Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness

Label: Hopscotch Records, 2018

Personnel - Assif Tsahar: saxophone; William Parker: double bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

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Cohesive sounds and textures emerge from the transfiguring interplay of the intrepid trio composed of saxophonist Assif Tsahar, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake. All three musicians, known for their urgency to create spontaneously, collaborated in many live sessions and festivals. However, In Between The Tumbling A Stillness marks their first recording as a trio. These intense, tight/loose musical moments were captured live in Tel Aviv at Levontin 7, a music venue opened by the saxophonist when he moved back to his native Israel in 2006.

In Between”, the 35-minute expedition that opens up the album, sparkles in many rhythmic contexts. The group takes the plunge in a straightforward way, with Tsahar concentrating efforts in sturdy phrases limned with a brooding, casually raucous tone on the lower registers, but still with enough range to stay out of the shadow. His language comprises simple melodic ideas with explosive fast-note attacks that always find a reliable supporting net in the work of Parker, a monumental pillar in the foundation, and Drake, an independent creator who keeps his ears wide open to whatever happens around him. After rambling, they accelerate to a swinging pace, posteriorly grooving in several inventive ways. The rhythm team assures smooth yet conspicuous transitions, erecting lyrical structures with both familiar atmospheres and inspired inventions alike. It's common to see the saxophonist responding to their deliberately abstract sense of tempo with raw emotions.

Bowed bass and percussion announce tense winds for “The Tumbling”, which features Tsahar emitting waves of energy, whether through bop-ish lines or any other audacious terminology. The tune becomes infectiously hectic but terminates in a slower yet fun ragtime-derived cadence.

This is the joy of listening to imaginative creators. One minute they are galloping freely toward no particular destination, in the next minute they are running at high speed in a precise direction, and when you don’t expect them to, you’ll stumble upon them dancing the blues in a fixed position.

Closing out the album, “A Stillness” is a quiet, inner-oriented improv, effulgently propelled with the help of Drake’s cross stick beats. Grab this record, if you like your avant-jazz simultaneously raw and sophisticated.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - In Between ► 02 - The Tumbling


Michael Attias - Échos la Nuit

Label: Out of Your Head Records, 2019

Personnel – Michael Attias: alto saxophone, piano.

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Saxophonist Michael Attias, a paragon of perspicacious playing and exceptional leadership, releases his first solo album, in which he plays two instruments, sometimes simultaneously. While his left hand holds the alto sax, a carrier of awe-inspiring tone colors, the right hand plays the piano, whose individual notes and chords work as melodic/harmonic pivots, promoting contextualization and, consequently, facilitating our reading of the music. Turning down overdubs, this recording takes you to a few singular places in Attias’ active musical mind. By tailoring a stripped-down aesthetic with distinctive approaches to each instrument, he proposes a sleek, sometimes undemonstrative distillation of timbres that can be more or less complicated to apprehend.

Two distinct versions of “Echoes” bookend the eleven tracks on the album. The first part, “Mauve”, enhances the beautifully contrasting colors between saxophone and piano, bright and poignant, respectively, within a cerebral mood. The second part, “Night”, offers a melodic reflection that often lands on a resolution. Still, the ambiguity of the piano and some spellbinding unison passages make us alert. The approach is low-key, unfussy and intriguing. Experimental, in a way.

Trinité” insists in unison ideas occasionally interpolated with intervallic surprises. The piano work is not as tantalizing or emotionally charged as in the introductory section of “Fenix III”, a snappy creation whose quirky chord has a strong connotation with Attias' former collaborator, the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Domineering cyclic phrases driven by pitch allure are balanced through prolonged notes replicated on the piano. Something like knotty explorations whose elements are in a permanent state of affairs.

The piano-less “Rue Oberkampf” feels like an incantatory chant brimming with slightly popping patterns inspired by saxophonist's early studies of the Schillinger technique. Great note choices are brought effortlessly with grandiose, mesmerizing shifts in timbre before three consecutive woodwind cascades bring it to an end. The reverberation is from the room and is even more noticeable over the course of “Circles”, where the intensity keeps fluctuating.

The nocturnal mood and fascination of “Sea In The Dark” are impressive, combining dark bass notes and delicate phrases for an illustrative intonation that coaxed me to search for more. Some other pieces, like the slow-moving diptych “Autumn”, justifies lethargic reactions through its vagueness and pallor.

Listening to this album was such an oddity. Each track feels like looking at perplexing pictures whose thin focus is on the closest object while the background keeps immersed in obscurity. Indistinctness means forever open and this very personal album is beyond style.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Echoes I: Mauve ► 08 - Rue Oberkampf ► 11 - Sea In The Dark


James Brandon Lewis - An Unruly Manifesto

Label: Relative Pitch Records, 2019

Personnel – James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Jamie Branch: trumpet; Anthony Pirog: guitar; Luke Stewart: electric bass; Warren Trae Crudup III: drums.

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An UnRuly Manifesto, the new album by well-versed saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, is a call into action dedicated to Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and Surrealism. With a quintet configuration in mind, he convened electrifying musicians to be part of the project, namely, trumpeter Jamie Branch, guitarist Anthony Pirog, and the members of his soulful trio, bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III.

After the amiable unison melody of “Year 59: Insurgent Imagination”, the opening one-minute prelude, the title track erupts confidently with a continual static groove in six underpinning short meet-and-greet sentences from trumpet and tenor. Smeary unison lines precede an infectious solo by Lewis, who, blowing with the force of a tornado, conveys a mix of vehement protest, inspirational spirituality, and fervid urbanity. His remarkably fiery tone calls up Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, while his language is cathartic and sharp-edged as John Coltrane and Marion Brown. Branch follows him, throwing in ideas that perfectly match the context, and the tune doesn’t finalize without the horns merging together in pure ecstasy.

Pillar 1: A Joyful Acceptance” is a short-lived breezy interlude that announces “Sir Real Denard”, a tune enlivened by a funky rhythm, chunky riffs, and an overall sense of explosiveness. Much of the energy comes from the confrontational posture of the soloists - Stewart likes and infuses his groove with entanglement; Pirog shows that his stinging, effect-drenched guitar chops can go wild; Branch is more playful than ever, applying inventive pitches to terse remarks; and Lewis boasts a lot of muscle and perseverance in clearly accented phrases.

