Pharaoh Sanders and Rob Mazurek

New Jazz This Week: Azar Lawrence, Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra and More

Dave Sumner

By Dave Sumner

on 07.23.14 in News

Well, things are starting to get busy again in the jazz new releases section. Two categories of fans are going to walk away extremely happy this week. Those who are into Coltrane, especially his mid-to later-period sounds, are going to have several excellent options available to them. Also, those who like the Clean Feed Records label are going to have their budget crushed this week. Clean Feed seems to like to bring the numbers every few weeks rather than spread the new releases out. This week, I only mention three of their new releases, but there’s more out there to scoop up as well.

That said, with close to 20 recs this week, there’s still going to be something for everyone. Now, let’s begin…

Azar Lawrence, The Seeker: Some combination of nature and nurture has resulted in Lawrence becoming one of the standard bearers in the post-Coltrane era. Yes, having spent his earlier collaborating both with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner is sure to have had a pronounced influence on the saxophonist, but there also must be isolated traits, coming from within the musician himself, that has allowed him to echo the sound of Coltrane while simultaneously developing his own personal sound. This live performance, recorded at NYC’s the Jazz Standard, has Lawrence leading a quintet through a set of music that recalls classic Coltrane Quartet recordings with a voice that sounds as fresh and clear as today. Lawrence is joined by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Essiet Essiet and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. If you enjoyed Coltrane’s spiritual jazz period on the Impulse Records label, you really just need to hit the download button on this album asap. Pick of the Week.

Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra, Live in Ljubjana: Totally in the spirit of the works of Charles Mingus, who found that sweet spot where traditional jazz and blues synched up with a forward-thinking avant-garde expressionism. Joining bassist Lane on this session are the saxophones of Matt Bauder, Avram Fefer and David Bindman, trumpeters Nate Wooley and Susana Santos Silva, and drummer Igal Foni. Plenty of good solo action, but it’s when the ensemble moves in tandem, creating huge surges of tempo and tone that this album really takes off. Brilliant stuff. Highly Recommended.

Pharoah & the Underground, Spiral Mercury: Amazing live recording featuring a clash of influences and generations. First up, the ensemble is a combination of two of cornetist Rob Mazurek’s current projects… the Sao Paulo Underground and the Chicago Underground Duo. The former is an updated version of Brazilian tropicalia… a groove based, trip-psych danceable music. The latter is his avant-garde project with drummer/percussionist Chad Taylor, music that’s rhythmically dense with an ability to lift up and just float peacefully. Mazurek brings both of those groups together and adds saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders, a musician who put out some of the all-time great free and spiritual jazz recordings of the 60s. This is thrilling, high energy music, that takes time to express each of the three major influences of the ensemble members. Sometimes it’s the Brazilian influence, sometimes the experimental improv and sometimes it’s back to the sixties and fiercely burning free jazz. Outstanding. Recommended.

Sean Jones, Im-pro-vise: Never Before Seen: Man, Sean Jones doesn’t hold back on this one, yet despite the exuberance, he and his quartet remain supremely tuneful. The way in which they shift gears from an explosive trumpet solo back down into a gentle recitation of the melody is a magnificent thing to hear. Joining the trumpeter on this straight-ahead session are pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Obed Calvaire… ain’t no way that group is gonna steer you wrong. Jones hits upon a couple standards like “How High the Moon” and “Not While I’m Around,” but mostly this is all original material (they also cover “Don’t Fall Off the L.E.J.” from Orrin Evans’ “Captain Black” release on the Criss Cross label). The originals are the stronger tracks, but the rendition of “Not While I’m Around” serves up a nice send-off for the album’s conclusion.

Piero Delle Monache, Aurum: Seriously evocative recording by saxophonist Monache. A real cinematic persona to this recording, with sax, drums, bass, guitar, piano, a variety of woodwind and percussionist guests, and plenty of well-timed flourishes of effects all creating an intoxicating blend of influences, which lends the album its unconventional sound and fuzzy identity. Yet, despite all of that, Monache’s patient, well-considered statements on saxophone make it a very easy to story to follow along. Most tracks are pretty well laid back, but are replete with intricacies and nuance that keep the ear engaged. An album with all kinds of personality. Find of the Week.

Dave Douglas & Uri Caine, Present Joys: I believe this would be as a good a spot as any to utilize the word “sublime” in today’s column. Long-time collaborators, trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine try out a duo setting, performing songs with a shape-note approach and the Sacred Harp tradition. Where this gets you is a set of solemn tunes, hymnal in nature or actuality, that fill up quiet room with quiet sounds that float and suddenly blossom with all kinds of warm notes. An excellent choice if you’re looking to round out the playlist that holds the Charlie Haden-Hank Jones and Mike Nock-Marty Ehrlich collaborations.

Das Blaue Pony, Zweigedanken: Moody and playful. This quartet nicely pairs clarinets with saxophones (plus, drums & bass) for a set of tunes that do get some brooding in, but adds some rhythmic flair to keep an active gait. Well, except for those times when they enter a harmonic bliss and just drift from first note to last. Some bass clarinet and some glockenspiel add to the album’s personality.

