Monday, December 23, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith: Occupy The World/Twine Forest

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Angelica Sanchez (piano)
Twine Forest (Clean Feed; 2013)
Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Tumo Orchestra
Occupy The World (Tum Records; 2013)

Intimacy and intricacy are the best ways to describe two recent collaborations from Wadada Leo Smith this year. The first, with Tumo Orchestra and then in a duo session with pianist Anglecia Sanchez.

Occupy The World is another epic orchestral work with lots of improvisation and intense mood setting movements. Inspired by the global Occupy movement from the past few years, this session is not as enveloping as last years Ten Freedom Summers but it is just as broad in scope.

"Queen Hatshepsut" inspired by the Egyptian queen of the same name, is a piece flows up and down with rough chords from both Smith, the string section and Kantonen's fierce and sublime piano performance. The title track has various stages of deep reflection, as in the middle sections filled with atmospherics and free float trumpet lines.

In a similar inspirational voyage, Smith explores more intimacy with Angelica Sanchez on Twine Forest. The two have worked together for years, Sanchez is part of Smith's Golden Quartet and Organic group. Surprising that this is their first outing as a duo. Either way, it's bright, personal and highly captivating.

"Retinal Sand" sees Sanchez experimenting with the insides of the piano strings and Smith swirling with haunting accuracy. In addition to explosive outburst that blend seamlessly with the rolling and very punctuated notes from Sanchez. "In The Falls Of" while being improvised shapes itself into a lovely almost romantic ballad. The notes are soft with a melody and sparseness that stretches the piece and the imagination making for a devotional experience.

Two excellent sessions featuring similar deep, inspiring thoughts but with very clear distinction and execution. Wadada Leo Smith makes clear that with Occupy The World and Twine Forest, he is one of the most creative and prolific composers among his elder statesman colleagues on the scene today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mary Halvorson: Illusionary Sea

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12 Records; 2013)
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet)
Ches Smith (drums)
John Hebert (bass)
Jon Irabagon (alto sax)
Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax)
Jacob Garchik (trombone)

With Illusionary Sea, Mary Halvorson has taken another leap forward in both her compositions and leadership. This expansive septet rich combines the versatile structure of the New York scene to date. Halvorson's jazz and rock aesthetics blend seamlessly into the tradition and always exploding free forms of her bandmates--with wondrous results.

At times the combination raised eerie images of the Count Basie's Band led by Sonny Sharrock. Halvorson gives her friends/band mates all the freedom they need to mold her compositions. This is present on the fun and vivid "Four Pages Of Robots." A rousing mixture of jagged tempos, scattered percussion and later, blues elements. These are juxtaposed against Halvorson's investigative chords that splice there way into the piece when you least expect it. Superb.

While complex themes are always a trademark of Halvorson's work, "Nairam" is something different in the Halvorson cannon. It's contains all the usual twists and turns in the structure. But this piece is more lyrical and compassionate. It's a composition that could easily have words applied to it and still remain emotionally resonant. Garchik and Finlayson raise above on this number but Halvorson's direction and steady chords are what draw you to the undercurrent of the song. A highly effective piece.

There's so much within Illusionary Sea to explore that we could write about every track. But its really important for you the listener to absorb this on your own. It's one of the best Mary Halvorson records to date. That includes her work with her own bands as well as with other various groups. With Illusionary Sea, Mary Halvorson has shown another enthusiastic step beyond the critical praise (she richly deserved) into one of the most important leaders and musicians in the current working scene today. Highly Recommended. And one of JazzWrap's albums of the year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Red Hot

Mostly Other People Do The Killing (quartet)
Red Hot (Hot Cup Records; 2013)
Jon Iragbagon (sax)
Kevin Shea (drums)
Peter Evans (trumpet)
Moppa Elliott (bass)

David Taylor (trombone, bass)
Rob Stabinsky (piano)
Brandon Seabrook (banjo, electronics)

Nice way to begin and end the year--with new albums by MOPDTK. At the beginning of the year I was talking about their 80s influenced Slippery Rock! This time around, they will frustrate their detractors even further with Red Hot--a bizarre and wonderful experimentation with New Orleans and Kansas City style jazz. Sound is traditional. The vision is way beyond.

The quartet is expanded to a sextet which provides a lot more opportunities for creativity and extended solo work. "Zelienople," is a raucous 30s anthem filled with some aggressive performances by Shea, Evans and the horn section. This is juxtaposed by the fun filled lines from Seabrook on banjo Stabinsky rollicking piano. Great stuff.

Melding the avant garde into this kind of venture seem dangerous. But it works extremely well on "Red Hot" and "King Of Prussia." Both vicious number for different reasons. "Red Hot" features a bluesy vamp melody wrapped by electronic one tone static. A difficult an strange occurrence at first but then you realize the inventiveness. "King Of Prussia" is a ballad filled everything lovely and distracting. Irabagon's playing is bold and very enveloping.

Remember that drunken new years eve party. Actually maybe you don't. Well "Orange Is The New Town" probably was playing in morning hours during your waking dream state. Beautifully executed with some slow emotional notes by Stabinsky and closing with a large dose of echoing chaos.

Everything lets loose on the finale "Bird In Hand." A rapturous number that will have thinking of a joyous night at the Cotton Club. The entire ensemble features throughout. It's fun, uplifting and a great way to close out a very adventurous record.

