Pete McCann - Pay For It On The Other Side

Label: McCannic Music, 2018

Personnel – Pete McCann: guitar; John O’Gallagher: tenor saxophone; Henry Hey: keyboards; Matt Clohesy: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Guitarist Pete McCann has been heralded as a convincing voice of the contemporary jazz guitar world, showing the skills to combine hard rock, blues, and post-bop in a legitimate manner. His latest record, Pay For It On The Other Side, is an extremely versatile work that features some of the brightest musicians on the scene, cases of saxophonist John O’Gallagher, keyboardist Henry Hey, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Mark Ferber. Together, they bring ten McCann compositions to life.

Suffused with those vigorous energies that no one is indifferent, the title track is a pressurized exercise with a steamy rhythm and temporary swinging verve. The mercurial improvisations have its starting point with McCann, who throws ardent phrases like flaming arrows, and then proceeds with O’Gallagher, owner of a portentous technique that allows him to create mightily articulated phrases of irrefutable quality. They deliver again on “Is April Okay?”, a contrafact of the jazz standard “I’ll Remember April”, which, following a similar style and structure, also features a final vamp so that Ferber can put his personal signature in a bouncing rhythmic declaration. The only variance in regard to the opening piece is Hey, who enriches the latter composition with spot-on flurries within an elegant phrasing.

Guitarist and pianist team up for a blistering collective improvisation on “Cookout”, a flamboyant piece with a scintillating bebop tempo, while the overt blues is exerted on “Mud Flap”, an urban Scofield-esque piece that brims with distorted guitar riffs and an attractive keyboard groove. Also, “Floor Three” is a 12-bar blues in six, which, despite displaying McCann and Hey in great shape, is completely shaken by O’Gallagher, who pours his guts out with a fiery solo.

Recalling Stevie Wonder in some of its passages, “Yonder” is drenched in R&B and soul-pop and features McCann playing acoustic guitar. He reutilizes this instrument on “Indemnity”, a delicate ballad.

Advocating for versatility, the band mutates completely on pieces like “Nikhil”, an Eastern-influenced song that also draws from the prog rock genre to homage the classical Indian sitar player Nikhil Banerjee; “Polygons”, a beautifully intriguing rock sensation that flows with a 5/4 feel and features the bandleader in a powerful metal-like solo; and “Conventional Wisdom”, an energetic jazz funk that closes out the album with wha-wha effect and a progressive jazz touch.

Exploring the full range of possibilities, McCann shows a fierce sense of independence regardless of the numerous styles that influence his compositions. His skilled bandmates provide the right elasticity for his music to thrive with focus, brio, and motivation.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Pay For It On The Other Side ► 06 - Polygons ► 09 - Floor Three


Davy Mooney & Ko Omura - Benign Strangers

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Davy Mooney: guitar; John Ellis: saxophones and clarinets; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Matt Clohesy: bass; Ko Omura: drums.

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American guitarist Davy Mooney and Tokyo-born drummer Ko Omura first met in 2012 in Japan, acknowledging right away a strong musical chemistry. They gigged in the subsequent couple of years and recently have decided to release their first album together on the Sunnyside Records. Contributing five compositions each, the two artists are in the command of a flexible quintet of rising-stars, including John Ellis on saxophones and clarinets, Glenn Zaleski on piano, and Matt Clohesy on bass.

The title Benign Strangers refers to the fact that Omura, who returned to Tokyo after living in the US and Australia, only met the other members of the group last January in New York, right before the album has been recorded.

The album’s opener is the title cut, whose theme's beautiful melodicism, mostly carried out in unison, sticks to the empathic rhythmic bond established between Clohesy and Omura. The latter, whose press rolls and transition fills spark in color, finds extra room to shine in a final vamp devised to absorb his free creativity.

The benign nature of Omura’s compositions is observable on titles such as “Subconscious Partner”, which stresses subtly nuanced rhythmic variations; “Unimagined Virtues”, a Zen-like meditation that advances with the supple propulsion of the tabla; “Hiraeth”, a polished hymn hooked by the quivering, marching steps of the snare drum; and the polyphonic closing piece “29th Road”, named for a street in suburban Mumbai.

Equally skilled and clever in the way he composes, Mooney proves me no wrong with numbers like “Shady Shores”, whose melodic statement flourishes with interesting rhythmic accents; the fluent “Polly Pulse”, which progresses through challenging undercurrents and syncopated rhythms; and “The Heights”, a carrier of modern post-bop energy further elevated by Ellis’ bass clarinet grooves and Coltranean saxophone lines. More reflective in their essences are “Dim”, a richly harmonized setting dipped in fluffy clouds, and “In This Balance of Time”, initially a medium-slow 5/4 effort that shifts without obstacles, spotlighting Clohesy in a jaunty pizzicato solo over a shrewd guitar comping and brushed drumming. The roles are inverted when the guitarist makes his personal statement right before Ellis wraps up the tune, materializing great rhythmic and melodic ideas into flawlessly descriptive enunciations.

Throughout this work, made of both unfettered collectivism and creative individualism, there’s a constant search for harmony and consensus in preference to clash and friction. Besides likable, the listenings are very accessible.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – In This Balance of Time ► 08 – Polly Pulse ► 09 - The Heights


Dwiki Dharmawan - Rumah Batu

Label: MoonJune Records, 2018

Personnel - Dwiki Dharmawan: acoustic piano; Nguyen Lê: guitar; Carles Benavent: bass guitar; Aaron Stavi: upright bass; Asaf Sirkis: drums + guests.

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Indonesian keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan teams up with the great French guitarist of Vietnamese descent, Nguyen Lê (Paolo Fresu, Uri Caine) in Rumah Batu, his sixth record for the eclectic MoonJune Records. Maintaining his world fusion style vividly alive, the pianist summons the Spanish flamenco bass guitarist Carles Benavent as well as his regular foundation builders, double bassist Aaron Stavi and drummer Asaf Sirkis. Throughout the program, which features six Dharmawan originals and two traditional Indonesian compositions, there are several contributions of guest musicians whose individual expressiveness gives a distinctive touch to each tune.

The premise of “Rintak Rebana” pictures peaceful landscapes, sharply designed by the harmonious coalition formed by the rhythm section and Sa’at Syah’s suling flute. Meanwhile, the tune evolves into a progressive world jazz covered with traditional melodies and impassioned rhythmic textures brought to life by the percussionists Ade Rudiana, Teuku Hariansya, and Indra Maulana Keubitbit. Then the band departs to a rocking harmonic convergence that sustains Lê’s high-powered improv. The bandleader is also exemplary in his intricate discourse, fluently voiced with multiple shifting patterns, astounding swirls, and a playful yet solid sense of rhythm.

