The best jazz prog you can buy this month

Sid Smith rounds up the best releases from prog’s jazzier reaches

Cover art for Richard Pinhas and Barry Cleveland's Mu

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The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon (Discus Records) by pianist Keith Tippett’s Octet packs plenty of wild, horn-dominated punches as might be expected from the composer of 1971’s Septober Energy by the 50-piece, Fripp-produced Centipede. However, the emotional impact of the writing comes through the slower, lyrical pieces sitting within the overall work which deepens with every listen. Still producing intense and bracing music, it’s an absorbing work by one of the greatest players of his generation.

Led by Swiss-based composer and drummer, Ramón Oliveras, Chronosome (Ronin Rhythm) is the second album from his incredibly agile quintet, Ikarus. Filled with energetic tunes whose depth and control are complimented by skipping melodies, beautifully articulated by wordless vocals from two vocalists. Their close harmonies flow in fascinating counterpoint to acoustic piano, bass and drums. Quality writing, flawless performances and a resplendently detailed production, courtesy of Zen-funk guru, Nik Bartsch, makes this not only an exquisite treat for the ears but a significant release as well.

As happened with guitarist Ben Monder, sax player Donny McCaslin’s appearance on David Bowie’s Blackstar has deservedly raised his profile. Beyond Now (Motema) pitches his passionate, Coltranesque tenor into a translucent, pulsating electronica-soaked urban jazzscape. Weighty, discursive pieces Faceplant and Shake Loose’spull forth robust,fiery runs from McCaslin, while two imaginative Bowie covers hailing from Low and Outside finds him adding a wholly different kind of density and power to a consistently satisfying release.

Two very different guitarists with contrasting approaches, French avant-ambient pioneer Richard Pinhas and SF-based experimentalist, Barry Cleveland combine their considerable talents on Mu (Cuneiform). With hefty, vigorous support from bassist Michael Manring and drummer Celso Alberti, the resulting melange of wispy electronics, insistently chattering percussives and shimmering harmonies coalesce into surprisingly sensual melodies, long-range E-bow explorations and excursions into spacey ambient-funk. Sourced from entirely improvised sessions, a sensitive post-production has fashioned four pieces that simmer with nimble invention and an unerring, heat-seeking certainty.

Drummer and bandleader Bobby Previte’s Mass (RareNoise) boldly goes off-piste by combining an 11-piece choir with a band that includes Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley to tackle an imaginatively sprawling arrangement of 15th century composer Guillaume Du Fay’s Missa Sancti Jacobi. Refashioned to include pounding drums edged with a strident, metallic gilt, luminous pipe organ and heavenly voices, it’s a curious but successful blend that’s both powerful and hypnotic. With O’Malley’s storm-battered soloing ushering in the album’s howling climax, it may be untypical of Previte’s usual territory but the snarling metal riffage suits the scope of an ambitious work that’s been over a decade in the making.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.