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Jazz - Released October 29, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released September 24, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 30, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 16, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 16, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released May 28, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released April 23, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released March 5, 2021 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released September 18, 2020 | Pi Recordings

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While John Zorn arguably pioneered jazz-metal fusion with Naked City and Pain Killer in the early 1990s, drummer/composer extraordinaire Dan Weiss took it to an entirely new level with 2018's Starebaby. His idiosyncratic take offered intricate compositions, with a trademark use of space, texture, and sophisticated improvisation by a stellar ensemble, all grafted onto doom metal appended with electronics. To say it worked is an understatement; Starebaby made many year-end critics' lists across the globe. Natural Selection goes even deeper. Developed after touring together, the music here emerges in its own genre. Weiss' band -- pianists/keyboardists Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell, bassist Trevor Dunn (a periodic accomplice of Zorn's), and guitarist Ben Monder (who played on David Bowie's seminal Blackstar) execute serpentine compositions that juxtapose jazz and metal amid the strategic use of elements from prog rock, neo-psych, abstract electronica, and ambient music. Opener "Episode 18" commences as Monder, Weiss, and Dunn deliver thrash metal riffs. Doom is referenced only after the keyboardists enter. The tempo slows, then accelerates again as their fragmental melodic palette warps, and haunted electronic textures flit in and out bridging instrumentalists. Halfway through, the players begin improvisationally dialoguing with one another. It's followed by advance track "Dawn." A ghostly electronic and tom-tom intro evokes 4AD at its most gothic, amid restrained, interlocking piano, bass, and drum patterns. Monder's doomy riffs welcome syncopated rhythmic and harmonic interplay before it all melts away in dreamy, proggy neo-psych. "The Long Diagonal" is transcendent, even as its rhythmic and harmonic architectures owe a debt to Frank Zappa and King Crimson with killer shredding from Monder, before the jam transforms -- momentarily itself tricky post-bop fusion before its processional expanse resumes. The piano that introduces "A Taste of Memory" sounds a lot like Harold Budd playing meditatively with trademark reverb along a major scale. Distortion, feedback, and a filthy down-tuned guitar riff emerge from the ethereal backdrop. It begins to shift and fragment along droning rhythmic lines as synths and open-tuned bass crowd the drum kit. The piano reasserts itself, angularly coloring it as a processional before evolving into prog fusion. "Today Is Wednesday Tomorrow" is a brief exercise in avant-techno with keyboardists Dunn and Weiss offering razored interaction along a prismatic narrative structure. "Bridge of Trust" actively involves the band from the jump as Weiss' wildly creative rolls and fills syncopate a moody, and seemingly static, piano progression before driving into the no-man's-land of abstract, doomy prog. While Starebaby was more visceral, Natural Selection's more complex compositions offer more musical, textural, and dynamic complexity and imagination. At 80 minutes long, it continues to engage the listener from start to finish with its sophisticated playing and tunes. It offers surprise at nearly every turn, and new revelations with each listen. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 25, 2019 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released August 30, 2019 | Pi Recordings

