Dave Liebman / Tatsuya Nakatani / Adam Rudolph - The Unknowable

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, piri, Fender Rhodes; Tatsuya Nakatani: drum kit, gongs, percussion; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, percussion, sintir, mbuti harp, overtone flutes, Fender Rhodes, electronics.

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Prolific saxophonist/bandleader Dave Liebman, a living jazz legend and one of the most influential musicians and educators of our times, joins an imaginative duo of percussionists, Tatsuya Nakatani and Adam Rudolph. Together, they create a variety of spontaneous conversations where the reaction to stimulus is a must. Hence, communication plays an essential role throughout The Unknowable, the result of their experimental meeting.

The first and last tracks on the album are static and share the same title, “Benediction”. Both versions comprise uncanny electronics and a saxophone story recited over drones and additional atmospheric noises, yet, the opening variant adds far more percussive elements to the intriguing scenario. By the way, it was Rudolph who came up with the track titles in a post-recording phase.

The Simple Truth” thrives with hand drumming forays, diverse metal collisions, and Liebman’s cartoonish sketches formed with brief stabs of notes on soprano. He often centers his playing in the rhythmic axis, but some melodic incursions are also discernible.

Echoing brisk phrases through a delay effect and resorting to heavy electronic manipulation, the title track is filled with tremors and high-pitched clamors let loose by Liebman’s spiraling soprano. While the posture is active here, it changes to passive on the following piece, “Skyway Dream”, where the rhythm is thoroughly marked and the flute notes hang in the air.
 
Hand drums and metal percussion become the dominant elements on “Transmutations”, which includes a panoply of grating sounds, clashes, and creaks. It ends up in a sort of African exultation that also can be felt on “Present Time”, although the pulse here almost touches the Brazilian samba. Commanding the tenor with an impressive sense of liberty, Liebman embarks on a more familiar language, inclining his sayings toward bebop zones. Yet, the crashingly noisy assaults in the background remain active until the end.

The saxophonist’s disposition shifts again on “Premonition”, which serves as a vehicle for his timbral explorations and extended techniques. This urgency of speech combined with fragmented rhythms takes us to free jazz territory.

Flirtations with non-Western music translate into a pair of nomadic pieces, “The Turning” and “Distant Twilight”. With self-restraint, the trio resorts to meditative phrases taken from exotic scales as well as simple yet catchy grooves meticulously designed by sintir or thumb piano.

Both Liebman and Rudolph play the Fender Rhodes in one tune each, searching for the enigmatic and the atmospheric. “Cosmogram”, unpleasantly piercing at first, is a good example of how a musical piece can sound simultaneously acrid and dulcet.

The record sounds quite distinctive from what Liebman has done before and defies any categorization beyond the experimental. Abstraction they fear not, and you’ll find the adventurous threesome attempting to squeeze their individual sounds into a compact, organic whole. In some ways, they succeed.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks: 
07 - The Turning ► 08 - Present Time ► 12 – Premonition


Colin Hinton - Glassbath

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel – Peyton Pleninger: tenor saxophone; Edward Gavitt: guitar; Nick Dunston: electric bass; Colin Hinton: drums.

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The blazing chops of Texas-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Colin Hinton are marked by raw intensity and spot-on fidelity. For his debut album, Glassbath, and despite the proficiency in a wide range of styles, his energy was canalized into a particular stratum where the avant-jazz cohabits with a panoply of alternative rock subgenres. The tunes were written under two weeks for quartet and the album recorded in a one-day studio session.

The inaugural track, “Welcome” drives us to a realm of tautness populated by saxophone grunts and interjections, noise guitar, unruly bass roams, and rambunctious drumming. The versatility of the quartet is on full display throughout the recording and the differences are noticeable when one compares the experimentalism of the opening tune to the restrained variation of the same song, entitled “Goodbye (Welcome Reprise)”, that closes the album. Just focus on the bandleader and you will find him concentrated on flavorful brushwork and spicy tom-tom inflections on the latter piece.

The sluggish rhythm of “Rontgen Smile”, exposing accents on the second and fourth beats, is reinforced by sparse bass tonics and fingerpicked guitar. The melody factor is upgraded, but the pacification ceases when the band flips out into a cacophonous turmoil that primarily passes by a forceful ska before reaching a freakish indie rock style whose sonorities resemble bands like Pavement and Half Japanese. Taking into account the refreshingly unpredictable transitions, Hinton’s fractured songwriting largely benefits his hyperactive routines. And yet, after the storm, everything returns to the initial rock-based melancholy.

Interspersed with the longer tunes, we have shorter interlude-like pieces penned by the band, such as “Wasteland”, an atmospheric toned-down orchestration with multiple gongs, chimes and metal clangs, “Cobalt-60”, a gloomier version of the previous, and the cathartic “We Are Already Dead”, where the guitarist, Edward Gavitt, stays plugged in and cranking up.

You can dance to the sound of “Felines”, assembled with prickly guitar riffs and chords burning in distortion, plus a melodic, often-groovy improvisation by Peyton Pleninger on tenor. It’s like if electrifying groups such as Sonic Youth and Wire were having a conversation with jazz explorers like David Murray and Fred Anderson. The same idea is transported to “Last Refuge”, a song with a vigorous rock pulse, while “The Great Heathen Army”, half-dark, half-heroic, presents refractory rhythms and guitar-sax interactions turned into unisons in its final section.

Oscillating between an undemanding pop ballad and a post-rock adventure, both “Partial Eclipse” and the closing tune, “Redemption Through Recovery”, show an unflappable energy, even staying among the record’s slower tunes.

. As of now, the bar is raised high for the work that will follow, which is, naturally, a very good sign.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Rontgen Smiles ► 04 - Felines ► 08 - Partial Eclipse


Adam Nussbaum - The Leadbelly Project

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Ohad Talmor: tenor saxophone; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Nate Radley: guitar; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

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Adam Nussbaum’s profile as a drummer gained significant recognition when he stinted/recorded with Steve Swallow, John Abercrombie, Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, and John Scofield.

On The Leadbelly Project, his first work as a sole leader, he draws from the American roots, focusing on treasured repertoire by the influential blues and folk singer/songwriter Lead Belly, but still adding a couple of kindred compositions of his own. Besides being a powerful singer, Lead Belly was a dedicated 12-string guitar strummer. Hence, the choice of two guitars to revive the rawness of his bluesy tones through an entirely up-to-date perspective doesn’t feel particularly surprising. Playing in tandem yet resorting to sweet-tempered counterpoint, guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley join the drummer in a bass-less quartet rounded out by saxophonist Ohad Talmor.

