Following the deaths of founding members Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors, the future of the Art Ensemble may be open to question. But there’s certainly no question that SIRIUS CALLING is a strong release from a venerable band. Recorded before Favors’ death in January 2004, this album features shorter tracks than the Ensemble is typically noted for, and in so doing, may be a good entry point for new listeners. Instrumentally, it’s just as eclectic as ever, with a variety of percussion instruments, flutes, recorders, bells, whistles, and what-not. It all sounds about as comfortable and effortless as free jazz can get, with all four players contributing in equal measure.
Under a grant from the Odwalla juice company, the venerable Art Ensemble of Chicago was recently given an all-expense-paid trip to Jamaica and over two months of studio time to record this, their first studio album in six years. Odwalla’s generosity is our gain: COMING HOME JAMAICA is one of the finest jazz albums of the year and possibly of the Art Ensemble’s entire 30+ year career. Their motto, “great black music: ancient to the future,” continues to provide inspiration in this recording, which features elements of everything from blues, ragtime, and swing to African and Caribbean rhythms. The album’s tracks are more tightly structured than many previous Ensemble recordings, but the players’ outstanding solos and inventive use of percussion keep things interesting throughout.
Recorded live at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in May of 1998, BASSER LIVE is Tatsu Aoki’s seventh album of solo bass improvisations. And by the sounds on this album, there’s still plenty of exploration going on within those narrow confines. Of the eight long tracks here, two are augmented by Asian percussion (“Wed Lock” and “Fisherman’s Song”), and one is an arrangement of a Japanese pop song (“Sukiyaki”). Complex rhythms and funkiness abound. Though some of the tracks may go on a bit too long, Aoki is obviously having a good time, and you will too.
Doo wah Sun Ra… What an interesting time capsule on the
outstanding (and appropriate) Unheard Music Series from the
Atavistic folks. Hermetically-sealed Herman Blount sounding
very earthbound, anchored to a trash can on the corner, but
still with eyes searching for Saturn in the sky…and ears
angling for angles in the stars. He punches his Chicago
ticket twice at the end of the Nu Sounds section. There’s
a sweetness to the jingle-like melodies, and more than a
few jewels to the roughness here. Honestly, “Ra Coaching
Roland Williams” may be my favorite. Or the Lintels
picking up “Blue Moon” from scratch or the little racing
dips in “Louise” (a favorite of my departed mother-in-law
who is undoubtedly somewhere in the galaxy begging Sun to
do another rendition of that number.) A lot of older folks
will get jukebox shivers hearing these tunes. Liner notes
are a must. Zoom zoom zoom…
You shoulda heard just a what they saw…or sawed. When I
first heard this I thought either they had some electric
whammy guitar or distant voice on the first track. I just
rejected the idea that saw would be used in the free jazz
context. You hear it on the opening of #5, and it sounds
like Niels Harrit’s saw is almost not there, it comes off
as more than tape hiss but less than a fierce wind catching
the mic. Franz Beckerlee’s sax seems to charge the most
with it…buzzing into a held not alongside it, but then
scorching away. When Hugh Steinmetz jumps in on his trumpet
the saw is almost vanquished by the dual horn thorniness…
but instead it never gives up, never backs down and it helps
to keep the sax and trumpet from just spiraling away with
the entire performance. Ultimately the saw blossoms again
usually while Bo Andersen whips the drums and cymbals along
or for one of two sturdy bass solos by Steffen Andersen. For
all of its limited range, Harrit’s saw is repeatedly spell-
binding and a big reason this quintet still sounds so damn
Camille Howard seems to have been one of those musicians that could have much more well known except for the fact that she was Black, and American culture at the time would not let her succeed to the level of her skills. From this recording you will hear OUTSTANDING Blues, Jazz, and some AMAZING Boogie-Woogie piano, great singing, and fine arrangements of original songs from the late 40’s to the early 50’s.
There is a detailed bio in the liner notes.
This is a live recording of Saturn native Sun Ra in Italy one January evening in 1978. He is playing with Michael Ray (trumpet), John Gilmore (tenor sax), and Luqman Ali (drums). Originally issued on Sun Ra’s Saturn label, this is a limited re-release by the UK Art Yard label.
The album opens with A1: Saturn Research, in which Sun Ra has his electric organ set on ‘stun? as he takes the audience through highly abstract patterns and cosmic greetings.
