Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Paradoxical Frog is a trio with Kris Davis on piano, Ingrid Laubrock, tenor, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Their self-titled new CD (Clean Feed 183) gives you 75 minutes of their music, and there's nothing to be disdained about any of it. It's serious avant improv. Serious in that it doesn't try to entertain. The three players are after some good expression of their musical minds, and those minds are fertile.
There's chemistry in the combination of these three. Tyshawn Sorey is a drummer of sensitive accompaniment and fire-breathing power when needed. Ingrid Laubrock is a potent weaver of significant form. Kris Davis has a great linear sequencer wired into the musical neural network. The playing generally is out of the Cecil Taylor camp but not in the sense of taking on any of Cecil's lines or phrasing per se.
There is much to get oneself immersed in. And in fact, immerse one must, for this is music that doesn't allow itself to be relegated to the background. It soars. It settles into an evocative quiescence. It dishes out jagged abstractions that anyone who digs the free vocabulary will understand and love, I would assume.
Unassumingly, quietly, Paradoxical Frog makes some stunningly good music that has the essentialism of "new music" but the passion (when needed) of the improv approach. It's revelatory of the three players and their vision, individually and collectively.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Anyone who is 85 years old has earned the right to sit back and revel in the highlights of a life well-spent. In the case of tenor titan James Moody, the many years of his musical excellence gives us all an enriched musical world. He could stop. But he still can play it! So Mr. Moody keeps on blowing.
His latest, 4B (IPO 1017), shows that he still has it. OK, so sometimes his phrasing can be less that perfect these days, but the Moody approach is there, pared down to fighting weight. His cohorts for the venture follow up on the album of last year. Todd Coolman walks the bass with authority, drummer Lewis Nash swings along gracefully, and Kenny Barron never sounds anything less than magnificent.
There are a couple of originals, one by Barron, one by Coolman. The rest are a mix of songbook and jazz chestnuts, done Moody style.
It's great to hear Mr. Moody hold forth with the sound and sequential improvising that made his name for so many years. We can only be grateful for his contributions, which continue so exhuberently on 4B.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The world of electronic music has altered drastically since the days of Milton Babbitt and the RCA Synthesizer. . . one man in extended real-virtual time with a wall of glowing tubes and tediously compiled punch cards. You can do things on a laptop or two live that used to take months in the studio to accomplish, tape splicing block in hand. New software gives improvisers the ability to incorporate live electronics into their performances without a mass of equipment. Of course making things easier does not always lead to more "masterpieces." You get what the musicians' ideas can accommodate. Happily there is nothing ill-considered, unimaginative or hastily conceived in the music of today's posting.
KaiBorg's new CD Harvesting Metadata (pfMENTUM 058) reflects contemporary technical developments with music that entertains, challenges and stimulates. KaiBorg consists of reedman-composer David Borgo and composer-quarter-tone-trumpeter Jeff Kaiser. Together they explore the electro-acoustic interstices with a varied program of pieces that alternately overwhelms the senses and gives pause for contemplation. There are moments of thick electronic texture and quieter way stations of comparative repose. Free-style improvisations have counter ballast in the electronics that give form to a dialog between two imaginative players and their performance resources.
This music can at times be a bit abrasive but always expressive. It's an impressive outing.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Tenorman Ivo Perelman arrived in Portugal for a series of gigs and a recording session in April of 2009. He was slated to appear with an interesting configuration: Daniel Levin on the cello and Torbjorn Zetterberg on upright bass. It all culminated in the newly released two-CD set of the three improvising in the spirit of adventure and discovery.
The resulting release is dubbed (not inappropriately) Soulstorm (Clean Feed 184). This is concentrated, seriously intent music. The cello-bass-tenor combination gives the group sound a darkly expressive bent. All three get the chance to interact in depth and they succeed quite well in giving the music a spontaneous yet considered spin. Ivo clearly appreciates the chance to stretch out in such a context, and puts in some fine work. Daniel and Torbjorn respond with sometimes dense, vividly thick textures and a maelstrom of bowed and plucked sounds, sometimes building to a carpeted barrage of dissonance and energy.