The latter excels on the first track, “Old Riley”, opening it alone and improvising concisely with a strong inside/outside concept. The tune, feeling like an indulgently polished minstrel song damped in folk charisma, has Nussbaum showing his habitual drumming sophistication, first with brushes and then with drumsticks.

Conceived as a subtle quadrangular conversation, “Green Corn” embarks on a harvesting folk dance propelled by the glistening brushwork of the bandleader. It feels more untreated than the recognizable “Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)”, a traditional American folk song that was extensively recorded by Lead Belly between 1944 and 1948 and gained high popularity in the 90s with a terrific unplugged version by the grunge band Nirvana. Nussbaum’s version is played Frisell-style at a 5/4 tempo.

There’s something reggae-ish on “Bottle Up and Go”, but the rhythm is lost somewhere by the end to favor a more rock-based texture that is further emphasized on “Black Betty”, a standard of the blues, here buoyed up by a double-guitar solo.

Cutting off the bustle, “Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie” and the strikingly beautiful original “Insight, Enlight” make room for contemplation, flowing with consecutive docile movements. If the latter piece, in all its harmonic sophistication and pervading sense of melody, dragged me into a levitating state, the blues-drenched “Sure Would Baby“ pulled me back to the earth. With an up-front drum solo, the classic “Goodnight Irene” closes the album in a suave waltzing cadence.

Nussbaum’s drumming has that kind of shining quality that rewards the collective and enhances the tunefulness of the music. Throbbing with marvelous interplay and filled with compelling tonal colors, this project provides us with an optimum revitalization of the folk and blues genres, here seamlessly merged with the exciting language of jazz.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Bottle Up and Go ► 09 - Insight, Enlight ► 10 - Sure Would Baby


Matthew Shipp - Zero

Label: ESP-Disk, 2018

Personnel: Matthew Shipp: solo piano.

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The music of American pianist Matthew Shipp, a modernizer who loves to color outside the lines, is widely known for being unpredictable and astonishing. I think this is even more accurate when he plays solo, whether creating angular or elliptical sonic shapes.

Zero, an experimental solo album and a trip to his idiosyncratic musical cosmos, feels at once challenging, majestic, and relatable. This is Shipp's second outing this year on ESP-Disk label, with the simultaneous release of Sonic Fiction, a quartet session. 

With an enviable independence of hands, he rapidly entangles us on the title track with an expeditious succession of nimble phrases and a few resonating bass movements to create intervallic riches of tonal complexion. The piece oozes a modern classical lyricism, but also a swinging cadence that is more implicit than explicit. Typical movements from classical are also identified on “Piano Panels” and complemented with exquisite, off-the-hook linear notes to promote abstraction and create pleasantly disorienting effects.

The intersection of expressive melody and wistful harmonic progressions makes the hauntingly beautiful “Abyss Before Zero” to flow in a sheer state of reflection. The experience is breathtaking and includes amazement, contend, resignation, and even sadness.
Both “Zero Skip and a Jump” and “Zero Subtract From Jazz” are rhythmically defiant. The former, a punctilious monologue with brisk staccatos and counterpoint, sounds organic and intriguing, while the latter, displaying traces of folk in the melody, is equally driven by agitation and contemplation. There is a recurrent tension that is occasionally released by resorting to a wider sense of melody.
 
Blue Equation”, a blues-based piece linguistically extended across a wide range of the keyboard, explores new possibilities as Shipp incurs into thrilling musical paths. The same happens on the closing number, “After Zero”, whose moods vary, sometimes playfully, sometimes ominously, until land in a sublime final arpeggio.

Personal and stylized, Zero was crafted with raw intensity with Shipp playing at full force.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Zero ► 02 - Abyss Before Zero ► 08 - Blue Equation 


Leslie Pintchik - You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl

Label: Pintch Hard Records, 2018

Personnel – Leslie Pintchik: piano; Scott Hardy: acoustic bass, guitar; Michael Sarin: drums; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion + Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; Ron Horton: trumpet, flugelhorn; Shoko Nagai: accordion.

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Equipped with originals, jazz standards, and a supportive combo of talents, pianist Leslie Pintchik commits to a smooth and groovy jazz on her latest album You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl!. Her band features Scott Hardy on acoustic bass and guitar, Michael Sarin on drums, and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion, plus some illustrious guests performing a couple of tunes each: Steve Wilson on alto saxophone, Ron Horton on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Shoko Nagai on accordion.

The title track opens with the hooky, bluesy motif that characterizes its head and a groovy insouciance rooted in the jazz funk from 70s. The soloists are Pintchik, Hardy on guitar, and Wilson, who is pretty convincing in his first of two appearances on the record. 

A pair of jazz standards attempts to enrich the lineup: “I’m Glad There is You” is a romantic ballad delivered as a honeyed bolero, and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is an exhausted song that seeks new colors in Brazil’s bossa/samba world. The combined rhythms of Sarin and Takeishi become the predominant stimulus within the relaxed mood adopted.

Propelled by Sarin’s warm brushing and embellished with short-lived horn fills arranged by Hardy, “Mortal” is an earnest ballad whose peak of excitement is reached during Ron Horton’s improvisation. He not only projects the sound of his instrument with crystal clarity but also emits an emerald iridescence when expresses himself freely.

Successfully emulating one of those frustrating machine-answered phone calls that frequently pisses people off, “Your Call Will Be Answered by Our Next Available Representative…” is a witty Monk-ish swinger that comes to life with hi-hat excitation, piano eloquence, and strong bass verve. The pace only winds down in the course of short middle passages, but the song regains its vividness to accommodate the improvisations. Takeishi’s shaker marks the end of the song.

On “Hopperesque”, a meditative work referencing Edward Hopper’s paintings, the Japanese accordionist Shoko Nagai stows lachrymose lines over the sultry Latinized dance created by the rhythm section. She remains pretty active on the following tune, “Happy Dog”, directing her sound toward a more animated Brazilian feast, rhythmically driven by tambourine.

Even lacking the factor surprise, the album has enough diversity and flexibility to conquer audiences looking for unwrinkled post-bop.

