08 Ethio JazzEthio Jazz Vol.1
Jay Danley Band
Independent (thejaydanleyethiojazzproject.bandcamp.com)

Ethiopian Jazz (Ethio Jazz) began with Mulatu Astatke, the first African student at the Berklee College of Music in the 1960s. He fused jazz with Ethiopian music to create a sub-genre which employs heavy rhythm, horns and several minor sounding scales. On Ethio Jazz Volume One, the Toronto jazz guitarist Jay Danley states Ethio Jazz has shown him “an entirely new way to play guitar, compose and most importantly how to hear” by combining the freedom of jazz with the “discipline of applying the scales, rhythms and ‘feel’ of Ethiopian music.”

The Jay Danley band has a core group of guitar, bass, drums, percussion and two saxophones. This is augmented on several tunes with “special guests” Hilario Durán on piano and Alexander Brown on trumpet. The arrangements are in a straightforward melody, solos and melody format. The rhythm is in the pocket for the whole album, creating a smooth and grooving background. The fat bass, combined with horns using fourths and fifths in their harmonized lines, creates a rich but edgy sound. The melodies and solos use the Ethio-jazz scales, which provide extra tension that contrasts with the funky background. All the musicians are excellent: Danley’s solos are well crafted and Durán’s piano playing is another highlight. Bring on Volume Two!

09 Keith ORourkeSketches from the Road
Keith O’Rourke
Chronograph Records CR054 (chronographrecords.com)

Even if the name of the disc – Sketches from the Road – is a dead giveaway, nothing can really prepare the listener for the vivid nature of the music. In fact, Keith O’Rourke may just as well be a graphic artist for the creation of these memorable works. Moreover, when O’Rourke and the other soloists get underway they become more than just painterly in the manner of their musical sojourns; indeed, they also become creators of the very landscapes that are brought to life – from New Orleans in Port NOLA with its breathtaking second line harmonic and rhythmic features to Sketch in Green, Bayswater and Lost Blues that spread their melodies in all their pastoral glory.

Make no mistake however, with all of its frequent and profound impressionism this is still very much a rollicking, swinging jazzy record. Songs such as Double Black and Early Bright are not going to let us forget that; not when they feature the smoky vibrato and rustic tone of O’Rourke’s tenor saxophone and the hushed whisper of André Wickenheiser’s flugelhorn. And there’s no mistaking the swing when both instruments collide with Jon Day’s sparkling piano, Kodi Hutchinson’s strutting bass and Tyler Hornby’s chattering drums on Sonny’s Tune. As with that material, so too with the rest of the fare on this memorable disc; O’Rourke shines in his ability to write the most interestingly complex and wonderfully arresting music.

10 Ron DavisRhythmaRON
Ron Davis
Really Records RR 17002 (rondavismusic.com)

Both subtlety and joie de vivre are pervasive qualities that pianist Ron Davis communicates performing on his first solo disc in 40 years. A sincere and persuasive musician, Davis’ playing reveals a long and fond relationship with the 13 works by an array of composers (including Davis himself) on RhythmaRON. Here Give Me the Simple Life, A Child is Born and You Must Believe in Spring are suffused with a distinctive atmosphere. Elsewhere, when the music raises its voice above the proverbial whisper as on Jitterbug Waltz and Rockin’ in Rhythm, the narratives are skillfully crafted to maintain a certain expressive decorum. And everywhere Davis alters harmonies and structural elements with impressive restraint, heading in directions that surprise and captivate the ear.

As in the recreations of familiar pieces, his own compositions unfold in a series of dramatic gestures, with droll stops to swing and dance along the way in a salute to the great pianists – jazz stylists from James P. Johnson and Art Tatum to Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner – who have inspired his work over the years. Also like them, his sonic palette is stretched in telling ways on RhythmaRON, Cullibalue and Swing Street through the magic of a layered, double-handed virtuoso performance. In all of the works, Davis performs with consummate artistry, blending superior control and tonal lucidity with a cohesive sense of line and motion. As a result, jazz music could hardly be better served.

