Olli Hirvonen - Displace

Label: Ropeadope Records, 2019

Personnel - Olli Hirvonen: guitar; Luke Marantz: piano; Marty Kenney: bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.

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Up-and-coming Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen is conquering his own space in the modern fusion sphere. Based in Brooklyn, he has been a valuable sideman in Brian Krock’s successful projects, Big Heart Machine and Liddle. This year, he is releasing Displace, his third album as a leader and his debut on Ropeadope Records. With rich ideas sprouting from his unreserved musical mind, he brilliantly consolidates distinct genres into his original compositions, played with partners he knows well. Indeed, pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell had all contributed to the guitarist’s previous recording, New Helsinki (Edition Records, 2017).

The assorted repertoire is attractive and “No Light”, the CD's opener, shows right away what the group is capable of. Thunderous piano convulsions announce a swaggering entrance in the post-rock and prog-rock realms. Hirvonen employs crystalline harmonics with the finest of tastes and then discourses with incontestable jazz authority, notwithstanding the fact of being pinched by an ingrained rock stimulus. The stellar comping offered by Marantz can be fully savored before he throws in tantalizing improvised lines with clarity and agility.

Following this big impression, the title cut is a prog-rock stunner in seven, exhibiting two different layers of chords for a polyrhythmic effect. Sagacity is found in Ellman-Bell’s beat displacements, and the intricate distorted melodicism makes you constantly immersed in the music. During his improvisation, Hirvonen brews metal licks with tension and drama, while Marantz starts in a prudent way, building up muscle as his speech develops. The final quarter brings an effusive drumming flux with gorgeous accents, patterns, and fills to center stage, with slabs of noise enshrouding them.

The immutable “Size Constancy” and “Tactile” make sympathetic observations. The former, an art rock-meets-bluesy jazz song ruled by a 6/8 tempo, is prone to unisons and ostinatos, whereas the latter, inspired by Dave Holland’s writing, delves into a perfectly danceable funk rock delivered with an electronic vibe and armed with a piping hot, Zappa-inspired guitar solo.

Faction” lodges complex unison melodies, which navigate jazzy harmonies before guitar and piano start a passionate dialogue. Individual statements are also of note.

On practically every tune, the band knows how to chill out through quieter passages, preventing the atmospheres from getting too dense. Yet, the closing piece, “Unravel”, offers something different, boasting an indie country-pop airiness from tip to toe and having the skilled acoustic fingerpicking disseminating luminous rays of hope.

Hirvonen conceives a gripping and somewhat intriguing record that it is just so fun to listen to. If you hadn’t heard his name yet, you will!

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - No Light ► 02 - Displace ► 07 - Unravel


Steve Lehman Trio with Craig Taborn - The People I Love

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drum set.

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Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman is considered one of the most authoritative figures and highest exponents of modern jazz. However, not willing to settle down in that designation, he keeps ceaselessly looking for new ways to expand creativity. For his latest recording, he has invited the tremendous pianist Craig Taborn to join his remarkable rhythm section composed of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid. Allowing you to experience more resplendence than darkness, The People I Love also serves to celebrate the 10-year existence of the original trio.

The jarring melodies and polyrhythmic feel of “Prelude”, a shortly improvised sax-piano duet, lead us to the febrile drama of “Ih Calam And Ynnus”, a sensory catharsis where Lehman’s cutting-edge language stridently hits the propulsive navigation of piano, bass, and drums. Besides guaranteeing a quirky chordal thrust, Taborn shows off unhesitant reflexes at the time he starts improvising. Right after his massive flights, the forward-thinking pianist dispenses clever accompaniment for Brewer, who, after deliberating with confidence, unites his voice to the saxophonist’s.

The disconcerting additive meter of “Curse Fraction”, a tune first recorded in 2007, may be disorienting for the listener, but the soloists - Lehman and Taborn - bring their A-games while feeling completely at home, curiously opting for distinct modes of expression in order to describe similar viewpoints. In this case, the solicitous posture and counterintuitive volubility of the saxophonist deviates from the gallant mannerisms of the pianist.

