Matthew Shipp's catalog as a solo pianist becomes more impressive by the year. While he works well as a leader or a sideman in a variety of musical configurations, it is in the solo setting that he lays bare his soul in an in intimate and powerful manner. The title of this album is accurate, because he has indeed been in many places as a solo artist, recording American songbook and jazz standards in addition to a few pop songs and his own protean originals and free improvisations. All of that is on display here, whether he is deconstructing the Gershwin chestnut "Summertime" like a demented surgeon, hinting at the familiar melody, but swooping and diving over and through the keyboard, taking a fresh and uniquely personal approach to this familiar song. Another surprising inclusion is the soul and pop song "Where Is The Love" originally recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in in 1972. It may seem like a perverse entry, this song that had topped the Billboard easy listening charts for goodness sake. But it proves Shipp's innate ability to take any form of musical clay, be it a completely spontaneous improvisation or a cheesy pop song and make a moving statement from it. As he did on the Gershwin composition, he weaves the melody in and out of the song this two separate short readings of the music. One of the keys to the success of the album is the brevity of the songs, with only the title track "I've Been to Many Places" topping five minutes in length. But it is also a blast to hear Shipp rip into music of his own devising like on "Brain Stem Grammar" which takes a Monk like fractured approach to set up a storming improvisation using his powerful approach to the lower end of the piano, rolling thunderous waves of sound that contrast and frame some of the lighter sections. "Web Play" toys with a gentle music box type melody before the forceful attack of Mr. Shipp takes the music in another direction. This was another excellent album from Matthew Shipp. Much like Cecil Taylor, he continues to investigate the possibilities of solo piano even while working in other formations that range from duo to full ensemble. I've Been to Many Places - amazon.com
Sun Ra had an epic career that lasted from the late 1940's to the early 1990's and saxophonist Marshal Allen was with him for much of the ride, continuing the Arkestra to the present day after Ra's passing in 1993. This is a collection of the tracks that Allen felt were the most representative of the band's best output. Not necessarily Sun Ra's best known tracks, but there are a very interesting sampling of the Arkestra's music from the mid 1950's through the 1970's. Highlights abound like the episodic chant-along "Rocket Number Nine", one of Ra's best known science fiction tracks which takes the listener from Venus to Jupiter and beyond powered by the horn sections stop and shift on a dime playing. "Astro Black" features the great vocalist June Tyson, a staple of Ra's later bands, leading one of the bands afrofutirist tracks clearing the path for some hair-raising playing. Allen also focuses on the band's approach to percussion and rhythm like on the exotic "Lady With the Golden Stockings" and the beautiful "Plutonian Nights." Ra was perhaps best known in his lifetime as the eccentric who wore wild costumes and composed music that reference the stars and the planets. But the people who wrote him off as a crank were misinformed as these science fiction tracks such as "Dance of the Cosmo Aliens" and "We Travel the Spaceways" were some of his finest performances. It'e better late than never that the jazz critics and fan base began to realize that Sun Ra was a unique and powerful force. While the one disc Evidence Records compilation Greatest Hits for Intergalactic Travel is probably the best beginning album for the Sun Ra neophyte, this is a logical next step, delving under the hood as it were and presenting a cohesive selection for both hardcore fans and newcomers alike. In the Orbit of Ra - amazon.com
It is almost as if guitarist Bill Frisell leads a double life as a musician. For John Zorn's Tzadik label he records edgy, unpredictable music as a sideman and as a leader on last years stellar Silent Comedy LP. On most of his other albums, he has taken a more pastoral approach on albums like Sig Sur and 2011's sleepy John Lennon tribute album, all we are saying. This album returns to the 1960's for it's content, using pop songs form Frisell's youth as the gimmick fodder for the tracks on this album. Accompanied by Greg Leisz on pedal steel and electric guitar, Tony Scherr on bass, acoustic guitar and Kenny Wollesen on percussion, they tackle a series of pop/rock songs from the 1960's including surf guitar on "Telstar" and the growling "Rumble" and ballads on The Beach Boys "Surfer Girl." When the group is able to walk up and sink their teeth into the material, the results are excellent. Playing The Byrds arrangement go Pete Seger's "Turn Turn Turn" they stay pretty close to the melody and length of the original, but the hook of the song retains it's grace and depth. The following track is the blues standby "Messin' With the Kid" which allows the group to get their fingernails dirty a bit with a funky rendition, featuring a stinging guitar solo. Most of the tracks are quite short, but the band's arrangement of The Kinks "Tired of Waiting For You" moves beyond this formula, opening with the aching melody of the original but then moving to explore the song in a more deep and complex manner, yielding good results. In the end it is kind of a mixed bag, the music is very well played as to be expected, and will undoubtably be embraced by people nostalgic for the era, but it is in a netherworld that is to poppy for jazz, yet too jazzy for classic rock. Perhaps this is just how Frisell planned it. Guitar in the Space Age - amazon.com
