Brian Krock - Liddle

Label: Outside in Music

Personnel – Brian Krock: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Olli Hirvonen: electric guitar; Matt Mitchell: piano, Fender Rhodes; Marty Kenney: upright bass; Simon Jermyn: 6-string electric bass, baritone guitar; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drum set.

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On Liddle, up-and-coming saxophonist/clarinetist Brian Krock steps out as a bandleader and composer, preparing nine energizing tunes - seven of which he wrote - with imaginative, sinewy arrangements. For that, he summoned a couple of key players from his acclaimed Brooklyn-based 18-piece ensemble Big Heart Machine and invited a few distinctive new elements, whose level of commitment revealed to be exemplary. The robust structure of the pieces allows them to squeeze eccentric curves, sharp angles and compacted yet never cluttered textures in the same scorching pot.

The album opens with the rhythmically complex “Flip”, where the melodic boldness of the saxophone gets momentum from dazzling intervallic leaps, suggesting a groove that is immediately apprehended by the remaining members of the group. Krock wrote it as a response to a Human Feel tune composed by altoist Andrew D’Angelo. Part emotional, part cerebral, Krock’s phrasing is built over an active rhythmic tapestry that fractures when pianist Matt Mitchell pours out a dense sequence of notes like waterfalls. By that time, the backdrop is made of terse slides and fast plucks offered by Marty Kenney’s acoustic bass in cooperation with the surging and skittering percussive dexterity of Nathan Ellman-Bell.

While seamlessly shifting meters, “Knuckle Hair” boasts rhythmic ideas in tandem, playful guitar chops, and piercing toy-like piano sounds. Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen expresses a fervent desire in experimenting with a combination of distortion and atonality, while Mitchell contributes astonishingly formed voicings, flexible in tonal range. A rhythmic crescendo intensifies the tension, allowing the composer’s rock influence to emerge without barriers.

Krock sought inspiration in the literary refinement of James Joyce for some tunes and “Saturnine”, a polyrhythmic crossing between prog rock and avant-jazz, is one of those products. If at this moment, Mitchell and Krock (on clarinet) project their voices with confidence, then it’s Hirvonen who shines on “Memphis”, a composition he penned himself with brilliance. Exposing a blissfully atmospheric intro, the tune acquires poised indie-rock instrumentation with Ellman-Bell excelling behind the drum set with a disorienting beat not averse to syncopation. Two six-string instruments fulfill the improvisational section: the electric bass of guest Simon Jermyn (he plays baritone guitar on the alternative rock song “Please Stop”) and the high-voltage guitar of Hirvonen, who finishes in a corrosive Satriani-mode.

Smoother and melodically emphasized, “Heart Machine” has Mitchell confirming he is as incredible with melody as he is with the rhythmic stuff. Hirvonen, in turn, opts for an off-kilter approach that feels very opportune, while Krock adds more melody on the bass clarinet. Counteracting the state described before, we have Anthony Braxton’s “Opus 23b”, an uptempo piece with rushed patterned unisons and an inherent ebullient swing that later touches the avant-garde realm in all its strength.

Liddle deserves many listenings as it encapsulates tunes that work well independently but that also cohere into a solid narrative arc. Krock is to be taken very seriously as a composer.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Knuckle Hair ► 04 - Memphis ► 07 - Opus 23b


Vulture Forest - Some Things Stay Broken

Label: Microtone Records, 2019

Personnel - Kristoffer Vejslev: guitar; James McClure: trumpet; Luka Bencic: double bass; Love Ekenberg: drums

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The music of Vulture Forest, a quartet whose members hail from Denmark, Sweden, Slovenia, and South Africa, evokes tranquil landscapes and describes them with a reliance on languid yet rich and beautiful textures. Their second album, Some Things Stay Broken, comprises seven compositions that will make you ascend to a pure contemplative state through polished instrumentation, both intentional and extemporaneous.

A Journey” and “Stargazing” start the journey and each of them shares this same sense of spaciousness and meditative quietness where the instruments breathe unhurried lines with melancholy and steady brightness.

Vayu” goes in this same direction, offering resplendent voice leading and guitar textures drowned in the minor mode while moans, squeaks, creaks, and cymbal work can be heard as an aesthetic complement. Long held trumpet notes and subdued bass help densifying its body without ever altering its course or mood. Conversely, “Simple As Can Be” embraces a more traditional song format, allowing us to actually feel the chord passages due to a more demarcated bass comping. The melody is ravishing, sometimes recalling Enrico Rava’s balladry, and the improvisations shape as the personal statements we are most often used to hear in jazz. This album’s closing song is emotionally charged.

Speaking of improvisation, a fully improvised piece, “Impro #5”, was included in the song alignment. Prolonged bowed bass, irregular scratchy and clanky percussive noises, trumpet consistency in delivering notes of average duration, and guitar in-development paths are all assembled in the spur of the moment. Even if deceptive mirroring effects are sometimes created between trumpet and guitar, their independence concedes an ampler vision of the surrounding. As if spaces and textures could be felt from different angles.

The title track opposes to “Dance of the Planets” in the way that the latter piece is propelled by unremitting reverberating drum chops with a dragging tempo and a slightly sinister vibe. The former, instead, brittle yet tuneful, soars in its own minimalism, surrounded by nostalgic and dreamy tones.

Vulture Forest’s lyrical language and smooth soundscapes are obsessively inner-directed, generating a relaxing introspective spell. In order to absorb the maximum of what this recording has to offer, you got to disconnect from the bustle of the world. The experience can be more energizing than you think.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Dance of the Planets ► 05 - Vayu ► 07 - Simple As Can Be


Johnathan Blake - Trion

Label: Giant Step Arts, 2019

Personnel - Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Linda May Han Oh: double bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

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Johnathan Blake is an influential drummer known for his resolute actions and instinctive reactions. His trio with saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Linda May Han Oh is an example of both musical cohesion and freedom. Thus, the title Trion, which in physics means a singlet state formed from three atoms of different colors, couldn’t have been more appropriate to identify this double-album recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York and released on Jimmy Katz’s imprint Giant Step Arts.

Both discs open with a solo statement by Blake: “Calondedrum”, named for an evergreen tree native in Africa, and “Bedrum”, which means ‘drum about in celebration’. Speaking about celebration, it’s impossible to get away from the jubilant rhythmic expression of The Police’s “Synchronicity I”, which, maintaining the original time signature of 6/4, feels like a lively post-bop rollercoaster ride where Potter delves into a phenomenal and disseminative grooving idiom. The indelible hookup between Oh and Blake branches out in powerful statements. The bassist takes some time digging strong rhythmic figures and the drummer, in phase with his bandmates, pushes forward before the tradeoffs with Potter. Other celebratory occasions that encourage cultural diversity and eclectic sounds can be found on Potter’s optimistic “Good Hope”, a blazing South African-inspired piece where Blake makes shakiness a virtue with a gifted Afro-centric pulse. The saxophonist is not just mercurial here, also loading Blake’s gospel-inflected “West Berkeley St.” with ecstatic vibes. This last tune was named after a street in Philadelphia, where the drummer grew up.