The musicians dig into these well-defined grooves with gusto, yet “Escape Nostalgic Prisons” is fist-pumping avant-jazz abrasiveness. Polluted guitar jolts with noise, chaotic rhythmic textures, and nervous horns in frantic activity, are constituents of a cacophonous strife that is as dense as it is rewarding. Quite the reverse is seen on “The Eleventh Hour”, where a sunny melody soars on top of the smooth groove composed of a linear guitar texture in consonance with the bass/drums articulation.

Wrapping up the session is “Haden is Beauty” (for the late bassist Charlie Haden), which allows you to sail in tranquil folk waters, gaining collateral jazz and rock intensity as it progresses.

This thoroughly engaging album integrates horn-driven articulations and timbres with a supple rhythmic section. You will feel the groove!

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - An Unruly Manifesto ► 05 - The Eleventh Hour ► 07 - Escape Nostalgic Prisons


Kaja Draksler / Petter Eldh / Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Kaja Draksler: piano; Petter Eldh: bass; Christian Lillinger: drums.

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The European trio composed of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, and German drummer Christian Lillinger definitely deserves several listenings and wider recognition due to an urgent, empathetically modern sound that transpires focus, freedom, and craft. Their album Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is vividly recommended for the ones who love elaborate textures, rhythmic disjunctions, patterned lyricism, and maturely conspired ambiances with intelligent crosscurrents in the instrumentation.

Lillinger’s “Nuremberg Amok” opens the album as a beautiful deconstruction with a strong polyrhythmic feel and swift fragmented phases that often repeat. A nuanced sense of tempo and engrossing fluidity are constant presences.

Evicted” is the only composition penned by Draksler, evolving in a spectacular way and conveying the uncertainty and distress that an eviction may suggest. Ambiguity and some sadness are mixed in Draksler's lines, which causes an impressive effect whenever the hair-raising low notes are blended with shrilling pointillism to form strange musical mosaics. She has this very special way to deal with space. Is the following intervallic melodicism a synonym of resignation? Ponderation, for sure! Apart from her choices, Eldh concludes with a resonant bass foray replete of pizzicato technique.

Happy and carefree, “Punkt Torso” is marked by a classical lyricism that takes a bit more reflective intonation on “Life is Transient” and an exquisite modernization on “Momentan”, achieved through additional patterned elements that seem taken from electronica.

Both “Azan” and “Plastic” appear with fidgeting, broken beats expressed with dry and wet tones. However, while the former circulates angular melody, the latter advocates lullaby-ish lines and crawling dark drones, after a nearly two-minute drum solo.

Eldh and Lillinger are members of Amok Amor, a quartet with saxophonist Wanja Slavin and trumpeter Peter Evans, and their well-established rapport is valued by the independent Draksler, who knows how to merge into their rhythmic entanglement with finesse. The shape shifting “Body Decline” is another wonderful example of brilliance, put together with assertive noir brushstrokes and that beautiful tension/resolution dichotomy. Eldh penned it.

Reinventing themselves to escape any sort of pre-determined norms, the trio crafts an aesthetically bold work that will make you dive into their music, and remain indefinitely.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Nuremberg Amok ► 02 - Evicted ► 06 - Body Decline


Atomic - Pet Variations

Label: Odin Records, 2019

Personnel - Fredrik Ljungkvist: saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Havard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbaekmo: drums.

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The jazz quintet Atomic is composed of some of the finest Swedish and Norwegian improvisers out there, namely, trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Havard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo. The comprehensive aesthetic range of Pet Variations, an enticing first album entirely made of covers, is one of its strongest points in addition to the cohesive interplay and competent musical conception.

The opening track, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds”, was partly written by Wiik, patiently cooked up by the collective, and terminated with the vein-popping melody of The Beach Boys' instrumental song that lent its title to their 1966 album. Prior to a fluent solo by Broo, a flexible hornman, the ride cymbal sparkles continually and the bass draws some mystery from resolute plucks. This foundation sustains side-by-side melodic lines while marvelous piano voicings bring jazzy shades of grace to the mutating scenario. A transitory chamber passage soon slips into an agitated groove full of spirit, and the atmosphere compels Ljungkvist to explore rhythm and timbre.

A two-note piano ostinato prepares Steve Lacy’s “Art” to fall into step. Clarinet and trumpet unisons help weaving a docile texture where the arco bass infuses despondency. Marching steadily to the very end, the tune still highlights Wiik, who concentrates efforts in merging the baroque fragrances of Bach with atonal jazz currents.

Drifting and explorative, Carla Bley’s “Walking Woman” offers spontaneous dialogues from sax and piano, and then trumpet and bass. The collective becomes pretty active by the time that Hulbaekmo springs into action.

The cast of experienced musicians also breaks down a couple of contemporary classical pieces. If Varese’s “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” is a chiaroscuro musical canvas with a constant ritualistic pulse and arco bass solemnity opposing to the light-emitting clarity of the horns, Messiaen’s “Louange a L’Eternite de Jesus” is put together with devotional reverence and crescent dramatic tension.

Jimmy Giuffre’s classic “Cry Want” starts off with a trumpet monologue, later turned into a parallel dynamic with the presence of the clarinet. The piano harmonization, reminiscing Herbie Nichols, is rich and beautiful and the beseeching clarinet starts to expand horizons, initially backed by drums only, and then forming a strong improvisational alliance with the piano.

The exciting final part of the album unveils two favorites: “Inri” is an original composition by Alexander Von Schlippenbach whose fluidity and freedom are mirrored in its epic theme statement, electrifying solos, and itchy percussive angst; on its part, Jan Garbarek’s “Karin’s Mode” is an anthemic groovy tune in five, delivered with sophisticated cool.

Boasting an excellent repertoire, Atomic has great stuff to share and this borrowed material is as strong as their originals.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Cry Want ► 07 - Inri ► 08 - Karin’s Mode


Jason Palmer - Rhyme and Reason

Label: Giant Step Arts, 2019

Personnel - Jason Palmer: trumpet; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer: acoustic bass; Kendrick Scott: drums.

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On the double-disc Rhyme and Reason, trumpeter Jason Palmer is featured in a quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Matt Brewer on acoustic bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. The album consists of eight long original tunes (three of them exceed the 15 minutes whilst only one runs under 10 minutes) recorded live in 2018 at The Jazz Gallery, New York, and was released with the support of the artist-focused non-profit Giant Step Arts led by recording engineer and photographer Jimmy Katz.

