Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vijay Iyer, Mutations

Vijay Iyer is a jazz pianist-composer who has been making waves with his music in recent years. Yet his debut solo album for ECM, Mutations (ECM B0020038-02), brings you a side of his music that differs from what he has given us in various ensemble performances on disk previously. There are three freely articulated but compositionally explicit solo improvisations, sometimes with electronic accompaniment, and they are within the realm of what we might have expected from him as a pianist. They are very good and add to our appreciation of his own musical ways.

But then in the center of it all is a long composition for piano and electronics (realized by Maestro Iyer) and string quartet. "Mutations I-X" has as the title implies ten movements that have a minimalist thrust to them and serve to realize a kind of grand mutation of change within continuity.

The works goes from placidity to energetic cyclic repetition and beyond to more complex line-weaving. It is fascinating and rewarding to hear; it is both inventive and immediate in its visceral appeal. The string writing has nice contrapuntal interplay and drive at times. At other times it is expressively agitated and modernly "out". The piano joins in at section III and a more complicated series of phrase structures enters into play with rhythmic vigor.

It goes on from there in ways that sustain interest and show Iyer as one who does not want to stay in a single all-defining artistic category. He succeeds in making music you did not know was in him, yet sounds completely natural and inspired.

What is jazz should not be the question that this music brings up. Rather it seems Iyer wants to make music-making itself the thrust of what he does. What you call it means little to the music and the process of realization. So you might not expect this from a "jazz musician", but really that isn't what matters. Does it work as music? Yes! It is a fascinating and captivating album that shows you Iyer cannot be pinned down.

It presages well for future Vijay Iyer endeavors. And it stands on its own as a very satisfying artistic statement. So listen!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ed Palermo Big Band, Oh No! Not Jazz!!

When people keep on playing the music in various guises long after a musician is no longer on earth, it is sign of his or her lasting importance. (Though I would be hesitant to say that of Elvis.) And so with Frank Zappa we continue to see and hear various renditions from bands both wholly or partly dedicated to his compositions.

One of the most active and best is the Ed Palermo Big Band, who by now have amassed, so I read, more than 900 Zappa charts as re-arranged by their leader.

I was there at the beginning, though very young. I bought Freak Out within a week of its release, not having any idea what it contained but intrigued because "it looked weird" and that was enough for me. As the years followed I followed what Frank was up to and by the time Uncle Meat came out was convinced that at least some of this was the music of the future, as it indeed was. Nobody did more to further the combination of jazz, rock, and even avant-garde classical and he paved the way for all kinds of developments, some better than others. Yet it is the inimitable quality of his music as well as its daring that stands out for us now.

So Ed Palermo and his big band have been a critical part of helping to revive and keep alive Zappa's music via Ed's very sympathetic and hip re-arrangements of Zappa music and the fine ensemble that grew around the fine idea.

There have been a number of albums out by Ed and the band to this end. Now he returns with something a little different. Oh, No! Not Jazz!! (Cuneiform Rune 380/81) has two CDs, one another excellent collection of Zappa big band rearrangements, the other a full disk of Palermo's own compositions.

The Palermo-composed disk contains some very solid mainstream big band charts. They do not sound Zappa-esque so much as they reflect Palermo's fine sense of part writing for the big band. They are quite enjoyable but I would not put them in the category of landmarks. They are nice and deserve multiple listens.

The Zappa disk on the other hand does seem essential. The reason I say that--the compositions are some of Frank's very best, pieces that give you Frank's melodic genius, the daring and the (for then) very complicated yet directly communicative sounds. It is a veritable best of--or surely at least some of the best of--Frank's jazz-rock works: "Inca Roads", "The Uncle Meat Variations", "Little Umbrellas", the "Dog Breath Variations", the Theme from "Lumpy Gravy" and the "Black Page #2". Then there is a hilarious Sinatra-like Las Vegas sleaze version of "America Drinks and Goes Home".

The re-arrangements are marvelous, the band tight as a drum, and they are peppered through with effective solos, though that latter isn't the main thrust.

So while Ed's compositions are nice to hear and have, the Zappa disk is essential listening if you don't know why Zappa is musically important.

