Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oliver Lake - The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note (Black Saint/Soul Note, 2013)

Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake has been one of the most talented yet underrated musicians of the post-Coltrane era. He is a charter member of the influential collectives The Black Artists Group and The World Saxophone Quartet, and lately the exciting group Trio 3. This collection focuses on the work he did as a bandleader for the Italian record labels Black Saint and Soul Note in the 1980’s and 90’s. The legendary musician Eric Dolphy is a huge influence on Lake’s playing and this is evidenced here on all the albums but especially the tribute albums Dedicated to Dolphy and The Prophet. On these you get to hear how he interprets Dolphy’s music, whether the angular “Hat and Beard” and “The Prophet” or the gentler “Miss Ann” and “Something Sweet, Something Tender.” Lake moves beyond being a mere acolyte, using the open mindedness of Dolphy’s music as a blueprint for the development of his own unique sound. The other albums on this collection are diverse and showcase Lake’s ability as a composer and improviser on a wide range of settings from the spare experimental duet with pianist Borah Bergman called A New Organization to the excellent small band session Expandable Language which uses piano and guitar along with bass and drums to develop a fully integrated sound. This is an excellent collection and it serves as a wake-up call to those who may have slept on these records the first time. Lake came up during a period where progressive jazz had a difficult time gaining purchase in the USA, and his travelling to Europe and beyond allowed him to display his skills in a wide variety of contexts. He is more active than ever these days, taking part in a Dolphy retrospective in Montclair in addition to an upcoming big band feature and week long residency at the Stone this fall. The Complete Remastered Recordings -

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Coltrane: a Biography by Cuthbert Simpkins (Black Classics Press, 1975)

There have been a great many biographies of John Coltrane since his death in 1967, but this is one of the most interesting. This is Simpkins' only book (he would go on to become a noted medical doctor) but he did very thorough research using third-party sources and in-person interviews. He also interjects his own poetry, ideas and commentary into the narrative which keeps things quite interesting. He begins by covering standard biographical material like Coltrane's childhood and beginnings as a musician, but things really begin to kick into gear after he turns professional, which provides many more sources for the author to draw upon. He takes Coltrane's spiritual aspirations very seriously, beginning with the religious epiphany that he experienced after renouncing drugs and drink in 1957 all the way through to the deeply spiritual free jazz he recorded in the mid 1960's. Many interviews are recounted where Coltrane gives praise to his "creator" as the provider of his prowess as a musician. Coltrane's spiritual quest was deeply meaningful to him and Simpkins writes about the research that Coltrane undertook not only about the religions of world, but into science and technology as well. As the narrative progresses into the 1960's we read about the formation of Coltrane's "classic quartet" and his close friendship and support of up and coming musicians of the period like Eric Dlophy and Archie Shepp. By the early 1960's, Coltrane's expansive musical output expanded exponentially, with records and concerts coming at a phenomenal rate. Push-back from critics and even longtime fans was tough, but Coltrane remained steadfast in his refusal to slow down, employing new musicians, new techniques, always searching for new directions in music. This was a very enjoyable book and any fan of John Coltrane will find it quite enlightening. The interviews and research are well presented and Simpkins own thoughts and narrative are lucidly stated. Coltrane: A Biography -

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Coltrane - Sideman: Trane's Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note, 2014)

The period 1956-1957 was a transformative year in the life of John Coltrane.  He became clean of narcotics during this period, experienced a spiritual awakening and began his explosive rise to greatness that would mark the final decade of his life. This collection is bit of a misnomer as it places his name to the fore, when in fact he was a supporting actor in album by Paul Chambers, Johnny Griffin and and Sonny Clark. Concord took the same new wine/old bottles approach with their collection of Coltrane's sideman work for Prestige called Side Steps. This collection includes the albums Chambers' Music/High Step and Whims of Chambers Vol. 1 and 2, A Blowin' Session by Johnny Griffin and Sonny's Crib by Sonny Clark. What keeps it from being the complete Coltrane on Blue Note is the exclusion of the epochal Blue Train, the only album he recorded for Blue Note as a leader. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting collection, three discs that effectively chart Coltrane's rapid growth in his facility on the saxophone and his growing expansive conception of jazz as a whole. Coltrane had played with bassist Paul Chambers in the Miles Davis Quintet before making a less than graceful exit, only to return to the fold in the intervening year. They have a very empathetic relationship and became so close that Coltrane would later record "Mr. P.C." in his honor. Chambers himself is epic on these recordings, both with his fingers and bow he encompasses the entire hard bop medium. The session with Griffin is a fun jam with Griffin, Coltrane and Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, blowing through five solo laced performances in Rudy Van Gelder's studio. Finally, Sonny's Crib has become a classic of the form with the pianist Clark leading a group with Coltrane, trumpeter Donald Byrd and trombonist Curtis Fuller on the front line. This is a sold collection for those who do not already own the recordings already. While not the leader, Coltrane is a central figure on these records, and taken in context with his work as a leader and sideman with Prestige records and Miles Davis, provides a glimpse of a legendary figure in his formative years. Sideman: Trane's Blue Note Sessions (3CD)

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp (self produced, 2014)

