Leo Sherman - Tonewheel

Label: Outside In Music, 2019

Personnel - Paul Jones: tenor saxophone; Alex Goodman: guitar; Ben Winkelman: piano; Leo Sherman: bass; Dan Pugach: drums.

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New York-based bassist/composer Leo Sherman impregnates his debut album, Tonewheel, with diverse, rewarding content that includes catchy themes, stimulating improvised moments, and energy-filled vamps. The album, conceived as a musical self-portrait, reflects his existence from an early childhood until the present day, and describes sensitive phases such as when he and his family had to run away from Leningrad in 1987, his difficult upbringing in Baltimore, as well as his maturation as a musician in New York. He plays the album’s nine originals alongside saxophone sensation Paul Jones, adventurer guitarist Alex Goodman, eclectic pianist Ben Winkelman, and elegant drummer Dan Pugach.

The first track, “In Flight”, unveils the quintet’s graciously toned expressions. Besides soaring melodies, the theme statement also incorporates a suave middle passage shaped with rhythmically defined piano textures, bowed bass-guitar unisons, and saxophone counter lines. The climax arrives when the soloists - Goodman and Jones - play brilliant colors over smart, dynamic accompaniments.

Similar emotions flow from “Chagall”, a piece that revels in the edgier boundaries of modal post-bop, marked by Pugach’s hi-hat alignments and cymbal conspicuity, a progressive guitar work over pliable drums, and a rhythmically daring testimony by Winkelman. Also the title track, which closes out the album with a dramatic, quasi-theatrical feel due to the melodic folk impressions and bolero rhythm, emphasizes the generally amiable atmosphere felt along the way. However, it’s buoyed up by two dynamic head-to-head discourses delivered by Jones and Goodman, who combine pretty well.

The guitarist’s point of entry as well as his burning in-and-out moves feel so great on “The Eclipse”, where the surfaces are slightly dirtied by a rock pulse, sturdy pedals, and sparkling intensity. Before that, the bandleader had already proclaimed his improvisational qualifications, delivering groovy phrases not averse to melody.

Modifying textures by embracing the piano trio format, the quiet “Nocturne” is predominantly classical, with Pugach excelling in the drum fills and other rich details. He also launches the swinging “Holdover”, another trio effort, where he dovetails his active drumming to a vamp that anticipates the final head.

The disarming versatility of Jones needs to be mentioned. You can hear him blowing lines with languorous passivity on the relaxing ballad “Looking Back Again” and emulating darting ins-and-outs from his tenor on “Aqui Me Quedo”, a song by Chilean songwriter Victor Jara. His impromptu instincts and timbral range are more noticeable on the latter tune due to the contrasting colors applied, since the music ripples and throbs within a stylistic magnitude that goes from a medium-slow ballad to an avant-garde sax burst solely supported by drums.

Unmistakably talented, Sherman reveals great potential as a composer and instrumentalist, and his Tonewheel gives a valuable contribution to the current scene.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Eclipse ► 06 - Chagall ► 08 - Aqui Me Quedo


John Yao's Triceratops - How We Do

Label: See Tao Recordings, 2019

Personnel - John Yao: trombone; Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Billy Drewes: soprano and alto saxophones; Peter Brendler: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Following up on the quintet recordings released in 2012 and 2017, trombonist/composer John Yao invests in a three-horn quintet identified by the name Triceratops, a three-horned dinosaur whose puissance symbolizes the force of a piano-less new group featuring saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Billy Drewes, who join Yao in the line of fire, and a solid rhythm team composed of bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Mark Ferber. How We Do comprises eight compositions, seven from Yao and one from Irabagon.

The opener, “Three Parts As One”, is a post-bop burner with a communicative, swinging warmth, to which the horn instrumentalists add considerably. After the saxophonists’ juicy-toned flights, the theme is revisited, officially welcoming the bandleader for his first individual statement. The latter is uttered with joy and filled with fine melodic ideas.

The hooky two-note bass groove laid down by Brendler on “Triceratops Blues” has a contagious effect, guaranteeing harmonic consistency for the theme’s colorful unison lines. In this case, the improvisational stretches belong to Yao, whose sound reveals a dark ripeness, and Ferber, who speaks a comprehensible language all the way.

The title cut, introduced with introspective gloss in a sort of space-time warp, infuses some avant-jazz ambiguity through passages that include vagabond bass moves, a vivid cross-stick beat, and wether distended or fragmented lines. This temperament lasts for approximately two minutes, time when a damn groove in six salute the listener with a touch of Latin and plenty of bluesy lines atop. A reeds-brass dialogue, during which each soloist is attentive to each other’s actions, can be thoroughly enjoyed before Ferber starts trading bars with his bandmates.

Although far from groundbreaking, the pieces are consistently built and I like the way Yao writes. You don’t find wasted notes in the melodies and the environment sustains a mix of contemporary and traditional elements that interweave with clarity of purpose. However, after the elegant progression of the 3/4 “The Golden Hour”, which attempts to capture that time when the sun turns magical, the initial high vibe decays a bit, probably due to the more familiar and rollicking nature of the last tunes.

Doin’ The Thing” has abrupt and brief double time inflections as its principal attraction, while “Two Sides” and Irabagon’s joyful “Tea For T” are hard-swingers converted into buoyant commemorations. Both incorporate tempo variations, with the latter being expedited in its final course and set to a speed-freak pace.

More like a fun session than anything enduring, How We Do easily connects with the listeners by spreading a musical energy that is strong and palpable. Yao is in the right path.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Three Parts As One ► 02 - Triceratops Blues ► 03 - How We Do


Earprint - Easy Listening

Label: Endectomorph Music, 2019

Personnel - Kevin Sun: tenor saxophone; Tree Palmedo: trumpet; Simón Willson: bass; Dor Herskovitz: drums.

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Earprint is a chord-less quartet of talented young voices in the contemporary jazz world, who found a way to make new music by connecting their individual languages and different approaches. The group incorporates a two-horn frontline composed of outgoing saxophonist/clarinetist Kevin Sun and sagacious trumpeter Tree Palmedo, and two rhythmic pillars, namely, Simón Willson on bass and Dor Herskovitz on drums, who provide solid foundations over which the improvisers soar to new heights.

For their second album, Easy Listening, all members contribute compositions, in a total of 11. The communicative methodology is noted throughout a recording that sports captivating improvised excursions and nurtures a groove-oriented temperament.

Palmedo’s “Sink Song” kicks things off with a forward-moving bass groove in five, simple ride cymbal conduction, and colorful parallel movements delineated by the horn players. If Palmedo’s individuality is restrained here to motivic remarks that serve as accompaniment for Sun’s fluid phrases, then he really seems to be singing a song as he takes expressively melodic routes on the playful “Volume”, a Wilson’s creation that gradually embraces a danceable rock abandon. By throwing in searing lines crammed with leaping intervals and dark timbres, Sun demonstrates why he is one of the most promising saxophonists out there. He takes his boldness one step further on the Herskovitz’s “Don’t Look At The Pot”, growling against an odd groove imposed with a mechanical-like motion. Apart from this particular passage, this tune follows a swinging rhythmic thrust that often accommodates bopish melodies atop.

The only somber atmosphere occurs during the intro of the solo-less “Toupée”, where the bowed bass is transformed into pizzicato before a cautious groove in five leads the way. Willson wrote this tune in contrast with the title track, in which his notes manifestly define harmonies associated with the pop/rock song format.

