Aspiring To Let Things Happen

Teresa Lee

Aspiring To Let Things Happen

Teresa Lee

Bassist Eric Revis is a very busy man. When I reached him by phone, he had just returned home to Los Angeles after a solid month — “a very solid month,” he said with a laugh — of tour dates with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, drummer Greg Hutchinson, and two different pianists: Aaron Parks on most dates, and Taylor Eigsti for a West Coast leg. “We did Maine, New Hampshire, Montreal, a few cities in Ohio, Philadelphia, and then somewhere else I can’t think of, and then we went to the [Village] Vanguard for a week, and then after that we did kind of a West Coast thing — Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, LA, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Portland, Seattle,” he says with a kind of mild shock.

The tour was almost entirely one-nighters, aside from the week at the Village Vanguard, several nights of which were recorded for a live album that will come out on Rosenwinkel’s own label in 2023. “It’s basically just… Kurt’s music,” he says when asked to describe the new material. “I don’t think that I could place it in any one specific category. It’s definitely not an electronic-based thing, it is sonic variations on a standard jazz quartet. Although stylistically, the music goes several places, it stays pretty much there. It’s piano, Rhodes, and keyboard, along with bass, drums and guitar.”

Revis, pictured above with John Escreet and Nasheet Waits, had only three days off out of 30 before we spoke, and he spent one of those in the studio with one of his main employers, saxophonist Branford Marsalis. (He’s been a member of Marsalis’ quartet since 1997.) They were recording the soundtrack to an upcoming biopic about civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, directed by George Wolfe and starring Colman Domingo as Rustin; it’ll be on Netflix in 2023.

In addition to that project, Revis appears on more than a half dozen albums coming out this year. He’s on pianist John Escreet’s new trio disc, Seismic Shift, with drummer Damion Reid, out now. His collaborative trio with pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Nasheet Waits, Tarbaby, put out Dance Of The Evil Toys in September. Saxophonist Avram Fefer’s quartet with guitarist Marc Ribot, Revis, and drummer Chad Taylor will release Juba Lee next month. A 2016 recording with guitarist Jeff Parker and Nasheet Waits, Eastside Romp, just came out, as did Live From The Heat Dome by trumpeter Thomas Marriott, with Evans on piano and Ted Poor on drums. Saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis’ Heat Map, with Evans, Revis, and Gerald Cleaver, came out in July, and he appears along with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and saxophonist “Prometheus Jenkins” (see below) on guitarist Doug Wamble’s Blues In The Present Tense, out this week. We talked about most of those records, as well as his time playing with German free jazz titan Peter Brötzmann, the state of the jazz scene in Los Angeles, his approach to bass playing, and more.

You’re on John Escreet’s new record, which is with you and Damion Reid. Tell me about that. How did that come together, and do you see that becoming a working band, since you’re all LA-based? Do you get together often enough for that?

ERIC REVIS: I don’t know if anybody gets together often enough in LA. Even though it goes under the auspices of being one city, there’s just so many different places and it’s so spread out, and there’s not a lot of places to play in Los Angeles. So regular, I don’t know how regular that is, but I’ve known John for a minute, and as it happens, a lot of people have through pre-pandemic and pandemic relocated out here and we just started playing. We did a few gigs, and he had this project come up, and we’ve been doing some stuff as a trio, so that’s pretty much how it came about.

When I spoke to him, he mentioned that a lot of people had moved out there, and also that it seemed like — he said that it was a really vibrant scene. But you’re saying there’s not that many places to play, so…what is the state of the LA jazz scene?

REVIS: It’s hard to put it into a one specific thing. When the Blue Whale [a club that closed in January 2021] was happening, I think that was a place where, if there’s a scene proper, which, you know, I came up in New Orleans and New York, in terms of scenes… that was probably the galvanizing spot of the scene. Since they’ve gone, there are places to play, and I do play when I’m in town, I play quite a bit, but ironically it’s almost like I play as much with people that are traveling through or coming in to LA than I do with guys based in LA. But there’s still, there is somewhat [of a scene], it’s just not comparable to — New York is so concentrated, there’s a lot of interplay between musicians. I know there are a lot of people doing different things [in LA]. The cool part about out here is that even though there aren’t a lot of specifically jazz clubs or improvised music places, you end up playing in places that aren’t that, so the audience in a way tends to be a little more vibrant.

