Alex Sipiagin - NoFo Skies

Label: Blue Room Music, 2019

Personnel – Alex Sipiagin: trumpet; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Will Vinson: alto saxophone; Alina Engybarian: vocals; John Escreet: piano, keyboards; Matt Brewer: bass; Eric Harland: drums.


NoFo Skies, the new recording by trumpeter/composer Alex Sipiagin, features his regular crew. If saxophonists Chris Potter and Will Vinson contribute to the supple three-horn voicing with ardent determination, pianist/keyboardist John Escreet, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Eric Harland establish a front-rank rhythm section. Russian-born vocalist Alina Engybarian completes the lineup, employing her warm tones to narrate stories with words and contemporary melodies. The material, nine compositions by Sipiagin and one by Engybarian, run smoothly, forming a solid whole. The album was inspired by the North Fork of Long Island, New York (Spiagin’s home), and wends its way through a variety of modern yet palpable sonic terrains.

Rush” is delivered with magnificent colors, a standout cut where it’s impossible not to get swept in its exquisite groove and relish with the exuberance of the horns. Besides the strong melodic and harmonic content, there’s this crisp, syncopated urban beat that modulates into a different meter according to the passages. The unhesitant, quasi-indomitable improvisations from Spiagin, Vinson, and Escreet are replete of inventive ideas, while Harland wings it over a concluding vamp.

NoFo Skies” manages its curves and angles with a crossover feel that calls up Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker. Before diving into a collective horn rampage, Potter, Sipiagin, and Escreet, who deliberately blurs the focus on keyboards, already had blown the lid off to let their languages flow unreservedly.

Engybarian wrote lyrics for and sung on “Recovery”, where breezy jazz waves meet contemporary R&B; “Shadows”, a flattering piece honed with adjacent unisons; “For You”, a showcase for her vocal range; and “Between AM’s”, a vocal-layered piece whose music she penned herself. On the latter piece, and despite the simplicity of the beat, Sipiagin and Potter show off hot solos that pin you back in your chair. The trumpeter’s chromatic movements are quite groovy, whereas the tenorist rides half-in half-out over a funk-ish synth-driven tide.

Following sketchy guidelines, both “Sky 1” and “Sky 2” are atmospheric musings that nothing have to do with “Savoir”, a proof that Escreet, Brewer, and Harland are adepts of that breezy funk in the vein of Jamiroquai and Incognito.

For this disc, Sipiagin invested as much in compositional acumen as improvisational abundance, modernizing rhythms and patterns while still respectful of traditional frames. All musicians seem comfortably fit in their positions and the present session transpires not just a relaxed environment but also the strong bondage between them.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Rush ► 02 - NoFo Skies ► 09 - Between AM’s

Aki Takase Japanic - Thema Prima

Label: Budapest Music Center Records, 2019

Personnel – Aki Takase: piano; Daniel Erdmann: tenor sax; DJ Illvibe: turntables, electronics; Johannes Fink: bass; Dag Magnus Narvesen: drums.


Aki Takase’s Thema Prima is one of the most exciting albums that came into my hands in recent times. The recording consists of seven Takase compositions and three other pieces penned by two members of her international jazz quintet Japanic: two by saxophonist Daniel Erdmann and one by drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen. Bassist Johannes Fink and Takase’s son, DJ Illvibe, an ace on electronics and turntables, round out this contemporary intergenerational group.

Exploring a number of overlapping territories, including jazz, hip-hop and free improvisation, the musicians get tied up in an onrushing, grooving, semi-abstracted romp called “Traffic Jam”, whose rich and flawlessly integrated sounds describe the nerve-wracking experience of trying to overtake barriers and get through a slow-moving flow of vehicles. From piano revolutions and replications of rhythmic figures to electronic whir and polyrhythmic extravagance, everything contributes to the chaotic, quasi-mechanical environment. After a moment of mitigation, a musical crossing in seven is imposed, but the music advances, stage by stage, through grouping combinations (first piano/sax and then percussion/bass/vibes) until reaching a beautiful classical passage that morphs once again, this time into Latin buoyancy. Uff…! Destination reached!

The pianist and her crew often combine angular stabs with melodic tact while cross-rhythms run in the back. They are able to take us out of our comfort zones without losing musical accessibility, and both the title track, a percussive oddity that ends up in dance-rock wingding, and “Monday in Budapest”, another precipitate avant-jazz foray designed with speed, vigor, and humor, are vivid proofs of what I’m talking about.

On top of this, they offer traditional elements, essential parts of approachable rides such as Narvesen’s “Mannen i Tarnet”, whose thematic boppish melody is fabulously intertwined with DJ Illvibe’s cool manipulations; Erdmann’s “Les Contracteurs”, a sax-piano duet that gives you a chance to relax from the frequent commotions; and the retro-stylized “Madam Bum Bum”, which catch hold of an earlier jazz era through stride piano maneuvers.

But that’s not everything, because the group invites you to a nomadic experience in a Sub-Sahara desert with “Wustenschiff”, where ancient modal authenticity blends with modernistic pulsations, and then buys you a ticket to the “Berlin Express”, a kaleidoscopic expedition that allows you to immerse into its modern aural architectures and topologies. Of course, a post-bop appointment is also scheduled on “Hello Welcome”, culminating with mellow, anthemic folk melodies.

The cutting-edge Thema Prima is not for the puritans. It’s for those who advocate that jazz is continually evolving, merging and adapting, and expanding its vocabulary toward the future. Demonstrating open-mindedness and an insatiable thirst for exploration, Takase plays and orchestrates with zeal and strong identity. Highly recommended.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Traffic Jam ► 02 - Thema Prima ► 04 - Mannen i Tarnet

Angelika Niescier - New York Trio

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Angelika Niescier: alto saxophone; Chris Tordini: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums + guest Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet.


German alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier is based in Cologne but firmly connected with the New York improvisational scene through projects like the NYC Five and New York Trio. Her new album on the Intakt imprint, precisely called New York Trio, is a natural follow-up to The Berlin Concert, whose release coincided with her earning of the prestigious Albert Mangelsdorff prize for jazz excellence. Niescier, who drew inspiration from John Cage, is rhythmically backed by bassist Chris Tordini, a longtime associate, and probes the drumming talents and stirring sounds of Gerald Cleaver, who occupies the chair formerly occupied by Tyshawn Sorey. The steadfast trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson joins the trio on selected tracks, broadening the melodic options and empowering interaction in the frontline.

