Friday, January 30, 2015

Friends & Neighbors, Hymn for a Hungry Nation

What is new under the sun? Plenty if you look for it. Take for example the Norwegian outfit Friends & Neighbors. They have an album out on Clean Feed (310) called Hymn for a Hungry Nation and it's good. They are a quintet of Andre Roligheten, tenor and clarinets, Thomas Johansson, trumpet, Oscar Gronberg, piano, Jon Rune Strom, double bass, and Tollef Ostvang, drums. They do new "new thing" and give us their personal, original best.

Each one of these folks is a player, make no mistake. And they get a group sound with some worthwhile originals that, no surprise given the name of the band, owe something to classic Ornette but also to some of the other outfits from the early days too, like the NY Contemporary Five.

It would not be quite enough if that's all they did. But they do add their own freshness and so it becomes "in the zone" without just rehashing the zone.

Each player has something to say, the rhythm team locks into free grooves in classic fashion, yet it all has a quality there that is recognizably original. You may not know these players yet. But that will change after you hear this one.

Friends & Neighbors have arrived! Any "free jazz" fan will no doubt be very happy with their album. I surely am myself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hal Galper Trio, O's Time

As I understand it piano great Hal Galper is teaching less nowadays to devote more time to performance. To music lovers like me that can only be a good thing. And in fact we mark the occasion with a new volume of his rubato-centered recordings: O's Time (Origin 82670).

It's a freewheeling set of jazz standards, songbook standards and a Galper original. The trio sounds quite bracing. Bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop play open form, swingingly free multi-time rubato in response to Hal's vibrant playing. There is some attention to changes now and again but then there is fluid freedom which choses to go ahead without strict adherence to bar lines or chordal sequences.

Hal sounds great in a freebop mode, with much to say and the freedom to take his own roots and extend them outwards. Jeff takes some very interesting solo time and makes great use of it. And John's drumming implies a multi-dimensional timeliness that further opens up the expressive mood and spurs the others onward.

Hal Galper has done some beautiful work and must be counted as one of our living piano treasures, so to speak. He shows you why in no uncertain terms on this lively set.

An outstanding record, I must say!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tony Allen, Film of Life

If you don't know the Afrobeat stylings of Tony Allen (and I'll admit I have missed him), you probably should. Here he is with his 10th album, Film of Life (Jazz Village), and it is a good one.

The rhythm section, guitars and bass, and horns all come at you in the best Fela Kuti Afrofunk groove mode, with some new twists, too. Tony hails from Lagos, Nigeria. His lyrics talk about struggle and have an autobiographical feel. The "jazzbastards" produced this one and give us an ambience that puts the groove up front and the instrumental embellishments, the backup vocals and Tony's lead in a great light.

There are psychedelic aspects added to the mix, and of course the soulfulness primary to Afrobeat is in full force.

Top-notch progressive arrangements, the hippest of grooves and Tony's very real commitment to being here comes through beautifully.

It both gives you what you might expect, then gives you things you don't. Both work very well towards a sound that builds on what has been and combines things in unexpected ways. Recommended!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Connie Crothers & Paula Hackett, Sharing the Thrill

The conjunction of "jazz" and poetry has by now become a vital part of the arts, an expression where musical sound and creative word spinning make for something more than the sum of its parts when everything is right. And that of course is true of the very most modern conjoining of improvisational musics and poetry as much as it was of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and notable others. Baraka and the New York Art Quartet set the new thing pace with "Black Dada Nihilismus." The AACM had some beautifully classic conjunctions by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Jarman, Braxton, and Richard Abrams. Steve Lacy flirted with it. And of course Archie Shepp mastered it.

So the "avant tradition" is with us. And now we can revel in something new and worthwhile in pianist Connie Crothers and poet Paula Hackett on their album Sharing the Thrill (New Artists 1055).

As I write these lines the NY "Blizzard of 2015" is in progress, or perhaps it has fizzled out? The pristine snowfall blanketed outside and my self relentlessly prevailing in my semi-heated living space gives me a suitable backdrop to rehear the album as I ponder its qualities.

Paula Hackett has a vision of the today we dwell in. She offers us tributes to Max Roach and Billie Holiday, her personal experiences in life with her brother, relationships willy nilly fated or ill-fated, being stereotyped as an artist with negative connotations, the Kafkaesque experience of institutionalization, of "chokeholds" and other injustices and repressions. All of it has relevance to us today and is expressed with a matter-of-fact poetic immediacy that lends itself to avant jazz collaboration.