       Grade B-

       Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – You Eat My Food… ► 04 – Mortal ► 06 - Hopperesque


Charlie Peacock - When Light Flashes Help Is On The Way

Label: Self Produced, 2018

Personnel – Charlie Peacock: Rhodes, organ, piano; Jeff Coffin: saxophones, flute; Matthew White: trumpet; Hilmar Jensson: electric and acoustic guitar; Jerry McPherson: electric guitar; Andy Leftwich: mandolin, fiddle; Jeff Taylor: accordion; Felix Pastorius: electric bass; Ben Perowsky: drums + guests.

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Multifaceted Californian keyboardist Charlie Peacock, a Nashville resident, has built a personal vision of jazz deeply entangled with a myriad of styles such as funk, rock, folk, gospel, and pop, styles he continues to embrace whether as a composer, singer, instrumentalist, or record producer. 

For his most recent album, When Light Flashes Help Is On the Way, he surrounded himself with a set of competent musicians who have demonstrated creative means to step up the eclectic compositions. Among them are his regular collaborator and member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jeff Coffin on saxophones and woodwinds, the impeccable Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson, rock-centered guitarist Jerry McPherson, the melodious trumpeter Matthew White, the exciting electric bassist Felix Pastorius, and the undeviating drummer Ben Perowsky. Depending on the mood envisioned for a song, other members join the primary crew.

The opening track, “Wendell Berry in the Fields at Night”, flashes with a gaudy African kizomba rhythm and features authoritative saxophone solos flanked by accordion glibness. It's a very danceable piece.

Blue Part II” is a free-funk exertion with Afro beats and other world music connotations. Melodically driven by trumpet, the tune acquires a special taste when Coffin, playing a heavenly flute, steps to the forefront to improvise over Perowsky’s steady drumming. The sparse fills have a very positive effect and the song ends with a trumpet-flute completion for the melody.

Dedicated to Herbie Hancock and his faithful producer David Rubinson, “Automatt” is another punch-drunk jazz-funk lifted by restless bass grooves executed with tapping technique and dipped in wha-wha effect. The electric guitar chops are dead-on, the fiddle injects a dramatic classical feel, and the pace is subjected to multiple variations before the band reaches the flamboyant finale.

If Daniel Lanois’ “Still Water” offers traditional pop textures with pronouncedly folk statements coming from the violin and the accordion, “Samuel and the Icelandic Indigo”, co-written by Peacock and Jensson, leaps into a sort of alternative jazz-rock while displaying beautiful acoustic guitar forays whose textural complexity recalls some older work by Marc Ribot. 

Emotionally strong and sank in the fulfilling plucks delineated by the guest contrabassist Matt Wigton, “The Intimate Lonely” is an imaginative, trumpet-led ballad that also showcases the bandleader’s pianistic competence. Still, the peak of the emotions occurs on Bob Dylan’s hit “Masters of War”, here packed with devotional saxophone lines, uttering violin shrieks, and bluesy guitar ululations.

The record finishes with “Gift Economy”, a psychedelic blend of Tom Tom Club's humorous post-disco, Kraftwerk’s synthpop artificiality, and a more serious current of folk-rock. It acquires jazz contortions during the feline guitar solo regardless.

Charlie Peacock makes use of his cross-genre easiness with intelligence. Bountiful, he assures there is plenty of room for his peers to stretch out, orchestrating and leading as a legit master.  

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
05 - Samuel and the Icelandic Indigo ► 06 - The Intimate Lonely ► 07 – Masters of War


Bobby Previte - Rhapsody

Label: RareNoise, 2018

Personnel – Bobby Previte: drums, percussion, autoharp, guitar, harmonica; Fabian Rucker: alto saxophone; Nels Cline: acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar, slide guitar; Zeena Parkins: harp; John Medeski: piano; Jen Shyu: vocals.

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Taking into account the outstanding rhythmic skills of American drummer Bobby Previte, it came to no surprise that his new album, Rhapsody, reveals a tour-de-force storytelling that takes us into an uninterrupted journey of musical discovery while addressing pertinent subjects such as transit and migration in the current days.

The second installment of his Terminals Trilogy features an all-star acoustic sextet that includes Fabian Rucker on alto saxophone, Nels Cline on acoustic guitars, Zeena Parkins on harp, John Medeski on piano, and the one-and-only Jen Shyu on vocals.
 
The drummer, who described his first experience as a lyricist as terrifying, was pretty successful in this particular endeavor. The narration takes immediate effect on the opening piece, “Casting Off”, where the voice of Shyu merges with the saxophone in a robust unison. Piano and guitar arpeggios are combined with a saxophone ostinato and the tuneful erhu, a two-string fiddle from China, creating a serene, mysterious, and theatrical chamber work, later adorned with revolutionary harp sweeps.
 
All the World” is an incredible shape-shifting avant-prog exercise with world music connotations. The thrilling discharges from Rucker’s horn, having the magnificence of Previte’s drum chops working incessantly in the background, feels empowering, while the guitar fingerstyle moved by Cline has the perfect company in Medeski’s relentless piano ostinato. The seamlessness in tempo slowly guides us to the end, where the saxophonist strikes again with his raucous multiphonic technique.

Perfectly mirroring what the title announces, “The Lost” exposes the band creating multiple disorienting effects that lead to moments of sheer musing. It starts with prepared piano, guitar pointillism, and percussive creativity, including metal scraping sounds and dragging rattles. The tune gains a tactile soul through swift harp movements and timely piano strokes.

If “When I Land” feels like a medieval song as it embraces the emotional chant of the troubadour, “The Timekeeper” evokes classical music in its intro, only to fall into an idolatrous dance pervaded by an attractive ethnic fusion that bridges the ancient and the modern.
 
Undoubtedly a highlight, “All Hands” is a progressive folk-rock piece filled with fabulous slide guitar and epic acoustic power chords. Can you imagine Metallica playing a sort of mystical acoustic concert? There you are! Then, you can add the to-die-for vocalizations by Shyu, properly backed by saxophone, and to finalize, a neo-folk dissertation by Cline, who genially brings a dash of flamenco into play.

On this album, Previte’s actions are not limited to percussion. He plays guitar on the tune described above as well as autoharp and harmonica on “Last Stand/Final Approach”, a piece that also thrives with blistering saxophone improvisations.