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Saxophonist Steve Lehman's The People I Love offers a bit of a departure from the provocative, well-executed fusion of modern jazz and hip-hop on 2016's Selebeyone and the large group aesthetics and electronic textures of 2014's Mise en Abîme. On this ten-track set, he re-teams with drummer Damion Reid and bassist Matt Brewer. Pianist and fellow vanguardist Craig Taborn is co-billed as collaborator and fills out the ensemble. The program is unusual in that Lehman and company visit a number of his peers' compositions, including Kenny Kirkland's "Chance," Jeff "Tain" Watts' "The Impaler," and Kurt Rosenwinkel's "A Shifting Design." These are juxtaposed with some re-visioned versions of tunes from Lehman's catalog originally recorded with quartets, quintets, and even an octet; they include "Beyond All Limits," "Echoes," and "Curse Fraction." In addition to three brief, improvised piano/saxophone duets -- "Prelude," "Interlude," and "Postlude" -- that are, in essence, place markers on this journey, there is a jagged cover of Autechre's "qPlay." "Prelude" establishes a ready rapport between Lehman and Taborn, who play with an easy flow that ramps up to showcase their canny articulation of knotty swing on the only new composition here, "Ih Calam & Ynnus." While Reid syncopates across breaks and even junglist rhythms, Brewer establishes a taut pulse. Taborn uses a two-chord vamp to establish an angular groove while he and Lehman exchange lyric phrases, dissonant dialogue, and complementary combinations of color in their harmonic engagement. Brewer's woody solo almost steals the tune though. The cover of "qPlay" rings out of the piano like a dusky bell, but opens to preserve the combinatory articulation of dark and light in a wide variety of gray levels atop the popping and feinting bassline and scattershot breakbeats. This interpretation is fraught with uncertain yet forceful emotion. The version of "Beyond All Limits" sharply contrasts the version on Mise en Abîme. Lehman uses dissonant circular runs to cross Taborn's modal chords and sparse rhythmic voicings before the saxophonist, solo, moves back across the street to driving post-bop accented and punctuated by Brewer. Taborn's solo is not only in the pocket but in the tradition, playing against the contrapuntal snare and cymbal shimmers. Rosenwinkel's "A Shifting Design" is delivered here as a piano-less, modern-day homage to Lehman's great influence Jackie McLean. It commences with the saxist offering the head in a hard-driving avant-bop exchange with Reid, who delivers a clattering, insistent, Art Blakey-esque run before Brewer ushers in the changes. Lehman's solo is full of pathos and humor as he moves across scalar invention into spastic nuances that play on the rhythm section's aggression. It's brittle, funky, squalling, and intense, and may be the best track here. Lehman's catalog is full of gems that challenge de rigueur notions of modern jazz, but on The People I Love, he questions his own processes, trying to find essences and new ways of moving outside pre-designed limits. His quartet here not only offer support but propel the investigation ever forward. © Thom Jurek /TiVo

Jazz - Released November 10, 2017 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

If there's any complaint about the creative bond (symbiosis? telepathy?) between alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer, it's a mutual tendency towards the cerebral and conceptual. It's impossible to deny the freshness of the music but their focus can bring an aura of severity that at times makes you wish the two would just lighten up and have some fun playing. Mother Tongue, Mahanthappa's third disc as a leader, offers no indication of anything other than business as usual at first glance. The disc is part of a larger suite based on the different languages spoken by people from India, supported by grants from major arts-funding organizations. It's an intriguing idea, using the speech patterns drawn from interviews to fashion the music, but still a bit daunting -- severe side again, no? Well, surprise, folks -- maybe it's that good old human dimension, but "The Preserver" takes off like a shot with Mahanthappa's alto flashing a lighter, brighter tone than his familiar tartness. There's something like an orthodox "jazz tune" structure here and Iyer actually comps in a vaguely Monk-ish vein with a light touch. It's way more freewheeling blowing than we're accustomed to from these two, and Mahanthappa blows up another serious storm playing the kind of extended scale runs he rarely employs on the fractured-with-flow "Telugu." The stabbing melody lines to "English," intricate and extended, is more Mahanthappa's norm, with François Moutin's bass prominent as counterpoint. The lighter, lyrical tone returns for the up-tempo "Gujarati," where the cadences of the speech rhythms are apparent. "Circus" is a journey with Elliot Humberto Kavee's drums typically light beneath Iyer trills and Mahanthappa's climbing scalar runs as he explores all the melodic strands he can find. The dynamics drop down for a brief Kavee break-out while Moutin and Iyer support him with fractured near oom-pahs, before it heads for a lush, stately finale except for double-timing on out on the fade. Your basic head-solo-head composition, in other words. Like "Circus," the fragmented "Konkani" finds Iyer filling in some holes in the melody line Mahanthappa is playing -- or maybe it's vice versa because the way these two fit their lines together, you never know what, where, when, or how they're going. And the way the extended, rippling lines tone down behind Moutin's bass lead on "Malayalam" shows it's all four players, because there's little soloist/rhythm sections distinction and who is soloing and who is supporting is pretty much up in the air. "Kannada" is a gorgeous long melody line with a yearning ballad flavor by Mahanthappa -- his tonal range has expanded greatly since Black Water. Iyer's solo there goes cascading down scales, while the slower "Tamil" goes outside with rumbling left-hand clusters that Mahanthappa extends farther. "Change of Perspective" opens with the saxophonist blowing a cappella, picking his spots before unfolding into a gentle ballad that progressively unwinds, speeds up, goes free, and winds back down to a soft landing while remaining organic all the way. Mother Tongue sounds like a major advance from the far-from-shabby Black Water for Rudresh Mahanthappa. As a player, there's a greatly expanded range to his playing and a much wider tonal palette. Technical stuff aside, the human speech element worked wonders, lightening up the music and making it more dynamic. Bet the musicians had some fun developing the ideas and playing around with the material, and that's always nice to hear, especially with these guys. © Don Snowden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

