Mark Dresser Seven - Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Nicole Mitchell: flutes; Michael Dessen: trombone; Keir GoGwilt: violin; Joshua White: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Jim Black: drums.

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American bassist Mark Dresser reunites his magnificent Seven for a second album. Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is a showcase for musical expressivity, relevant messages, and sincere dedications. The original members were kept in their positions - Nicole Mitchell on flutes, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and clarinets, Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano, and Jim Black on drums - with the exception of violinist David Morales Boroff, who was replaced with Keir GoGwilt.

The album opens and closes with dedications to departed musicians who bumped into Dresser at some point of his career, leaving some positive impact. “Black Arthur’s Bounce” was written for saxophonist Arthur Blythe and its motion is set forward through Black’s funky beat and Dresser’s pedal. Joyful unisons lead to trombone-saxophone reciprocity, and the rhythmic flux is interrupted. The bassist’s slides and tone-perfect pizzicato provoke reactions: violin interjections, piano subversions, and horn remarks. The theme statement returns and how enchanting these lines sound! The solos succeed one another, filled with ‘outside’ risk and sublime rhythmic thrust. Ehrlich, who had also played with Blythe in the past, was particularly stunning, showing his true colors on the alto saxophone, an instrument he didn't return to.

The other tribute is for Sarah Vaughn’s former pianist, Butch Lacy. “Butch’s Balm” was half composed after his decease and it's an antithesis of the opening tune in terms of mood. Melancholy-tinged, the piece bears mournful piano voicings and ripples of percussion that stain the canvas with subtle granular textures. Bowed bass, wafting violin, and flute wails reinforce pathos as they join the lament.

Defined by its composer as ‘a kind of parametric waltz’, “Gloaming” is also very profound, meditative, and sentimentally strong. Violin melodies soaring on top of a two-voice bass line produce a beautiful effect and the texture gets richer with the additional instrumentation. Everything glows with meaning, hope, and serenity. Awe-inspiring!

The main compositions are intercalated with short solo bass demonstrations executed with the McLagan Tines, a bass adaptation with an odd sound, a signature of luthier/musician/engineer Kent McLagan.

Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is indeed a great title derived from a response from the Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman to president Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Dresser’s melodies are obliquely connoted to Puerto Rico’s unofficial national anthem, in a throbbing, percussion-soaked salutation that intermingles folk and jazz with both tension and lyricism. The group puts forward a sort of indigenous dance in the final section with Mitchell taking her wild flute to a state of euphoria.

Embodied in Seoul” and the title track denote opposite temperaments. Whereas the former is more abstract, presenting some ominous chamber vibes in a hybrid configuration of classical and avant-jazz, the latter feels both sportive and elastic through a clever combination of electro-rock rhythms, a jazz standard structure, burlesque-like melody, swing scintilla, and avant-garde impertinence.

Dresser’s music transcends any hint of convention and this delightful work comes filled with moments of gaiety and profundity, where everything emerges in full color.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Black Arthur’s Bounce ► 03 - Gloaming ► 11 - Butch’s Balm


Anne Mette Iversen's Ternion Quartet - Invincible Nimbus

Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2019

Personnel - Silke Eberhard: alto saxophone; Geoffrey De Masure: trombone; Anne Mette Iversen: bass; Roland Schneider: drums.

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Anne Mette Iversen is a Berlin-based bassist/composer from Denmark who touts a joyous, often hip approach to music. Invincible Nimbus is her second CD with the chord-less Ternion Quartet, whose frontline is made of alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard and trombonist Geoffrey De Masure. Iversen shares the rhythmic responsibility with drummer Roland Schneider.

The new album is exclusively composed of originals that stress the necessity of selflessness and openness to dialogue. Thus, in addition to collective cohesiveness and interaction, we have great individual statements, oftentimes exposed simultaneously as conversational practices. The bandleader points out the studying of fugue-writing techniques, some ideas from Messiaen’s The Technique of My Musical Language, and Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns as musical inspirations for this work.

Polychromatic Pictures” opens the session with piquant, angular phrases delivered in unison. The bass installs the groove but the flow is routinely disrupted and altered, only becoming steady when the artistry of De Masure is showcased in virtue of extremely tasteful melodies delivered with an opportune rhythmic sense. A variation of mood, texture, and tempo come off when Eberhard starts to pronounce eloquently what is going on in her mind.

You’ll find an Afro-funk romp stirring up “Dig Your Heels In”, immediately put forth after the insouciant counterpoint between horns and bowed bass that launches it. The structure gives Schneider some mobility from behind the drum kit, with the brassy and groovy qualities of the tune being enhanced along the way.

Functioning within a more straight-ahead framework, the ensemble swings with passion on “Within a Diapason”, having the horns exposing hard-bop-like unisons and then fueling their communication with juxtaposed phrases. The bandleader, also steps forward, soloing with horn interjections around. Another opportunity to engage in dialoguing spontaneity occurs in the last section of “The Invincible Nimbus of Mystery”, which starts out as a languorous chamber exercise propelled by thoughtful brushwork and earnest arco bass, but concludes otherwise.

Whereas “Four Snakes” favors breezy tones, later acquiring a more intense swinging drive, “Ionian Steps” resembles a folk-jazz dance impregnated with rhythmic figures in counterpoint. After blowing a number of agitated phrases, the saxophonist claims some quiet moments for herself, a methodology followed by the trombonist, who infuses some Eastern sounds in his vocabulary while sole percussive subtleties keep running in the back.

