Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky (Sony Legacy, 2018)

Guitarist, singer, songwriter, Jimi Hendrix is a galvanizing presence in rock 'n' roll, even nearly fifty years after his death. Like many famous people who died all too young, he left mountains of half-finished studio recordings and reams of bootleg and legitimate live recordings that belie the short time he spent on this planet and the even shorter time he spent as a rock 'n' roll star, flashing across the sky like a short lived but brilliant comet. After his death on September 18, 1970, there was a frenzy of activity, and with no clear line of succession, posthumous releases flooded the marketplace, and with the advent of the compact disc plus the progression to downloading and streaming, the frenzy became a veritable tsunami. Posthumous releases were both unauthorized and legitimate, often confusing the consumer. Executor Al Hendrix eventually licensed recordings to Sony through the family-run company Experience Hendrix LLC, and an effort was made to clean up some of the most egregious indulgences which resulted in a recent trilogy of recordings: Valleys of Neptune, People, Hell and Angels, and Both Sides of the Sky. This most recent album compiles music from 1968 to 1970, mixing released and previously unreleased recordings. It catches Hendrix in flux, moving away from the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, into a funkier out fit that included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, called the Band of Gypsys, who would develop a deep funk workout here called "The Power of Soul" that became a linchpin of their resulting 1970 live album. He shows his blues roots on this album with very nicely done covers of the muddy Waters classic "Mannish Boy" which kicks off the album, and an emotional version of Guitar Slim's testimonial "The Things That I Used to Do." These two tracks along with an epic deconstruction of the blues classic "Hear My Train A-Comin'" which consists of a complete take rather than the composite track that was Frankensteined together on the 1994 album Jimi Hendrix: Blues. These particular tracks really inspire the musicians and ground the music deep in the fertile soil of the blues which create an excellent foundation for what it to come. Other tracks like a blistering "Lover Man" which represents the summation of Hendrix's attempts to mold the song (a live staple) into a studio version he was satisfied with. Steven Stills was a frequent jamming partner of Hendrix's after they met at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. They had each become enthused about the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock" and in late September of 1969 they worked on the song until Stills moved to organ and vocals when the performance quickly took shape. They stayed in this configuration while cutting another Stills led piece, "$20 Fine." There are some interesting curios, like the duet performance between Hendrix (even incorporating some electric sitar!) and Mitchell that resulted in the atmospheric instrumental "Cherokee Mist" Overall this album works quite well, there are informative liner notes and some excellent photographs which round out a well designed set that will be a boon to Hendrix obsessives and classic rock fans in general. Both Sides Of The Sky -

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The Yardbirds - Yardbirds '68 (Jimmy Page Music, 2017)

The legendary rock 'n' roll band The Yardbirds were on their last legs in early 1968 when these recordings took place. Jimmy Page, last in a long line of heroic guitarists in the group's employ had taken command of the music and it began to move away from the blues/pop foundation the group had been working on since their formation in 1963. Page wanted to move the band into a more confrontational heavy riff based music that he would eventually perfect with his next band, Led Zeppelin. (see also the Goldmine article about the Yardbirds to Zeppelin transition) Regardless, this is a very interesting collection, consisting of one disc of live material recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York City and a second disc entitled Studio Sketches, consisting of demo material recorded during this period. In addition to Page on guitar, the band consisted of Keith Relf on vocals, harmonica, percussion, Chris Dreja on bass guitar on backing vocals and Jim McCarty on drums, percussion and vocals. This music had been released very briefly on LP before being pulled, making this version curated under the auspices of Page himself with input from the other surviving band members the first official re-mixed, re-mastered release of the music. They may have been fraying at the edges, but the group remained a powerful live act, as seen by strong performances of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" which motors along relentlessly with raw drumming and soaring harmonica. A couple of their earlier singles follow, "Mr, You're a Better Man Than I" and "Heart Full of Soul" which develop dynamically within the traditional framework the band had built over the years. The first surprise comes in the form of an embryonic version of "Dazed and Confused" soon to become an exercise on self-indulgence as Page wowed arena sized crowds with his guitar bowing technique and performances would stretch out over fifteen minutes. They are still feeling their way through these songs, but you can sense Page chafing against the familiar patterns of the band. This all comes together on the concluding track, a ten minute blowout of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” including a few sub themes to boot. Everybody digs into this performance with a tough chugging groove with slashing guitar and taut bass and drums. They also rip through a few more of their popular singles, taking a fast packed and action packed approach to fan favorites “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things.” The following disc of demos is short, but contains some treasures, such as the two versions of acoustic experiments like “Spanish Blood” and "Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)" another track that would find another life gets shortly. Overall, this is a valuable historical collection showing that the band was functioning at a high level and experimenting right up to the end. Yardbirds '68 -

