Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ballister, Worse for the Wear, Dave Rempis, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paal Nilssen-Love

Dave Rempis's Aerophonic label has gotten off to an auspicious start with some very interesting albums. Up today is one by the trio called Ballister, Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic 008). You know it means business from the first moments of the opening. Fred Lonberg-Holm makes free use of electronics to alter his cello at times and that helps give the music an electric jolt that has a "take no prisoners" approach to avant improvisation. This music rivets you to your chair!

Paal Nilssen-Love of course is one of the more celebrated free drummers to come out of Europe and you hear very clearly why that is the case on this album. He is a bubbling, boiling cauldron of energy that spikes the trio and sends them rocketing forward. With his energy and the cello-plus-electronics of Lonberg-Holm the stage is perfectly set for Dave Rempis to put across his smart high-energy playing on alto, tenor and baritone. He reacts with blazing, searing torrents of sound that remind you that there has developed a fire-y wing of the "free jazz" school (which has been with us since nearly the music's beginnings) and Dave is an excellent, original exponent of it, one of the select top avant hornmen coming out of Chicago.

The three together melt the cosmos into liquid fire on this one. They are supercharged and extraordinarily impolite about it. You would not put this one on for a white-tie dinner party (do they still have such things?), nor is it intended for such occasions. Rather than seat you in front of an elegant place-setting it rockets you off the planet.

It is one of Dave's most energized performances on disk and the same might be said of his trio-mates Lonberg-Holm and Nilsson-Love. And the quieter moments when they come are far more than pauses in the action; they are cohesive free statements with less energy but lots of texture and a sense of structure that Ballister never abandons.

Hold on to your hats and put this one on. Get it by all means if you revel in free heat! It will drive the cold winter away, bring out the blooms of spring or transform whatever season you are in into Ballister-time!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Grego Applegate Edwards Talks About His New Second Album "Collage for Jack Kerouac"

Self: So you are doing another self-interview on your music, like you did for your first album "Travels in Tyme"? (http://classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com/2014/09/grego-applegate-edwards-talks-about.html)

Grego: Yes I guess I am. It's not like I am trying to climb on some high-horse as much as I want to interest people in my music and since I am more or less a nobody this seems like a good way to do it.

Self: So your new album Collage for Jack Kerouac is out? You say it is a bit more rock oriented than the last. Does that mean you are selling out?

Grego: No, not at all. Nowadays real, hard-art rock is not especially commercial, if it ever was. This album, as all my music, expresses the musical influences I have internalized since I was young. And really five main influences stay with me: one is classical and especially modern classical, one is jazz and its legacy, leading up to the ultra-modern and avant forms, fourth is what unsatisfyingly is called "world" or "ethnic" music, and last there is rock--not just anything but the art rock that affected me in the later '60s and early '70s, the psychedelic and experimental bands of that period and anything else which partakes of that in the years that followed. Rather than experimenting with time structures as I did in the last album, I am looking for various orchestrated rock sounds that are informed by song form at times, and have mesmerizing qualities that come out of world trance and minimalism.

Self: So are you on drugs?

Grego: That question raises a mind set that has been destructive to avant progressive music, though at one time it helped promote the popularity of weirdness. I find drugs irrelevant to my own creativity. I do not get involved with them. I don't think they are a solution to anything. Hard drugs mess people up. I am indifferent to whether people do them in a legal sense. I don’t think people should go to jail for using them. And I don’t design my music to get high with, though some may do that and that is not my business. When the conservative reaction to the '60s set in, the "say no" hysteria somehow got attached to serious musics as well as substance re-education. There are some who still profit by the traffic while they pay lip service against it. Others don’t. But music and drugs do not have anything to do with each other on a cultural level, not these days. Do people say that Picasso was meant to look at when high? No. So why music? To me the legacy of the earlier days has to do with consciousness raising. Some found it in various places but there was a change in perspective in the Western world in general and part of that has to do with the rise of the Beats and Jack Kerouac in the '50s. And that's why I am coming out with this album, Collage for Jack Kerouac, as a kind of tribute to what he accomplished and his influence on me as an adolescent and young adult, and even now.

Self: Tell us what Jack Kerouac has meant to you, then.