If Dialect Fluorescent, the trio's first studio album released six years ago, included fresh readings of interesting tunes coming from a variety of sources - from Coltrane to Jackie McLean to Duke Pearson, then The People I Love follows the same concept, collecting a broader variety of genres and moods. The offerings include Autechre’s “qPlay”, which preserves the dark/light intermittence as well as the breakbeat-infused vibes; Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design”, a strenuous, piano-less exercise retrieved unedited from a rehearsal tape in which Lehman shouts parables over Reid’s responsive, hip-hop-flavored drum flow; Jeff Tain Watts’s “The Impaler”, which is coupled with Lehman’s “Echoes” (taken from the octet album Travail Transformation and Flow) and loaded with a fresh nu-bop energy; and the accessible “Chance”, a 3/4 piece by pianist Kenny Kirkland, whose startling beauty is the product of the combination of melodious sax contours, shimmering brushwork, and just the right number of rooted bass notes not to lose the desired ambiguity.

Beyond All Limits” is another Lehman composition included in a former octet album (Mise En Abime) and subjected to a sensational arrangement for the current format. Brewer cooks up a lovely preface before putting in motion an Afro-centric dance that later modulates in a breezier rhythmic flux. Already with the impeccable harmonic work from the pianist coloring the scene, Lehman exhibits some of the qualities that define him as a peerless improviser. Discoursing with fire, he resolves his phrases with caustic notes, leaving a sensation of both excitement and suspension in the air. Taborn’s phenomenal sweeps and punctual flurries are strictly cooperative in bringing the quartet to its best. Laughs are heard at the end.

This keen-witted jazz professed with ferocity and abandon is something you can’t afford to miss.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Ih Calam And Ynnus ► 03 - Curse Fraction ► 07 - Beyond All Limits


Sam Gill's Coursed Waters - Many Altered Returns

Label: Earshift Music, 2019

Personnel - Sam Gill: alto saxophone; Novak Manojlovic: piano; Jacques Emery: bass; James McLean: drums.

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Sydney-based alto saxophonist/composer Sam Gill boasts the typical nerve that characterizes adherents of avant-garde jazz and new music. His Coursed Waters quartet, a Sydney/Melbourne collaboration featuring Novak Manojlovic on piano, Jacques Emery on bass, and James McLean on drums, play six Gill’s original compositions structured in such a way that spontaneous creativity is encouraged. Many Altered Returns is the quartet’s first recording and its explorative homogeneity makes pretty hard for us to pick a favorite track.

However, I can point out two related pieces that quickly got my attention: “Fortean Nights” and “Fortean Days”. Any type of phenomena was found in them, but the ‘Nights’ version is a searching, darker exertion with piano in the foreground and uncanny mallet drumming conducive to a more serious and stern expression. After some leisure rambles punctuated with bursts of intensity, a puzzling silence pulls the band into a different direction. Concerning its concluding phase, you can imagine a more muscled version of an Esbjorn Svenson’s groove, climaxing in a fluid stream in nine with shifting piano chords and well-rooted bass notes. On the ‘Days’ version, Gill steps forward, freeing up unorthodox phrases packed with Dolphy-esque intervals. He explores outside conventional bounds, making his alto upsurges gain further impact in the presence of Manojlovic’s inventive piano tapestries.

Although containing identifiable composed parts, the music feels like totally invented on the spot. The opener, “Nodap”, hinges some complexity in its variations and brings to my mind the nonconformism of players like Tim Berne and Loren Stillman. The saxophone joins the resilient pianism eked out with arpeggiated delights and brisk patterns, and both paint a story over a rhythmic template set out by jittery drum attacks and renewed bass rounds. An engrossing enigmatic passage is then activated, emerging with sparse, ominous bowed bass, saxophone impulsive shouts delivered with timbral variety, snare drum eruptions, and controlled piano whirls with some loose fragmented ideas thrown in the mix. The interaction turns out conversational as the tune advances.

As you may have guessed by now, melody is not a priority on this recording, but there’s moments of less friction in favor of more cerebral textures such as offered on “Staring Straight” and “The Turn”. The subtly shaded tones of the latter can be classified as anticlimactic, yet, both McLean’s lyrical brushstrokes with occasional cymbal legato and Emery’s bass oscillations between groundedness and motion, make it tensile.

Not exceeding expectations but not disappointing either, these six dense narrations rely heavily on atmosphere, championing ambiguity as the quartet probes labyrinthine paths with a positive attitude.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Turn ► 03 - Fortean Nights ► 05 - Fortean Days


Andrew Munsey - High Tide

Label: Birdwatcher Records, 2019

Personnel - Ochion Jewell: tenor saxophone, kalimba; Steph Richards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Amino Belyamani: piano, Fender Rhodes; Sam Minaie: double bass; Andrew Munsey: drums.