His conspicuous playfulness comes also attached to the lullaby-ish melody of “Paris Barantai”, which later falls into rich, empyreal chord progressions. Pianist and guitarist excel once again in their respective solos, while Benavent operates under a synth effect with wha-wha pungency in his individual explorations. The sinuous voice of Syah fits hand in glove.

Ethnic diversification allied with an adequate flexibility is widely sensed on the two-part “Rumah Batu Suite”. In the first part, after an uncluttered intro, the band lands on an Afro folk-rock runway, adding a dash of funk as they echo Brazilian masters Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil. The part two, credited to the collective, sets the musicians free to extemporize ideas within a busy avant-jazz romp. The musical narrative morphs into a crossroad where moods juxtapose with a light, Latin-flavored pulse appended.

The uptempo “Samarkand” guarantees a 6/8 vibe for the improvisers. Benavent opens the ad-libbing section, after which Dharmawan and Lê exchange groups of eight and four bars of responsive soloing.

Blending raw traditional elements with feisty contemporary spins, Rumah Batu bridges worlds and cultures. Even though some passages may sometimes feel a bit drawn-out, there’s a palpable energy in the group's dedicated interplay.

         Grade  B-

        Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Rink Rebana ► 06 - Rumah Batu Suite, Part 2: Perjalanan ► 07 - Samarkand


Alchemy Sound Project - Adventures in Time and Space

Label: Artists Recording Collective, 2018

Personnel – Erica Lindsay: tenor saxophone; Samantha Boshnack: trumpet, flugelhorn; Salim Washington: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; flute; Michael Spearman: trombone; Sumi Tonooka: piano; David Arend: double bass; Johnathan Blake: drums, percussion.

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Originally a quintet, Alchemy Sound Project was expanded into a septet for their second outing, Adventures in Time and Space, which features six sonic adventures composed by five of its members.

Throughout the album, we spot pitch-perfect horn arrangements appealingly executed by saxophonist Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, multi-reedist and woodwind player Salim Washington, and their new frontline collaborator: trombonist Michael Spearman. The rhythm section comprises Sumi Tonooka on piano, David Arend on bass and the second novelty in the personnel, the inventive Johnathan Blake on drums. The inaugural five-piece ensemble first recorded in 2016, years after the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a Columbia University program, have selected them to be part of their agenda and explore the challenges of writing for the symphony orchestra.

Lindsay’s “Adventures in Time and Space” carries a sort of 70’s mood between its lines, bringing the music of bassist Graham Collier to mind. A mighty bass clarinet is dominative on an introductory horn-driven section arranged with melodic gusto. This happens before a 4/4 locomotion is set in motion by the fabulous rhythm gurus Arend and Blake. The improvisations, placed atop, are from Tonooka, whose combination of single-note phrases and rich voicings are supported by tardy horn fills, a brief speech by Arend before an intermediate collective passage takes us to Washington, who, switching to tenor saxophone, operates nimbly on top of a joyful swinging rhythm.

Lindsay didn’t improvise on his own tune, but conveyed her explorative and expansive vision on Arend’s 5/4-metered “Ankh”. The piece, generous in offering harmonic modulations, kicks off with a symbiotic dance between flute and trumpet melodies. Whereas Washington’s flute solo stands in the middle of a profound dream and the restless reality, the charming pianism of Tonooko and the gallant, husky arco work from Arend complete the improvisational rounds with prodigious outputs.

The horn section keeps functioning in absolute concordance on Boshnack’s “Song of the Whistle Wing”, where the freedom of the piano/bass/drums interplay gets emphatically out of the convention. A blatantly written passage rushes toward Lindsay’s flaming trills, which get rhythmic responses from the pianist’s wise chordal comping. Then, it's Blake who spreads exotic perfumes with his full-fledged snare-driven rhythm, supporting Boshnack’s improv with dramatically epic tones.

Washington's 4/4 Ellingtonian ballad “Odysseus Leaves Circe” nods to tradition, shifting tempos along the way and presenting a fluid dialogue between acoustic bass and bass clarinet, only with some occasional percussive rattles underneath.

Radiant in their own way is Tonooka's lyric “Transition Waltz”, but also Lindsay’s “Jeff’s Joy”, which stimulates our metrical perception through a spirited groove in seven. After the composer’s solo, we can hear Blake crafting nice and tense rhythmic figures through opportune transition fills and thinly veiled embellishments.

This eclectic ensemble possesses the required organic vitality and soulful grit to succeed, offering a fairly accessible set with plenty of creative ideas. Their musical aesthetics, favoring the spiritual side, transmits a beneficial energy that soars high above the subliminal.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Adventures in Time and Space ► 02 - Ankh ► 03 - Song of the Whistle Wing


Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

Personnel - Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Ron Miles: cornet; Scott Colley: double bass; Brian Blade: drums.

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After fruitful collaborations with The Bad Plus (2015) and Brad Mehldau (2016), virtuoso saxophonist/composer Joshua Redman releases his long-awaited studio album in the company of established cohorts Ron Miles on cornet, Scott Colley on bass, and his first choice drummer, Brian Blade.

Redman’s inspirations for Still Dreaming were his father and the avant-garde jazz quartet Old and New Dreams, whose members included Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell, all former sidemen of groundbreaking altoist Ornette Coleman. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the two covers on the album, Ornette’s “Comme Il Faut” and Haden’s untrammeled “Playing”, give us a wonderful taste of that generation. The former is tackled with reverence, unity, and a new feel, while the latter features impromptu interchanges between saxophone and cornet, a productive dialogue underpinned by the bowed bass. Once the drummer becomes active, the tune falls into a combustible pulse driven by a great sense of locomotion.

Colley contributes two compositions: the elated opener, “New Year”, is evocative of the band they got inspiration from, providing a disrupted folk-inflected melody in the A section and an ephemeral swinging flow in the B, as well as eight-bar trades between the bassist and the drummer, consolidating their unpretentious rhythmic communication. In turn, “Haze And Aspirations” is an affable, rhythmically brushed 3/4 piece introduced by unaccompanied bass and suffused with parallel moves, occasional counterpoint, and melodious statements.

Redman’s “Blues For Charlie” may be considered a chant, whose melody, first expressed by a solitary saxophone, is gradually thickened with bass and cornet in crescent unisons. With greater dynamics comes “Unanimity”, a grooving enchantment conceived by the bandleader who dives eloquently into his neo-bop versatility. On the contrary, Miles is never rushed, often using easy melody and notable motifs to give a clear-cut testimony.

