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Wadada Leo Smith: Kabell Years: 1971-1979

Affixing the AACM label to any musician is a somewhat dicey proposition, but particularly in the case of Wadada Leo Smith. Like Lester Bowie, the trumpeter had paid considerable dues in the territories before propitiously arriving in Chicago as the venerable collective was coalescing. Despite the trumpeter’s contributions to the Association’s seminal recordings of the … Read More “Wadada Leo Smith: Kabell Years: 1971-1979”

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Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now: Here and How!

Talk about overdue: For 40 years, Cameron Brown has worked with a ridiculously long list of heavyweights, but he has only now released an album under his own name. In an age of recorded-music saturation, that’s astounding. Very much to his credit, the bassist has created an ensemble, the Hear and Now, whose sound doesn’t … Read More “Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now: Here and How!”

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Miles Davis: Birdland 1951

Comprised of material from three dates and featuring two contrasting groups, Birdland 1951 finds Miles Davis in particularly good form. The trumpeter was on the rebound from personal and professional setbacks, so musically he returned to basics: bebop. Consistently prodded by Art Blakey, the only other player who appears on all 10 tracks, Davis’ playing … Read More “Miles Davis: Birdland 1951”

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Alexander von Schlippenbach: Global Unity

While he’s not all that well known in the U.S., Alexander von Schlippenbach is one of Europe’s favorite avant-garde musicians. The German pianist mixes free and contemporary classical elements to form an energetic hybrid of American and European music-which befits the man who formed the Globe Unity Orchestra. Bill Shoemaker fills us in.

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Fred Hersch Trio: Trio Plus Two

There is life after the major labels, liberation even. Perhaps no one has benefited more from severance from a blue-chip imprint in recent years than Fred Hersch. Despite the wide acclaim of albums like Passion Flower, Hersch’s tenure with Nonesuch ended after Songs Without Words; whether the ambitious, arguably ill-timed (market-wise) three-CD set sealed his … Read More “Fred Hersch Trio: Trio Plus Two”

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Jimmy Lyons: The Box Set

Jimmy Lyons is one of the most intriguing musicians to emerge in the 1960s, as the alto saxophonist provided one of the strongest links between bebop and the New Thing. Unlike many of the movement’s provincially raised exponents, Lyons spent his formative years in New York, where he was able to jam with the likes … Read More “Jimmy Lyons: The Box Set”

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Uri Caine: Bedrock

Lacking the stunning conceptual audacity of watershed recordings like Urlicht/Primal Light and The Goldberg Variations, Uri Caine’s Bedrock, Solitaire and Rio are relatively casual albums. But their simultaneous release implies they are companion discs to be heard in the aggregate. With each focusing on a genre or context, they can be likened to layers of … Read More “Uri Caine: Bedrock”

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Herbie Hancock/Michael Brecker/Roy Hargrove: Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall

Few album titles are as draped in jazz history as Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall. “Directions In Music” was a phrase stamped on truly epochal Miles Davis albums like In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Toronto’s Massey Hall was the site of what is generally regarded as the greatest jazz concert ever, … Read More “Herbie Hancock/Michael Brecker/Roy Hargrove: Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall”

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Bill Barron: Compilation

Bill Barron was an important, largely overlooked transitional figure of the late ’50s and early ’60s, a tenor saxophonist and composer who consolidated advanced jazz-harmonic logic with an eye on the emergent “new thing.” He made his recording debut on Cecil Taylor’s ’59 Love for Sale, sharing the front line with trumpeter Ted Curson, with … Read More “Bill Barron: Compilation”

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John Butcher/Derek Bailey/Rhodri Davies: Vortices and Angels

As producer Martin Davidson points out in his notes to Vortices and Angels, guitarist Derek Bailey (born 1930), saxophonist John Butcher (1954) and harpist Rhodri Davies (1971) represent three generations of improvisers on the London scene. Accordingly, Butcher’s duets with Bailey and Davies on the Emanem disc trace an arc from the assertively nonidiomatic approach … Read More “John Butcher/Derek Bailey/Rhodri Davies: Vortices and Angels”

