Friday, October 31, 2014

Touch and Go Sextet, Live at the Novara Jazz Festival

I've lived now for over 20 years in a Manhattan-adjacent NJ town that was where Ozzie Nelson grew up and attended high school. He went on to become a successful singer-bandleader and then was responsible for the quintessentially '50s Americana comedy TV show "Ozzie & Harriet." The show stood in its quirky way for the Middle America that Ozzie grew up in and espoused. Today there is not much evidence of that pancake-eating homespun suburbia. It is not to be found. Not in this town, anyway. Not around here. In its place is a new America, pluralist, culturally diverse and ever-evolving into something we sometimes are not so sure of. The music of today that captures that new world we live in is surely not Ozzie's big-band sides, nor Ricky's rock and roll, but more the modern fractalist new jazz, such as can be heard with the Touch and Go Sextet.

Their album featuring drummer Vijay Anderson's compositions is out. It is called matter-of-factly Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds 0314). As the liners tell us the band formed originally to showcase guest composer-artist-instrumentalists--Avram Fefer, Vinnie Golia and Marco Eneidi. In the meantime Vijay Anderson was studying with the great Roscoe Mitchell at Mills College. Roscoe instilled in Vijay a confidence in his composing which ultimately and fortunately led to this album project covering Vijay's music, recorded with the sextet live.

The band is a group of talented, mostly West Coast players and they shine forth on the album. Vijay of course is at the drums, Aaron Bennett is on tenor and baritone, Sheldon Brown on alto and bass clarinet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Lisa Mezzacappa on acoustic bass.

The compositions are nicely turned with ensemble contrapuntal thrusts of a very modern sort and room for collective and individual solo expression.

The believing is in the hearing, however. It is not just that they do a free/composed set with maximum individual-collective expression, it is how well they express Vijay's formidable charts and how that launches the sextet into excellent avant modern jazz territory.

This is a capstone disk, a really fine assemblage doing music with a personal and collective stamp that flows with the best on the contemporary scene but does it in a unique way. I am stoked with this one. By all means, get it and listen!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Darius Jones, The Oversoul Manual

Darius Jones has impressed me with his very together, accomplished avant alto saxaphone work. We took a look at a wonderful duet he did with Matt Shipp earlier this year (type "Jones" in the search box above for that). Now he comes to us on his own in a very different context: an a capella vocal work for a quartet of female voices, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, in the fourth part of Jones' Man'ish Boy cycle, entitled The Oversoul Manual (AUM Fidelity 091).

It is conceived as a "sacred alien birthing ritual" via an interrelated presentation of 15 parts. For this work Jones creates his own vocabulary of an imagined alien people. The quartet sings in a kind of ritualistic new music style, which in part comes out of Jones' roots singing in church in Virginia in his youth but beyond as well into avant realms.

The composition has more of a new music ambiance than typical of avant jazz, but that is only to say that Maestro Jones comes to us as a composer rather than an improvisor (and of course one could say rightly that improvisation is spontaneous composition. Very true that is. But this is new music first and foremost.).

Kudos for vocalists Sarah Martin, Jean Carla Rodea, Amirtha Kidambi and Kristen Slipp for their fine work here. This is music that demands ritual drama, a certain precision and pitch exactness though the parts can be difficult to execute. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit give us a strong performance throughout.

The music is original and very moving, though you might need to listen a few times to get on its wave length. The birth of "Man'ish Boy" is an important event in the ongoing story, but it is also about the truth that comes to us beyond words, embedded in musical form.

Bravo! Jones is an innovative force on the New York contemporary scene. This work confirms it in the best way. Listen to this one!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alan Sondheim with Christopher Diasparra & Edward Schneider, Cutting Board

Alan Sondheim came to our ears years ago principally on the two albums he did for ESP, Ritual-All-7-70 and T'Other Little Tune, issued in 1967 and 1968, respectively. I came to him a little later through these albums, which impressed me as uncompromisingly home-made in their DIY experimental avant improvisatory thrust. On them Sondheim played guitar and a battery of other instruments, neither evoking jazz or new music syntax but rather forging his own vocabulary that reached out to world musics but only obliquely so.

Much time has passed and apparently also a number of releases came out that I have not heard as yet. He returns to the ESP fold with a new recording Cutting Board (ESP 5004). On it Sondheim matches sonic textures with Christopher Diasparra on tenor and baritone saxes, and Edward Schneider on the alto sax. Sondheim plays a wealth of instruments, from chromatic harmonica, sarangi, classical guitar and flute to electric saz and ukulele. As always Alan's playing is about sound and texture, not as much typical linear technique.

The totality of the album hangs together as experimental free improv more than free jazz per se, though Schneider and Diasparra give out phrasings more akin to post-new-thing sax expressions than not.

