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MACSAX Empyreal Alto: Powerful Tones & Unadorned Beauty

The first person to apply lacquer to a brass instrument must have considered it an act of great aesthetic consequence. No longer would the horn be a mere assemblage of keys, pads and springs. It was now a shiny, golden decorative object, suited for life as a novelty lamp once its playing days were over. … Read More “MACSAX Empyreal Alto: Powerful Tones & Unadorned Beauty”

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Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra

This set’s title suggests small strands coming together to form a greater whole, which is indeed an important aspect of Bill Dixon’s conception. Yet tapestries are inert, and Dixon’s music is not. It might move slowly much of the time, but it most certainly moves; it’s a study in movement sans rhythm. Pieces like “Motorcycle … Read More “Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra”

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Ravi Coltrane: Blending Times

An air of impulsive surrender suffuses this music, as if Ravi Coltrane aimed to embody Lennie Tristano’s musical philosophy of intuition and feeling. From E.J. Strickland’s cascading, rainstick-like drumming and Drew Gress’ malleable bass lines, to Luis Perdomo’s delicate, pastoral piano and the leader’s accomplished yet self-effacing tenor saxophone, the band adopts mindfulness as a … Read More “Ravi Coltrane: Blending Times”

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Michael Blake Sextet : Amor de Cosmos

Michael Blake is one of an all-too-common subset of the jazz community: players who create brilliant music while flying largely under the radar of widespread critical and/or popular acclaim. “Amor de Cosmos” was the name taken by William Alexander Smith, an unconventional 19th-century British Columbian politician and journalist who served as one of Blake’s inspirations … Read More “Michael Blake Sextet : Amor de Cosmos”

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Amir Elsaffar: Two Rivers

Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar blends the Iraqi maqam (“the music of his father’s ancestral past,” or so it says in the press notes) with jazz, creating some fresh, deep, intensely performed music. ElSaffar’s band (Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto sax; Nasheet Waits, drums; Carlo DeRosa, bass; Tareq Abboushi, buzuq and percussion; Zaafer Tawil, oud, violin, dumbek) has … Read More “Amir Elsaffar: Two Rivers”

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Vandoren V16 Sax Mouthpieces

You don’t have to be much of a detective to discern the meaning in Vandoren’s statement that its V16 Series sax mouthpiece “captures the famous jazz saxophone sounds of the ’50s and ’60s.” The V16 is obviously modeled after the classic Meyer of that era-what we mouthpiece geeks call the “New York” Meyer, differentiating it … Read More “Vandoren V16 Sax Mouthpieces”

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Satoko Fujii Four : When We Were There

The stylistically peripatetic pianist Satoko Fujii addresses short-form free jazz here, with a group composed of bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Jim Black and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. All are well acquainted. This is Fujii’s eighth recording with this rhythm section. Her musical relationship with husband Tamura stretches back to 1984. The players evidence the sort of … Read More “Satoko Fujii Four : When We Were There”

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Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin: Live at the Blue Monk

Joel Futterman’s fists-of-fury pianism is the most interesting thing about this hard-core free-jazz trio, recorded live in performance at a Portland, Ore. jazz club. Joining the Virginia Beach-based pianist is Mississippi-born drummer Alvin Fielder and Bay Area saxophonist-bass clarinetist Ike Levin. The album is made up of two distinct, freely improvised sets-one short, one long-each … Read More “Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin: Live at the Blue Monk”

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Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano: Time and Time Again

Drummer Motian’s long-running trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell is a serendipitous assemblage of complementary personalities. Motian and guitarist Frisell are ingenious colorists: Frisell, a thoughtful melodist whose every note is wrought with expression; Motian, a laconic yet deceptively agile weaver of rhythmic filigree. Saxophonist Lovano is no less concerned with detail, as you … Read More “Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano: Time and Time Again”

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New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick’s

New Ghost combines complex Zappa-esque instrumentals and spoken-word vocals with an off-kilter funkiness and anarchic punk expressionism. The result is a crazily inventive music that draws you in at the same time it tells you to go bleep yourself. Recorded live in Philadelphia in Jan. 1998, the music on Live Upstairs at Nick’s sounds like … Read More “New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick’s”

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Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please