The session’s volcanic inception couldn’t have had a better title: “The Surge”. The knotty rhythms and crisp accents invite Niescier’s garrulous blows, aptly expanded with a peculiarity in timbre and plenty of elasticity. She finds the pair Tordini-Cleaver set in stone back there, and after aesthetic unisons, it’s the drummer who pitches in, delivering an effusive solo when Finlayson was expected next. The latter eventually sneaks in with a sportive attitude, placing his uncompromising thoughts over Cleaver’s pressurized actions.

The trio communicates in fluid counterpoint on the invariably tense “Cold Epiphany”, whereas the open designation of “…ish” presents many possibilities for a word resolution, including some obvious ones such as swing-ish or Ornette-ish. There's visceral swinging excitement, with the robustness of well-nourished phrases promoting this rumpus.

Much more meditative and nearly reaching the classical domain, “Ekim” reveals an egalitarian sense of give-and-take with Niescier and Finlayson contributing weightless trills during each other’s proceedings. Their approaches are quite opposite for the sake of the music. The saxophonist is raw, vibrant, and impulsive; the trumpeter is rational and often erudite in his melodic exposition. They deliver again on “Push Pull”, which boasts that irresistible rhythmic thrust that every free jazz musician validates without blinking. The tune ends with long unison notes, in a more dispassionate environment.

5.8”, an unfettered yet rhythmically locked-in exercise designed with a busy motion, has Cleaver punching upfront, preparing the unbending, asymmetric groove to be held by Tordini. The musicians’ chemistry is on display and the rewards are undoubtedly there for the adventuresome.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Surge ► 05 - Push Pull ► 07 - 5.8

Kent O'Doherty - Periville

Label: Right Side left Records, 2019

Personnel - Kent O’Doherty: tenor and soprano saxophones; Gamelan gong; organ.


Kent O’Doherty is an Australian-born, US-based saxophonist/composer with a knack for imaginative storytelling. Alone, he composed and played Periville, an immersive double-disc soundtrack that describes a fictional small town in North America. Each disc contains 13 tracks that attempt to shape the places and characters of Periville with an arty, self-conscious vision.

Small Town” can be seen as the town’s anthem, a solitary saxophone melody that, according to the author, ‘restores the faith of Periville’s residents’ after difficult circumstances. Also delineated by his warm-toned tenor, “The Pickup Truck” and “The Main Street” disclose Periville as a tranquil place, where people live quietly, far from any big-city hurly-burly.

The longest track on the record is “The Seasons”. The liveliness of the spring, for example, is comparable to the excitement of “Football Game”, the sports that strengthen the community. The avant-gardish approach on “Children and Birds” is also a joy and, on this occasion, there is harmony contextualizing the spirited soprano warbling. Pictures effortlessly come to our minds due to the power of sounds and the context provided by the description of each episode in the CD booklet.

I dare to say that Periville is to O’Doherty what Dogville was to Lars Von Trier. You’ll find drama, hope, but also sadness and melancholy since tragedy fell upon the city. That’s why “What Was Periville Before the Fire” conveys a tranquil bliss while “What Was Periville After the Fire” is filled with desolated sounds and piercing piano notes. The solo piano pieces, gentle pastoral washes of dismal color and classical nuance, always respond to questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’. Typically, conveying feelings related to fondness, disappointment, and nostalgia.

The people of the town are also very interesting, and if “Mayor Christina” arouses some curiosity and hope by offering overlapping reverberating soprano lines infused with electronic effects dancing on top of a slender drone, “Virginia” mixes brisk cascading moves with a few ponderous thoughts. Despite her possible hybrid personality, I found her more cheerful than “Miriam”, who made me think of solitude. The successful “Brian”, instead, is portrayed with a deep Gamelan gong providing a solid base for the nimble tenor activity, while “Chester, Frank and Edgar” is blown with a boppish orientation in a tribute to friendship and mutual aid. “Reverend Carlton”, a man of unshakable faith, and his unsatisfied and subversive son “Corey” are masterfully characterized. The former has a church organ chord sustaining methodical, stern, and fervent lines, perhaps associated with the reverend’s sermons, while the latter composition wraps the saxophone in a distorted effect, a symbol of anger against and repulse for the town and its inhabitants.

I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning the Surman-esque “Soda Shop”, whose mysterious reed organ voicings reinforce its ghostly existence as a product of the mind, and “Textile Factory”, a central element in the story, whose mechanical working flows force O’Doherty to come out of his shell through the usage of loops, counterpoint, and busy figures. It ends with the melancholy of its own ashes.

Conceptual and very cinematic indeed, this haunting Periville.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
07 (disc1) - Mayor Christina ► 02 (disc2) - Soda Shop ► 05 (disc2) - Reverend Carlton

Evan Parker & Kinetics - Chiasm

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Adam Pultz Melbye: bass; Anders Vestergaard: drums.


The fruitful association between English saxophonist Evan Parker, an authority in the free improvisation panorama, and the Lisbon-based imprint Clean Feed has more than a decade. His latest recording for the cited record label involved The Kinetics, a Danish trio led by pianist Jacob Anderskov and featuring bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, and drummer Anders Vestergaard. On the inscrutable and yet mesmerizing Chiasm, they indulge in four pieces captured live in two European cities, London (at the Vortex Jazz Club) and Copenhagen (at DKDM Studio). At those places, the quartet funneled their creative forces into a solid package of music that flutters with labyrinthine paths and experimental structures.

Clocking in at 18 minutes, “London Part I” is the longest piece on the CD, kicking off with the pianist as he probes directions with fearlessness and creates a swampy sonic terrain whose magnetic effect drags us into its vortex. Parker infiltrates by blowing a razor-edged dissertation that, suddenly, becomes solely backed up by bass and drums. The versatile, highly interactive pianist adheres again, establishing a strangely zigzagging dialogue with the saxophonist, all flowering on top of an enthusiastic rhythmic tapestry. The last segment presents a shift in this atmosphere as the group obscures the canvas, yet nothing that can prevent the drums from emerging underneath the systematic flurries and blistering chords brought up by Anderskov.

Copenhagen Part I” is made of an organic and strenuous continual movement that barely fluctuates within the consistent stream. Its mood differentiates from “Copenhagen Part II”, whose first layer is loosely established by piano and drums. Parker, whose obsessive blows range from cerebral to burning, jumps in to form a three-way communication channel over which, in due time, Melbye dispatches an interesting mix of pizzicato and arco bass reflections. Clearly, they are all working on the same wavelength, drowning their zest in a tense gravity to reach a noisy pinnacle before the calm ending.

London Part II” closes the curtain with so much to admire. Parker ventures out alone, infusing percussive slap tonguing as part of his attractive burnished sound. He masters the saxophone with impressive control of circular breathing and unleashes multiple observations in the form of concentric bursts patterned with dark hues. With Coltrane in plain sight here, these are placed on top of the menacing soundscapes allocated by his co-workers.