As is always the case with Sondheim, the music suits your ears best when you wipe your listening mind of expectations. This music has little in common with JATP, standards, or even ensemble avant jazz and new music as they come to us today. It is Sondheim music and for that it is very good. It is musical sound as art. So go ahead and listen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bud Powell, Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961

Bud Powell in the later phase of his career has some parallels with later Lester Young. Both suffered in their later years from external and internal difficulties that were made even more difficult by racism in its various guises. Both are considered to have done their best work in the earlier days of their career. And both could belie their general reputation of decline to make excellent recordings in the later phases of their musical lives.

A favorite Bud Powell recording for me, later or not, has been for many years his Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961 which came out on LP in the '70s and got my attention from the first as a beautiful representation of later Bud when he was totally on. I have not followed the ups and downs of its availability over the years because I already had the LP. But now, happily, it is available again on ESP (4036). The trio of Bud, Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums) were in regular residence at the Blue Note in Paris when these sides were recorded. Earlier that year the trio rolled the tapes for three numbers of the trio with Zoot Sims. They are included here and I am happy they are. It is more fine music and Zoot sounds very much into it.

The rest is trio all the way, with all three in excellent form. Bud is fired up and sounds in total command. They run through standards and bop classics. Bud sounds a bit more Monkish perhaps than he did in the classic period, no more definitively so than on a moving version of "Round Midnight" but also on "Thelonious," and "Monk's Mood." They are worth the ticket for this CD alone. But then it all is excellent. Keep in mind, this is not Bud channeling Monk. It is Bud as himself, which was always Monk-influenced in the widest sense.

It is prime Powell, evidence that he could still very much come through in the later period.

It is essential. I don't need to say more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites

There seems little doubt about it in my mind, trumpeter-composer-leader Wadada Leo Smith continues to be one of the guiding lights in the new jazz today. He is doing some of the very best work of his career and it continues to delight. The new one, a return to a horns and rhythm group setting after several seminal large group works, brings us a series of pieces he calls The Great Lakes Suites (TUM CD 041-2 2-CDs).

Wadada creates a quartet of some very heavy players. There is of course Wadada himself on trumpet, Henry Threadgill sounding great on alto sax, flute and bass flute, John Lindberg on double bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

The first thing you notice, something that puts a strong foundation under the music, is the wonderful free-time drumming of DeJohnette. We've heard far too little of it in recent years and it reminds us how good he is in this zone. He still is a master at it. That adds much to the proceedings. John Lindberg prevails as a heavy on arco and pizzicato. And then Henry and Wadada sound better than ever.

The compositional frameworks go beyond head-solos-head form. There are motives the band gets into during the improvs that are pre-conceived. Where composition leaves off and improvisation begins is a fluid thing and it gives the freedom of the players an inherent structure that catapults the entire sequencing onto a higher plane. Yet as we would hope the improvisations are no less masterful.

It's an extended look at a master quartet and a master composer-conceptualist meeting on common ground and creating some exceptional music.

Outstanding! And so of course very recommended. Wadada is a leader in the widest sense. He keeps the music alive in the most vibrant way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lucky Peterson, The Son of a Bluesman

Lucky Peterson is a triple-threat blues artist--fiery guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist. He comes front-and-center on his album The Son of a Bluesman (Jazz Village 2-LP 33570038.39).

It's a grooving, full-blown production of Peterson, together band, and backup vocalists. His early experience with his father as blues artist and club owner and subsequently in the bands of Little Milton and Bobby Blue Bland gave him the catalyst for a vibrant urban style that also reaches way back to the roots on the album at hand. Originals and covers give us a complete picture of the artist, a bright spot in the blues world today, the real thing. So we get Bland's "I Pity the Fool" in a hot version, "Funky Broadway", "I Can See Clearly Now" as well as grits and gravy soul and roots.

Lucky's guitar playing has dramatic presence, he sings with true soul and gives us a complete modern blues package. The music has a contemporary sound in terms of production values but underneath it all is the read deal.

Lucky has it! Give this one a listen!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sackville All Star Christmas Record, 1986

Perhaps it is characteristic of the collector mania that I sometimes am prey to, but when in the past I glanced at the Sackville Records catalogs and listings, I would often mumble "What the h?" when I saw listed an item entitled The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (Sackville 3038). With Delmark's involvement in distributing and reissuing choice Sackvilles comes, directly from Delmark in a recent promo package, that very album, available on CD, and palpable in my greasy mitts! "I'll be d_mned!" I exclaimed, or something like that.

So I've been listening and thought I'd post on it early enough that you have plenty of time to get it for the season if you are so inclined. It's a cool record with a nice twist. Needless to say it covers holiday music of the sort you might expect ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town", "Silent Night") but then some welcome others you might not expect: like Bessie Smith's "At the Christmas Ball" and "Old Time Religion".

