Ugly Beauty: The Month In Jazz – May 2017
Do you buy CD box sets? (Please answer in the comments; I’m genuinely curious.) I do. In the last couple of years, I’ve probably bought more box sets than stand-alone albums, for one simple reason: European copyright laws. Anything released before 1963 is public domain in Europe, which means that the catalogs of jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige, Savoy, and many others are being repackaged at ridiculously low prices. And when I say ridiculous, I mean ridiculous: If you search for “eight classic albums” on Amazon, you’ll see four-CD sets by pretty much any jazz legend you can think of, for less than $15 each — the price of a single CD. You don’t get erudite liner notes or anything, but you can gorge on the music. I own sets by Sonny Clark, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Blue Mitchell, Art Pepper, Horace Silver, and others. Some are even more priced-to-move than that: Just last week, I bought a 10-CD box that contains 20 albums by the Modern Jazz Quartet…for $13.
Obviously, there’s no marketing campaign for reissues like this; they aren’t advertised, and nobody reviews them. They just exist. And the part of me that learned about jazz by reading album liner notes is a little sad that it’s come to this. But the part of me that wants to get up to speed on Blue Mitchell or Johnny Griffin quickly and easily loves it.
One company that has always done jazz box sets right is Mosaic Records. Their sets have a uniform look — 12″ x 12″, LP-sized, with silver type on the spine and a stark black-and-white photo on the front — and the titles are simple and informative. The Complete Lee Morgan Blue Note Fifties Sessions. The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions. Charles Mingus – The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65. The Complete Arista Recordings Of Anthony Braxton.
The music is pulled from the master tapes whenever possible, with as many alternate takes as can be found, and highly informed and passionate booklets give you a real sense of history and context. But as awesome as the product has been, the marketing has always been terrible. Mosaic doesn’t advertise, either, and you can’t get their sets on Amazon or through other third-party sites; you have to buy direct. And unfortunately, after 35 years, the end of the line might be approaching.
Mosaic founder Michael Cuscuna sent out an email early this month that read, in part:
In this time and place, the Mosaic business model is becoming harder and harder to sustain in this rapidly changing world. We aren’t sure what the future will hold for us, but we want to let all of you know how much we appreciate that your support has allowed us to constantly make our dreams come true with set after set and that we intend to persevere. The way we operate may change but our mandate remains steadfast.
Charlie Lourie and I started Mosaic Records in 1982 and our first releases were in 1983. The company was almost an afterthought. The idea of definitive boxed sets of complete recordings by jazz masters at a crucial time in their careers was a small part of a proposal that we made to Capitol Records in 1982 to relaunch the Blue Note label. Even before Capitol turned us down, it occurred to me one night that the release of these boxed sets could be a business unto itself if we made them deluxe, hand-numbered limited editions sold directly to the public…In 1989, we moved out of Charlie’s basement and into our own facility…We added employees as the business grew. We started issuing sets on CD as well as LP and eventually had our own website…But in the early 2000s, the record business began to shrink and morph for a variety of reasons and we were forced to downsize our staff, move to smaller quarters and reduce the flow of sets.
We’ve always tried to be diligent about warning you when sets were running low so you wouldn’t miss out on titles that you wanted. But at this point, some sets which are temporarily out of stock may not be pressed again. We are not certain how Mosaic Records will continue going forward or how many more sets we will be able to create and release. We’ve got a lot of great plans but few resources…If you are thinking about acquiring a certain set, now’s the time.
Again, Mosaic doesn’t do nearly enough to make people aware of their releases. I’ve reviewed three or four of their boxes over the years, and I own a bunch, but I rarely see them mentioned in critics’ polls, even the ones that have a slot for reissues. And their historically minded approach, which puts tracks in the order they were recorded at a given session, rather than splitting them up into albums, can make them feel more archival than listener-friendly at times. (You may get two or three takes of the same song in a row, which unless you’re a complete nut, is not much fun.) Also, from a strictly commercial standpoint, they’re hampered because they’re licensing material for limited edition physical packages only. The usual print run is 5000 copies, and their sets can’t be sold digitally, or offered on streaming platforms. Still, they’re basically the best in the world at what they do and it would be a shame if, basically, the aging process grinds down their customer base to the point that they can’t sustain themselves any longer.