Iversen’s material is pretty interesting, denoting a fetching avant-jazz air capable to please even those interested in trailing more traditional paths.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Polychromatic Pictures ► 05 - Dig Your Heels In ► 09 - Ionian Steps


Gregg Belisle-Chi - Book Of Hours

Label: ears&eyes Records, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  A-

Grade A-

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


Ken Aihara - Multiverse

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel - Ken Aihara: piano, keyboards; Bob Lanzetti: electric guitar; Evan Marien: electric bass; Marko Djordjevic: drums.

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New York-based Japanese keyboardist Ken Aihara doesn’t hide his deep affection for jazz-rock fusion, taking us in a multi-dimensional journey with Multiverse, a work inspired by role-playing games. Over the course of this symphonic combustion of jazz, rock, and classical elements, he plays alongside Snarky Puppy’s guitar man Bob Lanzetti, bassist Evan Marien, and drummer Marko Djordjevic.

Initially surrounding us with mysterious clouds of synth, the 11/8-metered “Ice Mountain” displays punchy, groovy bass lines delineating its elliptical trajectories. Every variations and texture reminding us of the universes of Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Return To Forever. In the heels of Aihara’s polyrhythmic jazzy solo, Lanzetti sets off for a synth guitar expedition full of mystery, and the song ends shortly afterward, in a sort of indefinite suspension with the drummer in a busy circumstance.

Whale” releases strong emotional currents through its passages. The bandleader excels here, whether coordinating fast ostinatos and nimble chords with impressive self-sufficiency or exploring freely with in/out focus. This is intense music with a powerful magnetic appeal and stunning effectiveness.

Inspired by time-space correlation as well as past and future, the progressive 5/8 “Spatio-Temporal Wanderer” blends analog and digital sounds and features blazing improvisations from Lanzetti and Aihara. Given a more spacious background, Marien finishes the improvisational section with a discourse that goes from succinct and compact to long-winded and widespread.

The bandleader opened up about his intentions to make “Theia Impact” the catchier rock fusion song on the album. And he achieved that feat! With a triumphant riff shining on top of cutting-edge rock chords, this is so much fun for the ears. Alternating tasteful dynamics, the tune is also buoyed up by adventurous eruptions from guitar and keyboard.

The conclusion arrives with “Ridge Black”, a rhythmically defiant composition that vouches for dancing as a natural reaction to what it proposes. If Djordjevic’s choppy drumming is highlighted throughout, Aihara’s piano whirls faster than a speeding bullet.

As a talented musician and deft composer, Ken Aihara will easily conquer fusion audiences. His Multiverse provides an exciting experience as it illustrates complex parallel realities through imaginative sonic scenarios.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Whale ► 04 - Theia Impact ► 05 - Ridge Black


Jay Anderson - Deepscape

Label: SteepleChase, 2019

Personnel - Billy Drewes: saxophones, bass clarinet; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Frank Kimbrough: harmonium; Jay Anderson: bass, Tibetan singing bowl; Matt Wilson: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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Maneuvering his instrument with certitude, American bassist Jay Anderson spotlights a shifting cast of expert musicians in varied configurations on Deepscape, his first SteepleChase outing as a leader. Besides two original compositions that reflect his rare relationship with melody, the bassist selected two standards and some off-the-beaten-track tunes by composers with disparate personalities such as Morton Feldman, Keith Jarrett, Gil Evans, Billy Joel, Branford Marsalis, and Jim Pepper. With this wide stylistic range in mind, he convened a fabulous ensemble whose format keeps varying throughout the record - Billy Drewes on saxophones, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Frank Kimbrough on harmonium, Matt Wilson on drums, and Rogerio Boccato on percussion.

On the title track, Anderson exhibits that big, round, and soulful sound that characterizes his playing over a pre-created drone. This solo piece exhibits a shimmering meditative nature that is also perceptible on the fifth movement of Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel”, a relaxing exercise containing tuneful soprano/arco bass unisons, a Tibetan singing bowl cadence carried out with clock precision, subdued drumming and cymbal color, and salient harmonium interjections and echoing melodies. Kimbrough, who is an excellent pianist, is found here exclusively playing the latter instrument, including a duo with the bandleader on the closing piece, “Tennessee Waltz”.

A chordless approach was picked out to tackle a couple of tunes by pianist Keith Jarrett, listed on his 1976 quartet album Shades. “Shades of Jazz” shows the band immersed in bop-ish happiness, whilst “Southern Smiles” is cooked up with fine post-bop ingredients and generous dashes of folk and gospel. Both tunes feature Drewes and Knuffke throwing enough zest to force the listener to pay attention. On the latter piece, they have the bassist making them company as a soloist.

If Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” is rendered solo, Gil Evans’ “Time of the Barracudas” has its block chords re-orchestrated for the collective in a daring 12/8 tempo. Boccato’s percussive routines are not only befitting but also infuse liveliness.

Anderson’s melody-centric “Momentum” goes well with the rest of the material, just like Jim Pepper’s “Witchi-Tai-To”, a beautiful piece that was notably interpreted by Oregon and Jan Garbarek in the past. Here, it is harmoniously introduced by the bassist and features the declarative force of Drewes on soprano.

Anderson’s low-toned charms permeate the album consistently, giving rise to appealing musical moments that freshen a wonderful repertoire.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Southern Smiles ► 06 - Time of the Barracudas ► 09 - Witchi-Tai-To


Michael Eaton - Dialogical

Label: Destiny Records, 2019

Personnel - Michael Eaton: tenor and soprano saxophones; Lionel Loueke: guitar; Brad Whiteley: piano; Brittany Anjou: vibraphone, balafon; Cheryl Pyle: flute; James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone; Sean Sonderegger: tenor saxophone; Jon Crowley: trumpet; Dorian Wallace: piano; Sarah Mullins: marimba, triangles; Enrique Haneine: udu; Daniel Ori: bass and gimbri; Shareef Taher: drums.