No matter the angle from which the trio approaches the music, you will feel an energy that engulfs you wave upon wave. “One For Honor”, penned by bassist Charles Fambrough, is a wonderful example, stretching with a playful disposition that melds swing and Latin jazz. If Potter is determined and goes timbral in the final vamp, Blake summons many colors, adding gravity and tension to his playing.

Both “Blue Heart” and “No Bebop Daddy” drift effortlessly with a three-time feel. The former is a previously unrecorded piece by Blake’s father - jazz violinist John Blake, Jr., while the latter composition was inspired by Donny McCaslin’s young son’s frustration about the music chosen by his father while driving him to school. This number evinces a moderate inclination to rock and boasts a bass solo that combines articulation with sensitivity and deliberation. Even if no bebop is found here, Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” brings it back.

Linda Oh’s compositional contribution is a time-shifting piece swamped in metaphors called “Trope”. After delving in a three-minute solo intro, she literally provides harmonic substance for Potter’s melodies with Blake filling every corner with enchanting brushed cymbals.

These leading contemporary jazz figures employ their accurate sense of direction, improvisatory ferocity, and instinct for groove, catapulting Blake’s artistic statement to a place of distinction.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Synchronicity I ► 05 (disc1) - One For Honor ► 02 (disc2) - Good Hope


Triio - Triio

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel – Bea Labikova: alto saxophone, flute; Aidan Sibley: trombone; Ashley Urquhart: piano; Tom Fleming: guitar; Alex Fournier: bass; Mark Ballyk: drums.

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Despite the misleading name, Triio is not a trio. It’s a Toronto-based sextet launched in 2012, the longest-running project from bassist Alex Fournier. Their self-titled debut album includes a set of shape-shifting compositions packed with rigorous compositional detail and free improvisation.

ESD” plays a role model by showing how the group is deeply informed by the dynamics and flexible interplay of the 21st-century jazz. Besides the inevitable unprepared side inherent to jazz, their modern creative aesthetic pronounces fondness for through-composed, long-form music. This opening tune starts by engulfing the listener in its abstract solo piano vortex, probing densities and intensities before hitting the asymmetric groove that, also tracked by the bassist, sustains the theme. Prepare yourself for sax-piano unisons with occasional trombone countermelodies in the background. Before the reinstatement of the theme, drummer Mark Ballyk amplifying chops, having electronic sounds hovering over his head, while Bea Labikova’s alto sax wanders with a casual, free posture.

Bass, percussion, and prepared piano introduce “Giant Dad” in an enigmatic way, but the group unlocks a cool swing to welcome a parallel speech from flute and trombone. As trombonist Aidan Sibley detaches himself to establish an impromptu communication with guitarist Tom Fleming, a form of polyphony materializes. Still, the next phase was not destined to be melodically intense but rather rhythmically daring with a passage for prepared piano and flute. Everything is ‘melodified’ for the finale.

The impetuous “Fourhundred Dollars” assumes the shape of a chugging steam train but still tolerates a calmer passage marked by liquid guitar textures. Nonetheless, the tension gallops dauntlessly through the flurries and pointillism delivered by pianist Ashley Urquhart along with the eruptive shriek of ecstasy and raw excitement of the saxophone cries. The music gets turbulent across the board before concluding with a busy yet controlled pace. Conveying a similar mood, “Noisemaker” feels a continuation of the latter piece, extending beyond 17 minutes and sporting instrumental metamorphoses with rhythmic multiplicities and avant-jazz sensibility. What will you find here? A jazzy trombone solo over an odd-metered swinging pulse, hushed moments with bowed bass and disciplined floating guitar, pondered unisons as integral elements of a processional episode, piano rumination with variety in sound, and a final written section stamped by a guitar ostinato and topped by involving lines.

The force of this sextet derives from the personal sounds of its members and the concluding composition, “Permanently Hiccups”, shows exactly that. Polyrhythmic layers pile up resolutely, building emotional resonance. The texture may feel a bit brooding at times, but the group canalizes the final section into a hypnotic tapestry rich in unisons and counterlines.

Fournier and his Triio group reveal a breathtaking command of tempo and structure as well as a modern flair for texture. This is an ambitious effort that will help them carve out a distinct space for themselves.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - ESD ► 02 - Giant Dad ► 03 - Fourhundred Dollars


Dave Douglas / Uri Caine / Andrew Cyrille - Devotion

Label: Greenleaf Music, 2019

Personnel – Dave Douglas: trumpet; Uri Caine: piano; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas teams up once again with pianist Uri Caine, a member of his prestigious quintet in the 1900s, for a sequel to their 2014 album Present Joys. For Devotion, the musicians adopt the same methodology of its predecessor, adapting 19th-century sacred choral pieces from the Sacred Harp songbook, but on this occasion, in the company of a special third element who colors exquisitely behind the drumset: Andrew Cyrille.

Nine of the ten tunes on this recording are the product of Douglas’ crisp compositional vein. The exception is the title track, penned by Alexander Johnson. The album sunrises with “Curly”, a witty piano-drums duet dedicated to one of the Three Stooges, the comedian Jerome Horwitz. Manifesting a carefree posture, Cyrille is the perfect accompanist for Caine’s mercurial stride piano and fine block chords.

D’andrea” is initially dipped in enigmatic voicings, contrasting with Douglas’ bright phrases. The harmonic dark clouds dissipate after the trumpeter speaks his own idiom, a well-lighted association of hard-bop and avant-jazz. This tune is a tribute to Italian pianist Franco D’Andrea as well as “Francis of Anthony”, an impeccably brushed waltz with muted trumpet.

Both “Miljosang” and “False Allegiances” are devoted to and cull inspiration from Carla Bley’, and the pianist’s influence is well patented in their form, structure, and melodic/harmonic coherence. The former piece is a fetching and uncompromising 4/4 environmental tune arranged with harmonic straightforwardness, while the latter is a beautiful blues-tango with expressive muted trumpet and elegant mallet drumming. Caine delineates seductive bass lines with his left hand while, with the other, pronounces the melody in unison with the trumpeter. To me, this track is the absolute emotional apogee of the recording.

The sensitive comping, rhythmic effulgence, and splendid voice-leading continue on “Pacific”, a haunting ballad delivered with sharp focus. This piece was devoted to Aine Nakamura and the Mannes/New School composition class of Fall 2017 and its title derived from the tune system (C-F-C) of an Asian instrument.

Pianist Mary Lou Williams and trumpet master Dizzy Gillespie are also paid tribute on “Rose and Thorn”, a confluence of modal jazz and stride piano, and “We Pray”, a candid and sensitive ballad, respectively.