See, that’s what I think could benefit it, would be to have sort of a Chicago-y approach of playing in art spaces, playing cross-genre bookings, stuff like that.

REVIS: Definitely. That is a very cool part about this. And I think we’re all just also kind of waiting with bated breath to see how this post-pandemic recovery will happen, and if there will be new places to play or just to see when it gets its legs. I would like to think that something would happen, and this is not the new normal.

I feel like LA would be an extremely cautious town, just because it’s the center of the entertainment industry and the entertainment industry, movies and TV, is so safety-minded that even on a social level, you’re not gonna get people coming out if they’re on a shoot or something.

REVIS: Oh, yeah. And it’s weird, I mean, being that that part of the industry has been so predominant, although there’s been some amazing musicians to come out of LA, and there have been periods of time when there was a scene, I don’t think it’s ever been considered a music place, not for jazz or jazz-adjacent or improvised music, although once again, a lot of great players — Bobby Bradford and John Carter were out here, and Horace Tapscott, there’s a lot of people who have come from here doing that. But overall, it’s definitely not like a Chicago thing or a New York thing.

So there’s a new Tarbaby record out. When was it recorded?

REVIS: We actually had a dispute about that [laughs]. We were sitting around saying, when did we do this? I’m gonna put it at, I think it was 2018. I think Orrin claims it was before then. I had been doing some stuff with Clean Feed, and Pedro [Costa] approached me about… he had expressed that it had always been a goal of his to have Oliver Lake on the label in some capacity. And we were pretty much overdue for a recording, so in talking to Pedro, we arranged to do something with Oliver, and we brought in [trumpeter] Josh Lawrence and [percussionist] Dana Murray came in.

We all have ideas, since we know each other so well, [of] what will be compatible with the group, and Oliver always has great tunes, and it was a really fun session, as all of our things are, because that’s a labor of love between us. So it was really good, and as a matter of fact, we also ended up doing a couple of tracks for Dana — his record Negro Manifesto came out three or four years ago, but we’re on that as well, and that was done during the same period of time.

The title track is also on the last Branford Marsalis album, which brings me to something that bugs me, which is that jazz musicians these days don’t record each other’s tunes. Like “Maiden Voyage” — if nobody but Herbie Hancock had ever recorded that tune, it wouldn’t be a standard now. So how do we establish a new canon of standards, of pieces written in, like, the last ten years that people are just gonna start recording? ‘Cause there are players who write good tunes, and somebody needs to take the baton and say, I’m gonna record this Aaron Parks tune, or whatever.

REVIS: I agree. It’s kind of a weird thing, though. Because as of the past I don’t know how long, a couple of generations maybe, I think, people fancy themselves composers sometimes, like you’re saying, to the detriment of maybe an overall musical statement, in terms of a package. On all my records, I always want somebody to contribute something else, ’cause no matter what you do or if you’ve composed a body of music, it adds a different flavor. Be it the impetus for somebody to play a certain way, or the way that they arrange it…

I think for me personally it completes a musical statement. ‘Cause you have these personalities, and they have agency in their tunes, whereas if you just go in and say, ‘This [album] is all my tunes,’ quite frankly, no matter how good you are, it boils down to, you have a few tunes in you and several variations of those tunes. I mean, we’ve been really conscious of that in Tarbaby. Being that it’s a co-led band, I guess we have to be, but it’s really exciting to go in — and it’s not all a picnic. There have been [conversations], like, ‘Man, this tune is garbage,’ or ‘Let’s see what we can do with this,’ or someone will say, ‘I have this tune but I don’t know…,’ and everybody’s always excited to be contributing. And Branford is like that, too. He’s always encouraging people to bring in tunes.

Yeah, I interviewed him in 2019 and he said that he likes to have everybody else in the band bring in tunes, and you in particular have had two or three pieces on each of the last few albums. So in that situation, do you write certain things with Branford in mind, and what does he like as a composer? Does he like a tricky melody that he has to puzzle his way through, or does he like something else? Are you ever writing things specifically saying, I’m gonna bring this to Branford and see what happens?