Chiasm is inspired improvisation and another great effort in Parker’s never-ending pursuit of gripping, moody courses of sound and texture.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Copenhagen Part II ► 04 - London Part II

In Order To Survive - Live / Shapeshifter

Label: AUM Fidelity, 2019

Personnel - Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Cooper-Moore: piano; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.


For decades that bassist William Parker plays a major role in the free/avant-garde scene. In Order to Survive is a finely honed project he has spearheaded since 1993, pairing powerfully written material and free improvisation with noble ideas of justice, democracy, and equality. Their latest work consists of a double album recorded live in performance at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn, New York. It is no more exciting than any of their studio records, but it doesn’t disappoint either, offering an engaging musical dynamism that entraps us.

Disc one accommodates an extended five-part suite titled Eternal is the Voice of Love, which, according to its author, is dedicated to the creative spirit called Peace. The first movement, “Entrance To the Tone World”, is set in motion with the bass turned loose and deep percussion with occasional cymbal glitter, while pianist Cooper-Moore and altoist Rob Brown react to each other’s moves. Then, drummer Hamid Drake serves up a thumping rhythm as the bass throbs. The same bass that, moments later, morphs into a swinging flow to welcoming the agile sweeps and striding leaps of Cooper-Moore, whose lines can be as fast as a cyclonic wind. He channels a great part of his energy to the improvs, but also brings all that rooted jazz and blues-based ideas that are part of his process. As Brown returns to the center, Parker lurches into half-unfasten and half-swinging bass lines, transitioning to Part II: “Color Against Autumn Sky”, in a seamless way. Here, you’ll find solid-body, foot-tapping grooves exposed to some pounding rhythmic accelerations.

Part III: “If There Is a Chance”, an inspiring reflective trip melodically led by shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute expertly played by Parker), binds the magical and the surreal with an unfettered spontaneous posture. After the quite busy Part IV: “A Situation”, which provides wide-open terrain for Brown to explore and traverse with his timbral prowess, Part V: “Birth of the Sunset” reestablishes the quiet deliberations. Terse arco bass slashes, pensive pianism, and simple hi-hat conduction offer a more intimate view of the band’s flexibility.

Comprising five inexorable pulse-punting numbers, disc two boasts the playful “Demons Lining The Hails of Justice” as a true demonstration of energy, resilience, and resistance, with “Newark” being a bouncy, brainy exercise. The latter starts grooving in six but sticks to a sort of linear marching step in its final section. It’s dedicated to trombonist Grachan Moncur III, an original member of this group.

The remaining tunes are “Drum and Bass Interlude”, in which Parker and Drake show their deft abilities to handle deep grooves and rhythms, “In Order To Survive”, the bluesy and cyclic hymn where Parker sings ‘in order to survive, you gotta keep hope alive’, and “Eternity”, a piece of spiritual acceptance.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 (disc1) - Eternal is the Voice of Love III: If There is a Chance ► 01 (disc2) - Demons Lining The Hails of Justice ► 03 (disc2) - Newark

Dan Clucas, Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig, Alex Cline - Boojum Quartet

Label: Klooktone Records, 2019

Personnel - Dan Clucas: cornet; Vinny Golia: saxophones and clarinets; Steuart Liebig: electric contrabass; Alex Cline: drums and percussion.


The stalwart Boojum Quartet is Dan Clucas on cornet, Vinny Golia on saxophones and clarinets, Steuart Liebig on electric contrabass, and Alex Cline on drums and percussion.

The 23-minute “Big Boojum” takes time to evolve, initially bringing master Cline’s cymbal projections and tasteful thumps to the center. Despite the effortless communication between Clucas and Golia, which usually sparks off reactions in the rhythm section, it’s the drummer who shines here. He switches to brushes in the middle of the trip for a smoother ambiance, but still joins the impenetrable horn activity and dark contrabass lines with a panoply of articulated drum sounds. Together, they go for a dark psychedelia-infused finale in the vein of the industrial rock fashion of Ministry and Skinny Puppy. In contrast, the succinct “Little Boojum”, clocking in at 1:22, provides a very cinematic experience with muted cornet and bass clarinet operating beautifully within their distant ranges.

Taking nearly 20 minutes, “Oak”, one of my favorite pieces, opens with scattered percussive strokes, many of them belonging to the metallic category, and finds Golia in his more thoughtful and sparse playing. On his side, Clucas, unpolished and unapologetic, pours out torrents of fierce phrases like lava expelled from a giant volcano. Following the fearlessly funk-rock stride laid down by Liebig and Cline (both their individual and combined sounds are fantastic), the saxophonist gesticulates with power and glory, discharging searing energy from his saxophone. Down the bumpy road, the horn lines juxtapose. The cooperation is tense and dramatic, but the air becomes much less congested, even when unimposing drones appear underneath a few minutes before the conclusion.

If “Manzanita” and “Eucalyptus” bring no novelty attached in their nonchalant passages without diminishing the impact of the material as a whole, then “Poppy” offers another excellent ride, in which the musicians push and pull one another in a spontaneously improvised setting that ranges from mournful to unfettered. Before a quiet dawning, where the substratum is propped by Liebig’s irregular single and double plucks, the quartet embarks on an avant-garde foray containing muted cornet in coalition with saxophone rapid trills and vertiginous swirls, before landing on a turbulent alternative rock rumpus filled with grimy rhythmic onslaughts.

The four avant-jazz specialists put a lot of fervency and devotion in this revolutionary session.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Poppy ► 03 - Big Boojum ► 05 - Oak

Dann Zinn - Day of Reckoning

Label: Origin Records, 2019

Personnel – Dann Zinn: tenor saxophone; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Zach Ostroff: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.


Throughout the album Day of Reckoning, the fifth from tenorist Dann Zinn, creative freedom emerges with straightforward structural discipline within a post-bop realm that oftentimes refers to the sonic worlds of Michael Brecker, Sonny Stitt, Jerry Bergonzi, and Phil Woods. In the company of technically developed musicians such as pianist Taylor Eigsti, a frequent collaborator, bassist Zach Ostroff, and drummer Mark Ferber, Zinn blends familiar straight-ahead swinging motion with the musical individuality patented in the pulsating vim and vigor of his blows.