Douglas architects this music with empathy and trust, and the trio bestows a spontaneous charm that leaves a lasting impression. Versatility and intuition are among their strong points, therefore, this music never fails or gets boring.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - False Allegiances ► 07 - Pacific ► 09 - We Pray


Federico Ughi - Transoceanico

Label: 577 Records, 2019

Personnel - Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone; Adam Lane: double bass; Federico Ughi: drums.

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Transoceanico is a vinyl/digital release from Italian-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Federico Ughi, who leads a powerful trio composed of like-minded explorers: British saxophonist Rachel Musson and American double bassist Adam Lane.

This sturdy free jazz session celebrates the 20th anniversary of Ughi’s very first album, The Space Within, which consisted of duets with saxophonists and was released in the UK while he was living there. It kicks off with “So Far, So Good”, a dense yet never crowded exercise where the group always finds a consistent direction. With the experienced Lane suggesting harmony by plucking more than one string at a time, Musson emphasizes rhythmic ideas that suddenly dissolve and then return for further development. Concurrently, Ughi’s drumming gains impetus to the point of becoming fervently spanking.

On “Segnale Di Via Libera”, bassist and drummer weave a tight rhythmic web adorned with on-spot cymbal splashes. In a preliminary phase, the saxophonist blows fragmented phrases, which evolve into raucous yet expressive cacophonies with the time. The trio heartily reunites for a moderate final stage, right after Ughi’s solo based on groovy rudiments.

Blues Apart” embraces a deceptive hush and calmness. A tense atmosphere invades the scenario, especially created by Lane, who infuses heavy bowed bass interjections. This piece differs from “Emergency Exit”, whose mysterious tones and tense pyramids of sound are taken on during the first minutes. Here, Lane exhibits a sort of coiled phrasing that ends uprooted, while Musson embarks on surging cacophonic gushes that burst with energy and intensity. This is a showcase for her noisy contortions wrapped in dark timbral shades. Ughi keeps the entire thing moving on the borderline with restless chops that magnify the music’s rough edges.

The drummer starts alone “Sky Ramblin” and speaks for more than a couple of minutes. His language includes effervescent cymbal legato and meticulous, reverberant tom-tom drives. We can also identify a droning melancholy coming from the bowed bass and a less aggressive approach by the saxophonist, who goes vibrato with flickering pitch variations.

The trio pours out their souls with a rough sound, embracing somber timbres and advocating free speeches that go beyond the far side of tonality. Transoceanico doesn't open up new avenues, but if you wish to continually remain in the 'outside' world, this is a valid option.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - So Far, So Good ► 03 - Blues Apart ► 06 - Sky Ramblin


Linda May Han Oh - Aventurine

Label: Biophilia Records, 2019

Personnel – Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Greg Ward: alto and soprano saxophones; Matt Mitchell: piano; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Sara Caswell: violin; Bennie Von Gutzeit: viola; Jeremy Harman: cello + Invenio vocal ensemble.

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The prodigiously gifted bass player Linda May Ahn Oh proposes a warm, often quietly expressive set of music on her newest outing, Aventurine, a personal music essay in which some of the pieces took several years to reach the desired state of maturation. Flanked by collaborators such as top-tier pianist Matt Mitchell, imaginative drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, and outgoing saxophonist Greg Ward, Ms. Oh also employs a dutiful string quartet and the Melbourne-based vocal ensemble Invenio on selected numbers.

The latter group contributes significantly on the tunes the bassist wrote for her nieces. The first of them is the title cut, which starts out the record with the string players embracing a quasi-cinematic solemnity. They share brief pizzicato moments with the bassist after a complex orchestration comes off, landing on a gracious classical-like roundabout where noteworthy vocal layers float atop. The other piece is “Rest Your Weary Head”, which was divided into two distinct tracks. The first of them brings a dreamy, lullaby-ish feel in the voices and texture, while the second initiates with a spacey, serene interaction between soprano sax and bass that becomes vivacious around the time that the pianist brings a sort of Latin motif into the game. With Smith infusing expert beat displacement, the bass continues its free-flowing ramble, while the violin and the sax ostinatos take turns. 

Lilac Chaser” got its title from the visual illusion of the same name and was musically inspired by the work of pianist Andrew Hill with strings. The thick, round sound of the electric bass initially concentrates in a pedal, eventually breaking down to incorporate a groovy motion. Mitchell shows off his fleet-fingered pianism, sweeping the keyboard with quick-wittiness to get a gripping out-of-focus effect. He also excels on “Satuit”, a much jazzier exercise with a swinging bounce.

Ebony” recirculates rhythmic figures, creating a folk-jazz dance that climaxes during the ecstatic improvisations offered by Ward and Mitchell. If jazz is very much alive here, “Cancrizan” eulogizes classical music, inspired by a crab-canon arrangement from J.S. Bach.

The bandleader’s roots are celebrated on fascinating musical hybrids such as the layered “Song Yue Rao” and the scrupulous “Seepsea Dancers”, both drawn from listenings of shuochang, a traditional Chinese genre of storytelling. More restraint in tone, the latter composition is dedicated to the bassist’s late former manager Izumi Uchida.

Oh’s compositional virtuosity is on display throughout the record, generating layered and risk-taking new music. She manages to propel some classic material to unfamiliar places, like on Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave”, a bebop tune turned into funky experiment enclosing multi-keyed dialogue, and a mournful reading of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered”, where she delivers a fine bass solo with the strings playing a focal role.

Unlike the outgoing avant-garde forays of Oh’s previous recording Walk The Wind, Aventurine relies on compositions that are patchworks of eclectic inspirations, emphasizing the collective while still providing opportunities to create individually.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Aventurine ► 09 - Ebony ► 13 - Satuit


Andre Carvalho - The Garden of Earthly Delights

Label: Outside in Music, 2019

Personnel - Jeremy Powell: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Eitan Gofman: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Oskar Stenmark: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andre Matos: guitar; Andre Carvalho: double bass; Rodrigo Recabarren: drums, percussion.

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After two well-succeeded albums released in his native country, Portuguese bassist/composer Andre Carvalho raises the bar with a new studio album made in New York, the city he has been living since 2014. Eleven new compositions/movements constitute the suite inspired by Bosch’s famous triptych oil painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, whose enigmatic intentions and visual awe are transported to the music. Carvalho convened the same creative sextet he has been gigging with for a while now. The three-horn frontline composed of trumpeter Oskar Stenmark and saxophonists Jeremy Powell and Eitan Gofman is on the same wavelength of the adaptable rhythm section that affiliates guitarist Andre Matos and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren to the bandleader.

The album’s opener, “Prelude”, feels quite cinematic on the point of probing a mystifying scenario. Unyielding bow work, cautious guitar, and ponderous unison lines coalesce into a lethargic pace well founded on a 6/4 time signature. Bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet infuse just the right amount of exoticism and freedom in this extraordinary invitation that leads to the luxurious “The Fool of Venus”, which hooks up a vivid guitar ostinato turned into groove by the bassist. The horn section contributes both aligned and crisscrossed lines within a sumptuous mix of Eastern and Western musical confluences that, on occasion, brings to mind the quintet of Dave Holland. Stenmark is the featured soloist on this tune, demonstrating versatility and range.