And it's not just the what, of course, but the how that sets it apart. First, to start with, one who was (for me) the unknown factor--the younger (then) sax player by name of Jim, Jim Galloway. He plays soprano here, sounding like something somewhere between Sidney Bechet, Rabbit Johnny Hodges and, perhaps a stretch, Willie Smith on soprano. He is a surprise gas--and fits right in with a beautiful trio of swing vets, Ralph Sutton on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Gus Johnson on drums.

Everybody sounds great. But Ralph Sutton steals the show at that late date with all the punch and drive of his stride-swing style, which is killer here.

It sets off the Christmas cliches so they sound completely fresh because this is old-style jazz played with fervor and conviction.

If your world demands Christmas musical fare or you just play it because you want to be festive, to observe the season in the manner of the ancestors and all the reasons one does this--and get jaded with the commercialization and endless reiteration of horrible adaptations of "Jingle Bells" and such already filling our ears on TV ads, here is a perfect antidote. Here is a Christmas album you'll love even if you are Jewish, Zoroastrian, or any manner of faith! It has an old-jazz beauty and swing that will make a convert of you. I am sorry, I mean a jazz convert. The rest is up to you and your faith and/or beliefs. Happy Holidays early!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue

The jazz world is in a bit of an uproar over the new album by Mostly Other People Do the Killing (MOPDTK), Blue (Hot Cup 141). If you don't already know, MOPDTK recreate here the entire Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue, reproducing all the notes the original band played on the released takes--not only the heads, but all the solos, all the rhythm section utterances.

That people have reacted so strongly, with or without hearing the actual recording, is a sign that MOPDTK have treaded on sacred jazz ground, so to speak. My first reaction initially was anger and vexation, to tell the truth. Then I stopped myself. "Why?" I have found MOPDTK one of the very most important of new groups in jazz. I've gotten a kick out of the reproduction of classic cover designs but found always that the music takes tradition and makes something new of it, no matter what period is channeled. So what is it about Blue that caught me off guard?

One of the answers that first comes of course is that jazz by definition involves individual expression, that both rhythm sections and soloists have great latitude in what they play, typically. Kind of Blue and that first version was all about soloing on more or less modal forms. Miles, Trane, Cannonball, Evans or Kelly, Chambers and Cobb gave the album its classic quality by taking the wonderful compositional ideas there and expressing themselves with spontaneity. All jazz does not have to have continuous improvisations--and it still can be jazz. But this is copying. And of course that's the point. But then is it jazz?

MOPDTK do not go here for self-expression, though they surely could have and done a wonderful job had they wished, playing their own version. Instead they try to recreate the original EXACTLY, or that's how we experience it.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Kind of Blue was not singled out as the holy of holies, the "greatest jazz album ever made". In fact when I was at Berklee (1971-2) the album was acknowledged and respected, but the album everybody was concerned with then was Bitches Brew, the Miles iconic foray into electric and rock forms. The need to name "the world's greatest jazz album" simply wasn't a concern. With the rise of Neo-Trad and its very vocal narrowing down of what they considered "legitimate" (electric jazz like Bitches Brew and free-avant jazz in general were considered mostly illegitimate) suddenly Kind of Blue was enshrined as the one greatest achievement in jazz.

As wonderful as the album is, the attempt to create in it the jazz equivalent of Beethoven's Ninth was unfortunate, perhaps. The public has no time for anything and if they only want one jazz album, just like maybe they only want one classical, the "authorities" needed to choose it. I don't think this ultimately is good for jazz, and maybe not even for classical, in that there can never only be one and the reaction is to have large segments of the listening public with no time to waste coming to own Kind of Blue and/or Beethoven's Ninth and nothing else.

So at this point Kind of Blue has been sacralized. Miles and Coltrane, too, are the closest thing to jazz deities as you are likely to find. The (deserved) reverence for these two masters is near worshipful. Like a holy book in an organized religion, Kind of Blue is a kind of holy text, for the jazz community one among many, to part of the world the only, the highest of the high.

So, one reacts in one's gut with, "What? How can these guys have the temerity to reproduce the album note-for-note? Do they imply that they themselves are on the plane of Miles and Trane?" Well I think that surely they weren't about that with this album. What they were about is much more complex.

First of all there is the factor of conservative reification. As someone with an involvement in jazz since childhood on many levels, I can see that the changes in the distribution and transmission of jazz have had a dramatic effect since the '50s when I was tangentially exposed, then into the sixties when I really started listening, and eventually, playing (primarily as a drummer) the music. The new recordings were the point certainly in the sixties. Moving to the next step was in the air. New jazz artists and evolving styles were given much attention.