Palmer, alone, sets in motion three of the four compositions that constitute the disc 1. Among them is “Herbs in a Glass”, a piece evenly inspired by the 4554 beat of August Greene’s “Aya” and the chord structure of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”, has snaky unisons floating above the vivid chord-less texture brought in by the bass and drums. Actually, the rhythm section swings and rocks at once, inciting the bandleader to infuse disconcerting melodies on top of it. Turner follows him with a strong discourse, and the final section displays an outgoing Scott exploring possibilities behind the drum set.

Suggesting an odd way of walking - sort of lolloping and marching at the same time - the title cut is a mixed-metered tune whose solos traverse many peaks, valleys, and plains. It features Palmer, Turner and Brewer alternating bars by the end. Despite bracing, it doesn't match the energy, groove, and emotional vibrancy of “Sadhana”, a potent churner. Palmer wrote it in the mid-2000s with spiritual practices in mind, and that is reflected in the soulful atmospherics. Turner throws in a lot of ideas, with one particular riff conjuring up Art Blakey’s version of “Moanin”, while the trumpeter explores brisk, clear-pitched lines.

Composed in honor of the bassist Alan Hampton, “The Hampton Inn (For Alan)” inaugurates the disc 2 by making us guess the groove that is coming as a result of Scott’s solo drumming. Lines usually ending with surprising bright notes bring the humor.

On the heels of “Waltz for Diana”, a Rosenwinkel-inspired tune where Palmer evokes the melody of “My Favorite Things” at the same time that nods to Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby”, we have “Kalispel Bay”, which thrives at a 5/4 tempo with plenty of freedom for the horns. This tune was originally composed in the ukulele.

Often populating his playing with energy and spontaneity, Palmer also makes possible for his bandmates to share their musical expertise. The only inconvenience is the duration of the solos, overextended to the point of getting me tired here and there, a fact aggravated by the absence of harmonic color throughout. Having that said, this is respectable material with a lot to be absorbed.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 (disc 1) - Herbs in a Glass ► 04 (disc 1) - Sadhana ► 04 (disc 2) - Kalispel Bay


Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble - Forward

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Paul Dietrich: compositions, arrangements, conduction, trumpet; Tony Barba: tenor saxophone; Dustin Laurenzi: tenor saxophone; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Corbin Andrick: alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Mark Hiebert: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andy Baker: trombone; Jamie Kember: trombone; Kurt Dietrich: trombone; Tom Matta: trombone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Chuck Parrish: trumpet; Jessica Jensen: trumpet; David Cooper: trumpet; Megan Moran: vocals; Matt Gold: guitar; Carl Kennedy: piano; John Christensen: bass; Clarence Penn: drum set.

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Forward is the third official release of the up-and-coming composer, arranger, and trumpeter Paul Dietrich, a native of Wisconsin, who convenes awesome soloists and musicians in order to expand his longtime quintet into a larger jazz ensemble. While featured guest Clarence Penn is practically confined to the accompaniment, Dietrich improvises only once, in the fourth and last movement of his Forward suite, the album’s central piece and an ode to his home state.

The aforementioned movement, “Forward IV: Green Fields”, allows some languid folk to arise on the surface, while the remaining parts, being musically unrelated, explicitly connect through the sentiment. The first part, “Forward I: Perennial”, involves sharp counterpoint and flows with a gorgeous 4/4 beat, featuring improvisations by trumpeter Russ Johnson and tenorist Tony Barba, who deliver again on “Rush”, a poised, gracefully orchestrated piece that is the album’s welcoming embrace. Johnson emanates a beautiful sound from his trumpet in an excellent solo over a circular progression in nine, while Barba starts with thoughtful expressions that are gradually developed and expanded with assured authority.

Forward II: Snow” was written after a significant snowfall, which can be easily pictured as we listen to the music. The inherent tranquility that surrounds this piece gains further dimension with the altoist Greg Ward’s eloquent improvisation. His lyricism is detectable anew on “Settle”, which is included in the set of quiet compositions. This reflective loosening is predominant throughout the album, showing the bandleader’s temperate side.

The angelic vocal presence of Megan Moran enriches several tunes, acquiring a special significance on “Forward III: Roads”, whose rhythmic shifts allude to its topic: travels. Rich layers sculpt forms whose edges are rounder than sharp, but tenor man Dustin Laurenzi, one of the three faces of Twin Talk, inserts a handful of discordant yet alluring notes in his patient narrative elaboration, contributing melodically illuminating lines to the song. Pianist Carl Kennedy and guitarist Matt Gold reveal an effective integration while comping.

Disseminating good vibes through pleasant atmospheric arrangements, Dietrich is a skilled composer who narrates clearly and uniformly in a non-swinging environment.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Rush ► 05 - Forward I: Perennial ► 07 - Forward III: Roads


Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake - Chi

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, piano, wooden recorder; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, piano, sinter, percussion, electronics; Hamid Drake: drumset, vocals, frame drum, percussion.

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Combining the mysticism of ancient traditions and the sonic aesthetics of today’s music, Chi is an album of spontaneous music, matching saxophonist Dave Liebman with two top-class percussionists and kindred spirits, Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake. The latter collaborates with the saxophonist for the very first time, giving precious help in the rhythmic layout of a record that shares the same conception as The Unknowable, another RareNoise release that featured Liebman, Rudolph and Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani.

The short-lived opener, “Becoming”, shapes slowly, creating a whispery electronic settlement that gains further mystery with the addition of Rudolph’s jolting intervals on the piano. Liebman infuses some spirituality at the last minute, making us wanting more.

The simpatico rhythmic tide of “Flux” upholds the alacritous, coiled phrases from tenor saxophone. This turbo-charged firepower settles down into a calm passage that, nonetheless, comes loaded with Liebman’s virtuosic language, which echoes on soprano sax with delay effect. Behind the drum kit, Drake responds accordingly, while Rudolph creates a densely propulsive flux through expeditious hand-drum bombardments.