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Company: Company in Marseille

Company in Marseille features the same U.K. contingent guitarist Derek Bailey assembled last April in New York: harpist Rhodri Davies, cellist Mark Wastell, bassist Simon H. Fell and tap dancer Will Gaines. Comprised mainly of duos and trios (there are two lengthy quintet tracks; but even they contain substantial passages where one or more musicians … Read More “Company: Company in Marseille”

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Andrew Cyrille/Mark Dresser/Marty Ehrlich: C/D/E

Saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Andrew Cyrille first joined forces for a New York festival date in 1996. They’d intended to perform with Bobby Bradford, but when it proved impossible to fly the trumpeter in from Los Angeles, they performed as a trio. People who were there talked about the set for … Read More “Andrew Cyrille/Mark Dresser/Marty Ehrlich: C/D/E”

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The Contemporary Jazz Quartet: Action Action: The Original Debut Recordings 1964 & 1967

John Tchicai was not the only Dane pursuing the “New Thing” in the early ’60s. Trumpeter Hugh Steinmetz, alto saxophonist Franz Beckerlee and bassist Steffen Andersen were on the case in 1960, emulating Ornette Coleman’s shape of jazz to come. As the core of the Contemporary Jazz Quartet, they began covering Ornette’s early compositions, adding … Read More “The Contemporary Jazz Quartet: Action Action: The Original Debut Recordings 1964 & 1967”

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Tom Harrell: Paradise

Though there have been several vital strains of music since the ’50s that have been lumped together under the rubric chamber jazz, the term is currently applied mainly to drummerless ensembles that, like the prototypical Jimmy Giuffre 3 of the early ’60s, have an ardent envelope-pushing agenda. Fewer artists have pursued the less stridently avantish … Read More “Tom Harrell: Paradise”

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Cindy Blackman: Someday

You know when players are stepping up as leaders when they use the tradition as a means, not the end-all. Cindy Blackman does just that on Someday…, a program that liberally taps the Miles Davis book, but with a couple of pungent twists. The first is that the drummer-composer doesn’t employ a trumpeter, giving the … Read More “Cindy Blackman: Someday”

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Bill Frisell: Blues Dream

Blues Dream is another winsome album by Bill Frisell. On this Walker Arts Center-commissioned program, the composer-guitarist amalgamates elements and players from past projects to reiterate his bucolic synthesis of American root musics. The two-guitar, three-horn septet gives Frisell great flexibility in his trademark evocations of regional and ethnic dialects. Soloists like trumpeter Ron Miles … Read More “Bill Frisell: Blues Dream”

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Talking Pictures/Jorrit Dijkstra: Humming

Talking Pictures is the premier small ensemble of the vibrant Vancouver creative music scene. As documented on two strong albums on the much missed Red Toucan label, this co-op quartet is equally cogent mewling with bucolic lyricism or spitting noise in electro-acoustic improvisations. Comprised of trumpeter Bill Clark, cellist Peggy Lee, guitarist Ron Samworth and … Read More “Talking Pictures/Jorrit Dijkstra: Humming”

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Kevin Norton: In Context/Out of Context

On In Context/Out of Context, Norton deftly balances the loose-limbed blowing imperatives of a trio session and his considerable compositional skills with a flexible album-length sequence of pieces. To this end, Norton has wisely engaged David Bindman and Bob DeBellis, whose saxophones and flutes have provided much of the muscle for his exceptional midsized ensemble. … Read More “Kevin Norton: In Context/Out of Context”

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Donald Robinson Trio: Straight Lines Skewed