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Brooklyn-based saxophonist Michael Eaton creates absorbing narrative tapestries on Dialogical, the long-desired follow-up to Individuation (Destiny Records, 2014). Inspired by dialogical thinking and multiplicity, this solid body of work evinces high levels of maturity mirrored in eight brave compositions, where he shines alongside members of his Individual Quartet - pianist Brad Whiteley, bassist/gimbrist Daniel Ori, and drummer Shareef Taher - plus vibraphonist Brittany Anjou, flutist Cheryl Pyle, udu player Enrique Haneine, and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke, who lends his voice to two of the four tracks he participates in. There’s also the four-part “Temporalities” suite, where the instrumentation is augmented with the inclusion of trumpet, piano, and marimba. The first three segments promote enduring chamber circularity, whereas the last part thrives with clashing chords and prepared piano sounds. They compete with silences and other quietly atmospheric textures.

While exploring possibilities within his own sound, Eaton blurs genre boundaries and that is put on display on predominantly African jazz numbers like the title track, which boasts a balafon solo by Anjou, and the opener, “Juno”. The latter, inspired by Chris Potter’s writing on the albums Gratitude and Traveling Mercies, evolves like an African soirée, propelled by a splendid groove in seven and marked by surprising rhythmic shifts and cutting edge improvisations. Loueke vocalizes beautifully and opts for peculiar guitar effects in order to complement an adroit language that easily piques curiosity; Eaton is magnanimous in his attacks, extending stout patterns to produce quick-witted phrases wrapped in dark, earthy tones; lastly, Whiteley adds a nimble exoticism to his grooving piano playing.

Anthropocene” boasts a seven-metered groove that shifts along the way. It also offers sax-guitar unisons over luxurious vibraphone harmonies and effusive individual statements by Eaton and Loueke, who, later, alternate bars for a hard-swinging dialogue. Their energies and creativity are on vivid display.

Centered on a funk-flavored riff, “Aphoristic” additionally brings a refreshingly cool modern groove into the game. Its ways differ from both “Cipher”, whose Latin jazz connotations feel as much sumptuous as sensuous, and the soprano-flute duets “Thanatos and Eros” and “Machinic Eros”.

Another peak moment arrives with the hybrid “I And Thou”, in which beautiful sounds of the Middle East blends with odd-metered jazz grooves and unanticipated accents. The tune, introduced by Ori’s gimbri, is a tenor feast of richly timbral commotion offered by the bandleader and his partners in the freewheeling, horn-driven quintet Tenor Triage, James Brandon Lewis and Sean Sonderegger.

Dialogical is revelatory of Eaton’s compositional capacities. It comes full of appealing ideas, including a minimalistic chamber work and mind-bending structures and variations that confer it a triumphant, fresh spirit.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Juno ► 03 - Aphoristic ► 08 - I And Thou


Matt Brewer - Ganymede

Label: Criss Cross Records, 2019

Personnel - Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer: bass; Damion Reid: drums.

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First-call bassist Matt Brewer has a new outing on the Criss Cross label as a leader. It’s called Ganymede and features ten compositions, four of which he penned with an insightful perspective. On his former releases, he approached the sextet and quintet formats, but now he convenes a robust trio with Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and Damion Reid on drums.

As mentioned above, Brewer’s originals are extremely interesting with the elegant title track opening the album in a quiet mode and then transitioning to a rhythmically daring strut. The bassist’s agility is impressive and Shim’s fiery attacks are fully supported by the stout, darkening timbre of his instrument. Reid, unceasingly dynamic and responsive, undertakes a hard stomp by the end and I really dig the silent gap between his solo and the reintegration of the theme. With heftiness as a constant variable, “Triton” engages in playful unisons that eventually split up into complementary fragmented phrases. “Io” ekes out a sort of modal, rock-inflected vibe with epic tones, over which Shim speaks authority and infuse his raw, jagged language. In turn, “Psalm” is set in motion by a nearly two-minute bass solo before bringing melody to the center with a 4/4 rocking pulse running underneath. Freedom exaltation is everywhere.

Shim contributes “Don’t Wake the Violent Baby” to the setlist, but it’s on Joe Henderson’s “Afro-Centric” that we feel pure energy coming out of his fleet arpeggios, intricate phrases, and sharp pinpoints. It’s a great piece with fabulous chromatic movements to be enjoyed.

An additional array of inspirations ended up in rapturous renditions of post-bop and avant-garde tunes, including Ron Carter’s “R.J.”, which was popularized by Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis and here burns in a fervent swinging motion, Ornette Coleman’s elated “Eos”, a showcase for the bandleader, and Dewey Redman-penned “Willisee”, a hell-bent free-bop that ramps up the temperature with some blazing Mark Shim on tenor. After the storm, nothing better than a gentle standard to appease the rugged textures and the haunting melody of “When Sunny Gets Blue” vouches for that.

You’ll find a lot of provocative sounds here. Whether if the trio is swinging or rocking, they act completely natural in these environments.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Ganymede ► 05 - Afro Centric ► 06 - Io


The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - We Are On The Edge

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade  B+

Grade B+

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


Stephan Micus - White Night

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Stephan Micus: kalimba, fourteen-string guitar, steel string guitar, duduk, bass duduk, Tibetan cymbals, sinding, dondon, nay, Indian cane whistles, vocals.

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Stephan Micus is a key reference in the world music scene. His thematic albums allow us to discover new places and sounds and White Night, the 23rd solo work for ECM, takes us into another journey full of musical idiosyncrasies. Operating several quirky instruments with deep focus, Micus starts this excursion in the East with the primitive, ancient, and eternal contemplation “The Eastern Gate”, which proposes atonality and deep hollow textures, and ends in the West with the well-delineated movements and robust rhythmic cadence of “The Western Gate”. Both tunes feature five 14-string guitars (a Micus trademark), one bass duduk (Armenian drone instrument taken to another level by Micus), and Tibetan cymbals, but while the former incorporates a more conventional steel string guitar, the latter employs one sinding (West African harp with five strings made of cotton).

