Michael Dessen Trio - Somewhere In the Upstream

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

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


Adam O'Farrill - El Maquech

Label: Biophilia Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  A

        Grade A

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


Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow - Music In My Mind

Label: AO2 Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         Grade  B

        Grade B

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


Yelena Eckemoff - Desert

Label: L&H Productions, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


Ivo Perelman / Matthew Shipp - Oneness

Label: Leo Records, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

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


The Vinny Golia Sextet - Trajectory

Label: Orenda Records + Nine Winds Records, 2018

Personnel – Vinny Golia: reeds and woodwinds; Gavin Templeton: alto sax; Daniel Rosenboom: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alexander Noice: guitar; Miller Wrenn: acoustic and electric bass; Andrew Lessman: drums and percussion.

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Multi-reedist Vinny Golia, a prolific explorer, freethinker, and innovator, has been a multifaceted bandleader since the 70’s, and his discography is aggrandized with fruitful collaborations with the likes of Wadada Leo Smith, Tim Berne, Alex Cline, Rich Halley, and Nels Cline. His new sextet includes five former students and emergent talents: alto saxophonist Gavin Templeton, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, guitarist Alexander Noice, bassist Miller Wrenn, and drummer Andrew Lessman.

Trajectory is a riveting double-disc album with enough bite to attract free and avant-garde jazz fans as well as enthusiasts of an audacious crossing between modern creative and groovy funk. This work consists of a careful selection of tunes penned and performed by Golia for over a decade. It was released on his own label, Nine Winds Records, in collaboration with Orenda Records.

The band kicks off with “Ts'emekwe”, where obscurity reigns until a cheerful romp, permeated by a lively funk pulse and well-coordinated movements by the horns and guitar, becomes the dominant factor.

Wild in-and-out solos spread everywhere, contributing a sheer force and precision fury to the typical avant-garde settings created in compositions like “Dr. Loomis, Welcome Back To The Hospital”, a churning Ornette-style ride featuring crashing unisons and individual stretches, “By The End Of The Day”, with Templeton’s ebullient alto and Golia’s hard-hitting baritone challenging the guitarist in his adroit comping, and “Will, It's A Valuable Appendage”, another straightforward punchy tune with rock vitality and flawless paralleled melodies.

Rock and funk delirium is a constant on compositions like “OK Doctor Xavier”, whose brawny muscle and knotty essence are stressed by nervy bass flows and infectious drum fills; “Spaniard's Dilemma”, which boasts a distorted guitar ostinato over a fuzz-inflected groove, double saxophone trills, and inescapably abrasive counterpoint; as well as “Ananaki” and “Sparks Of Dare”, two forms of progressive, often-noisy funk journeys that positively quiver with edgy collective flywheels and exclamatory phrases of opulent tonalities.

Other tunes fall into the contemplative section, cases of “Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water”, a chamber jazz dance between baritone and alto saxophones supported by taciturn backing atmospheres; “The Penabus”, an airy restrained swagger propelled by mallets; and “Gift Of The Nile”, a prog rock excursion where spooky flute sounds hover on top of acerbic chords.

Golia’s sonically arresting originals gain another dimension when in the hands of this freewheeling sextet, which he commands with tensile strength. Strategically using groove as an aesthetic aid, this is a work of precious, exceptional power. 

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 (cd1) - Dr. Loomis, Welcome Back To The Hospital ► 08 (cd1) – Ananaki ► 04 (cd2) - Gift Of The Nile


JD Allen - Love Stone

Label: Savant Records, 2018

Personnel – JD Allen: tenor sax; Liberty Ellman: electric guitar; Gregg August: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

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Boasting a magnificent sound as well as a beautiful, fluid language, tenor saxophonist JD Allen embraces jazz ballads from the past in his new Savant release, Love Stone, the excellent follow up to last year’s Radio Flyer. If there is something about Charles Lloyd in the way he declares “Stranger in Paradise”, a song popularized by Jimmy Smith, then he shows off an effective pitch control in the pure classic tradition of Sonny Rollins on “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”. All those marvelously deep notes are imprinted on our minds, uttered with warm tones and infallible precision. They uplift the spirit. Guitarist Liberty Ellman demonstrates his harmonic competence and melodic sensitivity on both tunes, well backed up by the breathable bass-drums workflow by bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. The latter musicians have been recording regularly with JD since 2012, while Ellman joined last year. 

The bop erudition of “Why Was I Born” reaches a groovy relaxation, renouncing to the fervently swinging incursions of Jackie McLean or the rubato adventures of Coltrane/Burrell, two versions still fresh in my mind. The shimmering brushwork of Royston and the appealing, laid-back posture of August are freaking awesome.

Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” is an adorable folk song that advances peacefully with guitar introspection, punctual bass plucks, and mallet drumming. It is followed by the casualness and graceful swinging balance of “Put On a Happy Face”, a composition formerly tackled by such different artists as Oscar Peterson and Stevie Wonder.

Gone With the Wind” concludes the quartet’s voyage into this magical realm of balladic jazz with a profound, soulful appeal that stems from the unblemished teamwork.

In a quietly revolutionary mode, JD deftly reimagines familiar tunes with a sharp, affective, and pragmatic vision. The pristine glow of his saxophone brings us back the joy of listening to these sweet old songs. Tradition has its place in the modern jazz and this impressive album is probably what your ears have been aching for.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Stranger in Paradise ► 02 - Until the Real Thing Comes Along ► 05 - Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies


Logan Richardson - Blues People

Label: Ropeadope, 2018

Personnel – Logan Richardson: alto saxophone; Justus West: electric guitar; Igor Osypov: acoustic and electric guitars; DeAndre Manning: electric bassist; Ryan Lee: drums.

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The American saxophonist Logan Richardson, based in Paris since 2011, released interesting albums in the past to make us curious about his next steps. Shift, his Blue Note debut, was recorded with the illustrious Pat Metheny, Jason Moran, Harish Raghavan, and Nasheet Waits, while the new album, Blues People, released on Ropeadope, features a new band whose exploration of sound allows a sensible coexistence between post-bop, blues, hard rock, hip-hop, and electronica. Throughout the 14-song repertoire, he fuses all these genres, gaining a unique perspective through the involving musicality of the guitarists Justus West and Igor Osypov, electric bassist DeAndre Manning, and drummer Ryan Lee. Together, they reflect on the past and present of black people's lives.

Hidden Figures” starts with periodic tom-tom sweeps before establishing the pace by locking a syncopated hip-hop beat. Both guitars, boasting a heavy tone that recalls Steve Vai, fuse with an instant understanding, creating a hypnotic mood that suits Richardson’s emotionally charged phrases. 

Adopting a pop/rock posture, “80’s Child” is impregnated with the energy of Simple Minds. The song is enhanced with a bolder rhythm, having alto sax improvs over cyclic guitar riffs. The methodology used here is practically transferred to “Pure Change”, where the vigor of the rock drumming and guitar infusions are dominant, while melodious sax lines keep hovering on top. An assemblage of several ostinatos creates a lively urban portrait.

Both “Country Boy” and “Black Brown Yellow” feature acoustic guitar. Whereas the former adds electronic-like effects and slide guitar for a country blues experimentation, the latter initially embraces vocal layers and bowed bass within a classical romanticism that later reshapes in order to incorporate rich and rounded guitar licks suggestive of the heavy metal style. Also “The Settlement” brings up a neoclassical metal feel, more euphonious than unconventional.

Almost falling in a dark electronic hum, “Underground” does justice to its title, with the band mystifying our ears through the use of a bass pedal, disrupted rhythms, transverse guitar noise, and an effect-infused saxophone. The flux of cross beats also works well on “Hunter of Soul”, where vibes and drones are intensified to obtain intriguing textures, only attenuated by the bandleader’s melancholic lines.

Similarly to “Urban Life”, “Class Wars” relies on a bass groove eligible for both funk-rock and electronica purposes. If the latter has guitar ostinatos and unison melodies increasing the saturation of the colors, then the former’s rock exuberance serves as a vehicle for Richardson’s self-controlled melodic drive, definitely more plaintive and airy than euphoric.

Conceptual and diversified, Blues People has Richardson finding new paths while transcending genres. His fourth album may not be a career peak, but it's great to see him probing new directions in search of originality.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Hidden Figures ► 03 - 80’s Child ► 14 - Pure Change


Thumbscrew - Ours

Label: Cuneiform Records, 2018

Personnel - Mary Halvorson: guitar; Michael Formanek: double bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

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Avant-jazz trio Thumbscrew, a collaborative project co-led by guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, augmented their discography with the release of two new complementary if conceptually distinct albums, suitably entitled Ours and Theirs. Following the example of their second album, Convallaria, these sessions were born from a residency at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum and demonstrate the strong sonic chemistry of musicians who have been regular presences in one another’s bands.

Theirs consists of ten visionary renditions of non-originals, including standards (“East of the Sun”, “The Peacocks”), post-bop sensations (Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous”, Herbie Nichols’s “House Party Starting”, Stanley Cowell’s “Effi”), hard-bop classics (Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”), avant-garde numbers (Misha Mengelberg’s “Weer is een dag voorbij”), and even Brazilian (Jacob do Bandolim’s “Benzinho”) and Argentinean (Julio De Caro’s “Buen Amigo”) pieces.