The disc comprises 10 tracks, nine originals written for these specific musicians and an interpretation of the 1934 ballad “Blame It On My Youth”, authored by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman. The latter tune, together with “Infinity Road”, denotes the quietest moments of an energetic album that opens with the exhilarating modal feel and surging impetus of the title track. Zinn’s frenetic elocution takes the form of a riot-like outburst, with the rhythm section securing the unstoppable swinging drive that only ceases to accommodate Ostroff’s proclamation. The swing is resumed when Eigsti displays an impeccably coordinated statement.

The second track, “Longing”, is a bit more restrained than its predecessor but still passionate and stimulating. It kicks off with serene piano, which, moments later, combines with regularly spaced arco bass reactions and decorous percussive elegance. This moderate inception is jazzed up gradually as the improvisations move ahead, culminating with Zinn exchanging choruses with Eigsti. Their musical chemistry is noticeable.

The volcanic force of the first two selections somewhat mitigates on the following tracks. Yet, one can find Keith Jarrett’s influence appearing on both “Family Reunion”, a post-bop tune tempered by Latin grace, and “9”, which recalls the work of the cited pianist with Jan Garbarek. “Continental Drive”, introduced with an effusive saxophone extemporization solely backed by drums, is a crossover number with detectable folk lines, differing, however, from the ancestral-like flute celebrations offered on “The Journey Home”.

Time’s Up” closes out the album, searching for something more than a groove through several rhythm/tempo variations. Zinn has reasons to be proud of his music, which was specifically written for the quartet he leads.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Day of Reckoning ► 02 - Longing ► 03 - Continental Drive

Anthony Shadduck - Quartet & Double Quartet

Label: Big Ego Records, 2019

Personnel - Jeff Parker: guitar; Cathlene Pineda: piano; Anthony Shadduck: bass; Dylan Ryan: drums + Double Quartet with Alex Sadnik: woodwinds; Phillip Greenlief: woodwinds; Kris Tiner: brass; Danny Levin: brass; David Tranchina: bass; Anthony Shadduck: bass; Danny Frankel: drums; Chad Taylor: drums.


Deserving more exposition, bassist Anthony Shadduck emerges on the scene with a fresh compositional vision that encompasses both restrained and boisterous forces. The Long Beach-based musician stamps his recently recorded album, Quartet & Double Quartet, with several idioms commanded with courage and accuracy.

The first side of the record includes three laid-back covers and one original, disclosing a mellifluous quartet harmonically driven by guitarist Jeff Parker and pianist Cathlene Pineda and rhythmically consolidated with drummer Dylan Ryan.

The disc begins with Ornette Coleman’s “Law Years” from his acclaimed 1972 album Science Fiction. Shadduck’s crisp bass notes introduce the theme, which acquires extra density when guitar and piano join in accordance. The musing tone is also tactfully bluesy, and there’s a jazz-folk component in the sound of Parker that makes the tune extremely attractive. Pineda’s comping is methodical and her enveloping solo brings a hint of enigmatic streak, while the bandleader sculpts a pensive dissertation prior to the end.

The narrative of “The Story of Maryam” is inducted with gleaming guitar drones, rattling noises, loose piano, and a bass pedal within a suspended atmosphere that disembogues in a gentle and airy triple-metered stream that evokes the song’s author, Paul Motian. The original pace is maintained and the catchy balladic enunciations that compose its backbone are jazzified by improvisations from bass and guitar.

The engrossing piano-led melodies of Chris Schlarb’s “The Starry King Hears Laughter” get us immersed in a musical reverie that overflows with sincere, emotionally charged depictions. Parker is the one in control of the closing melodic statement.

Shadduck’s “Ozark’s Gift” settles down in the spacious atmosphere built on Ryan’s brushed activity and comes shrouded in blissful contemplation. Although delimited in dynamic range, strong emotions dwell in this thoughtfully developed song.

The extroverted second half of the album features two free-spirited compositions for a double quartet composed of drummers, brass/ woodwind players, and bassists who navigate through pizzicato lines and bowed garnishes. “One” finds the percussionists excavating an invigorating Afro-centric jazz dance with shades of Brazilian in an advanced rhythmic aesthetic emphasized by the spiky lines exchanged by the horn players. If this precise drumming effort takes us into a highly addictive ride, “Two” shows a deep understanding of the importance of ostinato-based grooves, which is palpable and contagious. Peacefully introduced by bass, this piece reminds the swinging free-style orchestrations of Charles Mingus, decorated with indomitable tenacity, smart horn fills, enlivening interaction, and, of course, individual creativity.

Showing know-how in two different contexts, Shadduck pops up among the notable talents of a new breed of jazz players.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - The Starry King Hears Laughter ► 05 - One ► 06 - Two

The Fictive Five - Anything Is Possible

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel – Larry Ochs: tenor saxophone, sopranino; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Ken Filiano: bass, effects; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass, effects; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.


Led by saxophonist Larry Ochs, The Fictive Five is a quintet of fearless improvisers whose sophomore album is now out on the Clean Feed imprint (their debut was released in 2015 on Tzadik Records). Two bassists - Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper - are put side by side in an unpredictable rhythm section that also includes proficient drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Ochs shares the frontline with trumpeter Nate Wooley and their horn punctuations and creative fire are usually a focus of instability within the cinematic narratives. Thus, the title Anything Is Possible is appropriate to describe this new sonic adventure.

Three of the five pieces on the album are dedicated to illustrious personalities from cinema and music. Three is also the number of Ochs compositions, with the remaining two being credited to the collective.

The opener, “Immediate Human Response”, is for the filmmaker Spike Lee. Ochs enters straightforward and vigorous with the bassists providing tensile flexibility, whether by bowing or plucking their instruments. The subversive percussion brings in a lot of odd noises and the quieter passages are no less ominous or tense. It’s not uncommon to hear water and buzzing sounds, chamber cadences that lead to irregular stomps and arco bass drones, and harsh melodic turmoils with no fixed destination.

The two bassists are in evidence on Ochs’ 19-minute “The Others Dream”, infusing dark orchestral colors so as to stir dynamics. Low-pitched drones affected by electronics and African-like pulses support the random trajectories of the horn players, who dramatically improve the rhythm with contrapuntal actions. More cerebral, Wooley balances the gutty fervor expressed by Ochs, who often growls in fury.

Short in duration, “And The Door Blows Open” is dedicated to the late pianist Cecil Taylor. Built like a lament, this collective improvisation gradually adds layers but opens with the breathy tones of Ochs’ tenor.

Another 19-minute piece with a title to be taken seriously, “With Liberties And Latitude For All” is a highlight. Dedicated to experimental film director Warren Sonbert and grounded in an intelligible narrative context, the tune grants enthralling counterpoint between sax and trumpet, an array of percussive configurations coordinated with a timbral hook, and even a jazzy passage composed of jittery brushwork, trumpet digresses, and an eccentric coexistence of grinding bowed bass and swinging pizzicato.

