Monday, February 8, 2016

Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series

When technology allows us to do unprecedented things in music it makes us take notice, to listen with renewed energy if everything goes well. That is the case with the three-hour DVD of new music, Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series (pfMENTUM DVD 094).

Essentially it is all about the new possibilities of real-time connectivity that the faster-speed internet of today allows. It was the brainchild of San Diego new jazz composer-instrumentalists Mark Dresser (bass), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Myra Melford (piano) and Michael Dessen (trombone). With the advent of software and ultra-fast internet hook ups they conceived of three live concerts that would combine the core quartet with instrumental artists in three differing locations. The compositions were written by the various participants, rehearsed and then played together in concert while recording simultaneous audio and video with a real-time mix of both locales-ensembles.

So we get the quartet in San Diego with a trio of players in Amherst (Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson and Bob Weiner) in a full concert of originals, a second with the quartet and a Zurich contingent of Matthias Zeigler and Gerry Hemingway, and a third with the San Diego outfit and a larger group in Stony Brook, NY: Sarah Weaver (conductor), Jane Ira Bloom, Ray Anderson, Min Xiao Fen (pipa), Matt Wilson and Doug Van Nort (on laptop electronics).

This complex and elaborate synchrony is at the moment a most rarified product of sophisticated technology that a University environment enables. Doubtless we will not be seeing a simultaneous gig at the Vanguard and Ronnie Scott's, for example, any time soon.

But amazingly we get three full programs of very adventuresome avant compositions opened up by gifted improvisors, with the two-location sounds and images captured fully and excellently on this DVD. If the music and performers were not special, as they certainly are here, it might be less interesting. But that is not the case. The music and performances are beautifully present throughout.

It is a musical tour de force of where composed avant improv can be today, plus a triumph over the constraints of space. Is it as interesting to watch as it is to hear? Perhaps less so, but without seeing the whole thing taking place, you perhaps may not get it like you do in the audio-video zone. And as Dresser and Dessen note in the concluding interview on the disk, the very nature of this new synchronicity perhaps gives us more inspired compositions and performances than we might ordinarily get in an everyday playing situation. There is something supercharged taking place in these concerts, no doubt about it.

Suffice to say that this is a very satisfying confluence of music and performers. It is the first in what perhaps could be a series of ever-more complex integrations of performers separated widely in space but not in time--two large jazz orchestras, say, along with a symphony orchestra and a folk ensemble from some far away corner of the earth, all connected together in some universe-dimensioned musical work? Yes.

For now we get something quite marvelous with Virtual Tour. A big bravo!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Naked Truth, Avian Thug

Another good one from rarenoise records, who have been giving us consistently worthy examples of avant electric jazz-rock fusion and happily so. Today it is the band Naked Truth and the album Avian Thug (rarenoise rnr057 CD or LP). It is a very game quartet with Graham Haynes making a significant re-emergence on trumpet and electronics, Lorenzo Feliciati on basses, guitars and keys (and co-producing along with Bill Laswell), Roy Powell on all manner of keys, and fuse-prog drummer of note Pat Mastelotto.

This is post-Milesian, post-Mwandishian space music in the best tradition, but innovative and updated. There is some remarkable interplay between band members and solid, advanced compositional head structures that give the music a jolt.

Graham sounds hauntingly good here, moving the electricity of his trumpet forward beyond Miles but clearly with a reverence for the master. Pat M. gives us electric and acoustic drumming that has modern jazz-rock heft but also plenty of variability to open things up. Feliciati teams with Powell for some beautiful sound color mixes and driving power.

Think of the Miles Fillmore band and how it alternately rocked out and took it out and you will find that approach further developed in Naked Truth. There are more colors technically available to a band like this these days and so we get a more orchestrated palate of outness than was the norm earlier, plus the studio plays a role at times reinforcing sounds via some additional dubs from what I hear. But primary is the inventive imaginations of the quartet, the ability to improvise color, texture and notefulness.

So in the end we have a very musical set that rocks, wails, takes it out, and gives us fine composed landmarks along the way. Graham Haynes sounds better than ever; but then everybody hits on it. This is a band to be reckoned with! Excellent!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Art "Turk" Burton and Congo Square, Spirits: Then and Now, Featuring Ari Brown

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Chicago's famed AACM, formidable congolero and bandleader Art "Turk" Burton gives us two sessions featuring his Congo Square ensemble on the recent release Then and Now (TNT CD 101). The title is the right one given that we get a live session of the band in July 1983 and then a studio gathering from around a year ago, February 2015.