Grego: I will try to do that as briefly as I can. My parents' generation got a quadruple whammy of two World Wars and the Depression, followed by Cold War paranoia. If any generation should have felt the shock of change, of the need to question deep-seated beliefs, it was them. And yet for the most part many emerged from all that, if they survived, with a "can-do" optimism. Perhaps the sixties started to puncture that feeling, but it was rather late in the game for them. On the other hand the Beat Generation came up out of WWII and into a post-war world with a feeling that the values of the past needed reconsidering. Suburban America did not satisfy their search for happiness. And that search became what they were about. I think some day historians will look back and see the Beats as prophetic of a change in "Western Civilization." They questioned middle-American consciousness of normalcy and rootedness, and sought instead an alternative lifestyle and way of thinking that would be more enlightened. They in part embodied a restlessness but also a decreasing attachment to one place, exemplified in the suburban town where many lived most their lives, worked and raised children. After a while economic change made changes in residence from time-to-time a necessity. There was the move of some from city to suburbs, then from one town to another, and there was an influx of southern Afro-Americans from rural to urban landscapes in search of a livelihood. The Beats came to be aware of the hipness of Afro-American immediacy in music and word, and in part incorporated both the idea of jazz's ever present there-ness with the verbal creativity of Black America. Beyond that there was the discovery of Zen consciousness, of a search for experience above permanence, an appreciation of the landscape of America as a totality, from urban hipness to car culture and the ability for anyone to traverse the land from coast-to-coast rather easily. There were other things too, but the most literate like Kerouac expressed this feeling, this restless longing in eloquent terms. It was about a liberation from Puritan values, from a strictly sober-minded industriousness, an embrace of life as a form of art, a liberation of personhood from the strict controls of the past, a celebration of personhood and creative living in all its various aspects. Kerouac's novels may have embraced something that was already in the air, but he did it in a way that was compelling and aesthetically pleasing. What followed was the '60s in all its tumultuousness--an appreciation of Black culture and values, an embrace of diversity and the joy of everyday living, a questioning of the surety of middle-America and its emphasis on economic success, and so on.

Self: Wait, stop! You are saying much there. But how does this relate to your personal experience and how you express it in musical terms?

Grego: By the time I came of age Kerouac and his Beat buddies had already had influence on my older siblings. The rise of rock and its Afro-American rootedness on purity of expression, soul if you will, and the increased presence of expressionist jazz that in an obvious way was embodied in bebop and what came after, all that was coming to be in my early life. And a lifestyle revolution was underway that complemented the new aesthetic. The immediacy of that had already affected me greatly by the time I was a teenager. Then I read Kerouac's books and what he expressed made sense, hit a nerve, made me want to explore my own creative possibilities too, made me initially conscious of a Zen such-ness to living. I tried to express that musically on some tape collages I was working on in high school that included some recitation from Kerouac's "On the Road". That went well in terms of what I was trying to do but when I went off to Berklee in 1971 I pretty much left off on that, though I was still working on electroacoustics then and after for a while. The idea came to me after 9-11 had run us all amok to return to what I was trying to do on that Kerouac project. I resurrected what I felt was the most interesting part--which featured altered piano tapes accompanied by recitation. I laid the track down as it was in my studio as I had left it and began to compose music on top of it that worked outwards from that point, paraphrasing the words to "On the Road," turning the recitation to a sung melody, trying to create a rock-avant soundscape that followed the curve of the original but added more orchestral rock elements. I tied that into a reworking of a song I wrote in 1971 and reworked the whole into what became on the album "Opposite Directions - The Spirit of Kerouac." That became the twenty-something-odd centerpiece for the album as it ended up. It is in that way a kind of travelogue about the collapse of old ways and the creation of a new consciousness out of the ashes.

Self: OK, stop again! There are three other pieces on the album. Where did you get the idea for them and how do they relate?

Grego: I wasn't consciously trying to build around the "Spirit of Kerouac" as much as I was looking for different sounds in the studio and they happened to fit as I listened back. "Last Night Constantinople" was a punky sort of thing about the last night before the fall of Byzantium and the dance residents did at the city gates, a sort of dance of ecstatic desperation. That fit because the rise of the Beats in some ways I believe heralded a change in how America thought of itself. Then the third cut was more mesmeric, both ecstatic and a return to the land, symbolized by the Paiute Indians and music I imagined to accompany their periodic gathering of Pine Nuts. The last number is my adaptation of a Dream Song by the Temiar of Malaysia. They are a tribal group still active today and the songs they sing are in response to dreams the villagers have. "Agin" or "The Spirit of the Tiger" is one of their songs from the 1930s. It fit to me because the Beat/Kerouac revolution gave importance to dreams, as can be seen in Kerouac's "Book of Dreams." Plus the heightened post-Kerouac consciousness takes dream imagery seriously and in a way the future of what has been is like a dream right now. We can’t be sure where we are going but we can have intimations of it in dreams. Kerouac and the Temiar have that in common and I wanted to leave on an open note of uncertainty and expectancy.

Self: OK, I think we have plenty from you on the "back story" behind the music. What can you say about the music itself?

