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


Dave Douglas / Uri Caine / Andrew Cyrille - Devotion

Label: Greenleaf Music, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A-

Grade A-

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


Federico Ughi - Transoceanico

Label: 577 Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B

Grade B

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


Linda May Han Oh - Aventurine

Label: Biophilia Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B+

Grade B+

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


Tom Harrell - Infinity

Label: HighNote Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A

Grade A

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


The OGJB Quartet - Bamako

Label: TUM Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B+

Grade B+

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


Gregg Belisle-Chi - Book Of Hours

Label: ears&eyes Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A-

Grade A-

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


The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - We Are On The Edge

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B+

Grade B+

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