Matt Lavelle & Reggie Sylvester - Retrograde

Label: ESP Disk, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  A-

        Grade A-

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


Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams - Vanished Gardens

Label: Blue Note Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Jason Robinson - Resonant Geographies

Label: PfMentum Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas' Sound Prints - Scandal

Label: Greenleaf Music, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


Dave Holland - Uncharted Territories

Label: Dare2 Records, 2018

Personnel: Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn: keyboards, electronics; Dave Holland: upright bass; Ches Smith: percussion.

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Everyone into jazz knows about the extreme versatility of English bassist/composer Dave Holland, an extraordinary bandleader and valuable sidemen. The ability and competence to play in a variety of settings - from post-bop to free jazz and from solo to big band - with a voice of his own are remarkable.
 
For his new quartet recording, Uncharted Territories, Holland teams up with the adventurous English saxophonist Evan Parker, inventive pianist Craig Taborn and multi-faceted percussionist Ches Smith, both American. This was the first time the latter has recorded with the bassist while Evans first joined forces with Holland in a 1968 free improvisation session for John Stevens/Trevor Watts’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble. On the other hand, Taborn was one of the four musicians on the 2013 Prism CD.

This comprehensive adventure consists of a double record mostly composed of improvised material - in duo, trio, and quartet configurations - selected from a two-day recording session. Except for three scored compositions, they entitled the 23 tracks with a code that indicates the instrumentation, the day they recorded it (Tuesday or Wednesday), and which take.

Smith’s “Thought On Earth”, the opening tune, achieves a state of meditative enchantment. It includes bowed bass, sensitive saxophone melodies, and sumptuous vibes. The quartet then casts around for tension before returning to the primitive form and texture. Prior to weaving percussive tapestries of varied intensities, Smith holds on to vibes until Taborn’s relentless voicings take their place. In turn, Holland brings his pizzicato wonders into the game while Evans’ contemplative lines are replaced with others of an untamed nature. The remaining written material consists of Holland’s tenaciously communicative “Q&A”, which first appeared on his avant/free jazz masterpiece Conference of the Birds, and Smith’s “Unsteady As She Goes”.

If “Piano Bass Percussion T1” (trio configuration, recorded on Tuesday, first take) runs loose and sketchy in its cinematic ambiguity, then “Piano Bass Percussion T2” feels rousing as it continues to burst with a rough-and-tumble beauty until a bass pedal and steady pulse gives it a rest. “Tenor Percussion W2” is a perfect vehicle for Evans’ timbral explorations and Smith’s eerie sounds; “Piano Percussion W3” displays a rock-tinged strength in a brief yet vertiginous passage; “QT12” propagates an acute swing that favors the attractive eloquence of Evans and the twisty, hasty linear notes of Taborn, before shifting in rhythm;  “QW2” also boasts an odd, grooving flux that comes appended with saxophone outcries, intelligent piano work, arco bass abrasions, and cymbal screeches. Moreover, it was great to listen to the gorgeous bass-percussion duets whose tangible grooves had an immediate effect on me.

The entire program, manifesting the individual freedom and collective unity of four confident risk-takers, folds into amorphous figures, passionate interplay, and irregular trajectories pelted with rugged and decorous textures.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 (disc1) - Thought On Earth ► 05 (disc1) - QT12 ► 08 (disc2) – Bass Percussion T1


Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer - Decade

Label: Decca Records, 2018

Personnel – Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Dan Tepfer: piano.

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To celebrate a decade of intense musical collaboration and friendship, the masterful 90-year-old altoist Lee Konitz and the resourceful pianist Dan Tepfer, 36, release Decade on Verve Records, an auspicious follow up to Duos With Lee (Sunnyside, 2009). The duo has been performing extensively throughout the years, but their mature sense of impromptu comes bolstered throughout these 15 spontaneous short tunes.

In possession of an enviable originality in terms of sound and language, the pair takes the same direction and overcomes any possible generational gap with their modernistic facility. This aspect becomes immediately perceptible on “Thrill”, the illuminated, if enigmatic, opening piece, which shows Tepfer into a fantastic textural work while insisting on a specific note, chromatically bent at regular times. The delicate tension that arrives from it, favors Konitz's cliché-free vocabulary.

Comprising three distinct parts, “9/11 Suite” kicks off with introspective piano melodies entering our ears like raindrops on a breezy spring day. The melodic lyricism conducted by the veteran saxophonist frequently takes you to the unexpected. If the second part of the suite, marked by scattered call-response actions, points out to an uncertain destiny by carrying a flaring turbulence and an unregulated plasticity typical of the avant-garde genre, then the touching third part is enveloped by a sequence of high-pitched piano swirls whose dreamy tones urge the saxophone to search for a hidden secret with yearning musicality.
 
