Roscoe Mitchell - Bells For The South Side

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup: Roscoe Mitchell: saxophones, flute, percussion; James Fei: saxophones, clarinet, electronics; Hugh Ragin: trumpet; Tyshawn Sorey: trombone, piano, drums, percussion; Craig Taborn: piano, organ, electronics; Jaribu Shahid: bass, percussion; Tani Tabbal: drums, percussion; Kikanju Baku: drums, percussion; William Winant: percussion, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, woodblocks, timpani


Prolific avant-garde saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell was one of the mighty members and co-founder of the open-minded collective Art Ensemble of Chicago, a group that definitely changed the way of seeing and approaching jazz.

His recent double-disc album, Bells For the South Side, is his fourth for the ECM label and embraces all the slashing experimentalism that has been characterizing his music making for more than half a century.

Every single musician from this lineup had recorded with Mitchell before, namely, pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Jaribu Shahid, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, multi-reedist James Fei, and drummers/percussionists Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal, William Winant, and Tyshawn Sorey.

Disc one, comprising six tracks, opens with “Spatial Aspects Of The Sound”, an abstract piece designed for the amorphousness of Taborn’s piano, which intercalates with percussive bell chimes and occasional gunshot-like sounds. Mitchell’s flute suddenly appears in the last minutes. The same orientation is followed on “EP 78492", a percussive dive into the abstract, and also on the title track, which sounds like an anthem and brings all the above plus Ragin’s trumpet dissertations.
Arranged solely for reeds, “Prelude to a Rose” counterpoints swaggering melodic lines in order to sketch curvy and angular configurations alike. The precise blows come from Mitchell, Sorey, and Ragins on alto saxophone, trombone, and trumpet, respectively.

One of the most enticing compositions of this first set is “Panoply”, whose title corroborates the overflow of percussive rattles, authoritative and expansive horn purges, and on/off kinetic drumming. To neutralize the occasional silences, there are a couple of feral improvisations with prominence for Winant on marimba. “Dancing In The Canyon” is another worthy trip piqued by Taborn’s effective pianism and electronic elements, Baku’s jittery rhythms, and the bandleader’s outlandish cries. After a while, the sounds are tunneled to form a bigger mass, intensifying the consistency and coordinating other smaller explosions with rhythmic sense.

Disc Two introduces the 16-minute “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards” with saxophone and bowed bass followed by Tabbai’s long drums monologue. The tune resumes the sax/bass reciprocity for the ending.
On “The Last Chord” there’s also plenty interactive work with the horn section responding to ferocious piano sweeps and energetic percussion discussions.

Eerie vibes take hold of “Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks” and are extended to the beginning of the 25-minute closing tune “Red Moon in the Sky, Odwalla”. Things get intensely wild in the middle, but find repose when stepping on a groovy blues with a swing/Latin feel adorned by fantastic improvisations.

Roscoe Mitchell continues to blur the line between composition and improvisation, targeting adventurous listeners with non-stereotyped languages. For the ones who are not familiar with his music, this can be quite difficult.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 (disc1) – Panoply ► 04 (disc1) – Dancing in the Canyon ► 02 (disc2) – The Last Chord

Gerald Cannon - Combinations

Label/Year: Woodneck Records, 2017

Lineup: Gerald Cannon: bass; Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt and Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron: piano; Russel Malone: guitar; Willie Jones III and Will Calhoun: drums.


McCoy Tyner’s regular bass player, Gerald Cannon, has been a valuable sideman since he arrived in NY at the age 28. In his career, he had the privilege to gig with iconic artists such as drummers Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, pianist Cedar Walton, Hammond master Jimmy Smith, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, and Stanley Turrentine, just to name a few.

His reputation has risen exponentially, but a busy schedule kept preventing him from recording under his own name. He eventually did it in 2004, on his eponymous album, whose lineup included alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and pianist Rick Germanson, who both joins him in this Combinations. By using specific band formats for each tune, Cannon enriches his work with the sound of accomplished individualities.

Every bass note played on the intro of Slide Hampton’s “Every Man is a King” feels like resonant punches on the bull’s eye until anchoring in an evocative hard-swinging romp whose vitality stems from the combination of agitated walking bass, tilting drumming, and luxurious piano harmonies. Brisk solos filled with nimble ideas burst from the musical minds of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Gary Bartz, and ultimately Germanson, who quotes a tiny bit of “Fascinating Rhythm” before trading fours with the drummer.

Also resorting to a bass intro, the vibrant “Columbus Circle Stop” is my favorite of the 11-track list. Cannon’s lick serves as the basis for the A section groove and matching melodies find poise over the piano accompaniment, which almost reproduces the sound of a train on the tracks. Scalding argumentations arise when Irby and Pelt activate the call-response mode, also encouraging the rhythm section to participate in their continual exchanges.

Two classics claim their own space on the track list: while “Prelude to a Kiss” swims in beautiful sentiments drawn from Steve Slagle’s alto sax and Russell Malone’s rounded guitar chops, “Darn That Dream” is designed solely by Cannon, whose fingers slip to Parker’s “Donna Lee” once in a while.
Bassist and guitarist form a duet in the African-American religious hymn “How Great Thou Art” and interact once again on “Gary’s Tune”, where they are joined by Bartz and drummer Will Calhoun, in order to create a smoothly textured crossover jazz.

The record wouldn’t be the same without the soft-toned Brazilian mood of “Amanda’s Bossa”, jazzed up with improvisations by Bartz, Pelt, and the pianist Kenny Barron. The latter also takes care of the passionate harmonic passages of “A Thought”, a tune suavely Latinized by the rhythm section.

Distinctly steeped in tradition, Combinations, also brings new blood into the game, allowing Cannon to reveal himself as a composer while materializing his artistic vision with vibrancy.

        Grade B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:  
01 – Every Man Is a King ► 04 – Columbus Circle Stop ► 05 – Amanda’s Bossa

Stephan Micus - Inland Sea

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Stephan Micus: balanzykom, nyckelharpa, voice, zither, bass zither, shakuhachi, steel string guitar, genbri.


Avant-world music continues to thrive in the person of Stephan Micus, a solitary German multi-instrumentalist, traveler, and inveterate sound explorer whose idiosyncratic new album, Inland Sea, brings us wintry tones and lyrical practices from afar.

This eclectic composer has been recording almost exclusively for the ECM (this one is his 22nd) and each of his opuses tells a quirky musical journey pretty much unlooked-for and deeply heartfelt.

Micus, alone, plays six distinguished instruments from different regions of the globe and also sings, layering the sounds with acuity and building entrancing textures that draw beauty, sadness, and mystery alike.

On the opening tune, “Haze”, he strums the balanzykom, a rare Tajik seven nylon string lute used in Sufi ceremonies, with melancholic affinity, while the laments of the nyckelharpa, a Swedish bowed instrument, take us to bucolic landscapes where ostentation is nothing and life is everything.