This is not a causal listen sort of set. It demands your attention. It rewards in kind with improvisatory flights the likes of which one seldom hears. If you put three other very good improvisers in their places (on the same instruments) it might be very good as well, but it would not sound like this. The three have put an indelible stamp of identity on the music. Those willing to work their ears as hard in response as they did in execution will be the beneficiaries of what makes improv so interesting these days.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
One of the really good things about doing these blogs is the chance to hear music I never would have thought to check out. Like flautist Holly Hofmann and pianist Bill Cunliffe's duo association. I had heard of them. I'm sure I've even heard them separately at some point. I hadn't heard them in tandem. Their fourth collaboration Three's Company (Capri 74099-2) has come out and now plays on my computer's CD-ROM drive.
What first strikes me is the way they incorporate pre-bop stylistic traits into a contemporary framework. Cunliffe's bright originals partake of the contemporary melodic-harmonic contours you might hear in something Chic Corea or Gary Burton (or both) have advanced (with some Latin overtones on occasion), but reworked to an original result. Then there's a hint of stride; there are some boppish influences here and there too, especially on Holly's title track, but they are not always pronounced. Cunliffe and Hofmann are joined by a guest artist for half of the numbers and each adds his or her own inimitable luster. There's violinist Regina Carter (for a beautiful reading of Strayhorn's "The Star-Crossed Lovers"), reedman Ken Peplowski (see earlier review posting on his new album), the drums of Alvester Garnett, and Terell Stafford's trumpet.
But in the end it is the exceptionally beautiful flute tone and phrasing of Ms. Hofmann and the vividly colored piano of Bill Cunliffe that win the day. This is exceptionally soothing music that does not lack spirit and shows two considered talents at the height of their art. Who cares what category you would like to put it in. It's some kind of jazz, surely. But it's very good music first and foremost.
I was really quite pleasantly surprised and pleased with this set. You may well also feel that way. Listen, by all means!
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Concept albums spice up musical life a bit. Most of the time. That's true of Spaceways Incorporated's Thirteen Cosmic Standards by Sun Ra and Funkadelic (Atavistic 120). Spaceways was/is Ken Vandermark on reeds, Nate McBride on acoustic and electric basses, and Hamid Drake on drums. The session was recorded in 2000. It's a bit of a hoot. These are some of Chicagoland's finest, of course, and they seem to have been stimulated by the contrast between the two musics. You get out funk for the Funkadelic tunes, and you get interesting trio blowing and arrnagements of the Sun Ra pieces.
Hamid gives the funk rhythms his skillful twist and of course he can play in any manner of outness or swing powerfully. And he does. Nate is solidly there on the electric funk lines or the finessed Ra on the upright. Ken V. goes to various places as only he can do. It's a fun record!
Monday, August 23, 2010
Tenor artist Eric Alexander has spent several decades now doing what he does. He is a modern mainstream tenorman who manages to have a great feel for the hard-bop-and-after style of his forebears but puts his own Alexandrian spin on it. He's a player you could actually hear in a blindfold test and identify, which alas does not apply to all players working in this tradition. Pianist Harold Mabern, of course, IS the tradition. He was a large player in forging the sort of funk attack and finesse of the pianistic style.
Getting the two together of course is a good idea. In the recent album Revival of the Fittest (High Note 7205) the collaboration yields a bountiful harvest of good sounds. It's a blowing date with Nat Reeves and Joe Farnsworth providing solid backing on bass and drums, respectively.
There's a standard ballad and original swingers. It may not be the greatest album either Eric or Harold has made, for there have been many, but it sure sounds good!