Sonny Rollins has left Milestone, his label for almost 35 years, and started his own record company. Thus has the newly entrepreneurial saxophone colossus taken control of his own destiny. Lest one worry that starting his own label is a bad sign-that Sonny is perhaps laid low by the well-documented troubles afflicting the record industry-rest … Read More “Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please”

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Anthony Braxton: 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005 Phonomanie VIII

At the beginning of his career and for decades to follow, Anthony Braxton made exceptional recordings. Each seemed more inspired than the last, due in no small part to the cohorts he worked with: first, his contemporaries in Chicago’s AACM; later, younger New York-based free-jazz musicians who, while not as celebrated as Braxton, were nonetheless … Read More “Anthony Braxton: 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005 Phonomanie VIII”

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Sonny Stitt: Stitt’s Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952

Charles Mingus once said that the full title of his tune “Gunslinging Bird” was “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.” I doubt that Mingus had Sonny Stitt in mind, but who knows? Maybe he did. Stitt sounded a lot like Bird, and he was a few years … Read More “Sonny Stitt: Stitt’s Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952”

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Dimitri Vassilakis: Parallel Lines

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Vassilakis leads a trio that includes bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts in a set of venturesome groove-based originals. For the most part, Vassilakis loops Essiet’s bass ostinatos, then overdubs Watts’ drums and his own saxes. As a result, the music, while melodically interesting, has an inorganic, hermetic quality. … Read More “Dimitri Vassilakis: Parallel Lines”

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Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood: Violet Violets

Every record Sam Rivers makes is attention-worthy. Each is another brushstroke in the painting of the masterpiece that is his career. Of course, not all strokes are created equal. A late-in-life release like this touches up a portrait mostly completed long ago. This trio’s follow-up to 2004’s Purple Violets is a compelling example of loosely … Read More “Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood: Violet Violets”

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Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul

This album was recorded in Brooklyn on September 23, 2005, just weeks after New Orleans resident Kidd Jordan’s house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It’s impossible to know how the disaster affected the music made this day, but if you’re looking for an album-length mournful wail, you won’t get it here. If anything, the seven … Read More “Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul”

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The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra

You might think being a key member of some of the most influential fusion groups in history would place a guy in the music’s pantheon. Yet despite lending his distinctive bass clarinet, flute and saxophone work to such classic albums as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Big Fun and On the Corner and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, … Read More “The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra”

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Paul Shapiro: It’s In the Twilight

The press release accompanying this CD calls saxophonist/flutist Paul Shapiro “ambassador of hip to the world of Jewish music.” OK, I’ll stipulate that. Shapiro makes his Jewishness the central theme of his work. Creatively, however, the music owes less to klezmer than to ’60s and ’70s hard bop and early fusion. In any case, it’s … Read More “Paul Shapiro: It’s In the Twilight”

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Wadada Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph: Compassion

Ages before reductionist improvisation morphed into a contest to see who could say the least within the longest possible span of time and in the most unmusical way possible, trumpeter/flugelhornist Wadada Leo Smith developed a style built on economy and variable timbre-a style that, while novel, nevertheless embraced essential qualities that distinguish music from random … Read More “Wadada Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph: Compassion”

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Fred Anderson: Timeless-Live at the Velvet Lounge

Get any group of free jazzers together, turn ’em loose and chances are they’ll spontaneously hit upon the strategies used here: pedal-point polymetric incantations, free-time balladry and restive call-and-response, among others. Few, however, will do it as well as this trio of tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Hamid Drake. When I … Read More “Fred Anderson: Timeless-Live at the Velvet Lounge”

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Oliver Lake Quartet: Live

Today I saw an even-slicker-than-usual Wynton Marsalis hawking iPods, laying out lines of boppish exactitude for the conspicuous consumption of moneyed hipsters. It’s the 21st century, baby. Even in jazz, surface is all. Blood and guts are so 1979. Oliver Lake might disagree. Lake’s latest reminds us that perfection is overrated. Vulnerability is the magic … Read More “Oliver Lake Quartet: Live”

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Andrew Rathbun and George Colligan: Renderings: The Art of the Duo

The label “art of the duo” seems to get slapped on every meeting between paired improvisers. It’s a cliché, yet I gotta hand it to saxophonist Andrew Rathbun and pianist George Colligan: Their collaboration is nothing if not artful. In the olden days, their amalgam of classical music and jazz would’ve been called “third stream.” … Read More “Andrew Rathbun and George Colligan: Renderings: The Art of the Duo”

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