(And if you happen to be around New York right now, there is a series of concerts happening in the new improvisation and dance modes centered around the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Connie Crothers and a host of New York's finest improvisors are taking part. Check the net by doing a Google on it to get the schedule.)

So Paula gives us her narrative poetics in conjunction with the vibrantly alive piano improvisations of Connie Crothers. I've said much on her in these pages. Suffice to say that the miniaturist contexts of the fairly short verbal poetics puts Connie in a briefer mode than usual. She rises to the occasion with gems of spontaneity that go exceptionally well with the poems. There is outness, bluesiness, roots and all kinds of inventiveness to be heard.

And so we have a full CD of stories, outbursts of protest, word-pictures of the angst of existence, and of hope, togetherness, being.

This is an adventure that works well because Paula has much to say, says it beautifully, and Connie responds in kind with her special later-period brilliance and essence.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Ascent of the Nether Creatures, Rashied al Akbar, Muhammad Ali, Earl Cross, Idris Ackamoor

One of the nice things about reviewing is that you get to check out things you might not otherwise have the chance to hear. And of course what seems worthwhile I pass along to you, the reader. Such a rather obscure but nice album is the 1980 Netherlands club date of the quartet of Earl Cross, trumpet, Idris Ackamoor, alto and tenor, Rashied al Akbar on bass, and Muhammad Ali, drums. They gather together their collective forces for a very fire-y freebop set on Ascent of the Nether Creatures (No Busines LP 78). It is one of those limited edition vinyl releases that No Business does so well, and it is a good one.

The sound is not entirely perfect yet very clear. The music makes up for what is very slightly less than pristine sound. Cross and Ackamoor make excellent front-line soloists and have it all together on this set. Akbar is doing good things on bass. And as might be expected of Muhammad Ali (late brother of Rashied Ali), the drumming is expansive and very swinging.

They do four originals that have contrast and plenty of room for free blowing. And they come through. These are players that have not gotten near enough credit for their contributions to new thing freedom. A careful listen to this record tells you why that should not be the case.

It captures a period when free jazz was still new enough that the thrill and even ecstasy of letting it all go to the rafters was still there. There is no reason why that should not still be the case but there seems less of it now. Listen to this one and recapture some of that thrill!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Trio & Mattias Stahl, North and the Red Stream

The world of free avant music, sometimes called "free jazz," continually evolves and permutes so that a simple classification of style sets doesn't always serve to clarify. Potentially every configuration of players occupies its own world, though of course that is never entirely true, since both the past and the present influence every soloist and ensemble in some way.

But nonetheless the idea that every moment of music-making is potentially open to any expression allows at least theoretically for anything to develop. The feeling of open creativity in spontaneity has been very present in the best senses with the Red Trio, a worthy gathering of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, contrabassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. On their latest recorded outing they add vibist Mattias Stahl. With his presence there is a four-way dynamic that shows both continuity and change; his inclusion is a factor that gives the group dynamic another melodic-harmonic voice that brings a freshened set of spontaneous sounds to bear.

All this on the CD North and the Red Stream (No Business NBCD 69). It was recorded live at the VDU Jazz Festival Kaunas late in 2013. And no doubt the live gig gave them some additional inspiration because they are all locked into good things throughout.

Both the pianist and the vibist have in jazz and subsequent avant music been historically faced with dual poles of consideration. Both instruments, at least in their maturity, have the capability of creating self-sufficient harmonic-melodic worlds, yet of course in a group context and as influenced by the development of the music there has been the pull to create horn-like lines. Earl Hines was one of the more overt of the early exponents of the horn-style of soloing, but of course he never abandoned the two-handed harmonic pianism that came naturally to those who study the instrument. With the history of vibes playing it was later Red Norvo and of course Milt Jackson who did more to integrate that pianistic harmonic conception into the vibe approach. Since then both instruments variously gravitated between lining and harmonizing as the music evolved and changed.

I bring this up because Pinheiro and Stahl do a great job on this set travelling in and out from a harmonic to a lining approach. In a free context where there are implied key centers but lots of freedom of choice, the two players work especially well together in choosing lines and harmonic voicings. And by so doing you get a distinct kind of spontaneous fullness that Hernani on bass responds to rather brilliantly and Gabriel absorbs and in turn sets up various inventive pitched and unpitched washes of percussion.