There are two long tracks that must be heard: A2 Constellation starts with the rhythm machine channeling Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen as a trumpet, sax, and then organ rip through it. B1: Media Dreams goes from the sublime to the bizarre.
The last two tracks B2 and B3 sound downright conventional after listening to the tracks that come before it. Sun Ra is on an acoustic piano for these songs.
Thanks to Art Yard for reissuing this rare album that gives a glimpse of Sun Ra playing as part of a quartet. The mystery of why the Huygens probe photographed a mini-moog on Titan has been solved.
Spearman lays down the heat in 3 sextet pieces, plays in an intimate raga vocal duet and leads the play on several blues, ballad structures. (1,8,3,6) Sextet pieces rule the release, JR Routhier’s solid body/dirty pickup gtr cookslike a blues master jammin’. GS,Marco Eneidi, and Raphe Malik create big band free form over JRR, Lisle Ellis on double bass keeps things tight and Donald Robinson on drums.Paul Plimley’s piano work on the quartet pieces are also first rate stuff(2,7). The raga with Pakistani vocal masters reminds of L’infonie.
3w: Badder Than SpyJazz
STRONG evidence for status as present day tenor sax #1! William Parker and Rashied Ali give Gayle a moving target rhythm that allows him to soar into jet stream polyphonics or settle into modern interpretations of Trane voicings without losing momentum in the trio’s center of sonic gravity. Gayle controls notes unintended for the tenor sax with agile mastery and power where others sound as though sphincter blowout were imminent.
3w: Power Jazz Mastery
With the left hand of Muhal Richard Abrams and the right hand stride of Jaki Byard, Futterman permeates Kidd Jordan’s Maurice McIntyre-like sound on tenor sax creating a Cecil Taylor/Jimmy Lyons dynamic with New Orleans spice taking the place of euro-classical overtones. Forceful searching runs of ts +pn swirling and winding in hyperballad style climaxing with screaming reed over Tayloresque arpeggio rampage. Compositions embrace complexity as another incarnation of the New Orleans riff style of pre-WWII Dixie jazz and cook up some distinctly Southern style avant garde on tenor sax, piano and drums.
3w: N’Orleans Avant Garde
Conversational, sociable, ‘happy ending? jazz where all turns out as expected and all the dinner guests behave. What saves this from Blue Note boredom is the uniquely North African (Sudan) influence on the song structures. Andrew Cyrille on drums and Calo Scott on cello give a lively, upbeat accent to the Arabic and calypso tunes. Abdul-Malik also plays oud to further accent the international flavor of the album.
3w: happy ending jazz
Pn-dr Adventurous, articulate, precise and lyrical expression. Thollem is a native Bay Area composer/pianist virtuoso with shades of Bill Evans, Glenn Gould and Mose Allison. Pieces range from playful/bouncy to elegant/forceful, beautiful waltz to meditative fantasia. Unique is not adequate to describe the rich, priceless tones and clusters Thollem commands from all 88 with perceptive, percussive accents from Rivera. This isn’t
piano bar music and Thollem doesn’t want the chump change from your bar tab. Rather, he wants to induce contemplation of our world with sounds conveying urgency and incisiveness like political essays transcribed to music. The sounds can set your heart racing or cool you out.
3w: CLASSICAL JAZZ GENIUS
Free sextet of Fuchs-bcl+ss, Djill-tr, Perkis-elec, Robair-perc, Shiurba-gtr and MATTHEW SPERRY (1968-2003)-bs honor Sperry’s life with 6 remarkable soundpieces. (1,2) are sound factory tours that begin at floor level and build up to a collective form at a time-enhanced perspective. (3) takes a more symphonic path in coagulating the sounds while (4,5) are of a free jazz form and texture. (6) returns to free-form soundstorm with wind chatter interludes. The soundpieces stand on their own but knowing this is the document with which Sperry’s friends honor him gives it a very special place in free music.
3w: Sperry’s Spirit Resurrected
Acoustic guitar and trumpet post-jazz possibilities are explored by two young jazz improvisers of west and east coasts respectively. Baggetta’s style is of Spanish influence with a Derek Bailey sound of chimes and tweaks, giving Tiner’s chamber trumpet sound a percussive fabric to play into. Space is the canvas, timing is relative. The full timbre and resonance of tones suspend in time, then evaporate into the surrounding wake of sound. Evening is the mood and all is calm as these young lions of free music eloquently pursue the masters’ path.