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Besides being an adherent of modern drumming and a skilled producer, Andrew Munsey emerges here as an interesting composer. The 10 cuts of his debut album, High Tide, denote both remarkable individuality and strong personality. To undertake this effort, Munsey surrounds himself with assertive peers who didn’t really have to test his mettle since he was in command all the time. Pairing up with bassist Sam Minaie and pianist Amino Belyamani, the drummer establishes a resilient, multi-dimensional substratum that can be compared to a canvas where the two-horn frontline, composed of trumpeter Steph Richards and saxophonist Ochion Jewell, probes fresh jazz idioms by drawing lines that agree and diverge.

The tonal vernacular of the horn section emerges distinctively on “Seedling” after a brief bass solo. Whereas Jewell’s disarming phrases arrive with an articulation and timbre that remind me of Ellery Eskelin's, Richards takes her explorations of sound to a stunning peak. This demonstration occurs on top of the dark-hued rock baseline that kept progressing with scintillating snare-drum rolls at the lower level.

The lucent instrumentation of “Requite” made me contemplate an imaginary crossing between Ralph Alessi and Manu Katché. The bandleader expands his language in a final vamp that swells to a crescendo. His knack for hiding the time through irregular or displaced beats confers an odd gravity to the music and that's particularly evident on the title track, whose erratic bass drum kicks eschew routine while preparing the terrain for the parallel movements and brief polyphony offered by the horn players as well as Belyamani’s solo. The pianist’s work is eminent on the contemporary rendition of “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento”, the sixth movement of Igor Stravinsky’s 1921 piano composition of the same name. It is the sole cover on the album.

This classical erudition is passed to the transitory “Prelude: Tree Fruit”, which goes directly into “Skyline”, a piece where the bowed bass fortifies the theme’s unison melody, and the mercurial lines thrown in by sax and trumpet swarm into the textural net. While listening to it closely, I glimpsed something of Dave Douglas quintet, both in sound aesthetics and structure.

Inventive and free-form shorter pieces are intercalated with the core compositions, and their surprise factor actually works! “Petite Feast” has Rhodes, muted trumpet, and protean saxophone immersed in surging exclamations and walloping interplay; “Driftwood” features Munsey's sophisticated mallet work, contrasting with the ethereal temperament of Jewell’s kalimba and Richards’ breath attacks and moans; “Undertow” incorporates buzzing and droning sounds, but ends up in an extravagant collective groove motivated by clattering, marching snare inflections; and “Schema”, a static, woody, percussive exercise with prepared piano.

Counterbalancing rigor and freedom, Munsey's music articulates and morphs through the fluid synergy created by the musicians involved. This is a valid first appearance as a leader, and its qualities make us look forward to more.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Seedling ► 05 - Requite ► 10 - Skyline


Yimba Rudo - Yimba Rudo

Label: Self released, 2019

Personnel - Kevin Norton: vibraphone, percussion; Steve LaSpina: double bass; Jim Pugliese: drums, percussion.

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Yimba Rudo, an avant-jazz trio influenced by African rhythms and world music is composed of vibraphonist Kevin Norton, bassist Steve LaSpina, and drummer Jim Pugliese. These shakeups create a rhythmic tapestry that folds and unfolds according to their own decree. Their debut self-titled album embraces uncharted interactions and show their aptitude for freewheeling improvisation while keeping it within logic structural boundaries. All three members brought compositions to the 13-track Yimba Rudo, which means ‘sing love’ in Zimbabwe’s Shona language.

Norton’s warm vibes scamper through the opener, “Reconcile the Classical View”, and land on top of a bass groove in six and an unentangled snare drum work activated by brushes. The flow then breaks off to grant LaSpina his individual space, with Norton picking up the groove that once belonged to the bassist. Finally, it's Pugliese who cautiously exposes his self-thoughts.

Toronto” insinuates a busy, free ride through frantic vibraphone deliberations, but that doesn’t really happen. Instead, passages exploring timbre and space interweave with the gorgeously accented lines of the theme, expressed in the elated vein of Bobby Hutcherson. This is where the collective becomes more significant than any personal signature.

Cymbal sizzles introduce “Moonstruck”, a twitchy exercise that, although rambling free, involves that sensation of swing along with unbridled intensity.

LaSpina is pretty active with the arco on pieces where the atmosphere requires a deeper, more reserved sound, cases of “Winter Retreat”, a melodious reflection populated with metallic rattles and vibraphone ostinatos; “The Faustian Bargain”, which is adorned by cymbal variety; and “Treace”, whose initially plaintive cogitations veer into the more enthusiastic interplay.

