Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Damn. Music need to change... we are not living up to our human capabilities and potential. The music that is most celebrated, and deemed as a part of Western Popular Culture is incredibly shameful. Everyday, people blast and listen to the musical equivalence of hippo excrement. I am going to do my part as a musician, to try and push music forward, but there is no way that I am capable of doing this on my own. Every respectable musician needs to come to some realization on the current state of popular music. I don't know what that is yet. I just have my own ideas. Things can move forward.

Contours- Sam Rivers *****

In Sam River's Contours, released in 1965, the Saxophonist openly approaches the avante-garde, but not in a way that would offend or completely abandon bebop. This album features a personnel of greats, such as Freddie Hubbard on Trumpet, Herbie Hancock on Piano, Ron Carter on Bass, Joe Chambers on Drums and of course, Sam Rivers on Tenor and Soprano Sax, and Flute.

Something that immediately drew me to this record was River's use of improvisation, and free approach towards the compositions. Many of Rivers' tunes on this album feature loose forms, for leniancy. In "Point of Many Returns," during the solo section, The rhythm section engages in chromatic hits ,while the soloists, Hubbard, Rivers, and Carter, Improvise in a freer manner. Tonal themes that are integrated in these works are kept simple, in order to encourage further experimentation and exploration in improvisations, and interaction within the ensemble. As said earlier, River's  does not dismiss the licks and tastes of Bop, as his written melodies demonstrate that particular style of jazz. In "Dance of The Tripedal" a bop head is heard, but around 4 minutes into the tune, the interaction is brought down between Rivers and Carter, who freely improvise, until building up, slowly adding in other band members, so that they may gradually move back to the head. This demonstes Rivers' brilliancy in compositional transitioning. This is a common technique used in music, but one that is exceptionally executed in this tune, and many others on the album.

 As far as playing goes, Rivers aggressively, yet generously, lays out acrobatic lines, sometimes leaving the center of tonality (momentarily) in a very unique manner, that could only be categorized as the playing of Sam Rivers... no one else could do it, along with all of the other improvisations in the band. Ron Carter's playing in particular sticks out, as he is most directly keeping time while interacting with the soloists. Carter's tone and genius at the Bass, never ceases to amaze me, but on Contour's, his use of space, dynamics and musical shapes is not only listenable, but inspirational.

A nice break from the up tempo, crazier tunes, is "Euterpe" introduced by Hancock, followed by a nice slow melody, with Rivers on Flute.  Rivers' flute solo is quieter, yet eerie, giving the rhythym section a vast amount of choices to match this voice.

Dissonance and choppy rhythms is usualy prominent in Rivers' soloing, and these vibes are caught by the rest of the ensemble, thus effecting their individual playing. This album is a great example of early approaches to more free and "Avante-Garde" music in the 60's, where bop was still swinging hard, and still used as an influence, and starting point. I suggest you purchase this cd on amazon or some other place. It deserve's that respect.

Track Listing: Point of Many Returns/ Dance of the Tripedal/ Euterpe/ Mellifluous Cacophony

Purchase mp3's here: http://www.amazon.com/Contours-Sam-Rivers/dp/B000TEPFE8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398200175&sr=8-1&keywords=sam+rivers+contour

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint

It is an exquisite experience to listen to Ambrose Akinmusire, whether that be a recording, or live performance. Oakland born trumpeter Akinmusire, recently came out with his new album "The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint", featuring a versatile personnel which includes: Tenor Saxophonist Walter Smith III, Pianist Sam Harris, Bassist Harish Raghavan, And Drummer Justin Brown, also featuring Guitarist Charles Altura, The OSSO String Quartet, and Vocalists Becca Stevens, Theo Bleckman, & Cold Specks. 

In Akinmusire's last album "When the Heart Emerges Glistening" the composer intrigues listeners with haunting allegories and riveting, yet unconventional instrumental technique, in tunes like "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter," featuring startling perfect fourths between Smith III and Akinmusire, with the deep, rich, and structural support of Raghavan and Harris, while "My Name is Oscar", tells the horrific tale of Oscar Grant (that would, by the way, be 'continued' in The Imagined Savior). It is fair to say, that it would be a hard piece of work to follow up. Akinmusire does not disappoint, but in fact, pushes himself even further as a musician. Akinmusire does this by Incorporating the use of vocals, and more "expected" progressions, while still sticking to his own musical ideals, and authentic sound, with the unique and personable improvisations that protrude from his instrument.

Ambrose proves to have technical demand over his instrument, but not in a way where he rages out lines, in an exhibitionistic or narcissistic fashion, but instead uses different technicalities to enhance the togetherness of the ensemble. One thing that is clear in Akinmusire's playing and compositions, is that he is ALWAYS listening to every member of the band, and listening is always a factor in his compositional approach. This seems like an idea that all jazz musicians seem to acknowledge as one of importance, but it is actually seldom adhered to. Tracks like "Our Basement (Ed)" describes a beloved, with beautiful, improvised countermelodies by Akinmusire and Sam Harris. Other compositions that contain vocals are "Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child" which features a huge, choir like voice, and "Rollcall for the Absent" the most haunting track on the collection, which addresses and commemorates the deaths of innocent people, including Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, all backed up by trembling licks by Akinmusire and his quintet.

The Instrumental tracks are not to be considered secondary on this album. Marie Christie, a duet between Akinmusire and Raghavan features the beauty of modern jazz and trumpet "acrobatics." Tonal themes in Akinmusire's music often revolve around unorthodox methods of the use of instruments, which is clear in Akinmusire's "howls" and "groans," on titles such as "Vartha" and "Bubbles." These tunes that utilize revolving form, for the sake of leniency between the musicians. 

A huge misconception about contemporary music, is that it is unlistenable, and tries too hard to break away from traditional ideas (at least that is what I have gathered). Some might say that the art form is too demanding. Akinmusire breaks that conception by giving us a beautiful, melodic, collection of music, that is indeed listenable. In the 1900's, every decade featured new directions and ideas for music. Jazz in particular (30's, swing, 40' bop, 50's free jazz, 60's funk etc etc). But now, it seems that in the twenty first century, the music that is most celebrated lacks any ambition in moving towards a new direction. We are stuck in one place. If you ask me, "The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint" is a step forward, and also offers inspirational guidance towards pushing music to a different place.