REVIS: Not really. I know that there are things — Branford is just consummate in terms of his interpretation of melody and understanding going beyond the surface of the paper, so no matter what you have, if you bring it in to him, he can get to the essence of what you’re doing and sometimes improve upon that. He’s really good at that. So I don’t consciously — I think maybe the one tune that I knew I had in mind was the first tune I brought in, “Ayanna” off of Contemporary Jazz, ’cause that was in the vein of a lot of stuff that we had been doing and I had that particular thing in mind.

Other things, I just bring in like, ‘Hey man, I’m working on this; this is what it is,’ and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ With my own projects, I think I tend to lean more towards hearing voices and how they would do things, like with the quartet records and some of the quintet records. Like, I knew the juxtaposition of Bill McHenry and Darius Jones [on 2020’s Slipknots Through A Looking Glass] would be something, and I could write playing into that.

Given that you do a lot of writing, and you approach things as a writer, tell me how you work with Peter Brötzmann, where there might be a riff, but it’s not gonna be a composition, necessarily, ’cause he doesn’t really wanna look at sheet music, is my understanding. He just wants to go. And he listens — everybody I’ve ever talked to who’s played with him says he listens carefully as hell, and responds to you — but he’s not necessarily interested in running down a piece. So what’s your approach in that band versus some of your other things?

REVIS: With Peter, it’s the consummate spirit of exploration. He really deals with forward movement. The vistas ahead type of thing. And playing with him, I mean, it’s really no different than playing with anybody else, I mean, if you get into the idea of composing spontaneously, the more you do that, it’s like, ‘What does this need now? Oh, I’m going here; how do I juxtapose this, how do I balance it off that?’ And all of that is happening in real time.

And Peter’s just phenomenal to work with, and I hope to play with him sometime soon. He’s great. But I don’t really approach playing with Peter any differently than anybody else in terms of where I perceive music or how I perceive music. Some things fit. If you’re a dancer, it’s like, I’m a great dancer but I can only dance in this 10×20-foot room. Shit, if you can dance, you can dance on a football field, if you’re truly into that. And Peter wants the same things that everybody else wants for my role. It’s about listening and interaction and being there.

In addition to Tarbaby, you have played bass on several of Orrin’s other albums. So how is the dynamic different between those two situations?

REVIS: Orrin is one of my best friends in the world. So with that comes realizing that if it’s Orrin’s project, of course you may make suggestions or whatever, but he has a particular thing he’s going for, so being that I have his back, I’m gonna provide what’s needed. And vice versa, on the records of mine he’s played on. With Tarbaby, it’s more or less that we’re like, ‘OK, we have this tune, what are you feeling on this tune?’ And it comes down to a consensus, or more often two against one [laughs]. If two people agree on it, shit, OK, let’s do it that way. You can argue about it and sometimes you might make a little headway, but it’s really a three-headed monster, so it’s like, OK, fine. Or however that works out. But the thing is, everybody’s amenable to it. ‘Let’s do it like this?’ OK, fine. Even if it’s my tune and Nasheet and Orrin are saying, ‘Why don’t we do this,’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I don’t think anybody should hold their shit so sacred as to be intransigent about it. Fuck it, it’s just music; let’s do it.

You and Nasheet are on this Jeff Parker record Eastside Romp that just came out, but it was recorded in 2016 or 2017. So what do you remember about making that record? How did you two connect with him? Did you know him before?

REVIS: Yeah, I’ve known Jeff for quite a while. We had both moved out to Los Angeles and we met, and that record is also an egalitarian trio record, but I guess [playing] guitar, he gets his name first. That’s cool. I think we had done a gig somewhere in Highland Park. Nasheet was in town, and Jeff was doing a residency, and he had expressed wanting to play with Nasheet, so I said, ‘He’s gonna be in town, let me hook it up.’ So we played then, and the idea just kind of kept going around, someone mentioning, let’s do something, and then all of us had time, so we went in and did it.

And that was a similar situation of bringing in some tunes, and that one was a little more about allotting the time to see what we can come up with in the studio, or just play. I had been playing with Jeff on several things out here, [but] other than the small gig that we did in Highland Park, that was the first time that Nasheet and Jeff really had a chance to hit, and it seemed like everything just flowed very, very easily. It was very cool.