Robinson and bassist Lisle Ellis’ ability to create a well-grounded propulsion from the barest textures, rhythms, and phrases is very much in evidence in their work with alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi on Straight Lines Skewed. Eneidi, who moved to the Left Coast in the mid-’90s after stints in the ensembles of Bill Dixon, Raphe Malik … Read More “Donald Robinson Trio: Straight Lines Skewed”

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Chucho Valdes: Solo – Live in New York

Most jazz-related discussions about Cuban music rightly and effusively celebrate its African component. Cuban music would be impoverished without it. Yet it is a mistake to undervalue Cuban music’s Spanish roots, not just in terms of folk-dance forms, like the bolero, but in the pedagogy that has made Cuba a hothouse for virtuoso musicians as … Read More “Chucho Valdes: Solo – Live in New York”

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Sun Ra: The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals and Crystal Spears

The decidedly bluesy Cymbals was one of the best bets of the entire lot. Like Pathways, this program employed a greatly reduced Arkestra. Though stalwarts like John Gilmore are assigned limited roles, the tenorist’s journey to and beyond Planet Jug on the midtempo blues “Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light” is enough to make Cymbals … Read More “Sun Ra: The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals and Crystal Spears”

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Sun Ra: Lanquidity

Lanquidity proves that timing is everything. If this surprisingly accessible album had been released in the booming early ’70s market by Impulse! instead of by a fledgling indie when oil crisis-induced inflation was spiking LP prices in ’78, Michel’s prophecies of sales potential may have come true. Instead of jarring cued improvisations, the program is … Read More “Sun Ra: Lanquidity”

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Sun Ra: Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel

Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel performs the much-needed service of providing a one-disc summary of Ra’s musical odyssey. The first half of the collection is comprised of Chicago-era chestnuts like “Enlightenment” that showcase Ra’s swank big band charts. The second half of the program is split between tracks recorded during the Arkestra’s New … Read More “Sun Ra: Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel”

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Brad Mehldau with Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy: Places

Brad Mehldau’s debt to Keith Jarrett has never been so plain as it is on Places. This collection of solo and trio pieces, named for the locales in which they were composed, has much the same mix of longing and belonging as Jarrett’s mid-’70s recordings. Jarrett’s shadow looms over Mehldau’s use of counterpoint and variation, … Read More “Brad Mehldau with Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy: Places”

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Steve Cohn: Bridge Over the X-Stream

Steve Cohn is a thoughtful composer and pianist who first surfaced in the early ’80s. His recordings never lack for well-formed ideas and vigorous exchanges between him and his collaborators. Yet his music has been documented far too infrequently in recent years. As a result, Cohn’s latter recordings have the feel of isolated snapshots instead … Read More “Steve Cohn: Bridge Over the X-Stream”

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Sun Ra: When Angels Speak of Love

Recorded in ’63 and released in ’66, When Angels Speak of Love has several of the elements that would give Ra and the Arkestra their psychedelic-era relevance. The most obvious is the trippy, tape-deck-generated reverb employed in the miasmic opener, “Celestial Fantasy,” and at key points in the generally high-energy “Ecstasy of Being” and the … Read More “Sun Ra: When Angels Speak of Love”

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Sun Ra: Pathways to Unknown Worlds and Friendly Love

Pathways to Unknown Worlds (one of two discs released by Impulse! that had not been previously issued by Saturn), and the two lost sessions, Cymbals and Crystal Spears (which were in the pipeline when the licensing deal ended in ’75) reflect how Ra and the Arkestra had, by 1973, at least minimally penetrated a wider … Read More “Sun Ra: Pathways to Unknown Worlds and Friendly Love”

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Rob Brown Quartet: Jumping Off the Page

Rob Brown is one of the hardest hitting alto players currently on the scene. His slashing, bluesy lines keep the spirit of Jimmy Lyons alive without corroding the conviction that Brown is a fiercely original voice. He is also a fluent composer, who can build provocative pieces from jagged, shard-like motives, and create poignant moods … Read More “Rob Brown Quartet: Jumping Off the Page”

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