The ten-stage route encompasses “The Bridge”, where vocalized chants echo on top of the vibes produced by four bronze kalimbas (they come from four different African countries) and sinding, “The River”, crossed with timely percussive rattles and lovely duduk melancholy, and a “Black Hill”, whose exotic groove feels like a song of praise for mother Earth. The latter number piles up eight Indian cane whistles and a nay (ancient Egyptian hollow reed flute) and make them dance harmoniously over the raw pulse established by a couple of dondon, the ‘talking-drum’ from Ghana.

This recording was inspired by the moonlight and its special magic. Hence, the sight of “Fireflies” and the presence of the “Moon” itself are intrinsic parts of the scenario, authentic anticlimactic balms for this busy, technological world we’re immersed in. The former composition emanates a warm African breeze created by 22 layers of sound that include pitch-clear vocals, kalimba, sinding, and Indian cane whistles. In contrast, “Moon” is told in only one voice with the lonely sounds of duduk arching over the silence. This piece, together with “All The Way”, a kalimba solo, was recorded in just one take.

Micus continues his spiritual celebration of cultural diversity through imaginative, humble music.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Eastern Gate ► 03 - The River ► 10 - The Western Gate


Tom Rainey Trio - Combobulated

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Tom Rainey constantly brings new ideas to the edgier side of jazz. On Combobulated, his fourth trio album as a leader, he is joined by the frequent and indispensable collaborators, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Together, these creative minds guarantee exciting improvised scenarios worked out with abundant complexity and enchantment.

The nearly 19-minute title track sounds awesome, starting off with the ebbs and flows of an odd drum pattern and two insouciant melodic paths that, even diverging in direction, sound perfectly consistent as a whole. As the tune moves forward, they densify the texture, heading toward a stunning crescendo that overflows in effects and timbres. An unorthodox guitar groove flares up in the middle of a solo sax passage, astounding the listener with its asymmetry and irreverence. When the intensity dies out, tingling guitar chops evolve gradually into an enigmatic blend of rock chords and electronic intrusions. This was just the preparation for a cosmic journey initiated by Rainey’s unforeseen tom-tom activity and hi-hat scintillation. The episode is further pressurized with psychedelic electronics and the fiery rumination of the saxophone. Hence, a safe landing is questionable after such a boisterous agitation. At the end, repeated saxophone multiphonics scream ‘help!’ or ‘we made it!’ - it’s really up to your imagination.

Point Reyes” is set in motion through Rainey’s delicate rudiments. In static mode, Laubrock and Halvorson embark in a sort of exotic folk dance that, feeling beautifully compact at times, ends in an indefinite state of liquidity.

A great sonic menu is offered during “Fact”. Playful interactions between sax and guitar are served as an appetizer, and then the main course: capricious drum forays with sparse bursts of distorted guitar and digital effects that go like clockwork. Brisk and coiled saxophone lines, heavy chords that tend to become patterned, and a jittery rhythm, are the main ingredients of the bittersweet dessert: a perfectly danceable prog-rock assembly. The driving propulsion, inspired and dazzling, leads to the easy conclusion that a bass player is not required in this specific context.

If the aerial suspensions of “Isn’t Mine” are temporarily disrupted by the presence of a restless soprano saxophone on top of an acerbic indie-rock progression, “Torn Road” is immersed in atmospheric clouds of mystery. Slide guitar laments join both the percussive tick-tocks and the circular saxophone blows before hitting a heavily bumpy road, whose navigation is solely entrusted to master Rainey.

Splays Itself” is a showcase for Laubrock’s extended techniques, kinetic phrasing, and saturated timbral coloration. The inclusion of rock-imbued strokes on guitar and maniacal drum attacks emit jarring undercurrents that aggravate the urban feel of this landscape.

The trio boasts immense energy and originality, and their musical qualities are sonically enhanced by David Torn's spectacular mixing, mastering and post-production. In this particular chapter of their careers, you will find them at a peak of their musical strength.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Combobulated ► 03 - Fact ► 05 - Splays Itself


Floris Kappeyne Trio - Synesthesia

Label: Timezone Records, 2019

Personnel – Floris Kappeyne: piano, synthesizer; Tijs Klaassen: bass; Wouter Kuhne: drums + Janneke Stoute: vocals.

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Reverberating synthesizer drones and waves invite us to a mysterious trip in the outer space. That’s how the 23-year-old Dutch pianist Floris Kappeyne starts out his new trio album, Synesthesia, a title that has everything to do with sensorial stimulation and reaction. His bandmates, bassist Tijs Klaassen and drummer Wouter Kuhne, stick to that idea, working diligently to provide a skeletal structure that serves, reacts to, and interacts with the pianist’s harmonic ideas and lyrical terminology.

Throughout the 15 short original movements that compose the album, you will experience music that may be volatile or lingering, abstract or clear, vouching for unity or opting for disintegration. The course of things is unpredictable, often non-linear, and that’s where the mystery and magic of Kappeyne’s music come from.

Prelude: I” offers occasional bass pedals and subtly rattling snare, yet, its ever-shifting textures and time feel make us constantly alert. The piano sometimes calls for the unobvious universe of Paul Bley while the vertiginous, dramatic nosedives into the lower register give it a punch that is jazzier than classical. In turn, “Prelude: II” flows with a modern, brushed, syncopated fat beat in a relaxed synth-cloud environment. Its uncompromising trajectories made me imagine Sun Ra exploring downtempo.