Three title puns, “Alter Ego”, “Egos Alter”, and “Eager Altos” feature Konitz’ overdubbed sax lines in a merry polyphony, but it’s with “Through the Tunnel”, an overwhelming piece of aurorean transcendence that the duo reaches a subliminal state of unearthly contemplation. If Konitz evokes the melody of “Peacocks” at an early stage and makes use of his unmistakable scat singing by the end, then Tepfer’s improvised lines have prompted responses from a programmed Disklavier piano. The saxophonist repeats the vocalization on Johnny Green’s “Ceaseless”, where circular and arpeggiated movements, typical from classical music, sustain his liberal yet never-misplaced ruminations.

There are other moments of extraordinary creativity: “Body and Soul” is completely transformed through a snazzy re-harmonization and entirely fresh melody; “Rebounds” claims a contrapuntal groove that is later expanded into grandiose chords; and “A Place We Know” shapes into a more traditional song format through balladic harmonic progressions flanked by profound saxophone impressions.

Wielding a delightfully quirky style, Konitz and Tepfer provide the listener with those truly magical moments that will keep them sigh with pleasure.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Thrill ► 04 - 9/11 Suite Part III ► 07 - Through the Tunnel


Alex Lefaivre Quartet - Yul

Label: Multiple Chord Music, 2018

Personnel - Erik Hove: alto saxophone; Nicolas Ferron: guitar; Alex Lefaivre: electric bass; Mark Nelson: drums.

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In order to sonically describe the urbanity of his hometown - Montreal, Canadian electric bassist Alex Lefaivre assembles a solid quartet, establishing an interesting rhythm team alongside guitarist Nicolas Ferron and drummer Mark Nelson. Rounding out the group is alto saxophonist Erik Hove, who really knows how to build articulate phrases and crescendos, and then resolve them with no hesitation. This was exactly what he offered on the opening “The Righteous”, a laid-back 3/4 composition with an undeniable quest for beauty and singing melodicism. Yet, and before his turn, you may indulge yourself in a high-wire exteriorization by Ferron, who has a talent for saturated harmonies and melodic phrases sculpted with in-and-out luster.

The quartet is also in big on John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, the sole cover on the CD and where a cool, jaunty drumming and sparse bass accompaniment underpin the guitarist and saxophonist’s mysterious moves and individual flights. This is the first of three tunes played in five. The others are “Skyline”, a breezy yet disciplined effort with guitar/sax melodic unisons at the end, and the wishful closing piece “Yul”, which doesn’t reach an end without giving the drummer an opportunity to express himself with freedom.

Lefaivre doesn’t limit his actions to simply outline the harmonic progressions with notes of the chords since he improvises on six of them. He delivers in “Estelle”, a medium-tempo 4/4 song delineated by an amiable melody and rhythmically propelled by a jazzy brush drumming; “The Juggernaut”, which boasts a funk-enlivened bass groove over a well-crafted pulse that slowly bends into a rock tang; “Nostagia”, whose title discloses the mood; and also “Cascade”, which is positioned midway between a convivial Brazilian pulsation and the rigorous stability of a march.

Practitioners of an expressive modern jazz, the members of this quartet navigate different signature meters, maintaining typical song structures. The well-established communication among them drives us safely through reliable, engaging soundscapes.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Righteous ► 02 - Halloween ► 07 - Cascade


Tim Berne / Matt Mitchell - Angel Dusk

Label: Screwgun Records, 2018

Personnel – Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Matt Mitchell: piano.

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Last year, innovative pianist Matt Mitchell released Forage, a great solo album whose audacious material consisted exclusively of compositions by alto saxophonist Tim Berne, the man who had hired him in 2012 to play in the progressive Snakeoil band. The musical bond between the two men is so strong that a duo album was almost inevitable. Hence, Angel Dusk is now available and features eight tracks that pair Berne’s agile phrasing and resonant angularity with the perceptive, if intricate, tapestries of Mitchell. 

The session opens with “Perception/Reception”, which gets strong forward momentum without being constantly busy. It shapes into a lyric reflection imbued with precise movements and emotional force. At some point, Berne embarks on circular crusades, having Mitchell's regularly paced chords darkening the mood for the time they last. Even remaining enigmatic until the end, there’s light in the sharp unison lines, which also endure on the subsequent short tune, “Not Too Two”. 