Sometime in the early seventies the reissues started become a big factor, as more and more looking backwards became important. All jazz people generally speaking have done this, have developed a good grasp of the history. But as things evolved in that period there was more and more an emphasis on what had gone before, even to the extent that the present, new jazz masters were subject to questioning or even ignored. There came a point where many people felt that the best jazz was in the past, that what was most worthwhile was already done. With that came the rise of jazz repertoire. Jazz at Lincoln Center did and does a good bit of recreating Duke or other classic jazz artists. At the same time Kind of Blue was more and more enshrined as the ONE.

As a young up and coming jazz artist today your training involves in a big way assimilating some of the masters and their techniques. Jazz programs in music schools often stress the ability to play past forms of the music before you develop your own style. Sometimes it results in players who don't seem to have a personal sound or style. In the past players were exposed to classical music and learned jazz on their own or through mentorship and bandstand education. The new education stresses a certain homogeneity and a pantheon of players and techniques to be learned.

Take all this and throw MOPDTK into the maelstrom. Here are five exceptionally talented young players, subjected to all the inertia of the jazz scene the way it has evolved. How do you develop a personal sound and get recognized when the world is saying "there can be nothing new"? That Kind of Blue is the perfection, the end-all of the music? Well in previous recordings they have taken the past forms of jazz and made them their own, in part, but changing the music as they did so, adding a very personal element, originality. To turn to Kind of Blue now and recreate it exactly is a new move. It is a comment, a gesture, a statement.

So what are the results? An uncanny duplication of sound and style of the original. It is an impressive achievement, just to channel both Trane and Cannonball so successfully takes real musicianship, and Irabagon does it to perfection. Peter Evans and Miles you could say the same thing of, and so forth down the line.

And now this disk calls forth the pontification from authority, as can be expected, but this time you get all kinds of spins. The jazz community, judging by social media, has responded vocally and in some cases angrily. This is not what jazz is about, they say, some of them. Jazz is about soloing and playing in your own style. They are right. Some reviewers--and I try not to read them right now, but this I have heard--give the album a big thumbs up. Some say it is only doing what classical music has been doing. But classical music at least today does not have the recorded example of, say, a Mozart symphony that they try and get exactly right, to copy it verbatim. They bring to the written score varying interpretations and that's why there continue to be so many recordings and classical listener-collectors who have sometimes many different recordings of the same piece. The point is in part authenticity but also in part the stamp of personal artistry in each performance.

MOPDTK have striven for the opposite in a way, to reproduce the album as exactly as they could. Listening you hear sometimes a slightly more lyrical twist now and again, but it is very subtle. They nail the original almost completely. So much so that I ended up comparing the recorded sound versus the old Columbia Studio's sound, which was in many ways a tad more alive--Columbia engineers and that studio recreated the Miles sound in audio with an incredible flair. So maybe the actual sound of the mastered new MOPDTK is the most obvious difference.

What stands is the remarkable brilliance of the channeling. This was no easy exercise. And a true love for the original record and musicians comes through too, very clearly. If they are making fun it is NOT of the music. In some ways they seem to be saying, "look jazz world, if all you want to do is talk about the past and the great masters, where do we fit in? OK, you just want Kind of Blue and to hell with what comes after? Well, here it is then, note-for-note!"

Given all that, should you go out and buy this record? Should I as a so-called critic "rate" it? This record is amazing but by rating it I pretend that this is a new trend that should be or shouldn't be incorporated into how we think of jazz. I won't rate it. If you buy this one, it should not be because it is something new. It is most emphatically something NOT NEW. And that may be the point of course. I will say that hearing it a number of times makes we want to go back to the original, that it fills me with wonder about the brilliance of the players and their solos, of the album as a whole. I will file the album not under MOPDTK, but next to the original. If you buy it, it is to experience the chill of uncanny reproduction. But really that's all.

It is a statement, a protest maybe, about the state-of-the-art today. I have no doubt that MOPDTK will go on to make breathtaking original albums after this. This is something they had to do and I applaud their nerve. But I do not then say, go get it. People will, no doubt, do that out there, just because it is Kind of Blue. Otherwise you may not need to, really. MOPDTK this is not, other than in name. This cannot be a trend. It's great but not for the reasons we seek out jazz first-hand. It is a great gesture. It shows remarkable musicianship. It isn't something that forwards the music except in the form of a protest. That's how I feel.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jorrit Dijkstra's Pillow Circles, Live Bimhuis Amsterdam

Jorrit Dijkstra and his ensemble Pillow Circles performed a very lively, absorbing set at Amsterdam's famous jazz venue Bimhuis on March 5th, 2011. Fortunately the "tapes" were rolling and captured the band in good fidelity. The result is available on Driff Records as a download-only release

The ensemble gives us very hip versions of eighth Dijkstra works, which themselves are substantial. The ensemble's lineup for the evening was Jorrit Dijkstra - alto saxophone, tin whistle; Jasper Blom - tenor and soprano saxophones; Ilja Reijngoud - trombone; Tanya Kalmanovitch - viola; Raphaƫl Vanoli - guitar, electronics; Paul Pallesen - guitar, banjo; Jason Roebke - bass; Frank Rosaly - drums.