This is heavy-hitting, deep Afro-Cuban hard bop freedom, with two large ensembles having their way nicely with some jazz classics and Burton originals. This is the AACM in the swinging groove mode, with a wealth of seminal players known and less known, carrying forward the Afro-American roots and taking it always beyond.

The early set features Turk with the unsung Vincent Carter on soprano, who did not live long enough to make his name for us all, but sounds great here. Then there is Mwata Bowden on baritone and Douglass Ewart sitting in for the second number on alto along with legend Donald Rafael Garrett on bass. The rhythm team for this session is Theodis Rodgers Jr on piano, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. The band is grooved and loose.

The second gathering features a long and very Afro-Latin version of "Afro Blue" along with a further nod to Trane with "Moment's Notice" (with lyrics by vocalist Taalib-Din Ziyad) and "A Love Supreme." The session concludes with three engaging Burton originals. "Mojuba" has a burning percussion-drum thing that locks in and moves your feet like nothing else on the planet. Hot!!

In other words this second half of the album gives us a well-paced set that has plenty of room for Turk's congas along with "Cha Cha" Torres on bongos, Luis Rosario on timbales and percussion, Avreeayl Amen Ra on drums and Harrison Bankhead's bass firmly in the groove. Ari Brown sounds fabulous on tenor and soprano. Kirk Brown excels in an Afro-Tyner mode that kicks the band forward. And Taalib-Din Ziyad's vocals bring another nice dimension on his features. Check out his flute, too!

All in all with both groups the emphasis is on the earthy roots mode that of course has always been a key part of AACM tradition. It is a glorious hoot all the way with a rock solid groove that Turk spurs forward at all times, and some excellent soloing from the horns.

This one has it all there from start to finish. The Afro groove never sounded better and the free blowing atop puts it all into the modern zone as one always can depend on from AACM's bright lights. It's a great way to send the AACM off into another 50 years. Long may they flourish!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Urs Bollhalder Trio, Eventide

I suspect that because the piano was my very first instrument, beginning at age four, and because my mom did her best to produce on our piano her own versions of music now thought of as part of the great American songbook, but back then just the songs she grew up hearing, a crack piano trio stirs me greately. I still remember my mom searching by ear for the right chord to a note in the melody, practically running the gamut of every possible group of tones until she found just the right one, and how maybe that opened me up aurally. It occurs to me now that within all her searchings there were many she rejected that had in microcosm the sophisticated substitutional harmonic language that the later tonal schools of jazz piano embraces, exemplified of course by Bill Evans, but of course by many others before and after. It stretched my ears and helped make me receptive to the music I was to hear and love later on.

So with all that in mind it is somewhat natural that what pianist Urs Bollhalder and his trio do would give me something that I would respond to instinctively. They certainly give me much to listen to closely and appreciate on their new one Eventide (MGB Jazz 15). They are a Swiss-based gathering of real merit. Urs is the pianist, Heiri Kanzig is the contrabassist, and Kevin Chesholm is on drums. According to the liners they first began playing as a trio in 2010, and by now they have all the subtlety of interactive trios that one could hope for in the music.

Eventide thematically directs us to the sea and its infinite possibilities, in what seems to be an all-original set (Bollhalder's music?) that gives all involved plenty of opportunity to express themselves.

Bollhalder is a beautiful exponent of tonal-harmonic jazz piano with his own way, with clear roots in the Evans-and-beyond school and the fully three-way trio interactions that only can come about when of course the bassist and drummer are fully developed and mutually attuned. Kanzig is a bassist with a highly evolved musical sense and an ability to articulate beautifully the options available to him within the rhythmic-harmonic-melodic possibilities both latent in the compositions and present in what Bollhalder and Chesham are doing in any moment. Kevin Chesham is just right for the trio as well, with big ears, the ability to swing understatedly and inventively and to color the music with his cymbal-drum pronouncements.

And then there is Uri. He is a player of extremely well-developed sensibility, taking the substantial originals and filling them out with beautiful voicings and advanced lines that swing modernly and have very inventive generative qualities.

There is something familiar to the music, in that it is firmly within the modern trio tradition, yet you do not hear the influences that go into the music as much as you hear the syntheses that Urs and the band make of them, and their injection of themselves and their own original inspirations.

Bollhalder is a fine player, a pianist of importance, as are the trio members all on their respective instruments. The music is ravishing. Here's one you will not want to miss if you love the art of piano trio jazz. My mom would have loved this. Outstandingly well done! Encore!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Sound Convincer, States of Transmigration, Dimitar Pentchev

When a classically-trained pianist turns to improvisation, one can expect something different than when a jazz or avant jazz pianist goes about it. How different and how convincing of course depends on the artist involved, no less than in the realms of jazz.

With this in mind I turn to an album by The Sound Convincer, aka the Canadian pianist Dimitar Pentchev, and the album States of Transmigration (self-released). It is basically a solo piano outing with the addition of percussion and/or electronics, voices and various sonic backdrops as needed.

Dimitar sees this music as related to the cadences and rhythms of human speech, and you can certainly hear inflections that reference back to the spoken word.

We get 13 improvisation-compositions in all, each of which shows a different aspect of Dimitar's approach to musical sound. Some have minimalist repetitive thrust, some are balladic musings, some have an openness coupled with speech-like rhythmic drive.

Atmospheric, structured, sometimes cadenza-like, sometimes nocturnal, all the music comes at us in pleasing ways, but does not make use of the jazz or free jazz vocabulary, and in this way Dimitar evokes his own roots (classical and modern classical) with poetic, personal expression. He utilizes inside-the-piano and prepared modes at times to extend the sound available to him, all to good result. And so ultimately he gives us another way to express an open style, different than what you might typically hear from a jazz practitioner.

Most importantly the music captures moods and ways of expression that ring true as they bring us to a variety of places. It is never dull, continually enlivening and provides us with a music that is interesting and prosaic-poetic. If you are pianistically inclined and look for something different and out of the ordinary, here is a place to find it. Well done!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces, Green

Guitarist Rik Wright and his Fundamental Forces quartet have been coming out with music for some time now, basically in a jazz-rock vein. I've listened and appreciated, but their latest, Green (Booshkaboo CD), seems to me to be their best yet, catapulting them onto a higher plane that works within the parameters they have set down but gaining strength by long association and a loosely-tight ease that comes in part from that protracted togetherness.

Yes, I suppose you could say that this still dwells in a mainstream matrix not untypical of what is coming to our ears today, but there is a something extra, an increased presence of combustible energy and eloquence, and an ever more substantial quality to the compositions-tunes taken on.

The quartet is of course Rik on electric guitar, James DeJoie on alto, baritone, clarinet and flute, Geoff Harper on acoustic bass and Greg Campbell on drums. Rik gives us a moderately electric sound with some nice chordal aspects and a knack to put together clean and concise solos that do not pigeonhole him as follower of x, y or z. James DeJoie plays an adventuresome set of reeds with his own way, with fire and finesse. Geoff firmly anchors the group at all times with rock-steady presence and a full tone. Greg gives the band a definite kick with strength and ways of turning the beat, expanding it, finding a fired motility to send the band to good places.

The tunes, one by DeJoie, the rest by Wright, have something about them that makes the outing worthwhile, much more than a blowing date.

So that's my take. Rik Wright comes into his own with this one and the quartet makes a statement that takes them well out of the ordinary for dates like this. Nice!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Francois Carrier, OUTgoing, with Michel Lambert, Steve Beresford, John Edwards

Alto saxophone colossus Francois Carrier and his integral partner in sound, drummer Michel Lambert, team up once again in a lively quartet format we first encountered here on the album Overground to the Vortex via the review posted on these pages on August 22, 2013.

The quartet of Carrier and Lambert, plus bassist John Edwards and pianist Steve Beresford are back in action on this album, recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club, London, on May 25th, 2014. It is in every way a fitting sequel to Overground. The music as before is a product of total improvisation, with the trio sans Beresford holding forth with inventive force for two long segments and Steve joining in for the rest of the program.

It is a chemistry of good things going on throughout. Francois is in his consistently inventive, tone-rich, fire-y and noteful mode on alto as always along with the sharply acerbic, vitally astringent Chinese oboe he unveils for a dramatic contrast. He has the cogent all-over bass ideas of John Edwards to work against along with Michel Lambert's continually artful open drumming, some of his best to be heard here. Then of course Steve Beresford brings a great deal of pianistic clout once he joins the threesome.

Beresford responds well to the challenge of the immediately free totality with a noteful personal unveiling of good ideas at times horn-like and then very pianistically, including a little of the inside-the-piano soundings, all right and creative, all up to the level Carrier sets for the quartet. He clearly inspires and is inspired by the Carrier expressive thrust and the foursome charting territory in less-explored parts of the note-al, timbral universe.

As nearly always with Carrier and his bandmates, this is post-ESP school, new new thing in all its glory, a rolling, tumbling artistic responsibility to create out of total freedom, with the onus for the results placed squarely on the shoulders of each participant, with Francois leading the way with his inspired line creations.

It is a prime example of the improvisatory arts and an excellent album for that. Avant-free acolytes will find much to appreciate, as indeed will anyone committed to hearing and/or making new sounds.

Another fine melange! Highly recommended!