Communication is well patented in the three-way conversation offered on “Prelude: Va”, where the piano responds to the introductory drums and, subsequently, the bass responds to the piano. A conspicuous motif serves them as the topic and the bassist even dares to swing for a bit, pushing more and more the threshold, as he seems to exhort expansiveness. Another example of communicative effort is “Prelude Vc”. On top of the deep-seated bass, we find abstract, free-flowing piano flurries and rhythmic figures on the verge of tonality that definitely foment the boldness of jazz.

The trio shows an optimum control of suspended ambiances on “Prelude III” by incorporating deep bowed bass, hushed brushes, and single-note textural pianism. Silences don’t scare them. They play with it, in a way that is soothing and disquieting alike. On the shape-shifting “Prelude VII”, we have that weird feeling that something is about to happen on the grounds of somewhat eerie vibes. Even so, the sparkling snare and the confident piano strut, in conjunction with the bass, deviate unexpectedly into a modern classical passage whose movements are dreamy, sweeping, and splendorous.

Variety and imagination are nothing to worry about here, and the well-structured recording also incorporates two vocal tunes - “Prelude IX” features a Dutch poem meant to be turned into music by classical singer Janneke Stoute and is momentarily agitated by polyrhythmic percussion; “Prelude: X” features a 4-piece choir with synth.

While en listening route, you’ll also detect a couple of solo piano pieces and a drums-only speech, before it all ends in the playful electro vibes of “Prelude IV”, which finishes off the album with odd-metered passages and a futuristic attitude.

Incorporating tradition and novelty, Kappeyne and his trio hardly approach the music in a conventional manner. They align energies while searching for new directions and manage to get some fresh results.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Prelude I ► 08 - Prelude VII ► 11 - Prelude Vc


Chris Potter - Circuits

Label: Edition Records, 2019

Personnel – Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets, flutes, sampler, guitars, keyboards, percussion; James Francies: keyboards; Eric Harland: drums; Linley Marthe: electric bass.

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Chris Potter is one of the most influential saxophone players and composers on the scene and his new vibrant outing, Circuits, has enough energy and ample sense of adventure to blow you away. It’s a 21st-century musical journey infused with mordant M-base vibes, offering a cultivated sonic perspective based on an innovative intersection of the post-bop, funk, and electronic worlds.

Five of the nine tracks on the album are bass-less, performed by a core trio composed of Potter, who plays an array of instruments here (including guitar), prodigious keyboardist James Francies, and super drummer Eric Harland, who is better than never in this extra syncopated context. Bassist Linley Marthe joins them in the remaining tunes.

The two-minute horn-driven “Invocation” highlights the bass clarinet amidst the conductive lines that surround it. It serves as an introductory section for “Hold It”, an uplifting piece filled with a gospel-like tenor melody and impeccable accompaniment by the rhythm team. The resourceful trio not only demonstrates how far-reaching their rhythmic attacks can go but also how thoroughly they handle atmospheric passages imbued in electronics. Moreover, you can enjoy Harland’s unrestrained drumming, so rich in color and groove, and Potter’s out-of-this-world language and flawless control of the tenor saxophone.

Splendidly structured and arranged, “The Nerve” boasts spiritual Eastern sounds in its balmy embryonic phase before anchoring in a cool 5/4 groove set with Marthe’s fat bass lines, funk-rock-oriented drumming, and wonderful sweeps and voicings invented by Francies, who later shines on a solo piano passage.

Spirited vibes define both “Exclamation” - an eloquent, fast-paced, funky-oriented exercise with punchy solos from sax and keyboards - and the title track, an odd-metered delight of unmatchable fluidity, hooked in pumping basslines and featuring Francies’ expressionistic zigzags, horns, and Harland’s bursts of assertive drumming.

The dominant explosive dynamics are dropped down a bit on tunes like “Koutoume”, an urbane African dance with first-class percussive accompaniment; “Green Pastures”, which carries post-bop and R&B familiarity; and “Queen of Brooklyn”, a ballad melodically guided by soprano saxophone with backing flute and bass clarinet.

Pressed for Time” closes out the album, placing relaxing melody over gorgeous, hip-hop-ish broken beats and quick-shifting chordal patterns prior to another explosive, incredibly bouncing affirmation by Potter.

The creative possibilities seem endless, and Circuits, providing unanticipated rhythmic tapestries, hip grooves, and blistering solos, is nothing short of a masterwork.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Track:
02 - Hold It ► 03 - The Nerve ► 09 - Pressed For Time


David Berkman Sextet - Six Of One

Label: Palmetto Records, 2019

Personnel – David Berkman: piano; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone, EWI; Adam Kolker: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Lightcap: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums + guests Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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With Six of One, pianist David Berkman presents a set of ten original compositions developed over the course of five years, inviting some influential guests to join his flexible sextet. He probes two-horn and three-horn configurations in which each individual contributes fluent and very much their own ideas to the written material.

A swinging vibrancy comes attached to both the opening tune, “Blowing Smoke”, which alludes to the Smoke Jazz Club and the NY jazz scene, and the lively “Kickstopper”. If the former is luxuriously orchestrated, finishing with a bouncy solo by saxist Dayna Stephens, the latter piece enchanted me with the positive energy that kept sprouting from the interaction and casual abandon of the soloists. The saxophone players (Adam Kolker on soprano, Billy Drewes on alto, and guest tenorist Tim Armacost) alternate and ultimately share bars with splendorous enthusiasm, while Berkman’s piano work draws tension through stride-like interjections and salient left-hand chordal fluxes.