It's mostly Zappa in early flower, when nobody came close to blazing the paths as he did. Even confirmed Zappa-holics will dig this for the nicely differing flourish it puts on the music, updating sometimes but weaving the strands mostly into a similar yet different cloth.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Nate Wooley Sextet, (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship

Nate Wooley doesn't try to grandstand you with his playing. His objective I think is to play exactly the right notes with the right spin for each number, each project. And with his own projects you get the idea that he thought pretty carefully about exactly who would be playing the music and so the music-player nexus generally has a tightness to it conceptually, though there may be and generally are free expressions inside it all.

That feeling is strong with me as I listen to his Sextet play the music on (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship (Clean Feed 280). Like a modern-day Gigi Gryce, sure his playing is excellent, but the thing is the music impression-expression of the modern day. You can hear maybe a little Fats Navarro, Bill Dixon or Don Cherry inside his tones, but it all comes together as free-composed and right now. Who says the free-avant has no sense of tradition? It is there, one way or another, if you listen for it.

But the point is not that there is no such thing as complete deja not, there is no total tabula-rasa improvising going on now. Everything is a product of the sum total of the before and if it's good it is the special something that makes it alive right now.

You hear that in the best way on this sextet set. It's a singularly hip band of Nate of course on trumpet, Josh Sinton on bass clarinet and baritone sax, Dan Peck on tuba, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on contrabass, and Harris Eisenstadt on the drums. These are colorist players and their instruments in tandem give that color a blend that Nate takes advantage of with compositions that sit well with this particular group.

Built-in to the charts is an ultra-modern outlook and plenty of room for free and tied utterances. The two blend together in ways that are especially good. Music such as this in Gigi Gryce's day would generally make a pretty sharp distinction between the charts and the blowing. It's a testament to Wooley, the band, and the progression of the music that a talented group of cats like these can blow these charts so that improv and composition fit together as one thing.

And each of these players stand out here as both up for it and right for it. Listen to "Executive Suites", for example, and the transition from the charted to the simultaneous duo solos of Nate and Josh on bass clarinet. There's a point where it's blowing and there's a point where it's charted and that it is seamless but also very musically continuous is a very cool thing.

So I don't suppose that you will be surprised that I find this one on my very recommended list. There is no one way to go about the "new jazz" today. This is one way and it works very well. Excellent, Nate Wooley!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dave Rempis, Aphelion

We are back today with another new Dave Rempis album, Aphelion (Aerophonic 004). A couple of days ago we looked at his duo disk with Tim Daisy. Today it is a trio with Joshua Abrams on acoustic bass, guimbri and small harp, and Avreeayl Ra on percussion. Dave on this one concentrates on alto and baritone.

All three cuts were recorded live and the mood is free with some world overtones. The band shows versatility with inclusions of folk-world instruments, notably the kalimba, the small harp, and the stringed guimbri, a lower-register instrument that gnawa music from Morocco features prominently.

Everybody contributes greatly to the results on this three-way outing. Dave at times sounds more declamatory in a world-reeds sort of way. Abrams and Ra bring in their pan-world elements nicely and the more "conventional" free jazz moments burn brightly.

It's another good one!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mark Masters Ensemble, Everything You Did, The Music of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

Listening to the Mark Masters Ensemble album before me, I could not help but wonder why the music of Steely Dan's Walter Becker and Donald Fagen isn't covered more often by changes-oriented jazz ensembles. The ingredients have been there in the songs themselves, but they haven't been explored very much outside of the Steely Dan and solo albums of the two artists.

All that is moot since Mark Masters has gathered a big band and cut loose with some hip arrangements of Becker and Fagen on Everything You Did (Capri 74123-2). The band has some heavies in it, including Tim Hagens, Billy Harper, Peter Erskine, Gary Foster, Gary Smulyan, Oliver Lake and Sonny Simmons! Anna Mjoll handles the vocals when needed and she sounds good.

Listen to their "Big Black Cow" and perhaps that will convince you, for it strikes me at least that this song blooms in Masters' hands, in different ways than the original and of course that's the point.

They do good work on some of the very familiar ones like "Aja", "Josie", and "Do It Again", but some lesser-known ones, too.