The crepuscular “Sowing Wind” sounds like a cry coming from secluded mountains, where the wind carries tearful words through the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, which can be heard again on the transcendental “Reaping Storm”. The latter is introduced by bass zither whose bent strings produce a long, profound, and reverberating drone, simultaneously astonishing and arcane.

While “Dawn” and “Dusk” are exclusively shaped by three nyckelharpas each, acquiring a neo-classical chamber feel, “Dancing Clouds” is meticulously arranged through the juxtaposition of several instruments whose folk melodies, even if still dramatic, show signs of optimism and perseverance.

There are three vocalized pieces that probably will make your hair stand on end. They are “Flor Del Sur”, a ceremonial nomadic-style chant, “Virgen de La Mar”, composed of three genbri and sixteen polyphonic voices, and “Nuria”, the most enchanting piece on the recording, an idyllic ancient call that floats with acceptance and abandonment. Even not understanding the lyrics, I had the prayerful instinct of thanking for my life. It’s an outstanding conclusion of another remarkable body of work whose emotional emphasis suggests us to acknowledge the world as one.

Extremely scenic in its rustic descriptions, Inland Sea comes overflowing with sonic pleasures. It comprises ten hymns whose simplicity of expression hits you with the force of nature at the same time that offers you dollops of erudition. 
I wish you a pleasant spiritual meditation!

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Sowing Wind ► 05 – Reaping Storm ► 10 – Nuria

Ed Neumeister & NeuHat Ensemble - Wake Up Call

Label/Year: MeisteroMusic Records, 2017

Lineup: Mark Gross, Adam Kolker, Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, and Dick Oatts on reeds; Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, Jon Owens, Ron Tooley on trumpets; Marshall Gilkes, Keith O’Quinn, Larry Farrell, David Taylor on trombones; Steve Cardenas: guitar; David Berkman: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; John Riley: drums; John Hollenbeck: percussion.


Ed Neumeister, a former member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a versatile trombonist, composer, arranger, and conductor who debuted The NeuHat Ensemble in 1983. Since then, the reputed band has accommodated several jazz luminaries such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, and Don Byron, just to name a few. Subjected to alterations in its lineup throughout the years, the ensemble was reunited after Neumeister has returned to the US from Austria, where he taught for nearly 15 years. As a result, Wake Up Call holds out to eight evocative originals solidly orchestrated through airy and polished arrangements.

Striding with a soft backbeat, “Birds of Prey” brings flutes and other woodwinds to the forefront, assuming an innocuous nature and progressing with unabashed determination.

Interesting rhythmic accentuations spice up “Dog Play”, an Ellingtonian wallop that features the enlightened patterns and phrases of clarinetist Billy Drewes, Neumeister’s former bandmate in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Combining Brazilian rhythmic touches and lyrical clarity, “Locomotion” eschews any type of percussive turmoil to fixate on a vibrantly dancing interplay that astounds. This piece, composed in 1995 and previously recorded for the Jazz Big Band Graz record, exudes scented spring breezes with dulcet benevolence and optimistic oceanic textures, featuring delightful saxophone and trombone solos from Dick Oatts and Neumeister, respectively. The title track follows a similar pacifism yet slightly more concentrated in texture.

With an impactful dramatic punch, “New Groove” is buoyed by hi-hat cymbal and a groovy cadence of piano and bass. The tune features the singular verbalization of saxophonist Rich Perry intercalated with orchestral usurpations.
The title “Reflection” was well chosen for a piece that achieves the desired level of symphonic sophistication through beautiful counterpoints delivered in the form of cries, whispers, and hushed murmurs. On the contrary, “Deliberation” is a gently swinging piece propelled by a controlled bass sway plus ticklish brushed drumming, and adorned with non-colliding guitar and piano compings and horn unisons afloat. The improvisers are Mark Gross on alto saxophone and Neumeister on an explicitly verbalized muted trombone.

Leading with a strong musical discernment, Mr. Neumeister harmoniously paints several landscapes using distinct techniques and intensities. Although glancingly evocative of Duke, there’s room for a contemporary attitude, which makes of Wake Up Call a bracing album packed with pleasurable sounds to be discovered.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 – New Groove ► 05 – Deliberation ► 06 – Locomotion

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan - Small Town

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: bass.

The re-encounter of two contemporary jazz giants and virtuosos in the handling of their respective instruments spawned an ECM album recorded live at the gorgeous Village Vanguard and entitled Small Town. The gentlemen in question are guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, who have been working and recording together since 2011. Their sounds have interlocked outstandingly in Jakob Bro’s December Song and Time, Paul Motian’s The Windmills of Your Mind, and Frisell’s last work, I Wish Upon a Star.

The musical symbiosis that results from their interplay couldn’t have been more elucidative than in the opening tune, “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago”. This airy piece is one of the most beautiful compositions by the late drummer Paul Motian, who first recorded it in 1984 with a bass-less trio that comprised Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Morgan speaks a language of his own, whether connecting with Frisell’s voicings and harmonics or roaming freely and with no apparent destiny. The clarity, weightlessness, and transparency of this piece sent me into a levitating state where gravity wasn’t enough to pull me down. It gave me such a peace of mind as I kept embracing its idleness with all my strength. 

While the rendering of “Subconscious Lee” pays homage to its auteur, the saxophonist Lee Konitz, by combining happy bass hops with folkish infiltrating sounds and making the tune lose its original post-bop feel, “Song For Andrew No 1” is a recent piece composed by Frisell for drummer Andrew Cyrille. It was written for and featured in the drummer’s latest album The Declaration of Musical Independence. The duo version maintains the dreamy atmosphere, but finds even more room to breathe, conveying a lovely melancholy that could be compared to the Portuguese Fado.

From this point on, the versatile duo deliberately plunges into the folk genre, giving it their own touch and taking us to the vastness of American prairies and savannahs. While “Wildwood Flower” shows a typical narrative affiliated to its bluegrass roots, Fats Domino’s R&B “What a Party” carries something funny in its melody and rhythm, bringing to mind the farcical moves of Chaplin and Keaton in those classic silent movies.
Brimming with charisma, Frisell’s idyllic title track increases the sense of uncertainty through enthralling guitar voicings, differing from “Poet/Pearl”, the only composition by the duo, whose harmonic/melodic passages feel more familiar and some of them quite reminiscent of the popular “My One and Only Love”.

The record ends in a somewhat noirish mood with the furtive “Goldfinger”, a 007 theme that became popular in 1964 through the voice of Shirley Bassey.

This is a meritorious record by two high-flyers who already showed what they got. On every tune, one gets the impression of moving in an immense space and this music, at its purest artistic form, gets so easily under your skin.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago ► 03 – Song For Andrew No 1 ► 05 – Small Town

Aruan Ortiz - Cubanism

Label/Year: Intakt Records, 2017

Lineup – Aruan Ortiz: piano and composition.

