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.

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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)


Eric Hofbauer's Five Agents - Book of Water

Label: Creative Nation Music, 2019

Personnel - Seth Meicht: saxophone; Jerry Sabatini: trumpet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Nate McBride: bass; Curt Newton: drums.

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Guitarist Eric Hofbauer, a mainstay of the Boston scene, assembles a supple jazz sextet where he teams up with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton in the rhythm section, providing footing for a pretty active three-horn frontline composed of saxophonist Seth Meitch, trumpeter Jerry Sabatini and trombonist Jeb Bishop.

The five-part suite Book of Water is the first of five books addressing the following elements: fire, wood, earth, metal, and water. The parts last between 10 and 17 minutes, approximately, and were given titles drawn from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem Water. Hofbauer's influences include John Tchicai and Roy Campbell, but there is also subtle touches of Messiaen and Ives, as well as the subversive orchestral worlds of Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra (without the synth).

By way of illustration, “Water Understands Civilization Well” favors an avant-garde jazz that still swings. The luxurious orchestration challenges any possible preconception, leading to sections where the interplay commands. After conversational maneuvers with plenty of rhythmic figures and oblique movements between trumpet and trombone, it’s time for the saxophonist and the bandleader step forward. The former instigates rapid phrases, some of them reiterated through circular breathing, while the latter combines quirky notes in order to bring certain atonality to the textures. Finally, bassist and drummer shake the foundation a bit, with the horns stepping in with timely pinpoint accuracy.

A nearly three-minute hushed guitar intro brings “It Wells, It Chills” to life. For his sonic exploration of the water's ice states and vapor, Hofbauer employs a dry, peculiar tone suffused with bright harmonics and delicate percussive techniques. Entering quietly but totally dominating the melody, Sabatini shows an impressive attack and pitch control of the trumpet and contributes gracious melodic lines. Effective chills occur in the darker final stage, where an unaccompanied McBride applies the arco to keep the gravity low.

The whimsical and resilient “It Is Not Disconcerted” takes advantage of penetrating saxophone lines, comfortably psychedelic guitar comping, resolute bass with a well-defined tonal center, and restless drums, proving that water is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Later on, is Bishop who experiences a similar type of freedom.

Well Used, Adorning Joy” is marked by an unflagging 5/4 bass ostinato, which, along with the percussive stream and the projection of the horns, vouches for stoutness. The bandleader strikes with an unorthodox if swinging guitar improvisation filled with magic glamor.

The last and longest piece on the album, “Ill Used, Will Elegantly Destroy”, is also the strongest. It starts off with trombone and a timidly meddling arco bass, advancing for an uptempo orchestral foray in 3/4, which shifts afterward so that the trumpet can speak square. Meicht is the man here, delivering a nice saxophone solo but Newton also stands out behind the drum kit after the horn players’ infiltrations.

Hofbauer reveals himself as a creative composer capable of integrating exacting composition and tactical flexibility with dogged determination.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Water Understands Civilization Well ► 04 - Well Used, Adorning Joy ► 05 - Ill Used, Will Elegantly Destroy


Fabian Almazan Trio - The Land Abounds With Life

Label: Biophilia Records, 2019

Personnel - Fabian Almazan: piano, percussion, electronics; Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Henry Cole: drums.

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The Cuban-born, Miami-raised, and now Harlem-based pianist Fabian Almazan releases his fourth album as a leader, manipulating his music not only as a way to express political views and concerns about the welfare of our planet, but also as a reflection about his life and the emotional visit to his native Cuba, 23 years after leaving the country. The Land Abounds With Life reiterates him as a skilled storyteller and, as habitual, features a tight jazz triangle with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole occupying the lower vertices.

Benjamin” is an acrobatic romp showcasing the bandleader’s articulatory agility on the keyboard and the response capacity of his trio mates. This richly textured, rhythmic-oriented churner overflows with fast, complex, and precise lines and its variations are implemented with elegance. The inspiration came from George Orwell’s political satire Animal Farm and the message is manifestly political.