Exception/pest” flows with an instant liquidity. Mostly amiable in nature and exhibiting a classical-tinged artistry on the piano, the piece is temperate in its last section with a sort of rebelliousness that surfaces under the guise of explosive saxophone statements. Things are maintained hot on “Starfish Blues”, in which the swift interplay becomes massive and irreverent, and on the hyperactive “Petulance”, a recipient of ritualistic saxophone drives delivered with scorching trills in the mix and a complete command of the language. Denser harmonic progressions are adopted as accompaniment.

Both “Chance” and “Snail’s Pace” take their time to evolve, embracing a melodic parallelism that, even cerebral to a certain degree, is no less interesting or provocative than the sonic outbreaks. If the former piece goes from balmy to eloquent before returning to the written section, then the latter opens with Mitchell’s mystic rainbows of beautifully contrasting notes, proceeding in 'searching' mode after Berne jumps in with a combination of intimate melodicism and rhythmic agitation.

The constituent pieces of this collaborative work are extremely hard to separate in upbeat or downbeat. It’s much easier to associate their organic sounds with light and darkness due to the timbral coloring of the knotty textures. Berne and Mitchell sculpt and engrave with an absolute sense of anticipation and direction, making their set of explorations a stimulating listening experience.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Perception/Reception ► 05 - Starfish Blues ► 06 - Chance


Angles 3 - Parede

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Martin Kuchen: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Kjell Nordeson: drums

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Effusive saxophonist Martin Kuchen, a mainstay of the free improvised Swedish scene, spearheads the avant-jazz band Angles, whose formation keeps changing throughout the years. The nonet (Angles 9) is probably the most popular of its ensembles, but for Parede, a live recording made in the Portuguese city referred in the title, the band was narrowed to a trio. The adventurous Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten enrolls for the first time, replacing Johan Berthling, while the drums are entrusted to the regular Kjell Nordeson. 

Equality & Death” opens the session with the bassist and the drummer exploring a simple sextuple meter groove. The naked sound is intensified when, in a crescendo, the tempestuous growls of Kuchen attain a peak. This rowdy exertion is abruptly interrupted for an abstract unagitated passage. But after a few minutes, it regains its muscle as the bass oozes groove again, shoulder to shoulder with the rocking rhythm of the drums. The duality dynamic-static perdures until the end.

A nearly three-minute pizzicato dissertation with some occasional strumming is at the origin of “Satan in Plain Clothes”, which flows with a straight-eight rhythm and a danceable bass thrust. Kuchen’s intensely abrasive lines bring Thomas Chapin back to mind, while Nordeson embarks on a summer-shower solo by the end, preceding the theme’s playful statement. I felt I was listening to punk music without guitars.

The 23 minutes of “Francisco / By Way of Deception”, penned by Haker Flaten and Kuchen, respectively, follow the same recipe that includes sturdy yet grooving foundation and unvarnished melodies on the saxophone, becoming more and more intense and explorative with the passage of time. The bandleader, wielding the soprano saxophone, performs timbral examinations, whether alone or in the company of a thrilling percussive navigation that pays homage to Famadou Don Moye’s style. Pure avant-garde forms and moods are discernible in this Afro dance, evocative of Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, and Frank Wright.

Don’t Ruin Me / Love, Flee Thy House (in Breslau)” starts off with a dark tenor supplication uttered with an Eastern accent, before screams of agony take place. A poised unaccompanied bass solo balances the vehemence of the music for a while, just until violent saxophone eruptions fill the air with a self-absorbed invention. However, these energetic moments find counterpoise in certain segments where a more melodic approach is followed.
 
Kuchen and his like-minded cohorts give each tune a stimulating, uncompromising execution that is as much ardent in emotion as it is agile in technique and craft. The band’s raw sound is all compressed in this record, which comes out unfailingly infectious.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Satan in Plain Clothes ► 03 - Francisco / By Way of Deception ► 04 - Don’t Ruin Me / Love, Flee Thy House (in Breslau)


Pete McCann - Pay For It On The Other Side

Label: McCannic Music, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Davy Mooney & Ko Omura - Benign Strangers

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Dwiki Dharmawan - Rumah Batu

Label: MoonJune Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  B-

        Grade B-

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


Alchemy Sound Project - Adventures in Time and Space

Label: Artists Recording Collective, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


Jesse Peterson Quartet - Man of the Earth

Label: ears&eyes Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


William Tatge Trio - General Cargo

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  B

        Grade B

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


Stephanie Richards - Fullmoon

Label: Relative Pitch Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  B

        Grade B

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


The End - Svarmod Och Vemod Ar Vardesinnen

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Jamie Saft Quartet - Blue Dream

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  A

        Grade A

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


Jure Pukl - Doubtless

Label: Whirlwind Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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