Written as a response to the current political instability, “Cynical Episodes” has Kolker traveling a safe melodic path on the bass clarinet in the company of bassist Chris Lightcap, while the remaining horns dance around them in perfect counterpoint. Several soloists make their way through the harmonic progressions, but our attention goes to Stephens, who handles the EWI with know-how, and Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Bocatto, who concludes alone with rhythmic resolve.

Most of the engagement on “Three And a Half Minutes” stems from Berkman’s free activity and complemented with the extemporaneous alliance established between Kolker and Stephens. This same trio of soloists is featured on “Restoration”, whose smoothness and folk innuendo brings it closer to the crossover jazz genre. This tune has strong connotations with Tokyo, where Berkman lived for some time, but it's not the only one since “Shitamashi” was devised with the old part of that city in mind. Exuberance and freedom abound and the feel-good kind of vibe suggests a sophisticated harmonic/rhythmic palette. There’s something epic here and Kenneth Salters’ drumming skills are called into action to amplify that feeling.

Drewes reciprocates with a fine solo on the rhythmically daring “Billy”, a song written for and dedicated to him. He does it again on “Blue Poles”, the only previously recorded tune (it appears on the album Communication Theory) where he, Kolker, and the bandleader embark on a momentary crosstalk conversation, and “Rain Rain”, a waltz spiced by the clarinets, piano, and Chris Lightcap’s bass solo.

Without discontinuing the vitality of tradition, Berkman provides well-drafted music with honesty and touches of modernity. The musical qualities of his associates, for whom the music was specifically written, make everything a lot simpler.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Bowing Smoke ► 07 - Kickstopper ► 08 – Shitamashi


Philipp Schiepek - Golem Dance

Label: Enja, 2019

Personnel – Philipp Schiepek: guitar; Seamus Blake: saxophone; Henning Sieverts: bass; Bastian Jutte: drums.

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On his debut album, Munich-based guitarist Philipp Schiepek reveals self-confidence, displaying a full grasp of his guitaristry as he leads a tight quartet. As a composer, he seeks inspiration in everyday encounters as well as characters from literature and art. However, the 10-track Golem Dance also features compositions by fellow countrymen bandmates, bassist Henning Sieverts and drummer Bastian Jutte. Rounding out the group is New York-based tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, an invaluable first-call musician who unleashes his zealous, big-toned playing on several tunes. The most outstanding are Sieverts’ “All and More”, whose catchy passages recall the association between Chris Cheek and Rosenwinkel on the former’s album I Wish I Knew, and Schiepek’s “Flou”, where he employs multiphonics and trills and get the guitar responding appropriately in order to establish a heated dialogue. This latter piece feels open-ended, carrying some vagueness in its melodic contours and some fragmentation in the rhythmic flux that, feeling great, incites exploration.

Two other Schiepek originals elicit interest: “Ian”, whose initial bass pedal and rim activity evolve into a groove in seven that bounces with shinning post-bop coloring, and “12 Raindrops”, a Joe Henderson-type of 'blue bossa' that brings the fearlessly tractable rhythm section to the front. Expect to stumble upon playful guitar lines, an emphatic bass talk, a dazzling bop-inflected saxophone, and a somewhat timid drum talk from Jutte, who is considerably more outgoing on the uptempo “Up”, a more traditional swinging exercise.

Two of the ten pieces were recorded live at Unterfahrt in Munich, Schiepek’s “Golem Dance”, which has Blake pushing hard against the odd-metered flow granted by the rhythm team, and the jazz standard “Out of Nowhere”, which feels unessential, despite having the soloists expertly navigating the familiar chord progressions. Coincidently, these are the longest tracks on the record, clocking at 7:37 and 11:04, respectively.

With an irregular blues emerging from the center of its gravity, “Even Harder”, another Sieverts’ compositional effort, is dispatched with a warm feeling.

Schiepek’s compositions contain jolting infusions of jazz and his solid first appearance as a leader is demonstrative of the persuasive guitaristic resources he possesses.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - All and More ► 02 - Ian ► 03 - Flou


Amina Figarova - Road to the Sun

Label: AmFi Records, 2019

Personnel – Amina Figarova: piano; Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophones; Marc Mommaas: tenor and soprano saxophones; Alex Pope Norris: trumpet; Bart Platteau: flute; Lucques Curtis: bass; Brian Richburg Jr.: drums; Jason Brown: drums; Hasan Bakr: percussion; Sara Caswell: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage Ferber: cello.

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Classically trained pianist/composer Amina Figarova, a native of Azerbaijan who pursued her jazz ambitions in the Rotterdam Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, releases Road To The Sun, an 11-track album that celebrates the 20th anniversary of her band. Since 1998, it has been her intention to gather a smaller group that would have the same power as a big band, a wish guaranteed by the great musicians enlisted in this musical adventure.

Her compositional qualities translate in a few inviting pieces, from which I particularly highlight the title track. An immediate emotional impact emanates from the layered rhythmic figures that incorporate the lush arrangement. Combining melodic focus and speed, saxophonist Marc Mommaas creates some frisson by setting soprano maneuvers against the ritualistic 5/4 groove that cleaves with Hasan Bakr’s African drumming. Highly articulated, Figarova comfortably explores inside and outside the limits, and if her improv is short-lived here, her thoughts are extended on “All We Dance”, an unhurried piece that puts gentle snare drum rolls in evidence while blending relaxation and sensuality.

Both compositions referred above are tinted by a competent trio of strings that also actively inaugurates “Tumbling Prisms”, which transmits a sense of bliss on account of Figarova’s husband, flutist Bart Platteau.