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk, 2018)

This is an excellent album of modern jazz from the quartet of Matthew Shipp on piano, Mat Walerian on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The group will re-configure itself throughout the album, opening up interesting sections for solos, duos and trios within the full band framework. The album begins quietly with "First Step" as Shipp provides deep blue chords in open space for the saxophone to weave around amidst gentle bowed bass and cymbal play. The spare and beautiful piano that opens "Blues Addition" has a sense of melodic grace, as notes and chords ring and resonant in the air. After two minutes, the bass and bass clarinet are featured, keeping the meditative nature of the music intact, as piano and drums are absent, while "The Station" has long tones and quick swirls of clarinet unaccompanied in space, layering interesting textures in a solo statement, that is a great feature for Walerian's playing. The full band comes together at a faster pace on "Lines of Energy" which has a skittish and nervous flow to it. Their collective improvisation is rapidly streaming and exciting to hear, with raw saxophone weaving in between the taut rhythm and with pungent piano. Shipp's deep and strong piano playing is center stage for "Easy Flow" gaining volume and resonance as the music evolves through percussive jabs and lightning fast filigrees, creating a great solo piano performance. Tight bass playing lays the foundation for "The Problem of Jazz" which quickly adds short cells of slashing drums and saxophone, creating a very compelling narrative that is based on propulsive bass playing and bursts of free jazz noise. After the ringing introduction of "The Note," the piano, bass and drums unit takes command with a forceful "3 by 4." The music is fast paced and alert, careening forward in a compelling fashion, with Shipp's muscular piano colliding with the active bass and drums building deeply coherent energy where the three musicians play steep and fast, energetic, before the saxophonist joins them about halfway through and takes things to a thrilling new level with an explosive collective improvisation. "Cell in the Brain" returns to a more open ended feel with clarinet and subtle percussion carving a channel through the air with interjections from piano, plumbing the low end of the piano for a deeper atmosphere. The longest track on the album is the concluding "Sonic Fiction" which brings together all of the aspects of the prior performances into one long summation. The quartet plays thoughtfully, carving space within which to improvise, at times dense and passionate, while also blooming into open space, with the saxophone and piano leading the way, adding some excellent adding further depth and variety to the music, even dropping into some deeply swinging freebop sections as the piece develops. Sonic Fiction -

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records, 2018)