Folk elements abound, unfolding naturally within a broad-minded jazz context. Hence, the Cuban heritage is revealed without a hitch on “The Poets”, a piece that honors the music campesina and features a sample of Cuban poet El Macaguero de Pinar improvising on Pie Forzado. It pretty much waltzes before shifting to a straightforward 4/4 passage marked by a salient odd beat. There are other hybrid tunes like “Folklorism”, an exaltation of the Afrocubanismo movement of the 20s and 30s and carried out with a thematic pulse, unison melodies, and bowed bass; and “The Nomads”, whose key and tempo shifts don’t meddle in a staggering embodiment of M-Base, rock, jazz, modern classical, and Afro-Cuban elements. Even well informed of the hardships of growing up in Cuba at that time, Almazan's intention is to celebrate life and music on this piece.

Going from one mood to another, “The Everglades” portrays the Miami wetlands in two different scenarios. A reflective first section, containing an adept bass solo with dramatic piano comping and imperturbable drumming, conjures up peaceful sunrises on a calm winter day; a more exuberant middle part in six pictures a lightning storm in the heat of July; subsequently, a complete tranquility is restored for closure.

A pair of non-originals had their place on the album: Cuban rocker Carlos Varela’s “Bola De Nieve” is a beautiful song written for the iconic entertainer Ignacio Jacinto Villa Hernandez, and was elevated by the presence of a string quartet, whereas the solo piano “Music On My Mind”, composed by the stride piano virtuoso Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith’s, resonates emotionally with intimacy as one of Almazan’s favorite pieces.

Lugubrious, lyrical, and tense, “Jaula” is another solo piano effort ingrained by sensitive modern classical gestures that attempt to sonically portray Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment during the apartheid.

These ambitious narratives speak for themselves, touting Almazan as a socially conscious voice and one of the most outstanding proponents on his instrument.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Benjamin ► 02 - The Everglades ► 06 - The Nomads


Melissa Aldana - Visions

Label: Motéma Music, 2019

Personnel - Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Sam Harris: piano; Pablo Menares: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

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Exceeding one hour, the album Visions by Chilean reed player Melissa Aldana is presented as a musical exploration of self-identity and expression. The session, mostly composed of originals, was inspired by the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and starts with the title track, one of the two pieces composed for The Jazz Gallery residency commission 2017-18. Embracing a firm, medium-fast tempo, the tune exposes an expeditious melody dancing over a predominating triple meter that continues for the solos. The bandleader, who also shows her improvisational qualities, pronounces coincidental lines with vibraphonist Joel Ross, while pianist Sam Harris opts for a somewhat fuzzy approach during his solo. However, he proclaims clarity of language on pieces like “Perdon”, a gentle waltzing ballad written by bassist Pablo Menares, and the heart-rending standard “Never Let Me Go”, where he beautifully deconstructs the original harmony at the same time that explores melodies outside the lines.

La Madrina” conveys a subtle classical feel in the chords’ movements and inherent voice-leading, preserving the sax/vibraphone coalition, aggrandizing emotions with the depth of bowed bass, and irrigating the foundation with a sultry Latin touch. This sprightly piece was also composed for the aforementioned commission.

Some songs came out gooier than fluid as if they were brought to a simmer without actually boiling over. These were the cases of “Acceptance” and “The Search”. I also missed memorable riffing in the music, here replaced by a strict post-bop posture flavored with colorful brushstrokes of Latin jazz. Even expecting more from this rising artist, there are moments where the intensity gets you. The rhythmically fervent “Elsewhere” and “Su Tragedia”, which waltzes with occasional tango expressiveness, are especially vivid examples of that. The saxophonist excels on the latter piece, exhibiting her searing tenor again on “El Castillo de Velanje”, the piece that concludes the album and redirects the spotlight in its final section to Ross’ vibrant mallet work.

Visions fails to make a very deep mark, but Aldana shows enough modernity in her language to keep us in.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - La Madrina ► 06 - Elsewhere ► 08 - Never Let Me Go


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


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


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


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


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


Floris Kappeyne Trio - Synesthesia

Label: Timezone Records, 2019

Personnel – Floris Kappeyne: piano, synthesizer; Tijs Klaassen: bass; Wouter Kuhne: drums + Janneke Stoute: vocals.

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Reverberating synthesizer drones and waves invite us to a mysterious trip in the outer space. That’s how the 23-year-old Dutch pianist Floris Kappeyne starts out his new trio album, Synesthesia, a title that has everything to do with sensorial stimulation and reaction. His bandmates, bassist Tijs Klaassen and drummer Wouter Kuhne, stick to that idea, working diligently to provide a skeletal structure that serves, reacts to, and interacts with the pianist’s harmonic ideas and lyrical terminology.

