Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Francois Tusques, Itaru Oki, Claude Parle & Isabel Juanpera, Le Chant du Jubjub

From across the pond today we catch up with a most adventurous release from the ever intrepid Improvising Beings label, namely Le Chant du Jubjub (IB 43) featuring free jazz piano vet Francois Tusques, trumpet master Itaru Oki, accordionist Claude Parle and vocalist/recitationist Isabel Juanpera. It is the sort of set that is not easy classified, and all the better for it.

There are expressively free duos and trios that bring out the musical personalities of the instrumentalists, there are poetic recitations and quasi-sprechstimme passages that bring Ms. Juanpera into the spotlight, and there are structural, composed elements that owe their existence to Francois' special sensibilities.

Everyone sounds quite well: Tusques is in good form as his very unique pianistic self, Parle sounds a noteful and folk-energetic counterpart to Tusques in quite interesting and very varied ways, Oki plays an informed and creative role as the third voice and Juanpara makes dramatically audible Tusques' narratives with clear relief.

What makes this date so unusual is the unpredictability of it all. Francois comes through with ostinatos, deep harmonic structures, or sustained onslaughts of notefulness that mark him as invariably himself; Parle ever an inventive foil to the Tusques piano; Oki a sensitive earful of well chosen smears, runs and timbres; Juanpera a musical-verbal game changer.

Le Chant du Jubjub revels in the unexpected. It is one of the more original free sessions to be heard out there right now. It is most worthy of your time. Kudos for Tusques and company!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Avishai Cohen, Into the Silence

Is there any way to capture what makes an album special in mere words? Ultimately, no. But those of us who wield a pen must keep on regardless. Avishai Cohen's Into the Silence (ECM 2482) has something about it that is beyond simple words, or complex ones, for that matter. It is what used to be called "mood music" tried to do but generally failed. It is what the best of musics can do, but rarely enough. It is a singular thing. Not to be mass-produced, I mean not these notes, these sounds, the presence of Avisai on trumpet, Bill McHenry on tenor, Yonathan Avishai on piano, Eric Revis on contrabass, and Nasheet Waits on drums.

It captures a feel of after. After the garbage trucks with their noisy clatter have gone by, picking up those huge mountains of things we once paid dearly for, what's left now nearly valueless. It is the feeling a year later when someone important to us has passed, and what remains, memories, silence, and absence. It is when we pick up and go on.

Avishai's trumpet has some relation to Miles in his more introspective moments. Avishai has some of that searching quality. He goes into his own space with it all. Drummer Nasheet Waits gives us some beautiful counterpoint to the Cohen expressivity, neither predictable nor commonplace. Bill McHenry builds when called upon his own edifices alongside Avishai, cogent, coherent, lucid, terse. Yonathan and Eric make the most of it all too, with some considerable musicality.

It's about the spaces that embody the after, compositionally meeting the consciousness of that emptiness, improvisationally making that present vacancy sing in the moment, making that feeling very collectively personal.

Oh sure, this is an album that perhaps only ECM could make seem so poignant, that perhaps only Manfred Eicher could capture with such poignant spaciousness. And he does. But like the best recordings there is a mutual sympathy of artists and sound capturers and so creating also the maximum potential sympathy with the artists, the capturers, and the you.

If there is a zeitgeist of now, of how it feels to be sitting in one's chair and wondering where it has all come to, this music captures part of that, a zeitgeist not so much of doing, but after it and before the next doing. It is I think a part of that spirit of the now.

It is a moving aural document that will put you where you already are, but make it resonate vibrationally in some profound ways. It has a remarkable continuity and gives us a part of the art of improvisational expression we do not always get--something wholly unified yet ever moving on.

A record that reaches out to you with total artistry....

Friday, April 29, 2016

Almeida, Doynhoven, Klein, Vibrate in Sympathy

If you want to get a quick bead on the trio of Tobais Klein (alto sax, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet), Goncalo Almeida (double bass), and Martin van Duynhoven (drums), specifically on their album Vibrate in Sympathy (Clean Feed 341), you might consider the three dedications appended to three of their numbers, that is to Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake and Ornette Coleman. I do not mean to say that those three dedications explain the music fully and we can be done with it. But it does give you a hint of what to expect.

Klein, Almeida and van Duynhoven do manage to give us their own vision of a freely articulate trio jazz with crucial compositional and improvisational elements that are certainly beholden to the avant tradition of the three masters paid tribute to. Klein gets considerable torque on the alto and makes the bass and contrabass clarinets speak with great color. He manages NOT to sound too much like anyone else in the process. He is soulful, noteful and original. Almeida is very much a full-blown virtuoso on the contrabass, fulfilling a special function on arco and pizzicato for the compositional sections, an ensemble bassist of great skill and invention, and a soloist who makes for lines of continual interest. And van Duynhoven finds a comfortable, catalytic niche as a swinging time component when called upon, or as a creative drummer in the open freedom zone. What he does always seems right for the moment.