The drummer’s “Big Bear” distills Ornette-like melodicism across an inspired rock catchiness. The horn players combine smart hooks before an unexpected finale around kinetic drums, which gives Herskovitz a chance to amplify his usually unaggressive posture. In a totally different scenario, he lays down a cool Latin rhythm that works with talkative bass lines on Sun’s “Gallimaufry”. Before that, muted trumpet and clarinet had initiated the journey by dancing with freedom.

Also Sun-penned, “Suchness” was devised like a two-cycle funk rock engine that spins with hasty classical-like lines in phase. The combination is successful, but due to the tune’s short duration, you may feel a sensation of underdevelopment.

These four young colorists are among an exciting new crop of jazz talents, being as much musical strategists as they are ear-openers. This record is something you should try out.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Volume ► 04 - Don’t Look At The Pot ► 05 - Gallimaufry


Petros Klampanis - Irrationalities

Label: Yellowbird Records, 2019

Personnel - Kristjan Randalu: piano; Petros Klampanis: bass; Bodek Janke: drums, percussion.

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The fact that Greek bassist/composer Petros Klampanis splits his time between two continents, having one foot in his native Greece and the other in the vibrant New York, clearly reflects in the music of Irrationalities, his first trio album. Here, his musical ideas are supported by Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu and the classically trained Polish drummer Bodek Janke, two kindred spirits and frequent associates whose rapport allows for a full functioning trio with a wide collectivist perception of Klampanis' music. According to the bassist, Irrationalities is inspired by the courage one must have in order to constantly reinvent themselves.

Sympathetically laying out the trio’s strengths, “Easy Come And Go” opens the record like a sumptuous dance choreographed with refined taste and appetency for groove. While Janke’s soft percussive touch reinforces the idea of world music, there are fluid unison phrases, chromatic shifts that leaves traces of Eastern aromas in the air, pedal-like sections that easily transit to unexpected rhythmic accents, and a commanding solo by the bassist, who is as comfortable taking the lead as he is sustaining structure in the background.

Cultural heritage is also found on “Seeing You Behind My Eyes”, whose deceptive Motian-esque bareness, expressed in 7/8 with soft-spoken intimacy, evolves into something busier without losing essence. If this composition embraces Greece’s typical kalamatiano rhythm, then the standard “Blame It On My Youth” is transformed through a Bulgarian kopanitsa rhythm of 11/8. Besides the unhurried yet expressive lyricism with vestiges of melancholy that defines the piece, the arrangement includes a nice intro with polite brushwork, hushed and dreamy piano, and the recognizable melody professed by Klampanis, who paints the lyric in the foreground with sentiment and agility.

The title track is a kaleidoscopic, multi-cultural journey initiated with layered voices and involving astute variations in pace, intensity, tempo, and mood. While the harmonic progressions keep the inner voices in motion, often accommodating sharp chromaticism, classical and skeletal folk elements combine, seamlessly permeating the post-bop grounds with its natural hues. After improvised speeches from Klampanis and Randalu, the tune gains rocking stamina, only to restore, moments later, that classical feel that ends up concluding the piece. Less unpredictable than the latter, but equally mature in its harmonic development and modulations, “No Becomes Yes” unfolds with a 5/8 meter signature and nurtures a touching reverence for melody. Randalu is featured in a short solo piano passage, also delivering beautiful unisons with the bassist.

A tryptic centered in a vignette titled “Temporary Secret” has its groovy first part as a highlight, but you’ll have to search for it, since it’s a hidden track on the record.

Klampanis orchestrates everything meticulously and his boundless musicality flows with integrity, sensitivity, and self-control.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Easy Come And Go ► 04 - Irrationalities ► 07 - No Becomes Yes


Noah Preminger Group - Zigsaw: Music of Steve Lampert

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone; John O’Gallagher: alto saxophone; Jason Palmer: trumpet; Kris Davis: piano; Rob Schwimmer: haken continuum, clavinet; Kim Cass: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

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Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has been playing in several musical contexts with a variety of group configurations, but on his 14th album as a leader, Zigsaw: The Music of Steve Lampert, he is found at his most subversive, stepping out of his comfort zone to embrace a challenging single piece that lasts roughly 49 minutes. As the title refers, the tune's composer is the brilliant Steve Lampert, whose amalgamation of styles (electronic music is a prevailing constituent) in addition to a fully integration of improvisation and composition delight musicians and listeners alike.

Preminger had previously worked with Lempert (e.g. Zahskl’s Jukebox Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), who composed this work in response to a request from the saxophonist. If the written material is delightfully audacious, the execution is sublime. Preminger gathers a swathe of heavyweight colleagues for that effect - alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher and trumpeter Jason Palmer join the bandleader in the front row, while the rhythmic foundation is entrusted to bassist Kim Cass and drummer Rudy Royston. The septet is rounded out with the creative Kris Davis, who takes over the piano chair, and Rob Schwimmer, a secret weapon whose soundscapes on Haken Continuum and clavinet assure that everything works as envisioned.

Lampert's advanced compositional strategy consists of 12 main sections, each of which exposing a cycle of four events - a vamp-like sequence that serves as a ramp for improvisations; an open-ended improvisational segment; a reaffirmation of its danceable first part; and a so called fantasy-like section. Despite forming a sort of symmetry, these multi-shaped mosaics are initially puzzling, packed with a futuristic surrealism that pushes us to another realm. It can be hauntingly cinematic at times, referring to movies like Forbidden Planet and Alphaville (at least in my head).

The journey starts with a frantic electronic-inspired dance that also welcomes some indie rock furor. Preminger infuses post-bop and funk energy into his statement, having Davis constantly on top of things as she confers the best imaginable comping. The soloists succeed one another, externalizing their ideas and adapting to a variety of settings that go from Kraftwerk-like extravaganzas filled with pulsing tones and colossal bass lines to mysterious ambiances wrapped in offbeat droning sounds to typical avant-garde jazz layouts. At some point, near the middle, and during an inventive piano excursion, the textural configuration gets slightly groovier and jazzier, after which the saxophonists churn out some more cries. In the final section, Cass and Royston are given the chance to show their swinging abilities, in a passage that also features Davis’ independent chordal flux, incredibly delivered in countercurrent.

There’s almost no time for lethargy or ponderation here since the perpetual dynamic changes continually bring something new to be acknowledged. This is intelligent, groundbreaking music that proves unclassifiable and elevates both Preminger and Lampert to a level of distinction in the progressive 21st-century jazz.

Grade  A

Grade A

Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die II: Birds of Paradise

Label: International Anthem, 2019

Personnel - Jaimie Branch: trumpet, voice, synths, sneaker squeaks, bells, whistles; Lester St. Louis: cello, percussion; Jason Ajemian: double bass, percussion, vocals; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira, xylophone + guests

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Chicago trumpeter Jaimie Branch became a sensation after moving to Brooklyn and release her widely acclaimed debut album Fly or Die, title that also identifies her excellent group. With Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, another fearless socio-political manifesto that marks her much-anticipated return, she brings new elements to the recognized eclectic approach, including inflammatory lyrics that she sings with punk-like attitude. According to her, we’re not living in a particularly beautiful time and an exclusively instrumental perspective is not effective anymore. That’s why words of criticism and discontentment are essential. Most of these tunes were written while touring in Europe for the first time with her band.