Pugliese’s nifty number called “Morph” commingles singable melodic ideas and rhythmic focus, whereas the conversational “I Dig Facts, Man”, a Norton original, is buoyed by sharp unisons and synced rhythmic details. The mutations and improvisational flair compel the listener to stay alert throughout.

The trio wraps the session with another Norton composition: “Walking The Dogma”, whose interactive jolt consists in a sturdy bass pedal, luminous ride cymbal guidance, and a lilting, slightly bluesy vibe that enchants.

The musicians are in permanent control of the surfaces they kept playing on, and if rhythm and pulse are central to their attractive fluidity, then melodic development it’s like the cherry on top.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Toronto ► 12 - I Dig Facts, Man ► 13 - Walking The Dogma


Jeff Williams - Bloom

Label: Whirlwind Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Carmen Staaf: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

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The empathic, racehorse-tempo swing displayed on “Scattershot”, the improvised opening track on Jeff Willaims’ new trio effort Bloom, reveals the unobtrusive cooperation between the drummer, the defiant bassist Michael Formanek, an old acquaintance, and the imaginative pianist Carmen Staaf. Free of restrictions, the latter channels bop-inflected melodies, rhythmic figures, and grooving chords into the consistent pulsating flow that stems from the bass-drums underpinning. Her vivacious expressions caught the ears of the drummer when, early last year, she joined Dan Blake & The Digging for a gig at Smalls in New York.

Williams wrote five of the album’s ten tracks, including “Scrunge/Search Me”, which reemerges as a highlight here despite having been featured in the 2013 album The Listener. The piece thrives with Staaf’s Monk-ish impressions over a lilting 7/8 groove before transitioning to a carefree peregrination, which, for some moments, seems ambivalent in regard to which direction to take. Also retrieved from the aforementioned album and dialoguing with a freer posture, “She Can’t Be a Spy” deserves attention as melodies and rhythms walk a delicate tightrope of paradoxes. This last piece also appeared on the album Another Time, whose title cut is reinterpreted here with average results. With that said, keep in mind that the trio approached this material as if it’s never been played before.

Formanek and Staaf contribute two and three compositions, respectively. The bassist brings his uncompromising lyricism and rubato drive to the mesmeric “Ballad of the Weak” as well as a focused swinging drive to “A Word Edgewise”, while Staaf, effortlessly creative in terms of rhythmic figures, relates to Ahmad Jamal's bluesy diction on pieces such as “Short Tune” and “New York Landing”. On the contrary, her featherweight “Chant” blossoms with Yusef Lateef’s spiritual touch, relying on bowed bass, cymbal radiance, and poised melodic meditation to exude peace and hope.

Also evincing a strong spiritual aura is Buster Williams’ “Air Dancing”, a medium-tempo waltz delineated to provide a revitalizing quietening.

With Bloom, Williams doesn’t match the uplifting narratives of his previous CD, Lifelike. However, and even not impressing me much, the album is brightened by balanced moments and communicative openness.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Scrunge/Search Me ► 07 - She Can’t Be a Spy ► 08 - Air Dancing


Chase Baird - A Life Between

Label: Soundsabound Records, 2019

Personnel - Chase Baird: tenor saxophone; Brad Mehldau: piano; Nir Felder: guitar; Dan Chmielinski: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.

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Rising saxophonist David ‘Chase’ Baird, a recent member of Antonio Sanchez’s Migration, surrounds himself with jazz heavyweights for his sophomore full-length release, A Life Between. Its tantalizing offerings won’t disappoint those who look for diversity in jazz, and in truth, the eight tunes that compose this album lean on post-bop, but incorporate several influences that range from athletic rock to lovely classical. Thus, expect a combination of rough edges and sophisticated roundness.

Ripcord” causes some positive disturbance through the Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock power chords that resonates in the first place. Guitarist Nir Felder was the responsible for that, after which he puts his instrument on hold, returning in full force for the brawny final vamp. In the meantime, we have the bandleader and pianist Brad Mehldau speaking confidently on top of a smooth, polished atmosphere. Exhibiting an authoritative command of the saxophone, Baird puts on show a cavalcade of coherent notes assembled with the force of a tornado, finding an essential harmonic-melodic foil in the emotional pianism of Mehldau. The latter fundaments his thoughts with classy ideas, shaping and adapting his playing to the nature of each piece. He provides the perfect romantic atmosphere and palpable silkiness to Robert Schumann’s hymn “Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai”, whose original classical score Baird simply handed to the band.