It makes for some very solid mainstream big-band sounds. Kudos for that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Rempis/Daisy Duo, Second Spring, Dave Rempis, Tim Daisy

Chicago saxophone notable Dave Rempis continues on with his worthy series of recordings on his Aerophonic label with a couple of new releases. Up today is the Rempis/Daisy Duo and their Second Spring (Aerophonic 003). Dave gets a lot of music out of his alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Tim Daisy responds in kind on drums/percussion.

Both are key members of a Chicago group of avant jazz musicians who tend to play together. We've heard from many of them in various configurations on these pages, but never these two in duo. It usually helps in these intimate situations if the players know each other's playing well, if they have spend a good deal of time playing together. That's certainly the case with Dave and Tim. The musical sympathies are there to hear in these improvised sequences. This is free blowing of good provenance--they come from inspired places within and the spirit-feel does not flag. Both show why they are fully themselves and in-demand players on the Chicago avant scene.

Second Spring showcases Rempis and Daisy in great form. It is a straightforward blowing romp that gets rolling from the start and does not stop until the last phrase is played. Check it out and get some good sounds!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mack Goldsbury's Quintet featuring Maciej Fortuna, Live at CoCo's

Working at Cadence as a review writer for many years, I learned that there are so many artists out there deserving greater recognition or working in what comes down to downright obscurity that I could no longer afford to say I knew the scene in and out. The arrogance of ignorance can never be a good thing. But it is especially detrimental in a music that unfolds itself primarily in real-time. So I guess you could say that being exposed to a wealth of rather unknown artists has humbled me.

So now as I continue on and today address a Bob Rusch Cadence Jazz release by a group I did not previously know, I remember that one can never know it all, that one learns by remaining open to the unknown.

Today we have Mack Goldsbury and his Quintet, Live at CoCo's (Cadence Jazz 1245). These are players I don't believe I've heard previous to this recording. I know them now! They are a hard-bop-and-after contemporary ensemble holding forth live in a small club in El Paso. The tunes are band originals, good blowing things, with the addition of "Autumn Leaves" and Monk's "Straight, No Chaser".

The presence of guitarist Shaun Mahoney in place of a pianist opens up the sound and gives the rhythm section a chance to burn up the swinging turf as they might in a pianoless trio, only of course there are three soloists on top in Mack Goldsbury on tenor and soprano, Maciej Fortuna on trumpet, and Mahoney on guitar when he isn't lightly comping. Erik Unsworth (upright bass) and Ricky Malichi (drums) have the field clear, then, and they take advantage with an infectious drive that makes it all foundational.

All three front-liner soloists have fire, guts and soul, and evoke the tradition while taking ownership of it for their time in the spotlight.

This is one fine set. It is where the hard bop rubber-meets-the-road and it has subtlety, too. It's a band I would gladly go hear, and yet I knew virtually nothing of them prior to the recording.

Needless to say it's a good one. Listen and learn! Meet new artists and you'll grow. Perfect example.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Colin Vallon Trio, Le Vent

Time does not stand still. We do not stand still. Music does not stand still. That is the way in life and we should embrace what we can of the new when it is good. Pianist Colin Vallon and his trio come at us with the new on their second album Le Vent (ECM B0020040-02). And to me it is good.

The trio includes Patrice Moret on double bass and Julian Sartorius on drums. They work together in realizing a music that has an impressionistic moodiness, a minimalist sense of cycle and a uniquely tonal palette that invites contemplation.

This is music that has improvisation in it, yes, especially from Colin. Yet it is overall compositional in ways that do not typify a jazz piano trio in the mainstream or even of the free-new-thing sort.

There are moments that remind slightly of the fresh Jarrett of Facing You and some of his trance-pattern improvisations of the early solo years. But Vallon and company go somewhere with it that is farther along as a trio expression, more single-mindedly brooding and perhaps more singular than a reference to Jarrett would suggest.

For Vallon and trio have a musical agenda rather thoroughgoingly their own. There is a sometimes quiet expressiveness that has jazz roots but the bop/postbop figurative signposts one expects in this kind of gathering are virtually gone, removed.

So there is some adjustment you must make to the premise that this is creative, cyclical, periodistic yet spacy harmonic music.

