Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thumbscrew - Thumbscrew (Cuneiform, 2014)

Thumbscrew is a cross-generational group made up of three of the heaviest hitters on the contemporary improvisational scene. Featuring Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. All three of the members of the group are composers, and they decided to write music strictly for this project. The results work very well, developing music that is dynamic with shifting moods from shadowy to very exciting. “Cheap Knock Off” opens the album in excellent fashion, creating knotty musical arrangements with spidery guitar over open-ended bass and drums. The back to back punch of “Goddess Sparkle” and  “Buzzard Breath” serve as the heart of the album, and in particular service as springboards for excellent playing my Mary Malvorson both in ensemble and soloing capacities. ”Still… Doesn’t Swing” is a wry commentary about the difficulty some critics and patrons have in understanding new music, comparing it to the past rather that accepting the present. The band is at its best, truly a cooperative, playing in an idiosyncratic and ever shifting manner. The band never really squeals or howls, but yet the intensity is still there, as if the energy that could have been expanded on volume or bombast was folded back into the music creating a unique and quietly powerful narrative. Thumbscrew - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dave Douglas with Steve Swallow, Jim Doxas and Chet Doxas - Riverside (Greenleaf, 2014)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has done many tribute albums during the course of his career, paying homage to the likes of Wayne Shorter and Mary Lou Williams. Here he tips his hat in the direction of influential clarinet and saxophone player Jimmy Giuffre. On Riverside he produces a collaborative album along with Chet Doxas on tenor saxophone and clarinet, his brother Jim Doxas on drums and one of Giuffre's longtime collaborators, Steve Swallow on bass. My favorite performances on the album were “Old Church, New Paint” which was slow and deep, almost hymnal. Douglas' recent Be Still album explored this territory at length so this was familiar ground for him. There is some deep tenor saxophone channeling Ben Webster, and an earthy jazz feel to the arrangement. “Handwritten Letter” was fast! Gathering speed with the horns intertwined and then Douglas blasts off from the fanfare theme with a brisk solo playing tight and focused. Doxas on tenor is a revelation, taking a startling solo before giving his brother drummer some of the limelight. This was a highlight of the album, just crackling stuff. The tempo is kept high on on "Big Shorty" where trumpet and saxophone converse followed by Douglas who blasts off an excellent solo, scalding and ripping the very air, before handing off the reins to Doxas who raises the bar even higher and then his brother says "don’t forget about me" with a ripe drum feature. The fact that the group works really well at high speed is further evidenced on “No Good Without You.” This track has a strong medium up feel founded on a deep bass groove and made exciting by the way the angular trumpet and squiggly saxophone play off against one another. There’s a funk drum solo to boot, taking the music out in excellent fashion. “Sing on the Mountain” ends the album and was by far the longest track. Starting with subtle bass and trumpet, the remaining instruments slowly blend in building the music to a emotional conclusion. This was a good album, Douglas and Swallow are as excellent as you would expect them to be, but the Doxas brothers were a revelation to me. They play with bright and punchy enthusiasm and are excellent throughout, deserving wider recognition. Riverside - amazon.com

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Dan Weiss - Fourteen (Pi Recordings, 2014)

Drummer and composer Dan Weiss has always had an ambitious streak, but this album takes matters to a whole new level. This is a seven movement suite for a fourteen piece large ensemble with a heady mixture of composed and improvised sections. What is particularly interesting is how he mixes voice as a lead instrument on occasion, with the singers soloing as if they were a trumpet or saxophone. Voices blend, merge and overlap, making for a hypnotic addition to the musical breadth and width. The music builds texture from sections of solo instrumentation all the way up to full band. He has a heavy hitting crew of co-conspirators including Miles Okazaki on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano, organ and glockenspiel, along with sections of brass, saxophones and bass. Music can develop from a small node of an idea: blooming from spacious instrument like piano which will then grow fractally as the voices build in and then saxophones and electric guitar add tension and texture before the rest of the band is folded in to demonstrate the  whole weight of the ensemble. The music itself builds organically, and draws not just from jazz but from  East Asian music, rock, dub and beyond making for contrasts in states of mind, feeling and temper. It takes some patience and multiple spins  to get the full effect of the music, but it is an audacious project that should appeal to forward thinking music fans. Fourteen - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bad Plus - The Rite of Spring (Sony Masterworks, 2014)

