sympathy by the horn alliance. Subsequently, it becomes two separate lines that burst in a soulful combination of timbre and vocabulary. The trumpeter shows off his wide range and authority while the saxophonist engages in those inimitable, sinuous phrases that are as strapping as they are dizzying.

On Lovano’s bop-fueled “High Noon” and “The Corner Tavern”, the quintet dwells in a state of buoyant elegance. If the former swings uptempo, then the latter conquers with a calypso-like groove, featuring the horn players exchanging improvised lines with edgy moves and logic sequence. Han Ho and Fields also show their affirming soloing skills before re-entering the final theme section, while Baron edits his percussive jabs to wonderful moderation.

Full Sun” and “Full Moon” are contrasting in tone and essence since the former, in opposition to the lyric, spacious, and quizzical latter, is an elated post-bop ride typically structured with flexible solos from bass, saxophone, and trumpet. 

Shorter’s “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” and “JuJu” are equal parts inventive and reverent, and the band brings them back to life with very satisfying rhythmic ideas and melodic peculiarities. Shades of the honored saxophonist are also present on the beautiful title track, which adds some Miles and Coltrane to the mix, and also on the dreamy ballad “Ups and Downs”, both products of Douglas’ creative mind.

This is a great comeback from Sound Prints, whose effervescent and sagacious playing sounds pretty damn good.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dream State ► 02 - Full Sun ► 09 - Full Moon