Conversely, Ours exclusively comprises originals, having each artist contributing with three compositions.
Halvorson’s “Snarling Joys” exudes a sonic exoticism brought forth by flamenco-like attacks on the guitar and a thoughtful bass solo over a more temperate texture. There’s depth in the groove, yet, unrelated with the one presented on “Saturn Way”, which thrives with the percussive incantation of Fujiwara, its author, and also impresses through Formanek’s fluttering arco rumination. 
 
Suffused with lamenting chords, “Smoketree” advances at a medium-slow tempo imposed by a groove in nine. The inventive artistry of Halvorson, the snare drum palpitations of Fujiwara, and the empathic statement of Formanek are prominent. The bassist also delivers on “Unconditional”, a flirtatious tune driven by Fujiwara’s mallet appeal. This composition still sounds intriguing despite carrying a more standardized jazz phrasing and harmonization.

Formanek’s “Cruel Heartless Bastards” goes back and forth in tempo, jolting with changed-up rhythms and textures. Although rhythmically complex, the piece encloses rock-driven passages outlined with power chords, robust bass pumps, and effusive drumming that bear some resemblance with Pixies or The Fall, even if not so rough on the surface. Its energy has less to do with the groovy march of “Thumbprint”, but gets closer to “Words That Rhyme With Spangle”, a post-rock piece that cracks out dynamic kinetics, morphing into a jumbled amalgam of speckled drum chops, unfettered bass, electronic seizures, and revolutionary guitar spins.

An advanced post-bop harmonization affiliates with sharp melodic angularity to fabricate “Rising Snow”, which finds a sensitive equilibrium between the raw strokes of the pulse and the atmospheric velvety of the guitar.

The experimental sounds of Thumbscrew evolve with large amounts of imagination and boldness not to disappoint you. Whether playing originals or covers, their rhythmic deconstructionism and eccentric melodic conductivity make you dabble in this luxurious sonic bubble bath for the ears.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Cruel Heartless Bastards ► 04 - Smoketree ► 08 - Words That Rhyme With Spangle


Matt Penman - Good Question

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Will Vinson: soprano saxophone; Aaron Parks: piano, rhodes; Nir Felder: guitar; Matt Penman: acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire: drums.

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Matt Penman was born in New Zealand but his hearty bass pizzicato and triumphant groove have been enriching the New York jazz panorama since 1995. Besides being an attentive bandleader, Penman contributes to prestigious bands such as SF Jazz Collective and James Farm, and collaborated with respected artists like Joshua Redman, Chris Cheek, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Aaron Goldberg.

For each tune on Good Question, Penman asked a musical question to his bandmates and their responses were transformative and conversational. For instance, “Copeland” describes an aural safe haven from the traumas of modern life with an effective combination of jazz elegance and lullaby-ish folk melody. Working side-by-side with the warm brushwork of drummer Obed Calvaire, Penman sticks to a bass pedal, creating a polished anchor for Mark Turner’s gritty improvisation. 

Surpassing the limits of pure technique and exhibiting a haunting tonal glow, the saxophonist, who plays six of the nine tracks, deservedly claims the spotlight on “Cave Life”, ultimately sparking the circular vibes suggestive of electronic music and created by clockwork hi-hat marks (later turned into beat arrhythmias), glorious sax-bass unisons, and crisp Rhodes harmonizations. He also delivers on the opener, “Mr.Right”, which flourishes with a breathable groove, several rhythmic accentuations, more sax-bass unison phrases, and the visionary pianism of Aaron Parks, here showing an extraordinary ability to produce relaxation and tension on the same textural tapestry. Penman opens the improvisational section with the right foot, repeating the ride on the Oliver Nelson-esque “The Blues and the Alternative Truth”, a balladic recipe cooked up in the classical piano trio format and where his bass testimony slides effortlessly over a sparse piano accompaniment and balmy percussion.

The dawning light of “Small Famous” brings a fresh, sweet serenity. Yet, after all, the tune is not devoid of an inner propulsive energy. The group has a remarkable rhythmic control at the same time that keeps searching for balance and common ground. Even in the face of a complex metric, everything sounds natural.

If saxophonist Will Vinson transcends language on “Fifths and Bayou”, intimately fashioning lines with a soulful side that serves to attenuate the song’s introductory dark texture, then guitarist Nir Felder responds differently to a double call, presenting an attractive idiom with a mellow sound effect on the rhythmically shifting “Rider The Paper Tiger”, and a more bluesy inclination on “Big Tent, Little Tent”, a joyful groovy piece in seven.