With Red Hot, MOPDTK have done another twisted and victorious job with building on tradition while making you rethink it as well. Excellent way to close out the year.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Luis Lopes: Live In Madison / Noise Solo

Luis Lopes (guitar)                                         Luis Lopes (guitar)
Live in Madison (Ayler Records; 2013)        Noise Solo (lpz Records; 2013)
Stefan Gonzalez (drums)
Aaron Gonzalez (bass)
Rodrigo Amado (sax)

This year we get treated with two distinct and very inspiring documents from guitarist, Luis Lopes.

Live in Madison features material from Lopes' Humanization Quartet and their two studio albums (Electricity and Humanization 4tet). The live dates as usual brings out more from an already improvisational group of musicians. But this time you can really feel the urgency in the music. In addition the attention to direct and fun in which the musicians would exude throughout the night.

One of the tracks from the original studio albums, "Big Love" has raw and fierce quality in this live setting. Amado and S. Gonzalez riff and explode with notes flying all over the place. Drawing counter to the subdue and quietly quick chords both Lopes and A. Gonzalez are illuminating in the background. While all improvised, they come together in a beautiful crash sound that steadies itself nicely in the closing minutes.

"Dehumanization Blues" has become the bedrock piece of their live performances. And here at the Madison show it's no different. Amado's long staccato notes in the beginning announce the forcefulness of the piece. This plays out well with each demonstration on grand scale how enormous this piece can get. I imagine this could almost be a twenty minute piece on its own. With varying improvised moment of its own.

Look for a new construction of sound, Luis Lopes tends to deliver every time. The intensity of the mid-section of "Dehumanization Blues" is a perfect jumping off point for Luis Lopes second release this year a completely solo project, Noise Solo.

Noise Solo is an experiment in the directions and deconstructions of sound, genre and perception. The vinyl only release is intriguing at its heart. And reflective upon conclusion. While based on the idea of noise, the album keeps a serene calm throughout the evening.

The opening movement is like a broken smoke detector being thrown down a well. There's static. There's chord changes. There's passages that are portraits in rock extreme and finally there's the element of adventure. In a similar notation that you have no idea what will come next, Luis Lopes delivers the unconventional solo album filled with found sounds and passage in progress.

But in the end--Noise Solo is something for the listener to determine on their own. It's an idea but also a free expression which will have a different effect on each listener. Not for the faint and heart. But rewarding for those who take the ride.

With Live In Madison and Noise Solo, Luis Lopes has demonstrated two aspects of his arsenal that I've always enjoyed. The sense of creative musical thought and excellent collaboration. Two exciting new records well worth your investment. Get out there and pick them up.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cakewalk: Transfixed

Cakewalk (trio)
Transfixed (Hubro Music; 2013)
Oystein Skar (keyboards)
Stephan Meidell (guitars; bass)
Ivar Loe Bjornstad (drums)

Precision guitar drones, pulsating electronics and drums make Norwegian trio, Cakewalk's newest release, Transfixed the perfect soundtrack for your subconscious. While their music may bring comparisons or reference points (see my discussion of their first album Wired), Cakewalk are really bringing their sound into their own. And their vision is clear. A simply deconstruction of preexisting thoughts on genre.

"Ghost" and "Dive" are studies in the pushing and pull of sound. The effectiveness of the melodic tones on both tracks draws the listener deeper into the notes. The crashing drums of "Ghost" and slowly stretched out keyboards on "Dive" emotionally pull you in very dark directions. Beautiful and effective.

"Transfixed" is really driven by Meidell's long looping basslines and Bjornstad's heavy but slow pounding on the kits. The electronics are layered in the background and provide atmospherics but the bass really is the haunting force of this piece. "Transfixed slow builds with Meidell adding the screeching guitar chords towards the closing.

The majority of the work on Transfixed is improvised. But you would never know but how well the notes come together so smoothly. And that's when you know you've heard a work of beauty. When the origin is never discernible.

Cakewalk are a growing, working trio that should emerge as one of the most important over the next few years. Transfixed is the perfect document of that philosophy. Highly Recommended.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jakob Bro: December Song

Jakob Bro (guitar)
December Song (Loveland; 2013)
Lee Konitz (sax)
Craig Taborn (piano)
Bill Frisell (guitar)
Thomas Morgan (bass)

With December Song, Jakob Bro concludes a wonderful trilogy that started in 2008 with Balladerring and then Time in 2011. A beautiful and melodic tribute to one his mentors, the late Paul Motain, December Song is another shinning document in the growth of an very subtle yet expressive voice, Bro has become over the last decade.

"Giant" flows heavy and effectively on the notes of Konitz and Bro. But the addition of Taborn adds a complexity that give the atmospherics of Bro's playing more dynamics and experimentation. "Zygaena" and "Tree House" are similar to compositions from Balladerring and Time yet still show the growing aspects of Bro's writing after all these years. Both consist of lush, gentle tones that highlight the weaving patterns of Bro's guitar and Americana themes laid out by Frisell. But as always, Bro turns both pieces into a kind of journey that is rich and imaginable.