Grego: There are none of the time simultaneities of the first album. The music tends to pulsate with a rock feeling and the music uses mostly standard rock instrumentation--guitars, bass, drums, keys, some percussion and vocals. The "Opposite," Kerouac and Constantinople pieces were more carefully arranged than the concluding Paiute and Temiar Tiger pieces, which in many ways were improvised into being layer after layer, though Paiute has an electroacoustic foundation that in part shaped the outcome of the music. There is some amount of tension in the first half of the album. In the second there is a kind of great release.

Self: So what is it you want people to take away from this music? That you are a multi-instrumentalist of supreme virtuosity?

Grego: Not at all. This one, like the last, is about the totality of sound, the layering, the music as expressive yet not soloistic. One advantage of doing all the instruments and vocals myself is that it was easy to resist the temptation to try and have a particular part stand out in some kind of performative way. Other albums will have more of that and consequently more of a jazz-orientation than this one does. Listening to this one, you will not go away with a feeling that any one instrument is projecting a well-played appearance. It is the layering and complexities of a virtual orchestra. With a symphony orchestra you cannot ordinarily single out, say, a second violinist and say. "wow, he or she is really good." Whether I am accomplished or not is irrelevant here--I don’t care right now--because it is the totality of music that is meant to be heard. Not to compare but early Pink Floyd was designed that way, tribal music is often presented that way, and so orchestral music. I am trying for something a little new that comes out of all those roots. My hope is that the listener, after a number of listens, will come away with the feeling of having experienced music that in many ways feels familiar but maybe also departs from what people expect.

Self: So is that why you say you aren't trying to grow your audience or become more commercial?

Grego: No musician wants to be unheard, so sure I am always concerned that there will be an audience for the music, the more the merrier. But I did not set out to make music that would appeal to a large number of people, because that is not realistic given the demands the music makes on a listener. If I can please a few out there I will be content. And this #2 is part of a long developmental musical arc that I hope I can bring to listeners before I meet my maker! You can get further info and buy the album at Amazon. The link is http://www.amazon.com/Collage-Kerouac-Gregory-Applegate-Edwards/dp/B00U35YM88/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425328621&sr=8-1&keywords=gregory+applegate+edwards

Self: That's great. Thanks. What comes after this one?

Grego: I hope I can release a disk of integrated electro-acoustic works on a mythological-astronomical theme. It will be called I think Aurora Dreaming.

Self: That sounds interesting. Please don’t forget to feed me and provide shelter!

Grego: That's another problem entirely, I guess. I'll be working on that, too.

Self: Some chicken might be nice!

Grego: Chicken? Hmm... We’ll see.

Concetta Abbate, Falling in Time, Pocket-Sized Songs

Some music does not sit well with categorization. One of those certainly is Concetta Abbate's solo debut CD Falling in Time, Pocket-Sized Songs (Waterbug). It is an album of art songs that could well bear a subtitle "Songs of Innocence and Experience" after William Blake, for there is something of both in her whimsical approach. The arrangements are well wrought, with Concetta's violin working with other strings and other instruments sometimes in quasi-classical ways. The songs are original, her voice enchanting. Explorations "in poetry and soundscapes" is how it is put on the inner sleeve. Well, yes. That.

Yes, it is perhaps too artistic to place under any pop or even singer-songwriter category with the expectations one might place on those slabs of classification. Sure, some have a rock beat, and alternative might apply perfectly well.

In the end one might be reminded of some of the art songs from the era of early Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins, yet it has less of the folk roots than they both had for a time. And Concetta has her own way.

Classification can help people understand what they are likely to get, though some of the categories have less singularity now than perhaps they once had. So forget all that.

This is consistently interesting and original music in song form. And as that it gives you much good to hear and rehear.

Definitely recommended!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Abdelhai Bennani Trio, Waves

Europe-based avant tenor sax stalwart Abdelhai Bennani has been rather amazingly prolific with the number of albums he has released on the JaZt Tapes label (type his name in the search box above to see what I've covered). He specializes in an uncompromising free jazz approach without concessions and without relent. For the latest, Waves (JaZt Tapes CD-052) he fronts a very sympatico trio in a live date from Paris, recorded in 2006.

The presence of Benjamin Duboc on double bass and Edward Perraud on drums does much to drive the music forward.

Bennani gives us at some length his characteristic sound, born of hoarse throated harmonics, swallowed notes, upper register cries and a sort of conversational phrasing. He is in fine form.

Benjamin Duboc plays with a true front-line extroversion, pizzicato-ing with torrents of notes and rumbling double stops and bowing lines that mingle and meld with Abdelhai's in interesting ways. He can and should be listened to closely in interaction with the whole.

Edward Perraud provides exemplary free drumming with exotic sound colors conjoined with dynamic set cajoling.

The music revels in a pure "new thing" derived freedom that may remind you of some of the classic ventures done over the years. The music excels in a stylistic singularity.