Boasting a stupendous sound and concept, as well as an unconventional repertoire of converging influences and metaphors, this is a masterwork by a fearless musician who never ceases to innovate.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - All The World ► 07 - All Hands ► 08 – Last Stand/Final Approach


Shakers N' Bakers - Heart Love

Label: Self Produced, 2018

Personnel - Jeff Lederer: tenor sax; Jamie Saft: piano, harpsichord; Chris Lightcap: bass; Alison Miller: drums; Mary LaRose: vocals; Miles Griffith: vocals + Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Steven Bernstein: trumpet; Lisa Parrott: baritone sax; Joe Fiedler: trombone.

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Proficient American saxist Jeff Lederer, a fundamental piece in Matt Wilson’s bands, energetically leads the Shakers N’ Bakers, a group that blends Christian rock music (usually inspired on the 18th-century religious sect Shakers), gospel, and impromptu jazz. The orchestrator relies on a classy ensemble comprised of some of the finest musicians on the scene, including keyboardist Jamie Saft, who doubles on harpsichord, bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alison Miller, and singers Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith (a new addition).

On their third album, Heart Love, the horn section was occasionally reinforced with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, trombonist Joe Fiedler, and baritonist Lisa Parrott, who give an extra punch to the reformulation of a few selected pieces from Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe (1969) and New Grass (1968) by the iconic saxophonist Albert Ayler and his live-in girlfriend Mary Maria Perks. The Shakers also threw in a couple of traditional songs plus “Goin’ Home”, a tune based on Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9’s Largo Movement. This American folk-inflected piece features Lightcap’s passionate bass solo during the theme’s statement. The bassist brings it again on the traditional “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen”, having the delicate percussive enlightenment of the special guest Matt Wilson in the background. The drummer shines unreservedly on the African-American spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, whose preliminary march, marked by soprano and drums, is dissolved into a hard-swinging flow with the addition of piano and bass. Besides the bandleader, a true force in the art of improvising, the heroes here are Saft, who excels in the way he makes the dissonant sound beautiful, and Wilson, a drummer who can make his instrument ‘sing’ the tunes.

A persuasive invitation to the spiritual world arrives with the gospel-drenched “Deep River”, a prayerful and melodious traditional song whose instrumentation exhorts the beauty of things, and on “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe”, a modal blessing containing impactful horn unisons, LaRose's soulful voice, Griffith's scat singing, and Lederer's welcoming in/out digressions.
 
Settling on diversification, the band serves up a pair of elated R&B spectacles with “Everybody’s Movin” and the cut title, and also reggae interpretations of “Oh Love of Life” and “A Man is Like a Tree”, all of them authored by Ayler/Perks.

By taking a fluid and often combustible approach to the material at hand, Shakers N’ Bakers will make you rejoice with their spirited vision expressed with hope and humor.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Deep River ► 05 - Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe ► 09 - Swing Low Sweet Chariot


Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction

Label: ESP-Disk, 2018

Personnel - Matthew Shipp: piano; Mat Walerian: reeds; Michael Bisio: bass; Whit Dickey: drums.

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Pianist Matthew Shipp, whose original voice constantly surprises and hypnotizes, returns in full force, spearheading a creative quartet with Polish multi-instrumentalist Mat Walerian, bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Whit Dickey. 

The follow up to the marvelous trio session Piano Song (Thirsty Ear, 2016) was released on the ESP-Disk label with the title Sonic Fiction and comprises ten tracks that explore mood through different sonic possibilities.

The quartet opens with “First Step”, where plaintive yet tense piano voicings, solemnly bowed bass, rambling saxophone lines, and whimsical cymbal impacts converge within an intimate, dramatic, and often mysterious musical setting.

The drum-less “Blues Addiction” shows the musicians’ respect for the blues genre and the enormous talent to bring it in spontaneously with a unique, visionary approach. Unaccompanied, Shipp starts by introducing sinuous bluesy lines supported by incisive bass notes inflicted with the left-hand, but his enveloping sound is suddenly muted to give place to an elastic duet of round bass plucks and velvety clarinet lines.
 
The Station”, the first of a couple of solo pieces, is intended for Walerian’s bass clarinet, gaining avant-garde connotations through the use of ruminative jargon, long multi-pitched wails, occasional motifs, and other sonic splotches.

Before “Easy Flow” has been cooked up with an uncompromising solo piano, the full quartet delivers consecutive “Lines of Energy”, which may comfort or disquiet you. Expect striking action-reaction between Shipp and Walerian.

The powerful avant-jazz of “The Problem of Jazz”, suppressing the piano,  works through a brisk swinging groove laid down by Bisio, which is periodically overcome by saxophone attacks tied to irruptions of energetic drumming.

The last three tracks immediately caught my attention. On the playful “3 by 4”, abundant rhythmic ideas packed with crisp accents and no apparent regard to form are constantly thrown in. A small part of its throttling energy is extended to “Cell in the Brain”, a piece that emphasizes tonal qualities more than melodic statements. Despite the predominant tranquility, the increase/release of tension is constantly fed by Whitey’s mallet activity.

The title track is the recording’s longest piece and one of the most ravishing as it ends the session with multiple intricacies, oblique moves, and extra angularity in the texture. Embracing a groovy atmosphere, it nearly enters free-bop zones with Walerian’s alto sax digressions on top of Shipp’s cluster-infused comping and jabbing left-hand detonations. It's pretty evocative of Cecil Taylor's early work.
 
With Bisio and Dickey assuring a firm foundation, Shipp and Walerian ascend the stairway to the stars, putting their eminent rapport at the service of another impressive release.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:  
08 - 3 by 4 ► 09 - Cell in the Brain ► 10 – Sonic Fiction


Nicolas Masson - Travelers

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Nicolas Masson: tenor and soprano saxophone; Collin Vallon: piano; Patrice Moret: double bass; Lionel Friedli: drums.

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Swiss reedman Nicolas Masson teams up with three associates who have accompanied him for more than a decade under the name of Nicolas Masson’s Parallels. They are Collin Vallon on piano, Patrice Moret on double bass, and Lionel Friedli on drums. Comprehending quiescent and slumbering soundscapes, the album Travelers was released on the ECM Records, label whose catalog includes a couple of works by the Third Reel, a modern creative trio co-led by the saxophonist.

The CD’s opener, “Gagarine” is a monochromatic exercise that doesn’t take us to the moon but displays a dangly rhythmic flow that oozes energy uninterruptedly.