Once you get there you find yourself in a quite interesting zone. I found this album very moving once I got into the idea of it. Vallon is on his own journey. I look forward to future albums to see where it takes him. Meanwhile we have Le Vent, which I very much recommend you hear.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gary Burton, Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra, Music by Michael Gibbs, 1973

ECM has reissued some of its back-catalog gems in deluxe new editions for CD or connoisseur quality vinyl LPs. One in the series I actually never heard when it came out, so I thought it would be good for me to cover it and I hope bring some excellent music to the blog from an era that now seems distant, yet is filled with some seminal jazz, projects that may be somewhat ignored by certain folks yet well deserve a hearing.

The album at hand is Gary Burton's 1973 Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra, Music by Michael Gibbs (ECM 1040). If I am not mistaken Gibbs and Burton attended Berklee School of Music at the same time in the early sixties. They came to know one another and appreciate each other's considerable talents. Gary had performed Michael's music on records before 1973, but the Seven Songs project was their most ambitious collaboration to date.

The Gary Burton Quartet with Mick Goodrick on electric guitar, Steve Swallow on electric bass and Ted Seibs on drums formed the core group around which was arrayed a chamber orchestra composed of members of the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, conducted by Gibbs.

The music contains one short piece by Steve Swallow ("Arise, Her Eyes"), the rest Gibb works. "Throb" was well known from an earlier album, the rest I believe were recorded here for the first time.

Gibbs' arrangements for the orchestra are quite stunning and set off the quartet's playing in ways that give greater sonance to both. Burton's excellent vibe tone melds with strings particularly well. Yet it is equally true that the entire quartet plus orchestra create a sonorous whole that in the hands of Manfred Eicher's production vision outshines what either of them might do on their own.

The songs, the treatment-arrangements and the performances all come together for a remarkably absorbing listen. By the end of 1973 the idea of a "Third Stream" may have been cast aside, yet perhaps ironically some of the most successful ventures in combining classical and jazz were either in the works or yet to come.

Most certainly this album constitutes one of them. It is extraordinarily beautiful music that loses nothing with the years that have intervened. It sounds as fresh and central as if it were done yesterday. Hear Seven Songs!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Michael Vlatkovich Quartet, You're Too Dimensional

The West Coast jazz scene continues to be vibrant. It may not make headlines over here in the east, but there is vital music being made there. Michael Vlatkovich, trombonist and composer, has certainly been one of the important voices for some time now. He returns with a quartet lineup on the recent You're Too Dimensional (pfMENTUM 077).

In addition of course to Michael V. there is Jim Knodle on trumpet, Phil Sparks on acoustic bass, and Greg Campbell on drums and a very respectable French horn.

The music is modern in the free-composed vein we expect from Vlatkovich. He is one of the free trombonists at the top of his game out there and that is clear from the new album. Jim Knodle adds a vibrant second voice in the front line, with an inventiveness that complements Michael's both in terms of solo utterances but also in a two-way improvised polyphony at times--three-way when Greg Campbell takes up his French horn.

Phil Sparks does riffs with good variations at times when the music has a rock-funk rhythmic underpinning and can walk well, free zone, put down rhythmically and noteful foundations that set things up nicely. He can solo with interesting and effective results. Greg Campbell propulses the band with a nice feel from the drum chair (or rather the throne, as drum manufacturers call it).

Some (not all) of this reminds slightly of M-Base and/or Dave Holland's band of some years ago when they did contrapuntal funk. But only referentially, not in some imitative way.

Vlatkovich sounds limber and up. The compositions stimulate and the band swings, rocks and frees up in nice ways. This may not be his best album to start out with if you do not know his music, but it satisfies and shows him once again a critical member of the West coastal jazz coterie.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Frank Wess, Magic 201

Tenor sax and flautist Frank Wess defied nature by living to a ripe age while still managing to sound great. Like all such things though it could not last forever. And so he passed last year. Fortunately what were I presume his last recording sessions produced a wealth of material. We covered his Magic 101 album here on its release. (See the June 20th, 2013 article). Now we have Magic 201 (IPO 1025).

As before there is the sympathetic piano of Kenny Barron and the tasteful drumming of Winard Harper. On this session Rufus Reid takes the bass slot and added is guitarist Russell Malone. These are the right folks for Frank and he responds in kind.