So you went into the studio without necessarily knowing who was going to put that music out, or if it was going to come out? Do you do that fairly often — record something and then look for a label?

REVIS: Not as a general rule. I mean, usually you try to at least have some kind of interest in something, or know where you can direct the project. With that one, because time was somewhat of the essence, we were all available, hey, let’s just go in and do it. And it worked out that — well, Nasheet and I had done the Tarbaby record Fanon on RogueArt, and so we knew Michel [Portal], and Jeff had been working with him as well, so that was a pretty seamless or easy fit. He liked the project, and we just waited.

You’re on the new record by Doug Wamble, the blues guitarist, and are we allowed to say who’s playing sax on that record? [It’s Branford Marsalis, credited as “Prometheus Jenkins.”]

REVIS: I mean, I heard it was somebody that I’ve played with quite frequently [laughs]. That’s his moniker. Tain had come up with that name. That was great. That was really fun. I mean, we’ve been talking about doing some stuff for a while. I’ve known Doug for a really long time; he’s just a really studied, very heartfelt musician and there was a singer-songwriter project that I had done with him a few years ago, and he just kept talking about, ‘Hey man, I want to do this thing,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’

The one thing about all the musicians on it, Tain and Branford, is that everybody is very concerned with songs. I did a gig one time, we had a week on the Upper East Side — it was like a cabaret gig, this off-Broadway thing with a singer who’d been the voice of Disney movies, and it was the baddest thing, it was so cool. So getting in the studio and having Doug’s music and interpreting that, it was very natural, playing with Tain and Branford in that — that’s kind of like home. I love the idea of coming with parts and songs, but I also have the whole free or extemporaneous thing, and they just seem to kind of work in conjunction, so Doug’s music having a free spirit and wanting to stretch in ways, it was really nice.

And the last thing I know of that you’ve got coming out is the new record by Avram Fefer’s quartet, with you and him and Marc Ribot and Chad Taylor. Marc has been involved since 2019, but the trio’s been together a long time before that. How has the music evolved? Does that group have a definite and unique voice, in your mind?

REVIS: Yeah, it does, and the addition of Marc Ribot is just great. I mean, Marc is fantastic, man. He’s had some of the best gigs in the world, like Tom Waits — dude, I’m asking him questions about that shit. Avram’s music tends to be very almost vamp-based, like groove-based in more of a world music fashion. And Chad is amazing in that, like, if there’s a groove he will always think of something that… I mean, I don’t know how he comes up with some of his parts. I’m just like, ‘Wow, that’s bad; I didn’t think of that at all.’

And it just fits. I’ve been playing with Chad for years, but the addition of Ribot in that band adds something really, really nice, because Chad and Ribot have been playing together for years [too], they had the Spiritual Unity trio with Henry Grimes. And the spirit of Marc is… he’ll rock out on some shit, he’s very experimental, his sonic palette is very unique, so it was good, and Avram wrote some music that really kind of accentuated all of the strengths of the band. He did a really good thing with that, I think.

All these different groups, you’re paired up with different drummers — Nasheet Waits, Justin Faulkner, Chad Taylor — so tell me about your philosophy of the bass, because there are leader-type bassists in that Mingus-y ‘I’m gonna drag the music in this direction and everyone else is gonna follow me’ sense, and then there’s people like Ron Carter who are extremely precise and sit in the middle of the thing and support whatever everybody else is doing…

REVIS: Ron also will dictate. [laughs] Ron’s very much the dictator of where things go from that position, but I know what you’re saying. Out front as opposed to being ensconced in the rhythm section.

Even somebody like William Parker, who is absolutely a leader, but when you would hear him in the Feel Trio with Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley, he was the balancing element, ’cause those two guys were both leaders and William was like, all right, I’m gonna bounce from one foot to the other in the middle here and keep everything anchored. So what’s your mindset, do you think? Where do you fall in the pantheon of approaches?

