Paul Bedal - In Reverse

Label: Bace Records, 2019

Personnel - Nick Mazzarella: saxophone; Paul Bedal: piano; Matt Ulery: bass; Charles Rumback: drums.

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For his third album as a leader, pianist Paul Bedal gathered pretty active members from the Chicago scene: alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Charles Rumback. Although the latter two musicians had been part of his first recording project, Chatter (Bace Records, 2014), the brand new In Reverse marks the debut of this quartet, featuring eight properly structured originals peppered with improvisation.

The title cut, “In Reverse”, a catchy post-bop number coated with the modal spirituality of Coltrane, makes a great opening, detaching from the rest of the program as a consequence of its majestic depth and pulsation. The awakening sounds fuel great solos by Mozzarella and Bedal, and both take the opportunity to stretch out a bit more on the final vamp worked out by Ulery and Rumback. The strong teamwork behind the soloists occurs effortlessly, and “Jansen Ave” is another example of coordination and precise accentuation in a sort of unassumed swinging environment. In this case, Mazzarella goes bluesier, throwing in melodies that satisfy the ear, while Bedal, exploring with more atonal drive, navigates inside and outside with logic.

If the curvilinear moves of “Fractal” hide a rhythmically audacious tempo in five, “Neon” embarks on a straight, hard-driving swing. Both tunes feature Ulery, who further extends his improvisatory time on the lukewarm “Threnody”.

Spunto” is launched with a modern classical-tinged piano intro and a subtle modal eastern flavor that quickly vanishes when a post-bop vamp is erected to accommodate the soloists’ vision. The improvisational agility of Mazzarella comes into view before Bedal utters his speech with freedom, yet maintaining his left-hand work aligned with the notes supplied by the bassist. Prior to the reinstatement of the theme, the music goes through an abstract phase, in a quick visit to avant-jazz domains.

The last track, “Hornets”, breaks up things nicely, and the serene, empathic drumming of Rumback adapts well to the multiple atmospheres and rhythmic demands. Oscillating between loose and taut, the piece calls once again Bedal, Ulery, and Mazzarella to the forefront, but it's the latter who steals the show here with stunning outside deflections.

There’s no sonic boom in this recording, but everything finds harmony in the coherent actions of the quartet. Composition-wise, Bedal shows a gracefulness that may be used in the future to expand textures and moods even more. But for now, you should give In Reverse a chance.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - In Reverse ► 03 - Jansen Ave ► 04 - Spunto


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.

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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.

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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


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.

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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.

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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


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


The Pen Club - Data Retrieval

Label: Eupcaccia Records, 2019

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

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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.

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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


Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Glitter Wolf

Label: Royal Potato Family, 2019

Personnel – Ben Goldberg: bass clarinets; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Myra Melford: piano; Todd Sickafoose: bass; Allison Miller: drums.

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Drummer/composer Allison Miller has always shown a penchant to jazz and rock with grooves that tick with elegance and pulse with abundant energy. Her compositions radiate swagger and soul, shinning with lively rhythmic colors and impressive melodic sensibilities. This was pretty evident on Science Fair, definitely, a career-high album co-led with pianist Carmen Staaf, and that’s what you’ll also find on Glitter Wolf, the fifth outing with her long-standing band Boom Tic Boom. The group was launched in 2010 as a quartet with Jenny Scheinman on violin, Myra Melford on piano, and Todd Sickafoose on bass, but was augmented to a sextet for the time being with the addition of virtuosic clarinetist Ben Goldberg and cornetist Kirk Knuffke.

Scheinman’s prolonged drone initiates “Congratulations, Condolences”, a consistently impressive piece that rocks at the substrate layer but leans on avant-garde empathy at the surface, notably due to the brisk, finely stated solos from Goldberg and Knuffke, who juxtapose thoughts like a conversation. However, it’s Melford who deserves all our attention, with wide-ranging leaping notes forming state-of-the-art phrases that bewilder and confound.