Driff does us a real service by making this music available. It is outside, spanning in its large complexities and filled with individual soloing of note and a group collectivity that is rather mind blowing.

For the modest price of the download you can hear some excellent modern avant jazz. I will simply recommend you do so! That's enough because you can audition the music on Bandcamp. It's important music, to my mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Black Top with Steve Williamson, No. 1

Like the bear in the woods, no, make that the tree, just because you don't hear something doesn't mean it isn't worth hearing. Black Top is a good example. They have been together since 2011, propelling forward with a free avant music that I am glad finally to hear. The new album has the matter-of-fact title No. 1 (Babel Label). The group is a duo, multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson and pianist Pat Thomas. For their new album tenor and soprano sax work is nicely provided by Steve Williamson. This is London-based music, avant freedom with a kind of New Yorkish edge.

The occasional tape loop and real-time interaction combine for a live program that generates genuine excitement. They call on some tribal pan-African influences via marimba and percussion, wide-ranging pianism with a flair and some great sax work. Some of it grooves with that steady-state regularity but unpredictability that keeps it out of the programmed formula realm.

What's especially nice here is the unexpected quality of their free explorations. The artists don't play what you tend to hear these days, in that there is a propensity for memorable inventions that have their own structure and logic, more so than a "completely" open, multi-lane freeway approach would dictate.

It's the avoidance of avant cliche that keeps your ears in an expectant mode. The band delivers. They are more inclined to listen to each other and construct blocks of inspiration out of the responses and gestures. Not to say that there is anything wrong with a multi-independent avantness, of course. Just that they are slightly less "new music" oriented in that way than some other bands. And also of course that can only work if the instant-compositional inspiration happens. It does.

For a thorough hoot I would recommend you hear this one. Black Top is happening! You can grab No. 1 at the following BandCamp link:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

John Coltrane, Offering, Live at Temple University, 1966

New unreleased John Coltrane surely is an event. Such is the case with the 1966 concert Offering, Live at Temple University (Resonance Impulse B0019632-01 2-CDs). And yet from what I gather, there are those who disapprove. (I try not to read anything on a recording before I review. In this case social media reacted to some of it and I was drawn in.)

By the time we now live, 2014 at the moment, it has become clear that the avant garde in music will not likely become a universally appreciated phenomenon. Late Coltrane is a part of that and as such has had detractors from the very beginning. The unfortunate militancy of Neo-Trad from the '80s on, against all free-avant and electric forms of the music, has only heightened that tendency by officially sanctioning it.

The fact is, though, Coltrane in 1966 was a part of something that included his music and quite a few others as well. Sure the times were turbulent and the music reflects that. But whether in response to that or not, there was a musical movement in full-flight that started with Ornette Coleman's breathtaking entrance into the public ear from 1959 on and grew as artists such as Albert Ayler took things a step further. "New Thing" is what it was called by some. The music gave primacy to expression, a more or less universal disregard for set chord changes, a loosening of the pulse in the direction of "free time", where there was periodicity but symmetrical patterns in 4/4 and the like were avoided for a more open rhythmic stance.

Trane of course was at the top of his game, in his first stylistic incarnation, when all of this started happening. His response was, after his various tenures with Miles and Monk, to open up to "modality", and via the classic quartet of Trane, McCoy, Garrison or Workman and Elvin to extend the polyrhythmic possibilities of swing and head for a more expressive open stance.

The formation of his last band was the next step in his gradual embrace of New Thing avant garde jazz. He dreamed one night that he was going to play sax like Albert Ayler, and the gradual movement toward more overt expression was a part of that. Rashied Ali replacing Elvin Jones gave him drumming that had a regular forward drive but no set patterns that would imply standard swing, though Rashied certainly swung in his own way. The open stance of Alice Coltrane's piano replaced the recurrent patterning brilliance of Tyner with something more open-ended, corresponding to what Rashied was doing. Adding Pharoah Sanders as a second, very caustic and turbulent sax exponent put the finishing touches on what Trane was after. It was all deliberate. It did what Trane wanted it to do--to allow him to embody directly the New Thing ethos.

