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Ches Smith & These Arches: Hammered

Even among today’s many ambitious drummer-composer-bandleaders, Ches Smith applies his skills to an especially dynamic array of brainy projects. Last year he appeared on Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, continued in Mary Halvorson’s quintet and released a solo percussion disc, to name a few. His technique has landed him in a number of exploratory rock bands, too, … Read More “Ches Smith & These Arches: Hammered”

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Thomas Chapin: Never Let Me Go: Quartets ’95 & ’96

To get a handle on the musical scope of Thomas Chapin, look no further than the second CD of this three-disc set. Taken from a 1995 live performance, it begins with Thelonious Monk’s rare waltz “Ugly Beauty,” followed by Charlie Parker’s equally deep cut “Red Cross” (which lasts over 15 fun-filled minutes), into the Glen … Read More “Thomas Chapin: Never Let Me Go: Quartets ’95 & ’96”

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John Tchicai: John Tchicai

The late Danish saxophonist John Tchicai lived and recorded predominantly in Europe, although he’s best known for several 1960s projects, some named for the American city that housed him during those heady seminal years of the avant-garde: John Coltrane’s landmark Ascension, the New York Contemporary Five (with Archie Shepp), the New York Art Quartet (with … Read More “John Tchicai: John Tchicai”

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Charles Gayle Trio: Look Up

Look Up documents the period in Charles Gayle’s life when he first began to receive greater recognition. After years of living and playing on the streets of New York City, the tenor saxophonist began appearing regularly in nightclubs and in 1994 embarked on his first-ever tour of the West Coast, from which this Santa Monica … Read More “Charles Gayle Trio: Look Up”

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Art Ensemble of Chicago: Early Combinations

The Art Ensemble of Chicago always seemed at ease when the tapes were rolling, even if focus wasn’t at the top of the priority list. Some of their early recordings revealed a band ready to go wherever inspiration took them, even if it meant noodling. That said, it’s impressive how strong these two 20-minute-plus tracks … Read More “Art Ensemble of Chicago: Early Combinations”

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Matthew Shipp: Greatest Hits

The concept of greatest hits records began in the early days of albums as a way to compile an artist’s singles into one set, appealing to the consumer who otherwise only bought 45s. The idea that the adventurous pianist Matthew Shipp has a series of “hits,” greatest or otherwise, is of course at least partly … Read More “Matthew Shipp: Greatest Hits”

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Nat Reeves: State of Emergency!

The title State of Emergency! represents neither a political statement nor a fresh assessment of the first Tony Williams Lifetime record. Instead, it refers to the nor’easter that hit Connecticut in early 2011, during the sessions for this album. Despite the poor conditions, two of Nat Reeves’ students from the Jackie McLean Institute-Joshua Bruneau (trumpet) … Read More “Nat Reeves: State of Emergency!”

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Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Fast Citizens: Gather

Fred Lonberg-Holm keeps himself so busy with such a vast number of projects that it seems nearly impossible to know what to expect from him. Will he be the vicious cello-scraping improviser of Ballister or the Fred Katz disciple of the Valentine Trio? On both of these recent albums, he falls somewhere in between. Fast … Read More “Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Fast Citizens: Gather”

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Jon Irabagon’s Outright!: Unhinged

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon isn’t content to put all his eggs in one stylistic basket. Upon winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, this member of the irreverent quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing released a fine straightahead album on Concord Jazz, The Observer. He went on to release fully improvised music with … Read More “Jon Irabagon’s Outright!: Unhinged”

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Grass Roots: Grass Roots

When everyone in a band gets credit for an album track, it often means the music was the result of a spontaneous performance. It speaks to the strength of the group when those shared efforts contain the same sense of direction heard in the tunes written by individual members of the band. Two of the … Read More “Grass Roots: Grass Roots”

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Michael Bisio/Matthew Shipp Duo: Floating Ice

Bassist Michael Bisio has recorded extensively in leader and sideman roles, including his current spot in Matthew Shipp’s trio. Although there were moments on the trio’s recent Elastic Aspects album when Bisio and Shipp didn’t seem to properly connect, the trio’s spring 2012 tour and this set of duets say otherwise. In seven tracks, all … Read More “Michael Bisio/Matthew Shipp Duo: Floating Ice”

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Florian Weber: Biosphere

Biosphere is likely the first jazz album to include compositions by Lee Konitz, Eric Clapton and the band Coldplay. More surprising, though, is the fact that all of the songs make sense in the context of the album. German-born pianist Florian Weber, also one-third of the trio Minsarah, plays with a style marked by melodic … Read More “Florian Weber: Biosphere”

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Donny McCaslin: Casting for Gravity

Donny McCaslin always comes across as a tenor saxophonist with a strong musical personality that he uses to push himself into creative situations. For his 10th album as a leader, he absorbed influence from two electronica acts, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. The quality McCaslin hoped to appropriate from them related to the way … Read More “Donny McCaslin: Casting for Gravity”

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Michael Formanek Quartet: Small Places

Michael Formanek’s The Rub and Spare Change became one of 2010’s critical sleeper hits, garnering massive praise. The real revelation was that the bassist’s ease and strength as a leader wasn’t already known on a wider level. Formanek actually released albums under his own name in the ’90s, but he’s probably best known as a … Read More “Michael Formanek Quartet: Small Places”

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Frank Wright Quartet: Blues For Albert Ayler

ESP-Disk’ performed an honorable service by documenting many of the musicians associated with 1960s New Thing, but not everything in the underground label’s back catalog has the force of something like Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity. Two newly discovered recordings from the ESP stable, along with one reissue, posit that some musicians didn’t always know what … Read More “Frank Wright Quartet: Blues For Albert Ayler”

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Hafez Modirzadeh: Post-Chromodal Out!