Joining a powerful musical concept to a far-reaching technique, Cuban-born, New York-based pianist/composer Aruan Ortiz releases the second solo album of his career, 20 years after Impresión Tropical, his 1996 debut CD recorded in Madrid, Spain. The evolution is abysmal, and his contribution to the current elasticity of jazz is phenomenal. Lately, he has been a ubiquitous presence in the creative New York scene, appearing at the side of folks such as Michael Attias and Nasheet Waits, whose albums are part of my personal selection for this year’s best new releases, and gigging with other artists with a similar craving for exploration.

The ones who had the chance to listen to his previous work, Hidden Voices, recorded in trio with Eric Revis on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, already know about Otiz’s amazing skills, both as an improviser and composer. However, his new outing, Cub(an)ism, offers a completely different vision, deliberately merging Afro-Cuban roots and rhythms with progressive jazz idioms where artistic abstraction and timbre acuity are prevalent.
The opening piece, “Louverture Op. 1”, reveals Ortiz’s independence of hands, each of them obeying to distinct lines of thought that envision to tell a story. At first, he holds to a reverberant, deep-voiced pedal with his left hand while flipping a ritualistic confluence of exciting rhythms and melodies with the right. The song, influenced by Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, a representative voice of Cubism and revivalist of the Afro-Cuban spirit and culture, proceeds in a cyclic procession of rapid phrases and intriguing pulses.

Fairly dreamy, “Yambú” is a beautiful dismantlement of a Cuban rumba assembled into an evergreen musical inspiration whose low voicings and high-pitch trills are sensationally tone-controlled.

The longest piece on the record, at nearly 11 minutes, is “Cuban Cubism”, which echoes with suspenseful atmospheres, assimilating some darkness amidst its geometric shapes and interlocking planes. Silences provide the space to breathe and the dance is made through minimal pointillism, sporadic abrupt sweeps, and irregular multi-pitched grooves with strong percussive character. Similar guidelines are followed in “Monochrome (Yubá)”, in which Ortiz emulates the sound of a djambé or conga by smothering the keys with his left hand while designing simple upper melodies. Yubá is a toque of Tumba Francesa whose origins are Afro-Haitian.

The pianist throws in considerable amounts of tension on “Dominant Force”, a disjointed dance full of tone clusters that magnetize and liberate, and also on “Sacred Chronology”, a rhythmically daring composition containing sinuous lines, dissonant intervals, and tumultuous left-hand strikes.

Opposing to these while searching for an inner peace, “Passages” and “Coralaia” glide in quiescent silver waters. Although transpiring affability and composure, the former still searches reservedly, while the latter touches musicality with an auroral beauty.

Aruan Ortiz has so much music inside of him that we can feel the intensity when he touches the piano. Breeding ground for metaphoric poetry, Cub(an)ism is a  hybrid feast of heritage and novelty.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Yambú ► 03 – Cuban Cubism ► 10 – Coralaia

Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart - Find The Way

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Aaron Parks: piano; Ben Street: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Find The Way, the second ECM outing by praiseworthy American pianist Aaron Parks, flows steadily and unhurriedly as it keeps creating generous settings, each of them with delightful nuances to be discovered and savored. Opposing to his previous Arborescence, recorded solo, the new work flourishes in a classic piano trio with bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart providing reliable substrative integrity.

Both “Adrift”, the opening tune, and “Unravel”, which expresses a doleful sincerity, shine with Park’s soft and nice touches, conveying a fluid lyricism over a dawdling melancholy that recalls the style of Steve Kuhn and sometimes Bobo Stenson. Hart’s percussive work is outstanding on that first tune as he molds his own textures, changes, and readapts them once more according to what’s happening around him.

Far more static and stripped to its essentials, “Hold Music” exhibits harmonic voicings in rotation with the bassist playing straight like in a pop/rock song and Hart losing himself in that percussive airiness that forces any sturdy surface to bend and quiver.

Covered with glossy splendor, “Song For Sashou” immediately detaches from the whole due to a rich combination of melody and harmony on top of a foundation carrying a gently brushed bossanova touch attached. This piece ranks right below “Alice”, a powerful piece inspired by the modal journeys of Alice Coltrane, in the competition for the most outstanding piece on the album. On the latter, one can find the bassist adventuring himself in unexpected portions of the song, always in the company of the inventive drummer, whose pulse acquires a rock flow that vehemently drives us to a dramatic finale. The liquidity in Parks’ progressions bestows the same effect as an oasis in a desert, irrigating and nourishing on all sides.

While “First Glance” craves a sluggish awake and fulfilling quietude, “Melquíades” results in a Bill Evans-like mood. Not that the breathable, spontaneous lines of Parks sound similar to the acclaimed pianist, but because of the harmonic movements and diaphanous suspensions.

The title track is the only cover on the album, closing it with abandoned benediction. It was composed by pianist Ian Bernard and popularized by Rosemary Clooney, for whom the song was written.

Aaron Parks and his trio don’t have to move fast to dazzle. Floating and never atonal, Find The Way sets the abstraction levels to the minimum and marks stretches as non-priorities. It’s a modern creative work with a profound, strong personality that will make many listeners feel good.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Song For Sashou ► 06 – Alice ► 09 – Find The Way

Rotem Sivan Trio - Antidote

Label/Year: Alma Records, 2017

Lineup – Rotem Sivan: guitar; Haggai Cohen Milo: bass; Colin Stranahan: drums.

According to Israeli guitarist Rotem Sivan, Antidote, his fourth outing, was a product of the shock and heartbreak he felt with the ending of a 7-year relationship. Throughout this new body of work, mostly composed of original compositions, the music became a genuine vehicle for him to express inner emotions. 
After his debut as a leader in 2013, the trio has suffered some alterations in its lineup, stabilizing since 2015 with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Colin Stranahan.

Adopting the contours of a sultry dance, “Shahar” evinces a warming subtlety in every chord and string bending, captivating unreservedly through a clear emotional fluidity. The trio, living in perfect consonance with the music, adheres easily to any idea that might come up.

Delivered in a 5/4 time signature, the short yet self-assured title track is one of the most exhilarating pieces on the record, unveiling folk Israeli influences on the contemplative intro, where Milo assumes great part of the responsibility, whether through the melting arco brushstrokes, which accompanies the guitar melody, or whenever he plucks the strings with striking poignancy. Sectional rock inflections opportunely break the chain, bringing novelty and liberating the soul. On this spot, Sivan’s beautiful distorted chords are key.

Another immediately palpable little piece is the introspective “Rustic Heart”, in which Sivan, playing alone, speaks more than on any other tune delivered in trio.

