Friday, May 22, 2015

Ask 7, Michael Vlatkovich Septet

Some jazz artists you can count on to make quality music year-after-year. They may not always win popularity contests, yet their music lives and breathes well. Trombonist jazz-composer Michael Vlatkovich is one of those. With his own bands/projects and now as a member of the Rich Halley group he comes through consistently. Being a West Coaster he may not have as large a presence on the scene than if he was in New York, for example, but that has nothing to do with the music.

So today another fine one, the Michael Vlatkovich Septet's Ask 7 (pfMentum CD089). It is Michael, his trombone and compositions along with a multi-wind outfit of Ron Miles on cornet, Wade Sander on bass trombone, Mark Harris on alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, Glenn Nitta on tenor sax, Kent McLagen on acoustic bass and Chris Lee on drums.

It is a game outfit that handles the composed ensemble music well and has a deep pocket of good improvisers to get the music moving. These are some of Vlatkovich's most compelling compositions, modern and on the outside edge but also somehow timeless in a classic sort of way.

Combine the music with some very nice voicings and performances, good solos and a loosely swinging rhythm team and you have some excellent music. That is what you get. Vlatkovich's trombone is in good evidence and as always has high artistry. The other wind players get some good things going solo-wise. Harris and Nitta get my ear especially.

Hearing this I felt strongly that Vlatkovich would write some excellent big band charts but no matter because we get a very full-sounding septet that allows for some very ambitious and successful Vlatkovich music here.

It's one of his very best and so I heartily recommend you hear it. Encore!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reggie Quinerly, Invictus

If Reggie Quinerly is not a familiar name to you, you are not alone. Yet on his album Invictus (Redefinition) we get a good chance to know him, his finely honed, swinging drumming, his earthy and appealing compositions and his bandleading.

The album revels in a post-bop directness. A quintet holds forth very nicely with Reggie on drums, Warren Wolf on vibes, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Christian Sands on piano and Alan Hampton on bass. They are all very good players, in fact excellent for this date. The Jacksonian roots of Wolf are apparent, though there is more to him than that, and in many ways his sound helps shape the ensemble into a kind of post-MJQ, post-Bagsian cool-hot fundamentality that builds more modern edifices on top of the foundation.

Wolf and pianist Sands work very well together, taking the harmonic synergy in hand and making it work well. That's key to the success of such an ensemble and they do it in ways that give your ears a jump-start. At the same time guitarist Silberstein contributes with single lines and a light touch harmonically that never clashes. Clearly they form a working relationship that makes it all come together. Hampton does an excellent job in the bass chair. Quinerly propulses the band with fabulous time and solos that have a post-Roachian inventiveness and thrust.

But then as far as solos go the front line excels with an ease and conviction that does not make this date seem calculated to assert a tradition as much as it naturally falls into it out of conviction and a shared passion for the language of jazz in the later '50s-'60s mode. It is the opposite of stale. It is fresh, alive, swinging like hell. And I must say I get much from listening to the vibes, piano, guitar loquacity.

The tunes give new life to the sound also. There is only one standard, the rest some fine Quinerly originals.

No doubt this band would be a treat to hear live. They have an in-the-moment quality that embodies live jazz.

So that is my take. It's a fine album! Quinerly knows how to set it all up. I hope he can gives us lots more in the years to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Benny Sharoni, Slant Signature

Benny Sharoni has developed into a fully mature artist with his latest, Slant Signature (Papaya Records). I covered his first a few years ago on this blog (type his name in the search box for that) and now, some five years later we have some genuine movement into a very cohesive stylistic personality. Benny and his tenor are joined with a crack outfit of Jim Rotondi on trumpet, Joe Barbato, piano, Mike Mele, guitar, Todd Baker, acoustic bass, and Steve Langone on the drums.

Rotondi sounds very limber and soulful here, Joe Barbato solos quite well, but all are in fine form in a fired-up afterbop set that includes five Sharoni originals plus some classics by Hubbard, Morgan and Ray Bryant.

Benny's tenor has an assured and notefull originality these days that is a pleasure to hear. He can and does blast-off into intricate lining over changes, with a sound not obviously derivative, burnished and heated at the same time. It's the Sharoni sound.

This one tells us plainly that Benny has arrived. It is not avant but it is not content to repeat, either. It is mainstream with all the fire that the harder style craves to get a move on.

Sharoni is a top tenor contender for the middle ground. It is an album you'll no doubt fall into happily. Thanks, Benny!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sinikka Langeland, The Half-Finished Heaven

Over the years ECM and Manfred Eicher have introduced us to important Scandanavian artists who span both the jazz and neo-folk worlds. Of course Garbarek and Rypdal have made a huge impact, but then there have been others less directly concerned with jazz but working with folk and song worlds in different ways.