The wash of rapid rhythmic pulsation from Rashied allowed Trane complete freedom to play with ferocious intensity or beautiful rubato rapture. Alice opened things up harmonically so that all notes were possible, though that doesn't mean the music was ever atonal. Trane got the harmolodic logic of Ornette, that you could modulate anywhere tonally in your playing and the band might follow or modulate elsewhere, so long as a pitch center remained whether stated overtly or not.

So that's where Trane was when he stepped on stage at the large auditorium at Temple University on November 11, 1966. His new band had been playing for a while and the roles of each musician pretty much had gelled. Regular bassist Jimmy Garrison was for whatever reason not on stage that night (actually he had quit the band for a time. Thanks to Sabir Mateen for the clarification.). Instead Sonny Johnson fills the bass chair. Alice, Pharoah, and Rashied were very much present. Then there were several hand percussionists added and a few guest spots for lesser known local saxophonists. Both groups add something to the ambience.

The concert, fortunately, was recorded for broadcast by the local college station. They seemed to rely on one microphone with a possible second as a spot mike but it was apparently mixed down to mono on the spot. The result, taken from the master tapes made at the time, is very clear audio, but not always entirely balanced. At times the rhythm section is less audible than they should have been. But the positive side is that Trane and the other saxophonists are put at times in stark relief. And that means you can really hear what Trane was playing that night, close up.

The repertoire consisted of expanded versions that stretch out very nicely. "Naima", "Crescent" and "My Favorite Things" from earlier times; "Leo" and "Offering" as new numbers.

Now those who find this album not to their liking either don't understand or don't appreciate late Trane. It is perhaps an acquired taste, and if you don't like "free jazz-new thing" you probably won't get with this last phase of Trane. What he might have evolved into had he lived is speculation. What he was doing then was entirely consistent with where Trane had been and the very personal way he transformed himself and his band into a "free" ensemble. This is late Trane fully flowered.

There are some really ravishing examples of Coltrane's tenor in full bloom here. He can be frenetic, yes, as can Pharoah, but he can be beautifully rubato, almost as an extension of what he worked at on the unaccompanied tenor cadenza on the Impulse version of "I Want to Talk About You" from years before. Untrammeled now by a more geometrically explicit rhythm section, he can and does play atop the free rhythm washes with very lyrical, very expressive brilliance. Listen especially to his work on "Naima" and "Crescent" and you will hear it. The band in Japan had moments where Trane unleashed a lyrical storm in similar ways, but this recording puts him right at your front door, so to speak.

If you are a confirmed hater of the later Coltrane I don't see how this will change your mind. Except maybe this heretofore unfamiliar recording (albeit available in lower quality bootlegs for a while but never with the completeness and pristine original master sound) will cause you to listen more closely.

This music is not a mistake. It is not a degeneration. It is not even a transition. True, there is Trane here doing something a little different than on his very last recordings, such as Interstellar Space, but these are concert length expositions of some prime works, and so there is a different pace, a stretching out. It is fully developed Coltrane at a peak. It is a revelation for the master himself and his playing. It is John Coltrane as he was on November 11, 1966. And that cannot be replaced.

Get this one!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chris Dundas, Oslo Odyssey

Pianist Chris Dundas puts together a quartet effort that models itself quite successfully on the classic phase of ECM jazz coming out of Europe in earlier days. Oslo Odyssey (BLM 1100/01) gives us two-CDs of music with a nicely balanced group of forces. Dundas wrote seven of the numbers, which are featured on the first disk. The second disk contains collaborative quartet-generated spontaneity, aka group improvisations.

The quartet is a good one. Dundas mans the piano with a generative in-the-moment presence that does not copycat as much as it revises and recreates anew, the legendary Arild Andersen is on contrabass, sounding great, Bendik Hofseth plays tenor, launching from Garbarek but going beyond to his own space, and Patrice Heral plays creatively and loosely on drums.

I especially like the second disk for its free-tonal qualities. But the whole set gives us a kind of revisitation of classic ECM jazz from the vantage point of today, which means it is no clone. It involves extension.

For anyone who loves the middle-period of ECM music, this will send you. There is non-formulaic playing and writing, a fresh take on it all. Recommended!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ritmos Unidos

From Ritmos Unidos (Patois 017) today comes a fine set of music in the Latin jazz/salsa/Caribbean mode. It is their second album, self-titled, and it is a good one. The Caribbean element is forwarded by some excellent steel pan playing from Joe Galvin, seconded by guest Liam Teague. The band otherwise is a crack outfit of Latin musicians, with brass punch and rhythmic power, soloist who can work a little magic, strong vocals and a wide repertoire that partakes of many elements of the African diaspora and makes it all new.

Unexpected perhaps is a version of Wes Montgomery's "Road Song" but it works. Wayne Shorter's "Water Babies" comes through too. The three part "Ochun Suite" has traditional rootedness combined with ambitious charting, but it all works together in very nice ways.

