Thursday, July 24, 2014

Brian Groder Trio, with Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen

I have been appreciating Brian Groder for a while now. He plays trumpet very architectonically. What? Architectonic...having a clearly defined structure. There is form in his improvising which is related to his composing. We get Brian's architectonics laid bare, so to speak, on his new trio album, with the self-explanatory title Brian Groder Trio (Latham 5901).

There's one piece by Joanne Brackeen; the rest are by Groder. He choose well in including bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Jay Rosen. Both respond well to free architectonics, Michael as one of the very foremost inventive bassists on the scene today and Jay a great drummer who does not always get the recognition he should, though as part of Trio X he gets exposure, surely. He sounds better and better these days.

So Jay responds beautifully and contributes his special time and color to this trio. Brian and Michael interact with exceptional grace and inventiveness. Both play out of the compositional implications of each number in interactive bliss and on their own.

The performances are not to be missed. The compositions hit you in the ears and the trio through-improvises on them with a musical logic that is outstanding.

Do not wait! Get this one because it rings out as one of the best this year!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bill O'Connell, The Latin Jazz All-Stars

Better late than never. I was happily pummeled with music over the regular season and since there is only one of me I could not get to all of the good ones fast enough. So I am catching up today with one I wanted to cover earlier, pianist Bill O'Connell and The Latin Jazz All-Stars (Savant 2129).

It achieves a rather big sound with a sextet, thanks in part to the arrangements but also to the clout of the individual players. Connell does those arrangements and they toggle nicely between hard bop/post bop and a Latin groove. He also plays exemplary piano that covers well the expectations of the percussive block Latin piano style and then comes through with some very hard-charging solos that channel a Tyneresque left hand with some fleet and hip right-hand runs.

With him are Steve Slagle on soprano and alto, Conrad Herwig on trombone, with a potent rhythm section of Richie Flores on conga, Luques Curtis on bass and Adam Cruz on the drums. They are joined with bata drumming by Roman Diaz and Diego Lopez and vocals by Diaz and Jadele MacPherson for a very hip Latin arrangement of Victor Feldman's classic "Joshua". Bill O'Connell's nicely appropriate originals form the bulk of the music otherwise, with a couple more standards for good measure.

O'Connell, Slagle and Herwig give us some advanced modern soloing and the rhythm section cooks and churns out the Latin grooves with all the power you'd hope for.

In the end this is a very nifty Latin jazz album for both its Latin and its jazz. The balance is there and apparently they took down the "no smoking" signs in the studio, for they all smoke! Get into this one and you'll be smiling pretty rapidly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ellen Burr, Michael Unruh, Where Am I From, Where Am I Going

In the days when record stores ruled, when record hunting consisted of pouring through bins of records in search of both the known and the unknown, the recording up today would probably not normally have been stocked in the typical jazz stacks, unless you went to a large "full-line" store. And you might have overlooked it.

Today things (for better and worse) are different. People like me cover music that interests those who seek a particular style set. The music may be totally obscure or well-known but releases stand a better chance of review than they might have 30 years ago. Going to the relevant web site to buy such recordings is just a matter of typing in an IP address and going from there. But then the possibility of an unknown artist getting lost in the thickets of the web maze is quite real, too, unfortunately.

And so I present to you the music of Ellen Burr and Michael Unruh, perhaps not people you know of. Their free avant woodwind duet set, Where Am I From, Where Am I Going (pfMentum CD076), is unlikely to unleash a tidal-wave of acclaim and popularity, in part because of the newness of the names, in part for the uncompromising nature of the music. Ellen Burr plays flute, alto flute and piccolo; Michael Unruh the bass clarinet.

For seventy or so minutes they unleash their imaginative and technical powers in a series of 15 duets. It is music of a completely free nature, traversing territory both charted and uncharted, filled with energy and sound colors, weaving a contrapuntal tapestry of sounds that gets to you if you let yourself go and allow a willful selflessness, an immersion in the spontaneous effusions.

When I was much younger I remember a Downbeat review of an ESP disk called Free Music that the reviewer rated with five stars/no stars, symbolically and in fact concluding that there was no way to evaluate such music. It was a cop-out then and it is a cop-out now. If you don't like free music then you have no business reviewing it, unless you want to use the review as a platform to warn the unwary listener that they will be thrown willy nilly into a maelstrom of chaos.