"Risskov" and "Vinterhymne" have folkish qualities that both romantic and dream-like. The compositions are like lullabies. "Risskov" is highlighted by Konitz's bold horn and Bro's subtle yet captivating notes. Quiet and short notes that linger with each echoing tone. "Vinterhymne" is more a drifting piece with images that fade that softly in the distant sunset. A wonderful closing number and longing gesture to one of his mentors.

December Song is again another statement of powerful creativity from a composer and performer who seems to be prime, prolific form at the moment. I try every chance I get to tell as many people about Jakob Bro. I'm hoping that an album such as December Song can do it all without me screaming to the hilltops. It's that beautiful and that good. One of my favourite albums of the year. And I already have a small list of them (Jason Moran/Charles Lloyd, MOPDTK, Sunna Gunnlaugs, Soren Gemmer and Soren Dahl Jeppesen to make the short list). But Jakob Bro always seems to make that list. Highly, Highly Recommended!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Francois Houle & Havard Wiik: Aves

Francois Houle (clarinet)
Havard Wiik (piano)
Aves (Songlines Recordings; 2013)

Another exciting duo session from Francois Houle. This time he collides with versatile stylings of pianist, Havard Wiik. Together they emerge with the sublime, Aves. This is well crafted, well improvised session that melds classical and free jazz into a harmonious celebration.

"Nomenclatural" starts off quietly with a heavy melody that soon builds into a series of rolling counterpoints. Wiik and Houle seem to challenge each other at very turn with improvised notes that both offset and combine for a lovely high energy experience.

"Ged's Shadow" and "Letter for Gregory L" focus more on the simply sparse notes laid out by Wiik. Very emotional and dense, which allows the listener to sink deeply into their own darkness. Houle can be hear deep in the background (except towards the latter passages of Gregory) which makes both piece even more eerie and effective.

"Woodhoopoe" sees Houle playing various notes in a pattern which felt like a mixture of both classical, free form and African. There was beat that develops but more effectively "Woodhoopoe" doesn't feel like Houle on clarinet. It was reminiscent of recent work by Colin Stetson and his rotating breathing effects. A great solo piece.

I am a huge fan of Francois Houle and get excited by each release. With Aves, It feels as though his met another kinder counterpart along the lines of fellow collaborator, Benoit Delbecq that he can bounce ideas off. And the results is another fantastic and invigorating session that is well worth every one's time to seek out. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fred Hersch & Julian Lage: Free Flying

Fred Hersch (piano)
Julian Lage (guitar)
Free Flying (Palmeto; 2013)

For me, this wonderful session between the living legend, Fred Hersch and the future legend, Julian Lage brought memories of the brilliant recordings by Bill Evans and Jim Hall some 50 years ago.

Free Flying is a sensational outing that is vintage fun and sweetly romantic. A duo session similar in dynamics to Hersch's recent collaboration with trumpeter, Ralph Alessi.

"Song Without Words #4" and "Down Home" show the playfulness and agility of the two musicians as they both move classical and early jazz themes. Lage's playing definitely evokes Frisell on "Down Home," but with a younger spirit. And the two bounce notes off each other terrifically in the middle sections of "Down Home."

"Free Flying" originally from Hersch's Pocket Orchestra Live at the Jazz Standard release, revolved around a Brazilian theme and led improvised vocals from Jo Lawry. Here as a duo the piece (dedicated the great Egberto Gismonti) takes on more intimacy and resonance. Hersch and Lage are the improvisers here and it actually is much easier to follow and dig deeper into the notes. The solitude of grandeur displayed on "Gravity's Pull" is all Lage. Rolling melodic keys from Hersch are juxtaposed against gentle and elegant chords laid out by Lage.

Free Flying is an excellent duo session that evokes the past, present and future with lush and vivid artistry.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Nikolaj Hess: Trio

Nikolaj Hess (piano)
Trio (Gateway Music; 2013)
Tony Scherr (bass)
Kenny Wollesen (drums)

Danish, pianist, Nikolaj Hess has performed and led various size groups. One of the more effective and resonant groups for me (outside of solo) is his trio line up. While it can sometimes vary in membership, the aesthetic value is always the same--emotional, subtle and long-lasting.

For this simply titled Trio album, Hess is joined by Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen. A quiet and reflective session that opens with a wonderful rendition of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love." Stripping away the already fantastic vocal from the original you realize how much of the impact the songs can actually have. And it is brilliantly executed by Hess. His notes seem to hit the heart with every touch.

"September 2010" is a gentle midtempo piece that evokes the soothing pictorial view of autumn. A laid back bop approach that easily settles with an evening skyline. Adding a little bit of a groove into the mix is "Kontra" which sees the bassline and drums hitting a different step. Hess manages to mix in both some modern lines and notes into this composition that reminded me of some of the more eccentric work of Jason Moran. "Social Club" is another midtempo piece but with a little joyous romp to it, interspersed with some nice improvised pieces. A nice, fun and creative way to end this enjoy journey.

Trio is beautiful recording that is quick to catch the ear of any music fan. The impact of Nikolaj Hess' compositions will definitely touch you. It's one of those record that you'll end up listening to constantly without even realizing it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mark Dresser: Nourishments

Mark Dresser (bass)
Nourishments (Clean Feed; 2013)
Rudresh Mahanthappa (sax)
Michael Dessen (trombone)
Denman Maroney (hyper-piano)
Michael Sarin (drums)
Tom Rainey (drums)

Mark Dresser is one the few distinctive bassist on the scene that continues to impress with complex arrangements that challenge convention. His latest outing as leader, Nourishments, Dresser demonstrates a solid and bold approach with both his playing and compositions. Allowing the quintet to mix things up yet follow a rough set of parameters with beautiful results.