Anything Is Possible doesn’t surpass its predecessor, but this punchy improvised music still presents vast sonic options for whoever wants a wild ride.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Others Dream ► 03 - And The Door Blows Open ► 04 - With Liberties And Latitude For All

Human Feel - Gold

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Andrew D’Angelo: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Jim Black: drums, synth.


Human Feel - the virtuosic quartet of saxophonists/clarinetists Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer Jim Black - released their sixth work, Gold, on the European Intakt Records, 12 years after Galore (Skirl Records). With all members contributing compositions, the philosophy of the group remains faithful to the grip and adventure that has been characterizing their versatile sonic palette.

D’Angelo’s “Alar Vome” kicks off in a velvety classical style designed by splendorous saxophone sounds, which draw an organically composed canvas that seems to describe idyllic, romantic suburbia. Clashing forces occur when distorted guitar strokes and spanking drumming push the tune to a more ebullient realm. These contrasting colors are refreshingly stimulating, in the same way that the dialogue established by saxophone and guitar is electrifying.

Imaginary Friend” was conceived by Speed with vigorous, eerie vibes and assertive instrumental attacks such as the machine gun-like bratatat of the guitar, intense saxophone interplay, and magnetic prog-rock-derived pulses. This is one of the many pieces influenced by the alternative rock genre, having the particularity of carrying shades of erudite dark metal. Other hard-hitting rock ambushes are made on D’Angelo’s danceable, post-punk-influenced “Eon Hit” and Black’s “Stina Blues”, which sounds more American garage than dirty grunge. Also, “GD” falls into a stationary darkwave with the reedists blowing ostinatos in counterpoint. This occurs during the tune’s last section, which comes in the sequence of a quieter passage patterned by marvelous sax melodies and lush guitar chords wrapped in relaxing synth effects. Later on, it’s Black’s infallible dynamics that come to prominence without ever sounding off the marks.

The quartet also scrutinizes soundscapes, projecting a comforting aura and fuzzy vibes on the amorphous “Ology”, another tune from the set of five penned by D’Angelo. Moreover, Rosenwinkel’s sedate “Bass Place” is layered with periodic ethereal cycles that come and go like the ebbs and flows of the sea. The guitarist comes to the front and center only for a brief moment here, just until D’Angelo starts to inflame the much darker final scenario with laborious bass clarinet contortions. If the structural stability is secured here, then “Lights Out”, a collective improvisation filled with fizz-toned dissonances and exquisite noises, is totally unbound.

With Human Feel’s most recent re-assemblage you have striking exchanges, sharp hooks, and consistent teamwork at your disposal. Enjoy!

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Imaginary Friend ► 03 - GD ► 05 - Bass Place

Jamie Saft Quartet - Hidden Corners

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel – Jamie Saft: piano; Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Bradley Christopher Jones: acoustic bass; Hamid Drake: drums.


The penchant for spiritual sounds evinced by keyboardist Jamie Saft is widely known, especially after a successful double release on RareNoise imprint last year: Solo a Genova and Blue. The novelty of his new album, Hidden Corners, is the musicians that follow him in this restorative, empyreal journey of musical discovery. Whereas bassist Bradley Christopher Jones continues in the rhythm section, the well-versed drummer Hamid Drake occupies the chair that belonged to Nasheet Waits. In the frontline, tenorist Bill McHenry gives his place to master saxophonist Dave Liebman, who extends the sonic possibilities with the addition of flute, tenor, and soprano.

Inspired by concepts from Jewish mysticism, the eight-track album makes a start with “Positive Way”, going toward the bandleader’s confession of faith in positivism. We find Jones bowing the bass with depth in a generous contribution for the overall splendor until he shifts technique to embark on an expressive pizzicato solo whose melodic paths amaze. With Drake driving the boat with pure love for rhythm and low-key expertise and Saft accompanying with the habitual efficacy, Liebman makes an astounding entrance, rising up above the ground with lines that simultaneously strike and breathe.

Asserting freedom, “Seven are Double” creates disengaged avant-jazz momentum with Liebman’s gutsy explorations and Saft’s episodic sweeping surges and intervallic leaps. The bass configurations engendered by Jones also soar with majestic grace.

The entrancing mood of Alice Coltrane is evoked on “Yesternight”, a 3/4 modal jazz tune where the bandleader imbues every detail with intention, denoting great sensitivity across the full range of the keyboard. His glorious chords add depth and counterpoint to Liebman’s luxuriant lyricism on the title track, a 12-bar blues whose amiable physiognomy makes us relax and enjoy its sounds with an open heart.

231 Gates” is a free-form exercise melodically driven by a whistling flute that confers it airier vibes, bringing to memory the first section of Pharaoh Sanders’ “Morning Prayer”. Conversely, “Turn At Every Moment”, propelled by Drake’s pensive cymbals and quiet drum work, elicits some intonational comparisons with Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”.

The program is completed with “Landrace”, offering a strenuous yet grooving bass solo upfront, an inexhaustible swinging tide for the soprano and piano statements, and a subtle Latin pulse by the time that Liebman re-enters to ensure completion.

Saft and his peers, besides dominating the genre inside-out, have an engrossing, ardent way of improvising. They are true masters in steering us toward these healing prayer-like pieces.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Positive Way ► 03 - Yesternight ► 08 - Landrace

JD Allen - Barracoon

Label: Savant, 2019

Personnel - JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Ian Kenselaar: acoustic and electric bass; Nic Cacioppo: drums.


The incomparable saxophonist JD Allen returns with his 13th album as a leader, this time in the company of two young rhythm stylists who have been playing with the tenor titan for more than a year, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacciopo. Barracoon contains 10 tight, tough compositions that confer a wider ampleness to Allen’s improvisatory ground since the style adopted often leans on the avant-garde jazz while retaining the true essence of the blues and Americana spirit.

The title track is an incendiary tour de force that shrinks and expands with bite and insight in the account of the saxophonist’s fully intonated low-pitched notes, whose extraordinary timbre resounds like a cannon. Everything falls on top of the rambunctious swinging tapestry created by bass and drums.

The inspiration for this CD was today’s political fickleness as well as the books Barracoon: The Story of The Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, whose emotions are directly transferred to “The Immortal (H.Lacks)”. Taking the form of a lachrymose spiritual, naturally rooted in the blues and folk traditions, this tune affiliates with “13” in terms of tone, feeling, and expression. The latter piece dawns with a solo bass statement and dusks after an impactful trio reassembly for an awesome finale.