And that is to say that the group sound as a four-fold voice is especially prominent and innovatively interesting on this set. That is not to say that there aren't solos here. But the solos are quite often integrated into four-way dialogue where everyone adds to the solo for a very creative ensemble sound.

These are four very talented creative souls and the freedom they espouse is extraordinarily well developed on this set. It is a set that sustains interest from start to finish. There are no tentative sounding harrumphs, no momentary fumblings for direction. They know what they are about and they go there, directly, and stay there.

And the vibes-piano tandem works especially well. That's because they, and really all four are listening--but complementing more so than simply responding to each other.

It's a very, very good outing that all interested in the free zone should hear.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don Pullen, Richard's Tune, 1975

Don Pullen was a brilliant pianist who left us much too soon. In 1975, at the end of his several-year tenure with Charles Mingus, he recorded a solo album for Sackville records. It was reissued with extra cuts in the 1990s and from that time has taken as its title Richard's Tune (Sackville 3008). With the new Delmark distribution deal we have it very readily available again and we are all the better for it.

Of course Pullen came to national attention in the mid-'60s when he appeared as pianist for Giuseppe Logan's two ESP albums, then a little later in a duo recording with Milford Graves. These albums showcased his outside playing in brilliant fashion. He was a scatter stylist primarily, and though his playing was more like Cecil Taylor's than Paul Bley's, he nevertheless was his own person even then.

By the time Song for Richard was recorded he of course had gained a good deal more fame as a member of the Mingus entourage. And by that time he had established a sort of in-and-out duplex style that could stay within modern contemporary harmonic jazz realms or take it out into more uncharted zones, sometimes within the same solo.

And that is the Pullen we get on Richard's Tune, a seasoned, very personal stylistic brilliance that went in both directions. The compositions are strong, with outside fireworks running together with earthy gospel and well-considered changes-based numbers.

Like Jackie Byard, who prefigured him in the Mingus group, he had assimilated the history and the new thing from the ground up and could do it all in his own way. And both he and Byard did all of this in ways that unmistakably identified them as stylistic originals.

On Richard's Tune we get an hour of Pullen at his best. If there is no one Pullen album that sums him up, this one gives us a beautiful picture of what he was about in 1975. He had a rare ability to grasp the ins and outs of improvised music from multiple perspectives, each with its own special Pullen focus.

This is a central disk. You should get some of the earlier and later ones, too. If you start here you can't go wrong. And if you already dig Pullen, you need this one, certainly!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, Imaginary Cities

When an artist of the stature of tenor saxophonist Chris Potter reaches something like mid-career, you sometimes see summing up, and you sometimes see a breakthrough. In Chris's case, with his Underground Orchestra and their new album Imaginary Cities (ECM B0022440-02), it is mostly breakthrough.

We've heard him grow and develop over the years into a monster tenorist, yes. Now we hear him take on a large-group project where composition and arranging are a bit more out front. The core of his Underground quartet is here in Craig Taborn, piano, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Add to that two bass players in Scott Colley on contrabass and Fima Ephron on electric bass, Steve Nelson on mallets, and a string quartet.

The music is riveting in its compositional-arranged beauty. Strings are no afterthought but form an integral part of the music, which goes from balladry to jazz-rock to Arabic-Indian elements to new music Bartokian presence to large-group jazz per se. The Potter sax and bass clarinet artistry is central and pivotal and he sounds inspired.

Something like this can go its way with innovative groupings and still not quite succeed. Not so, this album. The group forces hold together organically thanks to the Potter arrangements and compositions, yet there still is much in the spontaneousness that keeps it fresh and jazz-worthy. And the sound of the recording is beautiful!

I'll admit the first hearing puzzled me slightly. I did not know what to expect and at first didn't get a feel for what was going on. That was completely dispelled by hearing #3. At this point I revel in the music. It may not be what you expect, exactly, but it is a major Potter opus, a remarkable achievement.

I hope he does some more of this sort of thing! It is a revelation in its own way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast, Settle

The music still called "jazz" by most out there continues on its way with new music that can startle or confirm, depending on where it is coming from. "Startle" is more the applicable word with Ken Thomson's Slow/Fast unit, especially with their release Settle (NCM East 40138).