Michael Dease, Relentless: Solid big band release from trombonist Dease, who can always be relied upon for some tasteful, straight-ahead jazz, whether it’s a small combo or a large crowd on the bandstand. For this recording, he brings an entourage numbering the twenties, which is comprised of some heavy hitters on the scene, including bassist Linda Oh, trumpeter Seneca Black, alto saxophonists Todd Bashoe & Diego Rivera, and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. A big sound that hits with some force, but stays light enough to swing. A few tracks express some mainstream tendencies, but it’s faint enough that the cohesion of the album’s sound doesn’t threaten to crack. Released on Posi-Tone Records, which is pretty consistent with its big band offerings.

Kullhammar, Aalberg, Zetterberg, Mathisen, Basement Sessions Vol. 3: The Ljubljana Tapes: The sax trio of Kullhammar, bassist Zetterberg, and drummer Aalberg revel in the mid-late period Coltrane sound, when the the levels of ferocity strained the music’s lyricism, and created an exciting sonic tension that was positively addictive. For the third volume in this series, they add a second saxophone, that of Jorgen Mathisen, and on this live session, they leave the “mid-” behind and place both feet in late-period Coltrane sound. This is where music becomes not so much something to sit back and listen to but, instead, to sit up and experience. They have their own voices. This isn’t a Coltrane tribute band. But the influence is obvious and welcome, and if you appreciate the spectrum of Coltrane’s sound, beginning to end, there’s really no reason at all not to scoop all three volumes of this series up.

Michael Wollny, Weltentraum Concert Edition: Live at the Unterfahrt: Unlike the studio version that shares the Weltentraum name, which I originally described as being not unlike a sonic immersion, where Wollny attempts to instill his own introspective state on the listener, this live recording is far more active and far more extroverted. Featuring the same trio of bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Eric Schaefer, pianist Wollny shakes things up and, as a result, provides yet more proof that he’s got more cards to play than brooding cerebral piano jazz at his disposal.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Tree House: The Albatrosh duo of pianist Eyolf Dale and saxophonist Andre Roligheten team with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Plenty of big sounds get offered up, but the TJO has a real talent for bringing out the tunefulness from a performance by focusing on the nuance and details. Plus, their collaborations with a number of different projects has graced them with a flexibility that keeps paying dividends. Plenty of eccentricities in this music, and rarely do they execute anything predictable… even though it often seems to make perfect sense.

Eric Wyatt, Borough of Kings: Strong set of tunes from saxophonist Wyatt, who recalls some of Coltrane’s earlier period work, though balances things out with some straight-ahead post-bop work on this recording, too. The sextet features a nice line-up that includes pianist Benito Gonzalez, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, trombonist Clifton Anderson, bassist Ameen Saleem, and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi. Nifty take on Coltrane’s “Countdown,” though it’s really some of the Wyatt originals that speak to the Coltrane sound. There’s one oddball contemporary track that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest, but that criticism is more one of cohesion. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the track itself, and it certainly doesn’t detract from this strong effort.

Hasier Oleaga, Cantus Caterva II: Enjoyable session from drummer/percussionist Oleaga, who leads a septet through a relatively straight-ahead modern session. There some nice diversity in the rhythmic approaches, and some tracks apply some melodic and harmonic treatments that stray further out from modern Jazz home base, but these are the traits that separate this album from the crowd. That, and that well-crafted melodies are utilized as jumping off points for further exploration. Good stuff.

Haitian Rail, Solarists: A reformed quartet has guitarist Nick Millevoi and bassist Edward Ricart bringing on the services of trombonist Dan Blacksberg and drummer Kevin Shea (and the obligatory mention that he’s a member of MOPDTK, because, really, that ensemble deserves every mention it gets). This music is a barrage. It might even be a felony. This is sonic aggression likely to attract the attention of authorities, so consider buying this avant-garde recording now, because when the quartet is finally led away in ‘cuffs, the download is likely to become a collectors item.

Tommy Andrews Quintet, The Crux: Likable debut from saxophonist Andrews, who switches between standard modern fare and a blend of modern jazz and indie rock that’s awash in melodic impressionism and thick harmonic constructs. And while the album’s two faces something is a bit jarring as one track leads to another, the contrast between the two makes it easy to appreciate the qualities of each more and be glad for their inclusion. Joining Andrews are a few familiar names on the UK scene, like bassist Dave Manington and drummer Dave Hamblett. Nick Costley-White and Rick Simpson round out the quintet on guitar and piano.

The Ghost, The King & I, Live in Seoul: A charming release by the guitar-piano-bass trio of Vincent Koning, Rob van Bavel and Frans van Geest. An old-school sound even when the composition has a modern feel. Nice light swing and some up-tempo action that doesn’t come off as hurried or messy. The trio’s music emits a genuine warmth that’s hard not to like. Not a lot of moving around on this recording; they find a good spot on the jazz landscape to sit, and find plenty to keep them busy for the length of an album.

Francesco Nastro Trio, Colors of Light: Pleasant trio session from pianist Nastro, bassist Chris Jennings and drummer Giuseppe la Pusata. Keeps up a nice chatter, and lets melodies sort of dwindle into the rhythmic cloud. Group play far more instrumental to this album’s success than the role of solos. Nothing earth-shattering. Just one of those enjoyable piano trio recordings that can brighten a day.