So though there is already much by Bennani available out there, this one by virtue of some excellent trio interactions must be counted as one of the more indispensable ones. It is not music destined for great popularity and gold records, surely. But free jazz acolytes will certainly take to it.

Go to Jan Strom's website to find out about how to order this one.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Matt Lavelle, John Pietaro, Harmolodic Monk

The music of Thelonious Monk, if anything, has taken on increasing stature as a body of compositions central to the modern jazz experience. In the period following his leaving us, we see renewed attention to his recordings and a great array of contemporary jazz musicians who perform his music regularly. Steve Lacy was a pioneer in adventurously featuring Monk's compositions long before it was fashionable. Nowadays his recordings of Thelonious's music have achieved classic status.

Yet with the unforgettable melodic and harmonic qualities of his music there is always room for further explorations. It may not be a simple matter to make out of music so well known and widely played something very fresh. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro have done just that with their album Harmolodic Monk (UR Unseen Rain 9953).

The "Harmolodic" reference goes back to Ornette Coleman and his approach, specifically his freedom to go out of the expected key centers or improvisations around chord changes to modulate or introduce notes outside of the usual frame of tonal reference. It's more than that but for now that will do. Matt and John approach the Monk material freely in this way, so they can stick to a tonality or general chord sequence and they freely can go outside of it, and that's what they do and do well.

Matt and John take various approaches to the Monk pieces. Matt on trumpet, flugel and alto clarinet and John on vibes, congas, bodhran and percussion can lope along in tempo, play within the general harmonic structures or advance outwards, go for freetime multitempos or articulate in open tempo with solo horn or vibes, or in tandem.

Matt gives us his beautiful take on a classic burnished tone for his trumpet and flugel playing or he can go for a more punchy, brash sound when he feels the need to energize. He sounds quite well on the alto clarinet too, an instrument he has recently gotten into to replace his former doubling on bass clarinet. He sounds great on it. John plays some very appropriate and accomplished vibes as a key melodic and harmonic presence with Matt or in a solo context. His percussion and hand drumming give the music an additional sound that varies the proceedings nicely.

Throughout there is a great respect for the compositional Monk, due attention to the melodic essentials and a harmonic straightforwardness or an expansiveness as they feel it. It all works beautifully well and shows what two very inventive musical voices can produce when they look at Monk's music in an open-form way.

I am impressed with the outing. I would love to hear them do something like this with a rhythm section next time, but the music speaks for now very articulately without it.

Matt and John have their full artistry on display. The results will absorb and move you. Very recommended listening!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra, Why Do You Ride?

Composer-bandleader Darrell Katz and his JCA (Jazz Composers Alliance) Orchestra has enjoyed a longevity as an advanced big band that would seem to defy the odds. Groups like this don't ordinarily survive long with the financial demands such an outfit entails. And yet here they are with a new album, Why Do You Ride? (Leo 711).

The album contains an ambitious work that serves as the title for the album. It is a ten-part composition that addresses bicycling, Zen thought, and the sayings or apocryphal sayings of Albert Einstein on bicycling and any number of related and less-related topics. The album concludes with the 10-minute "SamiBadGal" and an arrangement of "Monk's Mood" for the JCA Sax Quartet.

Vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton does a fine job in her role on "Why Do You Ride?". Her vocal part serves as the central narrative thread and the elaborate part she interprets with genuine artistry. The 18-piece orchestra/big band sounds well-rehearsed and spirited. There are eclectically diverse sections, straightforward swinging with sometimes advanced harmonic voicings, other times more traditional big band sounds, an avant openness at times, funk-rock momentum, old-timey references, new music composed elements, and the spice of effective soloists.

It all hangs together by virtue of the topical focus.

This is a major big-band compositional statement. It is also a quite enjoyable listen.

Thank you Maestro Katz! Give this one a spin, by all means.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Balkan Clarinet Summit, Many Languages, One Soul

Some musical configurations seem inevitable, yet only after they have already come into existence. Such a group is Balkan Clarinet Summit, a six-member clarinet-reed ensemble comprised of virtuosos of the clarinet stylings indigenous to the Balkans region and also present in other parts of Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. The members hail from Greece, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Italy/Switzerland, and Germany and they are very good at it.

Their album Many Languages, One Soul gives us some beautiful composed music and arrangements that run the gamut of style possibilities, from Klezmer and dance forms outward. Each soloist has his own take on the Balkan style and together they make a confluence that is never anything short of extraordinary.

I won't try and describe the music in detail. It is something that will excite and stimulate anybody who loves the clarinet and of course those who know and love the Balkan style.

Get this one if some psychic tickler is going off in your head. You will not be disappointed!