Compositionally Ken on bass clarinet or alto often conjoins with Russ Johnson's trumpet for line weaving that contrasts with Nir Felder's electric guitar counterpoint or chordal frame, which in turn gets strong support or counter movement from the rhythm team of Adam Armstrong on bass and Fred Kennedy on drums. Or guitar and reeds team up and let trumpet and bass take alternate routes. The point is that Thomson has a vision of the various instrumental combinations for a particular piece and goes with his creative instincts. The compositions are what startle because they don't take for granted any standard operating procedures in writing for such an ensemble. Ken hears what others might not as possibilities and realizes them in his very own way

The heft of Nir Felder's guitar work puts the music often enough in a jazz-rock zone, but an outside-avant sort of version. All three front liners can and do solo well, but in the end it is a group sound that hits you.

Extremely well-done and different. Hear this one!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms, From the Region

To say that Jason Adasiewicz is at the very top of my list of new vibes players is inaccurate. He has been around long enough that "new" seems wrong. Sure, compared to Milt Jackson he is new. But just about anybody alive save Terry Gibbs is that kind of new. So rather I should just say that he is at the very top of my list of vibists out there today.

There's a new recording of him with his Sun Rooms trio, From the Region (Delmark 5017), and it breaks new ground. Nate McBride moved from Chicago so he has been replaced by bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, who fits in wonderfully well. Mike Reed still gets things going from the drum chair (or throne, as it is called). And Jason prevails on vibes.

This is an album of Jason's compositions and they are good, edgy, rhythmically alive. There are worked out routines for the three and there is much swinging in an advanced, free sort of context.

If you appreciate the free-period of Hutcherson, Walt Dickerson and such then Jason's work will resonate with that for you. He has established his own turf but there is a kind of avant tradition in there, too.

As Adasiewicz says in the liners, everybody is a drummer in this band, meaning that the percussive and rhythmic momentum is very much a factor in this music. It moves you forward. Haker-Flaten and Reed do much more than accompany. Jason is very out front as you would expect but all three interlock in classic free-swinging ways.

This is a vibes album of genuine importance! It's very together and gets better every time you hear it. Do not hesitate!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories, 1965

Charles Lloyd hit the jazz world like a kind of meteor in the mid-to-later '60s. His classic quartet of a young Keith Jarrett, an equally young Jack DeJohnette, and Cecil McBee, then Ron McClure, had much going for it. There was a kinetic magnetism in that group that appealed to many in both new jazz and rock communities, for good reason. But of course Lloyd did not appear out of nowhere. He first came to some notoriety as music director for Chico Hamilton's group, then signed to Columbia for several albums with quartets that included Richard Davis, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Gabor Szabo. The signing to Atlantic and the formation of the classic quartet gave him a boost into the limelight that the previous work made possible.

A new two-CD disk of two 1965 performances with the earlier quartet (at Judson Hall and Slugs) has emerged. Manhattan Stories (Resonance 2016) is the name of the set. It gives us a great sounding, detailed look at the earlier incarnation in excellent form. On drums was Pete LaRoca Sims (instead of Tony Williams), Ron Carter on bass and Gabor Szabo on electric guitar.

It is prime Lloyd. Gabor Szabo on guitar makes for a very different ambiance to the sound of the group. He chords a good bit and does a sort of raga-ish modality that opens things up differently than the group with Jarrett. It is more sparse and the rhythm section of Carter and LaRoca subsequently is quite prominent.

They do a few numbers ("Sweet Georgia Bright" and "Dream Weaver") that remained in the repertoire of the later quartet, and they do some other things as well, such as Szabo's "Lady Gabor."

Lloyd sounds great on tenor and flute, Gabor brings in his special approach, and Ron Carter and Pete LaRoca remind us how good they were then.

It's a beautiful revelation of Lloyd taking off. The quartet has real presence. Excellent discovery! Hear it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pete Magadini, Bones Blues

When I was seriously woodshedding in my early years, Pete Magadini published a two-volume guide to polyrhythms that remains a work all serious musicians should tackle. The mathematical breakdowns of ratio-ed note groupings quickly become literally mind blowing. It certainly did that for me. Only a little bit later did I discover that Pete was an active drummer up in Canada. Eventually I came across his quartet album Bones Blues (Sackville 4004) which is once again available as part of Delmark's Sackville reissue-redistribution program.