Recabarren’s resourceful drumming comes to prominence on “The Fountain”, where the gentle flute melodies contrast with the dizzy-spells caused by Matos’ effects-drenched guitar. Also immersed in a cool poise, “Dracaena Draco” smoothly transits from a collective passage to a 2-minute bass narration.

Like the painting that inspired it, the music is rich in detail and contrast. Take, for example, the modern flair and playfulness initially offered on “Of Mermaids and Mermen”, and then the ruptures and suspensions that follow them. The polyphonic instrumentation slowly takes us to Gofman’s saxophone supplications, accompanied by sparse guitar liquidity and unabashed drumming, and later adorned with horn fills. Thereupon, the tension is brought down considerably with “Cherries, Brambles and Strawberries”, which follows a more traditional song format, softened by sax-guitar melodicism and Recabarren’s propelling brushwork. After a well-developed story told by Powell, Matos brings his guitar forward with a solo bathed in an equipoised solution of bluesy rock and rustic folk jazz.

Showcasing distortion-laden sounds, the guitarist is also in evidence on energetic rock pieces such as “Evil Parade”, a mixed-meter composition that couples 3/4 and 5/4 time signatures while having trumpet and tenor alternating bars, and “The Forlorn Mill”, a hard rock-meets-jazz excursion with delightfully accented phrases. With the horns on the loose and the rhythm section mutating the substructure without breaking it, this sounds very avant-gardish.

Knowing exactly what he wants, Carvalho reveals a strong identity as a composer. His decisiveness is on display throughout a work that brims with a fresh contemporary spin.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Prelude ► 08 - Evil Parade ► 10 - The Forlorn Mill


Tom Harrell - Infinity

Label: HighNote Records, 2019

Personnel - Tom Harrell: trumpet; Mark Turner: tenor sax; Charles Altura: guitar; Ben Street: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.

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Ace trumpeter Tom Harrell’s new recording, Infinity, brims with uncomplicated structures, harmonic sophistication, nervy improvisations, and a mix of kaleidoscopic hard-bop and straight ahead post-bop influences. The album comprises ten Harrell compositions subjected to wonderful musical treatments by a hot quintet that includes Mark Turner on tenor sax, Charles Altura on guitar, Ben Street on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums.

All these musicians have recorded with the trumpet player before and, on this particular album, their skills stand out in clean-cut narratives such as “The Fast”, which is pinned down by a hooky rocking vamp in seven, and “Dublin”, charmingly introduced by acoustic guitar before a 4/4 modal jazz is installed. Both pieces feature Harrell and Turner as soloists, with Altura and Blake contributing incisive improvisational work on the former composition. Turner is simply genial, shaping conversational phrases with momentary out-of-focus incursions, while Harrell puts a lot of sensitivity in melodic articulations surrounded by the finest light.

If the easy-listening “Folk Song” exhibits a gentle backbeat that produces cool and sophistication vibes, the time-shifting “Hope” offers percussive rattles and shakes, parallel melodies, rarefied reverb-drenched guitar, and an unforeseen bolero-ish routine that, in a flash, morphs into a vibrantly swinging locomotion. This is a clinical demonstration of Harrell’s compositional facility and inventiveness.

Both “Coronation” and “Ground” exude happy thoughts. However, whereas the former feels blatantly popish, the latter has the restless up-and-down trajectories of the bass instilling the spirit of disco-funk.

Immediately upon finishing “Duet”, a short trumpet-saxophone extravagance, Harrell brings the album to a close with the sweeping, busy, and vibrant post-bop of “Taurus”, whose mutable dynamics pack a punch.

The trumpeter is an intelligent, exceptionally melodic sculptor who channels discipline and freedom to the right places for the most breathtaking effect. He is outstanding here, and so are his bandmates.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Fast ► 02 - Dublin ► 10 - Taurus


The OGJB Quartet - Bamako

Label: TUM Records, 2019

Personnel - Oliver Lake: alto saxophone; Graham Haynes: trumpet; Joe Fonda: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

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OGJB is an initialism formed with the first letter of the first name of four superb avant-gardists, namely, saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeter Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Barry Altschul. For their first collective outing, Bamako, they all contribute compositions, work dynamics with diligence, and push their personal views into ecstatic realms where nothing feels too soft or too labored.

The album opens with Joe Fonda’s “Listen To Dr. Cornel West”, a 15-minute excursion that goes through many different phases. The early unison lines occur relaxedly but not without some turbulence in the foundation. They eventually split up to establish an unorthodox horn-driven conversation, proving these musicians as intuitive counterpoint players but also independent navigators. Fonda generates a frantic, super-fluid pizzicato and malleable slides before diving into a “Bolivia”-like groove. At a subsequent time, the piece gains the rhythmic contours of a march, although excluding the military pomp of the snare drum. Instead, Altschul prompts some rebellious reactions as responses to Haynes’ playful modes. The Nu Band first recorded this tune, written for the philosopher and political activist mentioned in its title, in 2015.

GS#2” is another fabulous piece by the bassist, who wrote it for drummer George Schuller. The odd-metered groove is fantastic and the tune is particularly riveting in its bluesy imaging, having Lake unleashing a wry and provocative zigzagging that spreads outward with variable intonations and speeds. The name Altschul is a synonym of percussive charm and he shows it, right before the two horns reemerge on the scene for the final theme statement.

If Lake’s “Is It Alright?” makes a good company to Altschul’s “Be Out S’cool” as typically avant-jazz numbers where you can expect fragmented and accented lines, flexible yet robust rhythmic flows, and inventive improvisations filled with interval leaping, then “Just A Simple Song”, another piece by the drummer, is something else. It’s a simple and beautiful 3-minute hymn that redirects our energy through a composite of bowed and pizzicato bass, understated brushwork, and the ever-present three-note melody at its core.

On Lake’s recently penned piece, “3 Phrase 09”, Altschul jumps to the forefront with delicious cymbal work and lively drumsticks on toms, stressing the contrast with the untroubled melodies of Lake and Haynes. The former still prompts some choppy staccato insertions and adorns them with timbral quality, while the latter remains cool and assertive in his direction.

Disparate from all the rest is the title cut, a fervently percussive ode to Africa where Haynes, its author, plays dousn’ gouni and Altschul mbira, while in turn, Lake recites his poem Broken In Parts. The album ends with two completely improvised numbers, “OGJB#2” and “OGJB#1”, where the band explores new possibilities under close communication.