Rave-up dynamics suffused with brisk melodies and hair-trigger solos can be found on “Reactor”, a 7/4 patchwork that weaves together post-bop, M-base, indie pop, and funk elements. Besides Baird, who grooves under the roiling funk imposed by the rhythm section, also Felder comes to the forefront. Eschewing any preconception related to style, the guitarist enriches his playing with gorgeous effects and favorable surprises, having the syncopated propulsion of Antonio Sanchez as a stimulating factor.

A different, yet still very valid penchant for groove is perceptible on “Wait and See”, an uptempo blues-based piece marked by a hard-boppish refrain. It starts off with Baird’s Coltrane-fueled instincts delivered with timbral variety and with just drums underpinning his agile moves. A steadfast swinging pulse calls for Felder, whose well-developed language congregates appealing rhythmic ideas and quirky chords. The improvisational partitions are extinguished after Dan Chmielinski’s sprightly bass solo.

The group steps into more introverted territory with “As You Are”, a gentle waltz soaked in sax-guitar unisons, and the title track, a soulful 4/4 narration drenched in vulnerability and fervor. “In The Wake (of Urban Overdrive)” acquires dreamy tones with the echoing reverb-drenched guitar melodies and gives the soloists - Baird and Felder - another opportunity to speak up with impressive eloquence.

This serious, exciting jazz deserves attention.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ripcord ► 03 - Reactor ► 05 - Wait and See


Jonathon Crompton - Intuit

Label: New Lab Records, 2019

Personnel - Jonathon Crompton: alto saxophone; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; Patrick Breiner: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Patrick Booth: tenor saxophone; Adam Hopkins: bass; Kate Gentile: drums

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The sound of the saxophone always hypnotized me. All the possible attacks and timbres can make it powerful and aggressive on one hand and sleek and sweet on the other. Australian-born saxophonist Jonathon Crompton knows all this and explores the particularities of the instrument, coordinating polyphonies and contrapuntal movements within defined frameworks for an attractive chamber storytelling.

The eight tunes that comprise Intuit, the first release on his own label New Lab Records, were subjected to glowing arrangements, providing an absorbing set of music that, according to its author, skims over style connotations. However, his approach naturally reflects some influences: from the colorful post-bop of Joe Lovano to the clever mainstream of Paul Desmond, as well as classical practices, with Philip Glass and John Harle coming to my head in the first instance, all contribute to an up-to-date sound and texture.

All the material was written before Crompton’s arrival in the US in 2013, except for the title track, a collective free improvisation where the bandleader, Ingrid Laubrock, and Patrick Breiner overlap percussive popping sounds, methodic throaty ostinatos, short rapid runs, and cacophonous squeaks and moans, with unfettered abandon. Initially functioning without accompaniment, the three saxes welcome bass and drums to develop an interesting synergy, even with the impetus declining toward the ending.

Radiating a strong classical glow, “Courage” is an ad-libbed troubadour-like song, nicely arranged to provide a smooth and velvety touch at the surface. This piece is not isolated as a reeds-only composition. In the same category, we have “Primacy of Gesture”, “Catherine”, in which the sax voices echo grandiosely in the vastness, and “December”. They all disclose sequences of notes that loom larger as they unfold through well-studied movements and curious passages defined by unisons and polyphonic settlement. After all, this is all about the rhythmic precision and timbral contrast of the horn section.

The introductory soft focus of “Apathy” has to do with the momentary silences and pauses that fragmentizes its course. However, and without completely abandoning the thoughtful, sluggish posture that characterizes it, the group puts on view a wonderful orchestration with the bass clarinet in evidence. There’s an uncompromising search for energy as well as an inclination for the adventure, which fully arrives on both “Dreaming” and “Suite in A”. Colored by a distinct atmosphere, the former veers from hushed classical empathy to confident, bright tempo swing to stimulate extemporaneous rides, while the latter blends the traditional and modern jazz canons as a successful encounter between post-bop and avant-jazz. Amidst the cohesive palette of textures there’s room for individual creativity. Thus, after bringing the intensity down, Adam Hopkins’ pounding bass pedal in complicity with Kate Gentile’s subdued yet luxurious drumming encourages the reedists to blow fanciful, exotic phrases.

Crompton is a prime example of a clever arranger who also knows how to engage the attentive listener by staying away from cliché-ridden schemes.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Intuit ► 03 - Apathy ► 07 - Suite in A


Kendrick Scott Oracle - A Wall Becomes a Bridge

Label: Blue Note Records, 2019

Personnel - John Ellis: saxophones, clarinets, flute; Mike Moreno: guitars; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Jahi Sundance: turntables.