The Ride" is another highlight. It takes off with explosive drums and shifts from a bruising funk eloquence (with horn counterpoint atop) to chamber classical ease to New Orleans-style jazz/blues intrepidity. Right after Knuffke and Scheinman’s confident discourses, Goldberg jumps out, taking his bass clarinet to an abysmal low-toned crusade that pumps up the groove deeply. The exciting ride ends in poised suspension.

The modernistic electro-pop touches of “Malaga” are anchored in the danceable rhythm underneath, but the sway of strummed violin, melody-driven piano groove, and the rampant clarinet fierceness, also contribute to the virtuous vibe.

The album draws inspiration from many different genres, and “Daughter And Sun” brings forth expressive folkish melodies in the head, cooking up a cordial crossover jazz. Married to a rhythm that shows optimism, Miller delivers a crisp solo peppered with incisive snare wallops, grooving tom-toms, and cymbal color. “Welcome Hotel” is another eclectic selection that invites us to exotic places with a playful and voluptuous compound of reggae catchiness along with folk and Latin elements. It ends in tango mode with the violin in evidence amidst the horns.

Not contradictory with the stylish genre-bending solution adopted on other pieces, the title track has the unpredictable Melford showing off her vast musical qualities. She slightly latinizes with zest a tune whose foundation rocks and funks with a pinch of electronica innuendo through Sickafoose’s bass lines. It becomes heavily Latin by the end with the horn section bringing on rousing activity.

Under Miller’s direction, the group keeps the music lean, sharp, and on point for a consistent musical confection with plenty of simpatico connections.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Congratulations, Condolences ► 02 - The Ride ► 09 - Glitter Wolf


Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Mark Feldman: violin.

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Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, two of the finest and consummate stylists of the New York avant scene, release a new set of bold music on Time Gone Out, twenty years after their first duo recording, Music for Violin and Piano. By turns literate and kinetic, the duo’s direction is never obvious and every little step feels like a secret unraveled.

Homesick For Another World” highlights the enigmatic tones of Feldman’s violin. The bright melodies become sumptuously contoured but the mood never completely leaves the abstraction, which is reinforced when Courvoisier combs the piano strings and issues smothered staccato sounds. This atmosphere differs from “Eclats For Ornette”, a texturally exuberant piece written by the pianist and whose memorable main statement stays in the head. Clever intersections, whether presented in counterpoint or floating whimsically free, add an extra jolt of energy to an interactive scenario that bridges the classical and the avant-garde genres with erudition.

Limits of the Useful” has an eccentric percussive start with the prepared piano and the erratic violin combining with spectral amplitude and odd timbres to create mystery. The percussive approach continues on “Crytoporticus”, a suitable occasion for Courvoisier to explore the depth and range offered by the piano. More refrained, this number goes from murmurous to dreamy to beautifully lyric in its final part, although with punctual impactful blasts arriving from the lower registers of the keyboard. The way these two musicians speak and breathe the music without ever curbing each other’s actions is phenomenal. Thus, freedom and space are always associated with their bilateral conversations, true sources of emotion.

The dramatic piano comping on the tonally interesting “Blindspot” is brilliant, setting the perfect backdrop for Feldman’s piercing shrills, ascending melodic inflations and glissandos, and ultimately soaring phrasing. Despite the vague reverie, the violin sounds more effulgent than dark, even when distributing waves of austerity here and there.

The central piece on the album is the title track, “Time Gone Out”, a nearly 20-minute chamber creation that you may think of as an offbeat chorale with a streamlined approach and celestial bursts. You’ll find an immersive solo piano passage as well as blossoming violin messages appearing as cerebral modern classical incursions dramatized with interactive commitment. Moreover, there’s a poised compromise between hushed, ruminative moments and dynamic activity.

Offering different dividends with each listening, this album encloses too many treasures to be discovered. The long-standing creative partnership between Courvoisier and Feldman is stronger than ever, taking us to a lot of unexpected places.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Eclats For Ornette ► 04 - Blindspot ► 06 - Crytoporticus


Walt Weiskopf - European Quartet Worldwide

Label: Orenda Records, 2019

Personnel - Walt Weiskopf: tenor saxophone; Carl Winther: piano; Andreas Lang: bass; Anders Mogensen: drums.