The OGJB Quartet is composed of savvy musicians in the business with many miles of avant-garde jazz in different formats and contexts. Their Bamako boasts an excellent and varied repertoire that exalts the genre.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Listen To Dr. Cornel West ► 05 - GS#2 ► 06 - Just A Simple Song


Mark Dresser Seven - Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Nicole Mitchell: flutes; Michael Dessen: trombone; Keir GoGwilt: violin; Joshua White: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Jim Black: drums.

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American bassist Mark Dresser reunites his magnificent Seven for a second album. Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is a showcase for musical expressivity, relevant messages, and sincere dedications. The original members were kept in their positions - Nicole Mitchell on flutes, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and clarinets, Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano, and Jim Black on drums - with the exception of violinist David Morales Boroff, who was replaced with Keir GoGwilt.

The album opens and closes with dedications to departed musicians who bumped into Dresser at some point of his career, leaving some positive impact. “Black Arthur’s Bounce” was written for saxophonist Arthur Blythe and its motion is set forward through Black’s funky beat and Dresser’s pedal. Joyful unisons lead to trombone-saxophone reciprocity, and the rhythmic flux is interrupted. The bassist’s slides and tone-perfect pizzicato provoke reactions: violin interjections, piano subversions, and horn remarks. The theme statement returns and how enchanting these lines sound! The solos succeed one another, filled with ‘outside’ risk and sublime rhythmic thrust. Ehrlich, who had also played with Blythe in the past, was particularly stunning, showing his true colors on the alto saxophone, an instrument he didn't return to.

The other tribute is for Sarah Vaughn’s former pianist, Butch Lacy. “Butch’s Balm” was half composed after his decease and it's an antithesis of the opening tune in terms of mood. Melancholy-tinged, the piece bears mournful piano voicings and ripples of percussion that stain the canvas with subtle granular textures. Bowed bass, wafting violin, and flute wails reinforce pathos as they join the lament.

Defined by its composer as ‘a kind of parametric waltz’, “Gloaming” is also very profound, meditative, and sentimentally strong. Violin melodies soaring on top of a two-voice bass line produce a beautiful effect and the texture gets richer with the additional instrumentation. Everything glows with meaning, hope, and serenity. Awe-inspiring!

The main compositions are intercalated with short solo bass demonstrations executed with the McLagan Tines, a bass adaptation with an odd sound, a signature of luthier/musician/engineer Kent McLagan.

Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is indeed a great title derived from a response from the Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman to president Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Dresser’s melodies are obliquely connoted to Puerto Rico’s unofficial national anthem, in a throbbing, percussion-soaked salutation that intermingles folk and jazz with both tension and lyricism. The group puts forward a sort of indigenous dance in the final section with Mitchell taking her wild flute to a state of euphoria.

Embodied in Seoul” and the title track denote opposite temperaments. Whereas the former is more abstract, presenting some ominous chamber vibes in a hybrid configuration of classical and avant-jazz, the latter feels both sportive and elastic through a clever combination of electro-rock rhythms, a jazz standard structure, burlesque-like melody, swing scintilla, and avant-garde impertinence.

Dresser’s music transcends any hint of convention and this delightful work comes filled with moments of gaiety and profundity, where everything emerges in full color.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Black Arthur’s Bounce ► 03 - Gloaming ► 11 - Butch’s Balm


Anne Mette Iversen's Ternion Quartet - Invincible Nimbus

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2019

Personnel - Silke Eberhard: alto saxophone; Geoffrey De Masure: trombone; Anne Mette Iversen: bass; Roland Schneider: drums.

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Anne Mette Iversen is a Berlin-based bassist/composer from Denmark who touts a joyous, often hip approach to music. Invincible Nimbus is her second CD with the chord-less Ternion Quartet, whose frontline is made of alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard and trombonist Geoffrey De Masure. Iversen shares the rhythmic responsibility with drummer Roland Schneider.

The new album is exclusively composed of originals that stress the necessity of selflessness and openness to dialogue. Thus, in addition to collective cohesiveness and interaction, we have great individual statements, oftentimes exposed simultaneously as conversational practices. The bandleader points out the studying of fugue-writing techniques, some ideas from Messiaen’s The Technique of My Musical Language, and Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns as musical inspirations for this work.

Polychromatic Pictures” opens the session with piquant, angular phrases delivered in unison. The bass installs the groove but the flow is routinely disrupted and altered, only becoming steady when the artistry of De Masure is showcased in virtue of extremely tasteful melodies delivered with an opportune rhythmic sense. A variation of mood, texture, and tempo come off when Eberhard starts to pronounce eloquently what is going on in her mind.

You’ll find an Afro-funk romp stirring up “Dig Your Heels In”, immediately put forth after the insouciant counterpoint between horns and bowed bass that launches it. The structure gives Schneider some mobility from behind the drum kit, with the brassy and groovy qualities of the tune being enhanced along the way.

Functioning within a more straight-ahead framework, the ensemble swings with passion on “Within a Diapason”, having the horns exposing hard-bop-like unisons and then fueling their communication with juxtaposed phrases. The bandleader, also steps forward, soloing with horn interjections around. Another opportunity to engage in dialoguing spontaneity occurs in the last section of “The Invincible Nimbus of Mystery”, which starts out as a languorous chamber exercise propelled by thoughtful brushwork and earnest arco bass, but concludes otherwise.

Whereas “Four Snakes” favors breezy tones, later acquiring a more intense swinging drive, “Ionian Steps” resembles a folk-jazz dance impregnated with rhythmic figures in counterpoint. After blowing a number of agitated phrases, the saxophonist claims some quiet moments for herself, a methodology followed by the trombonist, who infuses some Eastern sounds in his vocabulary while sole percussive subtleties keep running in the back.

Iversen’s material is pretty interesting, denoting a fetching avant-jazz air capable to please even those interested in trailing more traditional paths.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Polychromatic Pictures ► 05 - Dig Your Heels In ► 09 - Ionian Steps


Gregg Belisle-Chi - Book Of Hours

Label: ears&eyes Records, 2019

Personnel - Gregg Belisle-Chi: guitar; Dov Manski: Wurlitzer; Matt Aronoff: electric bass; Michael W. Davis: drums.

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If you are not familiar with the music of Brooklyn-based guitarist/composer Gregg Belisle-Chi, now it’s the time to explore his third album of originals, Book of Hours, a formidable eight-movement suite consisting in an amalgamation of rock, jazz, and classical elements. Inspired by the history and texts of the Ordinarium parts of the Mass, the music was firstly composed for a nonet but ultimately adjusted to serve the quartet format. The guitarist pairs down with Wurlitzer explorer Dov Manski, bassist Matt Aronoff, and drummer Michael W. Davis.

One thing I really liked in this recording was that the pieces are structured outside the habitual head/solos/head configuration, which make them much more uncertain and, in a way, arcane. Besides the penchant for through-composed technique, Belisle-Chi shows other positive faculties. Amongst other things, he doesn’t need speed or pyrotechnics to show off his talent as a prime guitarist, but rather navigates with precision and a sense of focus. And that’s enough to make music with a personality that is strongly appealing.