Relying on a 4/4 swing, “On My Way” employs unison hard-bop lines with a double function: coloring the theme’s statement and serving as markers for the trio of soloists, in the case: trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, who reveals tradition insight; Platteau, whose fluid lines follow more the melodicism of Frank Wess than the leaps of Eric Dolphy; and an outgoing Wayne Escoffery, whose thrilling soprano rides are super adventurous. The latter is in the spotlight again on “Snow Mess”, blowing the tenor sax to inject shades of Joe Henderson into a cool walking groove that had decelerated the exuberant swing propulsion formerly offered to Norris.

The warm breeze of “Circles” begins in the piano ostinato that references the groove. There are Latin gestures impregnating not merely the rhythm but also the melodic outbursts of Escoffery, who delivers again on “No Time For”, a cerebral post-bop number with a fragmented melody that takes the album to an end right after inviting drummer Jason Brown to stretch out.

Figarova’s working band fairly deserves this celebration and its members give back, irrigating the bandleader’s inspired frameworks with their dedication, collective chemistry, and individuality.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Road To The Sun ► 02 - All We Dance ► 03 - Snow Mess


Yotam Silberstein - Future Memories

Label: Jazz&People, 2019

Personnel – Yotam Silberstein: guitar, vocals; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Fender Rhodes; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion, piano, keys, percussion; John Patitucci: acoustic and electric bass; Daniel Dor: drums; Andre Mehmari: synthesizers.

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Few artists are capable to blend post-bop and Latin jazz with such a class as the Tel Aviv-born guitarist Yotam Silberstein. He possesses the indispensable technique, rhythm, and lyricism to succeed in the challenging fusion genre, and Future Memories, his sixth album as a leader, is a multi-cultural voyage into his forthright musical universe. The influences come from many directions, yet there’s an emphasis on Brazilian music here, displayed in a couple of tunes by mandolin master Hamilton de Holanda and an erudite rendition of “Choro Negro” by samba/choro icon Paulinho da Viola.

Holanda’s “Capricho de Donga” is filled with rhythmic nuances, featuring extraordinary bassist John Patitucci in a pulsating solo with tons of melody, whereas the flamenco-ish vibe of “Capricho de Espanha” let us indulge not only in the brisk melodicism of the guitarist, but also in the kaleidoscopic exuberance of pianist Glenn Zaleski, an assiduous presence in the New York scene. There is also this Ravel-like sumptuosity marking the improvisational section, which is pleasantly relaxing.

Another Brazilian-influenced piece is Silberstein’s “Impedimento”, where the rapturous atmosphere of choro gains amazing propulsion with the electric bass flow and the rippling percussive groove of drummer Daniel Dor. The Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, who doubles on piano on some other tunes, is seen in perfect union with the bandleader and both improvise on this tune. The engaging phrasing of the guitarist shows both the strong affinity with the jazz tradition and his close relationship with South American music. The fusion feast ends in rock-ish mode, though.

Matcha” is definitely a highlight, showing how strong is the writing of Silberstein. The group, aside from intensifying the rhythm with manifest accentuations, keeps grooving under an odd tempo. There are undercurrents in the music that meet conveniently at a certain point, comparable to a big river that collects the water flow from smaller streams. Both the guitar and piano solos are worthy of attention, with Zaleski following the bandleader in his improvisational spirit, but interpolating his single-note phrases with pungent chords in the lower register. The ambiance nearly touches a dreamy state before Dor’s snare and tom-tom work come to prominence. Although revealing a complex execution, this piece sounds good to the ear.

Future Memories” and “Wind on the Lake” are musing songs in six and three, respectively. Whereas the latter takes the form of a folk song at an early stage through the usage of acoustic guitar, the former boasts an ethereal air brought either by Silberstein’s modulated vocalizations or the silky harmonic tapestry weaved by Gonçalves’ accordion and Andre Mehmari’s synth waves.

The imaginative arrangements always find space for personal points of view, and Future Memories reinforces music as a culturally boundless celebration.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Future Memories ► 02 - Matcha ► 04 - Impedimento


Ben Monder - Day After Day

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Ben Monder: electric and acoustic guitars; Matt Brewer: bass; Ted Poor: drums.

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Guitarist Ben Monder is equally comfortable in straightforward and subversive settings. His playing is sparkling and his efficiency, remarkable. The double-album Day After Day offers a wide-ranging collection of esteemed non-original songs interpreted in solo and trio formats. Joining him in the latter context are bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor.

Disc one features a solitary Monder in absolute control of the instrument and exhibiting unparalleled sounds fertile in bright introspective textures. The sonic propagations of “Dreamsville” are rich, relaxed, and full in color. Effortlessly operating in several octaves, the guitarist embraces fluidity, combining wise harmonic concepts with carefully built melodies.

The concurrent movements on “Emily”, a tune popularized by Bill Evans, are mesmerizing. Bringing out his classical influences, Monder integrates melody and bass lines with perspicacity, demonstrating advanced performing expertise. In this particular case, he proves that complexity is not incompatible with beauty, stressing a suggestive metronomic line with a subtle percussive touch in the last minute of the song.

The transparency and enlightenment of “O Sacrum Convivium”, a choral wonder by the 20th-century composer Olivier Messiaen, obfuscate us with warm beams of light. Yet, it’s the standard “My One And Only Love” that most clearly shows that miraculous voice-leading control, replete of surprising note choices. Monder also luxuriates in dashing sonorities on another balladic standard, “Never Let Me Go” as well as on the ever-evolving version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Windows of the World”.

Over the course of the second disc, the guitar is center-place, leading the bass and drums into adventurous paths characterized by different moods and genres. Still, two songs are bass-less: The Beatles’ “Long Long Long”, a 3/4 song that draws some ambiguity from the virtuosic fingerpicking, and the opaque experimentation on the title cut, a song from the early ’70s, whose dark waves cause a dystopian sensation. The bandleader’s relationship with hard rock music is not a novelty, and the 007 theme “Goldfinger” is a showcase for his prodigious metal technique.