Gilded with polished Jimi Hendrix-like segments, in the same line of “Foxy Lady”, “Reconstruction” also offers hints of “My Favorite Things” and folk connotations scattered throughout Sivan’s solo, which thrived with ambition and straightforwardness.

The two non-originals chosen to be on the album have a very distinct nature and were subjected to discrepant sonic treatments. While the sweet melody of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, a commercial hit from 1997, was declared conjointly by Milo and Sivan on top of textures molded by gracious fingerpicked guitar work and attentive drumming, the classic “Over the Rainbow” is dressed up with soul jazz and R&B outfits, emanating feel-good vibes through a warm combination of Gracie Terzian’s voice and Sivan’s smart comping.
Sun Song” and “For Emotional Use Only” were both recuperated from previous records. Particularly interesting, the latter is a conciliatory reflection inundated by the creative drumming of Stranahan, immensely rich in elegant snare rataplans, tom-tom entanglements, and hi-hat stamps. Gulpy wha-wha guitar chops anticipate the final rock section.

In a well-shaken cocktail of styles and influences, Antidote feels remarkably unified and denotes a tasty freshness.

        Grade A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Antidote ► 07 – Rustic Heart ► 10 – For Emotional Use Only

Alex Bonney quartet - Halda Ema

Label/Year: Loop Collective, 2017

Lineup - Alex Bonney: trumpet; James Allsopp: clarinets; Olie Brice: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

Alex Bonney is a London-based jazz trumpeter, sound engineer, and composer who also has a flair for electronic music, a genre that is not included in his latest work, Halda Ema. Instead, the record dives into modern creativity, coordinating counterpoint and euphony, and was recorded live with James Allsopp (Nostalgia 77) on clarinets, Olie Brice (Paul Dunmall Quartet) on bass, and the veteran Jeff Williams (Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz) on drums.

We are introduced to “Pangolin Husbandry”, the opening tune, through an ad-lib section of trumpet and percussion. In a while, Bonney lays anchor in a phrase that is almost immediately matched by Allsopp and firmly supported by the tickled groove laid down by the rhythm section. The clarinetist often resorts to that line until the beginning of the improvisational section. The tune swings and thrives with reverberant obliques as it controls the turbulence that may hit the collective improvisations. This state of affairs drives us to accessible avant-gardish zones.

Brice builds another cyclic lick on “Tri-X Dreams”, inviting the trumpeter and the clarinetist to shape the theme’s singable melody after their improvisations. By the end, the bassist speaks again confidently while pulling out a warm, woody sound from his instrument.

The quartet conceives interesting and more abstract contours in the introduction of “New Horizons”, a folk-jazz dance where the horn players have the spotlight. Williams embarks on an efficient demonstration of his rhythmic skills before the main statement resumes.

Mobiles” seems to ramble with no particular goal other than probing hooks with an experimental, free posture. The quartet’s game comprehends bowed and pizzicato bass techniques, highly syncopated drumming, trumpet air attacks and splitting tones, and winding, often cavernous clarinet blows.

While “Imaginary National Anthem” intends to bring some more happiness into the UK through its call-response interactions, the final track “Awakening Song” drags itself languidly until landing in an attractive 3/4 tempo.

Encircled by an upbeat attitude, Halda Ema showcases four like-minded roamers whose musical strategy treats tradition with respect, using it to pass on modernity. 
This is an upstanding one by Bonney.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Pangolin Husbandry ► 03 – New Horizons ► 04 – Mobiles 

Eric Revis - Sing Me Some Cry

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup – Ken Vandermark: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Kris Davis: piano; Eric Revis: bass; Chad Taylor: drums.

Eric Revis is an American double bassist whose understanding of contemporary music and intoxicating touch make him one of the most coveted voices within the jazz genre.
Containing a new set of original compositions, Sing Me Some Cry is an excellent follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed Crowded Solitudes, which featured Kris Davis on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. For the latest album, Revis forms a pliable rhythm section with Chad Taylor, who occupies the drummer’s chair, and Kris Davies, whose pianistic twists and whirls are perfectly adequate to his style. Rounding out the group is the revolutionary multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, a valuable element who doesn't refrain from stirring up fire whenever necessary.

They set about the adventure with the title track, an experimental commitment that precipitates quasi-humanized, eerie weeps in parallel with Revis’ bass movements and Taylor's subdued percussion. Little by little, Davies and Vandermark join them; the former with piano string combs, later turned into left-hand thunders and right-hand persistent notes, and the latter with squiggles delivered in the form of high-pitch remarks.

An interesting tune, mostly because of the diversity of its well-arranged passages, is Vandermark’s “Good Company”, which starts with an invigorating wet African pulse and then shifts into a playful swing with accentuated Latin vibes before receiving Davies’ enthusiastic groovy takes. When Vandermark picks up, the swing is hardened and he answers to the call with fierce discursive stamina, often poked by Davies’ mesmerizing comping.

Besides the saxophonist, both drummer and pianist contribute to the recording with one composition each. The former clocks his “Obliongo” with a complex tempo while the latter granted “Rye Eclipse”, an old composition that advances confidently after a ritualistic introductory section painted with regular cymbal splashes, insistent block chords, scuffed up bowed bass, and saxophone furious growls and clamors. The dance ends up in a rough-and-tumble fervency.

The spirited rendition of “Rumples”, composed by the guitarist Adam Rogers, is surprisingly tidier, less funky, and more ‘hang-loose’ than the original included in Chris Potter’s 2009 album Ultrahang.

Revis’ pieces are both curious and distinct in its forms, surroundings, and structures. If “PT44” acquires an urban vibrancy through cyclic harmonic sequences and sturdy bass-drums underpinnings, “Solstice…The Girls” brings soft exotic sounds shaped by silky clarinet drop-offs, smothered piano notes, mallet strikes, and a minimalist bass drive. Conversely, “Drunkard’s Lullaby” features Vandermark’s vehement appeals over a questioning bass ostinato that becomes transiently swinging in certain sections. Still singular, the closing tune, “Glyph”, provides for literate balladry.

Filled with dynamic sparks and intriguing movements, this album is also a showcase for collective roams and extemporaneous individualities. The members of Eric Revis quartet confirm their virtuosity in this sort of creative deconstructionism.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Good Company ► 03 – PT 44 ► 07 – Rumples

Mario Pavone - Vertical

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup – Tony Malaby:  saxophones; Oscar Noriega: clarinets; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Peter McEachern: trombone; Mario Pavone: bass; Michael Sarin: drums.

The adventurous American bassist Mario Pavone has been a reference in the avant-garde jazz scene for four decades, and his latest work, Vertical, bursts with exceptionally odd grooves, sparkling interwoven melodies, and exciting improvisations, for another significant entry in a very much respected discography.