Wess was always key, especially when with Basie, as a swing-to-bop stylist that was comfortable in either camp. These later sessions bring that home to us forcefully, and in addition remind us of his lyrical side. Listen to the solo flute version of "The Summer Knows" and you hear that. But the blues and standards recorded here also remind us of the beautiful tenor tone he had. Perhaps no living artist except Scott Hamilton remains to channel the sound, and not in quite the same way.

It's primo late Frank, which means nothing in the way of 16th-note runs (not that he did very much of that even in his youth), but just a perfect, direct, unfaltering blowing-at-you classicism.

Goodbye Frank Wess. And thanks. From all of us.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Paul Stapleton, Simon Rose, Fauna

One of the good things about doing these blogs is hearing music you never would have purchased on your own--because, who knows? When the music turns out to be excellent it gives you a leg up on what's out there.

That's how I feel about the rather obscure new release by Paul Stapleton and Simon Rose, Fauna (pfMentum 074). Stapleton plays something he calls a bonsai sound sculpture, with various sounding devices plucked, hit and whatnot--a pitched and unpitched percussion and stringed conglomerate. Simon Rose is on baritone and alto saxes.

Their duets are entirely out-avant. Rose sounds especially good on baritone. Stapleton makes all matter of sounds.

What counts is that there is a Zen ON quality to be heard in the phrasing, sequencing, and silences. These guys have that extra-sensory antennae that allow them to think in mutual blocks of sound and more sound.

It works and works and works. That's rare! If you like zoned-out will definitely go for this.

Highly recommended.

Bud Powell, Birdland 1953, Three CD Set

Of all the jazz pianists of the mid-20th century, it could be argued that Bud Powell was the most influential. He was there as bebop arose, creating a style of playing for himself that entirely fit with what Bird and Diz were doing on their instruments. He pioneered and excelled at using the left hand as comping vehicle, with rhythmically vibrant jabs that opened up the rhythm section to swing in a more exposed, more advanced way, with harmonic spellings that also opened things up for Bud's spectacularly inventive horn-like right hand (or for that matter other soloists in their own segments).

He and Monk were the most important piano trend-setters of their time and of course Monk took Bud in hand early on and helped set him free musically.

When Bud was on the mark he was a dazzling, burning force that was virtually unmatched among those playing the new kind of jazz. Unfortunately he was not always so inspired. Mental illness and other, sometimes social afflictions increasingly got in the way. As his life went on those periods became more and more frequent. Though there are recordings from his later period that have the fire (but not always the razor-sharp technique) of his peak years, they were not typical.

In 1949-1953 he was an all-devouring monster of style and invention. The Blue Note and Verve recordings from that period say it all. But there was more. In 1953 Bud was released from the mental institution that incarcerated him and proceeded to triumph in a 20-week stand at Birdland, the major NY jazz club of the era. Fortunately for us Birdland regularly broadcasted live sets on a prominent local station and so there were a good many Bud Powell Trio sets captured during that time.

They have made the rounds on various, mostly obscure labels at various points. Now there's a really excellent three-CD set containing most of those Powell broadcasts, aurally cleaned up to sound as close to high fidelity as you will get. Birdland 1953 (ESP 4073) has arrived, and we are all the better for it.

What first strikes you when listening to it all back-to-back is that it documents that long stand thoroughly, with the ins-and-outs of repertoire and the shifts in personnel and moods. Russ Musto in his liners gives us an excellent run-down of it all. I will give you a very brief idea here.

It's the trio throughout, with occasional guests of high importance. The trio most certainly lived or died by virtue of Powell's inspirations (and most certainly lived on these sessions) but things were greatly helped along by the drumming of Roy Haynes and Art Taylor, with Sonny Payne appearing on one set in a less impressive way. The bass chair had Oscar Pettiford in the beginning, Franklin Skeets on one set, and then Charles Mingus for a good deal of the music, followed by George Duvivier and Curley Russell. Needless to say Pettiford and Mingus are a particular gas to hear and with the cleaned-up audio you really CAN hear what they are doing.

Bird, Diz and Candido make brief but excellent guest appearances, a highlight of which is Bird quoting Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" trumpet cadenza at some length!