"Not Withstanding" jumps out like a delightful and fierce piece that could have been written by Zorn's Masada. It's filled with both improvised accompaniments and stoic solos. All shifting back and forth through various counterpoints making for an intense and fun listen. "Para Waltz," a wonderful ballad that starts off solemn and quaint thanks to Maroney and slowly builds in stature. Mahanthappa's horn sounds big yet very romantic pared against Dresser understated touches during this piece.

The harmonic structure of "Rasaman" is highlighted by the always immepecable Michael Dessen and his early exchanges with Mahanthappa. Another lovely and romantic number that feels more like a journey than just a musical number.

Mark Dresser has put together a tightly woven document with Nourishments. An exemplary piece which is also filled with improvisations that while challenging are also very inviting. Nourishments is a superb album that delivers on every construct and theme which should give every listener something to think about after the first spin.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Intersection: Caravaggio

The Intersection: An ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Caravaggio (group)Bruno Chevillon (bass, electronics)
Benjamin de la Fuente (violin, mandocaster, guitar, electronics)
Eric Echampard (drums, percussion, electronics)
Samuel Sighicelli (hammond organ, keyboards)

Brimming with influences of King Crimson, Can and fusion era Miles Davis, French quartet Caravaggio are deserving of wider recognition. Blending found sounds, electronics, steady basslines with crashing and cascading guitars and drums, Caravaggio create rock music with experimental jazz tendencies. It's reminiscent of Norwegian groups Elephant9 or Humcrush.

On their 2008 self-titled debut, Caravaggio opens like a submarine rising to the surface with "Canicule." Blips and crackles maintain the pace throughout the fast half of the album until the heavy laden "Platz." It feels like Miles Davis meeting up with Korn. Dark, dense and filled with enough slow energy you are bound to be happily depressed by the closing cacophony of Echampard's drums and the screeching guitar lines.

Caravaggio#2 moves in a slightly more song structured direction. With a similar and just as sinister version of Denis Hopper's "Platz" (a reworking of "Platz" from the debut), Caravaggio shows a great deal of growth in the four years between albums. "When Will You Be Angelic" and "Anybody Here" come on fast and furious with whizzing guitars and keyboards followed by drum patterns. "Anybody Here" transitions into a funkadelic style groove towards the latter moments which in continual listens seems like pure genius. "Profondo" closes the album with King Crimson like quality - slow moving but monstrous in structure.

While prog, experimental fusion can be envisioned throughout Caravaggio's material - the quartet are focused on providing something different with their album. A sense of adventure and intensity that shows that its not just the Scandinavian territories that explore in new atmospherics. Here's to hoping this quartet is around for a while.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Susana Santos Silva & Torbjorn Zetterberg: Almost Tomorrow

Susana Santos Silva (trumpet)
Torbjorn Zetterberg (bass)
Almost Tomorrow (Clean Feed; 2013)

The meeting between Santos Silva and Zetterberg is something I wouldn't have even thought about a few months ago. But in listening to their recordings both with Svenka Kaput and Lama, the desire for experimentation should have seemed obvious.

So Almost Tomorrow is the perfect bridge between to the groups and excellent collaboration of two emerging talents in the European scene.

Santos' playing is becoming more bold and creative with each release. She brings a rich spirit of ideas that for me, is reminiscent of Joe Mcphee. Zetterberg has been fearless on the bass; and is also growing in stature with each performance.

These ideas and brashness are played out on tunes like the "Columbus Arrival In Har jedalen." With its interesting blend of blues-like tones and Portuguese flavouring, "Columbus..." is absorbing and adventurous to mind and ear.

"Almost Tomorrow" opens with a heavy solo from Zetterberg as Santos joins in the tune floats between folk and experimental with ease. Both musicians exerting strong and very well placed extend passages.

"Notskalmusik #6" is possibly the most accessible piece on the album. A short but emotional ballad led mainly by Santos, with Zetterberg adding soft touches around the edges.

Almost Tomorrow is a beautiful session that may have come out of the blue but it's perfect timing for all of us. A great steady, detailed listen and rewarding with every note. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Christian McBride: Out Here

Christian McBride (bass)
Out Here (Mack Avenue Records; 2013)
Christian Sands (piano)
Ulysses Owens (drums)

Christian McBride has stretched both ends of the jazz spectrum in his almost two decade career as leader. He's released a string of beautiful hard bop albums coupled with an exploration in more funk/fusion outings. Both experiences are exemplary. On his latest, Out Here (his second album this year), he has bit of a return to form. A trio session that shines with vibrancy and youthfulness.

"I Guess I'll Have To Forget" provides the glowing confidence McBride has in his bandmates. The gentle and uplifting tone Sands takes is accompanied by the infectious timing exuded by McBride and Owens; a lovely number which is matched superbly on the next piece "Easy Walker." "Easy Walker" starts in a gospel/blues tone and slowly rides it's way upward with some hauntingly funky plucking from McBride. 