Targeting racism, “Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 and 2” is a tremendous force, a powerful and insurgent blues that is the absolute peak of the album. The sluggish groove meticulously designed by bass, cello, and drums airs a slightly menacing tone, with acerbic cries of protest and agony echoing from Branch’s trumpet. Whereas her vocal mechanisms can easily relate to Patti Smith during the first part of the tune, it resembles PJ Harvey in the second (the other voices belong to the illustrious guests Ben LaMar Gay and Marvin Tate), where the conspicuous acceleration and mood variation trigger off Spanish-tinged statements over the strumming of a 12-string guitar. The finale has rasping cello incisions pushing us directly to “Lesterlude”, a composition by cellist Lester St. Louis.

Both “Simple Silver Surfer” and “Nuevo Roquero Estéreo” are feel-good-riffing songs whose melodies stick in your head. The former blends folk and Latin elements and the result is humorous and playful, while the latter incorporates more than the rock suggested in its Spanish title by mixing funk, Latin, and African music into an immutable yet exuberant rhythmic state of euphoria. The spirit of Don Cherry is present.

Diversity, inclusion, and eclecticism are the words of order here. Hence, if “Bird Dogs of Paradise” is populated with droning and buzzing sounds and percussive invasions that take us to the liberating ecstasy of Art Ensemble of Chicago, “Twenty Three N Me, Jupiter Redux” awakes with a flickering electronic drone, traverses a killer ostionato-based groove in 12, and wraps up with cacophonous avant-garde eruptions.

Branch concludes the work with the singable “Love Song (For Assholes and Clowns)”, a pop-inflected waltz that veers to indie rock at some point. Chad Taylor’s drumming contracts and expands here, and you can hear the following words at the beginning: ‘this one goes out to all those assholes and all those clowns out there. You know who you are!’.

In a political time where so much feels uncertain, it’s openly revolutionary recordings like this one that impel everyone to act in order to preserve civil rights. Branch’s work exerts visceral power in an exciting way.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 and 2 ► 04 - Twenty Three N Me, Jupiter Redux ► 08 - Nuevo Roquero Estéreo


Sam Dillon - Force Field

Label: Posi-Tone Records, 2019

Personnel - Sam Dillon: tenor saxophone; Andrew Gould: alto saxophone; Max Darche: trumpet; Michael Dease: trombone; Theo Hill: piano; David Wong: bass; Anwar Marshall: drums.

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Even boasting a very personal diction when discoursing, the young American saxophonist Sam Dillon brings an impressive amount of different influences to his ripe sophomore album, Force Field. Strongly inflected with the hard bop idioms from the 50’s and early 60’s, Dillon, who possesses an outstanding technique, offers a classic-derived repertoire bolstered by creative spins that show how swinging bop and post-bop traditions can be absorbed, transformed, and delivered fresh with a stamp of his own.

Dillon is primarily assisted by a rhythm section that comprises Theo Hill on piano, David Wong on bass, and Anwar Marshall on drums. However, he changes configurations, which range from trio to sextet, with the addition of guest musicians on selected tunes. They are alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, trumpeter Max Darche, and trombonist Michael Dease, who provides one of his colorful tunes to the song list, namely, “Go For The Jugular”. Flaunting a warm horn arrangement in a style reminiscent of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, this straight-ahead piece features all guests as soloists, with Dillon spearheading the sequence with rich Coltrane-isms that gravitate toward the unbeatable fluency of his Blue Train-phase.

Before that, the title track packs a punch with its grooving modal post-bop force and a scrupulous, dancing melody composed of attractive intervals. If the theme statement infuses a bit of the Sonny Rollins’ melodic charm, the rest is purely Coltrane/McCoy stuff, with Hill employing exuberant rhythmic spasms buoyed by opportune left-hand jabs, and Dillon oscillating between effortless roundness and smart obliquity in his lines. This spiritual atmosphere is partly passed to Dillon’s uptempo “Hit It”, whose main statement also incorporates that joyous briskness that characterizes the music of Lee Morgan and John Coltrane. Marshall is called into action here, exhibiting his drumming skills after effusive the solos and before the repositioning of the theme.

Hill switches to Fender Rhodes to bring that post-bop pulse-quickening to Chick Corea’s “Straight Up and Down”, another uptempo piece with a bouncy gait and incisive trumpet lines akin to Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. He continues to explore the famous electric piano in a sentimental rendition of “Marionette”, a discoverable composition by Swedish pianist Lars Jansson, which contrasts with the familiar bebop flow of Parker’s “Dexterity”, here delivered in the classic sax-bass-drums format.

With a relaxing bossa temper, “Shift” is the slowest and perhaps the less interesting tune on the record. Predominantly adhering to 4/4 motions and burning up the miles with characteristic sounds, Force Field is uneven, but still enclosing moments of pure jazz passion worth checking out.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Force Field ► 03 - Straight Up and Down ► 07 - Hit It


Dave Liebman / David Binney / Donny McCaslin / Samuel Blais - Four Visions Saxophone Quartet

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Samuel Blais: baritone sax; Dave Liebman: soprano sax, flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor sax; David Binney: alto sax.

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The music hailed from classic saxophone quartets (typically comprising soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone) can be very exciting when in the hands of wise, influential musicians. Good examples are World Saxophone Quartet and Rova Saxophone Quartet, both founded in 1977 and with the latter still active. Now, a new ensemble of the same kind arrives, with its top-notch members showing off their multifaceted genius while fully enjoying a bracing musical camaraderie.

The Four Visions Saxophone Quartet was born from an idea of baritonist Samuel Blais, who first invited his former teacher, master soprano saxist Dave Liebman, to join him. The remaining two positions available couldn’t be better filled, with Donny McCaslin and David Binney bringing their tone quality and persuasive language on tenor and alto, respectively. The quartet’s debut album features ten compositions specifically written for the occasion. Blais and Binney contributed three compositions each, while McCaslin and Liebman penned two.

Blaizza” inaugurates the session with flowing melodies in strong counterpoint and shifting tempos, combining four distinct timbres for a stunning effect. For this two-part tune straddling between modern classical and contemporary jazz, Blais sought inspiration on “Andante and Scherzo” by French composer Eugène Bozza. Conversely, his “Et Vois Et Jours” was originally written for a jazz quartet and readapted to fit the context of this disc. Manifestly, there’s absolutely no need for chordal support here since the combinations of notes clearly imply harmonic movement.

Relying on unisons, polyphonies, and question-and-answer mechanics, the passages in Binney’s “Dunes” are accessible to the ear but relatively complex in the execution. Whether intoned with stately grace or rhythmic impact, the piece is highly enjoyable, reaching a climax with the altoist’s impromptu projections on top of a groove formed by a sturdy baritone pedal and tenor-soprano ostinatos in seven. Also penned by Binney, the staccato-infused “Empty Sunbeans” could be turned into a great pop/rock song, while “Technicolor Penguins” vouches a head sequenced by off-centered melodic ideas and rhythmically accurate unisons. You’ll find poignant, tone-bent cries by McCaslin and Binney evolving into long runs toward a crescendo that culminates in piercing notes.

So luxuriant and precise in its conception, “Legions” was envisioned by McCaslin with a new found determination, and it’s all about superior interplay. It features the composer and Liebman in crisp and exuberant exchanges and Binney in a high flight. The former two deliver again on “Buy a Mountain”, another McCaslin-penned stunner.