Offering another perspective on the value of history, saxophonist Miguel Zenón wrote a fascinating essay earlier this month called “Jazz Tradition, Innovation, And The Generational Divide.” In it, he describes what he sees, as a professor at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Zenón begins by describing his own musical process as “immersion, imitation, and assimilation,” and talks about how this strategy led him to do things like transcribe jazz solos in order to learn how Charlie Parker and John Coltrane thought, and thereby make personal breakthroughs in his own music. This isn’t something unique to jazz, or even to music: As a young man, Hunter Thompson retyped F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms in order to understand their writing styles.
But Zenón writes, “for the most part, the current generation of aspiring Jazz musicians does not seem to feel the way I do about this. They seem to be more aware of the present state of this music than of its past, and they want to be part of what’s out there now.” He continues, “Solo transcription, for example, is not a big part of their routine. Instead, the need to assimilate Jazz language is replaced by the desire to develop a musical personality at an early age. There’s not a lot of attention given to the traditional Jazz repertoire either, and the emphasis is on writing original music and even on recording albums as leaders (things that didn’t even cross my mind when I was their age).”
This isn’t a new complaint. Trumpeter Woody Shaw said in an interview with Melody Maker, “Exactly what’s wrong with most young musicians today is that they can all do, like, just the one thing. They don’t have a broad enough experience. It ain’t their fault. There’s no jazz jam sessions anymore.” That was in 1976. What makes this piece interesting, and takes it out of the realm of “these kids today” grumbling, is Zenón’s clear-eyed analysis of the cultural and market forces that make this a wise decision, rather than mere youthful hubris.
There was a time when veteran musicians would lead bands of youngsters, teaching them the ways of jazz in live performance. Drummer Art Blakey and singer Betty Carter were particularly famous for this: both Wynton and Branford Marsalis spent time in Blakey’s band, and saxophonist JD Allen and pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Stephen Scott, among others, apprenticed under Carter. But those days are gone; most members of jazz’s Greatest Generation are dead, or limiting their performances to big festivals once or twice a year, so the opportunities for such instruction are few and far between.
And anyway, giving a dutiful sideman a turn in the spotlight isn’t what jazz labels want, not anymore. There was a time when a jazz artist’s debut album would be called Introducing Whoever, and the backing band would be stacked with veterans and the track listing would be a few originals and a fistful of standards. No more. These days, young players seem to emerge fully formed, accompanied by peers rather than elder statesmen, and writing their own music rather than interpreting standards. And tangentially but crucially, a lot of that music incorporates sounds that have nothing to do with bebop, swing, or even the blues. Think Christian Scott, blending high-powered trumpet playing with trap beats and collaborating with musicians his own age, signed to Ropeadope, rather than Joey Alexander, the teenaged pianist playing standards with veterans backing him, on Concord.
Zenón describes this phenomenon somewhat cynically, saying, “the powers that be in the Jazz world today — not the musicians themselves, but the majority of the Jazz press and, by extension, most Jazz presenters — seem to emphasize ‘personality’ over ‘skill.’ Many of the most celebrated figures of today are not necessarily accomplished ‘instrumentalists,’ artists who paved their way through the scene as bona fide sidemen before developing their own personalities as composers and bandleaders, but ‘conceptualists,’ musicians who develop a personality early and for the most part independently, and who are as comfortable writing grant proposals as they are in a performance situation.”
This isn’t new either. People said Miles Davis couldn’t play, back in the 1940s. But his concepts reshaped jazz in his image at least four and maybe five times. And frankly, if this is what jazz’s future is going to look like, I’m way happier about it than I would be if I thought the future would be a bunch of Joey Alexanders.
Now, on to the music!
