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August 2022

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Binker Golding
Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy
Gearbox Records
2022

A place where folk, gospel and jazz meet in tuneful harmony with each other is a place where the likes of Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny spent some of the most original and prolific years of their lives, bringing forth timeless classics like Belonging (ECM, 1974), My Song (ECM, 1978) or 80/81 (ECM, 1980). It's also the place where the British tenor Binker Golding chose to go to for his sophomore recording. The album artwork and liner photos find Golding in denim and leather boots strolling through dry grasses and hay, alluding to his musical intentions before the band even starts playing. Golding doesn't hide his influences here but indulges them without compromise, paying tribute to an era in jazz which he obviously still deems relevant today and in which finds corners left to explore. Even if opener "(Take me To the) Wide open Lows" doesn't happen to incorporate a direct quote of Jarrett's "Long As You Know Your Living Yours" or "The Windup," the pianist's expressionism, blues language and winding melodies pull through Golding's tune like a connecting thread and reappear again and again throughout the record. The saxophonist's tone isn't quite that of Jan Garbarek—famously the saxophonist in Jarrett's European quartet—however it's also not completely dissimilar. Like Garbarek, Golding rarely completely overblows, he doesn't add screeching but prefers a warm, full-bodied sound and his lines mostly remain within the diatonic spectrum of the respective harmonic backdrop. Golding's colleagues are guitarist Billy Adamson, pianist Sarah Tandy, doublebassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones, whose fiery accompaniment propels Golding's compositions forward.

There's steel-guitar, bottle-neck playing, acoustic strumming, electric blues riffing and everything in between, honing in on the band in stereo, including the occasional overdub, which unfortunately tends to stiffen the group's interplay and overall dynamics. Beyond that little flaw, however, the record leaves little to be desired, with the band seamlessly tying multiple folkloric idioms together to a coherent, immaculately-delivered whole. Towards the end of "My two Dads" Golding even introduces a galloping Scottish folklore. And are we sure Jarrett didn't at least partially write "With What I know Now"? Very fine musicianship throughout.

Ches Smith
Interpret It Well
Pyroclastic Records
2022

A continuation and expansion of 2016's The Bell (ECM, 2016), the trio of Craig Taborn, Mat Maneri and Ches Smith is here joined by guitar-wizard Bill Frisell in steadily shifting architectures, alternating rhythmically dense structures with wide-open space and soft rumination with heavy, frantic outbursts. The designs to most of the pieces on interpret it well are spontaneous, in-the-moment creations, with each of the virtuosos contributing carefully-considered tensions as the action grows more intense. Smith's multiinstrumental capacity on the record extends to vibraphone and drums, and he considers the melodic qualities of his playing no matter which instrument he ends up employing. "Mixed Metaphor" really puts his skills to the test, seeing his vibraphone in an intimate trio conversation with guitar and viola, all three of them exchanging eerie glances as each instrument organically fades in and out of the picture.

The trio settles on a quiet, hypnotizing pattern in 9/8-time before Smith switches to drums and the entire group works towards a loud, hard-hitting climax. With four improvisation-heavy compositions at over the ten-minute mark, Interpret it well boasts with avant-garde creativity, extended passages of blissful dissonance and instances of noisy minimalism, with patters, rhythms and harmonies being repeated over and over again, but rarely with the same outcome. "I Need More" for example, sees the quartet turning the recipe upside-down, with one of the song's most extreme sections at the beginning and the group winding down the energy to a concentrated middle-part with several three-note motifs being handed through the ranks as Maneri embellishes the tonally ambiguous foundation with his engaging arco swells. Frisell distorts his guitar to the max for a heavy-metal coda.

This is an album of discoveries, as is Ches Smith's entire output, which obviously ignores any ties to genre or idioms, but relies solely on pure sound and uncompromising communication.

Dan Bruce's Beta Collective
Time To Mind The Mystics
Shifting Paradigm Records
2022

"Mind The Mystics," bandleader and guitarist Daniel Bruce compels us on the inner sleeve of his newest recording with the :Beta Collective, Time To Mind The Mystics. He expands on that demand, explaining that "our embrace of technological innovation cannot come at the sacrifice of generational knowledge and ancient wisdom." This juxtaposition, of modern discoveries and idioms on the one hand and past insights and traditions on the other, is at the heart of the music on Time to Mind The Mystics, and this overreaching concept starts with the instrumentation. Acoustic and electric instruments coexist in harmony, the human voice is electronically altered via vocoder on "Slant," heavier fusion-passages feature electric bass, calmer pieces employ double bass. Bruce himself switches between electric and acoustic guitars, too, channeling his inner John McLaughlin on the drum-and-bass-driven title track and, well, McLaughlin again, but this time the McLaughlin alongside Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola from the infamous Friday Night in San Francisco (Columbia, 1981) concert on the Latin-tinged "insignificance (A love Song)."