Liebman brought the longest piece into the collection, with the cogitative “In Bach’s Studio” clocking in at nearly 16 minutes. However, it’s with “A Moody Time” that he enchants the most. Besides inside/outside offerings, he delineates epic unisons, combines a mix of thematic Eastern and Western flavors, and devises a bouncing 15/8 groove that gains emphasis with the potency of the baritone.

Promoting textural variety in their advanced writings, these accomplished saxophonists, more than fulfilling their improvisational duties, dabble in the tonal qualities of their reed instruments with an extensive range of approaches. The result is a wonderful album.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Legions ► 06 - A Moody Day ► 07 - Technicolor Penguins


Ben Goldberg - Good Day For Cloud Fishing

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2019

Personnel - Ben Goldberg: clarinet, contra-alto clarinet; Ron Miles: cornet; Nels Cline: guitar.

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Poetry that influences music, which, in turn, inspires new poetry, is a basic description to describe clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s interesting concept for his new album Good Day For Cloud Fishing. The album, inspired by Dean Young’s book Solar Plexus, exists on a plane of its own, delivering musical moments replete with compositional structure and unfettered improvisation. Goldberg puts together an excellent triumvirate for this effort, joining forces with cornetist Ron Miles in a productive two-horn frontline that operates over the quirky foundations engendered by the ever-unpredictable guitarist Nels Cline.

Carrying a somewhat scary and enigmatic title, “Demonic Possession is 9/10th The Law” is just a short, innocuous chorale that kicks off the session a balladic quality.

Revolving around a specific melodic idea, “Parthenogenesis” requires Cline to function almost like a bass player. During the earlier laid-back 4/4 section, it’s Miles’ mildly distorted stretches that stand out, but the tune veers into a folk-impregnated vintage section that changes course once more, going toward bluesy and freer improvisation.

Phantom Pains” thrives with Monk-ish humor and an avant-garde posture. One can detect an ad-lib collective loquacity that morphs into a worry-free passage with predominantly folk intentions.

Both “A Rhythmia” and “Corpse Pose” are vividly cinematic, unraveling an impressive mobility and clarity in sound. The former features Golberg’s propulsive contra-alto clarinet guiding at the lower level, Cline’s bouncy retro rock chops, and Miles’ amusing melodies. Conversely, the latter piece makes an unexpected u-turn after offering sturdy unisons and an orbital rock sequence with some Pink Floyd psychedelia in the mix. At some point, it shapes into a soaring passage susceptible of an uncharacteristic romanticism. Both pieces testify that the trio come off as equal partners.

The experimental “Sub Club Punch Card” is infused with multiple trills and psychedelic effects, differing from the funk-tinged “Ant-Head Structures”, whose groovy gestures slow down for a meditation period where sustained guitar chords accommodate zigzagging melodic activity. The atmosphere gets thicker as distortion and extra effects are added to the concluding stage.

Clocking in at roughly 9 and a half minutes, “Surprised Again By Rain” is the longest track on the album, and displays the group exploring two discrepant ambiances while making use of an intelligent instrumentation. Poignant and lyrical at the very start, the tune feels like a true poem. However, the clear skies gradually darken, shaking things off with a relentless, oppressive, and slightly-macabre sonic pollution. After painting this sort of dystopian scenario, the trio concludes the session by returning to what they had started on the very first track: a tonic, optimistic, and multi-layered chorale. Its title is “An Ordinary Day Somewhere”.

Alternating between perfect curvatures and sharp angles, softness and harshness, space and entanglement, this is an appropriate setting to become acquainted with Goldberg’s sonic depth, improvising skills, and compositional creativity.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - A Rhythmia ► 05 - Corpse Pose ► 11 - Surprised Again by Rain


Simon Nabatov Quintet - Last Minute Theory

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Simon Nabatov: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: guitar; Michael Formanek: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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60-year-old Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov, a champion of multiple collaborations in small-group formats, has been a widely explorative voice within the canons of leading-edge jazz. His first record as a leader on the Lisbon-based label Clean Feed is called Last Minute Theory, in which he leads an extraordinary lineup of New York players such as saxophonist Tony Malaby, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album features seven Nabatov originals and presents less ambiguity than it was expected, reshaping musical traditions to create new ones. Still, even providing accessible rides, a strong improvisatory mindset prevails throughout.

That fact can be immediately confirmed on “Old Fashioned”, an uncompromisingly swinging piece that, despite perfectly structured with a Mengelberg-like theme and well-defined melodies, embraces a provocative disposition. That sense of freedom is perfectly illustrated by Malaby’s searing impressions and Nabatov’s strong melodic figures and neo-noir chordal movements. On top of this, there’s the tense, dissonant, and always interesting comping from Seabrook, who also delivers an unconventional electronics-drenched solo. At the tail end of this trip, a vamp displays the supple rhythm section producing some steam.

Rickety” is another lively piece launched with the magical rhythm imposed by Cleaver, dark-toned saxophone proclamations, and a non-conflicting combination of guitar and piano, all immersed in details and embellishments. The music then converges into a danceable groove with Cleaver and Formanek bringing a one-of-a-kind propulsion to the tune. Both the texture and the beautifully spiky ostinatos won’t leave anyone indifferent.

The bubbling, spot-on snare drum procession that gives “Marching Right Along” its personality is interrupted at some point by a carefree collective stretch. This is not a rambunctious effort. Neither a sluggish one. The group was in many ways more reflective on the brooding musical nebula called “Translated” and especially “Slow Move”, a vaporous exercise featuring Malaby's soprano abstractions, here closely followed by Nabatov’s vigilant pianism.

Abounding in rhythmic figures, the pianist’s captivating vocabulary catalyzes avant-garde dilatations on “Good Pedigree”, which evolves with musing and reasoning on one side, and tautness and friction on the other. The tension created here is taken further on the closing track, “Afterwards”, a recipient of electrifying timbral exploration and finely-tuned harmonic construction. Whereas Malaby blows wildly and creates turbulence with his colleagues in activity, an unaccompanied Formanek lets his ideas take a natural course. The intensity is then readjusted to something sleeker, in an odd-metered cyclic passage, which not even Seabrook’s striking dissonances were able to subvert.

Nabatov’s consistently evolving musical vision has here a great outcome. The group operates with a steady hand when necessary, but also emancipates itself through an astonishing mobility.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Old Fashioned ► 03 - Rickety ► 07 - Afterwards


Jon Irabagon - Invisible Horizon

Label: Irabbagast Records, 2019

Personnel - Jon Irabagon: sopranino; Matt Mitchell: piano + Mivos Quartet: Olivia de Prato: violin; Lauren Cauley Kalal: violin; Victor Lowrie Tafoya: viola; Mariel Roberts: cello.

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Invisible Horizon, the 11th album as a leader from Jon Irabagon is not like anything you’ve heard him playing before. The saxophonist, a mastermind of contemporary jazz, has been consistently at the front of the creative pack that populates the current scene, and now presents us one of his boldest releases, a two-CD set split between a six-movement suite for piano and string quartet (bookended by two pieces for strings and sopranino) and an incredible solo mezzo soprano session recorded at the Emanuel Vigelund Mausoleum in Oslo.

