Friday, April 17, 2015

Dave Stryker - Messin’ With Mr. T (Strikezone, 2015)

Popular jazz guitarist Dave Stryker develops a tribute album to tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, whom he worked with as a sideman for many years. He shares the wealth, inviting a different saxophonist to sit in on each tune. The core band is Stryker with Jared Gold on organ, McClenty Hunter on drums and Mayra Casales on percussion. Houston Person is the featured saxophonist on “La Place Street” where the band develops a swinging tempo, making for a happy and relaxed sensibility. Person builds his solo gradually to a nice statement and leaves room for guitar and organ features. “Don’t Mess With Mister T.” with saxophonist Don Braden is the spiritual heart of the album, developing a fine bluesy grind supported by thick organ and a heavy beat. There are also fine organ and guitar solos, backed by Hunter’s unshakeable beat. Jimmy Heath provides a sultry saxophone feel on the Duke Ellington ballad “In A Sentimental Mood” while Chris Potter ramps up the tempo for a burning version of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” The band set a rapid tone to launch Potter into a wonderfully unencumbered and expressive solo. Organ bubbles underneath with some fine drumming and a deft return to the familiar Coltrane melody. There’s the sense of a late night jam session as Stryker spars jovially with saxophonist Eric Alexander. They swing gently before some strong drumming allows the band to develop a little heat toward the end. Jason Jackson provides the saxophone on one of Turrentine’s most well known tunes, “Sugar.” They patiently develop the tune with a mellow and full medium tempo. Jackson’s solo is well controlled and respectful, while the band closes with a pleasantly melodic sensibility. This is a solid mainstream jazz record. Allowing several different saxophones to examine a wide range of tunes from blues to standards provides different approaches to the music. Messin' With Mr. T - davestryker.com

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Monday, April 13, 2015

John Zorn - The Hermetic Organ Vol. 3 (Tzadik, 2015)

This is the third entry in John Zorn’s Hermetic Organ series, where he performs solo on massive pipe organ, this time the music was recorded live in St. Paul’s Hall in the UK, with the recital appropriately starting at midnight. “The Fall of Satan” begins with a massive slab of sound coming from the organ. The sound swirls and casts a shadow in an ominous, foreboding fashion. He is able to shift gears, getting some light almost flute-like sounds, before turning the music back into something like a warning signal as if to say danger ahead. Zorn then pulls all of these ideas together, evoking feedback like sounds, heavy curtains of organ which surround you with eerie claustrophobic fear. There is a ghostly air to “Spectral Angels” where Zorn is able to provide a kaleidoscope of sounds, which build upon each other ratcheting up the tension. The music drops into a haunting fantasia, where he employs a lighter touch but the atmosphere doesn’t let up. Lonely and ethereal, the music moves back into a heavier, shadowlike presence at the end. “The Revelation of Saint John” regains the high pitched warning sounds, but he is able to modulate the sounds into smears of powerful wind, building like a snarling beast that he has a tenuous grip on. The massive beast creaks and groans in a threatening fashion, building dynamically, mysteriously and finally pummeling the listener with relentless waves of sound. This is a very intense experience, Zorn takes much of his compositional strength from spiritual texts and that is clear within the music. It sounds like a dark night of the soul, questioning the very nature of faith and the Universe around us. This is scary stuff to be sure, but it is also epic and powerful. Hermetic Organ 3 - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

John Zorn - Simulacrum (Tzadik, 2015)

Billed as “the most extreme organ trio ever” John Zorn supplies the compositions and then sets loose the trio of John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar on a wild ride which throws free jazz, metal and progressive rock into a blender. “The Illusionist” begins the album with Medeski’s organ shielding the guitar and drums before they break out for a grinding section, which sounds like the Tony Williams Lifetime on a generous helping of amphetamines. This is a long performance and the group is able to control the dynamics of the music by dropping down into quieter, spacier sections before putting the boot back in. Smears of organ and guitar over kinetic drumming drives their improvisation to a locomotive conclusion. “Marmarath” has a crushing metal riff echoed by heavy, pummeling drumming slashing into pure relentless noise. There is a complex interplay at work on “Snakes and Ladders” with the mysterious sounding organ offering up a twilight zone effect, accentuated by zaps of electric guitar. Hollenberg jacks things back up with a massive riff, building to a scalding solo, and moving forward with a hard metallic grind. “Alterities” is reminiscent of one of Zorn’s games pieces or a Naked City vignette, with choppy start/stop organ trading jabs with guitar and drums. Ominous organ and smeared guitar are featured on “Paradigm Shift” before Hollenberg’s guitar sharpens up and does battle with Grohowski’s crushing beat. The band goes all out in a thrilling fashion as Medeski’s organ scrabbles for purchase amidst the drum and guitar onslaught. “The Divine Comedy” develops a spooky spooky theme, atmospheric organ building the aura with prog rock overtones. Suddenly the hammer is dropped, and the band goes all out like a post-modern Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s a long blowout of heavy grating and relentless guitar made even more poignant by the brief breaks of near silence that occur sporadically. Although John Zorn doesn’t play on this album, his fingerprints are all over it. He is able to compose for particular musicians and situations that work like clockwork, making for ceaselessly stimulating music. Simulacrum - amazon.com

