Monday, August 03, 2015

James Brandon Lewis - Days of a Freeman (Okeh, 2015)


James Brandon Lewis is an up and coming saxophonist who turned quite a few heads with last years album Devine Travels, and proceeds to explore another angle by adding elements of spoken word and hip-hop to his music. The spoken word sections are nostalgic reflections on life and spirituality, and the funkiness is brought through his compositions and the support of the extraordinary electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and omnipresent drummer Rudy Royston. After a spoken introduction, “Brother 1976” develops a funky feel with the trio moving through the music as Royston sets an excellent beat. Lewis digs in for a strong improvisation, building a slinky uptempo sound before dropping off for the segue into “Of Dark Matter” where the music is shaded and muted before Lewis calls out for an opening and finds if behind some excellent bass and drum interplay that bubble along joyfully. “Black Ark” has a great beginning featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma locked in with Rudy Royston making for a great rhythm team and allowing for Lewis to unleash his confident tenor saxophone tone without worry. The band is deep and strong, never overwhelming, but self assured in their abilities. A short hip-hop interlude precedes “Days of a Freeman” which begins at a lush ballad tempo with soft brushes before the music makes a radical turn and moves to thick hard bass, swirling dynamic saxophone and hip-hop vocals. “Bird of Folk Cries” has Lewis developing a deep saxophone sound accompanied by Tacuma’s reflected power and Royston’s skittish drumming. This feels like a good place for the group and they use it to move ever faster with slashing drums, fleet bass and charging saxophone making this a highlight of the album. Another excellent tune is “Lament for Jlew” which opens with a mysterious and enigmatic feel before dropping the hammer and moving into a massive grinding howl. The rhythm team moves mighty slabs of music and Lewis digs in and blasts some seriously heavy saxophone on top. This was a well done album and a logical follow up to Divine Travels, further exploring the religious side of his music and like his contemporary, Kasami Washington, he melds the spiritual music of forebears like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders with up to the minute hip hop. Days of Freeman - amazon.com

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Amir ElSaffar - Crisis - (Pi-Recordings, 2015)


Trumpeter and vocalist Amir ElSaffar’s album Crisis by his Two Rivers Ensemble chronicles his continuing exploration of the juncture between jazz and music of the Middle East. The ensemble consists of Nasheet Waits on drums, Carlo DeRosa on bass, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq (a long-necked lute), Zafer Tawil on oud and percussion and Ole Mathisen on saxophone. “Introduction - From the Ashes” leads off the album with heavy drums as the group comes blasting out sounding vital and immediate with the strings and brash horns accompanied by emotional singing. Strings and percussion usher in “The Great Dictator” allowing an exotic underpinning for the horns to rise and punch through in a fast and intricate fashion. Strings and hand percussion swirl joyfully with the horns that roar back in and lead the band to hard charging conclusion. There is a thick bass and drum opening on “El-Sha'ab (The People)” allowing the horns to build upon the nimble music develop below them which even folds in notions of funk, a ray of sunshine amidst a very serious set of music. “Flyover Iraq” is one of the highlights of the album with the increasingly thickening sound of bass, strings and percussion. The horns develop a riffing sound and build with ElSaffar’s rippling and punchy trumpet leading the way, over a beautiful and complex rhythm. On “Tipping Point” the subtle strings and drums allow the horns space to layer upon one another until they build to a powerful cry of pain and frustration. The music develops a freer more open section allowing for alternating fast/slow dynamics to whip the group through to a powerful conclusion. The final tracks, “Aneen (Weeping) Continued” and “Love Poem (Complete)” are ballads, which are alternately lush and mournful, leaving the album with a sense of unresolved sadness, much like the region of the world that inspired it. This album is his reflection ElSaffar’s view of the culture he grew up with, one is that is being irrevocably changed and in a struggle for survival. It is a powerful album that demands to be heard, not only as an excellent jazz LP, but also as a clarion call to artists of all disciplines to band together to make substantive changes to the injustices they see around them. Crisis - amazon.com

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Albert Mangelsdorff - Albert Live in Montreux (MPS Records, 2015)


Trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff was considered a major innovator on his instrument, not just on the European free improvisation scene but also worldwide. He performed in a wide range of settings from solo to big band with some of the finest musicians of the era. On this live recording from the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and bassist J. F. Jenny-Clarke join him. “Dear Mr. Palmer” starts off with bleats of brass and bass as the band joins together for some thoughtful interplay. Blasts of trombone build choppily unaccompanied in open space. The bass and drums begin to roil the music with thickly plucked bass and nimbler percussion making for a musical high wire act. Mangelsdorff again takes a solo section making eerie sounding noises before the entire trio takes the music out with a fast and hard conclusion. The length of the performance allows the group to fully explore the possibilities the trio format offers. There is a raw and forlorn sensibility to the leaders trombone on “Mood Azure” with high pitched bass and roiling drums setting an abstract foundation for the trombone to solo over. The music is kept under control, and flurries of faster playing strain at the leash in this moody and atmospheric performance. “Stay on the Carpet” opens with drums rolling and trombone stuttering, uttering high pitched streaks and streams of notes. Bass and drums join together to make for a powerful team and show that the group can turn on a dime and take their improvisation in unexpected directions. They can work in quiet whispers as well as moving dynamically to screaming louder passages. Mangelsdorff takes “Ripp Off” in his own direction, cleaving the open space with grumbling and sputtering trombone. He probes and explores the silence to see what possibilities lay there, adrift in space and time. There is a radical shift as the bass and drums move in and he even tips a sly wink to his forbears, adding a hint of swagger like he’s in a postmodern New Orleans parade. Both Jackson and Jenny-Clarke are afforded solo opportunities, which they take full advantage of before the trio ends their concert together to rousing applause. Albert Live in Montreux - MPS Records.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 Downbeat Reader's Poll Ballot

Downbeat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll follows its usual format of using a web-based survey, where they suggest a large number of musicians per category and than allow for write-in votes. Results should be published in their November issue.

Hall of Fame: Thomas Chapin
Jazz Artist: Matthew Shipp
Jazz Group: Henry Threadgill’s Zooid
Big Band: Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra
Jazz Album: Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Epicenter
Jazz Re-Issue: Sonny Rollins w/ Don Cherry - Live at the Village Gate 1962 (write-in)
Trumpet: Rob Mazurek
Trombone: Jeb Bishop
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Tenor Saxophone: Chris Potter
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Henry Threadgill
Piano: Kris Davis (write-in) (WTF – how is she not on the ballot?!?)
Keyboards: Craig Tayborn
Organ: John Medeski
Guitar: Marc Ribot
Bass: Ben Allison
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Violin: Jeff Gauthier
Drums: Rudy Royston
Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz
Percussion: Dave Rempis (write-in)
Misc. Instrument: David Murray – bass clarinet
Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann
Female Vocalist: Jen Shyu (write-in)
Composer: John Zorn
Arranger: Ryan Truesdell
Record Label: Tzadik
Blues Musician: Gary Clark Jr.
Blues Album: Gary Clark Jr. – Live
Beyond Group: Sleater-Kinney

Beyond Album: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charles Gayle Trio - Christ Everlasting (ForTune Records, 2015)


Charles Gayle, tenor saxophonist and pianist, has long been one of the most fascinating figures on the New York City free jazz scene. Moving from Buffalo to New York in the early 1970's, he fell on hard times, enduring lengthy stretches of homelessness for the next twenty years. He began recording regularly in the late 1980's playing torrid free jazz influenced by his extreme evangelical Christianity. This album was recorded live at a Polish jazz club in 2014 and has Gayle supported by Ksawery Wojcinski on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. What is particularly interesting is the mix of music, with Gayle's fire breathing, pulpit pounding, spiritual avant grade jazz on tracks "Joy in the Lord" where his raw and stringent tone opens the record by cutting through the air like a lance. Also, the epic "Eternal Life," which begins with Gayle playing tenor saxophone unaccompanied with a scouring raw sound before the bass and drums slowly glide in to offer support. Balancing these are a surprising selection of jazz standards; Albert Ayler's eerily beautiful "Ghosts" is a natural, with Gayle’s quivering tone weaving in and out of the bass and percussion and the slower, more open setting allowing for an appropriately anguished and pleading performance. Sonny Rollins's "Oleo" has a few raw squeaks getting started, but moves into a very immediate sounding performance that is actually reminiscent to the Sonny Rollins at the Village Gate boxed set released recently. Gayle’s music is full of angles and sharp turns, so perhaps Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" isn’t so surprising after all. He plays it on piano, with some ornamentation but the strong sound of the music is highly indebted to the composer and is very impressive. These songs anchor the middle of the album, as well as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" which begins with a deft drum solo before Gayle enters. He can’t match the speed of Coltrane (few can) but he does well to turn the melody to a solid free improvisational section, creating a fascinating melding of one of Coltrane’s most enduring early melodies and a free jazz meltdown that was influenced by music from the end of his life. Overall, the album works pretty well; Wojcinski and Kugel acquit themselves well to the music, providing a foundation for Gayle's unique style of playing, whether it is in a way out free setting or a recitation of a hard bop standard. Charles Gayle is one of the few remaining descendants of the deeply spiritual free jazz scene, carrying on the work of his contemporaries, who saw their spiritual life as the guiding force in their music. Christ Everlasting - iTunes

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