Two Rivers is jazz master Amir ElSaffar's debut album as a leader; he is a well-seasoned musician in both the jazz world and the classical one. He has performed as a member of pianist Vijay Iyer's celebrated group, and with Cecil Taylor's, he has also played on the front line with the brilliant -- if less widely known -- alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's group (who returns the favor here). But ElSaffar is also a gifted and well-studied classical musician who has worked with conductor Daniel Barenboim, among others. None of this prepares the listener for Two Rivers. ElSaffar is an American-born artist: his father is a native Iraqi; his mother an American. After studying jazz and classical music and playing with numerous ensembles in the United States and Europe, ElSaffar went to Iraq to study maqam music. Maqam is the urban classical vocal tradition in Iraq. According to the extensive notation on ElSaffar's website, it is found in "...Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Basra, the maqam repertoire draws upon musical styles of the many populations in Iraq, such as the Bedouins, rural Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, as well as neighboring Persians, Turks...." It has two distinct flavors, a more spiritual tenet for Qur'anic recitation, and a more secular one, performed in coffeehouses, gyms, and even by street vendors advertising their wares. The term for the singer or reciter is quarri or in the plural, qurra', which denotes its essentially spiritual nature. It is a complex music; a modal one upon which compositions, rhythms, and improvisations are based. It has a hundred different melodies at its core. At the heart of maqam is the theme, known as the ruhiyya or spiritual essence. What this has to do with jazz is everything. ElSaffar and his group -- Mahanthappa on alto saxophone; Zaafer Tawil on violin, oud, and dumbek; Tareq Abboushi on buzuq and frame drum; Carlo DeRosa on bass; Nasheet Waits on drums (ElSaffar plays trumpet, sings, and plays the santoor) -- play a suite based on various ruhiyya. ElSaffar's compositions are not mere exotic fusion, but wholly developed for jazz from the maqam. This is no mean feat. Here, in this thematic structure (the title refers to the rivers of creation and civilization themselves, the Tigris and Euphrates) this group offers a wildly original and deeply reverential music that is at once devastatingly beautiful, extremely human, and aspires to the divine. Here the formal structure of the maqam is the take-off and turning point, and what happens in between as these gifted players begin to articulate these themes based on an interpolation of rhythm, mode, harmony, tonality, and drone, is not only magical and emotionally rich, it is among the bravest music on the scene. In the late '50s, jazz bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, an American-born bassist of Sudanese descent, recorded for Prestige, RCA, and Stratus, a music in which he used the scales, rhythms, and the oud as expansion points for jazz. His wove a fabric that others had experimented with -- Yusef Lateef most successfully -- but that he incorporated wholesale. Many players followed his lead, and some, such as Rabih Abou-Khalil, have used Middle Eastern traditional music and instruments and woven these into the jazz tradition. ElSaffar goes as far in our day as Abdul-Malik did in his; he makes few compromises. This is a jazz record carefully assembled, expertly articulated and executed, that brings to the many American jazz fans a complete exposure to an ancient tradition, one that is seamlessly woven into the fabric of improvisation. The music is both inside and outside, accessible, difficult, and sometimes strange, but it is always beautiful, filled with rich, varied, individual voices in solos. ElSaffar's trumpet playing is superb; it ranges from the delicate and lonesome to the fiery and ecstatic. His singing calls for the poems and recitations of the ruhiyya and brings them to the listener unadorned, so, for those of us who do not speak a particular language or dialect, we can appreciate their feeling and integration as part of the composition and suite. The use of rhythm here is also ingenious: it's varied, subtle, and most of all, circular, allowing a place for the listener inside its movement. Talking about individual compositions here would be useless. This is a single work to be taken as a whole; it goes beyond the understanding initially, but it is highly sensual and seductive, and meets the place inside the human heart where desire beyond the body pulls at what is at least unspeakable in words, and further, at what is perhaps unknowable. This is as impressive a debut as we've had in America in the 21st century. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

