October 2023 Jazz Record Reviews

Diskonife: Audible Spirits
Matt Moran, vibraphone; Sarah Elizabeth Charles, voice, effects; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone, samples
Diskonife 009 (CD). 2023. Moran, prod.; René Pierre Allain, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

Audible Spirits is a collective trio with unusual, perhaps unprecedented instrumentation. Matt Moran, cofounder of Diskonife, conceives the label as a home for free thinkers like himself. In his liner note, he says, "as musicians push the boundaries, those that came before us are always ... in the room." This is a standards project—one of the strangest you will ever hear, yet also one of the friendliest.

For this band without a rhythm section, Audible Spirits used (with permission) rhythm section tracks from Jamey Aebersold's Play-A-Long records. They did not simply import these tracks. Trombonist Curtis Hasselbring subjected them to wildly creative electronic manipulation. The concept is radical, yet it reinforces the idea that standards albums are about legacy. Generations of jazz musicians have learned their craft practicing to Aebersold Play-A-Long tracks. On Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," the "ghost" rhythm section is sampled and smeared and injected into the ensemble as fresh live content. On "All the Things You Are," the Aebersold track is multiplied into layers of rhythmic density, in shifting tempos. "The Girl from Ipanema" becomes funk as the beats are brought forward.

This album could have been a mess. But the production is so clean and the musicians are so good that these interpretations of familiar songs are not just fun; they are often stunning. "Moment's Notice" is a tour de force. Moran's vibraphone, emerging from massive electronic depth and complexity, triumphantly sings John Coltrane's song. Within the clamor of "Misty," the vivid voice of Sarah Elizabeth Charles rings clear.

The album fades away with a perfect Audible Spirits touch: The last thing we hear is surface noise, no doubt from a well-worn Aebersold LP.—Thomas Conrad

John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy: Evenings at the Village Gate
John Coltrane (soprano, tenor), Eric Dolphy (alto, flute, bass clarinet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman and Art Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums)
Impulse! B0037784-02 (CD) Ravi Coltrane, Ken Druker, prods.; Rich Alderson, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics **½

It says something about the recording industry that John Coltrane, who died 56 years ago, has five albums out since 2018 while his son Ravi, who is still making music, has no new music out.

Rants against the music deep state aside, the real value of Evenings at the Village Gate, from August 1961, is that it documents Coltrane's earliest small-group concerts with Eric Dolphy. It also fills out the timeline of his short-lived 1961 band with bassist Reggie Workman.

These tapes, made by Village Gate engineer Rich Alderson to test the club's new sound system, had been buried in The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The drums are much too loud, often overwhelming the piano and especially the bass. If not for the frequency and fervor of the horns' contributions, they too would struggle against Jones's torrent.

Elfin flute is first on "My Favorite Things"; Dolphy's approach to the instrument may not be mistaken for anyone else's. That is also true of his bass clarinet, which he plays elsewhere on the album. Audibly inspired by his frontline partner, Coltrane on soprano sax takes over nearly seven minutes into this 16-minute performance . Coltrane and Dolphy, tragic geniuses born just 20 months apart—they would die within three years of one another at ages 40 and 36, respectively—count among the most luminous pairings in jazz history, especially evident on their interplay here on outros.

"Africa," with Art Davis standing in for Workman, is the reason to buy this release. Distilled from its brass-heavy studio iteration yet expanded to more than 22 minutes, its journey presages the spiritual jazz Coltrane would focus on in the years he had left.—Andrey Henkin

Joe Henderson: The Complete "An Evening with Joe Henderson"
Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; Charlie Haden, bass; Al Foster, drums
Red RR 123334-2 (CD, available as 2 LP set). 1987/2023. Sergio Veschi, original prod.; Marco Pennisi, release prod.; Enrico Russo, Giorgio Agostini, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Italian music label Red was founded in Milan in 1976 by Sergio Veschi. It never became well established in the United States. But in the '70s and '80s, Red recorded many major American musicians. In 2021, the label was acquired by Marco Pennisi, who recently began making new recordings (such as Composed in Color by pianist Isaiah J. Thompson, reviewed in the March 2022 Stereophile). Pennisi has also started reissuing titles from the Red catalog.

Here's why this Joe Henderson release is exciting: 1. Henderson was a towering tenor saxophonist; 2. The release includes 32 minutes of previously unreleased music; 3. It is a monster album, long forgotten, rescued by Pennisi from the shadows of history.

Probably the work for which Henderson is best remembered is The State of the Tenor, a trio album in two volumes on Blue Note, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1985. This Red release is just two years younger. It too is a trio album, also recorded live, at the Genova Jazz Festival.

On "Ask Me Now," Henderson states Monk's theme in wild trills then inundates the song with 15 minutes of jarring intervallic leaps, motivic extravagance, arpeggios in waves, and sudden resolutions of startling lyricism. Yet he never entirely loses touch with Monk's melody and changes. On Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation," Henderson's substitutions are even bolder and freer. Until now, "All the Things You Are" has never seen the light of day. On every track, Henderson keeps outdoing himself, in continuous, shattering crescendos.

If the Red label keeps putting out stuff like this, it may yet get famous, even in the United States.—Thomas Conrad

Matt Otto: Kansas City Trio
Otto, tenor saxophone; Jeff Harshbarger, Ben Leifer, Bob Bowman, bass; John Kizilarmut, Marty Morrison, Brian Steever, drums
JCR 63023 (CD). 2023. Otto, prod.; Chad Meise, Duane Trower, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

Matt Otto has led a substantial jazz life. He holds BFA and MFA degrees and teaches at the University of Kansas. He has worked with a long list of the best living jazz players, has appeared on more than 50 albums, and is respected by his peers. He has never gotten rich or famous. Musicians like Otto keep the art form alive.

Otto has developed a distinctive tenor saxophone identity. His sound tends toward the light, his language toward the oblique and the understated. His approach makes him challenging but rewarding. His proprietary logic keeps surprising you with fresh lyricism.

The predecessor Otto most resembles is Warne Marsh. Like Marsh, Otto forms thoughts in long lines and deemphasizes rhythmic accents. Like Marsh, Otto is a vertical improviser; his creative process is centered on harmony and chords as an entrée to melody.

Kansas City Trio is a saxophone trio album with three bassists and three drummers. Inside its stark musical environment, Otto undertakes a very nonstandard program of standards. "Easy Living" is only intermittently recognizable, not because Otto is not thinking of the melody but because he is such an original thinker. His phrasing makes it almost a new tune. "You Stepped Out of a Dream" is used as a form to stimulate improvisation, with occasional references to the song's historical romantic associations. "Darn That Dream" has a long, freeform introduction; only at the end does it acknowledge fragments of the melody. "Blue in Green" retains much of its original introspection and pensiveness but takes on a new allure that only happens when a great song is rendered in the rich, sensual sonorities of a tenor saxophone in the right hands.—Thomas Conrad

Allen Fant's picture

Great job! Andrey and Thomas. The Coltrane and Henderson Discs are a must own.