Painted lightly with chiaroscuro, “Fuchsia” incorporates some nostalgia and a wide sense of loneliness that sometimes is turned into anguish, in its melodic and harmonic canvas. This reflective mood persists in other tunes like “Almost Forty”, which falls into an attractive final vamp over which the bandleader improvises, also in “Travelers”, whose crystalline complexion is reinforced by the interpolation of entrancing melodies, and “Wood”, which still feels contemplative despite the tenuous tension infused by relentless piano notes, cadenced bass lines, and weeping sax phrases.

The initial moments of “Philae” promise a change in direction as the group’s dynamic is slightly intensified. One can enjoy an addictive bass groove with occasional exclamative licks, and the all-embracing percussive initiatives by Friedli, which gain further dimension on “The Deep” with the exertion of multiple metal clangs, gongs, and forceful tom-tom activity. This particular piece, paradoxically reflective and vastly percussive, called my attention through the well-oiled collective mechanisms that incorporate sensitive piano arpeggios and bright clarinet moves conveying a sensation of immensity.

The real strength of the recording resides in the musicians’ convergence, reciprocity, and team spirit. They denote a clear understanding of one another’s moves.

More reserved than effusive, Masson’s music dawns slowly, subverting unnecessary stunts while describing through lightly smoky soundscapes the magical realism of a hermetic, personal world. Regardless if their storytelling is deep or shallow, the quartet engages in the commitment of wringing every emotion from a song.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Almost Forty ► 04 - The Deep ► 06 - Philae


Andy Sheppard Quartet - Romaria

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Michel Benita: double bass; Sebastian Rochford: drums.

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With a penchant for the intimacy and the subtlety, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, earned international reputation while playing with Gil Evans, George Russell, and Carla Bley. His new ECM album, Romaria, features experienced bandmates from early recordings: Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, Algerian-born French bassist Michel Benita, and Scottish drummer Sebastian Rochford. 

The resplendent tones of the opening tune, “And a Day…”, a lyric ballad with sparse bass lines, non-intrusive yet weighty percussion, and sustained effect-drenched guitar chords, is one of those gifts from above. The mood gets pretty close to Mark Guiliana Quartet and his pop-jazz balladry. Sheppard’s command of the saxophone enables statements whose richness of language and sentiment are truly beautiful. Benita also excels on this one with an expressive solo and iterates his meditative sayings on the closing piece, “Forever…”, another dusky ballad with low-pitched airy notes.

Even infusing a bit more tension on “Thirteen”, the quartet creates an unfussy urban scenario. The groundwork consists of a nuanced bass pedal settled on top of sparkling cymbal rides and innocuous snare drum snarls, establishing the best conditions for Sheppard to express himself on the soprano, having Aarset’s atmospheric moves below.

The title track is a well-known Brazilian folk tune popularized by Elis Regina in 1977 and penned by Renato Teixeira. The intro shows the bassist and the saxophonist pairing up euphoniously while the understated textural work of guitar and drums is added later to assure that creamy consistency.

My favorite composition happens to be “Pop”, perhaps the simplest yet the most illuminated and forthright. Sheppard brings up a dazzling melody that finds its placement over the excellent accompaniment provided by the rhythm section.

They Came From the North” and “With Every Flower That Falls” take divergent directions since each counterpoint in the former hinges mystery, driving the drummer to meddle and respond effusively to the sax-guitar interplay, while the latter embarks on a sensuous romanticism.

Sheppard’s compositions and leadership reflect his experience as a musician. The pure, full-bodied timbre of his sax, diffusing favorable energy in an effortless way, fortifies the luxury of his impeccably layered compositions.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - And a Day… ► 04 – Pop ► 05 – They Came From the North


James Hall - Lattice

Label: Outside In Music, 2018

Personnel – James Hall: trombone; Jamie Baum: flute; Deanna Witkowski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Tom DiCarlo: bass; Allan Mednard: drums + guest Sharel Cassity: alto sax.

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American trombonist James Hall was born in Omaha, Nebraska but has been enriching the New York jazz scene for quite some time now, after moving to Brooklyn. The effortless genre-bending approach that characterizes him is well patented on Lattice, his sophomore album inspired by his own love story and Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child.

In this recording, Hall links up with flutist Jamie Baum, pianist Deanna Witkowski, bassist Tom DiCarlo, and drummer Allan Mednard, with this group being expanded into a sextet with the addition of alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity in a couple of pieces. The latter delivers crisp improvisations on “Brittle Stitch”, which, being piloted in swinging post-bop mode, evinces some interesting rhythmic curbs and ensemble work, and “Black Narcissus”, a charming reading of Joe Henderson’s classic, piqued here by the extra groove of the Fender Rhodes in an incessant cooperation with the indivisible rhythmic flow provided by bass and drums. Outlining the melody by turns, Cassity and Baum enjoy the momentary counterpoint by Hall. This works in variance with the opening track, “Shoy”, a medium-fast 3/4 Hancock-like composition, where paralleled melodic activity runs on top of the theme’s inviting harmonic progression. Both the bandleader and Baum carry out their improvisations with a purity of tone and considerable slices of tension, while Witkowski pervades the terrain with a fluid set of rhythmic figures and ambitious phrases.

During the introductory section of the title track we have an empathetic legato passage of solo Rhodes keyboard, which provides us with enough evidence to prognosticate a ballad capable of hypnotizing. Whenever I listen to this track, the exotic moods and amenable Afro grooves of Sun Ra’s music pop up in my mind.

Completely divergent in nature are “Gaillardia”, another Hall’s original, and “Kind Folk”, composed by the late master trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Whereas the former showcases seductive melodies, led by trombone and alto flute, over a Latin rhythmic spell, the latter, renouncing to the ternary flow of the primitive version, hugs a delicate 4/4 groove that comes in the sequence of a bass introductory monologue. Even creating a sound of their own, the silky smooth lines and rich harmonization put forth by the quintet, allows us to clearly identify Wheeler’s modes and sonic pathways.
 
Terrace” closes the album with sympathetic friendliness, bringing in a proactive walking bass, muted trombone lines converging and intersecting with the glossy flute, and Mednard’s enthusiastic and conclusive cymbal work.

The tunes we hear on Lattice are easy to connect and assimilate. They not only show a high level of musicianship but also authenticate Hall as a talented voice in today’s jazz.