With the dominant thrust coming from the pliant rhythm section, the scenario becomes auspiciously enticing for the soloists, whose improvisational creativity is poured out with eager determination and a fertile imagination.
Moreover, great compositions deserve wonderful musicians and Good Question is a good example of that.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Mr. Right ► 03 - Fifths and Bayou ► 06 - Ride the Paper Tiger


Geof Bradfield - Yes and... Music for Nine Improvisers

Label: Delmark Records, 2018

Personnel – Geof Bradfield: tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Anna Webber: flute, tenor saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Marquis Hill: trumpet; Joel Adams: trombone; Scott Hesse: guitar; Clark Sommers: bass; Dana Hall: drums and percussion.

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Boasting an impeccable tonal control and range, saxophonist Geof Bradfield hires a sterling cast of musicians to give wings to his seventh album of originals, Yes, and…Music For Nine Improvisers. The album title was taken from an improvisational theater game implemented by Compass Players, a cabaret revue from the 50s. Combining genres and moods to create a broader sonic palette, the group works dynamically, whether in nonet or trio, following written material and free improvisation as convenient.

Prelude” opens up the record with a strong rhythmic focus in a sturdy sax-bass-drums trio format, exposing fiery timbral explorations and edgy hooks while binding post-bop stamina and swinging passages. This tradition-modernity crossing is even stronger on “Impossible Charms”, a song containing voluptuous vibes, acute improvisations (Bradfield on tenor, trombonist Joel Adams, and trumpeter Marquis Hill) with swinging accompaniment, and a percussive folk finale covered in Non-Western garments.

The energy becomes refracted on “In Flux”, a time-shifting spectacle penned for the entire nonet that fluctuates with a pedal-like groove and fine chamber passages bridging improvisations. It features Hesse’s rapid runs and cascading ostinatos, saxophonist Greg Ward’s emotional yet electrifying phrasing over a dynamic rhythmic activity, and Russ Johnson's diaphanous melodicism within a storytelling containing fragments of swing.

Avoiding bumpy roads, “Chorale” and “Chaconne” are short horn-driven pieces for trio, designed with parallel and diagonal motions as well as polyphony.

Anamneses”, whose title means recollections of the past, slightly crosses world music frontiers. The mystique comes from percussive rattles and cymbal introspection, in addition to a self-disciplined guitar and collective lines in unison. Elegant ebbs and flows arrive through flutist Anna Webber’s agile stretches, smoothly placed on top of idle fingerpicked guitar chords. Then we have the beseeching lines of Russ Johnson’s muted trumpet, which find a compelling rhythmic web composed of mallet drumming and breathable bass lines. Concluding the journey, Bradfield skillfully tours a delicate harmonic texture complemented with horn fills.

The celebratory jazz-fusion of “Forro Hermeto”, a tribute to the musical wizardry of Hermeto Pascoal, overflows with iridescent Brazilian rhythms and sparkling statements by the improvisers.

Bradfield stepped up his compositional efforts for this categorical work and the outcome is unpretentious, sumptuous, and gratifying to the core.  

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Prelude ► 06 - Anamneses ► 08 - Forro Hermeto


Michael Moss Accidental Orchestra - Helix

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel includes - Michael Moss: clarinet, composition, arrangement; Michael Lytle: bass clarinet; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Steve Swell: trombone; Waldron Mahdi Ricks: trumpet; Richard Keene: oboe; Vincent Chancey: french horn; Elliott Levin: saxophone, flute; Ras Moshe Burnett: tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Cohn: piano; Billy Stein: guitar; Larry Roland: bass; Warren Smith: percussion; Michael Wimberly: percussion; Chuck Fertal: drums; and more.

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Michael Moss is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger that has been an assiduous presence in the New York’s free and avant-garde panoramas. His new album, Helix, comprises a 36-minute, 5-part suite and a separate composition that runs for more than 20 minutes. To accomplish this work, Moss gathered a 22-piece new ensemble, the Accidental Orchestra. The band includes respected bandleaders and improvisers such as violinist Jason Kao Hwang, trombonist Steve Swell, hornist Vincent Chancey, and saxophonist Elliott Levin, who doubles on flute. Pianist Steve Cohn and guitarist Billy Stein have a hand in texture and bring occasional harmonic color, while the robust rhythmic foundation is established by Larry Roland on bass, Warren Smith and Michael Wimberly on percussion, and Chuck Fertal on drums. 

The Old One suite, influenced by several ritualistic practices from different parts of the world, opens with “Inception”, giving you a good idea of what is coming next. Its extravagant textures sometimes feel light, perceptible and explicit, while other times feel massive, dense and knotty.

