The Round-up: I was faced with two paths, so I took them


Here is some very good new music.


The Heliocentrics – A World of Masks (Soundway Records)

There’s a relentless quality to the music of psychedelic jazz ensemble The Heliocentrics, and it’s why music that grooves like it was born for the dance hall forges connections that lead to cerebral overdrive.  Instruments organic and electric weave a tapestry rich with detailed imagery, and trip hop beats and wavering melodicism skew the final manifestation of modern jazz architecture, a misshapen masterpiece willfully shaking off attempts at categorization.  The space age music often sounds like a stowaway on a Sun Ra emergency liftoff, but the pulsing drones and darker wavelengths hint at the grounded, doped up dreams of a Spacemen 3 instrumental.  The Heliocentrics like their collaborations with vocal artists, and hooking up with Barbora Patkova‘s mesmerizing delivery on their newest release continues a successful run.  Patkova can belt it out when needed, but when she matches the ensemble’s intensity with restraint, her voice resonates like a summer sun.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  BandcampAmazon


Brian (Shankar) Adler – Radioactive Landscapes (Circavision Productions)

Brian Adler has been quietly releasing some intriguing little albums in 2017.  Their duration implies EPs, but the fullness of their vision indicates something greater.  This quirky set with vibraphonist Matt Moran, pianist Santiago Leibson, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and bassist Rob Jost never really settles into a decisive sound, and instead flutters about endlessly.  The result is a work thick with imagery, laid open to the wildest interpretations.  Adler’s use of varied percussion, from drum sets to tablas to metal sculptures adds more textures, as does his occasional use of studio effects.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp


Alexander Hawkins – Unit[e] (Self-Produced)

Perhaps the most compelling quality of the music of Alexander Hawkins is how wide open it feels even though it’s dense as hell via composition and ensemble instrumentation.  The pianist and composer doesn’t ever do anything normal, even avant-garde, which often comes off as quite embraceable under Hawkins’ direction.  This sprawling set is comprised of two different recording sessions and two different ensembles.  The first is a sextet, and it has flavors of traditional jazz mixed in with the modern fare.  The second recording session doubles the ensemble size and speaks to freer expressions of jazz language.  It also has some pretty thrilling live electronics matching wits with an ensemble heavy on the wind instruments and generous with the strings.  Violinist Dylan Bates, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, trumpeter Laura Jurd and clarinetist Alex Ward are just some of the all-stars making this all happen.  So good.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp


A Tree Grows – A Tree Grows (Rufftone Records)

There’s something very appealing about how subdued things get on this set from keyboardist Emanuel Ruffler, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, bassist Rashaan Carter, drummer Russell Carter and trumpeter Duane Eubanks.  Working the beats or digging into a groove doesn’t generate a sweat, and when they instead turn their attention solely to the crafting of melody, the focus is on the detailing and not on some huge statement.  There’s some exuberance displayed on “Wau Wau Water” and “Youngblood,” but more often than not, the tunes bubble along contentedly.  Even the songs themselves seem to exist without any grand motivation to spur them forward; each track behaves as an isolated idea or concept that’s given brief life to express itself before moving onto the next.  In many ways, this recording is a bird-of-a-feather with Jeff Parker’s The New Breed, an album that always was pleasantly subdued in the way it expressed a nicely varied personality.

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp – Amazon


Akku Quintet – Aeon (Morpheus Records)

Akku Quintet has a talent for finding that sweet spot where improvisation gives ambient music an authoritative voice, and where a peaceful drone logically builds to a fiery crescendo.  It isn’t until the second half of their new album that they reach that crescendo.  They open Aeon with a variation on pop music, where catchy hooks don’t necessarily lead to the expected destination.  It’s that kind of thing that keeps the album interesting, though it might also be attributed to the long, winding roads that guide the melody as far as it will go without forever breaking the bonds connecting it to its original articulation.  The personnel have changed a bit over the years, but the core of drummer Manuel Pasquinelli, keyboardist Maja Nydegger and guitarist Markus Ischer all contributed to Akku Quintet’s excellent 2013 release Stages of Sleep, which I still find time to sneak into my listening queue from time to time (go read about it).

Artist site | Listen | Buy:  Bandcamp | Amazon