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A Wall Becomes a Bridge is the fourth offering from American drummer/composer Kendrick Scott and his working group Oracle. It's a positive sequel to his previous We Are the Drum (2015), also released on the Blue Note Records. Even haunted by fears and insecurities while in the process of writing music for this new effort, Scott was able to put a commendable record together with the help of his bandmates. The album’s title certainly refers to that complicated phase, but also has political connotations, alluding to the drummer's dissatisfaction regarding the presidency of his country.

The album was produced by bassist Derrick Hodge and features a core of extraordinary musicians, including the fascinating guitarist Mike Moreno, Scott’s longer-lasting collaborator, adaptable saxophonist/clarinetist John Ellis, flexible pianist Taylor Eigsti, and rock-solid bassist Joe Sanders. Scott also hired turntablist DJ Jahi Sundance on shorter interlude-like pieces, typically inclusive of syncopated hip-hop treatments, vocal samples, and atmospheric instrumentation as they explore a new genre hybridization. As a result of this particular selection, I picked the chamber-esque “Windows” as a highlight, one of the two pieces co-written with Hodge.

The bandleader’s hypnotic drumming also embodies hip-hop vibes on “The Catalyst”, where Moreno brings forth a sophisticated guitar sound and language that nod to Metheny and Rosenwinkel alike. His instrument also illuminates the soul-stirring “Voices”, which blends the gentle, measured aesthetics of Tomasz Stanko and Tord Gustavsen, but also brings something of Rosenwinkel’s “Zhivago” in the melody and ambiance. This composition was the promptest response to the drummer’s insecurities and, ironically, Scott is all confidence here, firing up formidable drum fills with magnitude and authenticity.

Whether it is the waltzing flow of the Hodge-penned “Don Blue”, the emotionally-charged environment of the Strayhorn-ish ballad “Becoming”, or the enigmatic sound waves caused by the bass clarinet on Aaron Parks’ 7/4 “Nemesis”, the musicians show they’re comfortable and digging every move. Moreover, even the slower tunes flirt with vibrancy.

Eigsti’s “Mocean” is another example of narrative devotion and strong communication as Scott’s pounding bass drum kicks lead the way. The rich solo section features the pianist’s fleet-fingered articulation and Ellis’ expressive fire on the clarinet. The group wraps up with the charming “Archangel”, lustrously portrayed in 3/4 and embraceable of Moreno’s acoustic sounds.

Inviting the listener to his sonic world, Scott deserves kudos for turning the difficulties into a positive outcome.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Mocean ► 04 - Voices ► 11 - Nemesis


Joel Ross - Kingmaker

Label: Blue Note Records, 2019

Personnel - Joel Ross: vibraphone; Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone; Jeremy Corren: piano; Benjamin Tiberio: electric bass; Jeremy Dutton: drums + guest Gretchen Parlato: vocals.

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Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Joel Ross is a young prodigy who assumes a special place in the current vibraphone pantheon, having collaborated as a sideman in projects led by James Francies, Marquis Hill, Makaya McCraven, and Walter Smith III. Revealing an impressive musical maturity at the age of 23, he roses to prominence with Kingmaker, his debut album recently released on the prestigious Blue Note imprint.

Ross penned ten of the 12 compositions on the album, drawing inspiration from people, relationships, and events, and dedicating many of them to members of his family. The title track, written for his mother, is one of the strongest as it spins with a contemporary edge both in harmony and rhythm. Before segueing into a final vamp populated by ostinatos, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins boasts his flexible, angular vocabulary with a captivating tone, conjuring up the fervency of Ornette Coleman and the spirituality of Coltrane. Prior to the cited track (the seventh), he had already demonstrated for several times why he is considered one of the most brilliant young voices in jazz today, and the incredibly soulful opening number, “Touched By An Angel”, serves as another showcase for his improvisational prowess. While his unapologetic inside/outside elasticity stuns at every passage, the breathable bass inflations of Benjamin Tiberio cements marvelously with the downtempo flux of drummer Jeremy Dutton, who keeps impressing with tasteful rhythmic developments as the tune approaches the end. On his side, Ross shines in a quasi-celestial vibraphone intro and fascinating solo, and from then on, with an intelligent comping manufactured with prismatic voicings and rich textures.

