Monday, December 9, 2019

Francois Houle, Alexander Hawkins, Harris Eisenstadt, You Have Options

The in-tandem gathering of Francois Houle on clarinet, Alexander Hawkins on piano and Harris Eisenstadt on drums is significant, as is the flowering of such on the album You Have Options (Songlines SGL1628-2).

The album successfully straddles the realms of avant improvisation and jazz composition with three pieces by Houle, two by Eisenstadt, two by Hawkins and one each by Steve Lacy, Charles Ives (!), and Andrew Hill.

At times one is reminded of the Jarrett-Redman piano-clarinet doublings on the now rather ancient album Birth, but merely as a predecessor, not in terms of imitation.

This is primo New Music-Avant Jazz with excellent clarinet work from Houle and equally thoughtful and inventive contributions from Hawkins and Eisenstadt. It is one to grow into, for the more one listens the better it seems, at least to my ears. I believe most readers will feel the same if they give this one their attention.

All three artists have slowly and surely become central to the music without a lot of fanfare. Here they give us the unexpected yet nonetheless continue the winning ways we have come to expect from each in the past decade, give or take.

Very strongly recommended. Grab this one and listen!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Bobby Kapp, Ineffable Joy

A wonderful quartet outing forms one of the latest in the billowingly targeted collaborations between tenor saxman Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp. Ineffable Joy (ESP 5036) brings back longtime Shipp collaborator bassist William Parker and drummer vet Bobby Kapp on a freewheeling eight-numbered studio date.

This one really feels as quartet-like as it is, in that everybody occupies an instrument zone that forwards the free-rhythm-with-soloists idea that evolved into a foundation of "Free Jazz" in the sixties. That is not to say that the playing is derivative because it is not. It is just that it is part of a whole in avant music making that has a history, and that it makes it all new at the same time as it belongs to a special way of quartet-ing.

So we have Maestro Parker striding, bowing, and carrying forth in ways that punctuate and open up Maestro Kapp to swing-beyond-swing zones and set up Maestros Shipp and Perelman to be freely where it seems right and in the now of things.

And in the process the rhythm team inspires some extraordinary soloing collectively and individually from tenor and piano, not to mention excellent rhythm team inventions in themselves. By now we have four masters of open form in an ultra-hip committal to making the most of every musical moment.

You listen and you hear the history of the form but you hear too the culmination of it all into where these four were in the very moment of the studio date at hand.

Compare the near balladic "Ebullience" with the somewhat more dense and up "Bliss" and you in a way have the right-now analogue parallel to "Cool Blues" and "Koko?" Not exactly yet this is a part of the continuum in time and aural space and an important part at that.

So get in with this one and be in with the present example of improvisatory music at its finest. Outstanding!

Folk Music of China, Vol. 1: Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu

The Naxos World label comes through with music of regions not as familiar to non-local listeners, namely Folk Songs of China, Vol. 1: Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu (Naxos World NXW76088-2). We hear unaccompanied vocal renditions of songs sung by ethnic minorities from the tribes of Tu, Bonan, Dongxiang, Yugur and the Salar. That fact along makes this release notable.

As far as the experiencing of the songs goes it is in the nuances that we gain insights I feel after listening a number of times. Yet too there is a visceral homespun quality to it all that disarms and puts the listener in a new place, so to say.

Several song types are represented. Hua'er  has to do with the young lady lovers of young men. Western Yugar styles appear as well, in long epic forms and shorter ones. Then there are Yanxike, or banquet songs sung ordinarily at weddings. Salaqu or Yu'er are songs of the Salar peoples and ordinarily utilize the pentatonic scale. Finally we hear several songs from the Dongxiang.

Understandably the music sometimes differs from what a Westerner might think of as typically Chinese. And so it adds to the vast folk wealth we can experience for ourselves these days and therefore is a valuable addition to one's folk-ethnic library if one is predisposed in this way. Fascinating.

Indonesia - Bali, Homage to Wayan Lotring

A retrospective of a master composer and musician of 20th century Balinese Gamelan music is at hand and a fine thing it is. To give it its full title, it is Indonesia - Bali, Homage to Wayan Lotring (Ocora C582076/77 2-CDs). It is an intriguing compendium of some 15 Lotring works--nine for full Gamelan orchestra, plus three specifically for Legong Kraton and three for Gender Wayang.

Those who have sampled a good bit of Balinese Gamelan over the years have undoubtedly heard Lotring works without necessarily being aware, for he was in many ways the "Beethoven" of Gamelan for the important first half of the 20th century, having a long illustrious career on the island. Born in 1898, by the '20s he was a fixture of Gamelan and by the '30s his fame had spread beyond (thanks in part to Colin McPhee's writing) to general musicological Gamelan acolytes of the age at large abroad. And he kept moving forward for a long life of accomplishment. 