It is the same trio that backed Buddy Tate on his Sackville album Texas Tenor which I covered a short time ago (see posting content index on the left-hand column). That is Pete of course on drums, Wray Downes on piano and Dave Young on bass. To this potent triumvirate is added Don Menza on tenor.

This is an album of cohesive and rewarding straight-ahead hard- and post-bop jazz classics with a few originals and plenty of committed playing. Three numbers are associated with Miles, namely "Old Devil Moon," "Solar" and "Freddie the Freeloader." Then "Poor Butterfly" and Golson's perennial "I Remember Clifford" get good treatments too.

No, Pete does not bring in all the brain-twisting polyrhythms in either his playing here or in the band's arrangements. It's not that sort of session! But his drumming is exemplary. Pianist Wray Downes has some real bop-chops and shows us them in no small way. Don Menza is a genuine swinger with a sort of post-Zoot acuity and soul. Dave Young gets it all right in the bass chair.

Now back in 1977 this kind of date was not unusual. With the right players, the fire was there and it sounded "authentic." These many years later it still does. The trick is that to play "trad" is not to emasculate it. If you do that you give "polite society" something inoffensive, but then the music is not what it is meant to be. So I can heartily say this sounds as good as ever, that there is nothing polite about it and it fans the fires when the players feel it.

If you take joy in old school jazz as developed in the '50s and '60s this will get you smiling.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Frank Kimbrough Quartet

I have been following pianist Frank Kimbrough's work with interest, both on these blogs (as a sideman) and when I wrote for Cadence. His latest is simply titled Frank Kimbrough Quartet (Palmetto).

Kimbrough is a pianist with an original sense and good compositions. Here he fronts an excellent quartet with associates he has played with in various contexts for some time. The ease with which they dig into the material shows us this. There is the formidable Steve Wilson on alto and soprano, Jay Anderson on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, names which need no introduction if you follow the music.

Kimbrough and associates lead us through a lively set of ten numbers, mostly originals, that vary from a post-Jarrettian gospel-tinged number to some rousing swingers, all showing the skills of the various artists in an excellent light.

Steve comes through with soul and nuance; Frank sounds inspired and the rhythm team of Anderson and Nash prevail with a model set of performances.

It is very much music in the spirit of the present, straightforward but complex and firey enough to keep you listening, contemporary in the best sense of the word. Recommended!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Clare Fischer Big Band, Directed by Brent Fischer, Pacific Jazz

Composer-pianist Clare Fischer may no longer be with us; his music remains. His big band in the last years remained active, under the direction of his son Brent, and the sessions comprising Clare's arrangements, compositions, and keyboard playing, along with some of Brent's own compositions and arrangements, are now with us on the album Pacific Jazz (Clavo 201408).

It is a combination of straight-ahead modern big band jazz with quirky modern twists and turns, as one might expect from Clare. There are unusual arrangements of standards like "Cherokee," "Cotton Tail," "Eleanor Rigby" and such, plus originals by Clare. Then there are Brent's own pieces (3) and arrangements or co-arrangements with Clare.

The band is first-rate with Bob Sheppard and Gary Foster on hand along with a host of interlocking combinations of crack West Coasters. The band shows a full and bright sound throughout and that in part because of the quality of the arrangements as well as the discipline and talent of the musicians.

I found myself coming under the spell of the disk gradually. By now I feel at home listening. There is much to hear and some of it is exceptional. The rest is very good. There is enough different about the arrangements and pieces that you do not feel like you are hearing rehashed big band. There is, to pardon my turn of phrase, new hashing going on. Even Brent Fischer's funk rock "New Thing" gives life to something that can get pretty tired when formula holds sway.

After all that was always part of what made and makes Clare Fischer's music sound good, today as yesterday. He always found a way to make it new. And so here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Buddy Tate Quartet, Texas Tenor

Buddy Tate came into the Basie band in 1939; Lester Young left Basie in 1940. Thereafter the harder, bluesier Tate held sway. His Texas roots and swinging presence was well-received and he went on of course to continue to blow some great horn in various configurations until his passing in 2001.

Sackville records got the good idea of recording him with a top Canadian rhythm section in 1978. Now that Sackville's back catalog is in the hands of Delmark we get to experience that session once again, with a couple of bonus extra cuts for good measure.