        Grade B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Shoy ► 02 - Black Narcissus ► 03 - Lattice


Living Fossil - Never Die!

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel - Gordon Hyland: tenor sax; Neil Whitford: guitar; Torrie Seager: guitar; Andrew Roorda: electric bass; Mackenzie Longpre: drummer + Mike Murley: tenor sax; Sam McLellan: acoustic bass.

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Toronto-born saxophonist Gordon Hyland gathered a conceptual post-bop ensemble that he named Living Fossil to release musical pieces he wrote between 2013 and 2017 plus a few modern orchestrations of world-known tunes.

Resorting to deft arrangements and bracing solos, Hyland stamps his distinctive signature on every tune of Never Die!, entrusting the harmonization to electric guitarists Neil Whitford and Torrie Seager and assuring groove-oriented underpinnings through the work of electric bassist Andrew Roorda and drummer Mackenzie Longpre. With the exception of Seager, all the members mentioned above were partners of the bandleader in the electro-prog rock band Ninja Funk Orchestra.

Macrophages” opens the recording with ominous chimes and other disconcerting guitar sounds that hover and dissipate. There’s a mysterious electronic-like vibe that comes from the electric bass, encouraging the bandleader and his inventive drummer to explore several timbres on their instruments. While soloing, Hyland presents a dark, wry vein that feels very Henry Threadgill.

Embracing openness but not devoid of a certain ambiguity, “Living Fossil” takes us to quieter post-bop waters where we listen to a composed description of the Nautilus, a living creature that, according to Jacques Cousteau, hasn’t evolved since the Triastic period. The music sounds like something that David Binney would do. While these tunes worked up an appetite, the standout title track, “Never Die!”, packed a powerful punch with its rock-solid moves and magnetic melody. It was extremely easy to identify myself with the inspired drumming provided with stamina and syncopation, the groovy bass lines tinged with funk, and the sinuous saxophone phrases delivered with muscle. The parts are irreproachably put together, oscillating between the soft jazzy glow of the main statement and the funk-rock of the improvisational sections, escalating into a zesty prog-rock to accommodate a ‘dirty’ guitar solo wrapped in effect.
 
In order to tackle a trio of jazz classics, Hyland calls in tenorist Mike Murley, who also co-produced, and contrabassist Sam McLellan. The rendition of Ornette’s “Lorraine”, perfect for a modern spaghetti Western, is seasoned with sugar and salt in its both solemnly cool and hasty swinging passages. This is by far the most playful tune on the record, while Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, here melodically altered and re-entitled “Baby Steps”, flows unflappably tuneful with saxophone dialogues and a drum solo over a circular progression. In turn, “Lessforgettable”, a variation on Irving Gordon’s “Unforgettable”, was devised with bowed bass, flickering guitar chords, and decorative electronic sounds.

On “Satellite”, the band cuts loose on a dynamic driving rhythm and bass groove, emulating the force of a funk-metal song. They soften it up for a serene middle section, bringing tremulous yet limpid guitar chops and sunny smiles delivered by Hyland’s resplendent melodicism. The saxophonist flies higher as the tune progressively gains that density typical of bands such as Body Count and Faith No More, and Longpre shows some more of his abilities behind the drum kit.

Living Fossil boasts eminent sonorities well rooted in today's jazz and rock genres, but wisely seeks inspiration in essential jewels from the past. Never Die! is an auspicious debut for this flexible Canadian band.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Living Fossil ► 03 - Never Die! ► 05 - Satellite 


François Carrier / Michel Lambert - Out of Silence

Label: NoBusiness Records, 2018

Personnel - François Carrier: alto saxophone, Chinese oboe; Michel Lambert: drums.

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Canadian saxophonist François Carrier, a dauntless improviser, has been associated mostly with his country fellow drummer Michel Lambert, whether in duo or trio formats. His discography is rich in valuable collaborations with likes such as Paul Bley, Bobo Stenson, Dewey Redman, Tomasz Stanko, and many others. In the case of Lambert, the idiosyncratic percussive style he follows led him to recordings with David Torn, Dominic Duval, Ellery Eskelin, and Barre Phillips.

Even if the rapport between the two musicians is undeniable, Out of Silence, their new outing on NoBusiness Records, doesn't reach the immediacy of the commendable Freedom Is Space For The Spirit (FMR, 2016), an album released last year with pianist Alexey Lapin.

The stretching free-form improvisations begin with the title track, where multiple interrogations and exclamations are thrown in at different speeds and with varied tones. Despite the imperturbable percussive flow, they evolve naturally to denser textures with Carrier’s angular phrases ranging from fierce and tribal to casually conversational. In contrast, during the brief moments he switches to the Chinese oboe, a weeping intonation takes care of providing an alternative mood. 

A Thousand Birds” starts with high-pitched whistles swirling around the edges, rapidly slipping into deep multiphonic howls and growls. Lambert’s dry thumps and cymbal arrhythmias fluctuate according to the desired dynamics, and the Coltrane influence is perceptive in some fragments of Carrier’s manifestations. 

With ascendant melodic movements that reminded me the repetitive organ anthem played at certain key points of the NBA games, “For No Reason” feels like an unorthodox march containing asymmetric heartbeats. It unfolds and progresses toward a faster, busy finale.

Carrier tosses discernible melody at both extremities of “Soul Play”, while on “When the Hearts Starts Singing” he introduces some patterned phrasing while advancing at the sound of multi-timbral percussion. By the end, the tune takes a fanfare-like shape with the Chinese oboe sounding almost like a Scottish bagpipe.

To close the album, the duo reserved us “Happy To You”, a fragmented version of the worldly recognized song "Happy Birthday to You".

Even lacking groove in its kinetic dynamics, there’s a palpable energy on Out Of Silence, an intermittently amusing record by two inveterate explorers.

       Grade B-

       Grade B-

Favorite Records:
01 - Out Of Silence ► 02 - A Thousand Birds ► 05 - When the Hearts Starts Singing


Meyer/Slavin/Meyer/Black - Other Animal

Label: Traumton Records

Personnel - Peter Meyer: guitar; Wanja Slavin: saxophone, synth, flute; Bernhard Meyer: bass; Jim Black: drums.