Culminating the colorful sonic mosaic is the “The Rest”, initially a folkish, rubato piece that veers to a frank, emotional dialogue before invoking Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” in a razor-sharped finale. Built with earnestness, the foundation has Colley plucking and bowing while Blade mixes brushes and mallets for a wider tonality.

Simple structures, complex emotions; Still Dreaming emanates passion for another musical era and Redman, besides talking from the heart in his ear-catching improvisations, strengths the repertoire with an indefatigable sense of collectivity.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Unanimity ► 03 - Haze And Aspirations ► 06 - Playing


Jesse Peterson Quartet - Man of the Earth

Label: ears&eyes Records, 2018

Personnel – Adam Schneit: saxophone; Jorn Swart: piano; Andrew Schiller: acoustic bass; Jesse Peterson: drums.

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Drummer-composer Jesse Peterson, an emerging figure in the New York scene, homages his father on Man of the Earth, a recording that also features a trio of talented young musicians and bandleaders, namely, tenor saxophonist Adam Schneit, pianist Jorn Swart and bassist Andrew Schiller. The album title refers to Peterson’s father’s hardworking posture, which became a true inspiration for the tunes.

His ability to merge the energy of rock with the fluency of jazz idioms with color is reflected in several titles. One of them is the title cut, a rhythm-rich composition that follows a typical AABA structure and boasts boppish phrases delivered in unison by sax and piano. The adaptable Schneit reveals a Coltranean sense of resolution in his phrasing. Swart engenders off-kilter voicings. The overall synergy is completed with the grooving unity of Schiller and the bandleader. Other pieces in which the group follows this jazz-meets-rock impulse are “Bucko Is Relocating”, a rollicking if sometimes dramatic number that features Swart temporarily unaccompanied before breaking free into a vibrant improvisation; and the no less sprightly “Hibbing BMX Life Experience”, whose chordal piano fluxes and bop influence take us to an unlikely crossing between Bruce Hornsby and Charlie Parker.

On “The Factors” the quartet plays with tempo at the same time that encapsulates ecstatic sheets of sound. The tune starts off as an unhurried 4/4 populated by unanticipated, burnished saxophone lines in the style of Loren Stillman. It eventually accelerates toward a triumphant passage in six that soon returns to the four beats per measure in order to sustain Schneit’s kinetic runs. For the final, the band re-instates that sort of torpor that had marked the first minutes of the song.

Peterson’s communicative drums open “Have a Winnebago Winter”, a buoyant post-bop exercise propelled by a seductive groove in six. This high-spirited mood is lowered for the elegiac reflection “You Remember Mort” and “Blessing in Between”. The latter is a Moby-like song with an unabashed relationship with melody as it keeps stressing the theme’s catchy riff throughout. The climax is attained during the straightforward sax solo, designed with no metaphor, but incorporating striking passage notes that give wings to beautifully warped phrases.

This is genuine music with no space for gimmicks. Even the most complex sections sound effortless due to the earnest combination of harmony, melody, and rhythm. Thus, the songs are on point and make both the warmth and responsiveness palpable throughout.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Man of the Earth ► 02 - The Factors ►04 - Have a Winnebago Winter


William Tatge Trio - General Cargo

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2018

Personnel - William Tatge: piano; Pablo Menares: bass; Nick Anderson: drums.

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The Italian-born William Tatge, son of American parents, moved to New York in 2008, where he found his own musical voice. By listening to his new work, General Cargo, inspired by cultural and historical experiences, one may conclude he applies some of the lyricism from his former teachers - Stefano Bollani and Enrico Pieranunzi - as a reference but expands them into new musical horizons, concurrently probing and intimate.

Summoning his NY-based trio mates, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Nick Anderson, Tatge interprets seven original compositions whose durations range from seven to nine minutes, approximately. Obeying strict structural forms, the trio navigates the written material with ease, often creating ambiguous narratives and taking side routes in their improvisations to assure the music is never conservative but rather surprising.

Displaying an innate rhythmic feel, “Illegal Machines” emphasizes a sublime work by the pianist in a successful combination of hefty phrases on the medium register with resonant bass movements on the lower octaves. Menares lays down a funk-inflected groove that doesn’t sound too conventional while Anderson keeps everything under control with a poise, syncopated pulse, frequently spiked up by intelligent fills. More about the drummer's technique is saved for a last-minute vamp especially designed for that purpose.

The pavement becomes velvetier on “The Lay of the Land” to serve the pianist’s pensive rumination forged with unobvious melodies. Bassist and drummer provide minimalistic support, contributing understated lines and low-key brushwork, respectively. The soothing waves persist on “Hidden Agenda”, even when the tension is confined in-between lines and the trio takes a slightly more grooving orientation. 

Tatge’s anti-cliché methodology airs a fluidity of language that comes with narrative coherence. Deliberately changing mood and pace along the way, the trio also unveils a Corea-like swinging motion on “Civilization”, a piece that, by the end, flourishes an intense harmonic turnaround, restless bass impulses, and percolating interlocking drums. They switch things up for “Have You Seen Robert Boston?”, a searching exercise that becomes inflated with staggeringly compact rhythmic punches. However, besides rocking with glee, you’ll find transitory moments of contemplation, breeziness, and volatility.

While the constant energy fluctuations are part of their progressive post-bop ethos, the angular lines and fractured phrasing embrace metaphor and avoid expected scenarios. Regardless a few moments of ruminative impasse, the trio provides us with a mature outing filled with enough emotion and intensity to keep you wide-awake.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
 01 - Illegal Machines ► 04 - Civilization ► 06 – Have You Seen Robert Boston?


Stephanie Richards - Fullmoon

Label: Relative Pitch Records, 2018

Personnel – Stephanie Richards: trumpet, percussion; Dino J.A. Deane: sampler, live-sampler.

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It’s not a novelty that Canadian-born, New York-based trumpeter Stephanie Richards is a risk-taking artist, considering she has worked with giants of the improvised new music such as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill as well as Kanye West and The Pixies, references in the contemporary rap and indie-rock genres, respectively.

In collaboration with the electronics wizard Dino J.A. Deane, whom she met through the late 'conduction' pioneer Butch Morris, Richards releases her first solo record, Fullmoon, a personal and conceptual work inspired on the phases of the moon, which showcases her ability to fuse sound patterns in a distinct, uncategorizable way.