To play this set of 11 original compositions, he convened a robust four-horn frontline that includes Tony Malaby on saxophones, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Dave Ballou on trumpet, and Peter McEachern on trombone. Teaming up with him in the rhythm section is the drummer Michael Sarin, a longtime collaborator, who earned the drummer's chair once again. 

Ellipse”, a fantastically orchestrated piece, delivers stunning moments with Pavone’s bass and Noriega’s bass clarinets in a tight unison and counterpointing to the horns’ serpentine movements. The improvisational sections were assigned to Malaby, whose centrifugal rhythmic ideas effortlessly germinated from his soprano with a melting sound, and Ballou, more cerebral in his approach but boasting a brittle vibrancy.

Start Oval” follows the same orientation, but via an enchanting 4/4 groove that makes us tap our feet and then jump for a wild dance. Ballou elevates his sound to the heavens and welcomes the company of Malaby, who never stops to amaze with inventiveness, and McEachern, who adds fuel to the flames.

The title track feels half-floating half-imperial in its initial subdued tones. A beautiful bass ostinato glues to the drummer’s steady tempo while horn unisons slide on top of this configuration. Pavone unties his bass lace, embracing freedom during Malaby and Noriega's improvised talks.

Suitcase in Savannah”, a stirring piece recuperated from the 2015 album Blue Dialect, diverges from “Broken”, a Sun Ra-like safari, as well as from the shortest piece on the record, “Blue Drum”, which is dominated by Sarin’s colorful brushwork and complemented with Pavone’s hopping notes in a matching communion with the horns in consonance.
Animated with transitive melodic asymmetries, frequent rhythm syncopations, and collective improvisations, “Cube Code” is a rollercoaster drop that also features an explorative bass solo by the bandleader. He delivers another great one on “Two Thirds Radial”, which swings with sharp focus and is rounded off by another piquant solo, beautifully cooked by Noriega, who thanks his horn mates for filling with a few winding moves.

With so much thrilling intensities, the band decided to refrain the impetus with an Ellingtonian brassy ballad called “Axis Legacy”, in which Malaby explores several timbres on the tenor.

Pavone’s music lives in constant expansion and contraction, always searching for flexible points that serve as an escape to change direction or mood, and then, returning to the base where the lines are closed. So, no wonder that many of the tunes carry geometric shapes or symmetry-related words in their titles.

Pavone sounds fresher than ever and his compositional competence, privileging free improvisation within well-established structural blocks, remains highly appealing.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Start Oval ► 07 – Cube Code ► 09 – Two Thirds Radial

Hyeseon Hong Jazz Orchestra - Ee Ya Gi

Label/Year: Mama Records, 2017

Lineup includes - Hyeseon Hong: composition, direction; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Rich Perry: tenor sax; Ben Kono: alto and soprano sax, flute; Matt Vashlishan: alto sax, EWI, flute; Jeremy Powell: tenor sax, clarinet; Andrew Hadro: baritone sax; Ron Wilkens: trombone; Matt Panayides: guitar; Broc Hempel: piano; John Lenis: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

The name Hyeseon Hong might not be very familiar to the jazz diaspora yet. However, this Korean jazz arranger and composer based in New York shows strong attributes in her debut album, Ee-Ya-Gi (meaning Stories), to get further and enchant the world with her genre-bending orchestrations. Moreover, she surrounds herself with a fantastic group of 18 musicians that make sure her musical stories are emboldened and get proper wings.

The band's lineup not only includes two habitués of Maria Schneider Orchestra, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone, but also the multi-reedists Matt Vashlishan, member of the Dave Liebman’s Expansion quintet, and Ben Kono, who has been working regularly with Ed Palermo, as well as the sought-after drummer Mark Ferber whose percussive thuds and thumps can be found on records by trumpeter Ralph Alessi, his trombonist twin brother Alan Ferber, and Spanish bassist Alexis Cuadrado.
Harvest Dance” opens the record with a full-bodied richness. Overflowing with contemporary moves, the sounds are elegantly layered within a harmonious combination of Korean melodic grace and Ellingtonian jazz fantasy. The improvisers in this piece are trombonist Dave Wilkens, whose vocabulary develops passionately after a wonderful solo entrance, and Jensen, who drills into the surface, using forceful attacks suffused with melody.

Friends or Lovers” kicks in with robust power chords, with the similar tones of Pete Townshend and The Who, and advances with contrapuntal horn ostinatos over a bass pedal until acquiring a captivating swinging jazz flow. The first soloist jumping to the forefront is Kono, whose phrasing is delineated with straightforward melodies that take a convincing rhythmic course. The articulated guitarist Matt Panayides, who skillfully plays with pitches and intervals, immediately follows him and just before the rock curtains come down again to finish off the tune, Vashlishan brings his EWI to the spotlight.

This vibrant setting is softened on “Para Mi Amigo Distante”, a gentle yet colorful piece freshly dressed up with bossa nova outfits. The mellifluous melodic guidelines are reinforced through Kono’s soprano, whose easiness made me think of Toots Thielemans, but the tenor player Jeremy Powell fires it up a little bit.

Carrying a traditional Korean folk melody at its core, “Boat Song” moves at an arresting 6/4 tempo, featuring emotional vocalized laments and a beautiful, heartfelt solo full of intention by the veteran tenorist Rich Perry. This Oriental balminess diverges from the classical aromas of Broc Hempel’s piano on “Disappearing Into Foam”, a palpitating waltz inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

The cartoonish melodies and strong rhythmic accentuations of “Trash Digging Queen” contrast with the delicacy of “Love Song”, the closing tune. Both feature Jensen’s wide-ranging dynamic lines.

Exhibiting an insatiable appetite for jazz-fusion, Ms. Hong proves to be a talented orchestrator and musical thinker who is not afraid to risk while crossing genre boundaries.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Harvest Dance ► 02 – Friends Or Lovers ► 04 – Boat Song

Marquis Hill, Jeff Parker, Joachim Florent, Denis Fournier - Escape Lane

Label/Year: The Bridge Sessions, 2017

Lineup – Marquis Hill: trumpet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Joachim Florent: bass; Denis Fournier: drums.

Escape Lane is an avant-garde jazz record and quartet that feels cohesive regardless the distinct backgrounds and styles of its members.

Trumpeter Marquis Hill shows an inclination for groundbreaking sounds, feeling comfortable in playing over inventive rhythms as he explores fresh musical concepts. In his latest works as a leader, Hill has been teaming up with altoist Christopher McBride and the quirky drummer Makaya McCraven, both longtime collaborators.

Creative guitarist Jeff Parker, a member of the indie rock band Tortoise since 1998, loves to electrify the air around him with chops that aggregate free improvisation, avant-jazz, and stylish art-rock. As a sideman, he teamed up with Fred Anderson, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, and Scott Amendola.

Not so prolific in terms of recordings, Belgian Joachim Florent studied classical and jazz bass, while the active French percussionist Denis Fournier has embraced several styles in a career that spans almost five decades.