Pianist Orrin Evans was an inspired choice (and if the Downbeat interview is accurate, the only choice) to replace founding member Ethan Iverson in The Bad Plus. Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King remain as the bedrock of the group, and the trio continues as before, creating witty compositions and pairing them with pithy improvisations. Leading off with the haunting and melodic “Hurricane Birds” which leads the group into the album, one that has a sense of melancholy that reflects the age. This sensibility is bookended by two bonus tracks that end the album, "Kerosene" and "Seems" which take on a floating fluidity that moves gracefully through their improvisations with a group nature that eschews soloing for an overall band sound. "Trace" kicks the pace up a notch with crisp drumming and thick sounding bass providing a firm foundation for Evans's piano to glide over. The music is not overtly loud, but it is played with a sense of urgency that keeps the tune moving along briskly. Their collective improvisation is very solid, and the trio works well as a group, interacting and sharing opportunities to support one another, and building to an exciting and satisfying conclusion that keeps the melody at the forefront. There is a sample of the bouncy wit that this group has been long known for on "Safe Passages" with Evans providing percussive piano chords over churning bass and drums that drive the music rhythmically forward. The music moves at a fast and interesting pace, with a high level of listening and empathy between the musicians resulting in a consistently interesting performance and album highlight. "Commitment" is one of the more dynamic pieces of music on the album, starting with a sense of velocity as all three members lean into a crashing, rhythmically dense configuration, with some excellent drumming taking the lead, and then everyone diving deep into a headlong improvised section. Rippling piano notes and deep muscular bass further develop the track, until there is an abrupt shift in tempo to a ballad configuration, with much open space and light touches on the instruments. This is a jarring change, but works to keep the listener off guard and apprehensive about what is to come. They return to the fast pace on the tumbling "Lean in the Archway" anchored by some stellar bass playing and thoughtfully challenging piano playing. The music develops a madcap cinematic feel, like the postmodern equivalent to instrumental accompaniment of silent films. The choppy rhythmic nature and ever changing consistency of the music keep it interesting and exciting. This was another fine entry in the discography of The Bad Plus. Evans is a superb instrumentalist and composer and deserves the wider attention he will find in this band, and he fits in seamlessly with King and Anderson and their musical conception. Never Stop II -

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (Tri-Centric / New Braxton House, 2018)

Multi instrumentalist Anthony Braxton performing here on alto and soprano saxophone, flute, contrabass clarinet and piano put together a great band including Ari Brown on tenor and soprano saxophone, Paul Smoker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Mengelberg on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan akLaff (most tracks) or Han Bennink on drums to interpret the music of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1993. Although he is most widely known as a composer, teacher and ardent experimentalist, Braxton's roots lie in classic jazz (he is also an avowed admirer of the late alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) and has explored the music of Parker, Andrew Hill and others live and on record for many years. This monumental collection is the expansion of a two disc HatHut Records release and really shows how the band grew while playing this music over time. Some of the pieces are repeated in multiple versions such as the Parker composition "Klactoveedsedstene" which demonstrates how the band is able to take the source material and interpret it in many different ways, and that may be the key to understanding this set, as the band explores the freedom of bebop as an artform and the potential it offers for improvisers to this day. With Braxton's array of instruments and a unique approach to the repertoire the music is never the same way twice and he has a perfect foil on the person of Ari Brown, who has a more traditional approach to the saxophone allowing for the formation of interesting and intricate textures within the context of their improvisations. The iconoclastic Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg is an inspired choice for the group, his deep knowledge of the history of jazz and willingness to subvert it are the perfect qualities for this band. The strong brass playing of Smoker and the rhythm section of akLaff and Fonda offer another dimension to explore the music as the rhythms and pulses of the music push and pull as the past meets the present. They play excellent versions of Parker compositions like "Parker's Mood," "Koko" and "Scrapple from the Apple" while also exploring period pieces like Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia" and Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" and the music ranges from pithy and short treatments of the melodies and themes to lengthy explorations on tracks like a nineteen minute version of "An Oscar for Treadwell." But there is little flab on any of these recordings, and the pithy nature of the performances and the familiarity of many of the tunes go a long way toward increasing the accessibility and approachability of the music as a whole. An eleven disc set is a whopper to absorb, but the quality of the music remains excellent throughout and this is a band that deserves attention as one of Braxton's finest, so the idea of expanding to this length is valid. The quality of the music is excellent throughout and the playing is inspired with superb ensemble passages on the well known themes and a wide range of stellar soloing from each member of the group. Sextet (Parker) 1993 -

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Azar Lawrence - Elementals (High Note, 2018)