The happiness and youthfulness I referred to is presented in the sweet rhythms of "Who's Making Love." It's the funky, fusion, rocked up by McBride from recent history but filled with a hard bop joy that I haven't heard in awhile. And I swear there's an element of Queen's "Another Bites The Dust" in there somewhere.

The killer piece during this session is obviously McBride's rendition of "My Favourite Things." It's thoughtful and well structured. Sand's performance is sublime. McBride's arrangement favours Sands and Owens. He allows them both freedom to extend the notes and create some patterns that turn this into more than just the usual standards cover.

Out Here sets a brilliant and compassionate tone that lets the listener slowly develop and become enveloped in sound, vision and lyrical tones. An excellent outing from one of the best veteran bassists on American jazz scene today--Christian McBride.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Nick Hempton: Odd Man Out

Nick Hempton (sax)
Odd Man Out (Posi-Tone; 2013)
Art Hirahara (piano)
Marco Panascia (bass)
Dan Aran (drums)
Michael Dease (trombone)

I f-n'! loved this record! Sometimes you're just blown away by the basics and the attention to tradition. That's what Nick Hempton has done on his third album, Odd Man Out. Deploying the same group as his previous excellent outing, The Business, with Michael Dease replacing Yotam Silberstein, Hempton's quintet execute a smooth and stylish return.

While there's nothing that will break new ground here--it's the way its performed and constructed that I loved the most. Hempton's prerogative is to groove, all the while showing a real strong sense of leadership and maturity in this new set. "The Step Up" and "Nights And Mornings" both show a steadfast commitment to hard bop and heartwarming balladry. Hemptons' interplay with Hirahara and Panascia is superb.

Hempton's sound continues to grow and become more well rounded. While the tunes on Odd Man Out have that hard bop feel to them, you can feel from "A Bicycle Accident" that Hempton's writing is starting to move many new directions. Here Hempton applies multiple layers and patterns that allows the rest of the group to move freely and shape new ideas over the course of the piece.

Nick Hempton's quick growth over the last few years has been exciting to watch and listen. Odd Man Out is another step forward in that progress. And it's a great record with grooves and rich structures. Worth every note rooted in tradition but vibrant for now.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Ensemble: The Space Between

Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Electro Acoustic Ensemble
The Space Between (Delmark; 2013)

There's always been that spot of Sun Ra influence within cornetist, Rob Mazurek's music. Exploding Star Orchestra is probably the best example of that exploration. On his latest, The Space Between, with a fully tweaked version of the orchestra under the configuration of ensemble, Mazurek delivers a haunting and beautiful document of futuristic soundscapes. Very cinematic and demanding your attention to little details placed throughout.

Swirling, pulsating electronics inhabit the sessions opening number "Vortex 1-5." Keyboard, piano, percussion, looped sounds,cornet and more take you on journey through liquid space. It's trippy but does steady itself and gives you time to catch up and drop yourself inside the swirling structure just in time to witness Mazurek's raising tones on cornet.

Most the album moves as one consistent piece, but the passages in "Shifting Sequence," and "Space Between" provide some wonderful insight into the Mazurek's compositional vision of the session. Everything is very open. And while there may be a guidepost to follow, the musicians are allowed the freedom to get there on their own terms.

The vocals on the closing number, "Indra's Net" are provided beautifully by Damon Locks. His delivery is spiritual and uplifting. Like Sun Ra or early Pharoah Sanders work, it is the denouement to a long self-actualizing journey.

Again, Rob Mazurek has shown he is an extremely creative composer and consistently challenging his previous works and the musicians that surround him. The Space Between could easily be the sound to suspense thriller. Or even the soundtrack to your psyche. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Satoko Fujii: Spring Storm

Satoko Fujii (piano)
Spring Storm (Libra; 2013)
Todd Nicholson (bass)
Takashi Itani (drums)

Satoko Fujii is one of the most prolific composers/pianists on the avant garde scene. I've really loss track of how many records she has in total. Even just in the last year! But what I can say is, every record is a different adventure.

On her latest, Spring Storm, with new trio featuring Itani and Nicholson, she still explores some complicated yet beautiful structures in various settings. This allows the compositions to develop very organically and shift in and out of improvisation and melody.

"Convection" slowly builds in this manner. The slow pouring of Fujii's notes and the pulsating tones from Nicholson all rubbing against the mulit-layered patterns emenating from Itani's kit--give the listener something to experience at every turn. Especially the closing moments of the piece when Fujii and Itani have some forceful exchanges that bleed right into "Fuki" which allows Nicholson and Fujii and repeat the conversation in a different mode. Once the entire trio joins in during "Fuki," it becomes feverish and fun. Nicholson's performance is terrific and energizing.

"Tremble," the most ("slightly") direct piece on the album is a soothing introspective piece that guides the listener out from the long journey of soundscapes. A perfect conclusion to a delicate and diverse story laid out brilliantly by it's composer.

Again, in just a few songs, Satoko Fujii has show why she is one of most exploratory and vital composers in the avant garde movement today. Spring Storm is excellent opening example and actually a good starting point form those not already familiar with her material. Highly Recommended.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Harris Eisenstadt's September Trio

September Trio
The Destructive Element (Clean Feed; 2013)
Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
Angelica Sanchez (piano)
Ellery Eskelin (sax)

Two years ago, I was floored by the self-titled debut session from this trio of New Yorkers, September Trio. Now with their follow up, The Destructive Element, I can say I'm not surprised by their brilliance. It's just the way they are.