Another score from Patois!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eric Vloeimans' Oliver's Cinema

Chamber jazz has become a large part of the international scene. Not to rehearse history here but it it has been with us for some time. . . Beiderbecke's "In A Mist", the John Kirby bands, the MJQ and Jimmy Giuffre, the AACM from the '60s on, and so forth.

From the Netherlands we have a small group devoted to the chamber sound, headed by trumpeter Eric Vloeimans: his Oliver's Cinema (buzz zz76111). It's a trio of distinction with of course Vloeimans on trumpet, Tuur Florizoone on accordion, Jorg Brinkmann on cello.

It is music with a lyric, folkish bent. There is no bop, post-bop or new thing going on here. The closest thing to compare the structured melodic sounds with might be Carla Bley in an ultra-lyrical mood. There is that village transformed feeling that you can sometimes hear with Ms. Bley. People have compared Eric's trumpet sound to that of Miles Davis. That's seems true enough in terms of the softness of tone, but otherwise this is miles away, and not to say that is bad. He is supremely lyrical.

All three members are quite good. The cello work, mostly pizzicato, gives a lighter sound where a bass would thicken things. When Brinkmann switches to arco, he shows virtuoso mastery. Florizoone plays accordion with style, acumen and a lovely tone that meshes well with Vloeimans' trumpet, which shines forth with a tender glory.

The songs are originals by all three, plus some cinema-specific themes like "Rosemary's Baby" (Komeda), "Cinema Paradiso" (Morricone).

It's a beautiful album, redolent with atmosphere.

They are right now on an extensive US tour. I don't usually cover such things but I will here. October 10: Moody's Bistro, Truckee, CA; October 11: Chez Robert, Soquel, CA ; October 13: Duende, Oakland, CA; October 14: Calvary Church, Portland, OR; October 15: Seattle; October 16, Albuquerque; October 17: Colorado Springs; October 18: Chicago; October 20: Blue Note, NYC; October 21, Buffalo; October 23, Waukee, IA; October 24: Charlottesville, VA; October 25: Miami.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2, A Collection of Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz

The contemporary Bay Area Salsa-Latin jazz scene is vital, judging by the music coming out on the Patois label. Today we have the second 2-CD volume of Salsa de la Bahia, Hoy Y Ayer (Patois PRCD 018).

This of course continues the flow of musical gems begun with the first volume (see the December 6, 2003 posting for a review of that one). If anything, Volume 2 is even more irresistible. Pete Escovedo, Los Kimbos 90's, Bobi Cespedes, La Mixta Criolla, Kat Parra, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Rico Pabon, and Estrellas de la Bahia contribute 16 numbers, collectively, and it is music of real heat.

It gives you all you need to know about Bay Area Frisco Salsa-Latin jazz today. The rhythm sections have that drive and then some. There are some percussion routines that take away the breath, even.

The vocals are uniformly right, the songs excellent, the call-and-response sections blaze. They will get you off your feet in a hurry. And the brass-reed sections have some really hip writing happening with excellent players and very together soloing. The trombone work is especially outstanding but it all comes at you with that special charge that makes this music a development, a step ahead for the music.

This one should not be missed. A groove it is, very much so. Oye!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fred Tompkins, Flute Settings

Last month we took a look at Fred Tompkins' classically tinged jazz composition as recorded in the late '60s-early '70s by a stellar lineup of jazz all-stars (Fanfare 8, see post for September 4th, 2014). Today we jump ahead to the present, 2012 to be exact, and a recording of Fred Tompkins' recent work, Flute Settings (self released).

To draw comparisons with Fanfare 8 would not be quite fair. That record involved carefully conceived compositions recorded over a period of years. This album has good compositional elements--four by Fred, one a free collaborative improv with pianist Jim Hegarty, one by Hegarty himself, one by Boyd F. Becker-Nunley who plays steel pan on the number, and Ornette's "Lonely Woman".

As one can understand from the title the album is a showcase for Fred Tompkin's flute playing which is warm, lyrical, nuanced and open. He is not quite an Eric Dolphy in terms of technique, nor does he try to be. But he is quite effective and compelling in the solo role. The music ranges from Fred's work with flute and samples ("Voices") that plus the addition of Charlie Dent on drums ("Con Moto 3"), duets with Hegarty on piano ("Lonely Woman", "Melody" and "Free Form"), solo flute ("Solo Extensions"), and two different quintets, one with Becker-Nunley and a second steel pan voice ("Tabanca Time") and the final number ("Islands") with reeds, piano, guitar, and drums joining Fred.

This is generally a looser, more openly jazz-oriented date, some of it free form, others more arranged.

The compositional side of Tompkins (and others) can be heard to good effect but in other ways it is a more improvisational approach that prevails.