Although he may be most well known as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (see Phil Freeman's podcast with Lawrence and excellent series about the 1970's LP's by Tyner for more information) and Elvin Jones, saxophonist Azar Lawrence has released several albums as a bandleader, first in a funky fusion mode in the mid-seventies, and most recently with a strong series of modern mainstream jazz albums. This is a fine LP that continues that trend with Lawrence playing tenor and soprano saxophone in the company of Benito Gonzalez on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. "La Bossa" is a strong and swinging opener with the bassist and percussionist providing a deep rhythmic foundation and Lawrence playing in a bittersweet fashion, with the piano grooving at a solid medium tempo. The group cooks together quite nicely, never forcing the pace with Lawrence soloing in a sleek and shiny fashion before stepping aside and letting the rhythm section say their piece which they do in grand style before the leader returns on soprano saxophone the lead the group to the finale. He stays on soprano for "Eye of the Needle" developing an appealing tone as the group takes a stronger stance, developing a faster and more strident pace, leading to an excellent section of collective improvisation, with the group developing a full rich sound, building to an exciting climax of powerful percussion and saxophone held fast by piano and bass. The title track "Elementals" is one of the most powerful on the album with strong piano comping and tenor saxophone over brisk rhythm accompaniment. There is a fast paced and muscular interlude for the band without saxophone, then the leader returns with a raw and deeply rooted solo statement of his own, taking the music into a personal and unique space. "African Chant" opens with a yearning unaccompanied tenor saxophone statement before the music jumps into a fast full band mode, adding some scatting vocals to further deepen the rhythmic sensibility of the sound. They develop a potent collective improvisation that swings very well, while allowing the band members to express themselves fully within the music. There is a fine piano solo, set up by undulating drums, percussion and bass, before the full band comes together for a fast conclusion. This upbeat nature continues on the fast paced "Sing to the World" where Lawrence develops a strong melody on soprano saxophone as the remainder of the band churns beneath him. He uses this theme as the basis for a strong solo, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape like a bird in flight. The group is really in their element with this brawny improvisation that is rooted in tradition, yet soaring to break free. This was a very good album, and continues a strong renaissance for Azar Lawrence, who has been making a habit of releasing one strong modern jazz LP a year for the past ten years with no sign of letting up. Elementals -

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Jon Lundbom Quartet - Live at Monks (MonksLive, 2018)

After a run of several superb albums with his group Big Five Chord, guitarist and composer Jon Lundbom takes a different approach in a quartet format, playing a series of live dates in the company of Russell Haight on tenor saxophone, Sam Pankey on bass, and Jeff Olson on drums. The music they create is as fresh as ever, turning in stellar ensemble passages and white hot solos that would be sure to attract any progressive jazz or rock fan who might have the good fortune to hear this music. The music that the group plays is partly new compositions, warhorses from the Big Five Chord days and a few jazz classics thrown in for good measure. The band is more then up to the task of this wide range of material, embracing the challenging music head-on and pushing forward into the deep until a truly personal statement is made. Lundbom has recently relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas music scene and is sure to gain a swift following once his thoroughly modern jazz is unleashed upon the denizens of the city's music clubs and festivals, Keep Austin Weird, indeed. The venue Monk's is a DIY project providing pop up concerts and guerrilla art statements that are needed more then ever in these dark times. The music develops in a grand fashion, pulling in diverse aspects of modern jazz and progressive jazz as evidenced on the opener "So Sue Me" which was originally composed by John Scofield with aspects of groove that he is known for, but the music is subtly changed by this band. They incorporate a powerful and immediate guitar sound from Lundbom, before the hands the baton to Haight who plants his feet and really digs into a gritty and potent statement. Lundbom developed the original composition "Cereal" in collaboration with Bryan Murray (a.k.a. Balto Exclamationpoint) which takes the music in a much different direction. It is a deeply atmospheric performance, developing a unique soundscape, with an open endlessness that accentuates the slight echo and reverberation is provided by the venue. Originally recorded on Lundbom's previous live album, the very successful Liverevil album from 1993, "These Changes" opens with some subtle funky grooves from the rhythm section before Lundbom enters and pushes the intensity forward and locking in with the drummer to make sure the sparks are flying. They dip back into the Big Five Chord book for the composition "Trick Dog," which begins with a length solo guitar opening, presenting a statement of mission for the group to follow and they respond enthusiastically, inserting changes in time and allowing for excellent solo spots for tenor saxophone and bass. The Ornette Coleman composition "W.R.U." is an unexpected delight, where Height takes the reigns on a fast and fluid tenor saxophone feature, and Olson provides some thunderous rhythmic responses. The group breaks, and then opens their concluding set with the Joe Lovano composition, "Blackwell’s Message," dedicated to the great drummer. Olson has just the right approach for this, adding percussive accents that leads the group into their approximation of Latin jazz, "People Be Talking," which develops a slinky groove before Lundbom breaks out with a scalding guitar solo, keeping everyone on their toes. They hit another Ornette Coleman composition, "Law Years" which features some excellent bass playing from Parley before a meaty tenor saxophone solo returns us to the Earth. Clearly moving from strength to strength, this is another excellent album from Jon Lundbom, marking him as one of the most creative guitarists and bandleaders on the modern jazz scene. Hopefully there will be regular installments from this group as they continue to expand and grow. Live at Monks - MonksLive bandcamp