Throughout the 15 short original movements that compose the album, you will experience music that may be volatile or lingering, abstract or clear, vouching for unity or opting for disintegration. The course of things is unpredictable, often non-linear, and that’s where the mystery and magic of Kappeyne’s music come from.

Prelude: I” offers occasional bass pedals and subtly rattling snare, yet, its ever-shifting textures and time feel make us constantly alert. The piano sometimes calls for the unobvious universe of Paul Bley while the vertiginous, dramatic nosedives into the lower register give it a punch that is jazzier than classical. In turn, “Prelude: II” flows with a modern, brushed, syncopated fat beat in a relaxed synth-cloud environment. Its uncompromising trajectories made me imagine Sun Ra exploring downtempo.

Communication is well patented in the three-way conversation offered on “Prelude: Va”, where the piano responds to the introductory drums and, subsequently, the bass responds to the piano. A conspicuous motif serves them as the topic and the bassist even dares to swing for a bit, pushing more and more the threshold, as he seems to exhort expansiveness. Another example of communicative effort is “Prelude Vc”. On top of the deep-seated bass, we find abstract, free-flowing piano flurries and rhythmic figures on the verge of tonality that definitely foment the boldness of jazz.

The trio shows an optimum control of suspended ambiances on “Prelude III” by incorporating deep bowed bass, hushed brushes, and single-note textural pianism. Silences don’t scare them. They play with it, in a way that is soothing and disquieting alike. On the shape-shifting “Prelude VII”, we have that weird feeling that something is about to happen on the grounds of somewhat eerie vibes. Even so, the sparkling snare and the confident piano strut, in conjunction with the bass, deviate unexpectedly into a modern classical passage whose movements are dreamy, sweeping, and splendorous.

Variety and imagination are nothing to worry about here, and the well-structured recording also incorporates two vocal tunes - “Prelude IX” features a Dutch poem meant to be turned into music by classical singer Janneke Stoute and is momentarily agitated by polyrhythmic percussion; “Prelude: X” features a 4-piece choir with synth.

While en listening route, you’ll also detect a couple of solo piano pieces and a drums-only speech, before it all ends in the playful electro vibes of “Prelude IV”, which finishes off the album with odd-metered passages and a futuristic attitude.

Incorporating tradition and novelty, Kappeyne and his trio hardly approach the music in a conventional manner. They align energies while searching for new directions and manage to get some fresh results.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Prelude I ► 08 - Prelude VII ► 11 - Prelude Vc


Yotam Silberstein - Future Memories

Label: Jazz&People, 2019

Personnel – Yotam Silberstein: guitar, vocals; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion, piano, keys, percussion; John Patitucci: acoustic and electric bass; Daniel Dor: drums; Andre Mehmari: synthesizers.

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Few artists are capable to blend post-bop and Latin jazz with such a class as the Tel Aviv-born guitarist Yotam Silberstein. He possesses the indispensable technique, rhythm, and lyricism to succeed in the challenging fusion genre, and Future Memories, his sixth album as a leader, is a multi-cultural voyage into his forthright musical universe. The influences come from many directions, yet there’s an emphasis on Brazilian music here, displayed in a couple of tunes by mandolin master Hamilton de Holanda and an erudite rendition of “Choro Negro” by samba/choro icon Paulinho da Viola.

Holanda’s “Capricho de Donga” is filled with rhythmic nuances, featuring extraordinary bassist John Patitucci in a pulsating solo with tons of melody, whereas the flamenco-ish vibe of “Capricho de Espanha” let us indulge not only in the brisk melodicism of the guitarist, but also in the kaleidoscopic exuberance of pianist Glenn Zaleski, an assiduous presence in the New York scene. There is also this Ravel-like sumptuosity marking the improvisational section, which is pleasantly relaxing.

Another Brazilian-influenced piece is Silberstein’s “Impedimento”, where the rapturous atmosphere of choro gains amazing propulsion with the electric bass flow and the rippling percussive groove of drummer Daniel Dor. The Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, who doubles on piano on some other tunes, is seen in perfect union with the bandleader and both improvise on this tune. The engaging phrasing of the guitarist shows both the strong affinity with the jazz tradition and his close relationship with South American music. The fusion feast ends in rock-ish mode, though.