Listen to 'RhythmaRON' Now in the Listening Room

11 Fukushima CD CoverFukushima
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York
Libra Records 214-044 (librarecords.com)

Today big jazz bands only exist outside of academic institutions because of the commitment of a collection of musicians and a singularly devoted leader. That said, it becomes possible to gauge the extraordinary calling of Japanese pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and the degree to which she can inspire fellow musicians. Since 1997, when she first unveiled her Orchestra New York, she has also convened chapters in both Tokyo and Berlin. One of the most remarkable features of this new release is that most of the musicians present on the inaugural release, South Wind, have gathered again for the band’s tenth, highly exploratory release.

Fujii’s inspiration here comes from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the sustained merger of composed and improvised textures insists on comparison with the best of the jazz orchestral tradition, from Duke Ellington to Charles Mingus, Carla Bley and Sun Ra. From its haunting, near silent beginnings with breath passing through wind instruments, to harsh tangles of dissonance, electronics and rhythms sometimes forceful and plodding at once, then on to passages of almost bird-like subterfuge, Fukushima summons up all the dimensions of national memory and tragedy, bearing with it the hopes of an awakened population and the possibilities of change.

Along the way, Fujii is assisted in realizing her vision by a 13-member ensemble that includes saxophonists Oscar Noriega and Andy Laster, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and guitarist Nels Cline, whose complement of electronic effects consistently enriches the music’s already varied textures. 

12 Paolo AngeliTalea
Paolo Angeli
AnNa RER OA10/ALU 25 (rermegacorp.com)

A combination technician and savant, Paolo Angeli is a Sardinian guitar virtuoso, the qualities of which he demonstrates on the 25 selections of this live two-CD set. Cello-size, with an extra bridge, pedal-operated hammers, additional criss-crossed strings plus pick-ups, his guitar is tuned from one-fourth or one-fifth below standard. With strings picked or bowed, the instrument can sound like a six- or 12-string guitar, amplified or acoustic, a balalaika or a double bass. Angeli’s facility is such that it often appears as if two guitarists are playing, feeding lines to one another. He also vocalizes at points, although his Mediterranean-Maghreb falsetto is more like another guitar add-on than a foreground trope.

Pizzicato, as on Brida, he plays straight-ahead licks until buzzing variations and shading suggest he’s become an entire string band. Meanwhile his finger-picking on S’Û is so intricate that after echoing two different lines, he slashes out arena-rock-like flanges before settling into calming tonality. Arco, as on Baska, he moves between lyrical violin-like sweeps to a chunky double-bass-style ostinato.

While other tracks have him take on the guise of a rural Appalachian picker (Vlora) or a Middle Eastern European dance orchestra player (Primavera Araba), his most profound showcase is a track like Mascaratu. Outputting melody and accompaniment simultaneously, he leaps from Spanish-styled rasgueado to near-psychedelic pseudo-feedback, until the performance climaxes with clean Reveille-like strumming. Recorded at 12 concerts in six countries, Talea aptly defines Angeli’s talent and appeal. 

13 BaroqueArtCD0031Baroque Art. Contemporary Harmony
Alexey Kruglov
FancyMusic FANCY 095 (fancymusic.ru)

The first letters of the words in this CD’s title – B-A-C-H – hint at the disc’s objective, which posits that Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions are one of the bases of modern improvisation. Evidence is supplied by modern interpretations of 13 Bach pieces by Russians: alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov; Igor Goldenberg, principally, or Yulia Ikonnikova, on pipe organ; plus Estonian electric guitarist Jaak Sooäär.

An illustration of this thesis occurs on Interpretation of Musette, where reed flutter tonguing and organ continuum spiritedly mix to create a piece related more to Jimmy Smith than E. Power Biggs. Other Goldenberg variations occur as the keyboardist provides a Fats Waller-like undercurrent to Interpretation of the Two Part Invention in C major and his silent-movie-like pressure on Improvisation on the Themes of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, where his smeared crescendo is followed by Kruglov accelerating the narrative line. Improvisation on the Theme of Orchestral Suite No.2, is Kruglov’s a cappella showcase where he deconstructs the melody into peeps and whines before moving it skywards, playing only saxophone mouthpieces. As for Sooäär, he helps revise Two Part Invention in F Major with slurred fingering and responsive live electronics along with Kruglov’s reed split tones; while his long-lined picking amplifies the saxophonist’s circular breathing on Improvisation on B-A-C-H (Part 1).