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Other Animal is a quartet led by the German brothers Peter and Bernhard Meyer, guitarist and bassist, respectively, who take all the credit for the twelve compositions on the band's debut album. They are joined by the Berlin-based saxophonist Wanja Slavin and the American drummer Jim Black, a pivotal figure in the New York jazz scene.

The animated beat that introduces “Drown Dreams”, an oblique, dreamy, chamber pop song, doesn’t dissemble some solemnity attached to its melody and harmonic conduction. There are a few grey clouds encircling it, but shining sunrays make the liberation possible. Exclusively on this tune, Slavin plays synth and flutes.

The sluggish drum chops of “Name of Cold Country”, sparse yet well coordinated with the bass lines, go along with the melodious saxophone and soaring electronic effects. The lightness of this architecture of sound gains further depth with Peter’s beautiful harmonics and warmly distorted chords. Yes, it may feel ponderous and wintry, but comes stuffed with emotion. 

Mr. Manga” and “Qubits” share vibrant pulses characteristic of the alternative rock genre. The former shifts tempo with resilience and autonomy, unraveling into interesting experimental passages, while the latter adopts a cool danceable posture reinforced with syncopation and the presence of a shaker. The opposite scenario is set up on “Downbear” whose dark and gloomy textures depicted by distorted guitar would give a great doom-metal piece. These sonic waves impel Black to adventure himself a little bit more by the end.

Obeying intricate time signatures and packed with clear-cut unisons, “Nongeniality” showcases strong melodic ideas turned into ostinatos. They keep echoing all through Slavin’s eloquent, cliché-free improvisation.
The somber “E Dance” concentrates forthright bass plucks, flickering guitar cries, and an edgy drumming that toggles between adaptably human and metrically robotic. A unified sonic cloud grows simultaneously spacious, intense, and haunting.

Slightly jazzier, “Spectral” is a ruminative song whose sound propagations lead us to atmospheric realms borrowed from ambient electronica and neo-glam. With bass and drums anchored in a polyrhythmic web, both guitar and sax comfortably seek freedom to roam.

Sometimes thinly polished, sometimes strenuous and unyielding, Other Animal creates interesting and variegated soundscapes dipped in the independent rock genre.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Drown Dreams ► 02 - Name of Cold Country ► 06 - Nongeniality


Kevin Sun - Trio

Label: Endectomorph Music

Lineup – Kevin Sun: tenor and C-melody saxophones; Walter Stinson: acoustic bass; Matt Honor: drums.

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Brooklyn-based saxophonist Kevin Sun, a graduate from Harvard College and New England Conservatory, has been playing in bands such as Earprint, Mute, and Great On Paper. In order to definitely cement his status as a bandleader, he assembled his own trio, featuring Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. The album Trio, released on the saxophonist’s label Endectomorph Music, allows him to explore textures and dynamics with freedom while merging the contemporary and the tradition in a tasteful way. 

Carrying harmonic fragments from Parker’s “Confirmation” and boasting an airy tone that resembles Lester Young, “Transaccidentation” starts off nice and easy with a dreamlike mannerism that includes lost-in-thought saxophone lines, steady drumming, and a bass pedal that soon disintegrates to pulsate with movement. The tune is played at a 15/8 tempo and brings a gravitational sense attached, even when the trio increases the robustness of their moves. Furthermore, we have intelligible, expressive, and not infrequently playful improvisations by the threesome.

Flying with avant-garde intricacy, “Three Ravens” is a hard-swinging slice of Steve Lacy-esque free-ish bop. Gorgeously displaying motivic phrases that go up and down within the main statement, Sun dives headfirst in a stirring improvisation until Honor grabs his way. After the re-establishment of the theme, the piece acquires an enthusiastic Latin pulse that I wished it would have run for a longer period of time.

The completely improvised “One Never Knows Now” booms with several horn timbres, humming arco playing, propulsive drum rolls, as well as percussive rattles and clangs. Deeply connected with this piece, “Does One Now Does One Now Does” is its logic continuation, showcasing Sun’s electrifying multiphonics and other extended techniques on top of well-anchored bass grooves. Yet, the trio awakes further tonal instincts within the dark chamber atmosphere of “Misanthrope”, where bowed bass abrasions combine with saxophone tonalities that brought Tony Malaby to mind. The energy steps up considerably whenever Honor is active.

Operating across a rock platform, “Find Your Pose” sounds close to Chris Speed Trio, while “Announcements” sparks with cymbal splashes and a frantic improvisational language that immediately takes us to Steve Lehman. They differ from “Bittergreen”, which, emerging as a reharmonization of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, flows with a velvety tone while finding plenty of room to breathe. The rendition of “All of Me”, melodically delineated by Sun’s C-melody saxophone, is the one that feels a bit out of context due to its more purist, swinging treatment.

I have no doubt that Sun’s musical integrity will bring him wide recognition. Trio proves him a high flyer whose presence is voluminous and a gifted saxophonist who feels comfortable in a variety of musical contexts. 

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Transaccidentation ► 03 - Three Ravens ► 05 - Does One Now Does One Now Does 


Mark Wade Trio - Moving Day

Label: Edition 46 Records, 2018

Personnel - Tim Harrison: piano; Mark Wade: acoustic bass; Scott Neumann: drums.

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Mark Wade is a proficient double bassist and composer who has been playing in NYC for two decades, showing off his fluid, athletic sound. The follow-up to his widely recognized debut album, Event Horizon, is entitled Moving Day and like its previous, features a classic trio with Tim Harrison and Scott Neumann on piano and drums, respectively. Together, they achieve an impressive triangular tightness that can be heard without delay on the first track, the 6/4 post-bop wonder that gave the album its title. It kicks off with the pianist delivering an ostinato, which, minutes later, is reutilized by the bassist to install the groove. The bandleader, embarking on an effusive back-and-forth solo, discharges melody and rhythm aplomb, and the energy doesn't faint when Neumann unleashes his clear-sighted chops over a rock-inflected vamp.

These soloists are furiously active again on “Wide Open”, a pretty straightforward tune with a catchy piano riff and a gorgeous rhythm that brings a scent of R&B and soul to the jazz-rock stamina that sustains its core. I thought of it as a crossing between Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea.

Borrowing melody from Debussy’s “La Mer”, “The Bells” is an imaginative waltz encompassing glorious suspensions and a chamber-esque sparseness created by the bowed bass. On top of this musing, Harrison’s left-hand onrushes are perceptible on the lower register, bringing McCoy's technique to the mind. The coolness of the piano solo sparks nice melodies while the brushwork of the drummer is noticeable throughout the bass solo.