The contrapuntal title track gives an idea of the record’s mood, creating a sensation of dissonance through the polyphonic lines poured out by Hill and Parker. The latter, setting off on an individual exploration, holds the blues and the alternative rock as tools. Hill returns afterward, well backed by the impenetrable foundation created by the rhythm section, to wrap up with an interchange of solicitude and nonchalance.
Entering in a bubbly sphere of bliss, the quartet shows an extreme affinity for balladry on “Le Sel De La Situacion”. In an early phase, Hill’s thoughtful dissertations occupy the center of a song whose placidity is enhanced by Fournier's lenient brushwork and cymbal scratches and Florent's unaccompanied final narrative.
Lever de Soleil Au Loin Sur La Lac Agité” is 21 minutes long and serves as a showcase for the quartet’s textural ambiances, from airy to paradoxical to groovy. There are many opportunities for individual flights, and Parker, now and then, exhibits a pleasurable folk-jazz disposition to remodel a usually abstract modus operandi. After probing enigmatic paths, one after another, under the rhythmic conduction of Fournier, the tune initiates a swinging motion that serves Hill's motivic efficiency, before decelerating toward a reflective state of limbo.

Introduced by chimes and guitar harmonics, “4800 S. Lake Park” ekes out poetic drifts declaimed by Hill, having Florent’s bowed bass underneath. Similar meditative tones and ruminations build “Une Petetite Fille Danse Asisse” where the trumpeter straddles Coltrane’s exultations and Miles’ cool vibes.

The title “Roughed Grooved Surface” is sufficiently transparent to let us have an idea about its mood. Fournier’s hyperactive drumming and the eerie vibes invented by Parker hang together. The guitarist also uses chromaticism and strident, rapid-fire strokes to respond to Hill’s intercalation of high-pitched blows and ascendant/descendant movements.

Wielding a keen sense of perception, these four explorers create unorthodox layers of sound to be stacked up and become strangely appealing.

         Grade B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Le Sel De La Situacion ► 03 – Lever De Soleil Au Loin Sur La Lac Agite ► 06 – Rough Grooved Surface

Jason Kao Hwang - Sing House

Label/Year: Eonymous Records, 2017

Lineup – Jason Kao Hwang: violin and viola; Steve Swell: trombone; Chris Forbes: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Andrew Drury: drums.

American violinist, violist, and composer from Chinese descent, Jason Kao Hwang, has followed his own path in the avant-jazz scene with a few interesting albums of his own authorship and many memorable collaborations along the way with Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Dominic Duval, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and more recently with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum.

On his new work, Sing House, he establishes immersive sonic architectures with the help of a brand new quintet whose musicians have been accompanying him throughout the years, whether in personal projects like EDGE and Burning Bridge or other formations that some of them might put together. They are Steve Swell on trombone, Chris Forbes on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums.

The band conjures a variety of moods throughout the 49 minutes of an equilibrated album whose each of the four original compositions lasts between 11 and 14 minutes.

No Such Thing”, the opening piece, surges with a romping start, exposing the collective prowess through ever-shifting rhythms and natural sound manipulations. The introductory chapter fades out evenly, giving an opportunity to Drury, alone, to exhibit a few chattering drum scrambles. The improvisations are placed over the textural compactness formed by piano, bass, and drums. Still, the improvised discourses of Swell and Hwang occur within different settings. The former blows while having a denser funk-rock foundation under his feet; the latter bowed with a more volatile if audacious broken swing as a framework. Forbes’ bluesy pianism and rhythmic whirlwinds bring Horace Tapscott’s demeanors into the scene, impelling Drury to fire back with potent palpitations. Before finishing with calm poise, there is still time for Filiano’s complex bass plucking with bends, and Hwang’s violin whines and woes.

Everyone must agree that dream walking is an instance of perils and an exposure to risk. It’s exactly this sense of uncertainty and even obscurity that Hwang describes in “Dream Walk”, where a mix of creaky and deep-toned sounds crush in and respond to one another with diligent counterpoint. A sudden wake up may bring another wild adventure and the quintet also covers that part with a half festive, half desperate sense of urgency, which translates into another set of extemporaneous outpours.

When What Could”, obeying to six note beats per bar, embraces malleable contortions as it flutters from spacious chamber music to catchy rock inflections, which are transformed and adapted again into a more freeing and abstract concept for the final section.

The closing tune, “Inscribe”, nurtures beautiful orchestrations with different paces and resolute rhythms. Also overlapping ostinatos, triumphant solos, and enthusiastic parallel motions and unisons are also part of the trade.

Never gratuitous, this is wise avant music on the cutting edge, thriving with an unmitigated magnetism, rhythmic resourcefulness, and shimmering lyricism.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – No Such Thing ► 03 – When What Could ► 04 – Inscribe

Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse - Morphogenesis

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup – Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finalyson: trumpet; Maria Grand: tenor saxophone; Rane Moore: clarinet; Kristin Lee: violin; Jen Shyu: vocals; Matt Mitchell: piano; Greg Chudzik: bass; Neeraj Mehta: percussion.

On today’s scene, only very few musicians can be proud of following their own musical instincts and still generate a style that is very much their own. American alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman is undeniably one of those. A glance at his career reveals defying aesthetics, laudable eclecticism, staggering arrangements, and a scrupulous technique that makes his saxophone speak volumes.

He just keeps getting better with the age. Hence, if Synovial Joint, composed for a large ensemble, was one of the best albums if not the best of 2015, his brand new Morphogenesis, also released on Pi Recordings, is a serious candidate for that title again.

In his new all-star ensemble, Natal Eclipse, Coleman catches up with some regular members of The Five Elements and The Council of Balance groups, as well as two great new additions, cases of percussionist Neeraj Mehta, who plays on five tracks, and the highly sought-after pianist Matt Mitchell.

The percussion-less “Inside Game” provides an excellent overture with Greg Chudzik and Mitchell assuring the tune’s heartbeat. They are joined by the frontliners’ intervallic infiltrations, Kristin Lee’s abrasive violin strokes, and Jen Shyu’s finesse vocalizations. It’s all about this organic conjunction that expands ecstatically and makes us thirsty to discover more about the textural consciousness that reigns in the group.

Pull Counter” uses a specific phrase as a motive and places it over a malleable bass flow that occasionally swings, especially when Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson improvise. In turn, Mitchell’s gut reaction is as much lyrical as rhythmically audacious.

Mehta’s percussive spells play a strategic role not only on “NOH” and “SPAN”, two spontaneous and floatingly counterpointed improvisations, but especially on “Shoulder Roll” whose sensuous exoticism is fully cooked in the company of Chudzik’s grooves. This bonhomie also offers unisons delivered with pinpoint accuracy, as well as short but intrepid improvisations.