Fomenting collective empathy in addition to impromptu bravura, “Prince Lynn’s Twin” and “With Whom Do You Learn Trust” are breezy yet firm post-bop encounters where Wilkins and Ross work very close to each other, whether delivering unisons or alternating bars. They embark on the latter action again on “The Grand Struggle Against Fear”, which is also a showcase for pianist Jeremy Corren’s classical-inflected leisure. On “Yana”, a piece marked by curious propulsive nuances, it’s the pianist's turn to take part in the trade-offs alongside the bandleader.

I was left to ask myself if “Is It Love That Inspires You” could be grounded on a samba rhythm. The wooziness created by the hit and recoil of Ross’ lines is enduring, and Dutton almost reaches that boiling swinging point in the instant he starts discoursing with no limitations. The versatile drummer brought one of his pieces to the album. Titled “Grey”, it finds the quintet probing a different ambiance, leaning on innocuous abstraction and dreamy obscurity before opening the horizons. “Fredas Disposition”, written by Ross with lyrics by Bianca Muñiz, features guest vocalist Gretchen Parlato.

Worshipers of fresh and edgy pulsations, Ross and his co-workers use their skills to stitch together a coherent musical narration that expresses a significant dimension within a proper structure. It’s always encouraging when a young talent starts off his career on the right foot.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Touched By An Angel ► 05 - Is It Love That Inspires You ► 07 - Kingmaker


Rich Halley - Terra Incognita

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2019

Personnel - Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.

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Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley explores new music with a gutsy new quartet on his most recent outing, Terra Incognita. For this experience, he recruits the Matthew Shipp Trio to support him, which, besides the formidable pianist, includes bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

From the bravura call-and-response of the opening track (“Opening”) to the rhythmically loose-limbed conclusion (“The Journey”), erratically expressed with obscure piano voicings and bop accents, one can’t help being engulfed by the album's high concentrations of energy.

Attempting to find common parallels , the quartet creates without bounds, embarking on atonal spiritual quests, fast swinging rallies, and circumspect interactions.They take us to both recondite and familiar places.

Both the bluesy, riffy “Forager” and the febrile “Centripetal” are permeated with Coltranean extrapolations and momentary giddy whinnies that become central in the scrabbling interplay and avant-jazz roaming agreed by the quartet. The latter piece runs at full-pelt, presenting a mightily swinging bass/drums alliance and hectic chordal movements that culminate in striking turmoil. The magnetic finale, outstandingly crisp and tight, shows attentive musicians working with a similar disposition.

Investigative and cautious, “The Elms” has Shipp operating with an oneiric intonation. He shares a furtive melodic sequence with Halley, and makes the temperature drop with piercing notes that sound as big and cool as they are sharp and stimulating. By comparison, the title track, a freewheeling ride, shows the pianist building ad-libbing background through the use of micro-phrase flashing and also corresponding to the saxophone irruptions with instinctive reactions.

Terra Incognita consists of brutally honest music and free jazz surfers will find pretty consistent waves to ride.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Opening ► 03 - Centripetal ► 06 - The Journey


Peter Furlan Project - Between The Lines

Label: Beany Bops, 2019

Personnel - Peter Furlan: tenor and soprano saxophones; Vinnie Cutro: trumpet, flugelhorn; Roger Rosenberg: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andrew Beals: alto saxophone; Erick Storckman: trombone; Neil Alexander: piano, keyboards; David Budway: piano; Saul Rubin: guitar; Peter Brendler: bass; Nadav Snir Zelniker: drums.

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Peter Furlan is an able saxophonist, composer, and arranger whose eclecticism is well patent on this particular project, in which a crew of ten qualified and versatile musicians are at his disposal to play music inspired by the modern literary fiction. Combining energy and perspicuity, Between The Lines dawns with the opulent “A Visit From the Goon Squad”, which exposes a swanky beat, passionate unisons and counter-lines, and a pungent harmonic urge, in a style that is full but never florid. Demonstrating improvisational competences on this first track are guitarist Saul Rubin, trumpeter Vinnie Cutro, whose discourses are marked by a brisk hard-bop agility á-la Kenny Dorham, and keyboardist Neil Alexander.

The program includes a few breezy rides such as “TransAltantic”, whose odd meter doesn’t constitute an obstacle for a poignant soprano incursion with the bass clarinet echoing an ostinato in the back; “Black Hole Blue” (not inspired by any book but a dedication to Furlan’s late father), which saunters with R&B posture over a steady beat; and “White Noise”, whose punchy groove in seven courageously resists the unexceptional melody.