Matcha” is definitely a highlight, showing how strong is the writing of Silberstein. The group, aside from intensifying the rhythm with manifest accentuations, keeps grooving under an odd tempo. There are undercurrents in the music that meet conveniently at a certain point, comparable to a big river that collects the water flow from smaller streams. Both the guitar and piano solos are worthy of attention, with Zaleski following the bandleader in his improvisational spirit, but interpolating his single-note phrases with pungent chords in the lower register. The ambiance nearly touches a dreamy state before Dor’s snare and tom-tom work come to prominence. Although revealing a complex execution, this piece sounds good to the ear.

Future Memories” and “Wind on the Lake” are musing songs in six and three, respectively. Whereas the latter takes the form of a folk song at an early stage through the usage of acoustic guitar, the former boasts an ethereal air brought either by Silberstein’s modulated vocalizations or the silky harmonic tapestry weaved by Gonçalves’ accordion and Andre Mehmari’s synth waves.

The imaginative arrangements always find space for personal points of view, and Future Memories reinforces music as a culturally boundless celebration.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Future Memories ► 02 - Matcha ► 04 - Impedimento


Ben Monder - Day After Day

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Ben Monder: electric and acoustic guitars; Matt Brewer: bass; Ted Poor: drums.

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Guitarist Ben Monder is equally comfortable in straightforward and subversive settings. His playing is sparkling and his efficiency, remarkable. The double-album Day After Day offers a wide-ranging collection of esteemed non-original songs interpreted in solo and trio formats. Joining him in the latter context are bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor.

Disc one features a solitary Monder in absolute control of the instrument and exhibiting unparalleled sounds fertile in bright introspective textures. The sonic propagations of “Dreamsville” are rich, relaxed, and full in color. Effortlessly operating in several octaves, the guitarist embraces fluidity, combining wise harmonic concepts with carefully built melodies.

The concurrent movements on “Emily”, a tune popularized by Bill Evans, are mesmerizing. Bringing out his classical influences, Monder integrates melody and bass lines with perspicacity, demonstrating advanced performing expertise. In this particular case, he proves that complexity is not incompatible with beauty, stressing a suggestive metronomic line with a subtle percussive touch in the last minute of the song.

The transparency and enlightenment of “O Sacrum Convivium”, a choral wonder by the 20th-century composer Olivier Messiaen, obfuscate us with warm beams of light. Yet, it’s the standard “My One And Only Love” that most clearly shows that miraculous voice-leading control, replete of surprising note choices. Monder also luxuriates in dashing sonorities on another balladic standard, “Never Let Me Go” as well as on the ever-evolving version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Windows of the World”.

Over the course of the second disc, the guitar is center-place, leading the bass and drums into adventurous paths characterized by different moods and genres. Still, two songs are bass-less: The Beatles’ “Long Long Long”, a 3/4 song that draws some ambiguity from the virtuosic fingerpicking, and the opaque experimentation on the title cut, a song from the early ’70s, whose dark waves cause a dystopian sensation. The bandleader’s relationship with hard rock music is not a novelty, and the 007 theme “Goldfinger” is a showcase for his prodigious metal technique.

The casual country pop of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” opens the record with a convivial posture, culminating in a speedy guitar solo pronounced with distortion. However, it’s the emotionally charged “Dust”, a great contemporary rock song by The Fleetwood Mac that strikes with awe, featuring Monder on acoustic guitar and Brewer in an inspired bass solo.

Bread’s “The Guitar Man” is a soft-rock song designed with bluesy dotted notes and carrying something of Bob Dylan, who is also paid tribute here with a suave rendition of “Just Like a Woman”.

Regardless of the nature of the songs, Monder has a personal and tasteful approach to the music. His versatility and dedication are impressive and this accessible double album invites you to experience a fraction of his immensely creative mind.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Emily ► 03 (disc1) - O Sacrum Convivium ► 02 (disc2) - Dust


Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy

Label: ECM Records

Personnel – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: acoustic bass.

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Epistrophy marks another beautiful encounter between guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan. The follow up to Small Town boasts a formidable repertoire captured live at The Village Vanguard in March 2016, having Jerome Kern’s “All is Fun” opening it in a marvelously relaxed atmosphere. Frisell’s fascinating melodicism is knee-deep in rhythmic ideas, and Morgan, who lightly swings for a while, assures not only a superior foundation but also constructs it in an interactive way.

