Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ten fave jazz albums of 2015 (with promises of more to come)

2015 turned out to be a very eventful and busy year. So much so that I felt it necessary to cut down on many tasks and assignments I have previously performed with at least some sort of regularity, such as posting Listening Notes review updates on this site. It also means that my usual "fave jazz of the year" post is a tad late. Still, I thought what I could was post my ballot -- still more or less my ten favorite jazz albums of the year that was -- for NPR's Jazz Critics Poll, the results of which were announced earlier this December. I hope of following this up with a more comprehensive list early in the new year.

While such rankings may seem like a final judgement of sorts, they are at least in my case far more arbitrary. What differs a number 5 from a number 7, say. Often, very little if anything at all. Still, there was no way to look past the fact that the album in my top spot -- held by the wonderful Welcome Back, a duet record between the pianist Irene Schweizer and drummer Han Bennink in which the two veterans converse with such joy, wit, effortlessness and knowledge through European and American jazz idioms and beyond, with tasteful splashes of South-African melodies and rhythms -- was an album I enjoyed and played more than any other this past year. As for those ranked below, they are all excellent records in their own rights, as are many of those that didn't make the cut this time around (and that I hope to cover in the aforementioned future follow-up post). I don't really have the time to post any further comments on any of these at present, but all save the albums ranked at 9 and 10 have been previously reviewed by me in either Musikkmagasinet or Jazznytt. Though none of them have been translated at present, excerpts and/or pdf-files of the relevant reviews can be made available upon request. Until next year.

  1. Irene Schweizer & Han Bennink, Welcome Back (Intakt)
  2. Kirk Knuffke, Arms & Hands (Royal Potato Family)
  3. Chris Lightcap, Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  4. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT)
  5. Max Johnson, Something Familiar (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  6. Darius Jones, Le Bebe de Brigitte (AUM Fidelity)
  7. Henry Threadgill, In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi)
  8. Mike Reed, A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)
  9. Gebhard Ullmann, Hat and Shoes (Between the Lines)
  10. James Brandon Lewis, Days of FreeMan (OKeh)

Friday, July 03, 2015

Fave Jazz of 2015, Jan. through June

While there are still many new 2015 releases in my "inbox" that I'm yet to thoroughly digest, or even get to at all (notably some Intakt releases), plus the fact that I'm just starting to sort through to advance copies of music about to be released (from Pi, NoBusiness, Clean Feed and RogueArt, among others), I thought it might be worhtwhile to stop and take a look at the records that have made the strongest impressions from January through June. Below is a list of 30 or so of my fave new jazz (in all its many, various guises) albums released in 2015 thus far. Reissues or music that has otherwise been previously available is not included.
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (ACT)
  • Kirk Knuffke: Arms and Hands (Royal Potato Family)
  • Max Johnson Trio: Something Familiar (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  • Detail: First Detail (Rune Grammofon)
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: In For a Penny, In For a Pound (Pi Recordings)
  • Gebhard Ullman's Basement Reearch: Hat and Shoes (Between the Lines)
  • Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille: Song For a New Decade (TUM Records)
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)
  • Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook-Up:After All Is Said (482 Music)
  • Team Hegdal: Vol. 3 (Particular Recordings)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (Clean Feed)
  • Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (Pine Eagle Records)
  • Devin Grey and RelativE ResonancE: RelativE ResonancE (Skirl)
  • Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (Royal Potato Family)
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (Enja)
  • Jack DeJohnette Made In Chicago: Made In Chicago - Live at the Chicago Jazz Festival (ECM)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Jeremiah (Hot Cup)
  • ObLik: order disorder (2014, Ormo Records)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Tales, Musings and other Reveries (Highnote)
  • Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (Aerophonic Records)
  • Ran Blake: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (A-side Records)
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (International Anthem)
  • Charles Evans: On Beauty (More is More Records)
  • James Brandon Lewis: Days of FreeMan (OKeh)
  • Billy Mintz: The 2nd Bass Band... Live (Billy Mintz)
  • Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic Records)
  • Steve Coleman: Synovial Joints (Pi Recordings)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (ECM)
  • Skydive Trio: Sun Moee (Hubro)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ornette Coleman, 1930-2015: a few words, with a helping hand from Robert Palmer

Photo: Michael Hoefner / Wikimedia Commons
No single musician changed the way I hear, approach, perceive, feel, appreciate and think about music the way Ornette Coleman did. His music was... is mind expanding and profoundly touching. It can be relentless in its conviction, but also communal in its approach. Inclusive, even. "Friends and neighbors, that's where its at." It can be deceptively complex yet also alluringly simple, and vice versa. It is all of that, and so much more. And it has a democratic principle at its very core.

This democratic principle to music making has been a cornerstone for me for many years. It is one I see mirrored in so much of my fave music, both in jazz and beyond. Even in rock music, such as in the set up and approach of groups like Gang of Four (particularly the early version) and the Minutemen. I've written about this topic previously (e.g. ENO #1), and will likely return to it again.

