Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mike Osbourne - Dawn (Cuneiform Records, 2015)

This album presents the legendary British alto saxophonist Mike Osborne in two unreleased sessions: tracks 1-6 recorded in 1970 with Henry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums and in 1970 with Miller on bass Alan Jackson on drums and John Surman on saxophones. Beginning with the ’66 session, “Scotch Pearl” has a fast and new-thing like quality with burly squalls of saxophone supported by thick bass and nimble percussion. There is an opening in the middle for bass and drums to take the music down just  a hair in intensity before Osborne to take the music up, way up, with the trio collectively engaged and totally locked in. There is a hymn like setup for steely saxophone, bowed bass and shimmering cymbals on “Dawn” thick plucked bass and gently tapped percussion adding to the spiritual air, before the music begins it’s powerful climb into a state of grace and then falling back into the quiet, meditative melody. Herbie Hancock’s “Jack Rabbit” is aptly named as the opening section is a treacherous series of switchbacks that everybody hits at full blast and use as a jumping off point for torrid improvisational sections. There is a riotous section of free improvisation before the trio are able to swoop right back into their finishing statement. There is a lengthy and complex melody on “TBC” where Osborne takes a seemingly vertical improvisation on alto saxophone, whirling into a vortex of sound. The music builds quickly, this is great stuff, very intense yet free - they are just flying unmoored with a sense of joy. The group downshifts briefly to allow Miller a nice spot, before Osborne returns adding a bit of bop to his closing gambit. There is a more open and loose sensibility to “1st” with rattling percussion and plucked/strummed bass providing an air of unease that is enhanced by Osborne’s emotional wails of saxophone as if crying out in emotional or spiritual pain. The final three tracks of Dawn switch things up as we warp back in time to 1966, keeping Miller on bass, but adding Alan Jackson on drums on John Surman on baritone and soprano saxophones for an ambitious program of compositions by Osborne, Pharaoh Sanders, Carla Bley and Booker Little. Osborne was a protean force on the British jazz scene at this time as this recording shows. Sadly, illness would take hold and he would gradually retreat from the music world robbing it of one of its most promising members. Dawn -

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book: Waiting for the Man: The Life and Music of Lou Reed by Jeremy Reed (Omnibus 1994, 2015)

This is an updated version of the biography that was published in 1994 of the life and music of rock and roll legend Lou Reed.There is a brief opening of Reed's youth in an upscale Long Island home where all was not as it seemed, as his parents attempted to cure his emerging homosexuality by sending him to psychiatric hospitals where he received brutal treatment including debilitating doses of thorazine, which would eventually lead lead him to write the scalding song "Kill Your Sons" directed at his parents. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in literature he would cement his musical legacy by forming the legendary band The Velvet Underground, and his brief association with Andy Worhol and The Factory. After leaving the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed had a four decade long career as a wildly unpredictable solo musician from his flamboyantly gay amphetamine and alcohol addicted 1970's period which gave him the unexpected hit "Walk on the Wild Side" as well as the wildly exciting and critically panned Metal Machine Music. Ruthless songs like "Street Hassle" and "Dirt" showed that he had lost none of the rage and street commentary that had powered his songwriting in the Velvet Underground. He did an about face in the 1980's, entering into a confusing relationship with Sylvia Morales, eventually marrying her and buying a large plot of land in New Jersey. Author Jeremy Reed believes that the music Reed made in the early to mid 1980's was the weakest of his career, only to be redeemed by a stunning trio of albums at the turn of the decade: his solo albums New York and Magic and Loss and Songs for Drella a collaboration with his former bandmate John Cale. This period is deftly and enthusiastically described in detail, as is Reed's experimental work that followed it, The Raven, a music and poetry examination of the life of Edgar Allan Poe, Berlin Live, a recapitulation of his critically slammed 1973 album, Hudson River Meditation, an ambient album for Tai Chi, and finally Lulu, the unlikely pairing of Lou Reed and Metallica. Jeremy Reed does a fine job in describing the life of a notoriously prickly and difficult character. He balances reporting on the music and Reed's difficult and at times contradictory personal life. This is a well done biography and is recommended to rock and roll fans. Waiting for the Man: The Life and Music of Lou Reed -

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Oliver Lake and William Parker - To Roy (Intakt, 2015)

The loss of the great trumpeter Roy Campbell was a tremendous shock to the progressive jazz scene. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist William Parker play tribute to their fallen comrade with this duet album recorded in 2014 in Brooklyn. They begin the album with “Theme of Marvin Gaye” which has the sparse avant-grade sense of the material, but still flows with Parker’s sense of soulful pulse to gently drive the music forward. They really push the envelope on “Check” with Lake driving relentlessly forward with a torrid wave of notes and then being able to pirouette on a dime to allow his partner open space. “Is It Alright” has the two musicians collectively improvising in an excellent fashion, Lake with a raw and strident tone juxtaposed very well against Parker’s deep concrete foundation. On “Biscaglia” they both master very quiet sounds, haunting but respectful, with Lake’s short bursts of saxophone having a near trumpet like tone. Plaintive wails of saxophone and bowed bass on “Flight Plan” make for a freely expressive meeting of the minds. There is a wonderful duet section on “Victor Jara” where William Parker ups the speed and Oliver Lake dips into his Eric Dlophy bag and gives chase. They reach for the stars on “Bonu” with Lake angling his saxophone for more power and Parker digging deep in support and conversation.  “Net Down” is even more powerful with Parker’s sawing bowed bass and Lake’s high-pitched circular bellows of saxophone, making for a very exciting performance. The gospel “Light over Still Water Paints a Portrait of God” feature Parker’s expressive bowing bass developing a wonderful array of sounds to contrast the questing saxophone of Lake who at times approaches the music of spiritual seekers like Albert Ayler. The raw and declamatory “For Roy” ends the album with a proper send off, tough and tender it sums up the album and what they have learned from Campbell as a musician. Both Lake and Parker are in top form, putting their egos aside to remember their longtime friend and college. The music is at times somber and difficult but such was the music of the man they honor, who never shrunk form a challenge and left a powerful legacy. To Roy -