Bridge” evokes the stratospheric Afro explorations of Sun Ra, especially through the actions of piano, vibraphone and drums, whereas “Qabbala” pairs off violins and horns, with guitar and piano fortifying the athletic raids of bass and percussion. 

The fourth part, “Bardo” brings mysterious tones through a whimsical combination of highly contrasting pitched sounds. As the time passes, the interactions get inflated, taking proportions of a loud crescendo.

The suite comes to an end with “The Mind of God”, whose duration extends for almost 16 minutes without getting us tired. A shuffling rhythmic cadence looks for a desperate flute dissertation adorned with chamber fills. After a few exciting runs from the oboe, there’s an atmospheric passage made of clarinet over a controlled guitar. However, it’s Steve Cohn’s piano that brings forth that jazz glow we were waiting for. The ride ends up in a concordant chamber jazz feast.

Closing out the record, we have a spiritual, swinging, celebratory piece, “See Sharp Or Be Flat/C# or Bb”, which is probably the most accessible due to a less number of collisions and intersections. Freely blending tradition and modernity, this composition, written when Moss was recovering from a fracture resultant from tripping over a curb, features numerous improvisers whose discourses are separated by suspenseful bridging passages. A blazing percussion discussion is reserved for the end.

Michael Moss works the orchestral dynamics with passion and Helix becomes less intricate and more intelligible as the record is played over and over.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Bridge ► 05 - The Mind of God ► 06 - See Sharp Or Be Flat/C# or Bb


Adrean Farrugia / Joel Frahm - Blued Dharma

Label: GB Records, 2018

Personnel - Adrean Farrugia: piano; Joel Frahm: tenor and soprano saxophones.

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Canadian pianist Adrean Farrugia and American saxophonist Joel Frahm share a common musical view, demonstrating a deep understanding of each other’s moves in their duo album Blued Dharma. The musicians, who play together since 2009 as members of drummer Ernesto Cervini’s groups, tackle five original compositions by Farrugia and two standards, using diversity and musical compatibility as their best advantages. Of course, this wouldn't be possible if they weren’t great instrumentalists with well-developed languages and a knack for rich storytelling forms.

The proof arrives with the opening tune, “Blued Dharma”, a melodious folkish song that navigates on top of a poignant harmonic progression. Frahm's solo is structured as a crescendo, having his resolute soprano lines being buoyed by Farrugia's crisp accompaniment. Over the course of his improvisation, the pianist adopts a Jarrett-esque style, guaranteeing the linearity of the bass on the left side and creating a beautiful mix of single-note rides and exciting trills on the right. Everything works in favor of a poised, thrilling texture.

While the pop ballad “For Murray Gold”, a homage to the English composer cited in its title, is introduced with a calm rubato deliberation, falling into a 4/4 medium tempo to sustain the improvisations, “Gospell” shows the duo’s devotion to the gospel genre through soulful lines dropped onto awe-inspiring circular harmonies.
 
Cool Beans” is an 18-bar blues whose groove shifts registers as convenient. Blowing the tenor sax with precision, Frahm draws some excitement by employing boppish phrases that never neglect timbral exploration. He excels even more on the closing tune, “Half Moon (For Sophia)”, a joyful, fragile, yet danceable piece in which he unleashes myriad logic notes on the soprano, infusing positive vibes into the casual mood. 

The two selected standards were “Nobody Else But Me”, presented in a more classic way with occasional fugue-like passages, and two different versions of “Cherokee”, deliciously swirling explorations that meld classical innuendos and uplifting jazz bounces with a free posture. 
This is a sparkling, affable record to enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Blued Dharma ► 02 - Cherokee II ► 08 - Half Moon (For Sophia)


Tonhaufen Deluxe - Cygnus 5 Expanse

Label: Hout Records, 2018

Personnel - Sebastian Von Keler: tenor saxophone; Simon Girard: trombone; Florian Mobes: electric guitar; Andrey Tatarinets: double bass; Frederik Heisler: drums

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Tonhaufen Deluxe is a multifaceted European quintet, formed in 2011, which took its time to mature compositions and influences before releasing their debut album, Cygnus Five Expanse. Founded by tenor saxophonist Sebastian Von Keler, its main composer, the band also features Simon Girard on trombone, Florian Mobes on guitar, Andrey Tatarinets on double bass, and Frederik Heisler on drums. 

The docile “Run” opens the record by lumping together gorgeous electro-acoustic guitar sounds, mellow rhythmic engagement, and immersive melodies.

Far more audacious in posture is “Flurry Curry”, which presents a hearty dose of blithe indie rock reminiscent of bands like Weezer and Green Day. The music, in seven, displays a perfectly singable melody uttered by the horn section and a few rhythmic mutations that lead to a burning guitar solo wrapped in metal technique.