Nonetheless there is much in the way of thoughtful music to be heard, good flute presence and an open attitude that for its sincere straightforwardness has much charm and listenability. And it's great to hear that Fred is still at it, making very good music.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Christian Jacob, Beautiful Jazz, A Private Concert

Judging from how many post-Bill Evans, fully harmonic piano players' CDs I get regularly you would think that the style predominates today. Yet this is by no means a simple route to follow in the jazz piano world.

Today we have another pianist who owes something to the fully worked harmonic respellings that Bill Evans did so splendidly. Yet there is something much more at work here as well, although there may also be less of the rigorously respelled harmonics on a continual basis, perhaps. I refer to pianist Christian Jacob and his solo piano recital album Beautiful Jazz (Wilder Jazz 1401). Here we have Jacob attack twelve well-visited standards plus a version of Stravinsky's "Etude No. 4".

What sets Christian apart has to do with a lively rhythmic approach, a contrapuntal involvement of the left hand that is sometimes almost stride-like, only not in any predictable way.

He has a very concerted technique that has the sophisticated harmonics of post-Evansian style yet takes less of a block-chord approach (and of course later Evans got further away from that as well). But there is a nicely original rubato style happening with Jacob that takes him further afield. That is in part a Jarrettian trait too, but there is nothing all that similar going on between to the two players because Jacob takes it into his own realm.

Listen to the old potboiler "Tea For Two" and you hear stride roots, an almost Garnerian left hand but not in the lag-bounce Garner way.

I find this album quite refreshing. It's doing what's being done yet doing it in Christian Jacob's own way. That interests me and should interest you too if you are a piano-jazz hound.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Jean-Marc Foussat, Sylvain Guerineau & Joe McPhee, QUOD

Avant electronician Jean-Marc Foussat has formed a trio of three and set them loose on the dynamically engaging QUOD (Fou CD 05). Open-form freedom improvisation is the order of the day as Jean-Marc mans the synths, the great Joe McPhee has his say on soprano sax and Sylvain Guerineau complements the both on tenor sax.

Out music is the goal and they get there from the beginning. Foussat provides a masterful mix of timbral projections that sets up the horn soloists and furnishes an inventive orchestral electronic backdrop for Guerineau and McPhee to give us their best.

This is full-blown modernism at work. Guerineau keeps up with McPhee in an impressive way, McPhee lets his improvisational instincts take him far afield, and Foussat shows a keen ear for what electronic sounds will work best for the three-way dialog.

Now I could rattle on almost indefinitely about the spontaneous generation of excitement and soul here, but I don't think it would be necessary. All three interlock and do some of their best work.

If you go for the free, the out, and the electronic, this will ring your chimes for sure. It may be a sleeper, but listen a few times and you surely won't be one!

Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Eliana Cuevas, Espejo

The category of "Latin vocalists" is something so wide as almost to be meaningless. Of course one will expect the singing to be in Spanish (or Portuguese), but beyond that there is a spectrum of possibilities that is seemingly endless. In the case of Canadian based Eliana Cuevas and her album Espejo (Alma 81242) we get music and a voice, each with a special originality. The music has a jazz quality and Eliana projects through it all wonderfully.

It all is in a contemporary Latin vein, which means there are nicely wrought modern arrangements (by keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter and Eliana) and a rhythmic feel that includes infectious Latin rhythms along with a backbeat at times. These are for the most part Cuevas originals and she has a definite knack at songwriting. Combine that with an impeccable vocal instrument and you really have something. Her voice is nuanced, pitch-perfect, personally sensuous and clear as a bell. Based on the album I would certainly put her up there among the very best of the new vocalists. She is marvelous.

The more I listen to this one the more I am struck by it. If you could buy only one contemporary Latin album this year, this might well be the one. I am very impressed! Eliana Cuevas is a knockout on every level.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Raymond MacDonald and Marilyn Crispell, Parallel Moments

From the somewhat obscure British label Babel Label comes a fine series of improvised duets between Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and American pianist Marilyn Crispell, Parallel Moments (Babel Label BDV 13125).

It's a dynamic encounter with avant jazz turbulence, new music explorations and a testifying lyric sensibility, depending on the piece. Both artists acquit themselves well on both the individual and the interactive levels.

There are times when one hears a hint of an influential rechanneling of Anthony Braxton in MacDonald's more acerbic moments, but other times he seems to be searching and finding his own personal line-creating, sound-poetic personality. That he finds a center and melds it with Marilyn's very personal modern piano makes all this music worthwhile.

Marilyn is never one to be pinned down. She comes across in this set with excellent inventiveness and pianistic thrust.

A far-ranging set of variations on music making can be had here. All is well-conceived and can be heard for your musical profit and edification. MacDonald and Crispell come through with a winner!