On the first album, Invisible Guests, Irabagon is showcased with the Mivos Quartet and the sought-after pianist Matt Mitchell. The powerful ensemble is assigned with the complex task of executing rarely heard arrangements. The disc opens and closes with two vignettes for mouthpieceless sopranino and string quartet where the bandleader takes his instrument to extremes, pulling out a panoply of odd sounds through extended techniques and exploring pitch gradation with ferocity and virtue. The synchronism with the strings is phenomenal and the final rasping resonances help to create an impactful cinematic impression that is worthy of a horror film, whether classic or not.

Operating under strong classical and avant-garde spells, the suite feels like a mordant chamber essay with each dynamic movement incorporating several other movements inside. Matt Mitchell’s miraculous pianism works like magic within the aesthetic as he embarks on disconcerting, punchy, and often dancing motions set against the scintillating string charts. His introductory segment on the “Movement 2: Heaven’s Blessing” is beautiful, and the quintet gives it a logic sequence through stunning counterpoint, impenetrable textures with variable concentrations of sound, and animated sections with discernible rhythmic sequences.

Upon probing intensities with spirit and poise, “Movement 4: Red Four” gently embraces Argentine tango with an elegance that is also partly found on “Movement 6: The Dreamer”, which encloses both seriously deep and light, fluid passages.

Disc two, Dark Horizon: Live From the Mausoleum, features Irabagon alone on the Conn mezzo soprano saxophone. The production of this instrument only lasted for one year and a half in the late 20s. The conspicuous reverb effect is naturally created by the aforementioned mausoleum where the album was recorded, and the sound produced never ceases to amaze.

Dark Horizon (entrance)” is an incantatory marvel that inundates the place with a mix of calm introspection and ardent spirituality. Its tones nothing have to do with pieces like “Forest & Field” and “Eternal Rest”, shapeless abstractions subjected to eerie contortions, or even “Half a World Away”, a chilly messenger of piercing, honking, and buzzing reverberations.

Dragonwort” opts for some Celtic emphasis during the circular breathing; “Holy Smoke” lives from the vivid articulacy and extended techniques subjected to a riff; and Leroy Shield’s “Good Old Days”, the theme song from The Little Rascals and the sole non-original to be included, is creatively taken to another dimension.

Anything but conventional, Invisible Horizon is never short of ideas and leaves a lasting impression, reaffirming Irabagon as a visionary composer and one of the most influential musicians of our times.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 (CD1) - Heaven’s Blessing ► 04 (CD1) - Red Four ► 01 (CD2) - Dark Horizon (entrance)


Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2019

Personnel - Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor sax; JD Allen: tenor sax; Esperanza Spalding: vocals; Nels Cline: guitar; Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: vibraphone; Val Jeanty: turntable; Trevor Dunn: electric bass; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums.

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A breakthrough album by pianist Kris Davis is now out on Pi Recordings. Diatom Ribbons is her 14th recording as a leader and marks a new chapter in her career as she keeps writing and playing with imagination, courageously looking forward. Here, she is in charge of nine exceptional musicians, including old and new collaborators, who are combined to provide specific sonic outfits for each of the ten tunes on the record. If the presences of saxophonist Tony Malaby, vibraphonist Ches Smith, and bassist Trevor Dunn are not surprises, then the inclusion of great tenorist JD Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, explosive guitarists Marc Ribot and Nels Cline, vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and Haitian electronics artist Val Jeanty are all new additions to Davis’ projects.

The title track opens the record with a voice sample of the unique pianist Cecil Taylor on top of an intricate, ambidextrous, percussive ostinato on piano. Bass and drums instill a dazzling groove, preparing the reception for the explorative saxophonists, who, after blowing sinuous coupled phrases, excel in their respective improvisations. Davis stipulates an excellent comping technique throughout, mixing harmonic sophistication with accented rhythmic configurations. For the last section, she returns to those relentlessly mechanic, partially muted attacks on the lower register in the company of Carrington’s hip rhythm and Jeanty’s inspired audio samples.

The voice of Spalding, druggy and freewheeling, contributes to give Michael Attias-penned “The Very Thing” a stratospheric soul jazz form. Malaby responds to the vocalist with juxtaposing angular offshoots, while the rhythm section sticks to an uncompromising groove in seven.

Two nonconformists of the modern guitar world fling their rock fire and thirst for exploration into four pieces. While Cline confines his howling spectral guitar on top of the indefatigably syncopations and distorted urban groove of “Certain Cells” and makes the intensity flare up noisily on “Rhizomes”, a tune that kicks off with a cool hip-hop-derived vibration prior to become electrified, Marc Ribot brings into focus all his adventurism and exploratory edge on “Golgi Complex” and “Golgi Complex (The Sequel)”. With splashes of dissonance and rhythmic friction, the former piece emulates a spinning cloud of boisterous and dense avant-garde particles, while the latter consolidates funk and rock into a sturdy framework, where Davis reveals improvisational coolness within a softer context.

Another collection of quotes, this time from French master composer Olivier Messiaen, appears on “Corn Crake”, an initially vague reverie with cascading piano that evolves into a groovy hip-hop adventure with syncopated rhythms, electronically modified bass lines, and punctilious piano work. If this particular piece is a trio effort with Jeanty, Davis, and Carrington, then “Sympodial Sunflower” is a piano-drums coalition carried out with a sensual tango feel.

The pianist wraps up with a genre-defying, quick-witted reading of Julius Hemphill’s “Reflections”, which reintegrates Allen and Malaby in the frontline.

Advertising Davis at the peak of her compositional grandeur, Diatom Ribbons is original and artistically inspiring, full of subtleties and invention.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Diatom Ribbons ► 03 - Rhizomes ► 10 - Reflections


Fire Orchestra! - Arrival

Label: Rune Grammofon, 2019

Personnel - Mariam Wallentin: voice; Sofia Jernberg: voice; Anna Lindal: violin; Josefin Runsteen: violin; Katt Hernandez: violin; Leo Svensson: cello; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet; Per Texas Johansson: oboe, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Christer Bothén: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Isak Hedtjärn: bb clarinet, alto saxophone; Mats Gustafsson: baritone sax; Tomas Hallonsten: keyboards; Johan Berthling: bass, electric bass; Andreas Werliin: drums.

Fire! Orchestra is currently a 14-piece collective led by the same three Swedish musicians that co-founded it in 2009: saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer/producer Andreas Werliin. As usual, we find them searching for different approaches and redefining possibilities for their bold orchestral aesthetic.

Collaboratively, these helmers penned four of the seven tracks on Arrival, a new body of work that also includes two interesting covers of non-jazz songs and a piece by vocalist/lyricist Mariam Wallentin. The latter’s tune is called “Weekends (The Soil is Calling)” and blends the psychedelic dance-rock of The Stone Roses and the alternative percussive force of Bjork through an adroit association of dubby bass lines, hypnotic drumming, and euphoric synth cuts. With Wallentin sharing vocal duties with Sofia Jernberg, another force to be reckoned with, the tune reflects a radical change of mood at some point, when the charged mallet drumming tempts the horn section to contribute low-pitched ostinatos and then coiled, fierce baritone cries uttered with raw instinct. In conclusion, everything settles into a lull with Tomas Hallonsten’s sustained synth chords and Per Texas Johansson’s chromatic-inflected oboe chants.