If “Continuum” generates tension by departing from long howling cries and landing into pungently accented phrases, “Formless Form” mixes sweet piano delineations with chirping sounds, attaining a delicate equilibrium between nature and spirit. Liebman plays the piano with dexterity and unchained abandon, and, for an instant, Drake uses his voice, before diffusing an exhilarating percussion tapestry alongside Rudolph.

After the shifting, energetic, and expertly rendered “Emergence”, the longest piece on the record, “Whirl” brings the recording to a conclusion, proliferating a sort of groovy mantra implanted by Rudolph’s sintir and featuring Drake’s frame drum and vocals, as well as Liebman’s penetrating soprano exclamations.

The trio immerses us into their creative sonic bubble where fearless sounds may whether anchor you to Earth’s foundations or make you travel well above the clouds.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flux ► 04 - Formless Form ► 06 - Whirl


Jeremy Pelt - Jeremy Pelt The Artist

Label: HighNote Records, 2019

Personnel – Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Victor Gould: piano; Frank LoCrasto: Fender Rhodes, effects; Chien Chien Lu: vibraphone, marimba; Vicente Archer: bass; Allan Mednard: drums; Ismel Wignall: percussion.

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Jeremy Pelt is a terrific trumpet player and bandleader whose records offer enough consistency to make us search for new material. He is also an extremely reliable sideman with important contributions in projects by Vincent Herring, Ralph Peterson Jr., Wayne Escoffery, and more recently, bassist Ben Allison.

His new outing, Jeremy Pelt The Artist, finds him fronting a dynamic group with Victor Gould on piano, Frank LoCrasto on Fender Rhodes and effects, Chien Chien Lu on vibraphone and marimba, Vicente Archer on bass, Allan Mednard on drums, and Ismel Wignall on percussion.

The album’s first five tracks constitute The Rodin Suite, a compositional effort inspired by the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Like the sculptor himself, Pelt doesn’t rebel against the past, but arrange everything in a clever way, introducing new elements that shape the music with a winsome modern feel. On “Pt 1: L’Appel Aux Armes”, Wintz’s scorching guitar licks emerge from the cumulative instrumental layers initiated by Gould’s piano. The rhythm mutates graciously, becoming a fine receptacle for a warm dialogue established between vibraphone and piano. Pelt’s buoyant trumpet, then becomes the center of attention when his wonderfully chosen notes populate the colorful harmonic tapestry.

Pt 2: Dignity and Despair” works like a languid transition to “Pt 3: I Sol Tace” where streams of percussion join trumpet lines affected by wah-wah and delay. Archer orders his contrabass to walk leisurely. Later on, he is doubled by Lu’s vibraphone and forms a smoothly groovy alliance with Mednard while psychedelic acid jazz shouts echo in the air.

Whereas “Pt 4: Camille Claudel” is a volatile ballad featuring the melodic conductions of Wintz and Pelt, the softly “Pt 5: Epilogue” is launched by solo bass and complemented with an initial primal thud (later extended to cymbal legato), muted trumpet, and the electric charm of LoCrasto’s Rhodes.

The rhythmic flux on “Ceramic” is suggestive of electronica, yet its essence is mainly post-bop like on “Feito”, which categorically swings with Pelt showing off lucid phrases that resonate with the style of Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis. He is followed by Lu and Gould, whose conviction doesn’t consent to energy interruptions.

You will find the rhythm section swinging in the pocket again on “As of Now”, which closes out the album full of supercharged jazz harmonies, right after the 3/4 musical sunshine that is “Watercolors”.

This is deftly composed material put in practice with taste by a sophisticated new group that works pretty well together.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Rodin Suite Pt. 1 ► 03 - The Rodin Suite Pt. 3 ► 06 - Ceramic


Tobias Meinhart - Berlin People

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Tobias Meinhart: saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Ludwig Hornung: piano; Tom Berkmann: bass; Mathias Ruppnig: drums.

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On his new outing, New York-based saxophonist Tobias Meinhart pays tribute to his German roots at the same time that shows an ardent passion for New York. In order to do that, he put together a group based in Berlin, whose lineup includes the illustrious American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, now a mainstay of that European city’s music scene. With the guitarist functioning more like a featured soloist, the quintet presents a rhythm section composed of pianist Ludwig Hornung, bassist Tom Berkmann, and drummer Mathias Ruppnig.

The opener, “Mount Meru”, is highly expressive, promoting relaxation while progressing at a confident 6/8 tempo. Contributing an exciting solo, Rosenwinkel has a magnificent first intervention, showing full command of the guitar. His phrasing is bright and his sound dazzling. Meinhart succeeds him, drawing melodic paths that involve emotions, and a transitory chorus serves as a vehicle for percussive dilatations, anticipating the repositioning of the main theme.

The bandleader’s deep fondness of swing is shared on tunes like “It’s Not So Easy”, a current layout projected with the force of bop; “Berlin People”, a showcase for a hard-hitting saxophone; “Alfred”, which features a well-articulate piano solo and is dedicated to Meinhart’s late grandfather, a classically trained bassist; and “Serenity”, a Joe Henderson original, here suffused with blistering intensity and typically structured with theme / solos (sax, guitar, piano, bass) / four-bar trades with drummer / theme.

Hornung contributes “Fruher War Alles Besser”, a suave ballad where he echoes some of the melodies brought upfront by the bassist. However, it was another balladic effort that captivated me the most: Meinhart’s “Childhood”. Assembled with major triads and displaying a special affection for melody, the piece has Rosenwinkel finishing alone and in great style.

If “Malala” is an unhurried post-bop ride inspired by the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, “Be Free” is nothing more than a short improvisation whose undercurrents I wished were further explored.

The tracks on Berlin People, despite compositionally strong, don’t reveal many shifts internally, living mostly from the power of the improvisations. However, the album marks a solid step in Meinhart’s evolution as a recording artist.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Mount Meru ► 07 - Childhood ► 08 - Berlin People


Bryan McAllister - Very Stable Genius

Label: Orenda Records, 2019

Personnel - Bryan McAllister: keyboards; Levi Saelua: alto sax, bass clarinet; Brandon Sherman: trumpet; Zack Teran: electric bass; Miguel Jimenez-Cruz: drums + guest Peter Epstein: alto sax.