Wade devised new shiny outfits for a couple of jazz standards, with “Another Night in Tunisia” being shuffled in tempo while maintaining the strong Latin affinity present in Dizzy’s original, and “Autumn Leaves” being subjected to a successful reorganization to include Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”. 

Virtuosity and creativity also reign on “Midnight in the Cathedral” in which the band plunges into a dense modal spirituality. Although honoring medieval music, I sensed it more like a mantra-based chant within a style that reminisces Alice Coltrane.

With disparate natures, “Something of a Romance” and “The Quarter” are a medium-tense ballad and an elated march, respectively. The latter has a decompressing effect, displaying occasional bluesy flourishes and a more traditional flow that feels as humorous as the compositions of drummer Matt Wilson.

With an impressive command of his instrument, Wade takes his tightly-knit acoustic trio beyond stereotyped formulas or just simplistic reinterpretations of known songs. Moving Day is a dazzling testament to his evolving artistry, where inventiveness is on full display.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Moving Day ► 02 - Wide Open ► 03 - The Bells


Jamie Saft - Solo A Genova

Label: RareNoise Records

Personnel – Jamie Saft: piano.

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Solo a Genova, the first solo album in 25 years by pianist Jamie Saft, a blistering figure in the art of playing the keyboard, is actually something special.
To better face the political instability in the US, the pianist resorted to originals and a number of American songs, in an attempt to resist hatred and negativity through art. Showing a strong affinity for disparate musical genres and operating a 9-foot Steinway Model D piano for a grandiose sound, Saft designs astonishing soundscapes with biting audacity and infallible inspiration.

He takes off on a soulful voyage that has its first landing on “The Makings Of You”, a soul hit by Curtis Mayfield, where he induces a greater emotional force than the original itself. Yet, nothing compared to the splendor achieved with “Human/Gates”, a lyrical rubato exercise that seamlessly melds Human League’s ‘80s synthpop song “Human” with “Gates”, a composition of his own. The relentless work on the lower register in coalescence with far-reaching sweeps on the last two-thirds of the keyboard is even more accentuated on “Naima”, an unforgettable introspective rendition of the Coltrane’s classic. Another jazz masterpiece in the lineup is “Blue in Green”, so many times delivered since it saw the daylight in 1959, but thriving here with a unique touch of brilliance.

Attaining homogeneity with the whole, “The New Standard/Pinkus” packages two originals previously recorded by the keyboardist. The former, finding hope through a melodious crossing between Bill Evans and Brad Mehldau, appeared on Swallow/Saft/Previte’s album of the same name (RareNoise, 2014), while the latter is a recital on how to fuse modal jazz, American folk, blues and classical, which appeared on Borscht Belt Studies (Tzadik, 2011), New Zion Trio’s Chaliwa (Veal Records, 2013), and Swallow/Saft/Previte’s Loneliness Road (RareNoise, 2017).

While Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” feels thankful and illuminated, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”, despite the abstraction of its first minutes, feels more like a spiritual hymn provided with classical routines and epic harmonic turnarounds rather than a rock smasher.

The pianist also plunges into the aesthetic traditions of American folk-rock with very personal renditions of tunes by Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. He maintains the humor on the latter’s “Po’ Boy”, which brims with bluesy lines and honeyed popular charisma.

Tossing passing notes with pinpoint accuracy to better express his nimble pianistic movements, Saft pays a beautiful homage to American music through a work that sheds light on the depth of his talent.

        Grade A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Naima ► 04 – Sharp Dressed Man ► 07 – The New Standard/Pinkus


Thomas Stronen's Time Is a Blind Guide - Lucus

Label: ECM, 2018

Lineup – Thomas Stronen: drums; Ayumi Tanaka: piano; Hakon Aase: violin; Lucy Railton: cello; Ole Morten Vagan: bass. 

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Norwegian drummer/composer Thomas Stronen, a member of the experimental jazz band Food, returns with a quintet variation of his Time Is A Bling Guide project. Entitled Lucus, the 11-track album features the collective’s core members: violinist Hakon Aase, cellist Lucy Railton, and bassist Ole Morten Vagan, plus a valuable new addition with the up-and-coming Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka sitting in for Kit Downs. Also noticeable is the absence of the two percussionists that helped to carry out the rhythmic flow of the previous album.

An ethereal chamber setting is immediately assimilated on the first track, “La Bella”, a reiterative meditation of great beauty that, suspended and static in nature, varies in intensity. All the compositions belong to Stronen, except this one, penned in conjunction with Aase and Vagan.

Release” is a floating, semiopaque exercise whose energy keeps being adjusted according to the artists’ interactions. Besides the bandleader’s exposed brushwork, one can detect short-lived buzzing sounds of strings, lyric violin appeal (bowed and plucked), and pianistic craftsmanship in the form of permeating rhythmic dots or prearranged melodic waves.

Tanaka propitiates greater harmonic definition on the title track, which achieves a pleasurable consonance with the understated sound of the strings and the ingratiating movements locked down by bass and drums. 

Fugitive Places”, inspired by Anne Michael’s novel of the same name, opens with nocturnal moods set by violin and cello, passing through a contemplative phase defined by sparse solo piano, and ending in a cohesive unification as the remaining musicians join in. If there’s no case for haste here with the low-key posture adopted, “Baka”, in opposition, opens with stirring thumps, injects motivating rhythmic accentuation, and appeals to playfulness. Nevertheless, it was with the idiosyncratic arrangement of “Wednesday” that the band captivated me the most, showcasing classical piano spells and beautiful folk melodies instilled by Aase. It all ends up engulfed by a gallant groove in five.

Exhaling non-Western scents, “Tension” starts off with Vagan’s open discourse and only vaguely brings what its title discloses. In turn, both “Truth Grows Gradually” and “Islay” deliver an admirable breezy liveliness. The latter showcases another fabulous moment by Tanaka, who interrupts the rhythmic flow with rampant voicings and infuses unexpected crosscurrent responses to plucked violin embellishments.

Stronen gives his counterparts the freedom they need to totally connect with his spacious sense of composition, and Lucus lives from the harmony of their constant exchanges.

       Grade B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - La Bella ► 07 - Wednesday ► 10 - Islay 


Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D'Agala

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade A

        Grade A

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