Archival Find Of The Month: Wynton Kelly Trio & Wes Montgomery, Smokin’ In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse (Resonance)
In 1965, guitarist Wes Montgomery recorded Smokin’ At The Half Note with pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The album quickly became a sensation, and has proved hugely influential on many jazz guitarists; most notably, Pat Metheny has said Montgomery’s solo on “If You Could See Me Now” is his favorite guitar solo of all time. Now, a brand-new recording has surfaced, from just seven months after the Half Note gig. The Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded many performances for broadcast on local radio in the 1960s, and Resonance Records is starting to release them on LP and CD. Smokin’ In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse features Montgomery, Kelly, and Cobb, joined by bassist Ron McClure. The first two tunes on each side are by the trio; the guitarist then steps in for three more. Montgomery was a breathtaking player, perfectly balancing speed and power, and with this rhythm section driving him, he’s able to speed along, blending the fluidity of bebop with a deep blues feeling. (Two of the tracks are just called “Blues In F” and “West Coast Blues.”) They also do some modal tunes, and some with a soft Brazilian feel. This is not a bootleg; it’s a solid hour of crisply recorded, high-level jazz by an amazing group.
Stream “O Morro Não Tem Vez”:
jaimie branch, Fly Or Die (International Anthem)
Trumpeter jaimie branch has been a notable figure on the Chicago scene for a decade, having worked with saxophonist Keefe Jackson, bassist Jason Ajemian, and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, among others. This is her first album as a leader, though, and it’s quite a thing. On most tracks, she’s backed by Tomeka Reid on cello, Ajemian on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums. A few, though, are stark fanfare-like soundscapes where she’s joined by two cornet players, Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay, with the results fed through electronics and subtly warped. At certain points on the album, Matt Schneider overdubs acoustic guitar. This is often intensely driving music — Taylor never seems to let up, and the combination of Reid’s cello and Ajemian’s bass give it the kind of African/American throb that saxophonist Julius Hemphill’s early records like Dogon A.D. and Coon Bid’ness had. When it slows down, though, as on “leaves of glass” and “the storm,” I’m reminded of Bill Dixon, another trumpeter who favored spacious sonic fields, smearing his horn through electronics, and combinations of bass and cello for an ominous modern classical feel. This is a scary good album, one of the most thrilling things I’ve heard so far this year.
Stream “theme 002″:
Nicole Mitchell, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE)
Flautist and composer Nicole Mitchell’s new album features a revamped lineup of her long-running Black Earth Ensemble. This incarnation of the group includes Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi (a Japanese wood flute), Renée Baker on violin, Tomeka Reid on cello and banjo, Alex Wing on electric guitar and oud, Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument), and taiko percussion, and Jovia Armstrong on percussion. Two tracks, “Staircase Struggle” and “Timewrap,” feature vocals from poet avery r young. People are throwing the “Afro-futurist” tag around, because of the album’s title and because Mitchell is an avowed sci-fi fan, citing Octavia Butler as a particularly strong influence. But the music has few if any sci-fi elements; the way the flute, shakuhachi and shamisen interact on “Sub-Mission” seems more tied to the past than the future. When the entire ensemble is in full bloom on “Dance Of Many Hands,” though, the combination of Baker’s violin and Wing’s guitar, and the flutes and percussion, give it an otherworldly sound; it’s impossible to tie this blend of elements to any one tradition or territory. So maybe that’s Mitchell’s vision of the future — philosophically egalitarian and culturally omnivorous. Based on this evidence, that would be pretty awesome.
Stream “Dance Of Many Hands”:
Nick Mazzarella/Tomeka Reid, Signaling (Nessa)
Tomeka Reid pops up again on this duo album, recorded with alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella. They’re both Chicago-based, and this is a tribute to the Midwestern avant-garde of the 1970s, specifically taking inspiration from the creative relationship between Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud. Wadud’s cello, used in place of a bass, made Hemphill’s legendary album Dogon A.D. into a stark, forbidding mood piece, adding a chamber music feel to his bluesy shouts, Baikida Carroll’s crying trumpet, and drummer Phillip Wilson’s relentless, almost military beat. Hemphill and Wadud continued to work together for years, and the cellist also collaborated with Arthur Blythe on several of his early records. Mazzarella and Reid capture their spirit well on the opening track here, but as the album goes on they reveal that they’ve got plenty of their own ideas, too. The combination of saxophone and cello might seem a little minimal on its surface, but there’s a lot of depth here.