Layered with an intriguing artistic echo, the ambiguous “A Small Step” relies on low-pitched drones, salient brushed drumming, extended jazzy chords, leisured bass walks, and horn multiple interactions with both diatonic and atonal adherence. Penned by Mobes, this is a smooth, never-rushing ritual that falls between the rudimentary and the sophisticated.

The bacteria-inspired “Staphylococcus Aureus” is another shifting piece that exhibits a nuanced, classical-like melodic figure at its center. The phrase is declared alternately by saxophone, trombone, guitar, and bass, while sonic layers keep being built in crescent counterpoint. Besides solos by Girard and Keler, the piece highlights the energetic chops of Heisler, who incurs in stunning rhythmic displacements and veers his beats in favor of the surprise factor.

Totally within the jazz sphere, “Nack Blarcissus” is a pun in which the band follows the harmony of Joe Henderson’s classic “Black Narcissus”, adding a bit of African spice to the rhythm. Its fresh summer breeze contrasts with the winds of punk on “59 to 1”, a composition by the San Francisco band Tuxedomoon, here fantastically propelled by a slapping stomp. The infectious rhythm made me want more, especially after hearing the saxophone flying, even for a very short period of time. Sharp unisons conclude this indelible track.

Before conceptualizing brittle textures within a static reverence on Louis Andriessen’s “Eisenstein Song”, the band alchemizes gnarling rhythms and catchy riffs on “The Early Spring”. Firmly anchored in an indestructible groove of bass and drums, the song dwells in a glamorous space between jazz funk and post-rock. 

Genre-busting adventures nourish this music, showing the musicians’ ability to cohere tightly and offering up a solid listening.  

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - A Small Step ► 05 - Nack Blarcissus ► 06 - 59 to 1


Solon McDade - Murals

Label: Self released, 2018

Personnel - Jeremiah McDade: tenor saxophone; Donny Kennedy: alto saxophone; Paul Shrofel: piano; Solon McDade: bass; Rich Irwin: drums.

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Juno award-winning bassist/composer Solon McDade releases his debut album in the company of his brother Jeremiah McDade on tenor saxophone, Donny Kennedy on alto sax, Paul Shrofel on piano, and Rich Irwin on drums. Comprising nine original tracks, predominantly faithful to the 4/4 time signature, Murals shows the quintet swinging aplomb in several tunes, letting the old school routines invade with anticipated if colorful intonations.

Elated experiences evocative of the hard-bop era such as “Whatever Whatever”, and “Off The Bed Rose” thrive through audacious voice leadings while the opener “He’s A Problem In the Locker Room” blurs the line between hard-bop and post-bop, embracing the moods of Wayne Shorter and Cannonball Adderley and displaying a fine collective improvisation by the pair of saxophonists. In those pieces, we can hear Irwin complementing passages with earnest drum fills or trading bars with the bandmates. 

While “Blues For Sebastian” brings the horn riffing tics of the 60s, “Ali’s Second Line” adds some funk, soul, and a bit more rhythmic seasoning, diverging from the post-bop orientation of “Buy The Tractor”, introduced by the bandleader’s woody bass and rounded off with expressive reeds for a relaxed dance. The arrival of piano and drums fixates the cadence before the stipulation of the theme through a melodic statement uttered in parallel.

The enthusiasm for swing refrains with songs like “Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky?”, a modal hymn with balladic scents that still tilts for a while, and “The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod”, a 3/4 piece initiated with Shrofel’s rubato piano and later propelled by brushed drums. Closing out the album at a medium tempo, “A Shorter Thing” occasionally suggests Wayne Shorter’s mood but confining it to a curvilinear romanticism.

Although technically well executed, I found the music obeying recurrent forms and formulas throughout. The impact would be larger if the quintet had assumed a more risk-taking posture, perhaps adding more collective improvisations and interactive passages instead of the traditional structure theme-improv-theme.

        Grade  C+

       Grade C+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - He’s A Problem In the Locker Room ► 02 - Buy The Tractor ► 03 - Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky?


Kristo Rodzevski - The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore

Label: Much Prefer Records, 2018

Personnel - Kristo Rodzevski: vocals, guitar; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor sax; Brian Drye: trombone; Kris Davis: piano; Michael Blanco: bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

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With The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore, Macedonian singer/guitarist Kristo Rodzevski, a dweller of New York since 1999, completes a trilogy started in 2015 with Batania and proceeded with Bitter Almonds two years after. 

Just like in the former work, the bandleader convened six superb jazz musicians to help him convey his musical ideas. Guitarist Mary Haslvorson, bassist Michael Blanco, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara remained solid in their positions, while trombonist Brian Drye, pianist Kris Davis, and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock join the project for the first time, replacing cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, tenorist Chris Speed, and cellist Tomeka Reid.

