Friday, January 30, 2015

Friends & Neighbors, Hymn for a Hungry Nation

What is new under the sun? Plenty if you look for it. Take for example the Norwegian outfit Friends & Neighbors. They have an album out on Clean Feed (310) called Hymn for a Hungry Nation and it's good. They are a quintet of Andre Roligheten, tenor and clarinets, Thomas Johansson, trumpet, Oscar Gronberg, piano, Jon Rune Strom, double bass, and Tollef Ostvang, drums. They do new "new thing" and give us their personal, original best.

Each one of these folks is a player, make no mistake. And they get a group sound with some worthwhile originals that, no surprise given the name of the band, owe something to classic Ornette but also to some of the other outfits from the early days too, like the NY Contemporary Five.

It would not be quite enough if that's all they did. But they do add their own freshness and so it becomes "in the zone" without just rehashing the zone.

Each player has something to say, the rhythm team locks into free grooves in classic fashion, yet it all has a quality there that is recognizably original. You may not know these players yet. But that will change after you hear this one.

Friends & Neighbors have arrived! Any "free jazz" fan will no doubt be very happy with their album. I surely am myself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hal Galper Trio, O's Time

As I understand it piano great Hal Galper is teaching less nowadays to devote more time to performance. To music lovers like me that can only be a good thing. And in fact we mark the occasion with a new volume of his rubato-centered recordings: O's Time (Origin 82670).

It's a freewheeling set of jazz standards, songbook standards and a Galper original. The trio sounds quite bracing. Bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop play open form, swingingly free multi-time rubato in response to Hal's vibrant playing. There is some attention to changes now and again but then there is fluid freedom which choses to go ahead without strict adherence to bar lines or chordal sequences.

Hal sounds great in a freebop mode, with much to say and the freedom to take his own roots and extend them outwards. Jeff takes some very interesting solo time and makes great use of it. And John's drumming implies a multi-dimensional timeliness that further opens up the expressive mood and spurs the others onward.

Hal Galper has done some beautiful work and must be counted as one of our living piano treasures, so to speak. He shows you why in no uncertain terms on this lively set.

An outstanding record, I must say!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tony Allen, Film of Life

If you don't know the Afrobeat stylings of Tony Allen (and I'll admit I have missed him), you probably should. Here he is with his 10th album, Film of Life (Jazz Village), and it is a good one.

The rhythm section, guitars and bass, and horns all come at you in the best Fela Kuti Afrofunk groove mode, with some new twists, too. Tony hails from Lagos, Nigeria. His lyrics talk about struggle and have an autobiographical feel. The "jazzbastards" produced this one and give us an ambience that puts the groove up front and the instrumental embellishments, the backup vocals and Tony's lead in a great light.

There are psychedelic aspects added to the mix, and of course the soulfulness primary to Afrobeat is in full force.

Top-notch progressive arrangements, the hippest of grooves and Tony's very real commitment to being here comes through beautifully.

It both gives you what you might expect, then gives you things you don't. Both work very well towards a sound that builds on what has been and combines things in unexpected ways. Recommended!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Connie Crothers & Paula Hackett, Sharing the Thrill

The conjunction of "jazz" and poetry has by now become a vital part of the arts, an expression where musical sound and creative word spinning make for something more than the sum of its parts when everything is right. And that of course is true of the very most modern conjoining of improvisational musics and poetry as much as it was of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and notable others. Baraka and the New York Art Quartet set the new thing pace with "Black Dada Nihilismus." The AACM had some beautifully classic conjunctions by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Jarman, Braxton, and Richard Abrams. Steve Lacy flirted with it. And of course Archie Shepp mastered it.

So the "avant tradition" is with us. And now we can revel in something new and worthwhile in pianist Connie Crothers and poet Paula Hackett on their album Sharing the Thrill (New Artists 1055).

As I write these lines the NY "Blizzard of 2015" is in progress, or perhaps it has fizzled out? The pristine snowfall blanketed outside and my self relentlessly prevailing in my semi-heated living space gives me a suitable backdrop to rehear the album as I ponder its qualities.

Paula Hackett has a vision of the today we dwell in. She offers us tributes to Max Roach and Billie Holiday, her personal experiences in life with her brother, relationships willy nilly fated or ill-fated, being stereotyped as an artist with negative connotations, the Kafkaesque experience of institutionalization, of "chokeholds" and other injustices and repressions. All of it has relevance to us today and is expressed with a matter-of-fact poetic immediacy that lends itself to avant jazz collaboration.

(And if you happen to be around New York right now, there is a series of concerts happening in the new improvisation and dance modes centered around the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Connie Crothers and a host of New York's finest improvisors are taking part. Check the net by doing a Google on it to get the schedule.)

So Paula gives us her narrative poetics in conjunction with the vibrantly alive piano improvisations of Connie Crothers. I've said much on her in these pages. Suffice to say that the miniaturist contexts of the fairly short verbal poetics puts Connie in a briefer mode than usual. She rises to the occasion with gems of spontaneity that go exceptionally well with the poems. There is outness, bluesiness, roots and all kinds of inventiveness to be heard.

And so we have a full CD of stories, outbursts of protest, word-pictures of the angst of existence, and of hope, togetherness, being.

This is an adventure that works well because Paula has much to say, says it beautifully, and Connie responds in kind with her special later-period brilliance and essence.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Ascent of the Nether Creatures, Rashied al Akbar, Muhammad Ali, Earl Cross, Idris Ackamoor

One of the nice things about reviewing is that you get to check out things you might not otherwise have the chance to hear. And of course what seems worthwhile I pass along to you, the reader. Such a rather obscure but nice album is the 1980 Netherlands club date of the quartet of Earl Cross, trumpet, Idris Ackamoor, alto and tenor, Rashied al Akbar on bass, and Muhammad Ali, drums. They gather together their collective forces for a very fire-y freebop set on Ascent of the Nether Creatures (No Busines LP 78). It is one of those limited edition vinyl releases that No Business does so well, and it is a good one.