The movement on The Destructive Element is more fluid and with well balanced song structure. "Swimming" is a beautiful midtempo love letter filled with solid, almost gospel influenced chords from Sanchez. While Eskelin's romantic but muscular tone feels like Sonny Rollins hovering over the session.

Eisenstadt always seems to write the pieces with his band member's freedom in mind. On "Back and Forth," and "The Destructive Element" he gives Sanchez's classical ideas the floor. And Eskelin layers a solid structure on top. Eisenstadt's brushes provide the subtle hues for a lovely, all-around experience.

Eisenstadt does allow the session to be ballad or bop driven. The trio embarks on improvisation through "Additives" and "Here Are The Samurai." Both have rolling melodies from Sanchez and crashing movements of Eisenstadt's adventurous spirit on the kit. Free-spirited yet providing structure all the way.

The Destructive Element is more developed than it's predecessor but also slightly different. Still keeping an introspective vibe but also providing more opportunities for its members to expand on their own. Harris Eisenstadt has become an excellent composer in various settings. For me, September Trio is one of his best.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sunna Gunnlaugs: Distilled

Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
Distilled (Sunny Sky; 2013)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Thorgrimur Jonsson (bass)

Sunna Gunnlaugs has always brought a wonderful balance of European and American influences to her work. Her recent trio session, Long Pair Bond is a great example of her growing vision and creativity. But the new an just released, Distilled, is probably the brightest of all her releases to date. While I have compared Gunnlaugs to Jarrett and Hersch, on Distilled, her freshness reminds me of a younger Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones or even Harold Mabern.

The session is performed by the same Long Pair Bond trio of McLemore, Gunnlaugs and Thorgimur. But here, they all feel free and seem to be having a blast in the studio. I got the sense on Long Pair Bond, but with Distilled it just seems like they really felt comfortable with each composers material and have played together so long that this might have been the session they were dreaming about the night before they step into the studio.

"Momento" is the lovely late night opening that could accompany the sultry walk of your special love as you both meet for the first time. Gunnlaugs keys are playful but romantic. Thorgimur and McLemore add the soft but sensual backbeat. "Distilled" and "Switcheroo" both ballads in nature, present opportunities for the trio to stretch and extend conversations. Gunnlaugs does a sweet calculation of notes on "Distilled" which feels like a soothing llulaby. While "Switcheroo" sees each member speaking to one another in improvised tones that will make the listener laugh as well as sit in a little bit of bluesy awe at how stunning the musicianship is on the piece.

"Things You Should Know" has the authenticity and folkish quality that Gunnlaugs seems to have gained form her current tours of the East Coast of the U.S. But Gunnlaugs energy and song structures make for a perfectly constructed midtempo cross country journey. I loved the loneliness of "Opposite Side." This is very much my favourite track on the record. The conversation between Thorgimur and Gunnlaugs is sublime and is only enhanced by slow brush tones from McLemore's kit. A real delicate and beautiful display molded into a five minute love poem.

With Distilled, Sunna Gunnlaugs takes one more impressive step in solidifying her name amongst many in the jazz community, as one to watch out for. While many of my favourite pianists perform in the more free form or minimalist tradition; Gunnlaugs, like Fred Hersch, keeps the creativity of a traditionalist alive. But with a unique style and verve. Distilled is another brilliant example of that and more. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Filipe Felizardo: Guitar Soli For The Moa And The Frog

Filipe Felizardo (guitar, effects)
Guitar Soli For Moa And The Frog (ShhPuma/Clean Feed; 2012)

You know every guitar player doesn't have to sound like Ry Cooder, Bill Frisell, Robert Fripp or Michael Brook, to name a few of the famous modern ones (yes I'm leaving about 20 out but there's only some many lines I can write). It's when the guitarist takes the time to create and expand on their influences that really catches my eye.

That's what I found while exploring the textural soundscapes created by Filipe Felizardo on his debut, Guitar Soli For Moa And The Frog.

Notes and tones phase in like recurring dreams on the opener "Against The Day." Soft and deeply emotional, Felizardo's notes have a rustic quality. And that makes "Against The Day" echo long after its final movements have completed.

The extended suite "A Conference Of Stones And Things Previous" holds a similar inquisitive nature, with chords slowly crafting a journey that is raw and sweet. On the third movement "Obsidian", we do get a sense of a rough edge to Felizardo's playing. This is a dark poetic movement that hangs and doesn't tend to let you go.

"Of The Excrement and the Frog" posses an eastern aesthetic with a haunting blues undertone. The textures that Felizardo works through reminded me of work by the Italian duo, Zero Centigrade. Beautiful and melodic, but demands patience.

Guitar Soli For The Moa And The Frog is an impressive debut with quiet, ethereal ideas and patterns which may actually be best absorbed through headphones. Filipe Felizardo has delivered a wonderful compelling and challenging record. And shows that foundations of experimental guitars and exploratory folk can transcend both sides of the Atlantic. Highly Recommended.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tomasz Dabrowski: Tom Trio

Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet) 
Tom Trio (Ilk; 2013)
Nils Bo Davidsen (bass)
Anders Mogensen (drums)

I first came across Tomasz Dabrowski's work as a member of Tomasz Licack's brilliant albums, Quintet and Trouble Hunting. Now Dabrowski has released his first trio album, Tom Trio that delivers with intensity and very creative agility.