(I Am a) Horizon” is the gripping opener, early implemented with violin laments, moody pointillism, and the deep sighs of contrabass clarinet. There’s a rich resonance overall, but nothing compared as when wistful keyboard riffs assume the central spot with concordant bass lines and dual vocalization as accomplices. Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva emerges from the background with expressive licks and sudden attacks, and afterward is the quartet of strings that appears melodiously alluring. During the last minute, contrabass clarinets shove us against terra firma.

Strategically layered, “Silver Trees” kicks off with bass clarinet prayers smeared with multiphonics. Berthling cooks up a staunch vamp that supports the chanteuses’ lyricism. He is matched by the saxophone at a later phase. Pursuing a metamorphosis, the band embraces funk and hip-hop, re-energizing the new ambiance with a fresh and groovy ostinato, trumpet power, authoritative rap, and off-kilter string orchestrations. In a complete opposition to this mood, “Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away” offers jazz psychedelia served with a sluggish beat at the core. Gustafsson’s irascible vociferations are delivered with a meaty tone, being replaced by the haunting, sometimes delirious vocals. Rash horn fills and scratchy string explorations with a penchant for atonality also contribute to this trance-like oddity.

Blue Crystal Fire” by experimental folk guitarist Robbie Basho and “At Last I Am Free” by the disco band Chic were the selected covers for this album. The former piece has an ominous cinematic start, after which it slips into an ethereal art rock melancholy reminiscent of Kate Bush, while the latter is a slow R&B hit transformed into a gloomy song as it evokes a range of feelings with inclination to weariness and sadness. Gradually, it expands into brightness, though.

More restrained than any previous work from the Orchestra, Arrival is never formulaic in its presentation. And the fire… still burns.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - (I Am a) Horizon ► 02 - Weekends ► 05 - Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away


Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Philosophy

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Matt Mitchell: piano; Mario Pavone: double bass; Tyshawn Sorrey : drums.

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At the age of 79, American avant-garde bassist Mario Pavone is not interested in slowing down and both productivity and innovation are kept as two determinant factors in his career. For this year’s Clean Feed release, Philosophy, he reunites with the two freedom seekers and revered bandleaders that compose his Dialect Trio, namely, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. All three form a democratic alliance whose tensile creativity is immediately mirrored on the lead-off track, “8-18-18”, a brand new Pavone composition that hangs loose, coiling Mitchell’s acerbic clusters and zigzagging motions, Sorey’s swift and precise brushwork, and bass rambles shrouded in ambiguity but never indecision.

The trio settles upon swing and groove all the way through on the title track, with Sorey and Pavone underpinning with gusto the motivic bop spins of the pianist, and “Two Thirds Radial”, a Monk-ish crotchet permeated with gorgeous riffs and slippery angularity. The latter tune was previously recorded, appearing in Pavone’s album Vertical (Clean Feed, 2017), just like “Iskmix”, a motivic statement with tricky additive meter, whose first release wings back to 2008, to the masterpiece record Ancestors (Playscape Recordings). Naturally, they both resurface here with new looks and textures.

Everything There Is” is a spontaneous improvisation credited to the trio, which skews into a controlled centrifugation. Yet, I found them at their most investigative on two renditions of Annette Peacock’s tunes, “Circles” and “The Beginning”. The former, a ballad multiple times tackled by Paul Bley in the past, unscrambles any complexity and features the solitary bass in a minimalist sequence, while the latter invites us to get lost in the noisy atonalities of its short course. It feels like jumping into a big vortex full of small whirls inside.

Pavone’s “Noka” introduces a bit more roundness in its lines, setting the pace out of the work in tandem from bass and piano, which is complemented with Sorey’s speaking drums. However, Mitchell, as an inveterate off-center explorer, grittily seeks alternative routes.

Philosophy follows a smartly designed architecture that besides other benefits, ensures that no tune is overextended. It reinforces with new music what this trailblazing piano trio can offer.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Philosophy ► 04 - The Beginning ► 07 - Iskmix


David Sanchez - Carib

Label: Ropeadope, 2019

Personnel - David Sanchez: tenor saxophone, barril de bomba, percussion, vocals; Lage Lund: guitar; Luis Perdomo: piano, rhodes, vocals; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Obed Calvaire: drums, vocals; Jhan Lee Ponte: percussion, barril de bomba; Markus Schwartz: Haitian percussion.

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Grammy-winning saxophonist David Sanchez, formerly associate with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra and a member of the SFJazz Collective since 2012, is among the best practitioners of the modern Latin jazz. His new outing, aptly named Carib, unknots a hiatus of eight years as a bandleader and consolidates zealous post-bop and Afro-Caribbean idioms and rhythms with particular incidence in Haiti and his native Puerto Rico. With it, he not only intends to pay tribute to all Afro descendent communities that have helped him defining his music, but also call the world’s attention to the marginalization and poor sociological conditions of these countries. The present recording is in memory of his father and his late wife.

Equipping the eleven original tunes with rhythmic illusion and surging solos, Sanchez trusts a set of first-rate musicians to deliver them as he envisioned. They are Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, who doubles on the Fender Rhodes, Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, fellow Puerto Rican bassist Ricky Rodriguez, Miami-born drummer Obed Calvaire, and percussionists Jhan Lee Aponte and Markus Schwartz.

This heartfelt tribute to the African diaspora throughout the Americas begins with “Morning Mist”, one of the most vibrant and intelligently composed pieces on the record. It consists of sharp rhythmic articulations subjected to shifts along the way, harmonic riches, and cleanly stated solos by Sanchez and Perdomo. A pre-conclusion vamp gives Calvaire permission to expand actions, which he does even better on “Mirage”, a Metheny-esque crossover in seven where Perdomo underlines the harmony on the Fender Rhodes, and Lund brings out his jazz phraseology at his own pace.

No less candid in its amiable expression, “Wave Under Silk” floats like a gentle breeze with a nice percussion touch. When not infusing passionate flames on the tenor, Sanchez adds barril de bomba (a traditional Puerto Rican drum) to the percussionists’ work.

The numbers “Madriga” and “The Land of Hills” are kept under strong percussive dynamics. Both tunes groove with a splash of funk in the electric bass, complementing the world fusion foray with Afro-Latin chants in the case of the former, and warm riffs and unisons in the case of the latter. The energy of the band is palpable.

In an uncomplicated setting, “Fernando’s Theme” offers up ancient traditions with a static ritualistic vibe, while “Canto” feels like a long meditation with a predilection for tender sounds. Both pieces were featured on the drama film Windows of the World.

The polyrhythmic “A Thousand Yesterdays” concludes the journey with optimism and freedom. Where Sanchez moves artfully between ideas translated into crisp, commanding phrases, Perdomo contributes plenty of lyricism within the swinging motions he dives into.

Sanchez’s heritage and roots meld perfectly with contemporary jazz. Hence, if you dig color, texture, and rhythm, this is a disc you should search for.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Morning Mist ► 03 - Madriga ► 08 - The Land of Hills


Lawrence Clark - Inner Visions

Label: Jazz Tribes, 2019

Personnel - Lawrence Clark: tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; David Bryant: piano, fender rhodes; Joris Teepe: double bass; Darrell Green: drums.

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Inner Visions is the second outing as a leader by Camden-bred, New York-based saxophonist Lawrence Clark, who pays homage to the great free jazz drummer Rashied Ali, his former mentor and friend. Clark, who played with Ali for more than a decade, starts and closes the record with “Mr. Ali” and “Mr. Ali 2”, respectively, two soul-searching, loose-limbed evocations apt to energy exchanges and configured in the classic sax-bass-drums format. Bassist Joris Teepe, who initiates these rides with buzzing arco murmurs, along with drummer Darrell Greene, consistently evocative in his cymbal splashes, serve as a solid anchor for the bandleader’s free-flowing prayers.