But this is about Bud and he is in great form a great deal of the time. He plays the standards and pop tunes that he favored in those days, sometimes in multiple versions, for example "Embraceable You". Then there are the bop numbers that you might expect, like Bird's "Ornithology". But the most remarkable music to hear live in this setting involve Bud's own compositions, versions of "Budo", "Parisian Thoroughfare", "Un Poco Loco", "Dance of the Infidels", and "Oblivion"!

Listening to these broadcasts carefully again in the vastly improved sound quality of the set gave me all I love about prime Bud, and woke me up to things I haven't paid enough attention to. I was almost surprised to hear some of the block chord things he was doing then, even in up-tempos. They are extraordinary. You must hear it all!

Here is Bud unleashed, aged 28, a fully formed genius. Even if you've had or have some of the old LP releases of these sets you will want these in the improved audio.

It is essential Bud. And that means it is essential jazz. Essential music!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Abdullah Ibrahim, African Piano, 1969

ECM had a good idea of re-releasing some of the gems in its back catalog that have been hard to find in recent years. Each release can be had as a deluxe vinyl LP or regular CD. The beautiful album African Piano (ECM JAPO 60002 3743552) by Abdullah Ibrahim is one of them. It is a 1969 live performance at Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen. And it is an album that lays out the artistry of the master South African player-composer in all its glory.

If you don't think Ibrahim was a seminal force in the music from then on, listen closely to this recording. He gives us the rooty-yet-advanced style that impacted the scene in full-blown form. As much as Horace Silver and the initial "funk" movement allowed the music to re-embrace its down-home gospel and blues roots, Abdullah Ibrahim did something analogous with his re-routing of those roots into the African center of its initial existence.

So we get a full set of some of his trademark sounds in the pure setting of a solo piano performance. The in-and-out of his expression blended naturally together, just as Duke Ellington's piano style did beginning in an earlier era.

And like Duke, Abdullah sounds as timeless as ever here.

This is indispensable music, played definitively. If you don't have it, you should. I am glad I do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jane Ira Bloom, Sixteen Sunsets

It's a jazz cliche to say that the hardest thing for a soloist to do is to play a ballad. There is some truth to it however. You are left with yourself and the song, your artistry and the need to devise a way through it that does justice to both.

Jane Ira Bloom is not the first of course to put together an entire album of such things. John Coltrane comes to mind with an especially sublime offering. Yet here we are these many years later and most certainly the last word has not been said, the last note has not been played in this realm.

So we have Jane Ira Bloom's Sixteen Sunsets (Outline 141). Jane comes to the forefront on her soprano, accompanied by an excellent set of musicians in Dominic Fallacaro (piano), Cameron Brown (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). They do what they should and do it well. The set is a mix of standards and originals, all in a balladic mode.

Jane Ira Bloom comes through beautifully here. She is and has been an artist of a huge stature, an original, a master of the soprano and the sounds she wishes to make with it. She is the sort of player that should be easy to identify in a blindfold test, because she is a school of one.

Throughout her by now long career she has consistently moved forward as an artist. Today she appears before us fully bloomed. Listen to "I Love You Porgy" and what she does with it.

This is straightforward artistry. It neither sounds modern nor does it sound trad. It is in the ballad tradition of course, yes. But beyond that it is Jane Ira Bloom speaking to us honestly, directly, with little to intervene except the recording and production process.

It is masterful Bloom we have here. A triumph. It will appeal to those who know as well as those who do not know her, jazz, or whatever else confirmed adepts take for granted. But it pleases us too, because it is very well done indeed. Don't neglect this one.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ryan Cohan, The River

Pianist-composer Ryan Cohan did a tour of Africa a while back. The experience led him to compose a 14-movement suite that captured his feelings and impressions. The result is The River (MTM 123) a rather compelling jazz composition for his septet.

There are some understandable rooted strands of Randy Weston and Abdullah Ibrahim to be detected here in terms of forebears as well as a general African orientation in the rhythmic vitality, call-and-response motifs and such. But it is not just a kind of pastiche. There is more to it. It stands on its own.

The band has the rhythmic charge that's needed. They play the written parts nicely and solo overtop with good sounds. Ryan's piano playing is very much a force in all of this. He sounds motivated and motored with a positive charge that gets the drive in gear. And he puts in a great performance, I would say. In addition to Ryan there are two reeds, trumpet, acoustic bass, drums and percussion. I am not familiar with the other players but they do sound very good.