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Keyboardist Bryan McAllister, a native of Reno, Nevada, reunites his local quintet for an electric jazz session marked by political observation (all titles target president Trump), in its satirical and reflective modes, and a rocking sense of groove. The album, Very Stable Genius, is an eight-song expedition into all sorts of fusion, and the opening tune, “My Fingers Are Long and Beautiful” is one of its highlights. Popping bass lines sustain the animated unison melodies that precede the improvisations. While the expressive altoist Levi Saelua denotes articulation within a conversational style, trumpeter Brandon Sherman exhibits strong rhythmic ideas throughout the swift, offbeat phrasing. The bandleader, besides attentive not to make his comping intrusive, improvises for a short period of time. By the end, both unisons and counterpoint lead to a rock vamp where drummer Miguel Jimenez-Cruz sweeps the drumset with energy.

Bringing the same soloists to the forefront, “My IQ is the One of the Highest” is another stream-of-consciousness allurement with a tuneful horn-driven intro, quick-witted bass slides, and a seductive riff defining its head. The efficiency of the drummer is noticeable here again and the tune ends with a mellow tone after his effervescent discourse.

If “Mueller” is a humorous fusion of rock and Latin jazz that grooves with a forward-looking attitude, “Plan a Parade” sucks you into its odd-metered, rock-oriented vortex. Guest saxophonist Peter Epstein shines while expressing his valuable opinions on alto sax. The group explores the fertile contemporary jazz landscape with a bunch of other influences and “Fake News” is peremptory in showing it. Repetitive lines echoed by sax and muted trumpet join the electronic vibe (with some fine glitch) generated by the rhythm section. The vibrant pulse acquires different shapes, evincing Latin connotations after the final statement, and we realize that irony is here to stay.

Softer in nature, “Executive Time” finds wider space to navigate, even when the relentless pendular keyboard punctuates Zack Teran’s bass extemporization. In turn, the beautiful ambient jazz of “State of the Uniom” showcases McAllister’s keyboards as its vital melodic force. It feels good to luxuriate in its irresistible, easy-listening sonorities.

With a firm grasp across genres, McAllister and his qualified bandmates focused on cooking an admirable set that brings the keyboardist’s eclectic compositions to life. Subsequent listenings will allow you to get more and more familiar with their sound aesthetics and make unexpected discoveries.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - My Fingers Are Long and Beautiful ► 06 - State of the Uniom ► 08 - Plan a Parade


Marilyn Mazur - Shamania

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Marilyn Mazur: percussion, balaphone, kalimba; Lotte Anker: sax; Josefine Cronholm: voice, percussion; Sissel Vera Pettersen: sax and vocals; Hildegunn Oiseth: trumpet, goat horn; Lis Wessberg: trombone; Makiko Hirabayashi: keyboards; Ellen Andrea Wang: bass; Anna Lund: drums; Lisbeth Diers: percussion.

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Percussion mastermind Marilyn Mazur gathers a 10-piece ensemble composed of female Scandinavian musicians and amazes us with 16 tremendously rhythmic numbers in her new project, Shamania. A former collaborator of Miles Davis and Jan Garbarek, Mazur alludes to instinctive, primitive rituals in a buoyant session that establishes eclecticism as a priority. The power of women in jazz is reflected here, and saxophonist Lotte Anker just confirms it through fiery exteriorizations full of timbral color on the opening and closing tunes, “New Secret” and “Space Entry Dance”, respectively.

The impeccable voice of Josefine Cronholm invites us to an Eastern litany on “Rytmeritual”, a liberating free-verse poem denoting the entrancing rhythm as a fundamental agent. Beautiful exotic sounds also emerge from “Shabalasa” and “Kalimbaprimis”, ecstatic Afro-style celebrations that bring Mazur to the center. The former piece is shaped with the balafon from Mali, while the latter is filled with the inharmonic overtones of the kalimba. The bandleader claims the spotlight once again on the purely percussive “Behind Clouds”. Other chiefly percussive rides include “Time Ritual”, methodized with human breath, and “Surrealistic Adventure”, where Sissel Vera Pettersen projects her powerful voice.

The preliminary tranquility carried out by trumpeter Hildegunn Oiseth on “Chaas”, veers to a cacophonic horn-driven eruption. The pressure is maintained even after keyboardist Makiko Hirabayashi takes the lead, and the psychedelic jazz-fusion ends like a mantra. She reactivates improvisational instincts on “Heartshaped Moon”, an exhilarating Afro-Cuban spiral that also features Sissel Vera in a quieter passage, this time on tenor saxophone.

With several traditions blurring and blending, and the horns entering and leaving the scenario, improvisation and creativity were consistently contemplated. “Fragments” is a collective effort in that sense, while the sax-percussion duet “Talk For Two”, a showcase for Mazur and Anker’s conversational facility, is bookended by the steep rhythmic accentuations in the less-than-a-minute pieces titled “Momamajobass”.

Shamania made me travel many miles through a colorful folklore that appeals to multiculturalism. It’s an important exertion that celebrates music in its entire dimension.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – New Secret ► 02 - Rytmeritual ► 03 - Chaas


Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure, Federico Ughi - New York United

Label: 577 Records, 2019

Personnel – Daniel Carter: alto and tenor saxophones, flute, trumpet; Tobias Wilner: synth, beats and electronics; Djibril Toure: bass; Federico Ughi: drums.

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New York United is an atmospheric, electronic-charged avant-garde quartet composed of Daniel Carter on woodwinds, Tobias Wilner on synth and electronics, Djibril Toure on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums. Despite prior collaborations, this record marks the studio debut of the band.

They take us on an underground tour that starts in downtown Manhattan, goes up to Harlem, and finishes in Brooklyn. A nearly 16-minute bonus track joins the other four, where music is made in the spur of the moment with no rehearsals or preconceived ideas.

Flute, synth, and electronic manipulations describe “Canal Street” in the first instance, until tenacious hi-hat accents, a complement of the magnetic drumbeat, starts to invade the neighborhood populated by Carter’s trumpet rambles.

This same trumpet is transferred to “125th Street”, a noir-ish electro-acoustic rendering of the Harlem with a sort of experimental trance in the mix. The heavy synth and muted trumpet link brooding indietronica with the cool jazz lines of Miles Davis. It feels like a long battle between light and darkness.