With “Morphing”, Coleman conjures up a sort of Baroque dance where the sobriety of classical music blends with the mischief of jazz. Embracing sleekness and dodging obstacles, this tune rushes into shifting counterpoint and smart polyphony whenever the horn collective is not acting as one. And what a force has the voice of Ms. Shyu here!

Coleman’s sophistication of speech is well patented on “Dancing and Jabbing”, a piece that is poetry for the ears. It also reflects the refined musicianship of the band members, who call up for their own space as they keep creating on top of an incandescent coalition.

The record closes with “Horda”, a pungent orchestration holding magical African pulses and angular melodic traits. The swaggering movements and hasty verbalizations also bring classical influences to the table while every player searches and fetches.

The connectedness of the nine tunes in Morphogenesis becomes fundamental to achieve a cohesive whole. It’s an indestructible relationship between structure, unity, and improvisation.

Less dense or polyrhythmic than previous works, this is a deluxe Coleman that enters directly to the top picks of the year.

       Grade A+

       Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Inside Game ► 05 – Morphing ► 09 – Horda



JD Allen - Radio Flyer

Label/Year: Savant, 2017

Lineup – JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

With Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (Savant, 2016), the notable saxophonist JD Allen deserved every accolade he got.

Now, for his brand new collection of originals, Radio Flyer, his 10th as a leader, he resolved to change direction but maintaining the same faithful peers, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. However, this time, the band expands their sonic palette by adding the magical spells of guitarist Liberty Ellman, who besides his own projects, got also known for his amazing work with Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman.
The outcome is an exciting neo-postbop adorned with influences from the masters John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins.

That rich legacy is detected in the opening piece, “Sitting Bull”, whose main melody is positively driven by sax and guitar over a vagrant foundation laid down by August and Royston. Allen discourses with a quasi-philosophical insight, closely followed by Ellman’s tasteful comping, which feels simultaneously subtle and penetrating. The tune then acquires a rash swinging flow suitable for Ellman’s explorations on top of bass hops and restless drumming. The guitarist’s approach draws curiosity as he interpolates chordal voicings into the melodic lines without losing a bit of clarity of ideas.

Surrounded by a special aura, the title track features the dusky, dry timbres of Allen, Royston’s tom-tom-cymbal artistry, August’s solemn bowed bass, and a spectral glow that comes out of Ellman’s guitar’s chiming effects. Amidst ostinatos occasionally subjected to pitch transposition, Ellman smartly catches phrases delivered by the bandleader and proceeds with the flow.

Untamable drumming mixes with wry saxophone tours for the starting of “The Angelus Bell”, which also turns to its advantage the granular harmonics and beautifully contrasting voicings thrown in by Ellman.

Coltrane’s imprints can be located on “Daedalus” whose unison statement, quirky swing, and freeing mood carry vibrant energies coming from within. Allen’s heart is all in there.

The quartet is put to a test of endurance on “Heureux”, where ethereal guitar voicings oppose to the jittery drumming and robust walking bass put together by Royston and August. While Allen employs a vivid language, encouraging his peers to exteriorize feelings, Ellman acquiesces, blowing our minds through a contagious improvisation.
Radio Flyer feels so homogeneous that I would dare to call it a suite. It not only waves at you with an array of bold and fresh solutions but also makes you fly with the grandiosity of its sound.

       Grade A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Radio Flyer ► 03 – The Angelus Bell ► 06 – Daedalus

Samo Salamon Sextet - The Colours Suite

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Samo Salamon: guitar; Achille Succi: bass clarinet; Julian Arguelles: tenor saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Roberto Dani: drums; Christian Lillinger: drums. 


Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon has been consistent and stimulating throughout a career made of multiple interesting collaborations. More inclined to innovate rather than keep the tradition alive, Salamon has shown what he’s capable of in albums like Kei’s Secrets (2006) and Government Cheese (2007), and more recently with his bassless trios on Little River (2015) and Unity (2016).

On his first recording for Clean Feed, The Colours Suite (recorded live at the Ljubljana Jazz Fest), he plunges deep into experimentation, becoming immersed in the intoxicating waters of avant-garde with the help of talents such as old time associates Achille Succi on bass clarinet, Julian Arguelles on tenor sax, and Roberto Dani on drums, and new rhythm mates Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Christian Lillinger also on drums.

Yellow” was the chosen color to open the suite, and does it bluntly. It starts with the enthusiastic colloquy presented by guitar, clarinet, and tenor, in which a specific phrase serves as the main idea for communication. An endless, fidgety rhythm becomes the perfect vehicle for Salamon’s guitar noise before the reeds take over and wrap up with unfussy counterpoint.

What can you expect from “Black”? Darker hues in his palette, great unisons, a transitional passage filled with irregular pointillism and acerbic phrasing dispensed at high speed, as well as call-response movements on top of jittery drumming inflections. Solo percussion ends the adventure.

Green” brings more enigmas to the puzzle. Beautifully layered, it’s the kind of tune that you never know what to expect as it keeps playing with your emotions. During the casual, leisurely-paced first section, both Succi and Arguelles prowl with circumspection, colliding once in a while with stylish graciousness. The middle section is far more obscure, resorting to bowed bass drones, extended trills, and contrasting flutters of many kinds. The band reactivates the groove for the finale.

Salamon’s openness to different sounds transpires on “Red”, an atmospheric invention charged with individual flourishes, and “Blue”, where we find him soloing with no harmonic concern on top of an atmospheric hum formulated by the horn players. This latter tune ends in a vibrating outcry stirred by a guitar ostinato, syncopated drumming, and fractious horn unisons.

Brown” is another stimulant and well-orchestrated post-bop piece turned into a boisterous free jazz dance. Succi’s untamed bass clarinet stands out, gradually inflaming the double drums and driving the rest of his bandmates to a hype collective upheaval. 

The Colours Suite means Salamon embracing a total freedom, as we have never seen him doing before. The result is thought-provoking, powerfully complex, and immensely creative.

      Grade A-

      Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Yellow ► 03 – Green ► 06 – Brown 

Dickey, Maneri, Shipp - Vessel in Orbit

Label/Year: AUM Fidelity, 2017

Lineup – Whit Dickey: drums; Mat Maneri: viola; Matthew Shipp: piano. 


Vessel in Orbit is a musical narrative of a fictional spatial voyage piloted by a trio of talented musicians and longtime associates. I'm talking about the quick-tempered drummer Whit Dickey, conceptualist violist Mat Maneri, and groundbreaking pianist Matthew Shipp.

Together, and furnished with the appropriate palettes, they illustrate this cosmic adventure that starts with the characterization of their “Spaceship 9”. There’s an imminent sense of danger brought by an insistent chord, an unambiguous rhythmic provocation by Shipp, who inspires Maneri for a few virtuosic and full-blooded runs that initially sound like a horn. The percussive currents emitted by Dickey sometimes gain the form of an imperial march. Despite some textural iteration and occasional mitigation in the intensity, the tune vibrates with movement.