Today, I'm feeling too sad to do much writing at all. The news of Ornette Coleman's death -- although I like many others had heard rumors his health had been poor -- has devastated me. Instead, I'll leave you with some words by the late, great Robert Palmer, who wrote about Coleman as well as any I've read.

"The Ornette Coleman quartet that debuted in New York at the old Five Spot, in the fall of 1959, approached the void and, at times, tumbled into it. The listeners that first night included Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, Neshui and Ahmet Ertegun, John Hammond, and almost every musician in town. Some heard formlessness and chaos, others a sound that would radically alter the course of jazz and inform the work of a generation of musicians to come.
"In the music we play,'" Ornette said, "no one player has the lead. Anyone can come out with it at any time."
 This new approach to group playing looked ahead with its polyrhythms, geared to exploration rather than to predetermined patterns, and its melodies that proceeded through a complex of unstated modulations rather than riding on a cushion of traditional chord progression. But the music also looked back through the jazz tradition with its collective improvisation and its personal, speechlike approach to intonation and phrasing (...)" -- from "Ornette Coleman and the Circle with a Hole in the Middle," reprinted in Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer (Scribner, New York, 2009)

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Listening Booth: Reviews 4th Quarter 2014 + 1st Quarter 2015. Pt. 1

Records reviewed for Klassekampen's weekly music supplement Musikkmagasinet from October through December 2014, plus January through April 2015 (As per usual, this list does not include live reviews, which during this period included Sheila Jordan and Kris Davis Trio, nor articles such as my piece on Mostly Other People Do the Killings Kind of Blue album/project). If you're the artist, the label, distributor, or in any other way connected to the releases and artists listed here and would like to see the relevant review/piece, send me an e-mail with a request to perfectsounds.chrismonsen[at] or monsen.christopher[at]

  • Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Alloy (Pi Recordings) - 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 3rd, 2014. Original grade: 5 out of 6)

  • Large Unit: Erta Ale (PNL Records) - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, November 17th, 2014. Original grade: 5 out of 6)
  • Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Fat Possum) - 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, December 15th, 2014. Original grade: 5 out of 6)
  •  John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (Resonance Records) - 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 19th, 2015. Not graded)
  • Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Innerconnection (NoBusiness Records) - 8* Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 19th, 2015. Not graded)
  • Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Giant is Awakened (International  Phonograph Inc.) - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 19th, 2015. Not graded)
  • Sun Ra and his Arkestra: In the orbit of Ra (Strut Records) - 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 19th, 2015. Not graded)
  • New Vocabulary: New Vocabulary (System Dialing Records) - 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 26th, 2015. Original grade: 4,5 out of 6)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (ACT) - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 9th, 2015. Original grade: 5,5 out of 6)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (ECM) - 6* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 9th, 2015. Original grade: 4,5 out of 6)
  •  Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed) - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, March 23rd, 2015. Original grade: 5 out of 6)
  •  Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands (Roayl Potato Family) - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 20th, 2015. Original grade: 5 out of 6)
  •  Mark Lomax II & Edwin Bayard: #BLACKLIVESMATTER ( - 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 27th, 2015. Original grade: 5 out of 6)
Records reviewed for Jazznytt as well as some other stuff to be posted soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fave Jazz of 2014

Below you'll find my top 30 list of fave jazz albums of 2014, with additional comments for the top 3. I'll add that there were more jazz records released in 2014 than these that I have enjoyed and would recommend. Those can be found or will eventually be added to the full 2014 favorites list. At any rate, this is a list of 30 new jazz albums I have listened to and enjoyed so far in 2014, plus three reissues.

New albums:

1.    Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro): Anja Lauvdal (piano), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (bass) and Hans Hulbækmo (drums) have taken a major step towards a more distinctive expression since their more structured debut (Salemsykkel, 2012), and grown into a rather unique piano trio. Mestertyven does admittedly have nods to jazz history -- traces of Thelonious Monk and Paul Bley Trio pop up here and there -- but it is chock full of personality, bubbling with ideas and eruptive whims. Fresh, quirky, experimental, and simultaneously alluring and even funny.

2.    Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pitch Records): Jemeel Moondoc has been relatively active in recent years, but on this release, he emerged with the best band he's lead in a long time, with contributions from Matthew Shipp (piano), Steve Swell (trombone), Hilliard Greene (bass), Newman Taylor Baker (drums) and the late trumpeter Roy Campbell. Performing alternately as a trio, quartet and quintet, they stir up a riveting and delightful mix of rough-hewn avant-blues and hard-swinging free-bop, reminiscent of the music Moondoc became known for in his time with Muntu and in varous projects throughout the 80's, yet additionally colored by his artistic adventures from then up until now.

3.    Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist/composer Max Johnson was involved as a leader or co-leader in three very interesting and distinctive albums in what seemed like something of a break-out year. The Invisible Trio was the first of to emerge of these releases, and remained a firm favorite throughout the year. A uniquely sounding trio with Johnson plus Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Ziv Ravitz on drums, they expertly glide, sprint, and jump through intriguing and subtly shape-shifting patterns.

