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Nolatet: Dogs

Nolatet’s moniker implies their central location in the Big Easy. While that isn’t unusual, the distinction comes from members who span four generations (the oldest a septuagenarian), all bringing different facets of music to the fold. Drummer Johnny Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton have played together so long, and with legends like Professor Longhair, they’ve … Read More “Nolatet: Dogs”

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Joe Chambers: Landscapes

As a performer, Joe Chambers plays several roles on Landscapes. He stands front and center on the vibraphone, and he brings up the rear on trap kit. On “Havana” he ups the ante even further by adding bongos, marimba and congas to the mix. On the title track he sits at the piano for a … Read More “Joe Chambers: Landscapes”

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Empirical: Connection

If Empirical’s blend of alto saxophone, vibraphone, bass and drums evokes Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! , the effect isn’t completely coincidental. The group previously paid tribute to the multireedist and his classic session on its sophomore album, Out ‘n’ In. Following collaborations with a string quartet, pianist and bass clarinetist, the British quartet keeps … Read More “Empirical: Connection”

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ROVA Channeling Coltrane: Electric Ascension

Ascension served as John Coltrane’s line in the sand when it was released in 1966. Those who sought greater musical enlightenment embraced the album-length piece, performed by the saxophonist in a horn-heavy ensemble of 11. On the other side of the line, some shaking their heads in disgust, were the Trane fans who preferred “After … Read More “ROVA Channeling Coltrane: Electric Ascension”

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The Necks: Vertigo

Australians the Necks have released 15 albums of expansive improvisation, many of them devoted to one extended piece that flows along for upwards of 60 minutes. In that regard, record number 16, Vertigo, presents a streamlined performance by the trio, since it fades out after 43 minutes. At the same time, they use the shorter … Read More “The Necks: Vertigo”

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Christian Howes: American Spirit

For a song that became recognized beyond the Broadway stage, “America,” the immortal West Side Story showcase, possesses one of the more abrasive cadences in popular music. Christian Howes opens American Spirit with the song, but his version lacks the bombast one might normally expect from it. His violin extends the familiar melody over a … Read More “Christian Howes: American Spirit”

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Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde

Jacob Garchik’s vision has yielded arrangements for the Kronos Quartet, performances with everyone from Henry Threadgill to Lee Konitz and an inventive tribute to the trombone-choir gospel tradition wherein Garchik plays all the instruments. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the trombonist’s new effort treads onto progressive-rock territory, utilizing three adventurous guitarists. … Read More “Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde”

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Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor: Tales of the Unforeseen

Barry Altschul’s The 3Dom Factor was one of the strongest and most underrated albums of 2013. Released as the master drummer turned 70, it features compositions he had written throughout his career, revealing a talent that’s not as celebrated as his tenures with Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley and Sam Rivers. Rather than merely reflecting on … Read More “Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor: Tales of the Unforeseen”

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John Hebert: Rambling Confessions

Sometimes a bandleader’s initial goals for a group take a completely different turn once the rest of the musicians come aboard. Bassist John Hébert-who has played in bands led by everyone from Fred Hersch to Lee Konitz to Andrew Hill to Mary Halvorson-was inspired by vocalist Carmen McRae and her approach to interpretation when forming … Read More “John Hebert: Rambling Confessions”

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Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Roulette of the Cradle

Tenor/soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has released two previous albums with her Anti-House group, but her players have all crossed paths in other bands as well. Laubrock plays in guitarist Mary Halvorson’s septet with bassist John Hébert. Drummer Tom Rainey and Laubrock play as a duo and, with pianist Kris Davis, in Rainey’s quintet Obbligato. Laubrock … Read More “Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Roulette of the Cradle”

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Mary Halvorson: Meltframe

For her first solo guitar album, Mary Halvorson originally intended to bring her distinctive fretwork to bear on standards like Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections” and “Ruby, My Dear.” But somewhere along the way she settled on a more impressive set of interpretations that includes pieces by peers like Chris Lightcap, Tomas Fujiwara and Noël Akchoté in … Read More “Mary Halvorson: Meltframe”

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Wayne Horvitz: Some Places Are Forever Afternoon