Post-Chromodal Out! continues on the path that Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor, alto) started down two years ago with Amir ElSaffar (trumpet). Irani-American and Iraqi-American, respectively, both men incorporated the music of those countries with jazz on the innovative Radif Suite. ElSaffar joins the saxophonist again on two lengthy suites based on Modirzadeh’s “post-chromodal” concept, where the … Read More “Hafez Modirzadeh: Post-Chromodal Out!”

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Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now

The name of cornetist Josh Berman’s newest group refers back to the “gangs” led by Bix Beiderbecke or to Chicago’s Austin High Gang, which existed close to a century ago. Although Berman formed this octet under the influence of that era, tackling standards like “Jada” and “I’ve Found a New Baby,” this isn’t merely a … Read More “Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now”

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Secret Keeper : Super Eight

On Stephan Crump’s last effort for Intakt, he and alto saxophonist Steve Lehman took a series of spontaneous duets and edited them into two extended pieces, resulting in the album Kaleidoscope and Collage. It was an intriguing concept in which the worlds of improvisation and composition overlapped. The bassist’s meeting with guitarist Mary Halvorson begins … Read More “Secret Keeper : Super Eight”

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Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, SPP

While the previous two Zooid albums, This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, provided a revealing portrait of Henry Threadgill as a composer and bandleader, one aspect of the AACM veteran seemed to be lacking: Threadgill the soloist. Especially on the second volume, his alto saxophone and flute felt active more as devices … Read More “Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, SPP”

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Ballister: Mechanisms

The members of Ballister are all prolific musicians who are well acquainted with each other, personally and musically. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and saxophonist Dave Rempis both reside in the fertile Chicago improvisation scene and have shared the stage in the Vandermark 5. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love hails from Norway, but he could be considered an honorary … Read More “Ballister: Mechanisms”

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Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: The Air is Different

It’s not surprising nowadays to hear a modern jazz composer combine several divergent movements into one piece, turning a corner with little or no transition. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara fits this composer profile. But what makes the Hook Up’s sophomore release really engaging relates to the way Fujiwara concludes his tunes abruptly, right when the band … Read More “Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: The Air is Different”

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Jerome Sabbagh: Plugged In

Single-disc jazz albums don’t often have 14 tracks, at least not in the case of new releases. But Plugged In, the latest from tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh, a Frenchman based in Brooklyn, features seven of his compositions intermixed with seven by Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin. All but one of them last less than six minutes, … Read More “Jerome Sabbagh: Plugged In”

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Jeff Parker Trio: Bright Light in Winter

On Nicole Mitchell’s excellent 2011 album Awakening, guitarist Jeff Parker’s performance sounded like a collision of Grant Green’s crisp tone and James Blood Ulmer’s vocabulary. But Parker, probably best known as a member of the post-rock band Tortoise, has absorbed so many styles and worked in so many situations that he really comes across as … Read More “Jeff Parker Trio: Bright Light in Winter”

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Dead Cat Bounce: Chance Episodes

Matt Steckler, founder of and one of four saxophonists in Dead Cat Bounce, says the theme of Chance Episodes explores “memory’s haphazard way of bringing to the fore seemingly unrelated events, so that an episodic narrative is created, as if ‘by chance.’” Created on commission nine years ago, the 11 tracks don’t obviously sound like … Read More “Dead Cat Bounce: Chance Episodes”

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Anthony Braxton & Buell Neidlinger: 2 by 2

Anthony Braxton and Buell Neidlinger could have dug into any number of concepts in a duo performance, considering the saxophonist’s prolific output and the bassist’s far-ranging résumé (Cecil Taylor’s original quartet, Frank Zappa and orchestra gigs) and his love of composers like Xenakis. Although these two sets from 1989 feature a lot of spontaneous invention, … Read More “Anthony Braxton & Buell Neidlinger: 2 by 2”

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Bobby Bradford/Mark Dresser/Glenn Ferris: Live in L.A.

The album title is a bit misleading. Bobby Bradford (cornet), Mark Dresser (bass) and Glenn Ferris (trombone) did make this recording in the City of Angels in 2009. But they were performing in trombonist Bruce Fowler’s living room, not in front of an audience. It marked the first time these likeminded musicians played together since … Read More “Bobby Bradford/Mark Dresser/Glenn Ferris: Live in L.A.”

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São Paulo Underground: Três Cabeças Lourcuras

Rob Mazurek can always be counted on to lead a number of groups, from the large-scale drone and swirl of the Exploding Star Orchestra to the hard-driving trio Starlicker, one of 2011’s most impressive acts. No matter what he plays, Mazurek executes on cornet with a delicate beauty, even as he channels his mentor Bill … Read More “São Paulo Underground: Três Cabeças Lourcuras”

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Trio M: The Guest House

The cooperative trio of pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson has become an extremely empathetic union, in which all three musicians mold their approaches to fit each of the tunes. While some of the tracks feel a little too subdued, with the performances overshadowing the structure of the composition, The Guest … Read More “Trio M: The Guest House”

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