This is one of the better jazz-compositional suites I've heard in the impressions-of-Africa mode. It makes me want to hear more of Ryan Cohan and it also stands well on its own feet.

The River comes across as hip, sophisticated, burnished fire. I am impressed.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kahil el'Zabar's Ritual Trio, Follow the Sun

When somebody like Kahil el'Zabar releases his umpteenth album, it's for good reason. Part of that is his vision of a music that is contemporary, has Afro roots and insists on hitting grooves while having cutting-edge modernity.

You can hear that clearly and nicely on the Kahil el'Zabar's Ritual Trio offering Follow the Sun (Delmark 5013). The trio itself is an excellent one, with Kahil playing fire-y drum set and hand drums plus his exhortation vocals, Ari Brown a potent double threat on tenor and post-Tyner piano, and the roots-and-soul hard hitting bass of Junius Paul. For this album they are given some very hip impetus with the addition of guests: Dwight Trible on vocals, a singer who phrases and refigures phrases like a real jazzman. Then Duke Payne comes forward as a second tenor with a good feel and compatibility with Ari, and also some bagpipes.

As with Chicago's best musical minds and souls over time, it's equally a matter of how and well as what. That means there's an Afro component here that grooves everything but there's also a Trane-Pharoah rooted swinging exuberance that makes it about immediacy and spiritual depth.

So we get some very nice versions of standards like "Body and Soul" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" but also Shorter's "Footprints". And there are a bunch of nice originals.

The album goes from strength-to-strength. This is good music. Excellent music. There's no flagging and it keeps on sounding better. Give it a spin by all means!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bob Rodriguez Trio, So in Love, with Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen

Bob Rodriguez is a jazz pianist of stature. His playing gets a near ultimate showcase with a great trio and the freedom to follow his inner music on So in Love (CIMP 393).

This may not be his first album but it is a kind of model of what he does when given carte blanche permission to soar. With him are 2/3rds of Trio X in Dominic Duval on bass and Jay Rosen on drums, who were working-playing with Bob on a regular basis by the time the album was set down, in 2009.

The simpatico vibes are there; we are the beneficiaries. The trio goes through a well-conceived set of classic jazz vehicles: Freddie Hubbard's "Intrepid Fox", Ellington-Strayhorn's "Isfahan", Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino", Monk's "Brilliant Corners", and the like.

Dominic Duval sounds his usual wonderful self. Jay Rosen gets some excellent cooking done here in one of his best recorded performances in such a context (out-bop-freebop).

But the centerpiece that functions to pull it all together is Bob Rodriguez and his immaculately charged pianism. The man gets inside the changes and their implications, the melodic thrust of the tune and breaks out his own very complete vision of his own musical sensibilities, his reaction to the song at hand. Dominic follows closely and has much to say in response. Jay drives the music with the subtle ways and dynamics that make it all hum top-wise.

This is music both in and out, wonderfully forward-moving with continual inventive depth. Listening to the three interact is like appreciating a finely calibrated wooden maze of expertly grafted and beautifully shaped parts--everything meshes and the whole is as near thrilling as are the considerable parts. To listen to how Duval interacts with Rodriguez, how Rodriguez interacts with Rosen, how each part meshes with each is to get a bead on the piano trio in all its glory and its centrality to today's improvisatory arena.

Hear this one by all means. Bob Rodriguez has arrived.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Matt Criscuolo, Blippity Blat

Altoman Matt Criscuolo comes at us with a very engaging new album, Blippity Blat (Jazzeria 2013). He is joined by a group of compatible heavies in vets Larry Willis on piano, John Clark of French horn fame, plus Billy Williams on drums and Gerald Cannon on acoustic bass.

This is contemporary-modern funk in the post-Horace-Silver sense. It has some of that old Blue Note resilience. Cooking and good blowing vehicles abound. It has soul but does not resort to the old cliches.

Matt has a slithering sort of chromaticism that sounds better than ever. Clark and Willis do what they do best, and the rhythm team has the power to get it all in drive.

The Criscuolo-Clark front line gets full use in the heads for a sound that reminds but gets a fresh face.

This is one very cool feather in Matt Criscuolo's cap!