Friday, August 20, 2010
Trumpeter Peter Evans is to me without question one of the brightest new lights in the free-improv firmament today. He is a fabulous trumpeter. He can go the art of noise route with an incredible array of techniques to extend the instrumental possibilities of his instrument. He can play with the roots of the music in various ways too. The Peter Evans Quartet Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed 173) gives you the second Mr. Evans. And it is brilliant! Brilliant in conception. Brilliant in execution.
It's Peter and a well equipped quartet that includes Ricardo Gallo, piano, Tom Blancarte, double bass, and Kevin Shea, drums. Much of the performance is a rather amazing go at turning "All the Things You Are" into something quite avant but retaining the harmonic and melodic features of the song as played by countless improvisers from the bop era on.
What they do defies easy description. Suffice to say that they fragment the theme and the harmonic base, rhythmically displace it to the point where it's not displacement, it's recomposition, and otherwise transform it into something entirely contemporary. And Peter's trumpet playing must be heard here to be appreciated.
It's one of the most interesting rethinkings of a standard I've ever heard. And it does not sound forced.
It is one of those CDs that will literally take you someplace NEW. It has the roots, but the tree has a very cool new look. Beautiful performance!!
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Any reader of my blogs has probably gathered that they cover new releases but also document some of my everyday listening. Things I like usually get a posting. What I don't generally does not.
The Michael Vlatkovich Quartet's CD ALiveBUQUERQUE (pfMENTUM 045) belongs to the listening-for-myself category. It's a spirited set recorded live at the Output Performance Space, Albuquerque, in 2003. This is a potent lineup of avant-improv compositions played by a worthy cast. Mr. Vlatkovich and David Mott, on trombone and baritone sax, respectively, provide a nicely dark, deep-toned two-horn frontline. We've covered David Mott's own interesting work in some depth on these pages and he again shows that attention to your sound as well as the notes themselves, and a thoughtfully structured improvisational sense can distinguish you from the pack. He and Vlatkovich interact on various levels, and they do it in the best interactive traditions of the music. Michael has roots in his playing and they come out most attractively here. There's a generally out context but there is a connection with the past as well.
The electric cello of Jonathan Golove gives another color and a third melodic voice to the ensemble. The pitch range of the cello allows Garcia to oscillate between what an acoustic bass might do in this kind of playing situation and also another "horn," so to speak. Drummer Christopher Garcia fills out the ensemble with a quite respectable free-to-pulse approach. His percussion work adds another dimension of color and texture as well.
Mr. Vlatkovich may not be a household word--and how many improvisational trombonists have ever been that anyway--but he most certainly deserves wider attention. ALiveBUQUERQUE gives you a very good example why that seems so to me.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Joanna Newsom has a sensibility like none other. She plays a folk-like harp style that is quite accomplished and musically rich and her voice is unmistakable. Her songs tend to be whimsical yet substantial, reaching the level of art song. Her (third?) album Ys (Drag City 303) is her collaboration with the legendary Van Dyke Parks, who co-produced the album with Joanna and provided characteristic orchestra accompaniment for four of the songs.
This is music she made before her voice changed (a medical condition made surgery necessary) and so it has that adolescent quality on this set. (I like her voice both before and after. Either way she projects originality from every pore.)
There's a timelessness to this music. It could have been written 200 years ago--though no doubt listeners would have thought it most peculiar back then. And on the other hand there is no self-concious nostalgia element going on. And at the same time, paradoxically, it's total modernity in its way it comes across. There is a very new and a very ancient vibe to her music. In a way you could think of it as the 21st century musical equivalent to William Morris' appropriation of the craft tradition into a new context in Victorian times.
At this point in the review it no doubt is customary to say, "either you like her or you don't." Well, that applies to anything. What it means is that the writer is not sure if his or her audience is going to dismiss this music, perhaps. Well, at some point people stopped saying that about Bob Dylan. Time also for Joanna Newsom.
"You should like it," I'll say instead. And if you don't, so be it. The artistry contained in her harp work, the quirky lyrics, the vocal style and the quality of the songs suggest that liking her is highly recommended. Ys is among her very best. With Van Dyke Park's arrangements it has much to recommend it. So maybe you'll like it. I think you will. I'm convinced, OK?