Itchy and playful, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” strides almost like a march, featuring earnest solos from the bandleader on soprano and Erick Storckman on tronbone. Alexander ceases the improvisational timeframe with some kitschy effects that may not go with all personal tastes.

Versatility shows up not only in the form of rhythmic Latin flavors and swing, like on “Underworld”, but also rock groove and elated post-bop on “Foucault’s Pendulum” and “Time’s Arrow”, respectively. The latter piece brings the stoutness of Rosenberg’s baritone to the forefront prior to pianist David Budway draft cool lines with ravishing melody and rhythmic meaning.

The funk-fueled “Watchmen”, a 12-bar blues, is a showcase for drummer Nadav Snir-Zelniker, who fills the gaps left by fragmented unisons, as well as Rosenberg, who sinks down his lines the way it was meant to. Moreover, Furlan pushes his reeds hard on tenor, while Alexander infuses eccentricity.

By jamming exuberant, hard-edged lines into the net of composed and improvised sections, Peter Furlan blends the tradition and the contemporary with structured arrangements. While the individuality gives the project supplemental color, unity is what holds it together. This is a fun album.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - A Visit From the Goon Squad ► 03 - Watchmen ► 10 - Time’s Arrow


Angles 9 - Beyond Us

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Martin Kuchen: alto and tenor saxophones; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Eirik Hegdal: baritone sax; Goran Kajfes: cornet; Mats Aleklint: trombone; Mattias Stahl: vibraphone; Alexander Zethson: piano; Johan Berthling: bass; Andreas Werliin: drums.

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The intrepid Swedish sax player Martin Kuchen reunites his Angles 9 group, a powerful nonet that already proved its value with the previous three Clean Feed recordings. Perhaps a bit less boisterous in the improvisations but definitely more refined in the orchestration, the new Beyond Us, recorded live at the Zomer Jazz FietsTour in The Netherlands, comprises five fresh and dynamic compositions penned by Martin, with Isak and Leo Kuchen giving their contribution to three of them.

The title track is elevated to an epic through its lavish instrumentation and imposing pulsation. A vibrant circular bass groove, in the pocket with the drums, holds everything on its shoulders, impelling vibraphonist Mattias Stahl to embark on a skittering improvisational journey. He has the horn crew bringing the theme’s sumptuous lines in a timely manner before the distinguished sense of individuality from trumpeter Magnus Broo echoes on top of the unfaltering foundation offered by pianist Alexander Zethson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Andreas Werliin.

U(n) Happier Marriages” unveils a jazzier piano inception, with Zethson navigating between the cosmic universe of Sun Ra and the angular exquisiteness of Thelonious Monk. However, the mood that shows up later is more reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (“Moanin” easily comes to mind) and some of Mingus’ orchestral fantasies. The improvisational section includes downward-pitched brass moves from trombonist Mats Aleklint and a round bass soliloquy from Berthling before ending with a bluesy collective mourn fabricated with taste and style.

Sounding more like Grachan Moncur III, the trombonist also makes use of his gruff and blustery timbre on “Samar & The Egyptian Winter”, a haunting piece where Kuchen makes a knockout appearance by discharging skirling laments in the first place. Brass sounds comply with the unaggressive foundation, preceding a sax/bass duo passage that leads to the grooving finale.

Cross-cultural fragrances are in the air with the embracement of further sounds from the Middle East and Africa on the CD’s last two pieces, “Against The Permanent Revolution” and “Mali”. The former struts imperiously like an elegant march with the horn players delivering passionate unisons and Eirik Hegdal strolling his baritone sax with fire, whereas the latter is a brassy elated fantasy introduced by Werliin’s adroit rhythm and complemented with solos of crackling intensity, jubilant percussive passages, and patterned interplay.

This unremittingly colorful program, devotedly explored by a nonet of talented groovers, withstands repeated playing and should be played loud to maximize fun.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Samar & The Egyptian Winter ► 04 - Against The Permanent Revolution ► 05 - Mali


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


Alex Sipiagin - NoFo Skies

Label: Blue Room Music, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B

Grade B

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


Aki Takase Japanic - Thema Prima

Label: Budapest Music Center Records, 2019

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

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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


Kent O'Doherty - Periville

Label: Right Side left Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conceptual and very cinematic indeed, this haunting Periville.

Grade  B

Grade B

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


Evan Parker & Kinetics - Chiasm

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A-

Grade A-

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


In Order To Survive - Live / Shapeshifter

Label: AUM Fidelity, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B

Grade B

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