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American tenor saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf has been around since the ’80s, the time he started to be noticed after integrating the big band of Buddy Rich and stinting with the pair Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin. Soon, he forged his own path as a leader, recording more than 20 albums alongside distinctive musical personalities that include bassists Jay Anderson and Peter Washington, drummers Jeff Hirshfield and Billy Drummond, and, in occasion, guitarist Peter Bernstein and pianists Renee Rosnes and Brad Mehldau. Since 2003, he has been a constant presence in the rock band Steely Dan.

His second album on the Orenda imprint is called European Quartet Worldwide, the follow up to last year’s European Quartet. The group signals one alteration, with Daniel Franck being replaced by Andreas Lang on the bass, while pianist Carl Winther and drummer Anders Mogensen remain in their positions.

The word worldwide in the title is not misleading since the saxophonist makes reference to countries like Uganda, Brazil, Scotland, Russia and Japan on selected tunes of a 10-track album that includes eight originals along with personal interpretations of esteemed numbers such as Todd Dameron’s ballad “Soultrane” and Quincy Jones’ “The Pawnbrocker”, the main theme of Sidney Lumet’s classic film of the same name. On the latter piece, Weiskopf immerses himself in the melody, only stretching out in the final vamp.

Swinging with fortitude, “Russian Roulette” and “Coat of Arms” come loaded with Coltrane-style figures, whereas “Marcie by Moonlight”, with a groove inspired on the first chord change of “Stella by Starlight”, was conveniently retitled and dedicated to Weiskopf’s wife. During the piano solo, Mogensen insists on a cymbal continuum that feels a bit prosaic, yet the song aligns with softness in the melody and coolness in the harmonization.

With a sensitive and far-reaching approach, “Back in Brazil” exteriorizes a bit of that South American flavor without steeping too much in the bossa tradition, while the saddened “Scottish Folk Song” waltzes at a relaxed tempo, articulating beautiful bass-sax unisons and delivering solos from piano and bass.

The album’s most striking numbers are the leadoff track, “Entebbe”, and its follower, “Back in Japan”. The former embarks on a full-steamed, high-energy post-bop that imagines Uganda in a two-section structure (the A section grooves in seven and the B in five), while the latter, conjuring up evocative images from the Land of the Rising Sun, appears in the form of a post-bop thrill whose Eastern-infused melody connects to that specific culture. Both tunes feature the bandleader, who fuels his improvisations with outside boldness and vigorous timbre, keeping the listener engaged.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Entebbe ► 02 - Back in Japan ► 09 - Scottish Folk Song


Ayumi Ishito - Midnite Cinema

Label: Self Produced, 2019

Personnel – Ayumi Ishito: tenor sax, celesta; Hajime Yoshida: electric and acoustic guitar; Steve Brickman: keyboards, piano, organ, synthesizers; Yoshiki Yamada: electric bass; Carter Bales: drums; Alessandra Levy: vocals.

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Based in Brooklyn since 2010, Ayumi Ishito is a Japanese-born saxophonist/composer whose spunky style consists in a contemporary amalgamation of genres with a profusion of mood changes and predicated in demarcated structures that involve both group texture and individual improvisation. Her sophomore album is called Midnite Cinema and, contrary to her debut trio album, features a supple quintet with guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums.

The first two tracks, “Lost Sheep” and the adventurous “Caterpillars”, follow similar methodologies, shifting time signatures and sharing a common denominator: progressive rock. Still, their passages vary in style, and in the case of the former piece, propelled by a pumping bass, you even get a bit of R&B in the 4/4 section, sax ostinatos over a more commercial hard rock approach, and an openly groovy solo by keyboardist Steve Brickman, who takes us to a psychedelic electro-funk crescendo. He delivers again on the classic metal-tinged “Under the Raff”. The cinematic “Caterpillars” even brings other elements in, like when a brief soft popish moment blows in after an accented, in-your-face rhythmic passage that is no more than a breath away from prog-rock. There’s also a gritty sax solo dipped in effects running on top of a rock-solid vamping that veers into another vamp to feature guitarist Hajime Yoshida and his patterned metal licks. Guest vocalist Alessandra Levy makes an impact, fortifying the obscure choruses suitably arranged by Brickman.