Most of the songs vouch for a gritty, smooth introspection. Take, for example, “Aurora”, whose stripped-down musical poignancy creates plenty of room for the communication between the spacious guitar and the mysterious Wurlitzer sounds; or the lo-fi dream-pop of “Dusk” and “Sanctus”, which surrounds us with sweet clouds of breeze and tranquility. There’s also “Zuhr”, a short lyrical reflection that works as an introduction for the highly inventive “Gloria”, my favorite composition and the best model of the quartet’s elasticity. The atonalities in Manski’s chords are key, and his solo narrative spins into a subversively groovy electro-funk whose effect-drenched sounds are simply delightful. With bass and drums stressing pliability and detail, you can indulge yourself into both responsively improvisational dialogue and unanimous accented speeches between guitar and keys, before the band returns to that lethargic mode that had initiated the ride. Not happy with this, they modulate again into an offbeat rocking groove.

Both “Credo” and “Agnus Dei” start with clean and polished tones, changing direction along the way to step into more distorted domains. The former links the cutting-edge precision of Radiohead to the noisy adventurism of Sonic Youth and a bit of Tool’s propulsive stamina, while the latter offers arpeggiated soundscapes and bewildering dramatic chops before an eruptive infectious guitar leads us to the end with its wandering melodicism.

If emotions are at the surface on the formerly described compositions, “Kyrie” goes deeper as it skirts an early atmospheric mood beefed up by the force of anthemic guitar chords. It then segues into a beautiful solo guitar moment followed by a steady 4/4 on-beat pulse that revels in the sublime indie-rock universe. Percussive rattles adorn the concluding circular passage.

To be explored straightaway, this is a stylistically elegant album that oozes beauty both in concept and execution, making us luxuriate in its immersive sonorities.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Kyrie ► 04 - Gloria ► 05 - Credo


Ken Aihara - Multiverse

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Ken Aihara: piano, keyboards; Bob Lanzetti: electric guitar; Evan Marien: electric bass; Marko Djordjevic: drums.

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New York-based Japanese keyboardist Ken Aihara doesn’t hide his deep affection for jazz-rock fusion, taking us in a multi-dimensional journey with Multiverse, a work inspired by role-playing games. Over the course of this symphonic combustion of jazz, rock, and classical elements, he plays alongside Snarky Puppy’s guitar man Bob Lanzetti, bassist Evan Marien, and drummer Marko Djordjevic.

Initially surrounding us with mysterious clouds of synth, the 11/8-metered “Ice Mountain” displays punchy, groovy bass lines delineating its elliptical trajectories. Every variations and texture reminding us of the universes of Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Return To Forever. In the heels of Aihara’s polyrhythmic jazzy solo, Lanzetti sets off for a synth guitar expedition full of mystery, and the song ends shortly afterward, in a sort of indefinite suspension with the drummer in a busy circumstance.

Whale” releases strong emotional currents through its passages. The bandleader excels here, whether coordinating fast ostinatos and nimble chords with impressive self-sufficiency or exploring freely with in/out focus. This is intense music with a powerful magnetic appeal and stunning effectiveness.

Inspired by time-space correlation as well as past and future, the progressive 5/8 “Spatio-Temporal Wanderer” blends analog and digital sounds and features blazing improvisations from Lanzetti and Aihara. Given a more spacious background, Marien finishes the improvisational section with a discourse that goes from succinct and compact to long-winded and widespread.

The bandleader opened up about his intentions to make “Theia Impact” the catchier rock fusion song on the album. And he achieved that feat! With a triumphant riff shining on top of cutting-edge rock chords, this is so much fun for the ears. Alternating tasteful dynamics, the tune is also buoyed up by adventurous eruptions from guitar and keyboard.

The conclusion arrives with “Ridge Black”, a rhythmically defiant composition that vouches for dancing as a natural reaction to what it proposes. If Djordjevic’s choppy drumming is highlighted throughout, Aihara’s piano whirls faster than a speeding bullet.

As a talented musician and deft composer, Ken Aihara will easily conquer fusion audiences. His Multiverse provides an exciting experience as it illustrates complex parallel realities through imaginative sonic scenarios.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Whale ► 04 - Theia Impact ► 05 - Ridge Black


Jay Anderson - Deepscape

Label: SteepleChase, 2019

Personnel - Billy Drewes: saxophones, bass clarinet; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Frank Kimbrough: harmonium; Jay Anderson: bass, Tibetan singing bowl; Matt Wilson: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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Maneuvering his instrument with certitude, American bassist Jay Anderson spotlights a shifting cast of expert musicians in varied configurations on Deepscape, his first SteepleChase outing as a leader. Besides two original compositions that reflect his rare relationship with melody, the bassist selected two standards and some off-the-beaten-track tunes by composers with disparate personalities such as Morton Feldman, Keith Jarrett, Gil Evans, Billy Joel, Branford Marsalis, and Jim Pepper. With this wide stylistic range in mind, he convened a fabulous ensemble whose format keeps varying throughout the record - Billy Drewes on saxophones, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Frank Kimbrough on harmonium, Matt Wilson on drums, and Rogerio Boccato on percussion.

On the title track, Anderson exhibits that big, round, and soulful sound that characterizes his playing over a pre-created drone. This solo piece exhibits a shimmering meditative nature that is also perceptible on the fifth movement of Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel”, a relaxing exercise containing tuneful soprano/arco bass unisons, a Tibetan singing bowl cadence carried out with clock precision, subdued drumming and cymbal color, and salient harmonium interjections and echoing melodies. Kimbrough, who is an excellent pianist, is found here exclusively playing the latter instrument, including a duo with the bandleader on the closing piece, “Tennessee Waltz”.

A chordless approach was picked out to tackle a couple of tunes by pianist Keith Jarrett, listed on his 1976 quartet album Shades. “Shades of Jazz” shows the band immersed in bop-ish happiness, whilst “Southern Smiles” is cooked up with fine post-bop ingredients and generous dashes of folk and gospel. Both tunes feature Drewes and Knuffke throwing enough zest to force the listener to pay attention. On the latter piece, they have the bassist making them company as a soloist.

If Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” is rendered solo, Gil Evans’ “Time of the Barracudas” has its block chords re-orchestrated for the collective in a daring 12/8 tempo. Boccato’s percussive routines are not only befitting but also infuse liveliness.

Anderson’s melody-centric “Momentum” goes well with the rest of the material, just like Jim Pepper’s “Witchi-Tai-To”, a beautiful piece that was notably interpreted by Oregon and Jan Garbarek in the past. Here, it is harmoniously introduced by the bassist and features the declarative force of Drewes on soprano.