When appropriate he wrote music and created the dances for the music simultaneously. His first works were for the Gender Wayang chamber groups that provided Shadow Puppet backdrops and pieces often centered around Hindu sacred topics. He then went on to compose for full Gamelan orchestras with dedicated dancers for each work. And of course he also wrote works that were meant to be performed with the orchestra alone.

What strikes me over the years with Lotring's music is the sheer beauty of the main melodic underpinning in the context of incredibly lively figuration in the metallophones. Tempo changes, really stunning, tantalizingly brief grooves and unexpected shifts in the musical momentum give us an incredibly rich tapestry that unfolds memorably in each of the exemplary pieces on the program.

These are "authentic" field recordings and so one might hear, say,  a baby crying or someone coughing in the background every so often. But the sound is very good and the performances excellent so one should not care about such things.

I would say that this set is essential for anyone seeking to experience some true milestones in the Gamelan arts. Lotring's music is central and the set maps out some very wonderful examples for us to treasure, beautifully played. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tiger Trio, Map of Liberation, Joelle Leandre, Myra Melford, Nicole Mitchell

Today we have a Tiger Trio made up of three women improvisers at the very top of their game for Contemporary Improvisation or "New Jazz" - Joelle Leandre on acoustic bass, Myra Melford on piano and Nicole Mitchell on flute. They gather for some eleven spontaneous improvisations on the recent album Map of Liberation (Rogue Art ROG-0093).

The result is vital music and a happy marriage of instruments, voices, technique and extended technique, and sheer brilliance of invention. They show the kind of simpatico openness of response to one another that mark the very best of such gatherings. And in many ways it all thrives by each artist staying in a mutually compatible zone of sound expression, for example high flute-tone flight slurries with bowed harmonic sustains on bass and high note sprinkles on the piano for "Reflection."

It is an album that to me grows in stature with every new listen--as the intentions and expressions become more familiar at each pass and therefore more clearly communicating to my inner ear.

I recommend this album very highly. Do not miss it if you follow the latest in the Improvisatory Arts!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Robert Dick, Joelle Leandre, Miya Masaoka, Solar Wind

There is a world where each musical instrument has a set routine, a set body of technique that could be codified in the form of a book. That is not so relevant where the music of Robert Dick, Joelle Leandre and Miya Masaoka are concerned, especially on their album Solar Wind (Not Two MW986-2).

On the contrary, it is not codification so much as recognition of a freedom and the inventiveness to create a sound world that is a product of three independent imaginations that work together for surprise juxtapositions more than leader-follower hierarchies.

Each is a master of her or his instrument, Robert Dick of the flute family, Joelle Leandre of the contrabass, Miya Masaoka of the koto. And the working out of that mastery for this album decidedly does not lie in initiation and imitation so much as the fashioning of parallel sound universes created and then sustained, to form unique and distinctive wholes.

And so they do throughout with some 12 freely composed improvisations. High invention is the order of the day, a Zen of sound creation that is neither directly obvious nor willfully arcane. It is a natural world, closer to an untamed forest tract than a closely clipped and cultivated garden? I do not know if the analogy works, since some sound universes here sound somewhat trimmed and cultivated, some wildly open and untamed or untrammeled.

So we hear mood-memory poetics in sequences, where all three create a confluence out of disparity--a bowed graininess, a scraping of strings and aerated launches of air all conflated and combined into one moment in time.

And in the end one might set about codifying this musical series of gestures, but the artists would be on to the next project, the next gathering of musical souls no doubt, and the results would need re-codifying as we are in the right now. Thankfully we are in that. So listen to now. Be where these three are right now.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Avram Fefer Quartet, Testament

Alto-tenor stalwart Avram Fefer and his music have graced these pages happily in the past. Of late he is hitting a new peak, especially with this all-star quartet outing entitled Testament (Clean Feed 557CD). Joining Avram are guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor, a group anyone would be proud to field but they are also really on it for this session. The music nicely synthesizes where Jazz has been and too where it is going, which means in short it is saying something very good indeed.

Chad Taylor energizes the session by not hanging back, but instead giving the music the battery power it so needs to testify properly. He and bassist Revis have been playing, as Avram mentions in the liners, with Fefer since their first days in New York, recording several trio sides and etc. The kinetic magic and the long experience playing together translates into a power that runs at full voltage, with the Revis bass presence a key element in the success of the date.

That Marc Ribot is a guitarist's guitarist I need not tell you who read my columns regularly and anyone who has followed things closely in the past decade. On this outing he is heartened by the rest of the band to shine very brightly indeed.

The compositions are sterling blowing vehicles that let everybody swing forward mightily. Chad pens one, Avram the rest.

Finally one must say that Maestro Fefer comes across like a firebrand on these numbers. He clearly is emboldened and inspired by the quartet to do some of his finest blowing on disk. He is cooking!

I cannot recommend this one strongly enough. It is flat-out HOT! So get it already. It both swings and frees things up like mad.