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Ras Moshe is one of those artists on the New York avant jazz scene who should be heard by anyone interested in the music. He plays tenor, soprano, flute and bass clarinet with fire and musical intelligence. I suppose you could say he is post-Trane in his outlook. That only means that late Coltrane forms one of the starting points for the directions he moves in. He has a number of albums out, but today I only want to call attention to the interesting assortment of video clips of Ras in performance that you can experience on You Tube. For a start, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r99VF4E23l8. You'll find Ras in a number of worthy contexts, from duos to fairly large groups.
He's a player that needs to be recorded more often. Go over to You Tube and you'll hear why. We'll come back to his music in later posts. In the meantime give his music a listen.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Up until recently I knew next to nothing about Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996) in terms of his string quartets. That is until I happily got a chance to review the new 7-CD set of his complete quartet output (The Complete String Quartets, The Kontra Quartet [DaCapo 8.207001]).
The quality and breadth of the music, written over many years time, and the sterlingly enthusiastic reading given by the Kontra Quartet have made a believer of me. This is a major figure in the modern extension of the genre. Throughout Vagn Holmboe manages to be consistently inventive, wholly idiomatic to the resources of the instruments at hand and their combination, and original sounding at the same time.
Following the chronology of these 22 works shows Vagn Holmboe gradually yet completely mastering his approach. The comparison might be made with Bartok and Carter, and it would not be amiss. All three composers have in common the very craftsman-like building up of of each work through carefully applied compositional techniques. And in the end each composer's final result transcends any structural scaffolding that supported any given work's creation. Vagn Holmboe's modernism is not as thoroughgoing as either of the two composers mentioned, but in no way does one feel like this is not music of its time.
With a virtual treasure trove of musical riches such as this, one does not assimilate its contents overnight. I will need to devote many more happy hours before I get a full grasp on what Vagn Holmboe has left us. Of the Kontra Quartet's impassioned interpretations of these gems and of the importance of the body of work itself I have no doubt. Here is one of 20th Century classical's better kept secrets. I am happy that this fine box set will make it possible for all to hear definitive versions of the complete corpus from beginning to end.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Today something pretty obscure yet worthy in the free improv realm. It's a group called the Buffalo Suicide Prevention Unit and the CD is Alive (Ruby Red Editora 12/2007). Not surprisingly this is a group of improvisers working out of Buffalo, NY. The CD was captured live at Soundlab in that city in 2006.
We have the indefatigable Steve Baczkowski on tenor-bari-bass clarinet, and the churning free drumming of Ravi Padmanabha. (We covered several of their fine duet CDs in previous posts.) They are joined by five local improvisers: Mike Allard on alto, Michael Hermanson on trombone, plus bass, cornet and percussion.
This is dense and invigorating free music Buffalo style. That means that there is a certain old-school, collective sort of blazing that takes place. The music is raw, fundamental, fire-eating. Steve Baczkowski especially appeals to me with his huge sound but everybody gets into the grooveless free groove on this one.
It may be a little hard to find but definitely worth picking up if you like a good old hoot-out!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
I am always glad to get a chance to hear music that I might have missed had I not been doing this blog, especially when, like today, the music really catches my ear. Jesus Rueda (b. 1961) is a not-yet-old Spanish exponent of modern music. His Third Symphony Luz (Light) (2004-7) forms the centerpiece of a magnetizing new release (Naxos 8.572417) with the Asturias Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maximiano Valdes.
Rueda's symphony is an orgy of sound in five movements. The movements are titled "Fire," "Water," "Earth," "Air," and "Towards the Light." Rueda gets a big, dramatic, very colorful sound from the orchestra, and it is clear he has mastered the capabilities and sound colors to be had. It's exciting music, so much so that my wife paused in her daily course of chores to ask me "who is that?" as she listened. My wife is usually a good test of my review fare, since she can get a bit blase with the constant bombardment of sound coming out of my music system.