Such an artist and a very shining example is Sinikka Langeland, a creator-performer who stands out in her own way as a maker of music both typical of ECM's tonal ambience and very much an artist in her own right. Her fourth album, The Half-Finished Heaven (ECM B0022777-02), brings us squarely into her enchanted world, with folk-like and folk- rooted song that has an almost neo-medieval sound, especially in her playing of the kantele, a zither-like instrument that has medieval counterparts.

The music is performed by her quartet: Sinikka on vocals and kantele, Lars Anders Tomter on viola, Trygve Seim on tenor saxophone and Markku Ounaskari on percussion. The quartet configuration and the various musical personalities involved allow Sinikka to explore a contemporary music that shows folk-roots but also engages in contemporary and jazz-oriented excursions.

Sinikka sings beautifully, her kantele playing can be traditional or contemporary and the band contributes much both through the collective arrangements and the sonic identities of each.

It is music both stunning and beautiful in its very own way. Very recommended!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Andrew Drury, The Drum

When is a drum not a drum? The answer is never, unless perhaps it serves as a coffee table or is dismantled into tiny pieces. Yet the formidable modern drummer Andrew Drury makes us think of this question on his matter-of-factly titled recent album The Drum (S&S 50002).

Why? Because he has recorded this entire album bit-by-bit, experimenting with unusual ways of making a single floor tom give out with sounds entirely untraditional. The result is a fascinating and challenging series of sound poetics, unearthly sounds made live on the single drum.

Drury scrapes, rubs, blows into and does all manner of other performative things to give us a myriad of possibilities incorporating the natural resonance of the instrument and the sheer visceral makeup of drum heads and wooden shell.

It takes some getting used to, the premises of the project. But after a period of adjustment the listener enters a sound world both somehow familiar yet radically unfamiliar.

It is expressive sound sculpture you hear more than "drumming," and of course that is the point. Nobody to my knowledge has done so thorough and creative a job unveiling the untraditional sound possibilities and working to create a series of aural segments, each unique.

The music gotten by these means seems to be both very primal and ultra-avant, noisy but resonantly acoustic. It is a rather amazing album that can be appreciated only on its own terms. This is not an extended version of "Caravan" or "Sing, Sing, Sing!"

If you are open to something surprisingly different and are willing to let your ear explore the exotic timbral unfolding, this one will give you much to appreciate. Otherwise, you might find it puzzling. Very new music is like that...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Billy Lester, Unabridged

Last July 15, 2013 I reviewed pianist Billy Lester's solo album Storytime on these pages and wondered to myself how I could have missed this pianist until then. He is back with another good solo effort, Unabridged (Jujikaan 002). I find myself thinking the same thing, only maybe even more so.

The Sal Mosca-Lennie Tristano influenced artist gives us an ever more freewheeling set on this one. These are improvisations that show the swinging, open style of Lester at his best, but with some very spontaneous freedom noticeably present. It's as if he lets himself go further than ever into where his musical mind and fingers will him to go.

There is nothing inherently surprising at the bottom of it all, since Lennie was a free piano pioneer way back when. But then Lester gives us his own version of the open style, so it also is no mere repetition as much as it is a new moment in Billy Lester's approach.

What makes it all especially enjoyable is that the playing remains squarely Lestorian, extending it into heretofore uncharted waters but still very much in continuity with his swing and percussive touch.

I found the listen exhilarating.

If a swinging outness sounds like something you'd enjoy, do not hesitate. This is a testament to Lester's creative artistry and a real pleasure to hear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plunge, IN for the OUT, with Mark McGrain

Mark McGrain, an outstanding jazz trombonist, has been making some very good albums with his group Plunge (type that in the search box for other reviews). There is a new one, another good one, called IN for the OUT (Immersion 15-01) and I've been listening to it, happily.

This one injects a good helping of New Orleans funk along with some excellent excursions into semi-avant terrain. McGrain's trombone gets plenty of space and he sounds motivated and inspired. The band is a pretty large one, a septet with of course McGrain, Robert Walter on organ, Kirk Joseph on a very NOLA tuba, Simon Lott on drums and electronic percussion, Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor sax and flute, James Singleton on acoustic bass, and Tim Green on saxello and baritone sax.

It's a rollickingly good band effort. Everybody gets the spirit with a strong soulfulness and then sometimes goes where you don't expect. The arrangements are well put-together and compositionally there are some very original things to hear. It's music that will make you smile, pat your foot, and dig the solid soloing. But then it can get serious, too, and you find yourself very absorbed in some innovative music.

Nothing is one-off or fluff. It is substantial and an example of why NOLA is still the setting for some excellent jazz. Give it a spin!