If these two short statements denote a freer posture, the remaining seven pieces (all nine are Clark compositions) are delivered in quintet and embrace stylistic variety, featuring the saxophonist in collaboration with a host of sympathetic partners. The rhythm section thrives with the prodigious talents of pianist David Bryant, while the frontline expands in color and dimension with the incorporation of whether Duane Eubanks or Jeremy Pelt on trumpet.

The latter blows with elation on “Freedom”, a post-bop feast typically structured as theme-improvs-theme and written with Coltrane in mind, but shows a slippery-smooth quality as he navigates unhurriedly the delicate and way more intriguing “Inner Visions”.

John Coltrane also inspired “Blew”, a tune that borrowed some colors and temperament from his 1963 hit “India". The song firstly underscores the beauty of modal jazz in those cultured piano chords that support Clark’s instinctive spark, and then installs a propulsive swinging mechanism to enhance the sunny bop-inflected deliberations from Eubanks. Green’s drum talk concludes the amusing improvisational section, which features the same soloists as on the Eastern-seasoned “Judgment Day”, with the exception of Bryant, who, on the latter piece, develops gorgeously rhythmic ideas that cohere with unpredictable logic. Clark had already recorded this tune in 2006 alongside Rashied Ali.

Beyond doubt, the sophisticated “Time Traveler” and the eccentric “Nibiru” are highlights. Cooked up at a 7/4 tempo, the former displays a groove-oriented posture, showcasing the rhythm team’s empathy as well as a conversational theme statement that also converges to unisons. In turn, we find the band tighter than ever on the latter, even with them passing an extraordinary sensation of disjointedness. Its less obvious complexion conveys explorative urgency, but also a fluctuating vibe to which Bryant’s atmospheric touches on Fender Rhodes much contributes. Still, the tune is glazed with a delightful nonconforming swing over which Clark blows ascendent and descendent phrases with precision and purpose.

Inner Visions, an evocative album girded with tasteful passages and stimulating improvised moments, is wholly satisfying.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Judgment Day ► 05 - Time Traveler ► 08 - Nibiru


Guillermo Klein - Los Guachos Cristal

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Guillermo Klein: piano, vocals; Miguel Zenon: alto sax; Bill McHenry: tenor sax; Chris Cheek: soprano, tenor, and baritone saxes; Diego Urcola: trumpet, flugelhorn; Taylor Haskins: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sandro Tomasi: trombone; Ben Monder: guitar; Fernando Huergo: electric bass; Jeff Ballard: drums; Richard Nant: percussion, trumpet.

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Argentine pianist Guillermo Klein, a masterful composer and arranger, has now six albums on the Sunnyside imprint with his adventurous unit Los Guachos. Faithful to the eclecticism and sophistication advocated by its bandleader, the 11-piece ensemble maintains a roster of dedicated top-notch musicians that consistently manage to transform complicated orchestrations into something natural and feel-good.

Cristal is a thought-provoking suite-like recording that pays tribute to a couple of celebrated tangoists: Carlos Gardel, composer and performer, and Alfredo Lepera, lyricist. Their music is here subjected to excellent arrangements, and the opening tune, the spellbinding “Melodia de Arrabal” is one of the strongest, together with the one that succeeds it, “Burrito Volver”. On the former piece, the command of tempo and rhythm is absolutely fantastic and the shifts are seamless and tasteful. For its part, the latter is marked by sluggish electric bass moves and an overall alluring indolence that takes possession of our bodies, except when Ben Monder pours out lachrymose phrases from his distorted guitar, using a metal glimmer to inscribe them on the musical surface. The repertoire includes another Gardel/Lepera song: “Volver”, a tango classic that gains new spirit and form through the fusion of breezy jazz and folk elements.

The expeditious “Nos Mirarán Pasar”, which juxtaposes more than one melodic line delivered in unison, is a Klein original based on the tango “El Dia Que Me Quieras” by the aforementioned pair of musicians. It features a grand solo by the Puerto Rican altoist Miguel Zenón, who, during the first moments, has merely Jeff Ballard’s arousing rhythms as a support.

If “Melodia de Arrabal”, “Volver”, “Burrito Volver”, and “Burrito Cristal”, in which Bill McHenry’s tenor soars above the mild undercurrents, had been formerly orchestrated by Klein for Joshua Redman and the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, then “A Orillas Del Rin”, a 5/4 beauty of a piece with polyrhythmic feel, was originally scored for the HR Big Band and the SJC Sinfonietta. Following Monder’s alternative hues, we find here some cool bends in the enchanting trajectories of the muted trumpet.

Upstate” and “Flores” are hip tunes peppered with haunting improvisations from saxophonist Chris Cheek on baritone and soprano, respectively, and envisioned with a propulsive energy that stems from the deft, sensitive drive of the rhythm section. While the former piece quotes “Viernes, 3AM” by Argentine rock artist Charly Garcia, bringing Klein’s vocals to the forefront as well as a bright piano pattern in six, the latter, originally recorded in 2005, flows intrepidly at a challenging additive 6+5 meter. And this is why Klein’s music is so mesmerizing. At a certain time, he is up to an appealing mellowness with effortless forward motion, and in the minute after, he’s capable of running a perplexing groove under complex metrics, but where all diverse elements find a right place to be.

Klein creates a fascinating multi-cultural universe that’s his own, and Cristal is another compositionally advanced effort that deserves all our respect, attention, and a great deal of listenings.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Melodia de Arrabal ► 02 - Burrito Volver ► 04 - A Orillas Del Rin


Taylor Ho Bynum - The Ambiguity Manifesto

Label: Firehouse 12 Records, 2019

Personnel - Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Bill Lowe: trombone; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Tomeka Reid: cello; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Ken Filiano: acoustic bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

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Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, a former disciple of Anthony Braxton, is a respected creative voice in the modern jazz world, having released several recordings in configurations that range from duo to big band. His new album, The Ambiguity Manifesto, flaunts that irresistible craftsmanship that only a visionary can achieve. To play both the rigorously written and improvised parts of his music, he hired nine of his favorite players and called the group 9-tette.

The opener, “Neither When Nor Where”, funks with a magnetic beat, surrounded by sleek violin, cello, and bowed bass until the horn players arrive. Their attention centers on a repetitive riff we hear throughout, and all coheres beautifully, with guitarist Mary Halvorson’s gulping sounds and drop downs mixing with the controlled horn stretches. This same riff can be spotted again in the last section of “Enter (g) Neither”, an atmospheric experimentation impregnated with avant-garde conventions, striking counterpoint, and attractive odd-metered grooves. Ho Bynum extracts multiple timbres from his cornet, including air sounds and breath attacks, whining and imploring alongside Stomu Takeishi’s moderate electric bass and Tomas Fujiwara’s rattling percussion.