If “The Goldilocks Zone” thrives on the art of swinging, absorbing the best of tradition but giving it a blatant contemporary flair, “Beyond the Goldilocks Zone” is a tense exercise that concentrates on flying freely with unflappable conviction. Allen’s virtuosity is on display, whether searching for points of energy in brisk phrases or engendering catchy rhythmic figures to be couched and chained with perspicacity.

Kenselaar switches to electric bass on “G sus”, attesting the static backbone with competent fretwork, whereas the drummer rambles freely within the structure. “Ursa Major” also incorporates electric bass, but it's Cacioppo’s crisp drumming that is highlighted both in the concluding solo and before that, in a passage where he interacts with Allen, whose inexhaustible rhythmic ideas take the form of tongue-in-cheek remarks and sincere impulsive cries.

Both “When You Wish Upon a Star”, the standard that concludes the program, and “Communion”, a grooving phenomenon that swings with class, exhibit an effortless lightness of movement. The nature of these songs in association with Allen’s distinctive language will certainly convince possible skeptic fans who might be dealing with some sort of expectation in regard to this new trio venture.

The musicians combine their talents for the first time to powerful effect, demonstrating a ferocious appetite for opening new frontiers.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Barracoon ► 06 - Beyond the Goldilocks Zone ► 07 - Communion

Marco Ambrosini Ensemble Supersonus - Resonances

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel – Marco Ambrosini: nyckelharpa; Anna-Liisa Eller: kannel; Anna-Maria Hefele: overtone singing, harp; Wolf Janscha: jew’s harp; Eva-Maria Rusche: harpsichord, square piano.


Italian-born nyckelharpa player Marco Ambrosini, a co-founder of the Ensemble Oni Wytars, is not a stranger to the ECM catalog, having made his first appearance on Rolf Lislevand’s 2005 recording Nuove Musiche. After a duo collaboration with French accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier in 2014, he resurfaces on the label, leading his own project: the one-of-a-kind Supersonus. The quintet explores archaic-ethnic sounds and forms but gives it a contemporary spin, layering and combining the quirky sounds of instruments like the nyckelharpa (a Swedish fiddle), harpsichord, kannel (an Estonian chordophone instrument), and jew’s harp (a mouth-played lamellophone with a low-pitched indigenous-like sound). Resonances is the ensemble’s first record.

The disc's first offering is “Fuga Xylocopae”, a solo nyckelharpa piece and the only one penned by Ambrosini. The sort of droning ostinato at the base of this song is transferred to Heinrich Biber’s 17th-century “Rosary Sonata Nr. 1” and followed with a murkier reverberance by Wolf Janscha’s jew’s harp on. The distinguishable classical facet, delicate and familiar, assumes a Baroque configuration through the harpsichord playing from Eva-Maria Rusche. The keyboardist contributes “Erimal Nopu”, in which sympathetic sounds hold one another with both groove and sophistication to imply a polyrhythmic feel.

The liturgical medieval song, “O Antiqui Sancti” by Hildegard Von Bingen, provides the most transcendent experience, shimmering with abashed affection with a near-telepathic musical involvement that draws us into a flood of emotions. The overtone singing technique of Anna-Maria Hefele, beautifully accompanied by Anna-Liisa Eller’s kannel, is remarkable here, and she delivers again on the self-penned “2 Four 8”.

Jansche composed “Ananda Rasa” and “Ritus” as two lively classical dances adorned with present-day harmonic progressions and percolating rhythmic maneuvers. The latter piece closes out the record like a Celtic-tinged foray.

Whereas “Toccata in E Minor” and “Praeludium, Tocatta Per L’elevazione”, penned by 17th-century keyboard music composers Froberger and Frescobaldi, respectively, embark on a lightly-fingered, wondrously arpeggiated sort of romanticism, Veli Dede’s “Hicaz Humayun Saz Semaisi” brings Ottoman court music to the table, going from elegiac to spirited.

Multiculturalism is taken further with the inclusion of the Swedish traditional song “Polska”, where Ambrosini brings some pathos into the music. The quintet finds a space uniquely their own with incantatory melodicism and erudite collective involvement.

Often blurring the line between written material and improvisation and retreating from the major traits of jazz, Ambrosini and his associates create breathtaking sculptures of sound while bridging cultural styles. Resonances is a satisfying world-fusion opus.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - O Antiqui Sancti ► 04 - Erimal Nopu ► 05 - Polska

Danketsu 9 - Towards a Walk In The Sun

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel – Patrick Shiroishi: alto and tenor saxophone; Mallory Soto: voice; Ang Wilson: flute; Kelly Coats: flute; Dylan Fujioka: accordion, percussion; Jason Adams: cello; Pauline Lay: violin; Noah Guevara: guitar; Ken Moore: double bass.


One can say that saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi is a conceptualist by the way he arranged the experimental 47-minute opus Towards a Walk in the Sun. The work takes the shape of a one single mysterious-sounding scalar piece recorded live at Heartbeat House in L.A. and titled “Un Fuego Se Apaga, Otro Sigue Quemando”. This is not the kind of improvisatory music that ramps up through the speakers, but rather a patiently layered, slow-burning long-form music that, without transcending, may pique your curiosity. The simplicity and balance achieved with this composite of volatility and opaqueness made me think of minimalist avant-garde composers such as Terry Riley and Moondog.

The journey begins with deep cello slashes, later coupled with violin lengthiness and Mallory Soto’s soaring voice to create a brooding chamber spell that takes us to a cinematic crossing between Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The controlled instrumentation enlarges and shrinks this sort of mantric introspection, which lasts more than 20 minutes. Occasional scratching and chirping noises become discernible amidst the droning practices. The sounds flicker and persevere.

This ethereal nimbus slides to a bit more explorative territory and becomes ominous with the presence of percussive elements and Shiroishi’s saxophone, whose brittle tone and atonal approach infuse some spark without ever pulling the tune out of its melancholy.

When an adventurous flute discloses intention to dance apart, the alluring bow work pushes it to its cavernous hideaway. This relentlessly dark symphony made of dusky gradients conjures images of desolation, wonder, and regret, all at once. The last section throbs with psychedelic instrumental activity within the same phantasmagoric denouement.

Maintaining the same intonation throughout, the music never explodes in any direction. Hence, broadening the dynamics would be of great benefit here since the framework is decorously orchestrated.

Grade  C+

Grade C+

Remy Le Boeuf - Light As A Word

Label: Outside in Music, 2019

Personnel - Remy Le Boeuf: alto saxophone; Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone; Aaron Parks: piano, Fender Rhodes; Charles Altura: electric guitar; Matt Brewer: double bass; Peter Kronreif: drums.