The album kicks off with a generous dose of glam rock since “Polyester Suit” exhibits, at some point, a similar vocal tone and dramatic vein of the British rock band Placebo. Here, Drye’s solo gets responses from Halvorson’s effect-drenched guitar.

The trombonist returns to the spotlight on “Out of Key”, a piece that, even not as grungy as Nirvana or Alice In Chains, carries a bit of these band’s emotional desperation. However, the trombone solo, introduced by clapping, shape into a Spanish-tinged harmonic sequence that is not followed when Laubrock takes over by the end. Robust in sound, the indomitable saxophonist infuses the right amount of irreverence on “Your Name”, a song with a punk vibe à-la Public Image Ltd., even if sung in a softer tone when compared with John Lydon’s style.

With most of the tunes falling into the alternative pop/rock genre, jazz is clearly spotted on the cabaret-tinged “Madadayo”, a mellow, somewhat obscure dramatic piece that pushes Davis into infrequent euphonic incursions. Yet, her known adventurous pianistic twirls populate “Meet Me Online”, a song with a strong chorus, which also bursts with Halvorson’s rapid pointillism.

If the yearning that envelops “Bucharest, 1913” takes us to Radiohead’s nostalgic tonalities, the title cut wraps up the session with a folk-rock that could have been composed by Nick Drake or Sun Kil Moon.
The album was mixed by Bill Laswell and co-produced by Rodzevski and Fujiwara. Regardless of the numerous influences, the songs reveal a strong identity, flowing agreeably. However, some more time given to these extraordinary improvisers would have been beneficial.

         Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Your Name ► 04 - Madadayo ► 06 - Meet Me Online


Rogerio Boccato Quarteto - No Old Rain

Label: Red Piano Records, 2018

Personnel – Dan Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Nando Michelin: fender rhodes; Jay Anderson: bass; Rogério Boccato: drums, percussion.

Knowing the rhythmic skills of New York-based Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato, it comes as no surprise that he has become one of the busiest sidemen on the scene. Recording/gigging with big names such as Maria Schneider, Kenny Garrett, John Patitucci, and Fred Hersch allowed him to mature as a musician and further develop his inspired pulses and rhythmic accents. 

For his debut record, No Old Rain, Boccato sought inspiration in the music of four indisputable Brazilian masters - Milton Nascimento, Toninho Horta, Egberto Gismonti, and Edu Lobo, infusing his personal touch with the help of virtuosic saxophonist Dan Blake, bright keyboardist Nando Michelin, and veteran bassist with a silky-tone, Jay Anderson.

The quartet opens with two gems by Milton Nascimento, the first of which, “Cais”, is cooked up with rich keyboard voicings and a restless drumming that contrasts with the delicacy of Blake’s soothing lines and the sobriety of Anderson’s sparse pizzicato. Although tension is not an uncommon factor here, emerging mostly from Blake’s melodic ideas and Michelin’s bossa-like accompaniment by the end, there is always lots of space that opens the door to a comforting spirituality. This aspect is reinforced on “Clube da Esquina Nr. 2”, a moving statement whose relaxed atmosphere never dissipates candidness.

The rendition of Gismonti’s “Tango” shows the band exploring more outside the lines, providing a simpatico Hancockian backdrop for Blakes’ soprano escapades, which slightly trespasses avant-garde zones.

The introductory bass roams that launch Horta’s “Bicycle Ride” leads to soaring sax melodies, yet, the tune passes through a steamy phase before returning to that straight-from-the-shoulder languidness.
 
Cravo e Canela" is delivered in six, serving well the motivic, folk-ish drives from Blake. He is a colorist whose improvisations can be neatly articulated, remarkably angular, and in-your-face. The final moments expand the melodic suggestion made in the beginning and adjust the new tempo to 6+8. 
 
Respecting the contexts and moods in which the songs are immersed in, the instrumentalists never let their music sound gratuitous or offbeat. This aspect is verified again on Lobo’s “Canto Triste”, a beautiful, hair-raising melancholic tune, crisply arranged with some noir Laswell-like drones, scintillating organ spell, subdued percussion, and poignant saxophone moans and ululations. Contrasting with this posture, there is Horta’s “Viver de Amor”, skillfully transformed into an ear-grasping fusion of post-bop and smooth funk, and Milton’s wistful “Morro Velho”.

