Reviews on Jazz Album
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William Parker – Maya Space Station and Painters Winter (AUM Fidelity)
Like a handful of his peers, such as Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton and Satoko Fuji, William Parker – the 69-year-old composer, multi-instrumentalist, author and ubiquitous presence on the progressive jazz scene – emerges from challenging music with great dedication. However, skip his work at your own risk. This sonic explorer is special.
Parker stands in the furious center, providing all the compositions for two notable midsummer trio recordings, Mayan Space Station and Painters Winter. Both released on his usual AUM Fidelity label, they are determined to venture into the great outdoors of liberated (and liberating) musical expression.
Maya space station features Parker, exclusively on double bass, joined by drummer Gerald Cleaver and electric guitarist Ava Mendoza, the latter with an attack that pumps out torrents of edgy, mind-blowing improvisation. Jazz fans who don’t mind having a distortion-heavy, freak-out guitarist like her right in the middle of the game will love this release. And there is much (more subtle) grit and grind from the rhythm tandem: the 40-year-old and still gaining recognition Mendoza is a force that demands attention.
“Tabasco” opens the disc with Parker’s leaning ostinato over which Mendoza’s reverb-heavy lines dance. She claims Nels Cline as a mentor and given her free-flying approach it makes sense. Cleaver pushes the track to a fade-out that arrives too early.
“Domingo” relies on the resonance of sustained chords over a modal vamp. Mendoza departs here on her own, taking lines fit for a lazy afternoon muse and placing them in mysterious sonic vistas. “Canyons of Light” transports the listener to the far reaches of tonality through the power of Parker’s bend and an electronic wash from the guitarist. Where are we? Can we go back? Do we want that?
The title track tries to balance on the edges of Cleaver’s shuffle beat. But Mendoza’s doubled-up lines add a shrill dreamy disturbance that opens the doors of perception. Parker takes up the bow and Cleaver settle into his cymbals, but the guitarist goes to heaven until Parker spots a recurrence.
The Maya space station is best experienced with headphones or when the neighbors are on vacation and you can turn around up the volume of your stereo.
The more meditative Painters Winter is a fully acoustic trio set with Parker and Daniel Carter expressing themselves on different instruments. Hamid Drake provides the gel with his seasoned drumming.
The disc begins in a reflective tone with ‘Groove 77’. Carter thinks out loud on muted trumpet before Parker and Drake accelerate up the pace. A bass/drums duo passage confirms Parker and Drake’s ability to combine breadth of variation with depth of intention. A groove eventually kicks in when Carter switches to tenor sax and Drake adds smooth accompaniment.
The title cut finds Parker on trombonium and Carter on flute as they explore an elusive sequence of tones. Drake seeps through an appropriate rhythm. The musicians seem to want to forge a collective presence instead of emphasizing their individual voices.
On “Painted Scarf,” Parker switches to shakuhachi as he alternately wraps and weaves Carter’s breathy clarinet work. The occasional tap or tinkle from Drake adds an enchanting touch that can be either decorative or deep. The pulse stabilizes and Carter adds a bit of a blue tint before the tune closes.
Parker honors an esteemed bassist ancestor on the jumpy ‘A Curley Russell’. This is an avant-garde tribute to a bebop legend: the leader is back on bass and in communion with the ever thoughtful and captivating Drake. Carter, on alto sax, also manages to channel immortal spirits and fulfill the leader’s wish in the liner notes that we “hear all the music that has ever gone through these expansive musicians”.
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