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - After the Fall (ECM, 2018)

When pianist Keith Jarrett traveled to Newark, New Jersey in November 1998, it was an auspicious occasion, marking his return to live performance after a two-year battle with debilitating chronic fatigue disorder. He joined by his longtime partners in the so-called Standards Trio, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They had been a group for fifteen years at this point, and had amassed a wide ranging book of popular songs and jazz standards which they delved into on this recording, beginning with a nearly sixteen minute version of "The Masquerade Is Over" which answers any questions of Jarrett's health with a powerful performance, combining texture, dynamics and the trust this band has built up over the years to rip though a lengthy high wire improvisation without missing a step. Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" is a joy to hear, as the revels in some storming bebop, making this a highlight of the recording, and creating a blasting trio improvisation which incorporates strong bass and drum solos. "Old Folks" is a ballad that features beautiful brush work from DeJohnette, creating a subtle and dreamy feel, and he is equally at home supporting a sublime bass solo. The melody of "Autumn Leaves" gets the crowd excited  and the band responds with a fast paced collective improvisation spinning their own textiles from the threads of the familiar song. This is rapidly swinging improvisation that only a profoundly talented group can achieve, akin to driving a luxury car as they cruise through a lengthy performance. Peacock's throbbing bass is the heart of the performance, the point of gravity around which the trio moves through space. But they really hit their stride with another bebop flag waver, Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" and they swing effortlessly at high speed from the melody as the piano sprinkles drops of gentle notes like a summer shower, leading the band to rip through the song at high speed slaloming through the tricky bebop in a very exciting manner. Jarrett fades back allowing a classy bass solo over a quiet but insistent cymbal beat before coming back to lead the group to a massively swinging conclusion. The Sonny Rollins composition "Doxy" has a jumping theme that the group embraces, with loping bass and bright piano and a foundation of crisp drumming. They drop into a medium tempo and swoop grandly throughout the performance. "I’ll See You Again" begins as a ballad with a bass feature backed with brushes, but the piece evolves into a mid-tempo performance with thick bass balancing the rippling piano and swaying drums. "Late Lament," however is a proper ballad, played with open space and symmetry, while "One for Majid" has a bright and bouncy medium percolation but can be a little grating on the ears as Jarrett's infamous vocalization becomes quite audible. A late highlight to the set is a performance of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" as the band creates an exciting and fast paced joyride with strong rhythm and keyboard driving the music forward with the drums swinging mightily as DeJohnette puts his indelible stamp on the proceedings. This album is another fine entry into the catalog of the Standards Trio, and Jarrett's discography as a whole. He was clearly inspired after regaining his health and this sense of inspiration led to a memorable concert. After The Fall -

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