Stream “Blues For Julius And Abdul”:
Yazz Ahmed, La Saboteuse (Naim)
British/Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s latest album was initially rolled out slowly as a series of EPs, and has now been combined into a single unified work. It’s a blend of jazz and desert music with a powerful rhythmic bed and plenty of crying horns and reeds up top, plus substantial doses of electronics. The personnel includes Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet, Samuel Hällkvist on electric guitar, Naadja Sheriff on Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, Lewis Wright on vibraphone, Dudley Phillips and Dave Manington on electric bass, Martin France on drums, and Corrina Silvester on drums and about a dozen different percussion instruments. It’s a heavily produced and carefully arranged album: on “Al Emadi,” she overdubs her horn at least three times, harmonizing with herself as the rhythm shifts and shuffles behind her and guitar and keyboards create a tense atmosphere. There are times when the polyrhythmic complexity and mantra-like melodies remind me of a calmer, more meditative version of Miles Davis’ On The Corner, but there’s a lot here for fans of Sons Of Kemet as well.
Stream La Saboteuse:
Walt Weiskopf, Fountain Of Youth (Posi-Tone)
Saxophonist Walt Weiskopf is a guy many more people have heard than heard of, for one big reason: he’s been in Steely Dan’s live band since 2002, and has also played on their album Everything Must Go and Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat and Sunken Condos. On his own, he’s released close to 20 albums. This one features Behn Gillece on vibraphone, Peter Zak on piano, Mike Karn on bass, and Steve Fidyk on drums. The music has a gentle, romantic feel, and Gillece makes an excellent foil for Weiskopf, giving the atmosphere an extra degree of shimmer not possible with the traditional saxophone-plus-piano-trio setup. As a player, Weiskopf has a kind of contained excitement — the way his phrases waver back and forth in a somewhat narrow range makes me think of someone hopping from one foot to the other. Zak has a similar exuberance, and Fidyk is a rock-solid drummer who drives the music without drawing too much attention to himself, even when he’s soloing; it’s a weird balance to strike, but he’s a master of it.
Stream “Backstage Blues”:
Cuong Vu 4tet, Ballet (RareNoise)
Trumpeter Cuong Vu got a lot of attention last year for an album he made with guitarist Pat Metheny; it featured some intense passages of unison melody from the two men, as bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor (check out his work with saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh’s quartet) set up a variety of rhythms, some dead slow and others intricate and grooving, but there was also a lot of avant-garde exploration, which Metheny was totally ready for and comfortable with. Ballet, which features Bill Frisell in the guitar chair and Luke Bergman on bass, is a tribute to composer Michael Gibbs; all of the tunes here are his. Frisell, who frequently operates in an almost narcoleptically mellow jazz-Americana vein, rips it up here at times, getting downright noisy on the opening title track. But on other tracks, like “Blue Comedy,” the band operates in an almost traditionally swinging mode, Frisell’s country-blues guitar bouncing along atop Bergman’s bass and Poor’s almost rockabilly-jazz drumming, as Vu’s trumpet spits out ribbonlike phrases that push Kansas City swing through echo and reverb to emerge in the future.
Stream “Blue Comedy”:
Gregory Lewis, Organ Monk: The Breathe Suite (self-released)
Organist Gregory Lewis first made a name for himself interpreting Thelonious Monk’s music for organ. This might seem like a challenge, considering how crucial the percussive qualities of the piano were to Monk’s compositions and performance, but Lewis made it work. On this album, though, he’s shifted his focus to original music, and created a powerful, politically engaged but musically awesome work. The tracks are named for victims of violence, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and the music has a spiritual/free jazz feel that recalls Albert Ayler with its simple melodies that expand into forceful, emotionally charged solos. A few tracks are performed by a basic organ trio, with Ron Jackson on guitar and Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums, but others feature an expanded ensemble: Riley Mullins on trumpet, Reggie Woods on tenor sax, Marc Ribot on guitar, and Nasheet Waits on drums. This group absolutely slams, making sure the music reflects the emotions at its core.