Abstraction and reflection mold “Nostrand Ave”, where Wilner’s synth acquires ghostly shapes and Carter contributes to the spectral composure with unhurried saxophone cogitations. Following an intermediary passage characterized by a primitive rhythm, cyclical electronic elements, and vocal samples, the group establishes a thin rocking texture where the synth melody resembles the sound of stringed instruments. Carter’s phrases become jazzier in the final stretch and the context shifts to a typical avant-jazz.

Having electronic glitches adorning the danceable pulse, “Flatbush Ave” feels simultaneously raw and fashionable, yet sparse in emotional peaks, whereas “East Flatbush”, the bonus track, has Ughi’s drumming as a central element. In due course, Toure’s dark bass drones are transformed into a well-defined groove, sustaining further flute rumination.

New York United mounts their music like structural block collages, avoiding collisions in favor of a mood-setting approach that not always enhances the narratives. A certain strangeness and a scintilla of jazz help to customize alternative, yet often lukewarm environments.

Grade  C+

Grade C+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Canal Street ► 02 - 125th Street ► 03 - Nostrand Ave


Vijay Iyer / Craig Taborn - The Transitory Poems

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Vijay Iyer: piano; Craig Taborn: piano.

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Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are two like-minded improvisers that consistently venture off the rails of traditional piano playing, embracing polyrhythmic mutations, effusive lines that speed up into full-flight fancy, and reciprocal textural work that make them distinct architects of unprecedented free jazz sceneries.

They first played together in the early 2000’s, when hired by Roscoe Mitchell to take part of his nine-piece ensemble Note Factory. Now, as a duo, they bring out The Transitory Poems, a thrilling double-piano improvisation recorded live in Budapest, and whose title was excerpted from an interview given by the late pianist Cecil Taylor.

On the opening tune, “Life Line”, they ruminatively pursue an identical idea that almost shapes like a scale. Single-note lines set against dark voicings are later confronted with other bouncy counter-voicings emitted on higher registers. The piece goes through happy stages of modern classical music and boogie-woogie, takes the form of reflective and dreamy meditations, and evokes epic intonations over a simple pedal. It’s like living in a lucid state of temporary confusion, where we know that every musical puzzle will be solved.

Dedicated to painter Jack Whitten, “Sensorium” hangs on a congested interpolation of phrases before ending peacefully, shrouded in neoclassical streams of intuition.

Kairós” is initially sketched with silences and short melodic manifestations that let radiant glimpses of light in. This sort of babbling exercise expands into a smart collection of sounds loaded with left-hand rhythmic jabs and other accentuations. Expect a hallucinating folk dance to finish. “Shake Down” is also structured with celebratory folk passages, centering in a rhythmic idea apt for mercurial variations. At a particular time, bass notes quiver as new sounds shape.

S.H.A.R.D.S.” and “Clear Monolith” are definitely among my favorite pieces. The former employs a jazz-centered melodic-harmonic foil pushed forward in its last section by an electro-rock pulse, while the latter, dedicated to the great pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, is a staccato-infused impromptu turned avant epic. One can sense strong winds coming from the Far East and a spiritual current running through our bodies.

Meshwork”, the record’s final track, is externalized with bustling jolts of energy, culminating in a slower version of Geri Allen’s “When Kabuya Dances”, here tackled with deep sentiment.

Boasting a phenomenal structural discernment, Iyer and Taborn do wonders with their agile fingers, merging their sounds to form a compact and unique whole. The world trusts these top-tier creative minds to keep shaking and amazing the modern music scene.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Kairós ► 04 - S.H.A.R.D.S. ► 06 - Clear Monolith


Ben Winkelman Trio - Balance

Label: OA2 Records, 2019

Personnel - Ben Winkelman: piano; Matt Penman: acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire: drums.

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Melbourne-raised, New York-based pianist/composer Ben Winkelman, an adept of the trio format, odd meters, and Latin scents, teams up for the first time with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire on his fifth album as a leader.

Balancing composition and improvisation, he crosses the lines between Latin, jazz, and classical, bestowing a distinct feel to each of the 10 tunes that compose the album, which appropriately got the title Balance.

BX 12” opens and closes the recording in differentiable ways. Whereas part one advocates an elastic post-bop with precise rhythmic punches, some classical innuendo, and invigorating Afro-Cuban enchantment during a rich coda, the second part conjures up a pronouncedly Latin spirit, brought under the wings of Penman and Calvaire. Both versions boast odd meters.

Wheels” feels humorous and inquisitive, swinging happily and unreservedly after a theme garnished with elements of gospel. With the eloquence of the bandleader occupying the first half of the tune, the second half displays Penman plucking and sliding the bass strings with grace before the theme is rebuilt.

If the explorations of “Santiago” and “Fala Baixiño”, both melancholic waltzing rides, were not so attractive to me, then “Merri Creek” returns to those demanding yet spot-on rhythmic hooks. Here, the fine blend of classical and Afro-Cuban influence is mirrored in Winkelman’s improvisation, which also encapsulates a lot of jazz trait. Calvaire finds space for a brief workout that anticipates a classical-motivated passage.

Also flowing under odd tempos, “Window Shopping” shimmers with tenaciously folkloric elements from Latin America, becoming predominantly Afro-Cuban in its sensual last part. In contrast with this mood, “Bye-Ya”, a Thelonious Monk classic, is addressed with some interesting details within a jazz context. It is the sole non-original to appear on the album.

Winkelman puts on show a well-rounded set of fairly accessible music, even when emotions get a bit obfuscated by the technique. Without exceeding expectations, Balance should find its niche in eclectic jazz circles.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Wheels ► 05 - Merri Creek ► 06 - Window Shopping


Gebhard Ullmann's Basement Research - Impromptus and Other Short Works

Label: WhyPlayJazz, 2019

Personnel - Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Steve Swell: trombone; Julian Arguelles: baritone saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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The avant-jazz forays engineered by German saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann are, per usual, excitingly strenuous and worth to dive into. The most recent release of his esteemed project Basement Research, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is called Impromptus and Other Short Works, featuring Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet alongside a quartet of compatible accomplices: trombonist Steve Swell, baritonist Julian Arguelles, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

Despite its title, “Gospel” is not an effusively happy tune of faith and devotion, rather feeling like a deep-rooted band march. Melodically conducted by trombone, the tune has the taciturn tones of the baritone sax bestowing extra consistency. Its calm intensity, illustrated by amiable folk touches in a Frisell kind of way, is transferred to “Kleine Figuren”, where the horn players, by turns, deliver their statements over an unremitting harmonic progression.