The seamless way styles from different periods of music are interwoven throughout the program is impressive, to say the least, and the high level of musicianship that comes to the fore in these genre-melting pots makes for an engaging experience. The :Beta Collective is equipped with three horns (two saxophones, one trombone), a vibraphone, keys and bass, plus the odd job for synthesizer. Bruce leads with elegance, pulling soloist punches without show-boating in one moment, and in the next delicately moving back to an accompanying role when other players come into the limelight. "You Vs. You" is a quaint tribute to Bill Frisell, with a guitar-horns-melodica conversation recalling Frisell's intricate folk-arrangements for his various 90s ensembles, as heard on Have A Little Faith (Nonesuch, 1993) or Bill Frisell Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996). Bruce tries to imitate Frisell here and, mostly, succeeds, too. Eclectic music, well-executed and full complex composed elements that beg to be discovered several times over.

Boarding Completed
Park Blues
Losen Records
2022

A mainstream date out of Norway with bebop guitar-speak twisting around walking bass lines, swinging drum workouts and the occasional female vocal contribution. The latter, however, doesn't do anything to elevate the music, for the trio of guitarist Bård Helgerud, Andreas Dreier on double bass and drummer Magnus Sefaniassen Eide has a good thing going on its own. Vocals only appear in the last three tunes—a short but redundant unison on "Ekte Kjaerlighet," a dominant, ethereal rubato exercise with "Vinter" and the odd scat-fill on closer "På Stylter Gjenom Kardamili." Apart from that, though, Park Blues is a fun, easy-going post-bop affair with some eclectic twists interspersed. Opener "Hvittingfoss Skyline" has a latin thing going on in its rhythmic undercurrent and melodic extravagance, the title track on the other hand comes across as an authentic pass at Pat Martino's take on hard bop. Helgerud spits out racing fret flights as his sidemen can only try to keep up with the leader's speed. "Manic Minor" cuts down the pace, but the tradition remains, as guitar, bass and cymbals swing in a warm embrace. With "Endelig Gjemme," the album concludes its first phase. The ballad has an R&B quality to it and reveals some of Eide's most delicate drum strokes on the record, with Helgerud dialing it way back and cutting the quantity of his notes by 99 percent.

Fusion aesthetics enter the floor with "Innen klokken slår åtte," as the trio picks up the pace and constructs another tight groove around elaborate guitar exercises. Apart from the questionnable vocals, "Ekte Kjaerlighet" proves one of the most interesting compositions on the record, producing the most inspired playing by Helgerud as well. Park Blues won't leave the listener humming catchy refrains after it's over, but the music does set a comfortable atmosphere.

Caleb Wheeler Curtis
Heatmap
Imani
2022

Saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis' third leader-date on Imani Records is his best, most intricate and improvisationally refined outing to date, due, among other things, to its all-star cast made up of ex-The Bad Plus pianist Orrin Evans, bass master Eric Revis and the rhythmic allrounder Gerald Cleaver on drums. There are plenty of frantic rhythmic breakouts, bubbling melodies and simmering passages of stubborn interplay spread across this set of exclusively original music by Curtis, and between the loose, and loosely defined interplay are layers of compositional bliss. Like the blissful nod to Ornette Coleman in "Surrounding," the intimate, minimalist and haunting ballad "Limestone" in which Curtis shines with his full alto tone or the stone-cold rocker that is "Trembling"—the title pretty much says it all. As in "Trembling"'s untamable pulse, much of Heat Map's music comes crashing out of the quartet with determination and a real sense of purpose, though the structures are rarely through-composed. Instead, Curits relies on his accompanist's reputation and the skill that comes with it as well as on his own compositional ideas and their uncompromising straight-forwardness. The songs' tribal quality and earthy nature is filtered through the singular vision of the leader and expanded upon by three more idiosyncratic individuals, giving these takes a truly unique spin. "C(o)urses" is a giant leap of a track, jumping out from the instruments and into a strikingly original up-beat meditation full of musical dissonances and unpretentious energy.