Texas Tenor (Sackville 3027) is one of many Tate small group records he made over the years. But it remains one of the best. It is near-definitive later Tate, with a touch of bop now in his playing, but with that patented hard-driving rooted sound as strong as ever.

The backing players are there with him, driving the music to very swinging heights. Pete Magadini is nuanced but direct on drums, bassist Dave Young gets the foundations moving and pianist Wray Downes deftly combines bop, swing and blues feelings that complement Tate's effusions completely yet are worth hearing in themselves.

Buddy holds forth on tenor for seven tunes, and spells himself with his own hip clarinet for two more. Chestnut standards are pretty much the order of the day. Tate sees to it that they launch the music into Tate territory with a flourish. We hear him not just swinging hard, but also in his own ballad lushness, as in "Alone Together." That's great.

It's a joy to hear Buddy go at it here. And his bandmates make sure that the whole session swings hard. I for one am glad I have a copy of this now, as I missed it originally. It's a corker.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Outhead, Take This Sound to the King

Life may not be like a box of chocolates lately, to refer to Mr. Gump, because we seem to know what we are getting, for good or ill. But it still applies to music. I get CDs in the mail often enough where I have no idea what it's going to be. Outhead's album Take This Sound to the King (Chahatatadra Music) serves as a good example. What was it? Putting it on I found it was something very good. Very modern jazz with a compositional base and a definite outside edge.

The credits list Alex Weiss on alto and tenor, Charlie Gurke on baritone, Rob Woodcock on acoustic bass and Dilton Westbrook on drums. Weiss and Gurke provide most of the compositions, with one by Westbrook. There is a skronky electric guitarist on a cut or two who sounds good, but he (or she) is not listed.

The music is very forward, rockish at times, contemporary like Morphine just a hair, but no, not entirely. The two-horn parts are intricate and weave well with rhythm-section routines. The band has a good thing going with Weiss and his hip solo style, both fleet and smart, with a full tone that doesn't sound like others so much. Gurke has a good sound and presence on baritone, too.

And the ensemble as a unit has real clout. It's new and hip sounding, with pulse and dash, and a certain "this is our music" and like it or not directness that appeals.

It's quite good. Different enough that you don't feel like you are repeating yourself when you put it on. Better than a box of chocolates! No doubt.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nir Naaman, Independence

New and very good jazz players keep on coming up and that's good news for the fans. Take Nir Naaman, who I did not know from Adam. Until now. He has an album out, Independence (self-released), and it shows him in a very good light. George Cables, the piano legend, produced the album and plays piano on all but three tunes (Roy Assaf spells him for the others).

Other than a couple of standards the compositions are all by Naaman. They have grit and interest, all of them. Nir plays tenor, alto and soprano throughout. He is a player of poise and soul. You can hear his rootedness in hard bop, with a little of the edginess of Jackie Mac on alto, but also Trane and post-Trane, and something from his musical upbringing in his home in Israel. There are, in other words, Israeli melodic-tonal elements, even sometimes in the way he intonates certain notes in a mideastern scalular way. But more than that he has line-building facility and a sureness that goes with his original take on the modern way.

The sidemen are all up for it and come through well. Marcus Printup plays a hard-edged trumpet on three tracks; Dezron Douglas plays bass with authority; and the drum chair is shared with Gregory Hutchinson and Ulysses Owens Jr., both coming through well.

The Trane-meets-mideast mode especially sounds good to me. But it all testifies to Nir's genuine facility and musicianship. He already has a sound. I look forward to more. Well-done!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Linda Sharrock, Eric Zinman, Noah Rosen, Mario Rechtern, Acknowledgements

Linda Sharrock is back! Her double CD No is No has been getting good reviews from those disposed toward the outside music she embodies. I reviewed the album myself last December 8th here.

As a prelude or a postlude we also have her with piano and sax in another live recording from Paris on May 2013. It is a limited edition recording issued on JaZt Tapes (049). Acknowledgements, Not for Sale has some very volatile music, often the equal to her more expansive release, though more informal (she coughs for a second at the beginning, for example). Linda may not reach the screaming heights of No is No but she is very playful in mood and her cohorts play some inspiring free expressions that she brings out of them (and vice-versa).

Mario Rechtern smokes a heady fire on what sounds like a baritone. He is liquid and blazing, blowing his top as the beboppers used to say. The piano chair is occupied alternately by Eric Zinman and Noah Rosen, and they too are in a fine fettle.