The opening track, “New Moon”, kind of tells you how open-minded and genre-defying her trade is, engulfing us in an urbane concoction of abstract avant-jazz formulas and slinky Eastern chants. There are times when it's hard to dissociate the concise trumpet ostinatos from the clamorous electronic elements, as they merge as one. This strategy is also preponderant on the following piece, “Snare”, where a perpetual buzz accompanies the sound of a brushed snare drum. Strangely, at some point, I thought I was listening to a weeping Indigenous flute.

Melodic lines are set against unbending loops to create counterpoint on the two-part “Gong”, whereas a compelling synthesis of Zen-like drones, distant percussive chimes, and wailing riffs defines “Piano”, one of the most beautiful pieces on the album. This atmosphere differs from the eminently cinematic routes of “Timpani”, whose dark ambiance includes dragging low-frequency drones and humming moans. 
Besides using echoing phrases to probe new textures, the spheric “Fullmoon Part I” insists on hypnotic buzzing vibes, whereas “Fullmoon Part II” provides slap tongue sounds in a collision with ululations of pleasure or despair.

The twosome finds common threads in the instrumental navigations, revealing curious aspects in their virtuosity. Whether playing in a premeditated way or pursuing free improvisation, they make you search while offering intriguing moments that can be minimalist or complex, yet not necessarily melodic. Even if you dig exploration of sound, this work requires multiple listenings for a better absorption.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 – New Moon ► 03 – Piano ► 09 – Fullmoon Part II


The End - Svarmod Och Vemod Ar Vardesinnen

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Mats Gustafsson: baritone and tenor saxophones, live electronics; Kjetil Moster: baritone and tenor saxophones, electronics; Sofia Jernberg: vocals; Anders Hana: baritone guitar; Greg Saunier: drums, vocals.

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Worshippers of goth new music, The End is an unconventional bass-less quintet that boasts a sturdy frontline composed of inveterate Scandinavian improvisers Mats Gustafsson and Kjetil Moster. Blowing their baritone and tenor saxophones with fiery consistency, the pair infuses a striking raw power on the material, which is edgily harmonized by the baritone guitarist Anders Hana, and rhythmically driven by Deerhoof’s trailblazing drummer Greg Saunier. Rounding out the group is the spectacular Ethiopian-born singer Sofia Jernberg, whose singular experimental flights find purpose in the type of instrumentation created by her peers.

Conjuring an array of six energetic, if somewhat obscure, tunes on their debut CD, the band starts off with “Svarmod”, a bizarre sound-blast with guttural guitar noise, powerful saxophone unisons, and agonizing vocal wails. They proceed with “Vemod” in a clear invocation of Jimi Hendrix’s grooving rock riffs. Jernberg’s voice, blending the sweetness of Mazzy Star and the pugnacity of PJ Harvey, is well backed by saxophone and electronics, producing a sort of neo-psychedelia flavor. Gustafsson and Hana penned these two first tracks.

Composed by the collective, the tenebrous “Translated Slaughter” starts with the vocalist whispering in a creepy-crawly narration with occasional hissing sounds and flimsy ethereal-like passages. The stark guitar drones and irregular drumming underneath are in the basis of a sonic eccentricity that gains further intriguing moods with Jernberg’s abrasive vocalization. If her highly flexible expression gets closer to Diamanda Galas on this tune, then on the mutable socio-political manifesto, “Don’t Wait”, she impressively embarks on the no wave style of Lydia Lunch. Several current problems and challenges of today’s vulnerable world are denounced with a blistering energy, also infecting the baritonists, who cooperate actively on top of guitar-driven, indie rock-based grooves. Music and lyrics are by Gustafsson.

Moster’s “Both Sides Out” closes out the album with spooky cinematic tones. It carries a pestilent toxicity in its morose atmosphere, a sort of eerie gothic post-punk bolstered by a pungently dissonant improvisation from one of the baritonists.

Edgy, intense, and positively confrontational, The End boasts a unique aesthetic that feels simultaneously uncanny and strapping. The album, recorded after only three gigs, has not only something serious to say to the world but also proposes something completely new in its artistic development of sound and concept.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Vemod ► 04 - Don’t Wait ► 06 - Both Sides Out


Jamie Saft Quartet - Blue Dream

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel – Bill McHenry: saxophone; Jamie Saft: piano; Bradley Christopher Jones: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Exposing valuable technical skills and a lyricism of his own, Jamie Saft is one of the sharpest pianists working today. His second release of the year, following the grandiose and haunting Solo a Genova, is entitled Blue Dream, an illuminated work where transcendence is achieved through the creation of absolutely glorious emotional soundscapes. For this session, the artist brings together an astounding quartet with saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Bradley Christopher Jones, and drummer Nasheet Waits, all of them supportive teammates and top-flight improvisers.

Vessels”, a pure modal jazz inspiration, conveys an unmitigated spirituality through the divine harmonic progressions. Besides the beautiful collective work, McHenry, in an act of pure instinct and inspiration, offers an inside-outside prayer in the line of Archie Sheep, Pharaoh Sanders, and Billy Harper. The meditative “Infinite Compassion” also follows the same steps, presenting us transfixing piano voicings with a few sweeps and swirls reminiscent of Alice Coltrane, while the eruptive “Words and Deeds” is stirred and shaken by the tremendous force of McHenry’s searing lines.

Submerged in a soulful, blues-based post-bop, “Equanimity” starts with Waits’ impeccable rhythmic facility, proceeding with Coltrane-inspired saxophone phrases, and landing on Saft's rich patterns replete with cascading notes, congruous runs, and occasional motivic inflections over a swinging bass-drums workflow. Forming an unfading alliance, Jones and Waits swing hard again on the title track, even with Saft exploring calmly in an opposite direction, and also intermittently on “Decamping”, a straightforward post-bop exercise. Both tunes feature enthusiastic bass solos.

The quartet ascends into heaven on “Sword’s Water”, a feverish splendor containing dense and contrasting low/high-toned piano maneuvers, bursting saxophone lines uttered with authority, taciturn arco bass, and abundant cymbal activity.

The evanescence on the spacious “Walls” is caused by dark classical piano moves and mournful bowed bass, while “Mysterious Arrangements” carries a slightly Latin touch in the rhythm. The group's versatility is taken further with the addition of three jazz standards gently propelled by Waits’ understated brushwork - the blithe “Violets for Furs”, the solo-less “Sweet Lorraine”, and the mellifluous “There’s a Lull In My Life”. Even conjuring a familiar feel, they never sound decontextualized in regard to the whole.

