Friday, May 21, 2021

Wadada Leo Smith: Trumpet

Wadada Leo Smith
Trumpet (Tum Records; 2021)

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)

You always want to say "ambitious" when it comes to solo instrument projects. But when talking about Wadada Leo Smith--it's just another record. In fact, it's another amazing record from Wadada Leo Smith, aptly named Trumpet.

Trumpet is a massive three disc set that beautifully showcases the intimacy and urgency of Smith's playing. "Great Litany" is a haunting and majestic peice that reminded me of Miles Davis opening lines to "Generique." On "James Baldwin," Smith delivers slightly upbeat moments decorated with rapid emotion that you can hear the breathing tones as he grabs hold of your ear and heart--bringing you closer to his wonderful themes that float not only in this piece but everywhere else on Trumpet.

The patterns throughout Trumpet don't stretch far--and that's a good thing. This is Wadada Leo Smith at his most vulnerable. It's two plus hours of meditation, exploration and exaltation. Trumpet is a journey that needs to be experienced in a quiet and isolated manner. Well maybe loud is better.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Beat Freaks: Stay Calm

The Beat Freaks 
Stay Calm (TBF, 2019)

Michał Starkiewicz (guitar)
Tomasz Licak (tenor sax)
Paweł Grzesiuk (doublebass)
Radek Wośko (drums)

Serious. Not serious. Fun. Invigorating. Funky. Abstract.
All of the above can describe the thoughts that come to mind while listening to the sophomore effort from The Beat Freaks, Stay Calm. This is a journey that moves with distinct turns; leading you down some very intriguing pathways over the course of an hour.

"Work at Heights" and "Breakwater" capture the fun and adventure of Stay Calm. With Starkiewicz chords shifting from breakneck to gentle barreling up against Licak's bold structures on the sax; The Beat Freaks show they can move effortlessly in two playgrounds of jazz and rock.

That movement also shows itself on "Memories of an old Town." My thoughts tended to drift into early King Crimson territory with Beat Freaks wonderful combination of rock and jazz melodies tightly intertwined but still presenting a fresh new outlook. Jazz rhythms return on "Night Bus" and "Beardless Spy" with Grzesiuk and Wosko adding a strong punch that has you tapping away on your feet for what felt like forever but is only just over four minutes.

Stay Calm is a surprising work from four outstanding musicians that separately are amazing but in this somewhat supergroup bring a variety of influences that shine perfectly across the thirteen glorious tracks. Big praise--yes. Fun. Serious. Abstract. Yes to all of the above but in the end The Beat Freaks Stay Calm is an exciting and adventurous outing that you need experience for yourself.

P.S. I spent a good amount of time walking in a park listening to Stay Calm on my new Sivga 004 Open Back Headphones. Awesomely clean sound for jazz.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Branford Marsalis: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul

Branford Marsalis
The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (Okeh, 2019)

Branford Marsalis (sax) 
Joey Calderazzo (piano)
Justin Faulkner (drums)
Eric Revis (bass)

With The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, Branford and company start firing on all cylinders immediately via the Revis penned "Dance of the Evil Toys." It's raucous and fun. Calderazzo and Faulkner fly alongside Marsalis with brilliance as they provide a discordant but beautiful stretch of improvising that never lets up until the closing note.

Marsalis' only written number for the album, "Life Filtering from the Water Flowers" begins as if you were opening a vault that leads to a dampened chamber. Calderazzo's notes are calm and joyful leading the group into some great interplay between Marsalis, Faulkner, and Revis that travels throughout the remainder of the piece. 

The Secret Between.. also includes covers of Andrew Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz" and Kieth Jarrett's "The Windup." Both are excellent interpretations and wonderful additions to Marsalis' catalog. "The Windup" closes out the album in the brusque fashion that it began. 

The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul continues to show how the Branford Marsalis Quartet continues to stand high and above of many other jazz groups over the years. The versatility of their writing and precision of their performances is yet again why the group and leader seem to get better every year with every record. Enjoy... 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Thumbscrew: Theirs & Ours

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Michael Formanek (bass)
Tomas Fujiwara (drums)
Theirs & Ours (Cuneiform Records; 2018)

I have to be honest, I didn't expect this "supergroup" of Halvorson, Formanek, and Fujiwara--known as Thumbscrew, to last. Mainly because they rotate through so many of their own projects. But, they have been very prolific since their first outing in 2014. Now with their most recent companion releases Theirs and Ours the trio continues to stretch the improvised equations further with enormous success.

Ours is confident out of the gate with Formanek expanding his already intricate and fluid bass melodies followed by Halvorson's expressive and personal tones on "One Day" and "Unconditional." But one of my favourites is the almost rock-infused "Cruel Heartless Bastards" which changes pace from the start. Fujiwara and Fromanek shift modes with Halvorson, disrupting and cutting edges throughout. It felt like I was listening to Throwing Muses or Belly. 

Theirs features interpretations of some well known and not so well known jazz pieces such as Benny Golson's "Stablemates" where the trio showers the listener (or at least this one) with a rolling and vibrant version led by Fujiwara and Halvorson. While short, "Stablemates" floats perfectly into the Brazilian rhythms of Jacob Do Bandolim's "Benzinho," a lovely bounce that shows what fun the trio has had throughout this outing. Thumbscrew closes out Theirs with the beautiful Misha Mengelberg ballad "Weer is een dag voorbij" that perfectly encapsulates a creative and delicate journey with an arrangement that stays true but always shines with their original imprint.

While both Theirs and Ours feature very distinct themes, both releases are superbly delivered and highlight the monstrous talents of three excellent improvising pros on the scene today. Highly recommended!