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015)

Alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne has led many bands in the course of his career, and the most recent, Snakeoil, began as something of a chamber jazz group with their first ECM album, but the gloves come off on this record with dynamic music that pulses with energy. In addition to Berne, Snakeoil consists of Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on keyboards, Ryan Ferreira on guitars and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. “Lost In Redding” opens the album with the full band charging out of the gate, storming forward and then deftly dropping off into a section of bass clarinet and guitar, shaded by droplets of heavy piano. They ramp things back up behind Smith’s crushing drums and Berne’s saxophone to a strong conclusion. The epic “Small World In a Small Town” begins patiently with saxophone and piano probing the music before Berne tears into a ripe solo that builds grandly as the rest of the instruments in the band gradually fade in. The music develops a spooky feel, as instruments shift in and drift out before building up to a loud and complex finale. “Embraceable Me” is the heart of the album, leaving a soft opening in the dust and peeling out full blast as Ferreira’s guitar slices through the building tension. The music takes a questing and experimental turn with ominous long bellows of foreboding saxophone against a very heavy backdrop getting more and more powerful like powerhouse jazz meeting early Sabbath and creating a massive brick shithouse of raw sound. Two short palate cleansers follow, a ripe collective improvisation called “Angels” and the title song, a gentle acoustic guitar composition. The album is concluded with “False Impressions” where the band is deeply attuned to the choppy melody and rumbling piano growls over sharp edged electric guitar. Berne’s saxophone enters throwing shadows on the backdrop of the music, his sound yearning and balanced by piano and vibraphone. This album is excellent from start to finish, the compositions and the improvisations by the full band and the individual members are first rate, and this is progressive jazz of the highest order. You've Been Watching Me -

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Potsa Lotsa Plus - Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015)

Led by saxophonist and clarinetist Silke Eberhard, Potsa Lotsa is a band that plays music by and inspired by the great jazz musician Eric Dolphy. “Love Suite” was to be his wedding music, sadly unrecorded following his senseless death in 1964. In addition to this composition, there are a number of Eberhard originals that round out the album. The group is a drummerless septet that consists of brass, reeds and live electronics. The first thee tracks on the album comprise “Love Suite” which features delicate shades of horns, clarinets and saxophones that add hues of colors to the pastel feel of the music. Clarinet continues to sway gently in the musical breeze building with saxophones and trumpet to the sounds of twittering birds, before the final movement of the piece lets loose a strong tenor saxophone solo, piercing in its energy before it is reabsorbed into the horn cloud. “Sketches 1-3” are another linked group of performances, although more loosely written than the previous suite and with the focus on improvisation rather than ensemble play. The horns develop a nimbler layered sound, somewhat akin to the World Saxophone Quartet, and they are unpredictable in their swirl and sway. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of adding electronics to the group was, because it doesn’t seem to fit in organically with the group’s sound. There are odd electronic noises peppered through the album, sometimes as a framing device and sometimes as another voice in the choir, but the sound stands in such sharp contrast to the brass and reeds, that it is a bit jarring. This is certainly an explorative album, and while it checks Dolphy’s work in the beginning with a long-form composition of his, the finest nod to the great musician was by paying tribute to him by writing original work. It shows that the band has really paid attention him and has taken his lessons to heart. Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy -

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance - Synovial Joints (Pi Recordings, 2015)

Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman’s most recent project takes it’s inspiration from the rhythms of the body’s limbs, how they move and support one and other, and how this can be applied to music. He uses a wide palate of colors for this project, from a traditional jazz group setting through the addition of voice, strings and Latin percussion. The core group is Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, Miles Okazaki on guitar and Jen Shyu on vocals. The choppy melody of “Acupuncture Openings” allows Coleman to solo over string and horns riffing in the background, while “Celtic Cells” slows the pace and brings strings and wordless vocals to the forefront. The four-part “Synovial Joints” suite takes up most of the middle of the album and it works very well, developing themes that the musicians as a whole are able to explore and solo on motifs that come up within the different parts of the suite. There is a sense of quiet jubilation in their playing, and it is clear that the musicians are really enjoying themselves. There is a Latin feel on “Harmattan” where extra percussion added which gives the music a propulsive rhythm. Coleman develops a nice bebop based solo that works very well. His saxophone is a little more muted than it’s usual citrus acidity, but it suits the music quite well. The extra percussion also underpins the funky “Moadic” where the horns provide a nice groove for the drums and bass to lock into. This album really grows on you, after listening a few times you get attuned to what is going on and appreciate the subtleties and diversity of the music, and realize that it is a very good album. Synovial Joints - Pi Recordings

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