- Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (Not Two, 2010) - I know trombonist Steve Swell from his plying on records by William Parker, Ken Vandermark, and Bill Dixon, but allthough he has also been putting out records as a leader or co-leader since the mid-nineties, this is only the second record I've heard with him in that role. The other one being the 2008 self titled Rivers Of Sound Ensemble release, with Hilliard Greene on bass, Roy Campbell on trumpet, and Sabir Mateen on saxes and Klaus Klugel on drums. Klugel and Mateen return on this fourth (if I'm correct) Slammin' the Infinite release, together with Matthew Hayner on bass and John Blum on piano. The music here seems rooted in NY's loft jazz tradition from the 70s - and by that I mean free jazz with a strong sense of propulsion and swing - where strongly stated opening riffs are used as a launching pads for improvisation. Bassist Hayner's riffs are prominent themes or anchors on at least two occasions, and the walk that both opens and closes "The Darkness Afoot" has shades of Mingus. Amid the violent sections and sound clusters the band conjure up, with Blum in partiuclar hammering away on the piano, they also slow down and use space and near silence, which are both welcome breathing spaces as well as serving as suspenders for the next turn of events. As such, the music is also quite playfull. Such playfulnes can also be found in the opening of "Sketch 1", where Swell plays with a mute, giving it a noir-like atmosphere. (7/10)*
- Mike Reed People, Places & Things: Stories adn Negotiations (482 Music, 2010) - The third installment of Reed's PP&T project, where the aim is to revisit Chicago's considerable hard-bop to free-bop legacy, up to the Vandermarks of the city via AACM. On the first album of the project, Proliferation, the piano-less quartet (Reed on drums, Jason Roebke on bass, Tim Haldeman and Greg Ward on saxes) played mostly material by the citiy's past masters. The second, About Us, consisted of mostly self-written material, and added Jeb Bishop on trombone, David Boykin on tenor, and Jeff Parker on guitar on various tracks. Both are highly enjoyable free-bop records. On Stories and Negotiations, Boykin and Parker are gone, but three elder statesmen join in: Julian Priester on trombone and Art Hoyle on trumpet, both former members of Sun Ra's Arkestra, and Ira Sullivan on tenor. The Sun Ra link is mirrored in the music too, as S&N has more of an avant swing feel to it. There are also shades AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams' work on records such as Blu Blu Blu. Recorded live in Chicago's Millennium Park, the group rev up some great numbers, finely balanced with some mellower moments. The opening, "Song of a Star", is especially good. The musicians start off individually, plying little trills and riffs, as if arriving from separate places, only to convene at the same place/piece at around 2:30 in, and the song lifts into a riveting piece of hard grooving avant swing. That kind of ebb and flow, propulsive rhythms, mixing fine solos and skronk, bouldering basslines and purpuseful swing makes this a very enjoyable record. (8/10)*
* Grades are tentative, based on three or four listens, sometimes a few more. Much of the writing is done during listens, and should be considered notes more than final reviews.