REVIS: I think it’s probably — I mean, it’s not unique, but I love playing bass. I love holding shit down. But I also love having the ability to step out and know when something needs to be proactive. You basically have four concentric circles, so you have reactive, proactive, fundamental or functionality, and then you also have independent thought. And different bass players do different things. They dance between these circles. If you take somebody like Charlie Haden, for instance, he was very much based in functionality, but was also very reactive and proactive. So he would stay within the functionality of bass, but sometimes there were these pedal notes he would do that would change the whole tenor of the music. So I kind of think that — this is my personal [thing], how I’ve contextualized this — to be in the middle of these four concentric circles is my goal. And if you put them all — I’ve schemed it out just for teaching purposes — if you do the four concentric circles it makes an eye, it looks like an eye, and that’s the sweet spot, where you can dance between these things depending on what is needed. So I tend to keep that model in mind, and it’s worked for me. And the other thing is, let the punishment fit the crime. The people that I aspire to, the greats that I aspire to, they always let things happen, in a very smart sense. So I aspire to that.


Dave Douglas - "Enthroned"

Back in 2011, trumpeter Dave Douglas formed a quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Rudy Royston. They made three studio albums — 2012’s Be Still, with vocalist Aoife O’Donovan; 2013’s Time Travel; and 2015’s Brazen Heart. They also recorded eight full sets over four nights at New York’s Jazz Standard, released as Brazen Heart Live. Now, they’ve made a surprise comeback.

While writing material for his album Secular Psalms, which was recorded with an entirely different group, Douglas found himself revisiting the psalms known as the Songs of Ascent, and wound up writing 15 compositions based on those, plus one more piece, for a total of 16. He reconvened the quintet, albeit remotely, and they recorded all 16 pieces, each member laying down their own parts from home over the course of a year or so beginning in May 2020. It’s impossible to tell from listening that this was the process; Douglas says that he recorded all his parts first, but it genuinely sounds like the work of a band in a room, listening intently to one another. “Enthroned” begins with Oh’s bass, but Douglas comes in right away, and he and Irabagon play a mournful unison melody that reminds me a little of the Miles Davis/Wayne Shorter interplay on “Nefertiti,” especially when Royston is skittering across the kit behind them. (Note: Only eight of the pieces appear on Songs Of Ascent, Vol. 1; to get the other eight, you have to be a subscriber to Greenleaf Music on Bandcamp. It’s worth it.) (From Songs Of Ascent, Vol. 1: Degrees, out now via Greenleaf Music.)


Gyedu-Blay Ambolley - "A Love Supreme"

Saxophonist and bandleader Gyedu-Blay Ambolley is a legend in Africa. Born in Ghana, he played with Ebo Taylor, and was a member of the Uhuru Dance Band before co-founding the Apagya Show Band in the 1970s. Hi-Life Jazz is his 35th(!) album, and in addition to Ghanaian highlife songs, loose but funky and guitar-driven, it features versions of several well-known jazz classics, including Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” The latter is turned into a shimmering funk vamp, its simple four-note bass line given a funky twist as the rhythm — drums, percussion, and guitar — ticks along. Ambolley delivers a possibly extemporaneous monologue over the immortal main riff (as essayed by his show band’s horn section), shadowed by a stabbing, Afrobeat-style electric piano. “John Coltrane said in America that love is so supreme, baby,” Ambolley sings. “We heard him in Africa, we heard him loud and clear.” Eventually he essays a passionate saxophone solo that’s less a fervid display of technique than a passionate, soulful cry. (From Hi-Life Jazz, out now via Agogo.)


Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Cyrille, & Qasim Naqvi - "Spiritual Is 150"

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Andrew Cyrille have worked together before, recording duos and collaborating with guitarist Bill Frisell on 2018’s amazing Lebroba. On this disc, they’re joined by Qasim Naqvi, a Pakistani-American drummer and composer probably best known for his work in the minimalist, looplike piano trio Dawn Of Midi. Naqvi is mostly on synth here, adding electronic textures rather than countermelodies; his work brings to mind previous Cyrille collaborations with Richard Teitelbaum, a composer and improviser who also worked with Anthony Braxton, and who died in 2020. On “Spiritual Is 150,” Naqvi’s electronics ping like faraway sonar and pulse like medical monitoring devices, as Smith’s sharp, room-filling trumpet phrases pierce the air like flying nails and Cyrille delivers precise but ever-shifting tom rolls. (From Two Centuries, out now via Red Hook.)