Boccato is a versed stylist of the rhythm, who generously works for the collective. The tunes on No Old Rain take a flow of their own, suggesting stories through the sonic canvas that mirror the quartet’s extraordinary rapport and sensitivity, regardless the pace or dynamics. I hope this is the first of many records to come.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - Clube da Esquina Nr. 2 ► 07 - Canto Triste ► 09 – Viver De Amor


Benoit Delbecq 4 - Spots On Stripes

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Benoit Delbecq: piano; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; John Hebert: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq conquered his own space in the edgier side of the jazz spectrum through flashes of compositional virtuosity and modernistic explorations of sound. His latest album, Spots on Stripes, features ten originals decorously shaped in the company of his talented cohorts: saxist Mark Turner, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, all of them respected bandleaders and indomitable improvisers.

The title cut opens the recording like a free-ish, urban matrix carried out by the pungent bass/drums activity on top of which the bandleader, adopting a laid-back approach, delicately sketches sharp-angled figures. He comes back with a sack full of ostinatos after Turner sports a hip, penetrating timbre while piling up cliché-free expressions. Hebert also improvises before the jaunty theme is re-implanted.

The bassist pursues the spotlight again on “Broken World”, a lenient rubato ballad whose reflectiveness gets smaller proportions than on “Dripping Stones”, holder of an enigmatic charisma.

Anchored in a folk phrase, “Rosemary K” follows a cyclic, non-aggressive path. This tune can be paired with “De Stael”, where the simplicity and accessibility of the recurrent melody go well with the brilliancy of Turner’s wide-ranging impromptu outputs.

The Loop of Chicago” is an explosive exteriorization marked by convulsive piano strokes, vigorous bass thumps, and an agitated drumming that never brings forth more than the necessary. On top of this guttural, primitive groove, we have Turner’s angularities, Delbecq’s improvised phrases loaded with odd intervals and hard-pressed lines, and a brief solo by Cleaver. The tune ends up enveloped in a dreamy texture weaved by soft pianism, brushed cymbals, bowed bass, and high-pitched saxophone wails.

Contrasting with “Old Vinyl”, a sculptural modal exercise packed with syncopated rhythms and enthusiastic swinging passages, “Disparition Du Si” and “Dawn Sounds” show off distinct yet hypnotic African pulses. Equipped with prepared piano, the former reminded me an old static music box, while the latter is a mesmerizing, full-steamed avant-garde number with rhythmic juxtapositions and an exuberance that harks back to Roscoe Mitchell and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Relying on dynamic combinations and rich tonalities while probing indefinitely, Delbecq eschews any sort of redundancy, bringing out one of the most exciting works of his career.

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
04 - The Loop of Chicago ► 06 - Dawn Sounds ► 10 - De Stael


Marc Sinan / Oguz Buyukberber - White

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Marc Sinan: guitar, electronics; Oguz Buyukberber: bass clarinet, clarinet, electronics.

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White is a compelling duo record co-orchestrated by German-Turkish-Armenian guitarist Marc Sinan and Turkish clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber. Trading in the modern creative and electronic music, the artists create often spacious, occasionally knotty musical textures in their symbiotic emotional expressions.

The 5-part “Upon Nothingness” was written by Sinan with the exception of the ‘White’ module, an ominously depressive piece, heavy on electronics and probing loose string pluck effects, that was penned conjointly with Oguz. Based on field recordings of Armenian prisoners of war sent to detention camps in Germany during the WWI, the suite also comprises: ‘Yellow’, in which clarinet trills get involved with guitar arpeggios in an atypical intervallic allure, having cloud-covered electronics around; ‘Blue’, an odd dance whose electronic drones seek for a denser texture, some of them deeply noir; ‘Green’, an atmospheric exercise where distorted guitar strokes trigger some rock jolt along with some calculated string scraping and volume manipulation; and the closing ‘Red’, in which the partners, motivating each other, set up another experimental scenario filled with the recurrent vocal samples of Armenian chants in the background and a bit of white noise.

Also comprising five parts, There is credited to Oguz, who skillfully squeezes written material and improvisation over the same dish to improve taste. If “There I” thrives with guitar dissonances and rapid pointillism in response to the clarinetist’s sinuous lines before the unison final phrase, then “There II” is a bold exercise exhibiting parallelisms, staccatos, and counterpoint as part of an animated conversation.

Emitting a stable effulgence, “There III” and “There V” are free roams for solo clarinet and solo guitar, respectively. They fly in the face of “There IV”, which advances calmly with an air of blissful sorrow, later turned into rapid mutual staccatos to conclude.

With an underlying feeling of abandonment allied to a solid improvisational compatibility, the pair, besides technically strong, is also very capable when it comes to electronic choices. The result is a bountiful creative freedom.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Upon Nothingness, Yellow ► 04 - There II ► 05 - Upon Nothingness, Green