Friday, February 17, 2017

Iro Harla, Ante Lucem for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet

The world of jazz today, even when subtracting the smooth commercial element, is wonderfully full and varied. We are as of now about 100 years into the recorded documentation of the music, and as a mostly untranscribed, improvisational form we of course have to subtract all the live music never recorded, but even then there is so much wonderful music that every so often I am astonished.

The form of jazz that combines a small jazz group with a symphony orchestra remains somewhat extraordinary, somewhat rare. The expense of successfully putting together a good performance and recording of this sort of jazz is partly responsible for the rarity of it. Jazz has mostly existed without the sort of charitable or grant oriented support that, for example, opera demands these days to continue.

But in spite of such obstacles we do get some good examples of jazz plus symphony now and again. I wont rehearse the pertinent totality here. Instead I would like to recommend a recent venture by Iro Haarla, Ante Lucem for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet (ECM 2457).

It is the sort of project that  ECM excels in producing--resonant lyrically haunting post-romantic orchestral sprawls (courtesy of Norrland Operans Symfoniorkester under Jukka Lisakkila) and a jazz quintet of largely Northern European artists: Iro himself on piano and harp,  Hayden Powell on trumpet, Trygve Seim on soprano and tenor sax, Ulf Krokfors on double bass, and Mike Kallio on drums and percussion. Fine players, all.

The accent is on a luxuriant, penetrating depiction of winter and the time before dawn, an overcoming of darkness by light, combined with a reflection on the Passion and a remembrance of the composer's opera singing mother, who passed away sometime before this music was completed.

All is certainly not pastoral. There is darkness, struggle, cosmic disturbance as well as peace and transcendence.

It unwinds in sonically memorable ways, the quintet and its soloists expressing concerted-like helmsmanship along with chamber togetherness, all of which contrasts with the full breadth of the symphony orchestra.

It is not outgoingly modernistic as a whole but more a lyrical mode that contrasts with a basically modern viewpoint. It is music that alernatingly challenges and transports. It is neither jazz in the most obvious sense (so much as ECM jazz in the evocative mode) nor is it strictly symphonic (of course). Yet the orchestra plays a key role in the sonic result, just as the jazz combo has a critical role to play.

To appreciate this recording to the max you may need to take down your guard and relax, to let go of the set of expectations you might have about this kind of hybrid. Just let yourself go and let the music speak to you. Then I expect like me you will become increasingly enchanted with this singular totality.

Well done! Different! Unexpected!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Francois Carrier, Freedom is Space for the Spirit, with Michel Lambert, Alexey Lapin

Over the years I have greeted each new Francois Carrier album with an increasing sense of expectation. I have never been disappointed. And so it was when his Freedom is Space for the Spirit (FMR 425) arrived in my mailbox recently. Once again I am intrigued.

It is some more music from the set of live appearances Francois, drummer Michel Lambert, and pianist Alexey Lapin made in Russia in 2014. This one captures the trio at the Experimental Sound Gallery in St. Petersburg on May 29th.

There are five sequences in all, each a completely improvised collective composition by the trio. There is a good deal of density to be had at times on this session. All three have much to say, and say it they do, mostly in a simultaneous fashion.

Francois is in his usual excellent form, spinning long and inventive lines with that special alto tone, covering ground that pushes the envelop on the key center and its expansion, its polysemic-polytonal presence that gives pianist Alexey Lapin something substantial and ever flowering to push back against. The push-pull harmo-melodic vicissitudes are heightened by a three-way wash of timbral mixes that makes of the drums in Lambert's hands a part of the sound spectrum of the whole, something that is much more than the sum of his sound-silent rhythmic choices, though of course that too is a key to the three-way outcome. In other words Michel creates endless permutations of plus-minus possibilities that in turn are dialogued and contrasted by Francois and Alexey.

This is state-of-the-art free trio music. And though there are new music vocabulary influences, it nevertheless remains firmly and expressively within the evolved avant jazz orbit as feeling-nuanced open musical speech.

If that makes sense to you then depend on this set to present its all in inspired form. If you do not get me think of the flow of Trane-Alice-Ali in the later period and imagine an original string of note chord rhythmic and timbral innovations that comes out of the dialogic possibilities as they developed in the mid-to-late sixties. In other words, this is superior Carrier-Lambert-Lapin music that owes a debt to the history of free jazz yet creates highly original sets of total substitutions, inspired variations on near infinite possibility itself.

Or forget the words and just listen. It's some more of the important and beautiful expressions of this potent trio and another welcome feather in the Carrier cap.

All kudos for this one!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Andrew Downing, Otterville

Canadian cellist Andrew Downing scores with a euphonious 2-CD set of his compositions and arrangements for octet, Otterville (self-released AD00105). It features some very well put-together charts for cello (Andrew), alto saxophone (Tara Davidson), vibes (Michael Davidson), lap steel guitar (Christine Bougie), bass guitar (Paul Mathew), drums (Nick Fraser), trumpet (Rebecca Hennessy) and trombone (William Carn).

Start with his treatment of Duke's "Take the 'A' Train" to hear what new breadth he brings to the familiar classic, adding interesting harmonic touches and stretching out the melody in striking ways. And altogether he gives us a very contemporary modern take on the jazz of today, with the scoring at times really ravishing.

He is a musical mind that has chosen his instrumentation with a clear idea of the roles he wishes to assign each instrument and a singularity of multiple lining inventions that work exceptionally well together.

This is jazz that has an accessible naturalness yet satisfies critical ears as well. Excellent job!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sergio Krakowski, Passaros, The Foundation of the Island

Today's offering is a bit unusual, an ethnic-flavored jazz trio headed by pandeiro (tambourine) virtuoso Sergio Krakowski, on a CD entitled Passaros, The Foundation of the Island (Ruhweh 002). It unites Krakowski with electric guitarist Todd Neufeld and pianist Vitor Goncalves for a continuous take, 45 minute program of mostly Krakowski originals.

The music is tonal, free-flowing with a melodic base and often a group collective improv approach. Krakowski plays pulsating, intricate figures that remind somewhat of South Indian carnatic drumming for the refined complexities involved.

Todd Neufeld has a knack to inject rhythmic and flowing lines in interlocking tandem with Vitor Goncalves' biting rhythmic piano statements.

If you recall some of the middle period ECM ethnic jazz releases by Codona and the like, this may seem reminiscent though an original take on such things.

It may be a sleeper but with concentrated, repeated listens it is impressive and committed, authentic and moving.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Naked Wolf, Ahum

We enter into new territory again today with a jazz-rock-alt-avant group from Europe, recorded in Amsterdam. They are Naked Wolf; the album is Ahum (Clean Feed 383). It's an eclectically electric outfit, a quintet  with Luc Ex on electric bass, Yedo Gibson on reeds, Gerri Jager on drums, Felicity Provan on trumpet and lead vocals, and Mikael Szafirowski on electric guitar and alternate lead vocals.

The order of the day is intricately crafted ensemble interlocks, riffs and post-psychedelic post-new wave songs. They have roots in avant rock bands from the '80s-'90s perhaps, but they attain their own sound via the unique syntheses, the songs that go into the mix, written by various members of the band for the most part.

Drums and bass lay down an advanced jazz-rock matrix that the guitar parts accentuate in polycounter style while the horns have parts to realize as well as out solo spaces, especially from Yedo.

Felicity's vocals have an iconoclastic jolt that put a present sprechstimme post-punk cap on it all. Mikael's vocals do so as well in their own way.

Those who like a rock-foundationed avant music or like the idea of that in any event will find this to their liking, I do think. I am digging it myself.


Monday, February 6, 2017

punkt 3, Ordnung herrscht

As we crawl into the future willy nilly we who have been here awhile and who tend to reflect on things may indeed wonder how it is we have come to this pass. Meanwhile music may have less mass impact than it has in some years, unless you consider Lady Gaga's SuperBowl appearance something of paradigmatic merit. I don't.

And yet good and great music flourishes more or less underground. An example of that is today's album by punkt 3, Ordnung herrscht (Clean Feed 384). It is a Swiss trio from what I gather, devoted to an advanced acoustic avant jazz-rock made electric solely by Noah Punkt's fine electric bass playing (and compositions), made thick and most cohesive with the addition of Tobias Pfister's alto sax and Ramon Oliveras' drums.

This is music with a fleshing out of prominent composed frameworks, rhythmic-riffed bass and drum foundations or trio-wide, or sax and drums, unfolding routines that ground the sax melodics and thoughtful solo flights.

What perhaps is most striking is the unit's consistent and very musical unity. There is an element of freedom but also a good deal of thinking and preparation that went into this music, part conception that somehow makes this seem more than a trio, but it is because everything manages to mutually reinforce each the other.

It is decidedly different, an avant trio that has integrated itself into a totality that has newness deep within but does not advertise it as much as embody it.

I find it a very intriguing listen, musically significant and utterly selfless in its determination to sound. It is very likable and so very recommended.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Michel Lambert, Alom Mola

Michel Lambert is best known as the energetic and innovative drummer who often plays with Canadian alto master Francois Carrier. But as we hear on today's disk he is also a bandleader and jazz composer very worthy of our attention. That is, on his solo album Alom Mola (Jazz From Rant).

On it we are treated to free fare and compositional subtleties for strings, winds, piano, bass and drums, a piece for carillon and some small group numbers.

His excellent drumming is on display and the compositions are quite interesting, inventively spanning the gap between avant jazz and new music. Michel Cote is a real force on winds, but then everybody sounds good.

It's a genuine surprise and substantial fare that will get the attention and I think approval of avant jazz adepts around the globe.