While this is his first album as leader, his work as sideman has definitely helped in building his voice and ideas. It all comes together beautifully on Tom Trio. "7 Days To Go" has a slow melodic build that reminds me of some of Nate Wooley work. It's a narrative that scales gently, added by the precise brush treatment from Mogensen.

"Wave" has a fantastic multi-layered rhythm as laid out Mogensen. Both Davidsen and Mogensen are giving the reins to run ramped, so-to-speak. The result is a nice convergence of blistering trumpet work from Dabrowski with succinct slicing and calculation from bandmates. This culminates with some terrific improvised sections towards the closing moments of the piece.

"European 46" shows Davidsen alongside Dabrowski in a groovier setting. The piece is probably the most infectious number of the session but still holds creative strategy of the overall artist vision. "This Way Up" is a whole lot of fun. Led by the driving thumbing of Davidsen, the piece soon turns into a nice bit of hard bop. The exchanges between Dabrowski and Davidsen are superb and infectious.

Tomasz Dabrowski has crafted a brilliant debut with Tom Trio. It's rich in diversity and powerful in its execution. This is one of those albums that you must seek out - now!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Soren Dahl Jeppesen

Soren Dahl Jeppesen (guitar)
(photo: Paw Ager)

Young, but with a veteran spirit, Soren Dahl Jeppesen is increasing his presence on the scene. With a solid enveloping tone, Jeppesen has similar qualities to more seasoned guitarists like Bill Frisell and even his contemporary Jakob Bro. But he is finding a growing voice over his highly rewarding three albums as leader.

After two wonderful albums with the band Pauseland as well as through multiple session work, Jeppesen delivered an impressive debut with Route One (2010). A melodic set featuring echoing effects and heavy emotional resonance is exemplified by the exchanges between Jeppesen and saxophonist, Óskar Guðjónsson and drummer, Jakob Høyer. "A Fools Paradise" and "Less" both provide a nice mixture of calm cylindrical rhythmic patterns alongside heavy percussion, which make for a exciting and intriguing experience.

The follow up, Red Sky (2011) is more song based with lots of smooth edges. That doesn't mean Jeppesen went for a commercial sound - far from it. This is just a more mature album. The quartet has more freedom of movement in his new pieces. "In The Loop" weaves small atmospherics in Jeppesen's playing against a backdrop of soulful melodies from the rest of the group. "At Ease" has the Americana vibe that has influenced a large majority of guitarists works. It would be interesting to hear this piece with lyrics. The melody is very lovely and warm.

With the arrival of Pipe Dreams (2013), Jeppesen takes a significant leap forward; a nice balance between the European and American approaches to spacial structures. The addition of Simon Toldam (piano) for the opening "Insomnia," opens the sound for an already steady and collaborative quartet. Toldam's playing is full-bodied and gives the guitar a new challenge. I loved the distancing echoes of Jeppesen's lines.

He maintains a dense and sparse motif throughout but Jeppesen does move into different landscapes as with the Latin-tinged "Fallback" and the very effected and heartfelt "Blinded" and "Broken." Both shoulder strong lyrical passages either from Toldam on "Blinded" or Guðjónsson on "Broken."

"Pipe Dreams" and "Gloom and Doom" while expressing more somber themes, actually lay within some sublime imagery as you begin to peel off the surface. "Gloom & Doom" adds more darker electronics and an almost psychedelic feel thanks to Jeppesen's harmonic delivery. "Pipe Dreams" is slightly more direct but with Toldam and Hoyer being the driving forces.

Soren Dahl Jeppesen has quickly made an impression on the community at large with a solid and growing catalog of maturity with each record - Pipe Dreams being the brilliant gem so far. I say "so far" because history is still not written. Jeppesen may just be the unheard thing at the moment but you and all our other friends now have the chance to spread the word. Pipe Dreams is a highly recommended album for every ear. If not the year.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Strong Place

Ingrid Laubrock Anti House
Strong Place (InTakt; 2013)
Ingrid Laubrock (sax)
Kris Davis (piano)
Tom Rainey (drums)
Mary Halvorson (guitar)
John Hebert (bass)

An incredible second session from Ingrid Laubrock's Anti House. With Strong Place, the ensemble has delivered a solid effort that surpasses the already superb debut.

There's always talk (especially from me) about exploring and finding the melodic path within the free flowing improvised patterns on many projects. That's no different on Strong Place. But the while the origins may be hard to find at first, a quiet listening session later unearths them slowly and uniquely.

Laubrock's horn wraps the quintet in a beautiful tornado of sound on both "An Unfolding" and "Der Deichgraf." With Davis and Halvorson pulling closely side to side on both pieces with a humorous and lovely effect. Rainey and Laubrock also share some nice staccato passages before lending way for a gentle conversation with Halvorson's harmonic delivery.