And I must say my reaction was the same. This is a truly original symphonic voice. The fine performance ensures that we do not mistake that for something more eclectic. It brings out all the nuances of detail in a work that has plenty of that. It makes me want to hear more of his work. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Eric Boeren plays a nice cornet. He is in the free zone but looks backward to bop and what came after as much as he looks ahead. His compadres for Song for Tracy the Turtle (Clean Feed 186) are well chosen and certainly well-known in free improv circles. There's Michael Moore on alto and clarinet, Wilbert de Joode on contrabass, and Paul Lovens on drums. The date was well-recorded, live at Jazz Brugge 2004.
They have an early-Ornette Coleman quartet sound about them, tempered by where they have been and what they are as players. And they do three of Ornette's numbers, as well as one by Eubie Blake. The rest are Eric's pleasing originals. It's delightful music. Now it may not set the world on fire, but it shows all concerned in a good place, playing well. It is good to hear this group! Check them out.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Spanish composer Benet Casablancas (b. 1956) is a new one for me. He is a modernist with an inventive flair and a sure hand at orchestra color and orchestration. A serious listen to his new CD The Dark Backward of Time (Naxos 8.579002) shows a composer in a mature phase, a master of orchestral gesture. The title piece is a whirlwind of orchestral excitement, building layers of sound density that nevertheless have appealing transparency and dramatic impact.
Four other compositions are included on this set, covering a span from 1981 to 2006. All show a style that stands apart from his contemporaries and an increasing mastery of the palette that a full orchestra can provide the imaginative crafter of sounds. Salvador Mas-Conde conducts the Barcelona Symphony and the Catalonia National Orchestra with assurance and sympathy to the composer's aims.
This is a fine disk and a welcome addition to recordings of modern Spanish orchestral music. Recommended.
Monday, August 9, 2010
There was a time (mostly before I was born) when old-time classic jazz of the New Orleans-Chicago-Dixieland sort was flourishing and had a loyal, almost rabid following. In those days there were many bands, some very good, that carried on in the earlier tradition. Where we stand in the second decade of the millennium, things are far different. Not very many bands. All the original fans and the first generation of early jazz musicians are gone. That does not mean that good music in the tradition cannot be found, or that the music will not appeal to those who give it a good listen.
John Skillman's Barb City Stompers and their new release De Kalb Blues (Delmark 252) is a beautiful case in point. John Skillman is a clarinetist that takes the tradition from Johnny Dodds, Buster Bailey, Jimmy Noone, Peanuts Hucko and Edmund Hall and goes someplace with it. Trombonist Roy Rubenstein plies his instrument in the soulful gutbucket style, growls and wahs most definitely included. The rest of the band is sympathetic in setting up the swinging. good time feeling this music must have.
Skillman is keeping the tradition alive. The band does not sound like a living museum though. They all FEEL it and that's what makes them terrific to hear! Hurrah for that.
Friday, August 6, 2010
We turn back the clock to 1977 and a live appearance of altoist Luther Thomas and bassist John Lindberg at Major Beaux's in St. Louis. It's available as Spirit of St. Louis (Ayler Download 064), an Ayler Records Download Series release that you can get directly from Ayler Records for $10 (see the Ayler link on this page).
John Lindberg is a bassist's bassist; Luther Thomas had a bop-to-free sensibility and deserves much more in the way of recognition. Together they do a very attractive set that has free segments, some blues, and a version of Bird's "Bloomdido."
This one may not change the world but it's a very good example of Mr.Thomas catching a little fire. No need to call 911. Just download and check it out.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Today we return to Clean Feed Records and their always interesting series of releases covering the new jazz-improv artists active these days.This one is by the Convergence Quartet. Song/Dance (Clean Feed 187) teams Taylor Ho Bynum (trumpet, fluegelhorn), Harris Eisenstadt (drums), Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Dominic Lash (acoustic bass) for a set of well conceived originals, a piece by Leroy Jenkins, and a traditional song from South Africa.
Most reading this will be familiar with Bynum and probably Eisenstadt. I didn't have much previous exposure to Hawkins and Lash. Alexander Hawkins plays a keenly hoven post-Cecil Taylor piano, tuneful, brash or motor-driven depending on what is happening at any point. Mr. Lash gives a worthy set of performances, whether walking or freely diving into the fray. Taylor and Harris do what you might expect. Mr. Bynum gives out with a wide range of expressive devices and well-turned utterances while Mr. Eisenstadt goes where he is needed with splash and attention to the finer points.
What's especially nice about this one though is the group compositional stance, the little or sometimes large thematic elements that get more through-composed treatment than head-solos-head routines. This is a hell of a nice record. If you listen you will be drawn into its world with continual interest and attention, I would think. Thanks for this, Convergence Quartet!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
"Like the Evans, Jamal and Jarrett trios." That's what I accidentally read as I was searching for the cover art to Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson's new recording Six (Konnex 5243). Well. sure. And the fact that they are "like" those groups, that is, that they have intricate interplay between all three members, that the bass and drums have equal footing in the musical dialog, that harmonic sophistication and lyrical line weaving are the orders of the day, that they play a good number of standards. . . all that is true.
But they also have carved their own notch onto that particular branch of the music. Six shows that with ten well-considered numbers. The originals, half of the numbers contained in the set, are quite nice and the choice of standards are nothing to sneeze at. "It Never Entered My Mind" is such a hauntingly evocative song and they add some harmonic tension to emphasize the mood of quiet despair. That's true of their treatment of all the non-originals. They are no mere run-throughs.
All three players have a kind of intrinsic power of conviction (to allude to an album title by another trio that they are "like") and a thorough stylistic maturity that make for strong musical results. And of course that implies that they are well attuned to one another's doings on the bandstand (or the studio).
Strength. This trio has it. Six has beautiful music going on. Lots of it!
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Hard bop of the Blue Note variety lives on today with a plethora of ensembles making what they will of the style. Some are better at it than others. John Fedchock's NY Sextet is one of the best. Their Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival (CAPRI 74102-2) bears this out.
On it you have trombonist Fedchock in a lucid mode, post-Trane tenorist Walt Weiskopf doing what he does best, trumpetmeister Scott Wendholt getting in his licks, and an eloquent Allen Farnham on piano heading up the rhythm team that also includes David Finck on bass (walking and soloing well) and Dave Ratajczak holding forth from the drum throne.
Here's a band that takes advantage of the three-horn front line with nicely turned voicings a la the style, and has the kind of good soloing abilities from all concerned so that extended renditions do not bog down with lackluster moments.
It is not music designed to change the shape of the future jazz firmament. It's just very tasteful straightahead blowing of a high order. A very good listen indeed!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Trumpeter, leader, composer Dennis Gonzalez and his Yells at Eels band quietly, consistently are creating vital new jazz-improv music that has all the best qualities of freedom-in-structure. The new one Cape of Storms (Ayler 117) charts in with some fine music, and it only confirms that Gonzalez is on a roll.
For this one the band is joined by the formidable drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, who as you would expect adds his personally distinct free-to-complex time groove to the band. Stefan Gonzalez as a result switches to vibes for a number of the cuts and his voice on that instrument bolsters Dennis' compositional lines in interesting ways. He can do some free soloing that sounds good too. He plays second drums for some interesting moments and does some hip percussion as well.
Tim Green plays tenor on a number of cuts and may not be as out front as some of his predecessors in the band but certainly shows he is in the spirit of the music. Aaron Gonzalez is his usual effervescent self on contrabass.
What always seems to strike me about Dennis Gonzalez's music is that he has a real sense of what grooves, lines and concepts will work with the forces at hand and he goes forward with the program in ways that leave you remembering the music vividly after hearing it a few times. And his trumpet playing is a model of style and freedom in the right combination.
So what to say? This is another excellent outing. Grab it up!