Take all of that and lay it out in nine numbers and you have some seriously worthwhile music, a trio seriously contributing to what is happening today. They put a good deal of thought, feeling and interplay into the set. In the end you go away smiling. Because this one HAS the genuine frisson the new new thing needs to launch into excellent musical territory. Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi, Live at Edgefest

Today we have a very worthwhile LP recorded Live at Edgefest (no business NBLP 90) in Ann Arbor, 2013, featuring the excellent trio gathering of Marilyn Lerner on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, and Lou Grassi on drums. This is by no means their first but it is one of their very best, the live setting that day inspiring them to do some of their most compelling abstract avant-free playing.

The set features four longish collectively composed-improvised numbers that show a three-way dialog of a very high caliber. Each artist is saying something original and vital, and each gets plenty of room to interact and make significant statements of a free sort. Lou Grassi is one of the most important drummers on the avant jazz scene, playing well conceived, colorful washes of drum sounds with a dynamic and deliberation that make for a wide-open set of possibilities for the trio. Ken Filiano is the complete bassist, whether in arco or pizzicato mode, with a sure sense of phrasing and a propulsive, driving arc of sound color and soulfulness. Marilyn Lerner is very much a pianist who finds a special middle ground between scatter dynamics and advanced harmonic-line freedom. There is something of the new music approach to her playing as well.

The three give us an album that is thoughtful and full of feeling, expressive and dynamic. It is one of those albums that has so much to offer musically that it takes a few listens to fully digest.

Highly recommended. A piano trio in full flower, playing an unhindered and inspired set. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Valery Ponomarev Jazz Big Band, Our Father Who Art Blakey

In the later phase of Art Blakey's celebrated bands came to our ears the Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, who had internalized the brassy exuberance of the Brown-through-Morgan-through-Hubbard trumpet school and made something of his own from it. Now these many years later he is still at it and with his tight and swinging Jazz Big Band he plays loving tribute to the master, in Our Father Who Art Blakey (Zoho 201601). Benny Golson makes an appearance and sounds fully himself.

The band is a crack outfit who prevails live at JALC's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola and the Zinc Bar for an invigorating set of hard bop classics nicely turned for big band. Timmon's "Moanin, " Hubbard's "Crises," Duke Jordan's "Jordu" and "No Hay Problemas," Golson's "Blues March" and Valery's own "Gina's Cooking."

The huge swing associated with Blakey's group is there, the band is very tight indeed, and Valery shows us he's lost nothing of the old fire. Valery's arrangements seem entirely right and there is no shortage of good soloists here.

So this is much more than a typical tribute album--it's the transposition of the Blakey repertoire and style into first-rate big band music. Good show!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Big Picture Holiday, Shimmer and Melt

Big Picture Holiday and their album Shimmer and Melt (ropeadope 284) provides a contemporary kind of jazz-rock-funk music that sneaks up on you with successive listens. The first listen allows you to establish its affinity with what has come before, but then as you listen several more times there is something uniquely memorable that hits you.

The band is made up of Avram Fefer on saxes, bass clarinet and alto flute (and regular readers of this column may recall previous releases of his. Type his name in the search box for a few of those.) Then there is Kenny Wessel and David Phelps on electric guitars, Alexis Marcelo on electric pianos, Jason DiMatteo on electric bass, Chris Eddleton on drums and Todd Isler on percussion--the latter for three of the eight numbers.

The compositions-arrangements are more than mere platforms for the solo work of Avram, the guitarists and Alexis on keys, though they most certainly set the scene for some very nice improvisations, especially from Avram. The written parts are in the progressive rock-jazz mode, perhaps reminding a little of later Soft Machine and the later Soft offshoot outfits. There are nicely pronounced interlocking parts that give an edge and substance to things, sometimes even incorporating at times minimalist roots that provide another dimension to the grooves.

And it is the superior arrangements-compositions that, as you listen a few times, bring the music into the memorable territory. And the solo work reinforces that even further.

In the end this is an album that grabs onto you and leaves an excellent impression. If you want music that grooves yet gives you something sophisticated and advanced, this one is a definite for you!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Peter Kuhn, Dave Sewelson, Gerald Cleaver, Larry Roland, Our Earth / Our World

Peter Kuhn is one of those important avant jazz figures who doesn't always get the credit he deserves as a saxophonist of stature. The reasons for that are many, and I do not need to go into them here. But happily we have a new album with Peter and a fine quartet of fellow travelers in great form, Our Earth / Our World (pf Mentum CD 096). It's the band live as part of Arts for Arts Our Earth / Our World series, recorded in NYC this past April, 2015.

It's a full blown blast off into free-avant territory with Peter on alto, tenor and Bb clarinet, nicely seconded by Dave Sewelson on baritone and sopranino, Larry Roland, bass, and Gerald Cleaver, drums. The recording is clear and mostly well balanced, if perhaps not of the highest quality, but the music itself is such that you forget about that once it all gets going and zero in on what is happening.

Peter and Dave get some magical two-horn dialogs rolling, but then also take plenty of solo space on their own too. Larry and Gerald bring to our ears a free-zoned and primally grooved rhythm tandem and keep the fire stoked nicely. Gerald is one of those drummers who should be listened to carefully because he is always inventive and well worth the attention.

It's some fire-y free music in the avant tradition and a rare chance to hear these artists together pushing the envelope and letting everything follow the creative wind.

I am glad to have it and I do recommend you check it out, especially if you do not know these players well or at all. Encore!