This is a lean and mean guitar trio, of interest to both fans of modern jazz and experimental rock music. Ryan is the drummer, accompanied by the rhythm section of bassist Devin Hoff and guitarist Timothy Young. The performances are lithe and to the point, coming right out of the gate with “Trees, Voices, Saturn” which has sparks of guitar and drumming balanced around Hoff’s bass. Hoff has played with the likes of Nels Cline so he is well equipped to anchor a hard charging trio. Timothy Young was unknown to me before this recording, but his playing is consistently interesting adding well developed textures to the music as well as shredding when the situation calls for it. Ryan released a very good album last year, Sky Bleached, and his profile has been justifiably rising. “Procession” flirts with some grinding heavy metal and the track “Sludge Thread” takes a post modern look at Mahavishnu Orchestra like fusion, with Ryan’s persistent cymbal rhythm showing the way forward. The group demonstrates their dynamic ability on the track “Visionary Fontana” with the music beginning with grinding guitar riffs before slowing to a more open spaced feel, before ramping things back up again. “Mortgage on My Body” may be a paraphrase from Robert Johnson, but the sound of the band moves away from the blues with effects-laden guitar and keen bass and drums support. Finally, “Raw Rattle” has a raw nature that develops a rending guitar opening into a pummeling trio section, which has the leader’s powerful drumming riding point. This was an album that worked very well, the band has no preconceptions of jazz, rock or anything else, they just take the music at hand and go for it, making for an exhilarating listen. Circa - amazon.com
Sun Ra - Secrets of the Sun (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2014) This rare Sun Ra LP has been remastered and published on iTunes with extra tracks, and it is well worth checking out. Recorded in 1962 with Ra stalwarts Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, John Gilmore, Ronnie Boykins and Tommy Hunter, this album captures the band moving from their swing based past into the avant-garde path they would follow from the mid-1960's through the 70's. Highlight of the album include the exciting "Solar Differentials" and the chanting buoyed music of the "Reflects Motion" suite. Part two of the suite is particularly impressive with some epic and powerful drumming and a powerful trumpet feature accompanied by Ra's strong piano. The band uses a lot of reverberation on this album, as displayed on Part one of the suite, where flute bounces all over the chanting and the percussion. This is a very good album and a fascinating look at the band in transition. Secrets of the Sun - iTunes.
Sun Ra - Atlantis (Enterplanetary Koncepts, 2014) Recorded in 1969 (another expanded iTunes remaster,)Atlantis is one of Sun Ra's crowning achievements. There are five relatively short tracks that feature the band primarily playing percussion instrument to create a pummeling edifice of sound that Sun Ra can improvise over with a fleet or keyboards including clavoline and organ, making a fascinating and slightly ominous sound on the two-part "Yucatan" and the potent "Bimini." But these pale in comparison to the colossal nearly 22 minute long title track "Atlantis". Sun Ra leads his band in search of the ancient city beginning with sonar like bleeps from his keyboard before the whole band slowly comes in and builds the intensity to an a almost unbearable level as if to re-create in sound the cataclysmic disaster that ended the Atlantean civilization, before the band suddenly begins to chant that Sun Ra and his band have been here to entertain you!. There is nothing quite like this in the Ra canon or jazz as a whole for that matter and it truly must be heard to be believed. Atlantis - iTunes.
Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge (Legacy, 2014) Rainbow Bridge is one of the earliest posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases, and remains closest to the original material. After this there would be catfights about the estate and the copyright holders which led to a slew of dodgy albums, live and studio, even ones with extra musicians dubbed in. This album is shorn of most of those accouterments because the music can clearly stand on its own. The music is very well played and vibrant with a studio version of "The Star Spangled Banner" which is not quite as epochal as the Woodstock version, the funky original "Dolly Dagger", a galloping "Room Full of Mirrors" and a blistering live version of "Hear My Train A Comin.'" This is a fine album and a must for Hendrix fans. Rainbow Bridge - amazon.com
Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) MOPDTK, consisting of Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto and tenor saxophone, Ron Stabinsky on piano, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums, is one of my favorite groups, but I have to being completely flummoxed by this album. This is a meticulously transcribed and exactly performed recital of Miles Davis' famous album, Kind of Blue. The idea was first proposed when they were students and then slowly germinated until the musicians transcribed an recorded the music. MOPDTK are known for lovingly and humorously chiding jazz sub-genres, so I originally thought that the were taking the piss out of this sacred cow, but no, it is a reverent, if unnerving reflection of the original. Blue - amazon.com
Gary Clark Jr. - Live (Warner Brothers, 2014) On his way up, Gary Clark Jr. turned heads with incendiary live shows and that led to the amazing feat of a blues musician being offered a recording contract by a major label. The studio album Blak and Blu solidified his position in the musical firmament, so it only makes sense that the time honored double live album should follow. Clark's talent and charisma carry the day featuring tunes that touch on Muddy Waters "Catfish Blues" and B.B. King "3 O'Clock Blues" but it is with his own songs that he takes flight with blistering versions of the ominous "Bright Lights" and "When My Train Pulls In." This is leavened by the stomping rhythm and blues of "Travis County" and the Hnedrix nod "Third Stone From the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say." Gary Clark Jr. Live - amazon.com