Miles Davis – “Miles In Tokyo” (1969 / 2019)

This was the only record on the Record Store Day Black Friday list that caught my eye, so I didn’t bother heading anywhere early, instead making it over to Easy Street about three hours after it opened. And there it was – one copy left of Miles In Tokyo. Almost as if I planned it.

Reviews of Miles In Tokyo seem to center on what was apparently a lack of chemistry between Davis and recently added tenor sax player Sam Rivers. I’d be lying if I said this was somehow apparent to my inexperienced jazz ears – I think Rivers sounds tremendous, and the entire quintet (including Herbie Hancock on keys) come together quite well, particularly on “My Funny Valentine”.

Epic Rain – “All Things Turn To Rust” (2019)

With All Things Turn To Rust Epic Rain takes us on a guided tour into insanity. The only question remaining is, is this a one way trip?

Dripping with jazz influences, Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason continues to push to evolve as Epic Rain, over time moving from hip hop to pure storytelling, both with words and sounds. The opening track, “Lumaclad Reflector”, drifts off towards the classical end of the spectrum, the instrumental establishing the sombre mood of the album, casting a damp nighttime blanket over you, the closing repeated note sounding like a distorted fog horn off in the distance… but you can’t tell the direction it’s coming from… I wondered for a moment if we weren’t in store for an instrumental album, but the next track “Distortion of Reality” quickly erased that thought (though there are other instrumental tracks) as I was ushered into a killer’s mind, his thoughts and motivations laid bare, Jóhannes’ voice matter-of-factly painting the scene, both internal and external. “Every Road” takes us on another trip deep into a depraved and, in this case, hopeless mind, this time using a martial style snare drum roll to act as a counter to the depth of the rest of the music. This time it’s a suicide. Or is it a murder suicide… ? I’m not quite sure. On “Apart” we find him on the verge of singing, the lyrics including a chorus and patterns that give them a style closer to rock than hip hop while still maintaining the sense of setting, of place and time. A female vocalist joins Epic Rain on “Mirror Maze”, “Framing the Sky”, and “Evil By Heart”, taking over the duties with her underlying sadness, the sound of someone so exhausted that they don’t have any more tears to give but still haven’t managed to purge those feelings, a contrast from Jóhannes’ more menacing style. He returns to close the album on “Trading Secrets” (I trade secrets with your reflection in the water…), the tempo picking up as the races to the finish. Is it the dawn peaking over the horizon? Did we survive another dangerous night to arrive at the respite of daylight? And will tomorrow night bring more of the same…?

All Things Turn To Rust is available to stream, as well as purchase by download or on limited release vinyl on the Epic Rain Bandcamp page HERE. You can also pick it up directly from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, as it’s on their own Lucky Records label as well.

Kristófer Rodriguez Svönuson – “Primo” (2019)

Kristófer Rodriguez Svönuson is no stranger to the Icelandic music scene, the percussionist well-known for contributing beats to various jazz and big band combos. But his new release, Primo, gives him the opportunity to call the shots, and I’ll tell you this – he runs the table.

If I have to put a stylistic label on the music, it’s probably Latin jazz. But there’s more here, much more. Certainly there are South American influences, but also Caribbean and more than a hint of reggae as well, a dash of salsa, a splash of bop, all of it coming together in pure groovy perfection on “Combo Macondo”, a brilliant jam that you wish would simply go on forever. Not surprisingly, the percussion work on Primo sets the tone, Svönuson’s arrangements mixing styles and instruments to change the mood and provide the foundation on which the various guest artists can participate. The side A closer “Interlude” is almost (but not quite) percussion free, but even here the slight wisps of skins season the horns just right, like that perfect pinch of salt on a freshly grilled steak. The B side is bit more restrained, as if the A side was daytime and the B side was evening. The pace is slower, the temperature cooler. One side is rum punch, the other is scotch on the rocks. Both enjoyable, just in different ways.

If you’re looking for a copy of Primo, the best place to start is probably Reykjavik’s Lucky Records – the shop put the record out under their own Lucky Records label, so they’re bound to have it in stock.

tate/allison – “Jazz Machines” Cassette (2019)

tate/allison is JR Tate and Billy Allison, a couple of guys who met in music school in the San Gabriel Valley, just outside of Los Angeles. The duo have backgrounds in big band, jazz, and rock, but also an affinity for noise, and they brought all those disparate pieces together on their new release Jazz Machines.

Jazz Machines opens with the 23+ minute “Rain”. The first third of the track creates an overall ambient soundscape with a distinctly non-electronic, instrumental warmth about it. The horn takes a more prominent place as we progress, the composition splintering into different subelements as the intensity attacks and relents. There are elements of free jazz at play, but much of the vibe remains minimalist and some passages feel quite intentional and not so improvisational, the overall subtlety making the noisier portions that much more jarring. “Washer/Dryer” hits the listener with more discordant sounds early on, taking a more aggressive stance. I sense a broader range of instrumentation here as well, including some electric guitar feedback that would have made Hendrix proud. The track is more reminiscent of experimental rock than free jazz, in part due to the more prominent place of the guitar and other obviously electronic elements. At 36 minutes it’s a marathon, but one that never gets old or tired. “Train” opens in a much gloomier place, like a dark night in a run-down harbor district, damp, cold, and dangerous. It retains that somberness throughout, a film-noir-esque soundtrack (and at 28 minutes, it could indeed score an entire film) to those places that are best avoided. Compared to the other tunes, “detergent” is almost punk rock at just over five minutes in length, a song that retains its ambient core throughout and serves as a relaxing outdo to the overall Jazz Machines experience.

Jazz Machines is available on limited edition cassette and digital download via the art throughsound Bandcamp page HERE.

Ben Hall & Don Dietrich – “Tiger Swallow Tail” (2019)

Those two words. Those two words that have lives apart from one another in most contexts, but when combined result in a visceral reaction, the scrunched up nose, the shaking of the head. Two words that even the most die-hard music fans will dismiss out of hand. Two words that everyone seems to have an opinion about, even if they’re never heard the music.

I speak, of course, of “free jazz”.

I too reacted that way for most of my life, though in recent years I’ve developed a sort of respect for it. Let me be clear – I’m not a free jazz fan. But that being said I can understand the appeal of the improvisation, and from time to time on a recording, if you’re fortunate and the artists are talented, things coalesce into the ethereal, a glimpse of something new and unexpected, a hint at what is possible.

Ben Hall & Don Dietrich combined on a pair of 15-minute, untitled tracks for the recently released Tiger Swallow Tail. Put out by Radical Documents (and available on Bandcamp HERE), the duo pair up in a cacophony of drums and saxophone, crashing cymbals and a screeching horn, an aural attack on common sense and decency. And it works. I can wrap my head around it just enough because of the general simplicity – this isn’t some large collection of instruments competing for space and time, banging into each other like a bunch of beater cars on a dirt figure-eight track, but more like two completely different and random events that intersect from time to time, sometimes missing each other entirely, others banging into each other like billiard balls and careening off in different and new directions, and every now again locking into a groove and swirling around one another.

I’m not going to promise that Tiger Swallow Tail will transform you into a free jazz evangelist, but it may be the right intro to the genre to open up your ears and expand your horizons just a bit wider. And that’s always a good thing.