Some Places Are Forever Afternoon proves that the institution of the album-an actual package built around the music-is still alive and well. It contains 11 Wayne Horvitz compositions directly inspired by the work of American Northwest poet Richard Hugo. (The 12th is a direct homage by the composer.) Each is named for a line from … Read More “Wayne Horvitz: Some Places Are Forever Afternoon”

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Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes

Marilyn Crispell’s ECM recordings, including duets with bassist Gary Peacock and trio sessions that added Paul Motian, revealed the more delicate, lyrical side of the pianist’s playing, which both complemented and contrasted her prior work in true-blue free jazz. Reuniting with drummer Gerry Hemingway, a longtime bandmate in her earlier trios and in Anthony Braxton’s … Read More “Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes”

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JD Allen: Graffiti

Throughout Graffiti, saxophonist JD Allen’s music creates a strong sense of familiarity: a rubato melody driven by rolling drums and impassioned Trane-like tenor; a snaky Rollins-esque riff; even some folk qualities that acknowledge Ornette Coleman. But, per usual, it’s all in the delivery; for Allen, that means creating a signature sound by moving too fast … Read More “JD Allen: Graffiti”

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Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & the Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings

Perhaps more than any other modern jazz composer, Charles Mingus presents a challenge to anyone attempting a tribute album. His wit, musical depth and larger-than-life personality all factored into his writing, making his music difficult to do justice to. Not that it’s impossible. Weird Nightmare, the Hal Willner-directed tribute from 1992, featured a far-flung cast … Read More “Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & the Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings”

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Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect

In “Language,” each member of the Mario Pavone Trio takes a little more than a minute for a meterless unaccompanied solo, following the quick, arrhythmic staccato theme. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey creates low thunder across the toms. Pavone plucks wildly at his bass. Pianist Matt Mitchell uses the whole range of his instrument, keeping things pensive … Read More “Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect”

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Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper: Emerge

From the moment Stephan Crump and Mary Halvorson played together they felt a musical rapport. The set of improvisation on 2013’s Super 8 bore this out by including music the bassist and guitarist recorded during their initial encounter at Crump’s home studio. With Emerge they take the next logical step. Both brought compositions to the … Read More “Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper: Emerge”

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Jeremy Udden/Nicolas Moreaux: Belleville Project

When American saxophonist-composer Jeremy Udden crossed paths with French bassist Nicolas Moreaux in Paris, two musical soulmates found one another. Udden’s groups Plainville and Folk Art have made jazz music that utilizes non-jazz styles (mostly Americana and rock), a strategy shared by Moreaux. The bassist’s “Jeremy” is a two-chord vamp with the melodic swoop of … Read More “Jeremy Udden/Nicolas Moreaux: Belleville Project”

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Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands

Kirk Knuffke has played in all sorts of contexts, so a trio is nothing unusual for the cornetist. What makes Arms & Hands distinctive, though, is his choice of bandmates. Bassist Mark Helias comes from a more adventurous (and prolific) background (Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor) while drummer Bill Goodwin has been a straight-ahead player (a … Read More “Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands”

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Tim Berne’s Snakeoil: You’ve Been Watching Me

Certain musical strategies can betray a Tim Berne composition. There’s the angular melody, played by the leader’s acidic alto, often in harmony with another horn, while the rhythm section tosses and turns beneath them. With the theme complete, two members of the band might engage in dual solos, with one of them eventually morphing from … Read More “Tim Berne’s Snakeoil: You’ve Been Watching Me”

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Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker

Musicians who thrive in the realm of free improvisation need to be flexible, stopping and rerouting their path as a performance calls for it. While the possibility exists to extend and expand during solos, the most attentive players can make a point succinctly as well. The name Open Loose doesn’t describe Mark Helias’ music as … Read More “Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker”

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Mike Osborne: Dawn

Some musicians project a cocksure attitude with regard to their abilities, while others can be driven by a lack of confidence. For Mike Osborne, the latter proved to be his undoing. A fixture on the jazz scene in 1960s/70s England, his career was derailed by a combination of drug use and mental illness that exacerbated … Read More “Mike Osborne: Dawn”

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