Preserving the German master’s melodic artistry while dexterously reconstituting familiar modes with original adaptations confirms the performers’ hypothesis, as well as the universality of Bach’s music.

Arguably the most important and least understood sound of the 20th century, Free Music, which combined jazz’s freedom with notated music’s rigour while aiming for in-the-moment creation, has now been around for almost six decades. With its advances now accepted as part of the ongoing sonic landscape, long out-of-print recordings are being reissued and reappraised for their excellence.

01 KaryobinOne of the most important, The Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME)’s Karyōbin are the imaginary birds said to live in paradise (Emanem 5046 emanemdisc.com), has maintained its reputation since 1968. That’s because, like the first viewing of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, it signalled that an entirely new sound had arrived from the United Kingdom. Karyōbin is also an all-star session, featuring players who would epitomize exploratory sounds for years: soprano saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey, drummer John Stevens and bassist Dave Holland from the UK, and Canadian Kenny Wheeler, already established as one of England’s most accomplished trumpeters. Amazingly Wheeler didn’t abandon the lyrical quality he developed, and his graceful bursts easily lock in with Parker’s slinky tone, which even this early is sui generis. With Stevens patting cymbals and faintly slapping drum tops and Holland pulsating, Bailey’s metallic plinks are most discordant, although his steel-guitar-like reverb isn’t upfront until Part 3. Twanging guitar licks intensify on the subsequent tracks, but the trumpeter’s hummingbird-like flutters and the saxophonist’s perceptive breaths cleanly fit into the spaces left by the others, with the bassist’s strong pulse suggesting why he was recruited by Miles Davis. Distinctively a group effort, by the CD’s defining Part 5, broken-octave guitar licks and slowly unfolding reed vibrations complement one another as the trumpet stutters out sour notes while moving the pitch upwards. Eventually clipped guitar strokes and thin saxophone trills adumbrate and complete Stevens’ rivet cymbal, gong and snare intrusions to reach a harsh polyphonic climax. Splattered percussion crackles, lengthening airy textures from the horns and a general diminishing of tone mark Part 6 as the CD’s coda and confirmation that a new sound has germinated.

02 Steve LacyUnlike the UK-identified members of the SME, American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, primarily a jazzer, became a major force in Free Jazz once he expatriated and collaborated with European players. Free for a Minute (Emanem 5210 emanemdisc.com), is a two-CD set that bookends Karyōbin, with tracks recorded by several-sized combos in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1972. Tellingly, the nine tunes from 1965, featuring bassist Kent Carter and drummer Aldo Romano, are Carla Bley, Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor compositions, as well as Lacy originals (which are the most tuneful of the lot). Bley’s Generous 1 for instance includes a walking bass line, over which the saxophonist squeezes out a melody that becomes a rhapsodic multi-note soprano showcase aided by echoing cymbals. There’s full-fledged triple interaction among string pulls, reed puffs and meandering drum beats on Lacy’s There We Were; however Taylor’s Tune 2 is the most impressive track. With bass and drums operating on slow boil, the saxophonist’s peeping and puffing provide the piece with timbral shading as it accelerates to emotive joy prodded by tongue percussion. Since most time-in at around the one-minute mark, the 13 subsequent tracks recorded as cues for the unreleased 1967 film (Free Fall) are utilitarian to the nth degree, despite the stellar lineup of Lacy, Carter, trumpeter Enrico Rava, drummer Paul Motian and vibist/pianist Karl Berger. Less than sketches and mostly consisting of drum rattles, vibes pops and reed shrills, only Cue 30 is enlivened with a pseudo-Dixieland beat, while Cue 24 and Cue 25, which together last six minutes, set up a broken-octave challenge with graceful tweets from Rava and choked blasts from Lacy, unrolling alongside metal bar slaps from Berger and focused rolls from Motian. This set’s highpoint is CD2, with a 1966 date where six Lacy originals are played by the composer, Rava, Carter and Romano, as well as three previously unissued 1972 tracks, with a lineup of Lacy and Carter with saxophonist Steve Potts, cellist Irene Aebi and drummer Noel McGhie. Still influenced by Monk, a 1966 quartet piece like Sortie judders and jumps as scrubbing bass strings and supple drum ruffs move in pseudo-march-time as frontline tones intertwine. Ebullient and sharp, the trumpet tones gradually ascend, where they’re met by effervescent saxophone patterns. Chromatically outlining Fork New York’s theme, seconded by a purring obbligato from Rava, Lacy’s supple tone has taken on the unique colouration it would maintain until his demise. As the trumpet pitch gets peppier and brassier, it mixes with the saxophone’s lubricated contralto tone to create the equivalent of smooth spreading mustard. Subsequent contrapuntal theme elaborations don’t prevent the track from cantering to a slick and satisfying end. Content with the quintet format he would maintain for several decades, Lacy’s compositional aims expanded synchronously and became more dissonant by 1972. Consummate Free Jazz, The Rush races by at steeplechase speed, with the cello’s staccato sawing setting off a paroxysm of reed split tones and roistering glossolalia. The two-part The Thing divides between Lacy’s pinched vibrations and Potts’ low snarls, which barrel along expressing polyphonic variations. With The Thing part 1 finally slowed down for slippery stops from the cellist and bassist, The Thing part 2 is extended with a multiphonic explosion that takes in the alto saxophonist’s hardened narrative, dog whistle-like shrills from the soprano and multiplied cymbal clashes plus resonating stropping from the strings. Like the ending of a romance novel, the finale features reed kisses and cello sighs.