Scattered patterns fill two-thirds of "From Farm Girl To Fabulous, Vol. 1." This set by Halvorson, Davis and Laubrock; before Rainey and Hebert slowly move in providing additional bit and a chance for the melody to evolve thanks to the bands leader.

When looking for that one song with melody, you just might find it at the end. "Here's To Love" delivers on that idea with a great balance of soft passion and experimentalism. A crisp texture from Laubrock is accompanied by Rainey and Hebert allowing the quintet to express emotions in a somewhat well structure fashion. Slightly different than the rest of the session but a welcome way to close.

All the members of Anti-House play together in various forms. And each record is different thanks to the leaders. But with Anti-House they seems to be able to make expressions and experiment in ways that their other group done allow. Weird, but with creativity like this, it's should be expected. Strong Place is a solid second effect from a blossoming super-ensemble.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ellery Eskelin: Mirage

Ellery Eskelin (sax)
Mirage (Clean Feed; 2013)
Michael Fromanek (bass)
Susan Alcorn (guitar)

Ellery Eskelin is a troubadour. His creative talent has been on display both as leader and member for almost three decades. A warm and enveloping texture to his recordings is always present. On his latest, Mirage, his display an intriguing outback journey that feels like a desert soundtrack.

Susan Alcorn's shimming opening chords on "Rain Shadow" forecast a session that is filled with majestic passages and mysterious undertones. Eskelin's notes weave slow a gently around bass and guitar and accentuate the haunting nature of piece. "Saturation" is an rolling improvised piece that while each member seems be moving in divergent directions by midway, a slight melody evolves and then slowly deconstructs. Alcorn and Eskelin play off one another beautifully.

There are times when Eskelin's tones sound like late period Ornette Coleman circa the Naked Lunch soundtrack. One of those moments for me was the epic piece "Downburst." A slow moving blues style ballad mixed with intrigue and experimentalism. Fromanek and Alcorn have silent and introspective conversation throughout. This, while Eskelin's journey moves across like broad strokes of a small paintbrush. Lovely and lengthy.

Mirage is document that paints a beautiful and luxurious picture with influence of avant garde, blues and Americana. This, all resulting in an excellent soundtrack for a Summer journey. Enjoy a very deep listen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded

Mikrokolektyw (duo)
Absent Minded (Delmark; 2013)
Artur Majewski (electronics, trumpet)
Kuba Suchar (electronics, drums)

Well it's been three years since we heard the dynamic and creative duo Mikroklektyw. They have been working in various forms with their respective collaborative groups but finally we get hear their dense, expansive imagination again on Absent Minded.

Absent Minded delves deeper into the rabbit hole of sound as the duo completely restructure our thoughts on what jazz and sound sculpture can be. A slightly less emphasis on the electronics from it's predecessor, Revisit, Mikrokolektyw are still exploring melodies that burst out of spontaneity than structure.

"Thistle Soup" and "Crazy Idea" a great sources improvisation exploding into melody before you know it. Majewski provides sharp notes that are juxtaposed to Suchar blistering pace and while at first seem completely unrelated slow unravel to showcase a beautiful picture of sound and space.

"Fossil Stairway" is the one track that does hearken back to Revisit's electronic elements. A cascade of sound, almost like air raids. This, all the while, Majewski and Suchar are weaving between the noise with pattens that set a rough but fun path for the listener to follow.

Fun might the other way to describe "Little Warrior" in which the tribal elements of this piece reminded me of Les Baxter, Raymond Scott, Don Cherry shoved in a room with Chris & Cosey (of Throbbing Gristle) and told to make beautiful music. This is what they might come up with. Intriguing, beat-driven, exotic and masterfully executed.

Absent Minded is great follow up to Revisit. And Mikrokolektyw have shown that they are a duo with layers of ideas and will continue to challenge our conceptions. Once again, for me, they have made one the best albums of this year.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rodrigo Amado: The Flame Alphabet

Rodrigo Amado (sax)
The Flame Alphabet (Not Two Records; 2013)
Gabriel Ferrandini (durms)
Jeb Bishop (trombone)
Miguel Mira (cello)

I've come to learn that each Rodrigo Amado record is going to be exciting and a challenge. With his out Motion Trio added by Chicago trombonist, Jeb Bishop, Amado delivers another fun and energetic performance that keeps the ear attuned.

The Flame Alphabet is the quartet's first studio album, following their live debut, Burning Live At Ao Centro.

You would think that in the studio the vibe would be contained and little less vibrant. You would be sorely mistaken. The sound is still bold with lots of urgency. "Burning Mountain" and "Flame Alphabet" both have Amado in fine form. Tearing into notes and undulating patterns like a reincarnated Archie Shepp. Bishop flexibility allows for great interaction between both Amado and Ferrandini which makes for some excellent concentration on the listeners end. But it is extremely rewarding.

"Into The Valley" is a scaled back piece. Amado's horn is sparse, while the rest of group revolves around a small series of improvised tones. This all comes crashing against fierce lines delivered by Mira and Ferrandini as the track moves forward. "The Healing" closes the album with grace. A ballad the drifts gently on the waves of Amado's notes. But Bishop provides a tones that almost feels like a trumpet.

Rodrigo Amado's new ensemble is a spot-on quartet that delivers with every note. Detailed, intricate, electrifying and inventive from beginning to end. The Flame Alphabet is an album that you will come back to--again and again.