Breathers are rare, and when things do cool down, they cool down with all the subtlety and elegance of the cool jazz and post pop groups of the '60s, as exemplified on the stunning "Trees for the Forest." There's real grit and undoubtedly much natural musicality to Curtis' playing and writing, making Heat Map a real winner in today's contemporary jazz. The loudness and excitedness of it all shouldn't turn anyone off—it's about what happens above, beyond and beneath the notes, between the musicians.

Tyshawn Sorey
Mesmerism
Yeros7 music
2022

One wouldn't know what to expect next from the ambitious musical explorer that is Tyshawn Sorey. Long an important fixture on drums in contemporary jazz, Sorey has increasingly proven his deepened interest in the compositional realms of contemporary music that lie beyond the already discovered. As composer of intricate scores for renown international orchestras, recipient of numerous awards in various disciplines and lecturer at countless universities and music programs around the world, an album of jazz standards is pretty much at the bottom of the list of projects to expect from the drummer/composer in 2022. The seemingly simple nature of Mesmerism might be a surprise, the quality of the performances on it, however, isn't. For this trio endeavor, Sorey partners up with pianist Aaron Diehl, who has prominently appeared alongside singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, and bassist Matt Brewer—at this point in his career surely credited for playing bass on over a hundred prominent jazz recordings. Considering this being a standards-session, when it comes to repertoire there are few surprises on the album, though Paul Motian's "From Time"—here presented in a heavily deconstructed layout—does prove somewhat an exception.

Everywhere else the trio moves in strictly tonal territory, tossing motifs on their heads, swirling rhythms around as in a cocktail and elegantly paying tribute to the masters that came before them. Horace Silver's "Enchantment" is presented in a haunting groove, with Diehl's subtle figurations outlining the original tune as Sorey beats his snare in mid-tempo, throwing minimalist curveballs at his partners. Bill Evans' "detour ahead" is treated to an extensive revamp with a strong focus on interplay and the natural dynamics of three people listening to each other and interacting on a conscious and subconscious level. When Sorey starts swinging on cymbals halfway through the song, Diehl breaks loose and charms the keys. Even "Autumn Leaves" sounds fresh from the perspective this trio offers, which sees the group skating through the B- section's harmonic pace in double-time. Sorey counts among those rare drummers who can be both subtle and assertive simultaneously and here he has surrounded himself with sidemen who are capable of navigating his thick plots as they highlight the leader's many qualities. At no cost of their own, many strengths, that is.

Tracks and Personnel

Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy

Tracks: (Take Me to The) Wide Open Lows; Love Me Like A Woman; My Two Dads; Drinking In God's Own Country; 'Til My Heart Stops; With What I Know Now; All Out Of Fairy Tales.

Personnel: Binker Golding: saxophone, tenor; Sarah Tandy: piano; Billy Adamson: guitar; Daniel Casimir: bass.

Interpret It Well

Tracks: Trapped; Interpret It Well; Mixed Metaphor; Morbid; Clear Major; I Need More; Deppart.

Personnel: Ches Smith: drums; Craig Taborn: piano; Mat Maneri: viola; Bill Frisell: guitar, electric.

Time To Mind The Mystics

Tracks: Time to Mind the Mystics; Blueprint; Insignificance (A Love Song); Slant; The Walk; You Vs. You; Not Knowing; Moth Flame Blues.

Personnel: Daniel Bruce: guitar; Chris Coles: saxophone; Brad Wagner: saxophone; Caleb Smith: trombone; Will Wedmedyk: vibraphone; Theron Brown: keyboards; Aidan Plank: bass; Anthony Taddeo : drums; Joel Negus: synthesizer.

Park Blues

Tracks: Hvittingfoss Skyline; Park Blues; Manic Minor; Endelig hjemme; Innen klokken slår åtte; Ekte kjærlighet; Vinter; På stylter gjennom Kardamili.

Personnel: Bård Helgerud: guitar; Andreas Dreier: bass; Magnus Sefaniassen Eide: drums; Live Foyn Friis: vocals (6,7,8).

Heatmap

Tracks: Heatmap; Tossed Aside; Surrounding; Limestone; Splinters; Trees For the Forest; Trembling; Whisperchant; C(o)urses; Spheres.

Personnel: Caleb Wheeler Curtis: saxophone, alto; Orrin Evans: piano; Eric Revis: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Mesmerism

Tracks: Enchantment; Detour Ahead; Autumn Leaves; From Time To Time; Two Over One; Rem Blues.

Personnel: Tyshawn Sorey: drums; Aaron Diehl: piano; Matt Brewer: bass.

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