The sound is not entirely perfect yet very clear. The music makes up for what is very slightly less than pristine sound. Cross and Ackamoor make excellent front-line soloists and have it all together on this set. Akbar is doing good things on bass. And as might be expected of Muhammad Ali (late brother of Rashied Ali), the drumming is expansive and very swinging.

They do four originals that have contrast and plenty of room for free blowing. And they come through. These are players that have not gotten near enough credit for their contributions to new thing freedom. A careful listen to this record tells you why that should not be the case.

It captures a period when free jazz was still new enough that the thrill and even ecstasy of letting it all go to the rafters was still there. There is no reason why that should not still be the case but there seems less of it now. Listen to this one and recapture some of that thrill!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Trio & Mattias Stahl, North and the Red Stream

The world of free avant music, sometimes called "free jazz," continually evolves and permutes so that a simple classification of style sets doesn't always serve to clarify. Potentially every configuration of players occupies its own world, though of course that is never entirely true, since both the past and the present influence every soloist and ensemble in some way.

But nonetheless the idea that every moment of music-making is potentially open to any expression allows at least theoretically for anything to develop. The feeling of open creativity in spontaneity has been very present in the best senses with the Red Trio, a worthy gathering of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, contrabassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. On their latest recorded outing they add vibist Mattias Stahl. With his presence there is a four-way dynamic that shows both continuity and change; his inclusion is a factor that gives the group dynamic another melodic-harmonic voice that brings a freshened set of spontaneous sounds to bear.

All this on the CD North and the Red Stream (No Business NBCD 69). It was recorded live at the VDU Jazz Festival Kaunas late in 2013. And no doubt the live gig gave them some additional inspiration because they are all locked into good things throughout.

Both the pianist and the vibist have in jazz and subsequent avant music been historically faced with dual poles of consideration. Both instruments, at least in their maturity, have the capability of creating self-sufficient harmonic-melodic worlds, yet of course in a group context and as influenced by the development of the music there has been the pull to create horn-like lines. Earl Hines was one of the more overt of the early exponents of the horn-style of soloing, but of course he never abandoned the two-handed harmonic pianism that came naturally to those who study the instrument. With the history of vibes playing it was later Red Norvo and of course Milt Jackson who did more to integrate that pianistic harmonic conception into the vibe approach. Since then both instruments variously gravitated between lining and harmonizing as the music evolved and changed.

I bring this up because Pinheiro and Stahl do a great job on this set travelling in and out from a harmonic to a lining approach. In a free context where there are implied key centers but lots of freedom of choice, the two players work especially well together in choosing lines and harmonic voicings. And by so doing you get a distinct kind of spontaneous fullness that Hernani on bass responds to rather brilliantly and Gabriel absorbs and in turn sets up various inventive pitched and unpitched washes of percussion.

And that is to say that the group sound as a four-fold voice is especially prominent and innovatively interesting on this set. That is not to say that there aren't solos here. But the solos are quite often integrated into four-way dialogue where everyone adds to the solo for a very creative ensemble sound.

These are four very talented creative souls and the freedom they espouse is extraordinarily well developed on this set. It is a set that sustains interest from start to finish. There are no tentative sounding harrumphs, no momentary fumblings for direction. They know what they are about and they go there, directly, and stay there.

And the vibes-piano tandem works especially well. That's because they, and really all four are listening--but complementing more so than simply responding to each other.

It's a very, very good outing that all interested in the free zone should hear.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don Pullen, Richard's Tune, 1975

Don Pullen was a brilliant pianist who left us much too soon. In 1975, at the end of his several-year tenure with Charles Mingus, he recorded a solo album for Sackville records. It was reissued with extra cuts in the 1990s and from that time has taken as its title Richard's Tune (Sackville 3008). With the new Delmark distribution deal we have it very readily available again and we are all the better for it.

Of course Pullen came to national attention in the mid-'60s when he appeared as pianist for Giuseppe Logan's two ESP albums, then a little later in a duo recording with Milford Graves. These albums showcased his outside playing in brilliant fashion. He was a scatter stylist primarily, and though his playing was more like Cecil Taylor's than Paul Bley's, he nevertheless was his own person even then.

By the time Song for Richard was recorded he of course had gained a good deal more fame as a member of the Mingus entourage. And by that time he had established a sort of in-and-out duplex style that could stay within modern contemporary harmonic jazz realms or take it out into more uncharted zones, sometimes within the same solo.

And that is the Pullen we get on Richard's Tune, a seasoned, very personal stylistic brilliance that went in both directions. The compositions are strong, with outside fireworks running together with earthy gospel and well-considered changes-based numbers.

Like Jackie Byard, who prefigured him in the Mingus group, he had assimilated the history and the new thing from the ground up and could do it all in his own way. And both he and Byard did all of this in ways that unmistakably identified them as stylistic originals.

On Richard's Tune we get an hour of Pullen at his best. If there is no one Pullen album that sums him up, this one gives us a beautiful picture of what he was about in 1975. He had a rare ability to grasp the ins and outs of improvised music from multiple perspectives, each with its own special Pullen focus.

This is a central disk. You should get some of the earlier and later ones, too. If you start here you can't go wrong. And if you already dig Pullen, you need this one, certainly!