Stream the album on Spotify:
Paul Dietrich Quintet, Focus (Ears&Eyes)
The second album by trumpeter Paul Dietrich’s quintet features tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, pianist Paul Bedal, bassist Tim Ipsen, and drummer Andrew Green, all of whom are masters of modern jazz as a language. Their playing is crisp and clean, driven by beats that owe as much to rock and funk as jazz; Green’s snare snaps like a rat-trap. Dietrich and Laurenzi make a good team, ducking and diving around each other like birds deciding whether or not to fight. On “The Quick Turn,” Bedal’s piano melodies seem to owe as much to Philip Glass as to anything within the jazz tradition. And Katie Ernst, who contributes wordless vocals (but, crucially, not scat singing) to several tracks, almost sounds alien at times, her voice caroming all over like she’s trying to say something but keeps getting argued down by the band. “If You Think of Something” is one of the best tracks on the record. Bedal gives it a sort of relentless quality that’s echoed in the way Dietrich’s solo repeats notes and stays in a somewhat narrow, almost haranguing range. He’s not spiraling up and out; he wants to make sure you understand this one really important thing he’s trying to tell you. Focus is a perfect title for this album. It’s extremely focused, concentrated, almost monomaniacal at times.
Stream “If You Think Of Something”:
Charnett Moffett, Music From Our Soul (Motema)
Bassist Charnett Moffett has assembled some incredible players on this album; Pharoah Sanders is on saxophone, Stanley Jordan on guitar, Cyrus Chestnut on piano, and three different drummers, all amazing, are present, depending on the track: Jeff “Tain” Watts, Victor Lewis, and Mike Clark. There’s a lot of history represented by those choices. To pick just two examples, Moffett played with Watts on Wynton Marsalis’s Black Codes (From The Underground) in 1985, and he and Sanders were on Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages in 1991. The opening title track, which features Sanders, is great, if too short, while a version of Miles Davis’s “So What” by Jordan, Moffett, and Clark swings like hell (something that might surprise listeners who know the drummer from his work with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band). Moffett plays both electric and upright here, and frequently filters the bass through pedals that give him a sound like a cross between a cello and an electric guitar.
Stream “We Are Here To Play”:
Sean Jones, Live From Jazz At The Bistro (Mack Avenue)
Trumpeter Sean Jones has been around for a while, but has never quite broken the surface in the way his talent deserves. This live album doesn’t break any new ground for him, but it’s a great example of how he and his band can tear shit up. In fact, two slightly different bands are documented here: a quartet with Orrin Evans on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, and Obed Calvaire on drums, and a quintet with Evans, Curtis, Mark Whitfield Jr. drumming, and Brian Hogans on soprano sax. Jones’ trumpet playing reminds me a little bit of Wynton Marsalis, but also of Donald Byrd — he’s got that skyrocketing upper register and the ability to hold notes for what seems like an unearthly amount of time without wavering or fraying. This in turn inspires Evans to play with greater force than he’s done in the past, as Curtis and whoever’s on drums keep things bluesy and swinging. Jazz At The Bistro is a club in St. Louis, and if this album is any evidence, they do things differently there, compared to Manhattan. It’s not about your complicated lead-sheet melodies or sophisticated harmonic interactions; it’s about melody and rhythm, the basic building blocks of song. Jones’ solos, and everyone’s, are intended to rock this crowd back in their seats, and they do so. Even on the slower tunes like “Lost, Then Found,” it’s about beauty and genuine emotional expression.
Stream “The Ungentrified Blues”:
Andrew Hartman, Compass (self-released)
Guitarist Andrew Hartman hasn’t made an album in seven years. His debut, Andrew Hartman And Still Motion, came out in March 2010. According to his Bandcamp page, he spent more than five years writing tunes for Compass, which features saxophonist Chris Cheek, bassist Ike Sturm, and drummer Zach Harmon. In addition to nine originals, there’s a version of Simon And Garfunkel’s “America.” Cheek and Hartman are well matched; the guitarist is a very melodic player with a traditional, clean “jazz guitar” sound, and the saxophonist, too, favors straightforward lines with just a dash of emotion. At times, like on “Devices,” he sounds like he’s playing on a 1970s TV theme song. Sturm is a subtle presence. He mostly stays out of the way, harmonizing well with the guitar and providing a solid foundation. Harmon’s drums have that sharp, ringing sound you used to hear on alternative rock albums in the ’90s; he’s like a jazz version of Helmet’s John Stanier. There’s a lot of very pretty playing on Compass, but little or no visceral impact — it all slips past like clouds on a warm and sunny, but breezy day.