Impressively executed with great feeling, Blue Dream makes you plunge into aurally transparent sonic waters that open your soul, clear your mind, and more than satisfy your ears. Saft’s music touches me deeply and it feels awesome to be enveloped by his voluble and devotional reverberations.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite tracks:
01 - Vessels ► 02 - Equanimity ► 03 - Sword’s Water


Jure Pukl - Doubtless

Label: Whirlwind Records, 2018

Personnel – Jure Pukl: tenor saxophone; Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Joe Sanders: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums.

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The up-and-coming New York-based tenor saxist Jure Pukl went back home, Slovenia, to record Doubtless, an open-spirited album comprising originals and covers. In this stalwart quartet, he shares the frontline with his wife, award-winning tenorist Melissa Aldana, while the foundation is entrusted to bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Greg Hutchinson, who sport courage and firmness in their duties.

The title track, “Doubtless”, launches a contrapuntal dance for the reedists. They seamlessly forge ahead, en route from the carefully scored theme to spontaneous interchanges, and are certainly thankful for Sanders’ brilliant accompaniment, which carries a definite sense of harmonic direction. If the counterpoint is king here, then jubilant parallel movements limn “Doves”, which, clocking at just over seven minutes, is not just the longest piece on the set but also one of the most attractive. While the rhythm section creates a gorgeous state of cadenced emancipation, the high-wire individual statements by the saxophonists are separated by a fine bass monologue.
 
A vibrant double-saxophone intro brings Ornette Coleman’s “InterSong” to life, conjuring an unfussy, classic avant-garde scenario. Shades of Ornette are a bit everywhere, becoming particularly steep on “The Mind and The Soul”.

An African-tinged groove infests “Elioté”, a celebratory composition wrote by Sanders for his newborn son. Curiously, I detected something from Lee Morgan in its melody.

Elsewhere” is a sumptuously grooving, perfectly danceable music cocktail prepared by the simpatico quartet, in which they seem to join the dots between jazz, Latin, and rock, respectively brought by the saxophonists’ well-versed language, continual bass patterns, and imaginative drumming.
 
The quartet is reduced to a trio on “Compassion” - a leisurely engaging reflection adorned with conspicuous motivic chromaticism and circular phraseology - and to a duo (sax and bass) on “Where Are You Coming From?”, whose salient folk intonations attempt to respond the question in the title.
 
Prone to buoyancy, Doubtless showcases Pukl and his associates combining traditional and modern elements within well-defined forms and structures. Prepare yourself for an exciting expedition bolstered by the passion of true creators and their solid musicianship.  

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Doves ► 05 - Compassion ► 06 - Elsewhere


Sean Conly - Hard Knocks

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Michael Attias: alto saxophone; Sean Conly: acoustic bass; Satoshi Takeishi: drums.

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Sean Conly had his first electric bass at the age of 13. At that time, he couldn’t imagine he would become a respected bandleader and sought-after sideman, establishing unfading foundations in groups led by Anthony Coleman, Greg Tardy, Michael Attias, Yoni Kretzmer and Mara Rosenbloom.
  
With Hard Knocks, his second work for the progressive Clean Feed label, he plunges into a set of six modern jazz compositions penned for his powerhouse, chord-less trio composed of longtime comrades Michael Attias and Satoshi Takeishi, alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively. Expanding their actions beyond tradition, the trio sets that special, interactive mood that is only possible when the rapport among the involved is strong enough.

The title track unfolds with a variety of rhythmic accents (knocks, if you prefer) and a fine groove. It’s a well-crafted, well-structured, metrically astute piece that takes us to Sam Rivers’ spins. Exploration is undertaken individually when Attias extemporizes thoughts over a profuse swinging vibe locked by bass and drums. After him, it’s Conly who carefully groups selected notes to form consistently bright phrases.

Gradually built in layers, “Totem” kicks off with the attractive timbres of Takeishi’s percussion. We don’t have to wait too long for the saxophonist to join with a sinuous Eastern-influenced phrase carrying an occasional vibrato. Lastly, the bassist sneaks in to lead his gang toward an energetic rock-tinged flux in six.

Skippin’ Town” is immersed in those avant-garde waters once agitated by Dewey Redman and Ornette Coleman. It features not only an enthusiastic swinging section underpinning the sax solo, but also a reiterative odd-metered bass groove on top of which Takeishi creates with freedom.

The trio’s keen sense of tempo is obvious on “Loose Screws”, a blues-based piece crafted with high melodic articulation and shifting rhythms, whereas on “Artefact” they probe textural definition and intensity of playing. The band starts by forming a dense, stormy sonic cloud that thunders with fierce saxophone growls and multiphonics before being pacified by disruptive drum chops, a leisurely steady bass motion, and gentle sax melodies infusing a mix of light and dark tonalities.

Devised as a sort of meditation, “Undertow” is introduced by the bandleader with tranquil assurance and lapidary clarity. After the theme’s statement, he shows an improvisational vein with the support of the percussionist’s shimmering brushwork. The unhurried pace is then set without losing a bit of coordination. There is a strong spell of Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” in the tune’s spacious atmosphere and melody.

Great hooks occurring with incredible ease, groove-centric ideas that can absolutely swing, and an unshakeable sense of unity are all good motives for you to dig Hard Knocks.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Hard Knocks ► 02 - Totem ► 03 - Undertow 


Marty Ehrlich - Trio Exaltation

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel – Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, wooden flutes; John Hébert: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich, a devotee of compositional adventurism and vertiginous improvisations, is always surrounded by musicians who think alike and are capable of intuitive interplay with an elevated rhythmic perception. His new high-profile Trio Exaltation, featuring John Hébert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, proves what I just said. 

The trio opens the album strongly with “Dusk”, an original by the late pianist Andrew Hill with whom all of them worked in the past. It starts off as a spellbinding saxophone incantation backed by lively, gorgeously detailed percussion. The bassist only arrives two minutes after, locking down an encouraging groove with clear intent and purpose. He stretches out later in a stroll that subsists in its own pace, regardless the drummer's polyrhythmic fills.

The rhythm section becomes more strenuous on the following piece, “Yes Yes”, whose textural audacity results from a fine combination of bass adventurism and an impermeable yet tasteful net of cymbal crashes and tom-tom fantasies. Unconfined and utterly expressive, the clarinetist spreads a breathtaking fervency while exulting in a prayer. Multiphonics and unexpected piercing notes are constituents of his hip melodic oddities.

In opposition to the dancing spirituality of “Spirit of Jah No.2”, an exhilarating piece for wooden flutes and African-tinged percussion, the haunting sounds of bass clarinet are exerted in compositions with a more reflective and contemplative nature, cases of “Dance No. 5”, a far-from-ethereal John Surman-esque illumination played in five, and “The Arc of the Oar”, an imperturbable duet with Hébert, where the melody of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is revived. 

Sometimes Ehrlich’s approach is clean and transparently lyric, other times it may come intoxicated with searing lines professed with variegated timbres. This last aspect is particularly noticeable on pieces like “Senhor PC” (not for Paul Chambers but for Clean Feed’s Pedro Costa), a free ramble with questioning motifs and ruminative arco bass conspiring with Waits' mallet drumming, and “Stone”, a burner that keeps instilling brief swinging rides amidst avant-garde passages delineated with free bop melodic moves and sudden boisterous drum chops. With the closing piece, “Reading The River”, a deliberate swinging groove is definitely put into effect. It is not rare to find shades of Ornette Coleman throughout these pieces and “June 11th 2015” was precisely dedicated to him.

The Exaltation Trio creates mesmerizing sonic atmospheres based on the supple interplay and expansive personal statements of its members. If their openness facilitates communication, then their ample sense of freedom concedes fearless exploration.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dusk ► 02 - Yes Yes ► 04 - Dance No. 5


Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing

Label: Trost Records, 2018

Personnel - Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone; Joe McPhee: soprano saxophone, pocket trumpet; Kent Kessler: double bass; Chris Corsano: drums.

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Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, a mainstay of the European free jazz panorama, is recognized for blowing his tenor with logic and authority, frequently in trio and quartet settings. He was also a member of the adventurous Lisbon Improvisation Players group, with which he recorded three albums for the Clean Feed label.

A History of Nothing, his debut on the Austrian Trost Records, features five improv-centric tunes authored and sculpted by the same quartet that made This Is Our Language (Not Two Records, 2012) a reference in the genre. Namely, Joe McPhee on soprano saxophone and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on double bass, and Chris Corsano on drums. 

Legacies” opens the session with strong chamber intonations, driven by gentle bowed bass moves and occasional cymbal screeches. The midpoint marks a change with Kessler providing a bit more conduction through punctilious plucks, and Corsano getting increasingly active behind the drum kit while the horn section creates a free state of harmony.

The deliberative "A History of Nothing" starts with a cacophonous tug-of-war between saxophones, triggering responsive reactions from the rhythm section. It’s like a push-pull game of thrones where nobody wins, replete with raw, exhilarating collisions and powerful individual expressions. Bass and drums weave a supportive if impenetrable rhythmic net that stimulates Amado and McPhee to exhibit heftiness and intricacy in their explorative endeavors. At that moment, we can see the ensemble in full flight.

The mixture of mordant and airy sounds from pocket trumpet initiates the operations on “Wild Flower”, but McPhee soon switches to soprano sax, delivering racing phrases over the foundational tandem priorly established. Amado then chips in, employing discernible folk-ish lines with a rollicking grasp and striking timbre, evoking Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and sometimes Fred Anderson in his musical descriptions. It felt good hearing him digging something more melodic in contrast with the fierce rhythmic approach of his co-workers. McPhee joins again by the end, for a victorious, snappy final round of interactive play.

Establishing a strange communication, the quartet finishes this adventurous journey with “The Hidden Desert”, whose dark mood and sedative hypnotics take the listener to a brooding cinematic realm. However, I could not fail to mention the homage to McPhee on “Theory of Mind II (for Joe)”, marked as a CD-only track. The intense combination of mallet drumming and bass perambulations vary in intensity with Amado opting not to bring all his impetuosity in his first improvisatory incursion. He returns later with a turbulent foray, though.

Amado’s quartet is in peak form, exerting another biting album that comprehends both volcanic and ruminative sonic layers. Just let the freedom touch you while enjoying this finely calibrated commotion.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - A History of Nothing ► 03 - Theory of Mind II (for Joe) ► 04 - Wild Flower


Michael Dessen Trio - Somewhere In the Upstream

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Michael Dessen: trombone, electronics; Chris Tordini: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

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Trombonist Michael Dessen, a serious up-and-comer specialized in an artistic blend of composition, improvisation and technology, has been a regular presence on the Clean Feed roster with an experimental electro-acoustic trio that includes bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss. This stellar rhythm section provides him robust and malleable textures that serve his impromptu flares, occasionally populated with electronic elements. The 50-minute Somewhere in the Upstream is a conceptual work divided into eight parts and based on Dessen’s ‘scorestream’, a process in which sonic sculptures are formed upon a real time reading and interpretation of a longform score displayed on a screen. The work is dedicated to the late multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef and transcends categories.

A trombone solo launches "Part 1", which displays an independent bass flow at the base and gains a distinctive flavor with Weiss’ digressive impetuosity. The initial combination of snare and cymbal moves are extended to the tom-toms, going well with the practices of the bassist, whose solo departs from the theme’s melody to explore further. The transition from "Part 1" to "Part2", a bubbly wha-wha psychedelia with deep-toned notes and a sort of reverse-synth sound effect, is made through robotic sounds, free bass peregrinations, and a poised amalgam of rimshots and hi-hat activity.

On "Part 3", darker vibes flow from Tordini’s bass, bumping into soaring trombone lines. By the end, the energy is compressed and the abstraction enlarged. If the latter piece has a serendipitous nature, then "Part 4" has the trio functioning in a pure jazz mode while boasting a finely calibrated rhythmic strategy between bass and drums. At first, short trombone phrases can be heard on top of a roving bass motion and jittery hi-hat drumming. After a while, trombone and bass align positions, heading in the same direction, while Weiss’ snare chatter prepares the listeners for a nearly 3-minute masterful improvisation that constitute most of "Part 5".

The ten-minute "Part 8" boasts a rock-tinged intensity that favors the bandleader’s individual stretches. Melodic ideas, dropped down with a fluid sense of language, encourage the rhythm team to build the ground level with deep-rooted grooves and dramatic, propulsive beats. 

The band keeps the experiment going on the spur of the moment, layering luxe rhythmic textures with a mix of brassy avant-jazz and electronic fantasia. Avoiding overt suggestions, the music may take you to accessible or recondite places, and that’s exactly from where the pleasure of listening to it comes.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Part 1 ► 04 - Part 4 ► 08 - Part 8


Adam O'Farrill - El Maquech

Label: Biophilia Records, 2018

Personnel - Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Chad Lewkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone; Walter Stinson: acoustic bass; Zack O’Farrill: drums.