Californian saxophonist/composer Remy Le Boeuf is searching for his own individuality on Light As a Word, his debut album as a bandleader after many years playing and recording with his identical twin brother, pianist Pascal Le Boeuf. As Le Boeuf Brothers, they released four albums and recorded with artists such as Linda Oh, Ambrose Akinmusire, Clarence Penn, and Marcus Strickland.

For this outing, which comprises 12 originals, the alto saxophonist summoned fantastic musicians. Tenorist Walter Smith III pairs with him in the frontline, while pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Brewer, and Austrian-born drummer Peter Kronreif configure a rhythm section capable of inventiveness. Despite the great band, and the appearance of talented guitarist Charles Altura on a couple of tunes, the material only sporadically managed to catch on.

Bloom” is a solo saxophone effort that works almost like a prelude to “Full Circle”, a breezy, medium-tempo post-bop piece with a gentle posture. The saxophonists step forward, using their gifts as soloists and speaking in an enveloping contemporary language.

I have to point out “The Melancholy Architecture of Storms” as a highlight. The gradual densification of texture and the reedists’ combined forces take the initial tranquility further. Although presented here as an instrumental, this particular tune had poet Sara Pickle Hughes writing lyrics for it, in the occasion of Le Boeuf’s Park-In Residency program.

Both “Imperfect Paradise” and the introspective “Union” are far from any heights of lyrical surprise. Still, the former features both Altura and Parks in competent improvisations as well as Kronreif’s cool spontaneity behind the drum kit. They nearly elevate the song to satisfactory levels.

I sensed some reluctance from the band to risk more, and the result reflects that sort of apathy. If “Mirrors in Your Eyes” breathes positive, soulful vibes, “Qoo” and “Traptop” are set to autopilot mode, oscillating between gracefulness and stiffness. Not even the warm bolero tide offered by the title cut managed to melt all those persistent icy layers.

Light As a Word isn’t quite an embarrassment, but, strangely, there was something here that simply didn’t let the fire burn.

Grade  C+

Grade C+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Full Circle ► 03 - The Melancholy Architecture of Storms ► 07 - Mirrors in Your Eyes

Caroline Davis - Alula

Label: New Amsterdam Records, 2019

Personnel - Caroline Davis: alto saxophone, voice; Matt Mitchell: Prophet 6, Modular and ARP synthesizers; Greg Saunier: drums.


Brooklyn-based alto saxophonist/composer Caroline Davis debuts Alula, an adventurous project launched in 2016 with Deerhof drummer Greg Saunier. The duo was augmented to the current trio with the inclusion of sought-after keyboardist Matt Mitchell. This 11-track collection of originals was compositionally motivated by an anterior digit on a bird’s wing and comes charged with trippy flights and landings, rotating lines and looped impressions, taut yet organic beats, and synth washes with throbbing bass notes trailing rigorous paths.

Alula” and its reverse “alulA” sound very peculiar, opening and closing the CD, respectively. The palindrome reads the same way, yet their sounds are distinct. The former, featuring Davis’ embedded vocals as a surprising layer, is deep-seated in a psychedelic avant-garde jazz on the edge of intervallic dissonance and it’s just a glimpse of what is to come. In turn, the latter, much shorter in time, displays parallel motions between saxophone and keyboards with Saunier’s unrestrictedly paving the lower level.

Inaugurated by sax and drums, “Flight” holds quite some funk at its core, advancing within a well-defined structure. Despite the energetic balance, this number doesn’t surpass “Wingbeat” in terms of danceability. Brought up with a sweeping splendor, the latter piece seems ready to ignite a fire with orbicular saxophone figures, effusive drumming, and the congruous bass conduction offered by Mitchell’s synthesizer.

Remiges” is one of my favorite pieces, starting as an ambiguous droning exercise before catapulting expressive elliptical movements with an M-base-like urgency. The audacious propulsion serves Davis and Mitchell’s improvisations, while Saunier, naturally more confined to a rhythmic support function, doesn’t hesitate to fill the role with provocative drum swoops.

Taking us to serene places, “Coverts” shines with even-tempered melody, silky harmonization, and a combination of snare drum distinctiveness and cymbal grit. It feels like a restorative tonic against the hectic excitement of tunes such as “Scapulars”, a fruitful, sometimes turbulent encounter between indie rock and avantjazz marked by the tearing passion of the saxophone, ultra-modern synth effects, and agitated drum automation providing strength.

Eclecticism is something valuable that the bandleader doesn’t want to step aside. Hence, the shape-shifting “Vortex Generation” mixes elements of folk, jazz, and electronica with taste and freedom.

Committed to moving forward as an artist, Davis makes her most daring album with Alula, pushing boundaries through a fresh, powerful material that, being willfully challenging, opens new horizons. This work will definitely attract bold listeners.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Remiges ► 05 - Scapulars ► 08 - Vortex Generator

Anthony Braxton - Quartet (New Haven) 2014

Label: Firehouse 12 Records, 2019

Personnel – Anthony Braxton: sopranino and soprano, alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, bass trumpet; Nels Cline: electric guitar; Greg Saunier: drums.


The prolific multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, a legendary avant-gardist, sees the record label Firehouse 12 release a 4-CD box set of the unique experience that was gathering an all-star quartet in New Haven in 2014, featuring guitarist Nels Cline, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and drummer Greg Saunier. Each CD runs for approximately one hour, homaging guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Merle Haggard, and vocalists Janis Joplin and James Brown, and unveiling Braxton’s musical interests for other genres aside from jazz and modern classical. He and his bandmates put together something meant to challenge, unnerving the listener with abstract instrumentations and angular melodic expressions filled with arcane charms.

Improvisation One (for Jimi Hendrix)” is equipped with the untamed, blazing postures of psychedelic rock scattered throughout a session that also includes twisty drones, incisive ostinatos, reactive drum work, and occasional washes of noise poured out from Cline’s guitar, which carries enough spark to burn, not with Hendrix’s eternal fire, but with its own. Glorious dissonances and ebullient ricochets within a variety of dynamics are part of an entertaining game peppered with bi-directional free improvisations and stately collective layouts. It ends noiselessly with guitar harmonics and the momentary snarls of snare and toms.

As expected, “Improvisation Two (For Janis Joplin)” is not as bluesy as the songs of the rocker they pay tribute to but denotes flashes of that rustic hard rock sound that characterized her sound in the transition of the ‘60s to the ‘70s. Even starting unrugged with singing lines, fragmented drumming, and conversational rhythmic figures, the piece welcomes a lot more distortion, animated slogans, and post-psychedelia than Joplin could have ever dreamed about. Lovely sax/drums dialogues make an impact, giving their way to a set of incantatory atmospheres structured with discipline. It all ends in a furious space battle oversupplied with looming tension while the group’s offbeat brand of virtuosity is put on display.