Not Today” is an indie pop song that starts like a lullaby, but gets Ishito’s wah-wah-drenched saxophone speaking expressively in the guise of a guitar. If simplicity is the word that better fits here, then “Clown Ride” feels like a kitsch cocktail of genres where everything is taken to the extreme with soft pop/rock, slippery American marching extravagances, bolero sumptuosity, and avant-garde pompousness.

Even a bit too strained sometimes, compensation arrives from “Antler Velvet”, which boasts a jazzy atmosphere in tones of ballad along with a fancy crawling beat, and “Eight Steps”, a wider step into the free/avant jazz universe where enthusiastic galloping runs contrast with darker sounds. At this point, Ishito maximizes timbral work and evokes Coltrane, while a toxic guitar noise gradually infiltrates, shoving its way toward the final.

Conceived with a mix of sly wit and calculated naivety, Midnite Cinema is rigorous fusion with uncountable transitions and some peremptory unexpected turns.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Not Today ► 04 - Eight Steps ► 06 - Antler Velvet


Brandee Younger - Soul Awakening

Label: Self Produced, 2019

Personnel – Brandee Younger: harp; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Chelsea Baratz: tenor saxophone; Stacy Dillard: soprano saxophone; Antoine Roney: tenor saxophone; Sean Jones: trumpet; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; Corey Wilcox: trombone; Nicole Camacho: flute; Niia: vocals; Dezron Douglas: bass; E.J. Strickland: drums; Chris Beck: drums.

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Harpist Brandee Younger and her cohorts find a perfect balance in the repertoire that composes Soul Awakening, her fourth album as a leader, which was completed in 2013 but only now sees the light of the day. The lineup includes longtime collaborators such as saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Chelsea Baratz, drummer E.J. Strickland, and bassist Dezron Douglas, who produced the album. Additionally, there’s a bunch of special guests assisting the spiritual perspective of the bandleader’s music, always conducted with the intent to inspire.

The album astounds in its overture with Douglas-penned “Soulris”, a spiritual modal journey founded on a formidable bass/drums groove (the drummer here is Chris Beck) and suffused with those positive vibes associated with John and Alice Coltrane. Their son, Ravi Coltrane, is the tenorist here, blowing some well-timed outside notes that take us over the moon. His ardent post-bop influence is noticeable again on Younger’s “Loves Prayer”, a triple-metered exercise reflecting balladic tendencies and delivered at a medium tempo. Even in chilled out mode, the bandleader continues the excellent comping work, elongating the already sumptuous and sometimes wriggling sheets of sound.

Linda Lee”, whose title refers to Younger's mother, navigates in breezy modes, underlined by a smooth funk that seeks extra color in the interplay between Baratz and guest trumpeter Freddie Hendrix.

The colorful “Respected Destroyer” was many times included in the repertoire of New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels. Following the modest beauty of Younger’s harp, we find Baratz sharp articulations on tenor, and then the crisp, clear tone and range of trumpeter Sean Jones. Everything takes place under Strickland’s hip-hop-flavored groove.

Harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane are paid tribute with renditions of their own pieces, “Games” and “Blue Nile”, respectively. The former is a sultry R&B piece with bluesy and Latin insinuations, whereas the latter finishes the program in modal jazz fashion with tenor man Antoine Roney maneuvering in the foreground.

Vocalist Niia interprets Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children” with a mix of cool intonation and soulful profundity. Depositing hopes in a better world, Younger included this tune as a homage to saxophone player Jimmy Greene’s late daughter, victimized in the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut. Expect deep, grooving electric bass lines, dreamy and crystalline harp moves, and an apt pulse with valid drum fills. At odds with this mood, the title track unrolls with uncompromising freedom. The bandleader designates Baratz, Dillard, and flutist Nicole Camacho as melodic colorists as she squeezes out a striking harmonization.

Brandee Younger puts her own stamp on these compositions and magical moments, going from inward to the vastness of space, are instantly tracked down. What the heck kept this splendid work on the shelf for so many years?