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Evincing a precocious musical maturity for his young age (he is 23), Adam O’Farrill became one of the most longed-for trumpeters on the scene. He was absolutely fantastic in Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls and Stephan Crump’s Rhombal, projects that gave him the visibility he needed to stand out. Born in a family of talented musicians (grandson of legendary Afro-Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill and son of pianist/composer Arturo O’Farrill), Adam not only gathered all the traditional knowledge but also developed modern skills before forming his own quartet. His debut album, Stranger Days, was released two years ago on the Sunnyside Records to critical acclaim.

Like the work cited above, his latest album, El Maquech, features Chad Lewkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass, and brother Zack O’Farrill on drums. It exudes a multitude of influences, being a great addition to Biophilia Records' modern catalog.
Siiva Moiita”, a traditional Mexican folk tune, is reimagined with a provocative Latin touch and avant-garde grace, bringing into mind the playfulness of Dave Douglas. Channeling their creative energies and improvisational flair into an off-kilter dialogue, saxophonist and trumpeter differ in approach, with the former behaving more fidgety than the latter. All this occurs with the rhythm section fueling their whims with strenuous, throbbing polyrhythms.

Manifesting groove as an ideology, “Verboten Chant” makes us imagine Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri being subjected to a free-bop re-orientation. The composition adopts a more traditional avant-garde setting when compared to the title cut, in which the band speaks folkloric idioms through a fusion of mariachi music and adventurous jazz. Indeed, this is a curious encounter between profuse Latin melodies and marching rhythms.

Based on Monk’s “Eronel", “Erroneous Love” instantly captured my attention through the busy motif placed at its center together with the leisured yet purely instinctive bass flows, jittery drumming, and flawless interplay suffused with elliptical melodic trajectories. It precedes two compositions where the trumpet claims the spotlight: “Shall We”, a sketchy and rumbling duet with drums, and “Get Thee Behind Me Satan”, a song by Irving Berlin and popularized by Ella Fitzgerald, here transformed into an articulated monologue.

Before using ingenuity in the interpretation of Gabriel Garzon-Montano’s “Pour Maman”, which expands grandiosely and eloquently after a dark, solemn inception marked by deep bowed bass incisions, we have the Frida Khalo-inspired “Henry Ford Hospital”, another hectic odyssey into the ineffable soundworlds of contemporaneity. Expect to find shades of Jewish and Latin music, chirpy trumpet attacks, effusive saxophone counterlines, funk-inflected bass grooves, and ever-shifting gnarling drums.

Relying on the quartet’s collective power as well as on the strong individuality of its members, O’Farrill will consistently reach listeners interested in a fresh, electrifying jazz that pretty much reflects his go-ahead attitude.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Erroneous Love ► 07 - Henry Ford Hospital ► 08 - Pour Maman


Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

Personnel - Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: acoustic bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

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Brad Mehldau, one of the most influential pianists of our times, is all imagination and sophistication when it comes to composition and execution. After assembling readings of preludes by Bach and his own originals on the solo work After Bach (Nonesuch, 2018), he returns to the trio format, accompanied by longtime associates Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on bass and drums, respectively.

The new album, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, got its title from a weird dream with the actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, two weeks before his death. In addition to three originals, the album features renditions of meaningful post-bop pieces, pop songs, and a jazz standard.

Two originals are at the top of the song lineup. Whereas the odd-metered “Spiral” relies on a dazzling rhythm, a beautifully poignant melody reminiscent of Jobim, and a consistent post-bop stream of elegant sequential voicings, the title track is a classical-tinged waltz propelled by Ballard’s distinctive brushwork and stamped with refined piano phrases gently pronounced in unison with the bass. Mehldau compellingly flies in his solo, subtly pervading passage notes with warmth and richness, while Grenadier’s exploration becomes a source of inspiration such is the expressiveness revealed.

Swinging with gusto, the trio shapes “Like Someone in Love” with a different tempo and artistic refinement. Liveliness and elasticity conduct the drummer to enthusiastically trade bars with his bandmates. He repeats the procedure on Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, where notes are tossed with zest and lush chord changes take place on top of Grenadier’s dancing patterns. He even quotes “Acknowledgement” by Coltrane at some point. 

Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah” is tackled with a cool touch and flows at a moderate pace with bebop stimulus. One finds the pianist in evidence again with improvised lines that go around the melody, deepened by cracking motifs in a fluent conversational tone. The melodicism mirrors his purest musical sensitivity. Following the bandleader’s example, bassist and drummer, besides utterly supportive of each other in guaranteeing a classy foundation, also explore swirls of emotion through the appeal of spontaneity.

Mehldau has a knack for giving pop songs a unique emotional touch. For this album, the chosen ones were Beach Boys’ “Friends” and Paul McCartney’s “Great Day”. The former was transformed into an amiable jazz waltz (the original version also obeys a 3/4 time signature) with an inventive final section while the latter feels like a lively percussive triumph with a bluesy feel. Placed in the middle of these compositions, “Ten Tune” falls in the third stream genre and comes cleverly arranged with melodic counterpoint.

Mehldau Trio demonstrates a firm grasp across styles, engulfing the listeners in their glistening, warm-hearted storytelling and transporting them into another realm. This is among the most enchanting offerings of his career.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Spiral ► 04 - De-Dah ► 05 - Friends


Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow - Music In My Mind

Label: AO2 Records, 2018

Personnel – Shawn Maxwell: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute; Dee Alexander: vocals; Victor Garcia: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chad McCullough: trumpet, flugelhorn; Corey Wilkes: trumpet; Matt Nelson: piano, rhodes; Patrick Mulcahy: electric bass; Junius Paul: acoustic and electric bass; Tim Seisser: electric bass; Phil Beale: drums; Stephen Lynerd: vibraphone; Kalyan Pathak: percussion.

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Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow returns two years after the release of their eponymous album on OA2 Records. The new CD, Music in My Mind, features ten electric originals performed by the original septet - Maxwell on alto sax, clarinet and flute; trumpeters Victor Garcia, Chad McCullough and Corey Wilkes; keyboardist Matt Nelson; bassist Junius Paul; and drummer Phil Beale - plus a few new additions that envision diversification through their personal approach to sound.

Vocalist Dee Alexander is one of them, lending her voice to the first two tracks. “Our Princess Is In Another Castle” starts like a frolicsome delirium with a cyclic saxophone slogan, snare drum rudiments (typical from a march), and trumpet countermelodies. Their energetic actions dilute to accommodate more pacific passages aligned with voice and horn lines. An engaging improvised dialogue in the form of question-answer then starts between Maxwell and McCullough, brought up with abandonment and eventually intersecting in the last minute.