4.    Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records)

5.    Peter Van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent) 

6.    Mary Halvorson: Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch Records)

7.    James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (OKeh Records) 

8.    Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings)

9.    Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi Recordings)

10.   Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale (PNL Records/Catalytic Sound)

11.   Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer: Wiring (Intakt Records)

12.   Kris Davis Trio: Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed)

13.   Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform)

14.   Tarbaby with Oliver Lake & Marc Ducret: Fanon (Rogue Art)

15.   Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi Recordings)
16.   Rodrigo Amado: Wire Quartet (Clean Feed) 

17.   Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (ECM)

18.   Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft & Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (RareNoiseRecords)
19.   Ross Martin, Max Johnson & Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo Records)

20.   Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (NCM East Records

21.   Made to Break: Cherchez La Femme (Trost)

22.   Danny Fox Trio: Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records)

23.   Sarah Manning: Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records)

Henry Butler & Steven Bernstein: Viper's Drag (Universal Music)

25.   Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (Palmetto Records)

26.   Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures: Nightshades (Clean Feed)

Angles 9: Injuries (Clean Feed)
28.   Max Johnson: The Prisoner (No Business Records)

29.   Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Live in Ljubjana (Clean Feed)

30.   Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: Double Windsor (Tzadik Records)


1.   Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Giant is Awakened (International Phonograph Inc.)
2.   Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Innerconnections (2CD, NoBusiness Records)
3.   Sun Ra:  In the Orbit of Ra (2CD, Strut)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Listening Booth: Reviews 3rd Quarter, July through September, 2014

July was more or less a month free of writing, seing as Klassekampen's music supplement takes a break throughout that month. I did, however, write some reviews for Jazznytt, Norway's premier jazz monthly, which was relaunched this September.

Several of the records reviewed during these months had been out for a while when my write-ups hit the streets, the exception being my review of the latest Spoon which was published the week the album came out, as well as this week's review of two recent Wadada Leo Smith albums, both of which were released this September.

Speaking of the Leo Smith discs, they are both very good albums that share some common themes: change, particularly over long periods of time, and open spaces. On the brilliant The Great Lakes Suites, Leo Smith hooks up with Henry Threadgill on saxophone and flutes and drummer Jack DeJohnette, in addition to long-time partner John Lindberg on bass. This is stunning, expansive music that is both calm, restrained and patient, yet in bursts volatile and throbbing. This is in line with Smith's vision of the lakes and their importance to the surrounding areas: huge, flat surfaces that at a glance seem peaceful, but with pockets of bustling activity, they're scenes for both recreation as well as commerse and growth. Here, Threadgill plays some of his most touching saxophone lines in years, pensive and careful yet firm and assertive, particularly on the majestic "Lake Huron", equaled by Wadada's longing and piercing trumpet tones, while Lindberg and DeJohnette create supportive frameworks, quietly rumbling and suspensefully bubbling. It is a lovely album.

Red Hill was recorded with a slightly younger generation of musicians: Jamie Saft on keys, Joe Morris – perhaps best known as a guitarist – on bass, and Balasz Pandi on drums. It contains three compositions named after rock formations, and one that shares its name with the Roman diety Janus, a symbol for change, among other things. Rock too, of course, has been formed over long periods of time. With this in mind, the tunes too take time to develop, yet are comparatively busier once they get going. It is intriguing and thrilling music, and in comparison to Great Lakes..., it is equaly cerebral music, yet not quite as emotionally stirring.
  •  Spoon: They Want My Soul (Lomo Vista) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 4th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  •  Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pithc Records) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 25th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Peter van Huffel's Gorilla Mask:  Bite My Blues (Cean Feed) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 8th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Peter van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 8th, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 29th, 2014. 5,5 out of 6)
  • Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft & Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (RareNoiseRecords) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 29th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
Additional reviews:

(These were reviewed for the September 2014 issue of the relaunched Jazznytt magazine, who operate without a grading system)
  • Håkon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal (Hubro) (Tentative grade: 6)
  • Ross Martin, Max Jonson & Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo Records) (Tentative grade: 7)
  • The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform Records) (Tentative grade: 7)
* Grades adjusted for the PerfectSounds scale.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Listening Booth: Reviews 2nd Quarter, April through June, 2014

With the summer vacation well and truly over, and the first reviews of the fall season already published this week, here is a belated overview of records reviewed from April through June, 2014. Additional notes on some notable releases I for one reason or another have not covered previously will be posted at some point later in the week. The first quarter overview can be accessed here. A list of my fave recordings from January to July can be found here.
  • Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro Records) – 9* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 14th, 2014. 5,5 out of 6)
  •  1982: A/B (Hubro Records) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, May 12th, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (Rough Trade) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 2nd, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
  •  Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings) – 8* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 23rd, 2014. 5 out of 6)
  •  Angles 9: Injuries (Clean Feed) – 7* (Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 23rd, 2014. 4,5 out of 6)
* Grades adjusted for the PerfectSounds scale.
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