3w: Acoustic Magical Post-Jazz
A collection of various projects undertaken over the decade by the phenomenal Emily Hay, experimental vocalist-flutist from SoCal. Pieces range from surging winds and street smart rhythms in experiment (1,5,7,11) to free vocals with percussion and/or electronics (6,8,9,10) to song structures of Dadamah-like magic (3,12) to post-classical virtuoso conversations (2,3). The lyrical phrasing and instrumentation keep the experimentation in the musical dimension. Hay’s vocals are about hearing what the voice can do as an instrument. Infusion of unrestrained vocal energy into the trio/quartet creations thru evocative utterances over and in between flute expressions bring you intimately into her soundspace, moving beyond words to true emotive convergence between artist and listener as the sounds are shared.
3w: Emotive Evocative Expression
Free music exploration of the organic guitar sound with smart electronics in support. Enters the same sonic space as Wired but less orchestral. Cavernous, echoes with deep resonance and some eastern psych meditations (less tribal than Tohosara and less wall of sound than Tsurubami- last two tracks excepted). Flowing sonic energy that reaches climax in an AMM style with 2 gtr-pn/synth-elec-bs-dr. Guitar tones cast the sonic beams by which the unit is led, the path is true and free.
Dense tapestry of orchestral sounds that displays wondrous collective cohesion in a multi-directional, multi-dimensional work. Improvised symphonic group exploration led by the master vision of Morris. Cacophony never results from the mass layering of sounds that rise from each wave. 12 musicians that sound like a full orchestra with musicianship that rivals any classical artists. Each movement flows into the next seamlessly, making the sonic voyage an inspiring flight over what would seem an exhausting path of musical destinations. Recorded live in Berlin 1987, this work is an undeniable masterpiece.
3w: STRAVINSKY WOULD DIG
Tsahar’s Hopscotch label as been delivering pure beauty as of
late, whether en masse with Underground Orchestras or in more
subtle style as with these above-the-clouds duets. While I
remain a charismatic agnostic, it is still hard not to hear
the harp as a heavenly harkening. And there’s something about
the thumb piano, that seems to summon up otherworldly vibes
as well. This release even pipes in a shofar, a ram’s horn
for ancient atonement. But this album doesn’t strictly serve
up its spoils past mortal coils, there’s rootsier-than-the-
holes-in-a-bluesman’s-shoes “diddley-bow” on “Deviations”
and the CD closer as well. It’s a one-string, rubber-band
thing that rumbles and stretches. Or if you want neither
angels nor men, how about computer? While not credited, #8
has Assif spiraling tenor scurries into what sounds like
a bubbling cauldron of circuitry (but possibly a homemade
concoction of Cooper-Moore?’) For as much competing bliss
and brimstone as is found here, this album hangs together
supremely. At once refreshingly relaxing, and gloriously
gnashing. The melody at the end feels like coming home,
the rest of the joys are definitely otherworldly.
A circular breathing round tripper, this sextet aurally pleasures you for 73m and it’s FREE ! Supergroup of two free jazz pioneers’ trios who got together in Quebec in May 2003. 2 saxes, piano-Schlippenbach, bass-William Parker and 2 drums-Hamid Drake and Paul Lytton. Schlippenbach provides the center of gravity but his chords never tie down the soloists moves. E Parker and Brotzmann set their horns on fire with relentless wailing that sometimes never stops to breathe. Dual master blowouts are a RARE event especially when backed by rhythmic GIANTS such as these.
3w: FREE YOUR ASSSSS (mind will follow)
HARD BOP with freeish developments, Grachan Moncur (New Africa Suite w/ Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Burrell, Alan Silva and Andrew Cyrille) is my best point of reference. Swell’s compositional style is edgier than Moncur and his trombone work is more modern with a slip and slide delivery. No chatter, some reed screed and blowout ‘bone, but we are slammin the infinite here not regressing to the average. Mateen(tenor sax, alto sax ,clarinet) gives a spirited performance while Heyner-bass and Kugel-drums seriously sustain the energy delivered by the leadmen.
3w: Limitless FREE BOP
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