03 Hans ReichelBailey’s string experimentation encouraged other guitarists, with Hans Reichel one of the most iconoclastic. Recorded in Hagen, Germany in 1973, Wichlinghauser Blues (Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 033), finds Reichel using a handcrafted 11-string guitar with three pickups and at points extending the sound with a wah-wah pedal, water-glass-on-strings pressure, and on Shaved Guitar working an electric razor along the strings to append a harsh drone to his picking. Less gimmicky, but just as radical, he often mixes simple folk melodies with more radical fare. Krampfhandlungen-1st Version for instance, could be from two guitarists, one slashing bottleneck-like whines and the other strumming quieter but offbeat harp-like arpeggios. Smacking the instrument’s wood at first, Reichel ends the piece with distorted rumbles that suggest a 1960s freakout. Krampfhandlungen-2nd Version is no more than a fraternal twin, with harsh vibrations accelerating to echoing note spills and string hand pumps, then descending to brief clinks without losing chromatic motion. Caustic and menacing, the title tune uses fills to advance the narrative without negating the melody, although every tone comes with an extended echo. Tellingly, the concluding Schlafflied demonstrates his offbeat finger-picking prowess, which stays dissonant even while frequently threatening to break into a folk-pop melody.

04 Roscoe MitchellToronto’s Sackville Records regularly documented jazz advances in the 1970s, including Roscoe Mitchell’s Duets with Anthony Braxton (Delmark/Sackville SK 3016 delmark.com). Each plays a woodwind factory’s collection of reeds and flutes while interpreting five Mitchell compositions and three by Braxton. Despite graphic score titles, it’s the Braxton pieces that are more approachable. In fact Composition 40Q finds two bass saxophones waddling in tandem to a march-like tempo. Weaving elephantine snorts and farts together, the circus-style theme is briefly interrupted by reed peeps and slides before ending with more basement pitches. Completed with full, rounded tones which complement one another’s output, Composition 74B manages to link curlicue wiggles and circular breathing from paired flutes while maintaining an underlying rhythm. However, Composition 74A, the third and longest Braxton line, depends on both players instantaneously switching from flute to baritone sax to alto saxophone and on to other horns, affiliating and breaking apart timbres as one limns the melody and the other decorates it. Mitchell’s lengthy Cards: Three and Open is another superior track, with the woodwind/flute assemblage constantly pivoting from decorous piccolo pitches or altissimo reed bites to the huffing and puffing of subterranean-pitched saxophones. Modulating forward, during which each player seemingly surprises with new information, this penultimate sequence is all bellows until a sudden swing section wraps things up. Additionally, while high-pitched microtonal harmonies undulate through Five Twenty One Equals Eight, the two versions of Seven Behind Nine Ninety-Seven Sixteen or Seven, one previously unreleased, scream and judder with the dissonant audacity of 1960s Free Jazz. Somehow though, the alternating foghorn snorts and altissimo overblowing mutate into definite statements. The value of reissues like these is that those who weren’t around to experience the music first-hand can now hear what caused all the excitement.

Back to top