The casual country pop of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” opens the record with a convivial posture, culminating in a speedy guitar solo pronounced with distortion. However, it’s the emotionally charged “Dust”, a great contemporary rock song by The Fleetwood Mac that strikes with awe, featuring Monder on acoustic guitar and Brewer in an inspired bass solo.

Bread’s “The Guitar Man” is a soft-rock song designed with bluesy dotted notes and carrying something of Bob Dylan, who is also paid tribute here with a suave rendition of “Just Like a Woman”.

Regardless of the nature of the songs, Monder has a personal and tasteful approach to the music. His versatility and dedication are impressive and this accessible double album invites you to experience a fraction of his immensely creative mind.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Emily ► 03 (disc1) - O Sacrum Convivium ► 02 (disc2) - Dust


Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy

Label: ECM Records

Personnel – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: acoustic bass.

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Epistrophy marks another beautiful encounter between guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan. The follow up to Small Town boasts a formidable repertoire captured live at The Village Vanguard in March 2016, having Jerome Kern’s “All is Fun” opening it in a marvelously relaxed atmosphere. Frisell’s fascinating melodicism is knee-deep in rhythmic ideas, and Morgan, who lightly swings for a while, assures not only a superior foundation but also constructs it in an interactive way.

In addition to the aforementioned opener, it was the bassist who suggested The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me”, an R&B hit from the early 60s that comes affiliated to “Wildwood Flower”, the folk song that serves it as an intro. On many occasions, Morgan communicates with Frisell by responding to his thoughtful guitar work. It’s not uncommon to hear exquisite guitar harmonics adorning the tunes and Billy Strayhorn’s sweet ballad “Lush Life” doesn’t let me lie. Another example is Monk’s “Pannonica”, which also does a great job in highlighting the instrumentalists’ soulful lyricism and sharp tonalities. It’s a joy to experience all these magnetic chords brimming with delicious extensions.

Since only top-notch musicians have the ability to make knotty passages sound simple, don’t be surprised if the rendition of Paul Motian’s whimsical “Mumbo Jumbo” surfaces natural and uncomplicated. The rubato approach invites us to freer, non-linear flights and the song is given a totally different perspective after the infusion of tasteful machinelike effects inflicted by Frisell’s sound-altering pedal.

If the duo performed “Goldfinger” in their previous outing, then they picked another James Bond theme to be part of this new work - “You Only Live Twice” is jazzified with an impressive atmospheric radiance, engrossing textures, and a dreamy sound that lingers. It’s one of the most beautiful moments on the album, which gains a tantalizing dimension with the confident gestures in the bass accompaniment.

The title track is another Monk classic whose telepathic and freewheeling interpretation includes melodic fragmentation, blues sparkle, and swinging flair. Frisell’s comping is smart and fun, and the original melody only shows up at the end in all its clarity.

In the aftermath of the traditional “Red River Valley”, an obvious folk ride, the album comes to an end in balladic gorgeousness with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

Owners of an immeasurable musicality, Frisell and Morgan embark on impeccable narrations of well-known gems, in a clear demonstration of their interactive dexterity. It’s mind-boggling how they put such a fresh spin in so many familiar songs, and all we want to do is play them over and over.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Mumbo Jumbo ► 04 - You Only Live Twice ► 06 - Epistrophy


Mike Baggetta / Mike Watt / Jim Keltner - Wall of Flowers

Label: Big Ego Records, 2019

Personnel - Mike Baggetta: electric and acoustic guitars, live processing; Mike Watt: electric bass; Jim Keltner: drums, percussion.

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Mike Baggetta may not be as well known as his fellow guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder, but his creative playing is definitely a valuable discovery for everyone who bumps into his music. An adept of unconventional sounds and electronic effects, Baggetta was previously featured in solo, quartet, and trio sessions, and it’s precisely to the latter configuration that he returns on the album Wall of Flowers. This time, he is joined by unlikely bandmates such as veterans Mike Watt and Jim Keltner, bassist and drummer, respectively. The former co-founded the punk-rock group Minutemen and was a member of Iggy Pop’s The Stooges in the early 2000s; the latter played with the members of The Beatles plus Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder. The two had never met before, but the outcome of this one-day-only session mirrors the quality of these musicians.

Hospital Song” has a beautiful, if dismal, acoustic guitar intro. However, the trio kicks things into high gear by channelling their energy into a livelier indie rock marked by sturdy bass lines, an unflinching straight-up 4/4 rhythm, and guitar melodies punctuated by occasional atonal detours.

Blue Velvet”, the main theme of David Lynch’s cult film of the same name, is subjected to solo and duo treatments. Both have the rustic tones of the acoustic guitar coloring them, yet the former picks up on an undeniable ambiguity in contrast with the latter, soberly introduced by Keltner's soft brushwork.

A couple of collective improvisations reflect some of the best moments on the album. “I Am Not A Data Point” feels very experimental, relying on an intransigent, languid bass ostinato a-la Rage Against The Machine, percussive adaptability, and distorted guitar outcries that affect positively our ears with washes of capricious effects in often discordant audacity. The other impromptu experience is “Dirty Smell of Dying”, a dark, neo-psychedelic exercise carried in Sonny Sharrock-mode, and where the massive waves of sound coming toward you acquire both exciting and foreboding perspectives.

Fruit of Baggetta’s mind, the title track closes out the album as a shimmering art rock song. Musical moments like these demonstrate the trio’s rock affinity and the album is the expression of a fortunate collaboration.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 - I Am Not A Data Point ► 06 - Dirty Smell of Dying ► 08 - Wall of Flowers


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