29 Shoes” makes us dance at the sound of its swinging short theme, suggesting a free-bop ride in the vicinity of “Fascinating Rhythm”. The pulsations rise and shine, combust, and then cool down, ending up in collective cacophonies while relying on both Cleaver’s lucid rhythmic maneuvers and Niggenkemper’s pedals to create tension.

The hook-filled “Almost Twenty-Eight” is an avant-garde delight with a virtuosic integration of written and improvised parts. Feel the power that comes from the burning solos and discover the adaptability of a rhythm section that knows exactly which moves to make for the sake of dynamics.

Six extemporary pieces get to showcase the musicians’ limber technique and spontaneous creativity. Both “Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5” and “Lines - Impromptu #2” display melodic ideas occasionally delivered in unison. They are quickly scattered in other directions or dissolved in calmer passages. In the case of the former piece, awesomely introduced by alto sax and trombone, we have the growling baritone infecting the scene after a few carefree interventions by the collective. In turn, the latter composition brims with expressive, groovy lines and colorful drumming patterns that take the form of simple cymbal scratches and rattles on the final section. Bowed bass vibratos also contribute, giving some support to Swell’s trombone manifesto.

The ceremonial “Impromptu #1” shows a predilection for deep notes, yet Ullmann’s eloquent tenor sax infuses some Eastern-flavored half steps over the modal changes, giving it the aspect of a spiritual song. “Sticks - Impromptu #4” directs the spotlight to Cleaver, who dilates his chops behind the drum kit with confidence, whereas “For Jim - Impromptu #6” starts as a rubato lament, but evolves into a waltz freshened up by a nice percussive flow with Latin traces.

This is a successful, enjoyable effort from a band that, knowing exactly where they want to go, has the intuition plus technical means to create winning music every step of the way.

Garde  A-

Garde A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5 ► 03 - Impromptu #1 ► 11- Almost Twenty-Eight


Wing Walker Orchestra - Hazel

Label: ears&eyes, 2019

Personnel – Drew Williams: bass clarinet; Eric Trudel: tenor sax; Brad Mulholland: alto saxophone, clarinet; John Blevins: trumpet; Danny Gouker: trumpet; Karl Lyden: trombone; Nick Grinder: trombone; Jeff McLaughlin: guitar; Marta Sánchez: piano; Adam Hopkins: acoustic bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.

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Wing Walker Orchestra is an 11-piece jazz ensemble led by the 30-year-old multi-reedist/composer Drew Williams, who let the saxophone aside to play exclusively bass clarinet on Hazel. The project features well-established musicians and bandleaders in their own right, such as saxophonist Eric Trudel, trumpeter John Blevins, Spanish pianist Marta Sanchez, and bassist Adam Hopkins.

The first seven tracks on the album form a suite inspired by Saga, the space fantasy comic book series penned by Brian K. Vaughan. Propelled by a dried beat and guitar ostinatos, “An Idea” also incorporates horn lines in tandem, precise counterpoint, and spiky unisons in a breezy, danceable exercise with a memorable melodic riff. The hues of “Backbone” feel pretty similar, with crisp lines hovering an uplifting rock-infused groove comparable to Mark Helias/Gerry Hemingway's foundation in their BassDrumBone trio.

Lying” has handclaps and lyrical piano underpinning the solemn chamber fluxes created by the horns. Enlivened by the drummer, this piece effectively merges electronics, circular piano, and shrilling guitar drones for texture.

Elaborated yet emphatic rhythms grant “Heists” a modern vitality, while the charged horn section juxtaposes rhythmic figures in a clear search for punch and groove.

The band sticks to the original 9/4 tempo of Tune-Yards' “Look Around”, belting out an alternative folk-rock-meets-progressive-jazz. The tune hinges on the strong presences of bass clarinet and trombone, and ends with a collective ecstasy in the wake of a cautious saxophone statement.

The record actually gets more exciting in its last segment, and if “We’ve Seen These Walls Crumble” feels a bit dragging, “High” and Michael Attias’ “Marina”, a bonus track, are incredibly stimulating. On the former, you will find the bass clarinet echoing Eastern pronouncements and a rock-tinged guitar spreading energy, while the latter invites you to a fantastic trip, filled with precipitous sounds a-la Steve Lehman on the head and lots of humor during Trudel's saxophone escalations. It’s intricate and stunning, with delicious sharp angles to be examined.

Williams’ WWO channels so much inspiration from many directions, spicing things up with textural hues that always feel very musical. The group’s debut album was produced by trombonist/composer Alan Ferber.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
08 – Look Around ► 10 - High ► 11 - Marina


Joe Martin - Étoilée

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Mark Turner: tenor and soprano saxophone; Kevin Hays: piano, Fender Rhodes; Joe Martin: acoustic bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Over the course of eight original compositions, the constituents of the album Étoilée, American bassist/composer Joe Martin offers us interesting musical moments. He is featured in a smashing quartet with saxist Mark Turner, keyboardist Kevin Hays, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Except for the latter, the remaining members had recorded the bassist's first album as a leader, Passages, which came out on the Fresh Sound label in 2002.

The two strongest pieces appear right at the top of the album's lineup. “A World Beyond” is subjected to a softly keened instrumentation, kicking in with a temperate bass groove and producing an unexpected polyphony in the head as Hays’ Fender Rhodes brings out an alternative melodic thread in the shape of comping. Turner irrigates each harmonic tunnel with his phrasal intelligence, while Hays improvises within a more reflective context. Elegance abounds.

The storytelling abilities of the artists stand out on “Malida”, a family-related composition introduced by a bass soliloquy that morphs into a McCoy-inspired modal groove in six. After exposing the theme’s melody in parallel, pianist and saxophonist enter in action-reaction mode during the latter’s solo. Hays also probes itineraries with grooving assurance and Martin closes out the improvisatory section with authenticity of touch.

Prospecting” boasts enjoyable melodic fragmentation in the main statement and a feel-good articulation during the ad-lib utterances of the soloists. For this one, Martin took inspiration from the Brooklyn neighborhood where he and his family live. Lowering the vibrancy, "Two Birds" and “Long Winter” have much fewer slopes with the latter featuring a plaintive chamber coda with arco bass.

