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Musical iconoclasts Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser were way ahead of the popular consciousness when it came to paying tribute to Miles Davis' pioneering electric bands of the early-to-mid 1970s. Kaiser's involvement in this project is no surprise. He's an avowed long-term fan of Davis' mid-1970s recordings and cites Pete Cosey's work on these recordings as a seminal influence on his own playing. At first, I found Wadada Leo Smith's involvement a complete surprise, if not a little perplexing. Affiliated with the AACM since the early 70s, Smith has worked extensively with avant-garde musicians such as Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Davis to name just a few. His work as a leader, while incredibly diverse, showed few, if any, tendencies towards electric jazz-rock fusion. Yet, from the first note he plays, Wadada's profound understanding of Davis' groundbreaking 70s oeuvre is palpable. As a trumpeter, he is able to evoke the spirit of Miles without ever imitating him. As a composer, he has the artistic integrity and musical guts to honor the past while extending some of Miles' most important concepts into a 21st Century musical setting.

“Ten Freedom Summers” is a collaboration between Smith’s celebrated Golden Quartet featuring pianist/composer Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg and drummer Susie Ibarra, and the acclaimed Southwest Chamber Music ensemble conducted by Grammy Award-winner Jeff von der Schmidt. The musicians will record the project in the days after the premiere for release on Cuneiform in the spring of 2012. In designing the sprawling multi-movement work, Smith focused on the formative decade framed by the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that overturned the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson decision ratifying Jim Crow segregation, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed many forms of racial discrimination.

Guitarist Terrence McManus' plight is to create a "personalized sonic language." He aligned with revered drummer, composer and bandleader Gerry Hemingway for a wide-open sonicscape on the well-received outing, Below the surface of (Auricle, 2010). Amid investigative frameworks with like-minded jazz and improvisation artists, McManus builds and uses his guitar arsenal and is making a name for himself as a stylist who flouts convention.

Spirits Aloft is a tribute to Rashied Ali who passed away in October 2009. Prior to his passing he worked with Henry Grimes on numerous projects. The two reconnected after many years on different paths and as time has a tendency to do, allowed them the opportunity to play and record together as if time had stood its ground.

A live recording culled from the quartet's appearance at a museum in Krakow, Poland., the album is an alignment of visionary musicians from France and Japan. Perhaps the more notable artist is pianist Satoko Fujii, revered for her compositions and laudable technical faculties within small, medium-size and large ensembles. Fuji and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura reengage on this expansive set, where the avant-garde is fused into an organization of captivating and in some instances, mind-bending pieces, sans any limiting factors.

 

Each of the two bands highlighted on this 2011 disc feature alto saxophonist Herman Hauge. Previously unissued, these sides were recorded in 1973 and 1984. And per the album notes, Hauge cites the improvisational vehicles with outlying influences and interfaces between [architectural] design and space as pertinent factors.

 

Creativity exudes through any musical genre. And in the free or semi-structured realm of jazz, the tried and true can be beaten into submission, often leading to a ho hum listening experience. Aimless cacophony and uninteresting dialogues are first-offender elements within these formats. However, lesser-known artists such as Italian saxophonist Biagio Coppa keenly realize that ingenuity and vigor are recipes for the betterment or perhaps, advancement of music through the artistic looking glass. With an estimable support system, the saxophonist injects a complex, yet personalized series of propositions throughout this first-class release.

 

In string quartets, it may serve as the "bottom," the baby bass violin. In symphony orchestras, it is presented in multiples and blends in with the entire ensemble. But by itself on a 42-minute album? Well?..  This possibility is explored by Paris-born cellist Vincent Courtois on L'Imprevu, the very first release by re:think-art records. Here, Courtois offers 12 intriguing performances that feature his cello engaging in conversation, singing, snarling, and creating drama...by itself.

Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli invites legendary British bassist Barry Guy to lend his monstrous chops on Polisation. Sure enough, this unit seldom fails to impart numerous surprises into multidimensional environs, incited by the leader's fusion of experimental and symmetrically designed architectures. Big Zoom sports a big sound, yet desensitizes its arsenal with soft-to-the-touch dialogues, interspersed throughout various ebbs and flows.

 

Frank Carlberg's "Tivoli Trio" is one of those rare piano trio beasts that makes an immediate impression. It helps that Carlberg himself is a fascinating composer who has an immediately recognizable touch on the keys. He's also one of those players who's impossible to pigeonhole. His precise, lively piano playing seems informed by classical music, but he's a jazz dude through and through. There's no gimmick here – no pop covers and no bad boy posturing. Even within the jazz realm, Carlberg's style is idiosyncratic – he's clearly not a Chick / Herbie / McCoy / Bill Evans acolyte. Nor is he a Cecil Taylor-esque freebird. Rather, Carlberg seems to come out of a quirky modern jazz / proto-free jazz lineage that would include players such as Richie Beirach, Ran Blake, Steve Kuhn, and Paul Bley.