The crew stops the engines for a “Space Walk”, which is done at an irregular pace as a result of freedom. They describe the dark and bright sides of the mysterious planet they’re stationed.
Forcing them into a huge vortex of tension, “Dark Matter” brings a jittery effervescence that will lead them to “Galaxy 9”, a quiescent cogitation, later turned into vehement imploration conducted by Maneri’s dramatic phrasing.

While passing a risky zone of “Turbulence”, they experience oscillating moves regulated by Dickey’s technique and loaded with contrapuntal dissertations from his peers, whose paths occasionally cross.

The impact was so strong that a fourth member of the crew didn’t resist and succumbed. That's the reason why lugubrious tones embrace “To a Lost Comrade”, conveying despair and consternation. Here, it's Dickey who tries to pull his mates out of the lethargy.

Space Strut” shows us Shipp bolstering and propelling the spaceship with left and right-hand attacks, forming beautiful atmospheric textures of wide tonal range.
Already in another dimension, “Hyperspatial” comprehends contemplative reflections and euphoric exaltations punctuated by stratospheric noisy blasts.

If you want to step out of this world for a while, grab this record, which was passionately devised by an experienced trio of galaxy explorers, and let the portions of madness and lucidity invade your own space.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Spaceship 9 ► 04 – Galaxy 9 ► 07 – Space Strut

Riverside - The New National Anthem

Label/Year: Greenleaf Music, 2017

Lineup - Dave Douglas: trumpet; Chet Doxas: saxophone and clarinet; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Jim Doxas: drums.

Riverside - New-National-Anthem

American trumpeter Dave Douglas has left an indelible trace of respectful music throughout a career that spans almost 20 years. An outgoing posture makes him one of those fearless musicians who are not afraid to experiment new musical concepts.
Whereas last year, we could hear him with an exciting quartet co-led by pianist Frank Woeste or trying new currents with his futuristic High Risk Quartet, now he returns to Riverside, a quartet he co-leads with Canadian saxophonist Chet Doxas, a Juno award nominee. Rounding out the band is a pair of rhythm technicians from different generations: veteran electric bassist Steve Swallow and Chet’s brother, Jim Doxas, on drums.
The New National Anthem is their sophomore album to be released on the trumpeter’s record label Greenleaf Music. Besides originals, predominantly composed by Douglas, the record features three compositions by Carla Bley. Two of them, the title track and “King Korn”, are short in duration with less than two minutes each, while the bohemian “Enormous Tots” carries all the creative extravagance inherent to the pianist’s musical intentions. It’s served up with snare ruffs, voice calls, electrifying melodic conductions, and a deeply reverberant intervention from Chet, whose ascending phrases are as precise as infinitesimal calculus.

Americana, a genre that the Riverside members are no stranger to, marks a vital presence with numbers like “View From a Bird” by Chet and “Il Sentiero” by Douglas. The former is bolstered by the horns' folk-tinged guidelines that rest on top of a frictionless foundation built by Swallow’s understated bass and Jim’s ambitious percussive activity. In turn, “Il Sentiero” is a ternary folk ballad whose final seconds slip out to a brief animated rodeo dance.

Compact rock pulses not only start up “Old Country”, where parallels and obliques of sax and trumpet live freely, but also “Americano”, which exults rhythmically creative improvisations over a nuanced bass pedal.

In addition to entailing undeviating trumpet-clarinet unisons, “King Conlon” modernly swings like Swallow loves to do, differing in everything from “If I Drift”, a composition by Douglas, who confidently strolls on top of a static groove right after Chet has interrupted a crystalline clarinet ostinato.

Limber is a word that fits well in the description of The New National Anthem, a richly textured work where genres are unambiguously bent with a positive collaborative effort. Even reluctant about taking risks, the band makes it genuinely graceful.

         Grade B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 – King Conlon ► 07 – Enormous Tots ► 10 – If I Drift

Troy Roberts - Tales & Tones

Label/Year: Inner Circle Music, 2017

Lineup – Troy Roberts: tenor and soprano saxophones; Silvano Monasterios: piano; Robert Hurst: upright bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts: drums.

Troy Roberts is a multi-awarded Australian saxophonist/composer whose sleek style and shimmering sound led him to perform with respected names such as Aretha Franklin, Christian McBride, Dave Douglas, and Orrin Evans.

Meshing efficiently the bop tradition with new currents, Roberts has released seven albums as a leader and the latest of them, Tales & Tones, which includes both originals and jazz standards, is probably his strongest.

For this session, he convenes a quartet, whose members include Venezuelan Silvano Monasterios on piano and an accomplished bass-drums rhythm team with Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.
They open with “Decoration”, Robert's adventurous tune of variable intensities and rhythmic nuances, which recalls Don Byron’s progressive approach. After the theme’s statement, Hurst and Watts cling to an unaccompanied swinging groove that paves the ground for Roberts’ rollicking yet intelligible stroll on soprano. Here, everyone is allowed to express their individuality and Monasterios, Hurst, and finally Watts also deliver brazen improvisations. 

Trams” is propelled by a well-defined bass groove together with the wild, dry drumming of Watts, who only relaxes in his gestures on the meddling swinging passages. Elements of hard and post bop are seamlessly interlaced on top of rich harmonies and bouncing rhythms.

Contrasting with the crestfallen ballad “Rivera Mountain”, which feels a bit overlong, the animated “Bernie’s Tune” arrives deeply rooted in tradition and brings up the rich phraseology used by the hard-boppers from the 50s. While Roberts combines a warm timbre with the vivacity of Jackie McLean’s lines, Monasterios finds space to quote “Ain’t Misbehavin” amidst his rambunctious sweeps. Everything flows through a forwarding attitude that encompasses swing and brief Latin incursions, ending up with eight-bar trades between the drummer and the other members.

The band puts a lot of rhythmic pepper in the rendition of Strayhorn’s classic “Take the A Train”, which sounds victoriously fresh with the multiple variations.

Carrying funny titles and cool transitory passages, “Pickapoppy” and “Mr. Pinononnk”, two smooth exercises composed by the bandleader, are strong parts of the whole. The former thrives through the impulsive stimulus counteracted by Roberts and Monasterios, while the latter allows light in, blossoming by the virtue of a winsome combination of sweet melodies delivered in unison, counterpointed sections, and the quietly powerful snare drumming of Watts, even only lasting for a few minutes.
Positive and emphatic, Roberts crafted a solid record that vibrates with the quartet’s chemistry and creative latitude. By listening to it, you will certainly agree with me about his musical appeal and technical sophistication.

         Grade A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Decoration ► 07 – Pickapoppy ► 08 – Mr. Pinononnk