There are no real funk expectations on the James Brown-dedicated “Improvisation Three”, but some of its colors can be found scattered throughout. Constantly in progress, the music has its grooviest moments in the combination of theatrical saxophone and brass drifts, unexpected post-apocalyptic guitar explosions and ever-adaptable percussive streams. Scorning laughs and bitter cries cut through the chordal fluxes and arrays of shaking trills (drums included), giving impetus to drama. Of course, any funk machine would be swallowed by the immensity of this composite of avant-jazz and post-rock.

Improvisation Four (For Merle Haggard)” initially features the cavernous cogitation, bite, and swagger of Braxton’s contrabass saxophone. Cline’s mix of clear and nebulous guitar comping is perfect for the occasion, and the succeeding cyclic movements, some with fiery contrapuntal discernment and some other with seductively dark charisma, often feel more disquieting than soothing. This is valid, even when the group resolves to refrain their gustiness.

These enigmatic sounds and abrasive interplay might startle and dumbfound the unprepared listener, while avant-jazz regulars will be delighted with a four-hour document of massive creativity.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Improvisation Three (for James Brown) ► 04 - Improvisation Four (for Merle Haggard)

The Pen Club - Data Retrieval

Label: Eupcaccia Records, 2019

Personnel – Jack Stoneham: saxophone; Felix Bornholdt: piano; Ashley Stoneham: drums.


Hailing from Sidney, Australia, The Pen Club is a bass-less avant-garde jazz trio capable of a potent, spontaneous primitivism but also well-planned engaging moments. Alto saxophonist Jack Stoneham plays the leading role, relying on a rhythm section entrusted to his brother, drummer Ashley Stoneham, and pianist Felix Bornholdt.

Presented as a suite, Data Retrieval exposes obvious connections between tunes by the hand of a unified trio demonstrating free postures and narrative arc within the structure.

The session opens with “Pen 1”, a brisk sax monologue exclaimed with disparate attractive sounds. It leads directly to “Agitated”, a nearly 9-minute piece where the saxophonist continues articulating what he had started with an unspecified route, accompanied with fragmented piano lines that extend over several octaves. The drummer shapes the pulse in a way that attests his bandmates’ ideas, showing rhythmic flexibility and concentration. Tension is exalted through the mix of timbres provided by each instrument, stirring dynamics that may oscillate between tempestuous and temperately cautious.

Accommodating a poignant solo piano effort in its first minutes and then a call-response demonstration between sax and piano, “Pen 2 Glitch” is a methodical ride that inclines toward a mysterious ballad ready to flare up with emotion. It comes in the sequence of the muffled serenity of “Still Struggle”, where whispering brushed rhythms, piano disclosures filed with an uncanny dreamlike feel, and thoughtful sax statements make it a highlight on the album. Throughout these two selections, it’s noticeable how simple melodic ideas can easily turn into majestic riffs.

Elastic Band” is delivered at a well-measured pace and favors a crisp articulation between the brothers. Exciting counterpoint is instilled when Bornholdt comes into play.

More duologue in the form of a call-response is offered in “Buried Metal”, which shows proneness to mood changes and furious explosions. The occasional strapping textures and stone-cold rawness can cool off anytime, reflecting a more slumberous state of mind. Yet, the natural tendency is for tension-filled storytelling with the saxophonist claiming the spotlight through wide-ranging slide motions, overtones, and multiphonics.

Data Retrieval rewards repeated listenings and it’s an awesome option for free/avantjazz consumers looking for talented new voices within the genre.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Still Struggle ► 04 - Pen 2 Glitch ► 06 - Buried Metal

Nature Work - Nature Work

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Eric Revis: bass; Jim Black: drums.


The recently formed jazz quartet Nature Work is not a response nor is connected to other groups with comparable names like Farmers By Nature or James Farm. The band was formed by saxophonist Greg Ward and bass clarinetist Jason Stein, two Chicago-based creatives who had the wish to do something adventurous together. As trailblazing reed players, they would naturally need a titanic rhythm section joining to reinforce their playground of sounds. Hence, it’s not surprising the addition of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jim Black, two bedrock pillars equally comfortable in the art of improvised music. They play together for the very first time here, denoting a prompt rapport while treating the lower layers with rock-solid credibility.

The group's eponymous album is exclusively composed of originals - four by Stein and five by Ward - and was recorded last year in Chicago after two live performances.

The opener, “The Shiver”, validates Stein and Ward as inveterate communicators as they exchange complementary ostinatos. By the time these central ideas are unified, becoming unisons, Revis and Black ignite a robust swinging groove that fractures when the soloists change. By the way, the passage that makes the transition from Ward’s solo to Stein’s is phenomenal and their interaction, shortly before the theme’s reinstatement, is enlivening.

Throughout this work, the mood of a tune can tell us who the composer was. Both Ward and Stein’s approaches lean on the avant-jazz, yet the former infuses a lot of post-bop elements, usually vivid and outspoken, whereas the latter has an inclination to abstraction and non-linear melodies like heard on “Hem The Jewels”, introduced by an unassisted bass entanglement and grounded in a baffling, elusive groove with unisons atop; “Opter Fopter”, which vaguely searches with a cool pose before falling into a lovely pop/rock harmonically suggested by Revis and supported by Black’s impeccable brushwork; and “South Hampstead”, a syncopated rumination juddered percussively, where the horns share a few lines with carefree abandon.

In addition to the previously referred "The Shiver", there are a few other Ward compositions that stand out. The athletic “Zenith”, for example, is a showcase for Black’s incredible arrhythmias and splashing cymbals, so spellbinding and unpredictable. Timely unisons keep soaring above until Stein’s wild solo erupts, initially with drums as sole backing. Also highlights, “Cryptic Ripple” and “Tah Dazzle” give the soloists a great deal of creative space. The former starts varnished but becomes rugose, boasting a self-possessed rock-inflected groove with a waltzing looping bass cycle and boasting a zealous sax-clarinet debate; in turn, the latter composition is presented as a hyped-up blend of rock, jazz, and funk with a hint of Latin that comes from Revis’ bass accentuations. The co-leaders insert their resourceful ideas, tossing them around the rhythmic backbone, influencing dynamics, and promoting freedom of speech.

Nature Work is an affirmative collaboration for all the involved with beneficial effects for avid listeners.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Opter Fopter ► 06 - Cryptic Ripple ► 07 - Tah Dazzle