The Bad Plus, Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums have long been one of my favorite bands, They are in a continuous state of evolution, from a band known for their cheeky covers of rock songs, to producers of excellent original material, the group is always interesting and surprising. In 2011, the group received grant money and decided to arrange a trio version of Igor Stravinsky's classical composition The Rite of Spring. After touring widely with this piece as the as the center of their performance, they recorded it as a full length presentation. Since I know next to nothing about classical music, the album threw me at first, but the percussive nature of much of it gave me a handhold to appreciate the music. Sections of “The Adoration of the Earth” have powerful rhythmic sections with Iverson pounding out dark sounding piano along with thick bass and potent drumming. I’m not sure how much of the music is written or improvised, but I guess it doesn’t matter in the end. The short “Ritual of Abduction” has splashes of piano and cymbals before making way for ascending piano and bass. “Games of the Two Rival Tribes/Procession of the Sage” is a dynamic performance, moving between storming loud sections into witty faster paced piano led areas of music. “The Sacrifice” has pounding ominous piano and drums, that make way for disjointed areas of the trio playing together, making for an altogether unsettling musical performance. This album really stretched my musical comfort zone, even more than freely improvised jazz would do. With that music you can let yourself go and enjoy the noise and cascade of the music. This is much more challenging, an album that demands your full attention throughout, but as I listened to it more and more my appreciation of the music moved from bewilderment to grudging admiration to true enjoyment. It is an arduous journey, but one worth taking. The Rite of Spring - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Krokofant - Krokofant (Rune Grammmofon, 2014)

Krokofant is a trio of young musicians that have a great sound that is punishing in an early 1970's King Crimson meets Last Exit kind of way, but the most impressive thing about is is that they have the power harnessed and under control, using dynamics to raise and lower the ferocity and keep the listener wondering what is coming next. The band consists of Tom Hasslan on guitars, Axel Skalstad on drums and Jørgen Mathisen on saxophones. The first five tracks of the LP fly past with the invigorating sense of excitement of open minded musicians setting the controls the cosmos and exploring what they find. The opening "Bodega" sets the stage for the music that is to come with grinding guitars and raw saxophone moving from theme to theme, with some improvisation, and some knotty compositions like the dynamic "Thispair." For the most part, the music is fast and furious culminating on the short "Ejs" where the trio attempts spontaneous combustion through music. The King Crimson influence is most palpably felt on the closing track "Castaway" which takes the structure of KC's "Starless," the haunting beginning followed by a churning lyrical section and then blasting off into a scalding section that is all the more powerful considering what had come before. This is a very good LP and will hopefully open people's eyes to the quality of the music the band presents. The tight ensemble play and open-minded exploration that the band projects should appeal to both modern jazz listeners and open minded rock fans. Krokofant - Krokofant

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

That's Not Jazz! The Strypes, Lydia Loveless

Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else (Bloodshot Records, 2014) Singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless is as unclassifiable as can be at the moment and its suites her music well. Aspects of country music, particularly the outlaw country of iconoclast Steve Earle are combined with a decidedly punk approach to her uptempo performances.  Combining these disparate influences and you get a musician that is a dynamo of sorts, moving from ballads to rock without skipping a beat. “Really Want to See You” recalls early Lucinda Williams with its rollicking beat and spitfire lyrics, while “Wine Lips” moves into more radio friendly territory without losing any of the music’s authenticity. Moving into softer ballad territory “Hurts So  Bad” wears it’s heartbreak on it’s sleeve, while the explicit “Head” takes the music into a fearless exploration of misogyny and objectification of women. Since Lydia Loveless is so good so young (24 years old), she must have an old soul that allows her to write songs so emotionally resonant. Fans of no BS rock ‘n’ roll and country music will be thrilled to hear her. Somewhere Else - amazon.com

The Strypes - Snapshot (Island/Def-Jam, 2014) Another group with an old soul is the Irish band The Strypes who began as teenagers, exploring the rhythm and blues roots of rock ‘n’ roll much like the musicians of the 1960’s did when artists like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds feel under the spell of American blues music. After playing clubs in Ireland their music began to snowball and they started to develop influential patrons like Elton John, whose management company signed and helped them acquire a deal with Mercury Records (in Europe). The resulting album is enthusiastic if a bit overproduced. Their rough edges are sanded off, but the music still works fairly well. Their single “Blue Collar Jane” and the rest of their originals are a bit generic, but they are played with passion, sounding like a modernized version of Van Morrison’s first band, Them. Their covers reflect their interest in blues, taking cracks at Bo Diddley’s "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" along with the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Their most successful cover however, may be Nick Lowe’s pre-punk rocker “Heart of the City” which barrels forward relentlessly. Despite being a little wet behind the ears, this was a really solid debut album. To hear young men playing blues based rock ‘n’ roll is a treat, and their future is seemingly limitless as they look to further develop their own personal sound. Snapshot - amazon.com

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Jazz: John McLaughlin, Brian Charette

Recorded live last year at the Berklee School of Music, guitarist John McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension band: Gary Husband on keyboards and drums, Etienne Mbappe on bass, and Ranjit Barot on drums and vocals, made a very good album. Proudly fusing jazz with progressive rock and the music of different cultures the music was quite successful. The synths might sound a little odd and the one vocal out of place, but for the most part the band is on fire, particularly the leader who is playing with burning imagination. The Boston Record - amazon.com

Widely touring organist Brian Charette is accompanied on this album by Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Mark Ferber on drums. They are grooving hard on "Aaight!" and "If" to begin and then move nicely into blues, bop and ballads always swinging in an alluring and accessible manner. Charette is part of the organ tradition of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young but brings his own conception and sound to the album. Square One - amazon.com

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