John Yao Quintet, Presence (See Tao)
Trombonist John Yao’s second album with his quintet is a tight, swinging straight-ahead effort that could have been released on Posi-Tone or Criss Cross. The band is solid: Jon Irabagon on soprano sax, Randy Ingram on piano and occasional organ, Peter Brendler on bass, and Shawn Baltazor on drums. I’m most impressed by Baltazor, because he’s the name least familiar to me. His light, dancing touch gives tracks like the opening “Tight Rope” and the somewhat wispy ballad “M. Howard” (named for the leader of the Three Stooges?) a skipping energy that balances the sometimes plodding, overly sequential melodies. And his brief solo on “Over The Line” is like a slow-motion bombing raid. Irabagon takes the most adventurous solos, but Yao’s extremely vocal, groaning trombone lines are frequently surprising.
Stream “Tight Rope”:
Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, Bobby Previte With Iggy Pop, Loneliness Road (RareNoise)
Iggy Pop, jazz singer? It’s true; he wrote the lyrics for, and sings on, three tracks on this piano trio disc. Jamie Saft is best known as an organ and keyboard player with some of John Zorn’s bands, but he’s also done some really terrific work with Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, and others in recent years on the RareNoise label. He’s joined here, for the second time, by electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. They make a great unit, vaulting seamlessly from piano-bar swing to eruptive free playing on instrumental pieces like “Henbane.” But when Iggy steps up on the title track, “Don’t Lose Yourself” and “Everyday,” things take a surprising turn. Iggy tried his luck as a crooner on two albums under his own name, 2009’s Préliminaires and 2012’s Après, with relative success, but he’s always had a suave side: He was slipping songs like “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and “One More For My Baby (and One More For The Road)” into live sets as far back as the early ’70s. Now that he’s 70, his voice has enough fragility and roughness (at the same time) that he’s able to inhabit lyrics — which he wrote himself — he never could have made work in his wild-man days. The instrumentals were recorded before he set words to them, but he worms his way in and makes them his own, without ever making the Iggy-less tracks feel less essential to the experience of the album.
Stream “Loneliness Road”:
The Vampires, The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (Earshift Music)
Australian saxophonist Jeremy Rose is a co-leader of the Vampires, alongside trumpeter Nick Garbett, bassist Jonathan Zwartz, also of avant-garde piano trio the Necks, and drummer Danny Fischer. (Alex Masso drums on two tracks.) This is their fifth album, and they’ve brought in Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke as a guest. This is a substantial change for the group, whose music is normally chordless and focused on melody and interchange between the two horns, atop varying rhythmic beds (reggae, Latin, Balkan, Afrobeat, and combinations of those elements and more). But this time, guitar takes over for long stretches, and Loueke even sings at times. “Freedom Song” is a dub-funk groove that allows Rose and Garbett to exploit echo and reverb, as Loueke shifts between chicken-scratch funk guitar and bluesy jazz chords.
Stream “Freedom Song”:
Quinsin Nachoff, Quinsin Nachoff’s Ethereal Trio (Whirlwind Recordings)
There are plenty of words I could use to describe the trio saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff has formed with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss. “Ethereal” wouldn’t even be on the third page of the list. This is a hard-charging, almost-free-jazz album with the power, if not necessarily the deeply bluesy groove, of the JD Allen Trio. Helias’s bass sound is absolutely huge; it sounds like one of those giant octobasses dudes have to climb stepladders to play. Weiss, who has studied Indian music for years and thus has a talent for setting up trancelike rhythms that feel like they could go on for years, is apparently just as capable of settling down behind a kit and just whomping the shit out of it; his solo on “Imagination Reconstruction” is a sudden thunderstorm. The aptly titled “Gravitas” is a ballad featuring bowed bass, mournful tom rolls, and slowly unspooling saxophone lines that eventually dissolve into mere hissing air. But you really get to know what these guys are about straight out of the gate, as the album-opening “Clairvoyant Jest” struts and capers, stops and starts so everybody gets a moment (or three or four) in the spotlight, and generally lets you know that for the next 43 minutes, attention must be paid.
Stream “Clairvoyant Jest”: