Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tesla Coils, Blaise Siwula, Harvey Valdes, Gian Luigi Diana

The world of improvised music continues to evolve. There are those ensembles that favor an acoustic "purity" and there are those that incorporate electronics. Today we have a great example of the latter, Tesla Coils (Setola di Maiale).

It is a potent threesome of Blaise Siwula on soprano-alto-tenor sax, Harvey Valdes on electric guitar, and Gian Luigi Diana on laptop doing real-time sampling and sound manipulation. The advantage to this set up is that the electronics are integral and part of the live performance/improvisation.

Blaise and Harvey lay down a carpet of vivid improvisations and Gian transforms the sounds in various ways, adding a third instrument which is a direct consequence of the other two sound generations.

Anybody who reads this column knows I cover Blaise Siwula and his smart yet torching reedwork. He sounds excellent as ever here. Harvey Valdes plays in an out, fragmented and sometimes psychedelically inspired guitar style that works well in the ensemble. Gian Luigi Diana adds varied textures and densities that form an organic part of the proceedings.

In short, it all comes together. This is first-tier experimental music that once again shows the way to Brooklyn, a world hotbed for new music.

If you like well-executed, fertile-free soundmaking, this one is for you. Now if they used me on drums/percussion...no, just kidding. This is the dope.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Joe Sullivan, Whiskey Jack Waltz

It's not like the world is a new place everyday when we wake up. But, five days a week, give or take, I find three new recordings of music that's worth hearing, that makes the world new, at least for me. So I wake up each day and talk about them a little so that you might have new things to check out.

Here's one that perhaps is easy to miss. It's trumpetissimo and jazz composer-tunesmith Joe Sullivan, with his quintet album Whiskey Jack Waltz (Perry Lake Records 003). This is changes-oriented, evolved mainstream jazz of a good sort. Joe has a trumpet sound closer to Diz than Miles, if you had to choose, or Fats and Freddie more that Joe Smith, but really it is his sound: pinched in a pleasing sort of way, expressive and bell-on.

He is joined by a game quintet of Lorne Lofsky, electric guitar, Andre White, piano, Alec Walkington, bass, and Dave Laing, drums. They all have drive and finesse; White and Lofsky have good solo presence along with Sullivan.

Nine tunes Sullivan penned set the table for a nice musical meal, so to speak. And Joe Sullivan's trumpet speaks to us lucidly, sparklingly.

If you get excited by good trumpet players, now's the time. Joe Sullivan has a brass proudness that his tunes and the band forward with grace and grits. Well-done!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Jason Ajemian, Tony Malaby, Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor, A Way A Land of Life

You take a lineup of Jason Ajemian, bass, Tony Malaby, saxes, Rob Mazurek, trumpet, and Chad Taylor, drums, and if you know these players your expectations are high. And they make a limited edition LP vinyl album, 400 copies. They call it A Way A Land of Life (Nobusiness LP74).

And not surprisingly, the album comes through. Nobody on these sides is playing tiddlywinks. They are serious and inspired. There are good compositional elements, by Jason, and the playing is first-rate free jazz.

The front line includes bass at times, there is some good solo bass work too, and when the drums are going at it Chad has front-line presence. It's a four-way conversation broken up in segments but always absorbing your attention.

Each player has a personality that puts him in a zone--but you know that if you know the players. I guess this is Jason Ajemian's date officially. And more power to him for it, because the four dedicate themselves with no reservations to the music and it all reflects well on Ajemian's leadership and musicianship.

This is good, hard-hitting freedom music! Recommended.

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 with brilliance to free architectonics. Michael is 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).