Anderson’s low-toned charms permeate the album consistently, giving rise to appealing musical moments that freshen a wonderful repertoire.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Southern Smiles ► 06 - Time of the Barracudas ► 09 - Witchi-Tai-To


Michael Eaton - Dialogical

Label: Destiny Records, 2019

Personnel - Michael Eaton: tenor and soprano saxophones; Lionel Loueke: guitar; Brad Whiteley: piano; Brittany Anjou: vibraphone, balafon; Cheryl Pyle: flute; James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Sean Sonderegger: tenor saxophone; Jon Crowley: trumpet; Dorian Wallace: piano; Sarah Mullins: marimba, triangles; Enrique Haneine: udu; Daniel Ori: bass and gimbri; Shareef Taher: drums.

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Brooklyn-based saxophonist Michael Eaton creates absorbing narrative tapestries on Dialogical, the long-desired follow-up to Individuation (Destiny Records, 2014). Inspired by dialogical thinking and multiplicity, this solid body of work evinces high levels of maturity mirrored in eight brave compositions, where he shines alongside members of his Individual Quartet - pianist Brad Whiteley, bassist/gimbrist Daniel Ori, and drummer Shareef Taher - plus vibraphonist Brittany Anjou, flutist Cheryl Pyle, udu player Enrique Haneine, and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke, who lends his voice to two of the four tracks he participates in. There’s also the four-part “Temporalities” suite, where the instrumentation is augmented with the inclusion of trumpet, piano, and marimba. The first three segments promote enduring chamber circularity, whereas the last part thrives with clashing chords and prepared piano sounds. They compete with silences and other quietly atmospheric textures.

While exploring possibilities within his own sound, Eaton blurs genre boundaries and that is put on display on predominantly African jazz numbers like the title track, which boasts a balafon solo by Anjou, and the opener, “Juno”. The latter, inspired by Chris Potter’s writing on the albums Gratitude and Traveling Mercies, evolves like an African soirée, propelled by a splendid groove in seven and marked by surprising rhythmic shifts and cutting edge improvisations. Loueke vocalizes beautifully and opts for peculiar guitar effects in order to complement an adroit language that easily piques curiosity; Eaton is magnanimous in his attacks, extending stout patterns to produce quick-witted phrases wrapped in dark, earthy tones; lastly, Whiteley adds a nimble exoticism to his grooving piano playing.

Anthropocene” boasts a seven-metered groove that shifts along the way. It also offers sax-guitar unisons over luxurious vibraphone harmonies and effusive individual statements by Eaton and Loueke, who, later, alternate bars for a hard-swinging dialogue. Their energies and creativity are on vivid display.

Centered on a funk-flavored riff, “Aphoristic” additionally brings a refreshingly cool modern groove into the game. Its ways differ from both “Cipher”, whose Latin jazz connotations feel as much sumptuous as sensuous, and the soprano-flute duets “Thanatos and Eros” and “Machinic Eros”.

Another peak moment arrives with the hybrid “I And Thou”, in which beautiful sounds of the Middle East blends with odd-metered jazz grooves and unanticipated accents. The tune, introduced by Ori’s gimbri, is a tenor feast of richly timbral commotion offered by the bandleader and his partners in the freewheeling, horn-driven quintet Tenor Triage, James Brandon Lewis and Sean Sonderegger.

Dialogical is revelatory of Eaton’s compositional capacities. It comes full of appealing ideas, including a minimalistic chamber work and mind-bending structures and variations that confer it a triumphant, fresh spirit.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Juno ► 03 - Aphoristic ► 08 - I And Thou


Matt Brewer - Ganymede

Label: Criss Cross Records, 2019

Personnel - Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drums.

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First-call bassist Matt Brewer has a new outing on the Criss Cross label as a leader. It’s called Ganymede and features ten compositions, four of which he penned with an insightful perspective. On his former releases, he approached the sextet and quintet formats, but now he convenes a robust trio with Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and Damion Reid on drums.

As mentioned above, Brewer’s originals are extremely interesting with the elegant title track opening the album in a quiet mode and then transitioning to a rhythmically daring strut. The bassist’s agility is impressive and Shim’s fiery attacks are fully supported by the stout, darkening timbre of his instrument. Reid, unceasingly dynamic and responsive, undertakes a hard stomp by the end and I really dig the silent gap between his solo and the reintegration of the theme. With heftiness as a constant variable, “Triton” engages in playful unisons that eventually split up into complementary fragmented phrases. “Io” ekes out a sort of modal, rock-inflected vibe with epic tones, over which Shim speaks authority and infuse his raw, jagged language. In turn, “Psalm” is set in motion by a nearly two-minute bass solo before bringing melody to the center with a 4/4 rocking pulse running underneath. Freedom exaltation is everywhere.

Shim contributes “Don’t Wake the Violent Baby” to the setlist, but it’s on Joe Henderson’s “Afro-Centric” that we feel pure energy coming out of his fleet arpeggios, intricate phrases, and sharp pinpoints. It’s a great piece with fabulous chromatic movements to be enjoyed.

An additional array of inspirations ended up in rapturous renditions of post-bop and avant-garde tunes, including Ron Carter’s “R.J.”, which was popularized by Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis and here burns in a fervent swinging motion, Ornette Coleman’s elated “Eos”, a showcase for the bandleader, and Dewey Redman-penned “Willisee”, a hell-bent free-bop that ramps up the temperature with some blazing Mark Shim on tenor. After the storm, nothing better than a gentle standard to appease the rugged textures and the haunting melody of “When Sunny Gets Blue” vouches for that.

You’ll find a lot of provocative sounds here. Whether if the trio is swinging or rocking, they act completely natural in these environments.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ganymede ► 05 - Afro Centric ► 06 - Io


The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - We Are On The Edge

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel includes - Roscoe Mitchell: soprano and alto saxophones, sopranino; Famoudou Don Moye: drums, percussion; Moor Mother: voice, poetry; Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron: voice; Hugh Ragin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Fred Berry: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nicole Mitchell – flutes, piccolo; Christina Wheeler: voice, autoharp, electronics; Jean Cook: violin; Edward Yoon Kwon: viola; Tomeka Reid: cello; Silvia Bolognesi: bass; Jaribu Shahid: bass; Junius Paul: bass; Dudù Kouaté: percussion; Enoch Williamson: percussion; Titos Sompa: vocals, mbira, percussion.

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Founded in 1969, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, champions of the Great Black Music, interrupts a studio recording hiatus of 15 years to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a two-disc set (one of them recorded live at Edgefest in Ann Harbor, Michigan). Currently with 18 members, the group appears as a completely new constellation in the creative scene, including valuable additions such as flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, experimentalist/activist Moor Mother, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, bassists Junius Paul and Jaribu Shahid, among others. The highly anticipated record comprises new material as well as some re-orchestrations of old tunes, having two of its founders at the helm: Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye. It’s dedicated to the original members who already departed: Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Joseph Jarman.

Disc one kicks off with the immutable chamber lyricism of “Sketches From the Bamboo Terrace”. Vocalist Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron embraces a somewhat operatic intonation while joining the strings legato. The approach is repeated on the two parts of “Jamaican Farewell”.