If there were matches made in free jazz heaven, The Core and Matthew Shipp would certainly fit the bill. The musicians are Seth Paynter on saxophone, Joe Hertenstein on drums, Thomas Helton on bass with special guest Matthew Shipp on piano. But the key is that Shipp doesn't seem like a guest at all, he sounds fully integrated, like he was with the band from the beginning. The music reaches out for you from the get-go. It's one forty minute plus unnamed improvisation. Shipp's piano is deep and rich, taking the group into an urgent fast section to start. They are on a high wire over the abyss but never falter, moving through sections of bowed bass where large raindrops of piano notes and chords fall around. There is a thrilling section of music where Matthew Shipp is hammering down frightening yet thrilling massive jolts of piano as if he were some god of legend hurling thunderbolts at an unwitting populace. The clashes and contrasts of musical color keep the music continuously exciting and propel it forward. They break the music down and then reconstruct it, challenging themselves and the listener. Toward the end there is a section of bowed bass with probing saxophone, and then Shipp reenters with some lithe piano that even makes the music swing - truly they are covering all bases. Then the band moves to an excellent flourish to finish the album. This was a wonderful album, with each instrumentalist at the top of their game. The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp - bandcamp

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Downbeat Readers Poll 2014

Downbeat Magazine has opened it's poll for the 2014 reader's choices. Submit your ballot here and do not be influenced by my choices ;-)

Hall of Fame: Hank Mobley
Jazz Artist: Mary Halvorson
Jazz Group: The Thing
Big Band: Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album: Chicago Underground Duo - Locus
Historical Album: Miles Davis at the Fillmore
Trumpet: Charles Tolliver
Trombone: Steve Swell
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake
Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafssaon
Clarinet: Ben Goldberg
Flute: Henry Threadgill
Piano: Kris Davis
Electric Keyboard: John Medeski
Organ: Brian Charette
Guitar: Nels Cline
Bass: William Parker
Electric Bass: Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten
Violin: Jeff Gauthier
Drums: Paal Nilssen-Love
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Hamid Drake
Misc. Instrument: Mats Gustafssaon - Bass Saxophone
Male Vocalist: Theo Bkeckmann
Female Vocalist: Leena Conquest
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Slide Hampton
Record Label: AUM Fidelity
Blues Artist: Joe Louis Walker
Blues Album: N/A
Beyond Artist: Dr. John

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Azar Lawrence - The Seeker (Sunnyside, 2014)

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence came of age playing in the excellent bands of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner in the early 1970's as evidenced on albums like Enlightenment and Dark Magus. He has been something of a journeyman since then but has lately released a string of fine albums. On this live LP he is accompanied by an excellent group consisting of Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. This group gives great support to Lawrence's strident and potent saxophone playing. The first track, "Ghandi," captures the band in full flight with Lawrence setting the tone with some muscular playing, followed by an excellent piano/bass/drums section. The leader storms back in with fiery runs that hints at John Coltrane's ecstatic playing, while still maintaining his own musical identity. Equally strong is "Lost Tribes of Lemuria" which has the full band stating the strong theme before Lawrence yields the floor for some fine trumpet and piano playing. He switches to soprano saxophone for "The Seeker" where his swirling playing is matched by melodic trumpet playing before the music builds sharply to a full band blowout. "Rain Ballad" is a quieter interlude that seems to reference John Coltrane's "After the Rain" in spirit, followed by "Spirit Night" and the concluding "Venus" both of which incorporate strong and proud tenor saxophone and build to dramatic conclusions. The spiritual jazz of the late 1960's and early 1970's is still a deep vein in jazz that can be mined by a thoughtful musician like Azar Lawrence who's potent yet humble music nods to past glories with moving full speed ahead into the future. The Seeker -

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity 50th Anniversary Edition (ESP, 2014)

Saxophonist Albert Ayler was one of the most controversial musicians of the free jazz/new thing era. His strident and powerful tone and unique way of improvising divided fans, critics and musicians alike. although he wasn't there to see it (he died under mysterious circumstances in 1970) history has been much kinder to him, and this was the album that led the reappraisal of his work. On this album, Ayler was joined by like minded musicians Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. One of the things that is easy to miss when hearing about Alyer's fearsome reputation, is that he was a great composer of memorable melodies. Taking folk forms and developing them into launching pads to hair raising improvisations was a big part of his M.O. and you can definitely hear it on this album in the two versions of "Ghosts." Ayler's haunting tone on saxophone and the earworm melodies show that this wasn't some serendipitous blowout, but that he had premeditated ideas of what he wanted the music to sound like and used that blueprint to carve out a remarkable album. "The Wizard" and "Spirits" follow with the group blasting hard thought the former and leaving space in the latter for bowed bass and hypnotic percussion. The concluding version of "Ghosts" brings all of the threads that make up this album together, where a keening melody, sense of spatial dimensions and torrid improvisation come together with a sense of wondrous joy. There is a bonus track, "Vibrations" that was also recorded at the session - it's quite good and contains a theme that Ayler would return to throughout his career. But it seems like something of an interloper here, tacked on as an afterthought to 30 minutes of sublime music. Spiritual Unity - downtown music gallery

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