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Soulris ► 02 - Linda Lee ► 04 - Respected Destroyer


Patrick Cornelius - This Should Be Fun

Label: Posi-Tone Records, 2019

Personnel - Patrick Cornelius: alto saxophone; Nick Vayenas: trombone; John Escreet: piano; Ben Allison: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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New York alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius surrounds himself of great musicians for his second Posi-Tone album This Should Be Fun, a competent and feel-good exhilaration replete of timeless rhythms and burning jazz moments.

By entrusting the rhythm section to luxurious artists such as pianist John Escreet, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Mark Ferber, Cornelius could feel at ease. On selected tracks, he teams up with trombonist Nick Vayenas in the frontline, a recurrent collaborator. The latter contributed the only number on the recording that Cornelius didn’t pen: “Dissolution”, a well-measured middle-tempo reflection. However, his effortless melodic work gains a wider dimension on tunes such as “Telescope”, a stimulating 6/8 offering with straightforward parallel motions and perfectly synchronized rhythmic actions, and “Leaving Paradise”, a breezy song with a pronounced bossanova feel, where the bandleader and Escreet also stand out. Saxophonist and pianist find the spotlight again on the clear post-bop waters of the opening piece, “Big Pictures”, where they embark on resolute elocutions and shape spiraling circles, respectively.

Generous concentrations of joy and exuberance are offered on four of the album’s ten pieces: the title track is a hot bluesy churner rooted in the early jazz tradition; “Restless Willow” displays a lively piano figure upfront, combining ingratiating Latin vibes with typical jazz standard progressions that almost make “I’ll Remember April” relive; “Like Kenny” boasts a soulful melodicism and substantial harmonic color; and “One Shy of a Dozen”, a lightning fast 12-bar blues ridden with energy and shook by Escreet’s deliciously twisty details. Everything is laid bare with quick-moving vitality and enormous respect for the past, yet two ballads counterbalance this prevailing cheerful mood: “Precious Souls”, a rubato sax-bass duet, and a tuneful closing story, “For Morgan”.

Advocating arrangements that are both efficacious and uncomplicated, Cornelius makes use of his tunes to emit great vibrations. Most of the support will likely come from straight-ahead jazz circles, but everyone looking for honest true jazz should find something fun here.

Grade B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Leaving Paradise ► 05 - Telescope ► 09 - Restless Willow


Matt Mitchell - Phalanx Ambassadors

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel – Matt Mitchell: piano, mellotron, Prophet 6 synthesizer; Miles Okazaki: guitar; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone, marimba; Kim Cass: bass; Kate Gentile: drums.

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Visionary keyboardist Matt Mitchell has been contributing extensively to make our modern jazz times richer. In order to tackle seven demanding compositions that relate to one another in very peculiar ways, he gathered the horn-less quintet Phalanx Ambassadors, which includes guitarist Miles Okazaki, vibraphonist/marimbist Patricia Brennan, bassist Kim Cass, and drummer Kate Gentile. These intrepid musicians had to possess exceptional qualifications to deal with such a rigorous structure and instrumentation, including advanced reading skills. Sharing the same taste for innovation, bassist and drummer had been gigging with the pianist as Phalanx Trio, and joining forces in the Mitchell/Gentile co-led project called Snark Horse.

A perpetual vehemence enwraps “Stretch Goal”, which begins with the drummer stressing urgency while a certain mystery arises from the complementary instrumentation produced in the lower registers. Cass puts a lot of energy in his soloing effort, while Mitchell swings in his very own way, blending wild patterns and multi-shaped phrases with an impeccable articulation. Brennan and Okazaki also bring their special sounds to light, culminating a sequence of improvisations that comes in reverse order from what is normally expected.

Whereas “Taut Pry” is relentlessly polyrhythmic, “Zoom Romp” is daring, tossing ideas around a rhythmic core that relies on some rock musculature and M-base attitude. Both pieces last less than two minutes, unfolding like a diagrammatic juxtaposition of odd patterns, and their tonal approach differs from “ssgg”, a spacious, chilled-out sort of soundtrack suitable for an abstract, surrealistic tale with accomplished integration of acoustic guitar, piano, vibes, and well-measured bass notes. On her part, Gentile implants extra rhythm in the sonic frame, employing rattling sounds, cymbal color, and sharp resonant sounds as produced by a woodblock.