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Interesting Links

Nate Chinen on Charles Lloyd.
Jon Pareles and Nate Chinen present a podcast about Charles Lloyd.
A lengthy interview with percussionist Ches Smith.
Hank Shteamer interviews Antonio Sanchez about Birman.
H. Shteamer also interviews Jason Moran about the Village Vanguard.
An interview with Bill Laswell entitled No Boundaries.
An interview with guitarist Mary Halvorson.
Burning Ambulance on Cecil Taylor circa 1983.
Troy Collins interviews saxophonist Tony Malaby for the new issue of Point of Departure.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up (482 Music, 2015)

The Hook Up band led by drummer Tomas Fujiwara has been together for nearly eight years now and their sense of togetherness is really borne out by the playing on this album, propelling Fujiwara’s interesting and complex compositions. The band consists of Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass, Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute and Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet. “Lastly” opens with drums, a little skittering guitar and a touch of flute giving the proceedings a mysterious air. They develop a medium tempo, with trumpet sliding in over flinty shards of guitar. Cymbals shimmer and call the group patiently to order, before moving to a percussion based trumpet solo. Nimble guitar and drums set the tone for ”The Comb” which has shards of guitar and percussion, both of which are light and graceful. There is a selection of collective improvisation, which like almost all of the music on this album has a shape-shifting quality where everything is not quite what it seems. After a graceful drum feature on “For Tom and Gerald” the group returns on “Boaster’s Roast” where trumpet and angular guitar develop a sense of openness amidst rumbling drums. The music builds quickly with hammering percussion and squalls of epic guitar, followed by the full band returning in layers. The music changes so rapidly that it is hard to keep track, it is impressive in its complexity and quite immersive as each member of the band is attuned to the others. Fujiwara leads by example with tight and amazingly supple control of his instrument. “Solar Wind” has hollow sounding drums that develop a complex rhythm. Settles’ saxophone nudges in setting up a fine trio section, added to with Finlayson’s trumpet making for a conversational sound. There are solo sections for trumpet and bass, shaded ably by Mary Halvorson’s guitar. This is a very interesting group that makes the most of their long time together by developing a unique band identity. After All Is Said - amazon.com

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Epicenter (Clean Feed, 2015)

Bassist Chris Lightcap has worked with a who’s-who of A-list modern jazz talent, but as of yet has released comparatively few albums as a leader. His latest finds him in august company, with Craig Taborn on keyboards, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The ensemble works very well together and the music is consistently interesting. “Nine South” opens with electric piano and saxophones as the music blasts off fast and hard, carving a deep and truly exciting path. Both the solos and ensemble playing is first rate, including percussive keyboards and punishing drums. The saxophones roar out of the gate on “Epicenter,” giving way to a thick and nimble piano, bass and drums section. After some initial probing by one of the saxophonists, the whole group comes in with the power and urgency of a big band, not necessarily playing free, but unencumbered and thrillingly fast. “Down East” develops a powerfully percussive rhythm to underscore squalls of saxophone that achieve an exciting feel, like being bludgeoned by a tidal wave of music. Saxophones slither about on “Stilwell” building the anticipation piece by piece in the shadow of a shape-shifting keyboards before they rip through and fly intertwined over throbbing bass and drums. There is a solemn and reverent feel to “Stone By Stone” with saxophone elegies and beams of keyboard building up with the horns fleshing out their sound along with some elastic bass but the overall sense of mystery prevails. Ending the album by covering The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” was a truly inspired idea where the bass led intro builds to percussive piano that recalls the original and vocalized saxophone ably taking the place of Nico’s moody vocals. This album was excellent and deserves to be remembered when the best-of lists are bandied about in December. The musicians are motivated, and the music is bright and bustling with ideas. Epicenter - amazon.com

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Doug Webb - Triple Play (Posi-Tone, 2015)

Doug Webb is a well-rounded saxophone player with several albums to his credit as a leader for Posi-Tone as well as high-profile appearances along side pop musicians and writing for television. On this album he is joined by Walt Weiskopf and Joel Frahm on tenor saxophones, Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston on drums. The three saxophones referenced in the title work well as they swap in and out as the situation permits. “Jones” opens the album in a bright, swinging fashion with the saxophone solos working well, one player with a lighter tone and another with a darker one contrasting nicely. The saxophones take turns soloing before returning together for the final melody. John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is taken at the appropriately blasting tempo with saxophonists playing hot-potato with the solos, which are lightning quick but still well controlled. “The Way Things Are” contains more vibrant swing, with organ and drums bubbling underneath and tight playing by the saxophonists at the beginning and at the end. Charette proves that he is fleet of foot, keeping the bass pedals moving impressively on “Avalon” where he and Royston finally get a spot to shine in between the blazing saxophone solos. “Your Place or Mine” keeps the modern hard bop flag flying with confident saxophone plowing the field laid by Charette and Royston, who glide out for a moment in-between the swapping saxophones. Things begin to slow things down a bit on “Pali Blues” leveling out at a more medium pace, but as soon as the saxophones start spooling out their solos and the tempo climbs higher and higher. The finale “Triple Play” lifts off in a Jazz Messengers type fashion as the saxophonists play the opening theme together and then separate as the organ and drums simmer relentlessly underneath. You can hear Webb’s penchant for developing TV themes into pleasing earworms on the this album, and while the format of melody – saxophone solos – melody gets a little samey at times, they do it so well that it is hard to quibble with. Triple Play - amazon.com

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