As anybody who reads these blogs knows I do champion free music among other things. This series of duets has integrity, thoughtful creativity and a sense of form and style built-in to the mix. And so I do recommend it to you. It may not be my first choice among such disks thus far this year, but it is quite worthy of your attention. Recommended.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rich Halley 4, The Wisdom of Rocks

West Coast tenor titan Rich Halley returns with further good developments from his now solidly congealed Rich Halley 4 quartet. The Wisdom of Rocks (Pine Eagle 006) seems aptly named in that rocks stay put, weather the storm, become at times all the better for it, with rough edges made more attractively smooth. Perhaps that is pushing it as far as rocks are concerned, but it is fitting for Halley's foursome. But of course I do not mean to say that the group plays smooth jazz! They are lively and still something rough in a very healthy, spontaneous way. But they are rock-solid, more and more as time passes.

As has been the case for a while now the quartet consists of course of Rich on tenor, Michael Vlatkovich on his prolific trombone, Clyde Reed on bass and Rich's son Carson Halley on drums.

The ravages of time have not adversely affected the group. They continue to grow together and make of the four-way dialogue something more and more poignant.

The compositions are mostly by Rich, with one by Rich and Carson and three as collective endeavors by the entire quartet. The song structures set the table and get the band moving in nice ways, whether in a swinging post-new-thing way, as a ballad or with a straight-eight open rock freedom.

Rich and Michael as can be expected turn in some formidable solos and the entire band cooks it all to a fine stew of excitement and dynamics.

If you don't have anything by this edition of the quartet this is a good one with which to start. If you know them this will confirm their stature as one of the very happening things on the West Coast. Listen and dig (you will).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Elliott Sharp Aggregat "Quintet"

Elliott Sharp has made his reputation as an avant and, yes, a blues guitarist and jazz composer of complete originality. In the early days he appeared on winds mostly as a realization of compositional objectives, not as much as a soloist per se. But lately he has taken on the wind playing role rather seriously. The CD up today gives you some of that with his group Aggregat and album "Quintet" (Clean Feed 288CD).

Elliott mans the tenor and soprano saxes and bass clarinet like he was born to it. There is originality and there is a noteful flow. He is joined by Nate Wooley on trumpet, Terry L. Green on trombone, Brad Jones on contrabass and Ches Smith on drums. This is an extraordinarily capable outfit and the avant, open-form free jazz that results has both compositional clout and expressive collective and individual improvisations worthy of your attention.

There is a new new thing out rootsiness underpinning the music that then gets transformed and reworked the Elliott Sharp way, meaning that it has the originality we expect from him, but less of the sensory-motor machine-poetry of his earlier work and more of a collective series of clamorous pivot points that show excellence in their collective improv qualities yet also have structured articulations of a compositional nature.

Everyone here is beautifully creative within the structures set down and capable of a personally inventive absolute freedom as well.

The music is serious in the best sense--buoyantly expressive with structural smarts.

I'd say it was a milestone but I suspect Elliott has more coming in this vein, so I'd better say that this is some breakthrough outness. Heartily recommended for those who like their jazz on the edge, warm and collectively boisterous.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nate Wooley, Hugo Antunes, Chris Corsano, MALUS

Trumpeter Nate Wooley is a player you should never take for granted. Because when you do he'll come along and surprise you. He has a kind of consistency of tone, sure, but he operates in the realm often enough of truly free improvisation, so that you just don't know what he'll do next.

That comes through clearly in the excellent trio recording of MALUS (No Business LP 73) a limited vinyl release.

Nate is joined by bassist Hugo Antunes and drummer Chris Corsano. You may well be familiar with them from their various recordings and associations. They sound well-primed and on the mark here.

The record gives us seven short- to medium-length improvisations that have varying degrees of structure and freedom. All three players are out front at various times in a very democratic give-and-take.

In a free session like this the key will nearly always reside in the interest-level of the solos, both collectively and individually, and of course the group dynamic as a whole. Both are high in this recording.

So needless to say it's something I think you'll dig if you are into the free scene.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ravi Shankar, Milestones, A Primer to the Maestro's Music

In honor of what would have been Ravi Shankar's 94th birthday East Meets West Music has released a CD and accompanying booklet that surveys the maestro's career in its many facets. Milestones (East Meets West) gives us a full CD with a myriad of different elements of the maestro's music. It is part of the Shankar Foundation's Access Raga initiative, which has as its ultimate goal the digitizing of as many of Shankar's analog recordings as possible.

The recording spans the period between 1950 and 2011, with raga performances, movie soundtracks, his compositional projects, excerpts of him teaching, and even a bhajan set to lyrics in English. Some of these examples are quite obscure, others less so. All of it is worthwhile, indispensable for Shankar adepts.

Of course this is not meant to replace or substitute for the long performances of ragas in context, something that is central to his art. But it gives you a taste of his musical personality, his genius over a long period of time.

Listen and enrich yourself!