Almost comparable with a restless mind unable to stop thinking in circles, “Be Irreparable” seems to be struggling to settle down. The haunting textures, usually vague and soft but having a rocking propulsion navigating underneath, are symptomatic of both unsubstantial and worldly natures. Also gaining rock expansion, “Mind Aortal Cicatrix” delivers fancy cinematic orchestrations, forging thrilling polychromatic pathways with marimba and mellotron in the mix. Shifting tempos and moods are frequent practices and the group addresses the transitions with refinement. This is the kind of composition that puts on display striking individualism coupled with rhythmically solid ensemble playing.

The nearly 16-minute “Phasic Haze Ramps” brings a mix of swirling psychedelia, sophistication, and elaboration. An optimistic utopia built with ostinatos and other odd-riffing expressions skimming over routine curved surfaces. The improvised timeframes never feel mechanical, but they're rather graspable in the sense that we feel that humans are playing it. It all ends mischievously and without a warning.

Prone to polyrhythm and unconventional textural work, Mitchell thinks out of the box with his music sounding accordingly. You may allege this is all very challenging and often dense, but let’s face the facts: is it not sufficiently creative to make you plunge headfirst into its insoluble aural puzzles?

Grade A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Stretch Goal ► 04 - Phasic Haze Ramps ► 07 - Mind Aortal Cicatrix


Matt Slocum - Sanctuary

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Gerald Clayton: piano; Larry Grenadier: double bass; Matt Slocum: drums.

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Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-raised, New Jersey-based drummer Matt Slocum favors a low-key style that, seeming bashful at times, it’s far from being uncommunicative. His solid chops and thoughtful markings are always conducted in aid of the collective, often bringing out the best on his bandmates, which, in the present case, is the old pal and frequent associate, pianist Gerald Clayton, and ingenious bassist Larry Grenadier, who records for the very first time with the drummer.

The 10-track Sanctuary marks his fifth release as a leader and features all original compositions, except “Romulus”, a song composed by multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens, where the mellifluous brushwork maintains the pressure low. Originally a 3/4 indie pop song with a dash of folk, this piece brings forth a magnetic, melody-centered bass statement before a waltzing pulsation takes place. It will later veer into a temperate snare-driven 4/4 spell whose lightly groovy effect impels Clayton to improvise with extraordinary pronunciation. The initial valse is then resumed with the trio at its lyrical best, having Grenadier delineating another euphonious statement at the conclusion.

Resulting from a reharmonization of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You”, “Consolidation Prize” begins as a rhythmically loose post-bop ride, departing definitely to an uptempo swinging flow that is later disrupted by a bouncing bass solo. The bandleader corroborates his temperate activity by phrasing with nuanced sensitivity. Influences of the past are visible on this tune, whose harmonically richness is akin to Bill Evans and Alan Broadbent.

The Chopin-inspired “Aspen Island” boasts utterly romantic moments in its feathery narrative, but not without some sadness hidden in-between the lines. If swaths of composure, self-control, and pathos can be found a bit everywhere, both “A Dissolving Alliance” and “Sanctuary” take them further. While the former advocates sparse, pensive, and lugubrious rumination with the tension stemming from bowed bass and influent chord extensions, the latter is deliberately musing in tone.

Contradicting this mood is “Days of Peace”, where we find the trio crafting a smooth harmonic path, whose velvety textures cause the improvisers to stretch out with joy and optimism. Slocum and Grenadier trade bars, showing a remarkable, intimate rapport if we consider that this session was recorded after one single rehearsal. “Anselmo” closes out the album with an ambitious spirit, disseminating vitality through the bass/drums linkage. Named after a key character in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, this piece is pretty active, yet never frantic or particularly tense.

Leaning on cogitation, this generous album unpacks the kind of infatuation that grows with multiple listenings, providing us with a rich territory to explore.

Grade B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Romulus ► 02 - Consolidation Prize ► 08 – Anselmo


Brian Krock - Liddle

Label: Outside in Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A-

Grade A-

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