Bell Song” and “Fanfare and Bell” have obviously the bells in common but are dissimilar in nature. The former, favoring more harmony than collision, is mounted with percussive chatters, whistles and hoots of flute diversion, and hushed trumpet, while the latter evinces a rhythmic decrease in favor of a pronouncedly classical temper. In turn, the closing piece, “Oasis At Dusk”, combines both the percussive and the classical practices with a contemplative beauty.

Brimming with cinematic refinement, “We Are On The Edge” boasts the inflammable spoken word by Moore Mother over a relentless vamp of pizzicato bass lines, percussion, and strings. Despite the group's energy and a great attitude, this title doesn’t match the restless Pan-African rhythms and expressionistic textures of “Chi-Congo 50”, an old piece dressed in new clothes. The primitive dance between wild, teetering, trilling flutes and a horde of sprightly horns is invigorating, producing one of those incantatory moments that no one wants to let go. From the minute three on, there’s a circular bass groove and euphoric horn interplay, reinforcing the magic and the singularity of this special ensemble.

The only problem with Lester Bowie-penned “Villa Tiamo” is its brevity, which makes us longing for the beautiful orchestration. For its part, “Saturday Morning” is a purely percussive, effervescent dance that impels us to jump and dance at the sound of cross-rhythms and syncopations. On a different note, “Mama Koko” carries a modern hip-hop feel as the collective praises Mother Africa.

Disc two is like a drop in the bucket, but brings a couple of classic tunes in the alignment: Favors’ “Tutankhamun” and Roscoe Mitchell’s “Odwalla/The Theme”, which serves to introduce the musicians.

Brewing liberating textural ambiances, the new version of The Art Ensemble of Chicago is injected fresh blood and orchestral significance, but keeps its musical roots raw and its principles well intact.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Chi-Congo 50 ► 08 - Saturday Morning ►12 - Oasis at Dusk


Stephan Micus - White Night

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Stephan Micus: kalimba, fourteen-string guitar, steel string guitar, duduk, bass duduk, Tibetan cymbals, sinding, dondon, nay, Indian cane whistles, vocals.

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Stephan Micus is a key reference in the world music scene. His thematic albums allow us to discover new places and sounds and White Night, the 23rd solo work for ECM, takes us into another journey full of musical idiosyncrasies. Operating several quirky instruments with deep focus, Micus starts this excursion in the East with the primitive, ancient, and eternal contemplation “The Eastern Gate”, which proposes atonality and deep hollow textures, and ends in the West with the well-delineated movements and robust rhythmic cadence of “The Western Gate”. Both tunes feature five 14-string guitars (a Micus trademark), one bass duduk (Armenian drone instrument taken to another level by Micus), and Tibetan cymbals, but while the former incorporates a more conventional steel string guitar, the latter employs one sinding (West African harp with five strings made of cotton).

The ten-stage route encompasses “The Bridge”, where vocalized chants echo on top of the vibes produced by four bronze kalimbas (they come from four different African countries) and sinding, “The River”, crossed with timely percussive rattles and lovely duduk melancholy, and a “Black Hill”, whose exotic groove feels like a song of praise for mother Earth. The latter number piles up eight Indian cane whistles and a nay (ancient Egyptian hollow reed flute) and make them dance harmoniously over the raw pulse established by a couple of dondon, the ‘talking-drum’ from Ghana.

This recording was inspired by the moonlight and its special magic. Hence, the sight of “Fireflies” and the presence of the “Moon” itself are intrinsic parts of the scenario, authentic anticlimactic balms for this busy, technological world we’re immersed in. The former composition emanates a warm African breeze created by 22 layers of sound that include pitch-clear vocals, kalimba, sinding, and Indian cane whistles. In contrast, “Moon” is told in only one voice with the lonely sounds of duduk arching over the silence. This piece, together with “All The Way”, a kalimba solo, was recorded in just one take.

Micus continues his spiritual celebration of cultural diversity through imaginative, humble music.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Eastern Gate ► 03 - The River ► 10 - The Western Gate


Tom Rainey Trio - Combobulated

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Tom Rainey constantly brings new ideas to the edgier side of jazz. On Combobulated, his fourth trio album as a leader, he is joined by the frequent and indispensable collaborators, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Together, these creative minds guarantee exciting improvised scenarios worked out with abundant complexity and enchantment.

The nearly 19-minute title track sounds awesome, starting off with the ebbs and flows of an odd drum pattern and two insouciant melodic paths that, even diverging in direction, sound perfectly consistent as a whole. As the tune moves forward, they densify the texture, heading toward a stunning crescendo that overflows in effects and timbres. An unorthodox guitar groove flares up in the middle of a solo sax passage, astounding the listener with its asymmetry and irreverence. When the intensity dies out, tingling guitar chops evolve gradually into an enigmatic blend of rock chords and electronic intrusions. This was just the preparation for a cosmic journey initiated by Rainey’s unforeseen tom-tom activity and hi-hat scintillation. The episode is further pressurized with psychedelic electronics and the fiery rumination of the saxophone. Hence, a safe landing is questionable after such a boisterous agitation. At the end, repeated saxophone multiphonics scream ‘help!’ or ‘we made it!’ - it’s really up to your imagination.

Point Reyes” is set in motion through Rainey’s delicate rudiments. In static mode, Laubrock and Halvorson embark in a sort of exotic folk dance that, feeling beautifully compact at times, ends in an indefinite state of liquidity.

A great sonic menu is offered during “Fact”. Playful interactions between sax and guitar are served as an appetizer, and then the main course: capricious drum forays with sparse bursts of distorted guitar and digital effects that go like clockwork. Brisk and coiled saxophone lines, heavy chords that tend to become patterned, and a jittery rhythm, are the main ingredients of the bittersweet dessert: a perfectly danceable prog-rock assembly. The driving propulsion, inspired and dazzling, leads to the easy conclusion that a bass player is not required in this specific context.

If the aerial suspensions of “Isn’t Mine” are temporarily disrupted by the presence of a restless soprano saxophone on top of an acerbic indie-rock progression, “Torn Road” is immersed in atmospheric clouds of mystery. Slide guitar laments join both the percussive tick-tocks and the circular saxophone blows before hitting a heavily bumpy road, whose navigation is solely entrusted to master Rainey.

Splays Itself” is a showcase for Laubrock’s extended techniques, kinetic phrasing, and saturated timbral coloration. The inclusion of rock-imbued strokes on guitar and maniacal drum attacks emit jarring undercurrents that aggravate the urban feel of this landscape.

The trio boasts immense energy and originality, and their musical qualities are sonically enhanced by David Torn's spectacular mixing, mastering and post-production. In this particular chapter of their careers, you will find them at a peak of their musical strength.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Combobulated ► 03 - Fact ► 05 - Splays Itself