The playing of the three musicians (pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Steve Lehman, and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee) is on a high level and their 11 performances (all originals by one of the players) are each concise. But the problem with this set is that the end results are quite dull. While the musicians play off each other well, their interaction lacks much development and the results are disappointing. No fireworks occur, the originals are forgettable, and the magic that is necessary to make this type of advanced jazz project a success is lacking. Chalk it down to an off day. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

After trumpeter Lester Bowie's death in 1999, it looked as if the Art Ensemble of Chicago was finished. With multi-reedist Joseph Jarman having left the group in the early 1990s, the unit was down to a trio consisting of multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Don Moye. However Jarman soon rejoined the Art Ensemble and the group continued to work. Favors' death in early 2004 was a major blow, but the band, with different bassists, has not died. Sirius Calling is Favors' last recording and it features the quartet on 14 originals. The music is as adventurous as ever, ranging from Mitchell's circular breathing feature on the title cut and a few whimsical moments to group improvising. One misses Bowie's sense of humor and sound, and a few of the percussion pieces (particularly "Taiko") seem aimless and meandering, but the interplay between the four musicians, the mood variation (which ranges from jubilant to introspective sound explorations) and the wide range of tonal colors (Mitchell and Jarman play many different instruments) usually keep the concise music continually intriguing. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

Vision Toward Essence is a solo concert by pianist/composer/improviser Muhal Richard Abrams. It was recorded at the Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada on September 11, 1998. The performance is made up of three continuous improvisations, and runs for just under an hour. Abrams is a master pianist to be sure; his technique is sure-footed, deft, and technically awe-inspiring at times. While his role has been one of teacher and mentor for over 40 years, it's perhaps too easy to forget his real gift as a musician. From Henry Threadgill to Anthony Braxton, from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Wadada Leo Smith, from Chico Freedman to Amina Claudine Myers, and from Nicole Mitchell to Jeff Parker, Abrams, and his collaborators -- Fred Anderson included -- began something in Chicago that continues to this day. His example and no-nonsense approach have given him a real entry in the jazz history book, but his work as an instrumentalist and composer is not as easily recognized for its true worth. Abrams is a poet on the keys, a magician capable of summoning the most erudite, sophisticated, melodic, and harmonic fragments in the bat of an eye without having to rely on pure fire and attack. His conception of counterpoint as a device for extended improvisation is a trademark. Listening to Vision Toward Essence is an example of a pianist whose musical strengths are not only undiminished by time, just further nurtured by it. The drama, elegance, and power of this performance are not to be overstated; Abrams' elliptical forays into middle and high register song are balanced by the grounded middle one. There he relies on a rhythmic sense that melody itself dictates and is accented, underscored, and emphasized in the lower one with flurries of chords and quick runs that rumble and shake the listener's spine. By turns elegiac, ponderous, intense, airy, speculative, and declarative, Vision Toward Essence is perhaps the realization of both. This is indeed one of the most important records ever released by this great man © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

On a dozen concise sound explorations, altoist Steve Lehman utilizes sequences and electronic effects to produce otherworldly music. Two of the numbers are solos, seven are duets with drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and three are quintet pieces. The music primarily sets brooding moods, sometimes with rhythms, sometimes not. Few of the pieces are long enough to overstay their welcome (most end abruptly), but the overall effect is still mostly disturbing and episodic. Some listeners will find these explorations to be stimulants for thought, while others will consider them a bit of a bore since they do not include much development beyond the sounds. © Scott Yanow /TiVo