Articles by Mark Sullivan

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Kronos Quartet/Terry Riley: Sun Rings

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In addition to their performance of 20th century classics, modern music specialists The Kronos Quartet have a long history of commissioning new works from contemporary composers. But their relationship with minimalist pioneer Terry Riley is a special one. After composing the open-scored In C in 1964, Riley increasingly turned his attention towards improvised performances with tape-delay and organ—later adding voice (inspired by studying Indian raga singing with Pandit Pran Nath) and substituting synthesizer for organ. When Riley and ...

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Ola Onabule: Point Less

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British-Nigerian singer/songwriter Ola Onabulé has a rich baritone voice and a commanding presence. He's a soul singer above all, but also draws on pop, world music and jazz. Despite its title, opener “Throwaway Notion" is a catchy tune with a Pan-African groove, and very dark lyrics about the current race to the bottom in politics all around the world. Guitarist John Parricelli contributes memorable lead and solo guitar. “The Old Story" has a slinky Latin feel. But “Exit Wound" uses ...

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Dan Arcamone: Psalm

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A fusion guitar album with a difference: Connecticut guitarist/composer Dan Arcamone wrote pieces based on some of saxophonist John Coltrane's most complex chord progressions ("Giant Steps," “Countdown," “Satellite," and “26-2")—all dating from his Atlantic Records period, and sometimes called “Coltrane changes." He and his trio (bassist Panagiotis Andreou and drummer Steve Pruitt) then treated them as if they were open, modal tunes. The resulting music has the spiritual tone of an album like Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), but ...

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Paul Austerlitz: The Vodou Horn

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The Vodou Horn album is part of a trilogy called Marasa Twa: Vodou-Jazz-Merengue, exploring the spiritual traditions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The focus here is on Haiti, with ethnomusicologist/bass clarinetist Paul Austerlitz combining his playing with Franck Desire's Asakivle drumming and singing group, which plays traditional ritual rhythms in concert settings. After recording live in a Haitian studio, he worked in Brooklyn, NY with recording engineer/bassist Chico Boyer and guitarist Monvelyno to produce the final product. It is ...

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David Helbock: Playing John Williams

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Eclectic Austrian jazz pianist/composer David Helbock has devoted whole albums to other composers in the past, notably Prince on his solo piano album Purple (Traumton Records, 2012) and several influential modern jazz pianists on the album Tour d'Horizon (ACT, 2018) with his band David Helbock's Random/Control. Arrangements of multiple Oscar-and Grammy-winning American film composer John Williams' music appeared on the David Helbock Trio album Into The Mystic (ACT, 2016). But with Playing John Williams Helbock devotes this entire solo piano ...

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Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband: Tor & Vale

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Virtuoso guitarist Mark Wingfield was last heard leading a trio on Tales From The Dreaming City (MoonJune Records, 2018). He and pianist Gary Husband may have never played duets together before, but the results sound like it was inevitable--a fated meeting. Opener “Kittiwake" is the first of Wingfield's compositions, a lyrical legato guitar line over a vaguely martial rhythm on the piano. Wingfield lays out for Husband's lovely piano solo, which leads seamlessly into a guitar solo. The piece ends ...

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Refraction: The Outsider

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Australian trio Refraction recorded this album just before drummer and bandleader Chris Broomhead's relocation to Nashville, Tennessee (which is now given as the group's home city on their Bandcamp page). As on the last two albums, Inerrant Space (Rare Colour Records, 2016) and Reimagined (Rare Colour Records, 2017), Broomhead is joined by pianist Brenton Foster and bassist Jordan Tarento. There is one major change for this album. The previous ones were all recorded in a traditional recording studio. ...

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Matt Olson: 789 Miles

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Wisconsin-born tenor saxophonist/composer Matt Olson has traveled 789 miles from his childhood home to his current home in South Carolina, where he teaches at Furman University. His original compositions here aim to capture influences from his upbringing, but the present is well-represented by compositions from five Furman University students (graduates and current students). The format is a tight, funky organ trio with two of Olson's band mates in the Unhinged Sextet, last heard from on Don't Blink (OA2 Records, 2017): ...

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Charlie Ballantine: Cold Coffee

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Indianapolis-born jazz guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine has a special relationship with American music of all kinds: jazz, folk, the blues (his father was a blues guitarist, providing some of Ballantine's earliest musical memories) and contemporary rock. His previous album Life Is Brief: The Music Of Bob Dylan (Green Mind Records, 2018) made the inspiration outside of jazz clear, and previous covers had included songs by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and the Pixies. This album--a trio with long-time band-mates bassist ...

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A World of Piano Trios

Read "A World of Piano Trios" reviewed by Mark Sullivan

The piano trio format is alive and well, judging by this disparate collection of piano trio albums (mostly: a couple of them feature a guest vocalist on a track or two). They come from Israel (recorded in Berlin), Slovenia (recorded in New York City), Greece (recorded in Hungary), Boston, and Asheville, North Carolina. Traditionally the pianist is also the leader, but this collection also includes one cooperative group and one led by the drummer. Anat Fort Trio ...

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Yao/Smith/Hughes Sextet: The Gates

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More water from the seemingly inexhaustible Detroit hard bop well. Saxophonist James Hughes and trumpeter Jimmy Smith are known for their own Hughes Smith Quintet, as heard on Motion (Self Produced, 2018) and Ever Up & Onward (Self Produced, 2016)--two red-hot recordings in that tradition. Here they are joined by co-leader John Yao on trombone, and a different rhythm section—pianist Corey Kendrick, bassist Jeff Pedraz and drummer Nick Collins. The program is all original compositions by the three co-leaders.

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Stephan Thelen: Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks

Read "Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks" reviewed by Mark Sullivan

Swiss guitarist-composer Stephan Thelen (leader of the band Sonar) released his first solo album Fractal Guitar (Moonjune Records, 2019) to great acclaim. This remix album offers a dramatic new look at four of the original five tracks--only “Radiant Day" is skipped--as well as adding three new tracks from Thelen and two collaborators. The remix album begins as the original did, with “Briefing for a Descent into Hell." Thelen's remix makes a more direct statement, cutting almost immediately to ...


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