Nok Cultural Ensemble - "Awakening" (Feat. Theon Cross)

Nok Cultural Ensemble is a new project led by Edward Wakili-Hick, formerly of Sons Of Kemet and also a member of Kokoroko. It’s not a band, it’s a collective, so not everybody’s heard on every track, and the participants include members of Kokoroko, Afrorack, Ezra Collective, and leaders in their own right like tuba wizard Theon Cross and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid. “Awakening” is a showcase for Cross, with Hick on percussion; it’s fundamentally a duo piece, with a few very subtle splashes of electronic sound here and there and some dub effects in the mix. Cross explores the tuba’s full range, playing higher notes than I thought the instrument could, with an extraordinary gentleness. At times he sounds like a baby elephant calling for its mother, somewhere in the distance, and some of his notes end with a little kissing sound that I’ve mostly only heard avant-garde trumpeters like Bill Dixon and Axel Dörner make. It’s a really impressive performance, especially given the way he hugs the beat laid down by hand percussion and just a few little rattles of snare and cymbal crashes. It’s thrilling and suspenseful, like a Sons Of Kemet track with the volume turned down to, like, two. (From Nhjyi, out now via SA Recordings.)


Whit Dickey Quartet - "Supernova"

This is not the same Whit Dickey Quartet that released Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space back in May. That group featured Dickey on drums, Brandon Lopez on bass, Mat Maneri on viola, and Rob Brown on alto sax. This Whit Dickey Quartet features Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Matthew Shipp on piano, alongside Lopez and Dickey. As a consequence of that instrumentation (and the particular combination of players), it’s a much heavier album than its predecessors; indeed, it may remind many listeners of the David S. Ware Quartet, in which both Shipp and Dickey played. On the opening track, “Supernova,” Malaby’s saxophone sound is rough and gritty, somewhere in the neighborhood of Ware but nodding even more emphatically to Archie Shepp. Shipp’s piano is emphatic if not as liturgically heavy as he’s been at times in the past — Dickey’s Zenlike, almost dancing rhythms bring something correspondingly light out of him. Lopez glues it all together, finally stepping out with a bowed solo near the end of the piece. (From Root Perspectives, out now via Tao Forms.)


Rempis/Reid/Abrams - "Schubertii"

Cellist Tomeka Reid is a genius. Like, a certified genius: she was one of this year’s 25 MacArthur Foundation honorees, and will receive $800,000 over the next five years in order to keep doing what she’s been doing. One of the many things she’s been doing is playing in this trio with saxophonist Dave Rempis and bassist Josh Abrams. This is their second album, a sequel to 2018’s Ithra. It’s a three-way interaction of equals, with Rempis drifting toward the front occasionally just because of the instrument he’s playing, but since these are improvised pieces with the feel of 20th century chamber music rather than jazz, it’s not so much about solos and support as it is harmony and complex responses to oblique provocations. On “Schubertii,” Rempis plays alto and Abrams bounces along beside him, alternating between bowed drones and precisely plucked rhythmic patterns. Meanwhile, Reid is on her own journey, creating a second lead line out of dark scrapes and ominous pings. Her playing at times recalls European free music more than jazz or classical; you can almost hear echoes of Derek Bailey’s disruptive guitar outbursts in what she’s doing, but then she locks in with Abrams, the two of them bowing in unison to bring what had seemed like unfettered improvisation to a graceful landing. (From Allium, out now via Aerophonic.)


Masaru Imada Trio+1 - "Blue Road"

One track from this album was featured on the third volume of the BBE label’s (hopefully) ongoing J Jazz series of compilations; now the entire album, originally a private press rarity, has been reissued. Pianist Masaru Imada has made dozens of albums over the course of a decades-long career; in the early ’80s, he invited prominent US players like David Sanborn, Grover Washington, Jr., and the Brecker brothers to appear on his dates. This 1977 session features Kunimitsu Inaba on bass, Tetsujiro Obara on drums, and the “+1” is percussionist Yuji Imamura. Imada is a fast, classically trained pianist who sounds like he’s coming from a place similar to early ’60s Herbie Hancock on “Blue Road”; rippling melodic phrases seem to spin out like ribbons from his fingers, and the rhythm section swings hard without ever asserting themselves too much or getting in his way. Obara delivers a few precise strikes here and there, but nothing that yanks the track off course, and even Inaba’s short bass solo is a tight extrapolation of the groove. (From Planets, out 10/28 via BBE.)