In turn, the title track, “Music In My Mind”, comes equipped with two melodic ideas on the theme, effectively built by piano and voice (in strict collaboration with the horn section). After a sharp individual statement by Garcia, the musicians embark on a swift, complex counterpoint steeped in the classical genre. Maxwell reserves a solemn section played in five for himself, delivering an estimable improvisation on alto saxophone before returning to the previous classical mood.

The groovy sound of the Fender Rhodes on “Maxwell’s House” gives it a special funky flavor that melds with some R&B sparkle. Nelson and the bandleader are the ones in charge of the improvisations. Also carrying a smooth funk at its core, “He Gone” has its crossover panache softened by amiable flute melodies. The bass groove and stylish slides are from Patrick Mulcahy and the muted-trumpet articulation is the fruit of Wilkes’ labor. Also “Glamasue”, a song that first appeared in Maxwell’s debut album Originals, thrives with the Incognito-style funk bass delivered by Tim Seisser, whereas the playful “Another Monday”, anchored in an expressive motif, brings that sort of jazz-rock vibe offered by Donald Fagen in his Kamakiriad album. 

Promoting diversification within a modern approach, the band devises “King Bill” (another piece from Originals) with danceable swinging motions, zealous percussive attacks, and passionate clarinet lines that evoke the jazz tradition, and “Snow Snow” with a harmonization that feels closer to pop music.

Maxwell and his associates dabble in a colorful urban jazz that stews with heat. Adopting a feel-good posture that rejects any kind of pessimism, the band provides the listener with ear-pleasing melody, lively interactions, and catchy orchestrations.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Our Princess Is In Another Castle ► 02 - Music In My Mind ► 08 - Another Monday


Yelena Eckemoff - Desert

Label: L&H Productions, 2018

Personnel - Yelena Eckemoff: piano; Paul McCandless: oboe, English horn, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Arild Andersen: bass; Peter Erskine: drums, percussion.

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It is amazing how the desert can be so intensely vivid and musically inspiring. Anouar Brahem, Zakir Hussain, and Rabih Abou-Khalil often invoked it in their respective world-fusion styles. Now is the Russian-born, North Carolina-based pianist Yelena Eckemoff, who musically describes those vast landscapes of yellow sand, starry blue skies, and orange sunsets. For that purpose, she convened three world-class musicians - multi-reedist Paul McCandless, bassist Arild Andersen, and drummer Peter Erskine - and invites us to take a trip with them into the exuberant world of the Arabian sultans.

Bedouins” carries a bass groove impossible to resist, beautifully meshed with an elegant propulsive drumming to attain a lush foundation. When not accompanying with sparse and tasteful processional chords, Eckemoff improvises with a bold sense of tempo. McCandless plunges headfirst in malleable melodic stretches, whereas Erskine controls the tom-tom attacks with a brilliant touch. I would swear I saw a caravan of camels passing by.

All this velvety, intensity, and freedom are transferred to the next piece, “Mirages”, which soothes the spirit with idyllic passages initially introduced by a minimal one-note piano ostinato. The song is sonically expanded, gaining a strange and urgent force through the inventiveness of McCandless, whose atonal expeditions traverses jazz vanguardism. Eckemoff’s piano work is encouraging, making successive bass notes dancing in contrast with the delicious sweeping movements of the right hand. After the storm comes a calm, yet, not devoid of a giddy sense of adventure.

The musing literacy of the 3/4-metered “Desert’s Cry” bridges jazz fluency and non-Western spirituality in an attractive ethnic fusion. A similar tempo and mood characterize “Sands”, which closes out the album.
The classical background of the bandleader is strongly felt on both “Dance” and “Condor”. However, the tunes display distinct qualities. If the latter is deeply explorative in its jazz-classical hybridity, the former is a percussive charmer, churning a settled mix of ideas that include sax-bass unisons and expressive solos over jazz harmonic progressions.

The cumulative wisdom of the musicians simmers well throughout this enticing conceptual album, serving to translate complex compositions into traveler songs of sheer beauty and apparent facility. Other good examples are the breezy “Oasis”, rhythmically driven by brushes and featuring a gallant bass solo; “Dust Storm”, a modal jazz inflection marked by the disparate tonalities of McCandless oboe and bass clarinet; and “Garden of Eden”, a softly introspective piece with a folk melody and fugue-like piano movements.

Never too smooth, never too aggressive, the album offers the possibility and the pleasure of discovering new places. The classy compositions presented here conjure up the great mystic of the desert. The music feels like finding a precious oasis.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Bedouins ► 02 - Mirages ► 04 – Dance 


Ivo Perelman / Matthew Shipp - Oneness

Label: Leo Records, 2018

Personnel: Ivo Perelman: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano.

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The telepathic articulation between tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp, two free spirits in the art of music-making, is quite obvious and grows stronger on Oneness, a triple album with 33 improvised tracks, which all together, offer more than two hours of searching music. In this sonic adventure, the interactions never feel a debate, but rather a well-reasoned conversation. The nature of the pieces often become visual, stimulating our imagination for mysterious interplanetary routes or energizing earthy expressions defined by an organic blend of avant-garde jazz, art-folk elements, and contemporary classical incursions.

The duo always finds new ways to surprise, reinventing lines and textures through spontaneous ideas. They not only have a staggering control of their instruments but also find an easy comfort with each other's craft and forms of expression.

The first tune of CD1 suggests an odd tango-ish mood until falling into a free ramble, in which Perelman’s sinuous moves exalted by deep-toned notes with a rich vibrato. In a variety of atmospheres along the way, the cohesion of the duo is felt through free-form approaches and effortless suppression of time while shaping, sometimes angular, sometimes curved geometric figures with an inner pulse of creativity. The timbral range is also a crucial factor in their aesthetic reality, with Shipp’s off-center chordal adventurism, always intricate and stunning, becoming a great vehicle for Perelman’s elliptical threads and asymmetrical zigzags. Ambiguity is also brought into their subliminal interplay, no matter which direction they decide to take - it may be tranquil, lyric and dreamlike but also tense, restless and provocative.

The extemporizations sometimes hinge on an initial idea or just flow briskly with refractory intervallic leaps and opportune chromaticism. No hesitation. No redundancy. No preconception. Pure exploration and inspiration.

The album reflects what these longtime collaborators and wonderful musicians can do. One saxophone, one piano, and oneness of mind and purpose are everything they need.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 (CD1) - Track 1 ► 11 (CD1) - Track 11 ►  06 (CD2) - Track 6