Anter Ally” and “Ally Enter” are mirrors. The former consists in abstract conversations between several instruments, while the latter is a static exercise showcasing deeply hued saxophone sounds, raw cornet staccatos, and guitar loops and effects. Similarly, “Real/Unreal” and the closing “Unreal/Real” form another pairing. The former, dedicated to the late American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, is set in motion with brushed drums over which droning sounds of different order emerge. This alert, ominous mood flips to a quieter chamber passage headed by guitar, strings, and woodwinds, without jeopardizing any of its interest or fascination. Unexpectedly, the ambiguity is narrowed once again and the group accommodates an ecstatic, melodious, and accessible sort of indie-pop-meets-world-music that comes peppered with Halvorson’s electronic manipulations. “Unreal/Real” (for Old Music) feels like a nostalgic contemplation that, notwithstanding, refuses to abandon the modern irreverence thanks to Ingrid Laubrock’s expressive staccatos on the soprano and the cry in tone delivered by alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs.

The 17-minute “G(host) (aa/ab)” initially resonates with electronics and the sound of mallets hitting the different parts of the drum kit. It remains in a suspended mode for a while, almost undecided where to go, with Halvorson venturing outside while a panoply of sounds surrounds her. The group adds seasoning and texture, creating chaotic sonic clouds that serve Laubrock’s pungent growls. Inside these exciting passages, we find unisons between guitar and electric bass supporting Ho Bynum’s rapid-fire lecture, Laubrock’s soprano departures getting across Bill Lowe’s resilient muted trombone shouts, and a fulminating indie rock noise section led by Halvorson and embellished with cacophonous remarks from the horns. It then segues into a rocking 4/4 groove with multiple ostinatos.

Eccentric and provocative at times, easygoing and accessible at others, this album finds this nonet of players interacting with a well-developed sense of empathy and genre-defying creativity.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - G(host) (aa/ab) ► 05 - Enter (g) Neither ► 07 - Unreal/Real (for Old Music)


Louis Sclavis - Characters On a Wall

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Louis Sclavis: clarinet, bass clarinet; Benjamin Moussay: piano; Sarah Murcia: double bass; Christophe Lavergne: drums.

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15 years after Napoli’s Walls (ECM, 2004), French clarinetist Louis Sclavis revisits the street art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest, using it as an inspiration for his musical journeys. At odds with that first chapter - shaped with reeds, cello, electronics, vocals, guitar, and brass - this more comprehensive new work, titled Characters On a Wall, features the clarinetist leading an acoustic quartet whose musical richness is exalted by pianist Benjamin Moussay, a frequent collaborator, and two younger talents, bassist Sarah Murcia and drummer Christophe Lavergne.

The ensemble is found at its most lyrical on Sclavis’ “L’Heure Pasolini”, using their instrumental sensitivity to describe interesting sceneries. In fact, the four instruments are felt as one, such is the integrity and intimacy revealed in their playing. This first track is the longest piece on the album and encapsulates a rubato intro before adjusting to a melancholic 4/4 chamber pop cycle that transfigures into a brighter waltz during its last quarter.

A simmering sense of groove (in seven) is brought to Moussay’s “Shadows and Lines”, encouraging discipline and creative freedom alike. The shifts in rhythm bring the group’s rock-solid foundation to our attention, while the immersive bass clarinet takes us to pure avant-garde delight. Likewise, the graceful brushed details timely tossed out by Lavergne establishes a strong affinity with what’s happening around him. His maturity and finesse deserve acclamation.

Introduced by piano, “La Dame de Martigues” flows with a chordal chain that evokes poignancy, romanticism, and illumination within a mix of delicate classical erudition and modern composition. The icy-warm harmonies employed here differ from the urgency of “Prison”, a 5/8 Eastern-tinged dance with impeccable unisons and extraordinary solos from double bass and bass clarinet. The bandleader's compositions traverse musical, cultural, and emotional boundaries, and the closer, “Darwich Dans La Ville”, deliberately jumps into world fusion, motivated by portraits of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich stuck to the walls of Ramallah. Infusing a great deal of color while grooving in seven, the quartet shapes this tune with a thumping and exotic percussive drive and swift bass-piano runs, which have the company of the clarinet in specific segments. It also features Murcia and Sclavis at their most creative as they stretch out with soulful inspiration.

Spacious, amorphous, and completely improvised, “Esquisse 1” and “Esquisse 2” clock in at two minutes each. The former is particularly attractive, radiating an air of mystery through the deep, dark tones of the bowed bass, obscure piano voicings with occasional string manipulation, roaming clarinet, and modest percussive aesthetics.

Sclavis’ new angle of approach is a triumph. By turns, the music enraptures, grooves, and soars, disseminating a commendable energy that fulfills even in moments of contemplative reserve or ambiguous exploration.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Shadows and Lines ► 06 - Prison ► 08 - Darwich Dans La Ville


Ethan Iverson Quartet - Common Practice

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Tom Harrell: trumpet; Ethan Iverson: piano; Ben Street: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.

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Leading a simpatico new quartet, pianist/composer Ethan Iversen channels energies to a set of charming renditions of Great American Songbook cornerstones alongside two originals, whose bluesy nature goes perfectly well with the rest of the material. While teaming up with bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson in the rhythm section, the pianist didn’t hide his appreciation for having ace trumpeter Tom Harrell spearheading the melodic department.

Common Practice is a heartfelt tribute to New York's straight-ahead jazz. Iversen and his peers stroll through the polished surfaces of jazz standards, combining the mastery of fundamentals with an openness to embrace new textures and harmonic directions. Recorded at the mythical The Village Vanguard, the album is dedicated to that venue’s former guardian, Lorraine Gordon, who died last year at the age of 95.

Wee”, for example, conjures up that same festive, tongue-in-cheek vibe that characterized Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas”. The effusive Caribbean flavor announced by McPherson and Street becomes triumphantly swinging at the time that Harrell blows with intelligible hard-bop erudition, leaving space between phrases. Picking up where the trumpeter left off, Iversen articulates his speech with a mix of liveliness and insouciance before conceding the spotlight to McPherson, who expresses all the syllables of his solo with a clear pronunciation. This number has that pocket you can dance to.

If “Out of Nowhere” doesn’t really push the envelope, despite the galloping rhythmic advances that follow Street’s sharp-witted improvisation, then “All The Things You Are” attracts our attention through a rushing tempo and dazzling statements from trumpet and piano. The trumpeter combines the joy of Clifford Brown with the playfulness of Louis Armstrong, while the pianist explores phrase rhythms piked by some devious resolutions. This is even more explicit on Ellington’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, where he sprays colorful chord clusters and evinces an exceptional quality in the intervallic and contrapuntal activities. Harrell also soars on trumpet, twisting the melody with clever note replacements, which are sometimes prolonged for a surprising effect. While here he incorporates a discernible melodic fragment of “Summertime”, on “I Remember You”, he clearly salutes Charlie Parker.

Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed From Teaneck” are 12-bar blues by Iverson. The emotions continue to flow through aesthetically clean and pleasant choruses that never feel excessive. However, their emotional depth feels a bit restricted when compared with glorious ballads such as “The Man I Love” and “I Can’t Get Started”. The former, a real stunner, highlights Iversen’s brilliant piano work. At the outset, he invents a highly appealing intro that draws you in, and then brings a sweet languidness to his improvisation, built over subdued yet colorful brushwork and spacious bass measures.

To better clarify our readers, what he have here is more than simply straight-ahead readings of popular songs and blues. There are old pieces sounding new again. Thus, with an obvious bind with tradition, the album is never less than stirring and satisfying.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Man I Love ► 03 - Wee ► 10 - I’m Getting Sentimental Over You