In addition to the aforementioned opener, it was the bassist who suggested The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me”, an R&B hit from the early 60s that comes affiliated to “Wildwood Flower”, the folk song that serves it as an intro. On many occasions, Morgan communicates with Frisell by responding to his thoughtful guitar work. It’s not uncommon to hear exquisite guitar harmonics adorning the tunes and Billy Strayhorn’s sweet ballad “Lush Life” doesn’t let me lie. Another example is Monk’s “Pannonica”, which also does a great job in highlighting the instrumentalists’ soulful lyricism and sharp tonalities. It’s a joy to experience all these magnetic chords brimming with delicious extensions.

Since only top-notch musicians have the ability to make knotty passages sound simple, don’t be surprised if the rendition of Paul Motian’s whimsical “Mumbo Jumbo” surfaces natural and uncomplicated. The rubato approach invites us to freer, non-linear flights and the song is given a totally different perspective after the infusion of tasteful machinelike effects inflicted by Frisell’s sound-altering pedal.

If the duo performed “Goldfinger” in their previous outing, then they picked another James Bond theme to be part of this new work - “You Only Live Twice” is jazzified with an impressive atmospheric radiance, engrossing textures, and a dreamy sound that lingers. It’s one of the most beautiful moments on the album, which gains a tantalizing dimension with the confident gestures in the bass accompaniment.

The title track is another Monk classic whose telepathic and freewheeling interpretation includes melodic fragmentation, blues sparkle, and swinging flair. Frisell’s comping is smart and fun, and the original melody only shows up at the end in all its clarity.

In the aftermath of the traditional “Red River Valley”, an obvious folk ride, the album comes to an end in balladic gorgeousness with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

Owners of an immeasurable musicality, Frisell and Morgan embark on impeccable narrations of well-known gems, in a clear demonstration of their interactive dexterity. It’s mind-boggling how they put such a fresh spin in so many familiar songs, and all we want to do is play them over and over.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Mumbo Jumbo ► 04 - You Only Live Twice ► 06 - Epistrophy


Mike Baggetta / Mike Watt / Jim Keltner - Wall of Flowers

Label: Big Ego Records, 2019

Personnel - Mike Baggetta: electric and acoustic guitars, live processing; Mike Watt: electric bass; Jim Keltner: drums, percussion.

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Mike Baggetta may not be as well known as his fellow guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder, but his creative playing is definitely a valuable discovery for everyone who bumps into his music. An adept of unconventional sounds and electronic effects, Baggetta was previously featured in solo, quartet, and trio sessions, and it’s precisely to the latter configuration that he returns on the album Wall of Flowers. This time, he is joined by unlikely bandmates such as veterans Mike Watt and Jim Keltner, bassist and drummer, respectively. The former co-founded the punk-rock group Minutemen and was a member of Iggy Pop’s The Stooges in the early 2000s; the latter played with the members of The Beatles plus Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder. The two had never met before, but the outcome of this one-day-only session mirrors the quality of these musicians.

Hospital Song” has a beautiful, if dismal, acoustic guitar intro. However, the trio kicks things into high gear by channelling their energy into a livelier indie rock marked by sturdy bass lines, an unflinching straight-up 4/4 rhythm, and guitar melodies punctuated by occasional atonal detours.

Blue Velvet”, the main theme of David Lynch’s cult film of the same name, is subjected to solo and duo treatments. Both have the rustic tones of the acoustic guitar coloring them, yet the former picks up on an undeniable ambiguity in contrast with the latter, soberly introduced by Keltner's soft brushwork.

A couple of collective improvisations reflect some of the best moments on the album. “I Am Not A Data Point” feels very experimental, relying on an intransigent, languid bass ostinato a-la Rage Against The Machine, percussive adaptability, and distorted guitar outcries that affect positively our ears with washes of capricious effects in often discordant audacity. The other impromptu experience is “Dirty Smell of Dying”, a dark, neo-psychedelic exercise carried in Sonny Sharrock-mode, and where the massive waves of sound coming toward you acquire both exciting and foreboding perspectives.

Fruit of Baggetta’s mind, the title track closes out the album as a shimmering art rock song. Musical moments like these demonstrate the trio’s rock affinity and the album is the expression of a fortunate collaboration.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - I Am Not A Data Point ► 06 - Dirty Smell of Dying ► 08 - Wall of Flowers