Chad Taylor Trio - "Reconciliation"

Drummer Chad Taylor is probably best known for his work in corner player Rob Mazurek’s various Chicago Underground projects, from the ’90s till today, but he’s done a lot of other things, working with the late Fred Anderson, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Eric Revis, in a duo and a quartet with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, and as a member of Jaimie Branch’s Fly Or Die band. In 2020, he launched his own trio with saxophonist Brian Settles and pianist Neil Podgurski and no bassist. Their debut, The Daily Biological, came out on Cuneiform; this sequel is on Astral Spirits, which is a little disheartening to me — I always like to see a label stick by a band, but at least the music is out there.

Most of these pieces are new, written by the band members, but they take on pianist Andrew Hill’s “Reconciliation,” originally released on his 1964 album Judgment! In the liner notes to that album, Hill explains that the title refers to “the adjustment every musician has to make to achieve unity and harmony with the rest of the group.” Given the innately precarious nature of a bassless trio, that’s an apt choice and something well worth keeping in mind. And Taylor, Podgurski and Settles do seem to be listening to each other quite carefully, and adjusting on the fly to make sure that the piece is holding together, even when it becomes a piano-drums duo; Taylor delivers soft but persistent whaps with brushes as the pianist moves confidently forward, extrapolating Hill’s melody and turning it into a series of hypnotically compelling mini-songs. (From The Reel, out 10/28 via Astral Spirits.)


Sun Ra Arkestra - "Firefly"

Since the death of their founder in 1993, the Sun Ra Arkestra has released only three albums of new material. The first, 1999’s A Song For The Sun, featured mostly compositions by saxophonist Marshall Allen, who took over leadership after Sun Ra’s passing, plus versions of the standards “The Way You Look Tonight” and “There Will Never Be Another You.” Though the group stayed on the road, it took them more than two decades to make another album — 2020’s Swirling, which included the first-ever recording of Ra’s “Darkness.” Now, only two years later, they’re back with Living Sky. The version of the Arkestra featured here is 20 members strong, still led by Allen, who’s 98 as of this writing and still blowing as freely as ever. But just as they did when Sun Ra was alive, they blend avant-garde blare and cosmic kitsch with deeply studied, lush big-band arrangements (Ra was a particular devotee of Fletcher Henderson). “Firefly” is an Allen composition, and he solos at length, but pianist Farid Barron also gets some spotlight time, and there’s a lovely string section, too. (From Living Sky, out now via Omni Sound.)


The Bad Plus - "Not Even Close To Far Off"

The Bad Plus are in transition once again. For 17 years, they were a trio with pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King. They made 14 albums with that lineup (12 studio, one live, and a self-released “bootleg”). Then Iverson left, and they made two more studio albums with Orrin Evans in the piano chair. Honestly, I liked those two albums the best. But Evans is a busy guy — he runs his own trio, as well as the Captain Black Big Band and the three-man collaborative Tarbaby. So he left in 2021. And now, Anderson and King have re-emerged, and the Bad Plus is a quartet with saxophonist Chris Speed and guitarist Ben Monder. I’ve seen three of these guys play together before — Anderson and King were the rhythm section for Broken Shadows, a band with Speed on tenor sax and Tim Berne on alto that played tunes by Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Julius Hemphill. I hope that project comes back around someday, because they were a blast live.

Anyway, this new album has the juice. The compositions often have big, memorable hooks, and the music is mixed like a late ’90s alt-rock album; I mean, Dave King’s drums are huge on “Not Even Close To Far Off,” and Monder’s guitar is a buzzing, distorted roar. Speed, meanwhile, is blowing an almost mantralike melody. You could argue that TBP was meant to be a piano trio, and a name change might have been in order at this point, but when the music rips this hard I don’t really give a shit. Let’s rock. (From The Bad Plus, out now via Edition.)


@sammyhaigmusic Playing Trumpet Into Jell-O?? #funny #trumpet #jazztok ♬ original sound – Sammy Haig

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