It's stormy music of a very high order. It contains some fine fringe outsideness that those who revel in that will most definitely appreciate.

For more info and a link to get a copy go to

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cynthia Felton, Sings the Nancy Wilson Classics, Save Your Love for Me

There are singers in the jazz realm who create artistry with whatever they have. Then there are those who simply have it all--the vocal instrument in all of its beauty and finesse--and start from a place in some ways already there. The second kind of singer is Cynthia Felton. She has come out with a number of albums that show us how good she is. And now the same with the latest. In the new volume she sings songs made classic by Nancy Wilson, but puts her own instrument into it. That album is Save Your Love for Me (Felton Entertainment 0004).

I suppose it is fitting that this album was recorded in Capitol Studies, where if I am not mistaken Nancy did much of her tracking. The instrumentation is from small to middle-sized, with the emphasis on a jazz orientation. There are too many to name here, but they all do exactly what they need to do to set off Ms. Felton's fine voice.

The repertoire is both American Songbook gems and some others less typical but worthwhile. So "I Wish You Love" is on the agenda, but also Wes Montgomery's waltz-time "West Coast Blues," with lyrics by Sascha Burlan. Nancy did this one in 1963 but Cynthia nails it, too. Ms. Felton has the feel for the blues as much as she can do a sophisticated ballad. Like Nancy. But like Cynthia, really.

Cynthia has soul, a projection of her considerable vocal ravish with phrasings that are never less than impeccable. She adds and subtracts notes here and there with the sureness of the major jazz vocalist she is. And it always works.

I am hardly going out on a limb to say that she is an indispensable member of the vocal elite today. This album is yet another feather in her considerable cap. It's a great one to start with if you don't already know the voice. And it is a wonderful confirmation of her talent, something that hangs just right in its instrumental frame. Get this and you'll hear it!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Fail Better!, Zero Sum

For the new year we have first up some open-form free jazz from Portugal. The group is Fail Better! The album is Zero Sum (JACC Records 021). This an album that has so much about it that it takes several listens before you grasp it all.

The band is made up of Marcelo dos Reis on electric guitar, Joao Guimaraes on alto sax, Jose Miguel Pereira on double bass, Joao Pais Filipe on drums and Luis Vicente on trumpet. They create a potent, shifting blend with six pieces that run a sort of gamut of possibilities. "Bright Red," the opener, pivots around a fundamental key center for a sort of dirge. This segues to a plaintive unaccompanied solo sax soliloquy that gradually brings in percussion and bass and gives the trumpet some space, still all within a pedal-pointed center. It is sombre in cast, perhaps in keeping with the title "This is Our Gun." The alto rejoins the throng and then the guitar as momentum and intensity gradually increase. Dos Reis solos, then is joined by sax and trumpet for a three-way extemporization that has power. The music thins out a bit for guitar and horn statements that extend the key center. Dos Reis opens up the tonality for extra-tonal freedom and the horns join for the ensuing section which has interesting ebbs and flows of energy freedom and experimental landscaping.

With "Dysfunctional Wire" a gradual, free-arcing crescendo builds momentum, then dissolves into a brief respite before they are off again into an an energy foray underpinned by dos Reis worrying a rapid-fire series of notes as all blow off of that until they rather literally explode with force and fire, dos Reis wildly hitting quickly strummed distorted psychedelic chordings as Pereira manically bows harmonics and the rest surf atop in a heavy tumult. A held note of guitar feedback ends it and the last section gives us a coda of machine-like drum repetitions and quiet freedom. Dos Reis begins rocking over a repeated, building chordal barrage and everybody takes it into a sort of nirvana drone cataclysm.

This is a group effort, but dos Reis, Giumaraes and Vicente get a fair amount of front-line time which they use to good advantage. Each has grit and ideas a-plenty. The rhythm section makes an important contribution too, never flagging, articulate in their freedom. The continuous but sectional approach gives the entire performance a dynamic worthy of our ears. This sort of episodic structure reminds slightly of the Art Ensemble when they went free in the classic years. Yet there are distinctive personalities at work here so the similarities are more lineage than in-the-image. The gradual build throughout has the effect of taking the listener from a peaceful dirge to a manic insistence that rocks you off your seat.

It is a worthwhile foray that will leave you with a feeling of having been on a trip to nether regions of space. Bravo to that!