If the energetic “Safe”, a contrafact of “Just in Time”, draws from bop sources, “Étoilée” brings into play bolero-ish vibes with round edges, soft brushwork, and polished tones. Soprano saxophone and piano supply the improvisations.

Nothing better than having a gorgeous blues concluding this ride, and “5x3” accomplishes that mission with odd tempos.

Not being an ‘outside’ player, Martin, whose compositional style strips away major complexities or fusses, still shows a fondness for adventure.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - A World Beyond ► 02 - Malida ► 08 - 5x3


Quinsin Nachoff's Flux - Path of Totality

Label: Whirlwind Recordings, 2019

Personnel – Quinsin Nachoff: tenor and soprano saxophones; David Binney: alto and C-melody saxophones; Matt Mitchell: piano, Prophet 6; synth, harpsichord, harmonium; Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion; Nate Wood: drums + guests.

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Since the release of Flux (Mythology Records, 2016), it was obvious to me that New York-based saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff, a native of Toronto, was predestined to be a big name in modern jazz. To prove I wasn't wrong, we have the six fabulous originals that compose his new album, Path of Totality, inspired by the 2017 total eclipse of the sun.

The stellar bass-less group, known as Flux, includes the following core members: David Binney on alto and C-melody saxophones, Matt Mitchell on piano, synth, and harmonium, Kenny Wollesen on drums and Wollesonic percussion (his distinguished trademark), and the newly added Nate Wood on drums. Guest musicians join them on selected tracks, contributing to an adventure rich in spins and thrills.

The album is bookended by two jubilant numbers: the title track and “Orbital Resonances”. Both feature the pair of drummers expanding the usual quartet into a quintet. Their unobtrusive integration carries a modern feel through, with the horns creating conjointly until parting ways to embark on fluttering individual flights imbued in rhythmic color.

Bounce”, a crisp and dynamic effort that includes Kimball theater organ (played by Jason Barnsley) in its final section, effectively assimilates electronics and drums, with Wood soloing up front. Written parts are cleverly placed between the improvisations, and you will even find musing suspensions populated by Mitchell’s intricate creativity. The pianist enjoys the limelight again on the John Cage-inspired “Toy Piano Meditation”, a serene exercise where he operates on several octaves delivering stunning dark voicings and nimble single-note phrases. Wollesen initially embellishes the piano playing with enigmatic cymbal scratches and opportune splashes while guest vibraphonist/marimbist Mark Duggan contributes addictive comping during the reedists’ explorations.

The noir singularity of “March Macabre” is infectious, tying in Wollesen’s odd percussion, the trombones of Ryan Keberle and Alan Ferber, the trumpets of Matt Holman and Dan Urness, the low reeds of Carl Maraghi, and Orlando Hernadez’s tap dancing. In terms of solos, Binney embraces darkness with labyrinthine effusion, Mitchell brings further emotional impression with the harmonium, and then Nachoff decides to search for light, escalating into the sky with an invigorating soprano spin. Inevitably, this tune has political connotations.

Splatter”, which is probably my favorite piece on the album, features Matt Mitchell infusing as much mystery as atonal splendor on the harpsichord as well on synths. Working on top of Wollesen’s rhythmic syncopations and Mitchell’s geometric patterns, Binney and Nachoff show off what they can do, which is plenty. The former is an authentic master of precise phrasing while the latter excavates timbral possibilities in rapid-fire phrases that burn and delight.

This album abounds with appealing ideas, both textural and improvisational, as well as gripping tension, which is rarely abandoned. I got completely dragged into the narrative fluidity of a group showing a phenomenal facility in blazing undiscovered sonic paths. A wonderful point of entry for new listeners who want to testify Nachoff’s unbridled virtuosity.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Path of Totality ► 04 - March Macabre ► 05 - Splatter


Larry Ochs / Nels Cline / Gerald Cleaver - What Is To Be Done

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Larry Ochs: saxophone; Nels Cline: electric guitar; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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If you want to figure out how music can be so ferocious and intimate at the same time, you should try What Is To Be Done, a compulsory trio record featuring saxophonist Larry Ochs, guitarist Nels Cline, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album brings a special motivation since it marks the 500th release of the Lisbon-based avant-jazz imprint Clean Feed.

The three musicians have been gigging together for quite some time but never had recorded before as a group. Saxophonist and guitarist were temporary partners in the Rova’s Electric Ascension bands, while Cleaver records with Cline for the first time, taking the opportunity to tighten the musical bond with Ochs after their duo album Songs of the Wild Cave (RogueArt, 2018).

They let the music breathe in the introductory section of the mercurial “Outcries Rousing”, where we hear elongated, electrified guitar chords sustaining a bashful saxophone. Moments later, Ochs wallows in a rasping rumpus with just Cleaver’s magnetic backbeat underneath. Even when Cline joins again, causing a darned detonation of acid-rock and proto-funk, the musicians find their own space, stretching their imagination to reinforce the collective’s integrity. A rare dark atmospheric passage seems to motivate Cline to subvert the sonic milieu. He dishes out twangy, spasmodically electro strokes synced with methodical percussive thumps. This segment evolves into an avalanche of sound created by continual noise guitar, fraught and resilient saxophone trajectories delineated with dark tones, and the catchy, athletic pulses from Cleaver. He is a fantastic rhythm sculptor, who also excels in the following structural block marked by prog-rock invention and electronica slipperiness. Running over 20 minutes, there’s a lot going on here, and the trio even stops by power-metal territories before Ochs detours toward East, throwing in sumptuous, Arabic-flavored phrases.

A Pause, a Rose” is initially tinged with folk influences, affected by cascades of draggy electronic effects, and ultimately buoyed up by a lovely, fragmented trippy rhythm that produces glorious results with the guitar and soprano sax atop.

Like the opening track, “Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend” goes above 20 minutes, relying on the intense capacity of communication between the trio members, who work from many different angles. Exhibiting seamless transitions while pummeling with impressive force, this track includes relentless primitive rhythms, eerie drones, agonizing groans and spiraling phrases on the saxophone, and a variety of guitar textures comprising serene loopy vibes, loud spiky liberations, grungy tautness, and psych-rock stabs.

This is a tiny treasure of a disc, where you find no subterfuges and every section becomes a fresh discovery.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Outcries Rousing ► 03 - Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend