Thursday, June 30, 2011
The Flow Trio do that. Flow. They flow in a free manner. They flow because each player sets up the other players with what he does, allowing them to invent fertile extended collective improvisations. You can hear that at great length on their Set Theory: Live at the Stone (Ayler CD-107).
Drummer Charles Downs flows in the density and speed of his free-timing, both creating momentum and responding to it. Joe Morris as bassist is ideal for this sort of set. He ranges widely in note choice, rhythmic happenstance, and sound color so that Louie Belogenis has a huge variety of choices that would work with what Joe is doing. Louie has that big, dramatic tenor sound that has a resemblance to classic Sam Rivers, but flows and darts in and out of the mix in an original way. His soprano has force and clarity.
This is free music of excellence. It is probably their best disk yet. You wont want to miss this one if you dig avant sax trios in a good place. Do not miss them!
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Early jazz was not a matter of three or four bands with monster soloists playing in a vacuum. Not every band had the over- powering playing of Armstrong, Oliver or Keppard gracing the front line. And jazz as it flowered was not merely a showcase for soloists. There was the hot two-beat swing, the arrangements, the fact that this was music for people to dig live, not some living museum of early style. That perhaps is obvious, but histories of jazz sometimes make you think it was ALL Louis's solos and the rest was just filler.
Another point: the early jazz recordings were just plain-old off much of the time. Balance was bad, fidelity was poor, drummers had to do ricky-tick temple block noodlings to keep the record cutting needle from jumping off the platter, recording engineers did not understand the music and worked against the sound, tuba players held back, etc. One has to use lots of imagination to feel the real power of this music as it was played live.
All this I hope serves to introduce a very welcome historical repertoire CD of the music of that time: Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra and their Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920's Chicago and Harlem (Accurate 5062). It's a medium-sized group of musicians of today playing new arrangements of the music of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Fess Williams, Charlie Johnson and Tiny Parnham.
It has the recording sound of today, of course, and the power of this music comes through with all the familiar-made-strange excitement of that style done well. The arrangements are a little quirky (bowed saw added, for example) but then this music WAS quirky at the time. The players do an excellent job getting into the period style without sounding at all sterile. Great job! I want more. I hope Brian continues with more of this because it is just what is needed to bring the period alive for us.
A somber side note: while searching for a cover image of Hothouse Stomp on a search engine we all know, I found listed up front what appeared to be a great many sources of unauthorized free downloads of this album. Shame on you guys and hey, engine folks, don't you get what that is about? (By the way must my site be lumped in the same basket as those sorts of pirate rogue blogs? Take a guess who will probably rank higher in the search results?) OK I can understand how limited access to long out-of-print obscure sorts of things that don't have much chance of re-release might be a good thing in the long run. But to take a brand new, original album and post it for unauthorized free downloading is to destroy the music, people. Don't do it!
Read my blogs if you care about the survival of music like I do and I'll keep writing. Thank you.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Francois Carrier has style. He keeps a balance between sound, linear content and expressivity in ways that are original and enlivening. When he gathered his alto, his trio and guest Bobo Stenson on piano at the Vancouver Jazz Fest in 2002, there was some magic in the air. It's captured on Entrance 3 (Ayler 106) and captured well.
One thing, at least, is clear. Francois Carrier needs to be paid more attention. This is a freely expansive set of extended improvisations, with Pierre Cote and Michel Lambert (bass and drums) setting up turbulent, many faceted foundations for the flights of Carrier and Stenson.
As I've been listening to this album I have come to realize that both (latter) artists have not been given enough credit. Stenson sounds his usual well-prepared, modern self, and if you hear him at work on this session you realize that he still has much to say, that we should be listening to him with greater attention. And Francois has the presence of a player that has found his own style and continues to perfect it.
All of the four somewhat lengthy pieces are band collaborations. There are melodic motifs, rhythmic feels and tatoos that sound like they have been pre-planned. And then there's plenty of smart, empassioned improvising.
This is excellent music. Simply put.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Pianist Jason Yeager has been working with his trio of Tal Gamlieli (bass) and Michael Gleichman (drums) for more than three years now. Their Ruminations (Inner Circle 020) shows the sort of subtle interplay a piano trio ideally develops when they grow together as a unit. Yeager plays a thoughtfully subtle, harmonically advanced sort of piano with great touch. Gamlieli shows sensitive accompanying abilities and the ability to step out in front of the ensemble and say something when called upon to do so. Gleichman contributes the dynamically interactive drumming this sort of trio demands.
There's a nicely done version of "Summertime" and otherwise some very varied and grounded Yeager originals that show he has a knack for memorable melodies and improvisational springboards.
There are guest tenor and fluegel soloists on a few cuts and they do good work; there's a cameo appearance by vocalist Aubrey Johnson; and a string quartet opens up the sound for the moving "Lullaby for a Better World."
This is music of substance and the Yeager Trio is a group that I hope will travel far and wide and get the attention it deserves. Nice!
Friday, June 24, 2011
For someone who is playing within a tradition, it is important to keep inspiration high, to keep yourself challenged and contributing on a high level. Where perhaps some have fallen victim over time to a kind of creeping fungus of the repertoire, the same tunes played in the same ways time and again, Ken Peplowski has found ways to keep his music very much a thing of today.
His newest, In Search of. . . (Capri 74108-2), is a particularly good example. It doesn't hurt that Bill Griffith's cartoon illustrations bring a kind of timeless present-in-retro-past feel to the packaging. But of course that is the surface of what the album is about. The first ten tracks find Ken in the company of a nicely wrought quartet that includes the brightly bouyant piano of Shelly Berg, Jeff Hamilton's swingful drumming and the solid bass of Tom Kennedy. Most importantly the material played is well-balanced and well-chosen. Freddie Redd's "The Thespian," Rogers and Hart's "A Ship Without A Sail," a couple of nice Berg originals, and on from there. They form excellent springboards for Ken's sometimes gritty post-Webster, sometimes breathy post-Getzian tenor and his alternately limpid or bell-clear clarinet work.
The final three tracks show Maestro Peplowski in a duo or trio setting, with some fine versions of Harrison's "Within Without You" and the calypso standard "Rum and Coca Cola."
It is captivating fare and Ken sounds fabulous throughout. It's an album that should find adherents across the spectrum of appreciators of the improvisational arts. It certainly is giving me a good deal of pleasure.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The student of the music we call jazz at some point must come to terms with the impact of the avant garde from the '60s onwards. Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, later John Coltrane, and the musicians who associated with him brought about a vast infusion of musical vocabulary and ways of speaking into improvisational practice. Looking back we can see that regardless of the rhetoric let lose in the years that followed, the innovations of these important artists have entered, in one way or another, into the music we hear today. It was a revolution in sound, in note combinations, in harmony, and in time. Sunny Murray was right there behind his drums from the very beginning, changing the function of his instrument from time keeping to time shaping, constructing beautifully loose melodies of rhythm that enabled soloists and ensembles to recreate more freely the relationship of note weaving to implied or actual pulse.
Sunny of course has continued on over the years, mostly with his own ensembles, making important music. On today's CD we find him in close collaboration with the Sonic Liberation Front [Sonic Liberation Front Meets Sunny Murray (High Two 027)] in a live session from 2002 and a studio follow-up from 2008.
This is bold and exciting new music that begins with the premise of pitting Sunny Murray's dynamic style against a battery of Afro and Afro-Latin hand drums. Joining them are Henry Lawson's tenor along with acoustic bass, cornet or trumpet, and in the 2002 session, alto sax.
It reminds a little at times of some of Archie Shepp's 1969 BYG sessions, where African percussion intertwined with jazz improvisation in a stimulating way. "Reminds" does not mean "imitates" however. The Sonic Liberation Front puts the hand percussion in motion in different ways and there is more of a give-and-take dialog going on with bass, percussion and Sunny's unique artistry. The horns play ensemble passages that further enrich the music mix, and freely solo on top of the complex of sounds.
It is a combination that works on every level--with abundant room for expansion, the development of an open-ended excitement and a truly AFRO-AMERICAN approach. A high point of the music is certainly the way the regularity of the percussion section gets a musical dialectic going with Sunny's expanded time sense. But it is a group sound, with important contributions from all in the heady mix of momentum and fire that develops.
Notch up another excellent outing for Sunny Murray. And for the Sonic Liberation Front. You get 69 minutes of adventure for your money. If that seems like a lot, break the listening session into two and the time will fly. Recommended.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
With Nate Wooley, and with his latest quintet album (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed CF218CD), there is plenty to suggest that growth is a factor. Nate as an artist, trumpet-composer-bandleader, does not stand still. It's a very balanced album with a band that provides the freewheeling solo work you would expect from Nate's outfit, yet also has developed an ensemble sound, thanks in part to Nate's compositions-arrangements, but also thanks to the sensibilities of the players involved. Some of these players were a part of Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day II, which I covered a few days ago. These are players that obviously seek each other's company because of stylistic affinities. And that is a sort of controlled freedom that stresses the collective and the individual, fire and subtlety, spontaneity and form.
Everybody contibutes here. And Nate's trumpet is a smouldering fire that breaks into a bright flame when the time is right, but also can have a quietly searching quality. The charts, the group and the trajectory of the album follows his muse accordingly.
This is excellent ensemble jazz of the modern kind. Like so many releases coming out of Clean Feed lately, it establishes that "inside" and "outside" have their limitations as categories. The music is both. The music is neither. The music is worth your time.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Pianist-Musicrafter Michel Reis Creates Seriously Interesting Pianistic Ensemble Music on "Point of No Return"
Musical artists often take exception to being pigeon- holed by the press and it in part has to do with their wish not to prejudice an audience in advance against their music in any way. Yet of course readers want to have some idea of what to expect from an artist and his or her music. Pigeonholing is one quick way to convey some sense of the music, just as bricks-and-morter record shops ordinarily divide what they are selling into various categories: rock, jazz, classical, etc.
The danger as I see it is in reification, to assume that because one has put a label on something, that somehow the music has been dealt with, explained. For an artist or ensemble in the throes of creating their music, these labels mean very little. Every musical event in this sense is a world unto itself, a center, a totality. And so it should be.
So if we look at pianist-composer Michel Reis's new Point of No Return (Armored Records 8011) we could say that he works in the advanced tonal realm, that the pianism in so great abundance on this album has some bearing on possible classical training, that the music is highly developed compositionally, sometimes almost through-composed, that the ensemble quintet of piano-bass-drums-fluegel-soprano sax seems often a kind of block extension of Mr. Reis's pianistic conception. All these things, to my mind, are part of the music as I hear it. That the soloing, especially from Mr. Reis, is quite imaginative is something again.
But if I then went on and charted out a mental map of "jazz pianists" and where Reis belongs on that map, at least if I were to do it in a sort of glib, shorthand way to categorize or even dismiss the music, I would not be doing a great service to the artist. We all tend to do it anyway at some point. But should we?
The point: every artist is his or her own center. We should seek to understand that artist as much as possible in the fullness of what makes him or her what he or she is, what makes the music different. That may be a quagmire. But there are qualitative and other aspects. One thing is sure, on a qualitative level, Point of No Return operates on a high level. That does not mean that the music is better or worse for belonging at a particular place in a continuum of stylistic possibilities available today. Those are judgments that I think are probably best not made for the sake of the artists and for the sake of the music.
One thing is sure: Michel Reis is an artist of talent. This one is highly recommended.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Cuong Vu has reaped the benefits of a change in place since he moved to Seattle. At least so it seems from the evidence of yesterday's CD (see below) and now another today. This one is his 4-tet, Cuong on trumpet, two electric bassists--Stomu Takeishi and Luke Bergman--and Ted Poor on drums. The CD is titled Leaps of Faith (Origin 82585) and it's a very creative thing going on there. They use delay effects and lots of space. They take a wide open stance, with a bare tempo elaborated by Ted Poor, for example, some room for bass architecture, then envelopes of sound from Cuong and the basses, all geared toward (mostly) realizing very unusual versions of standards. It's electric, it has lots of room for Cuong Vu's considerable trumpet improvisational flare.
Electric Miles is somewhere around the last bend, lending his spiritual guidance. But they are trampling through the brush beyond him to create their own path. The two-bass idea works perfectly with both bottom and rich color possibilities realized with a flair.
It's a stunning album. Cuong Vu never sounded better. And it has a very individual approach. Nice!
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Things have been happening for Cuong Vu since he moved out to Seattle. One of them is Agogic (T & C 001). Maestro Vu's trumpet locks in with Andrew D'Angelo's serpentine alto and bass clarinet, and they are held buoyant by the boldly blistering bass and drums of Luke Bergman and Evan Woodle, respectively. Add some smart avant-funk writing and some very cool interactions and soloing from the front line, mix that up with the boldly assertive, pin-incision precision of the rhythm team and you have Agogic.
I am not being flip because what that something is is something. It's edgy and hip. impolite and brash, energized and iconoclastic. But all in a way that takes care to give you much more than anything close to standard operating procedure funk. This is NOT business as usual. That thanks to all concerned, who push into liftoff mode early on and continue to thrust upwards until orbit is achieved. It's a matter of good writing, good atmosphere, good soloing and good rhythm-team innovation throughout.
Strongly recommended then.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Brian Landrus is a new-ish voice on the baritone. He has one album out on Cadence Jazz. The new one Traverse is on his own BlueLand Records (2011A). It's a quartet date with the potent lineup of Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Michael Cain, piano, and the always swinging Billy Hart on the drums.
It's a contemporary date with good blowing vehicles devised by Landrus himself or in collaboration with Michale Cain. The "Body and Soul" perennial rounds out the set. There's a chance for Cain to show what he has been up to as well as some extended improv time for Landrus on the baritone and bass clarinet. He shows a winning way with a ballad on "Lone," "Soundwave" "Soul and Body" and of course "Body and Soul" and kicks up a little dust on the other numbers.
It's an all-around good outing for everyone concerned. Landrus most definitely has a sound and an onslaught of notes to go with it. Check it out.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
And there is Harris Eisenstadt. He plays and writes with his own view of how things can go. An orchestral work of his is being read this month by the American Composers Orchestra, a singular honor. And he has a new CD, Canada II (Songlines 1589-2). It's a terrifically balanced quintet of Harris on drums, Nate Wooley, trumpet, Matt Bauder, tenor, Chris Dingman on vibes, and Eivind Opsvik on bass. These are players of character and personality. Maestro Eisenstadt has written a series of pieces that bring out the sonority and quirkiness of such a line-up, at the same time as he has crafted a series of melodically distinguished lines. There are quasi-chorale forms, melodic lines that have a folky-street sort of simplicity for a second, only to veer sharply in contour and grab the ears. And he maps out other contours too, all in a style that is his--almost a modern day Tadd Dameron? He knows how to write-arrange for a relatively small group of this sort and get a large sound by sometimes having the horns sound close harmonies that beat together to project a more sonorous and large ambiance. And the vibes are given the loose-comp freedom that opens up plenty of implications for the soloists and gives the sonic whole a contentful but not-so-dense matrix.
This is serious quintet jazz that comes alive for the listener after several hearings. There is much to hear and appreciate on this one. Harris has consistently been at the cutting edge of jazz composer-bandleaders in the last couple of years. He shows on Canada Day II that he belongs there. Don't miss it!
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
David Lopato comes into the fray with Many Moons (Global Coolant 01) and perforce experiences the opposite tugs. His response is to try and keep to the center of influences by evoking jazz tradition, albeit expanded and loosened to fit a more free-wheeling excursion, and by tapping into the vast possibilities of avant garde pianism that preceded both artists and to some extent encompasses the two even now. So you'll hear some quasi-stride, quasi-boogie of a non-Jarrettish sort (see below), some boppish lines, loose balladry that owes as much to Evans as Jarrett, and some melodic jaggedness that, yes, has a little Cecil in there (but then early Keith did too). And you'll also hear post-Cagean prepared piano clanking and some Ives-Henry Cowell cacaphony.
The point here is not to play the influences game for its own sake. Everyone has been influenced by someone. Influences show you the strength of various artists legacies and so that is interesting in itself. But then the other point is to illuminate the artist at hand, to show how those influences are transformed (assuming they are of course).
And so David Lopato goes a middle way. He expands by adding to it what else that he has embraced musically. And in the end there is a distinctiveness. He's not quite as lyrical as Jarrett, more stoic, in a way. And he is not as turbulent as Taylor. Lopato uses expressiveness as part of his palette, but he is less the romantic. Expressiveness is not the end-all for him. So he turns to swinging lines out of bop, sound-color moments, some of the modern harmonics and melodics that are in the avant garde air, a little of the gospel-boogie Jarrettisms, but something more coming on too, as we've hinted at.
Lopato has his own way. The solo disk goes in many different directions as suits Mr. Lopato's inclinations. In the end you have an impressively musical presentation by a player who has something to say
Monday, June 6, 2011
There's more than one way to structure a free date. Stick to a mode or tonality, of course, or have some changes involved that allow latitude, or build numbers around ostinatos, repeating riffs, and center the improvisations around that. There are lots of other ways too, but you get the idea. Avram Fefer's new trio recording Eliyahu (Not Two 854-2) uses foundational key center/scale-modalities and bass-centered ostinatos as organizing blocks for many of the numbers. First off, this comes out of African tradition (especially West African) and lends itself very well to a rootsy take on the music. Another point, and I suppose this is obvious, ideally the ostinato has to breathe, to open up a space both within and around it, so that drums can weave in and out of the implications, and, in this case, the tenor/alto can soar over, around and return to the riff idea alternatingly.
In a trio like this one, all that is not only not a problem, things take OFF. Drummer Chad Taylor is a big part of that. He swings with a limberness that gets everything weighed out right, and he plays a very musical set of drums. Eric Reves is there with his huge bass tone and punchy anchorage. His solos resonate too. Then Avram Fefer. Here is a player with a sound that manages to be his own, though it channels a kind of Trane-Rollins-Redman largeness--meaning that there's a classic quality to it. Then he has that growl, which is very cool and goes way back to some of the earlier masters like Big Ben W.
Beyond these nuts and bolts we finally clear the way for the music itself. Of the many sax trio recordings that come our way in any given year, a few are standouts. This is one of them. The trio is highly attuned to one another and everybody is taking off in the same space capsule, so to speak. It's a disk I would not hesitate to play for someone who wanted to hear what "very modern" or "avant" jazz sounded like. I'd play it because it is an advanced sort of thing yet it is so musically direct that it could (and should) reach listeners who would not otherwise respond to new music of this kind. Those already initiatated should also check this one out, because it hangs together wonderfully. Highly recommended.
Those of you in and around New York, don't forget that the Vision Fest runs this week, starting today I believe. It's the major jazz event in the Big Apple, for the new jazz anyway. Check it out!
Friday, June 3, 2011
This is music that may have a walking bass underneath it now and again, but the give and take is of an unforced avant sort. There are compositional elements but the main thrust is the improvisational space, individually and collectively, between the distinctive musicians, each with his own way. Now I wont say this is destined to get lots of airplay on those middle-of-the-road jazz radio stations, which at any rate seem to be diminishing in number again in part thanks to the economics we are I hope seeing enter a more solid phase, though just the beginnings.
I learned long ago that if you want to hear music of a certain sort, in many ways you have to become your own virtual radio station. Commercial free, target market one, two, or maybe three listeners at a time, no income, no expenses (well, now just a minute, life has expenses at all times, so cancel that last thought). Support jazz radio of course. But start thinking for yourself too.
My point is only that to cultivate tastes in certain adventurous music, like Mr. Levin's quartet date here discussed, you have to follow your nose and take advice where you can find it.
So here's my advice: Organic Modernism is a very serious set of music, where a very seriously developed set of new musicians create something of their own from the ether, as it were.
This is pretty abstract fare. You must listen closely to get an understanding. It shows that Mr. Levin is a cello principal in the free-er echelons of jazz, that Matt Moran is somebody to take seriously, and Nate Wolley--he's carved a reputation that this recording does nothing to take away from. He sounds good. Peter Bitenc may not be a name on everybody's lips right now but he fits in well and does nice work.
This is not an album that is going to set the world on its ear. It's very good and very sophisticated fare though. Recommended.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Any jazz ensemble with a lineup of piano-vibes-bass and drums invites com- parisons and gets a sound right off the bat that reverberates with the history of the music. Of course there was the MJQ, the Bobby Hutcherson Blue Notes with that configuration, and a number of others. The instrumentation lends itself to harmonically intricate voicings, a lighter swing, a special chiming resonance. So when I pulled young pianist Eddie Mendenhall's CD out of its mailer, I had some expectations, like it or not.
Cosine Meets Tangent (Miles High 8614) lives up to those expectations. It exceeds them and also stymies them, which can only be good. I always kick myself in the head when I accidentally read the press releases too closely. I don't want to be unduly influenced. But I inadvertently looked down and read a quote from vibist Mark Sherman, saying that Eddie "captures a great mix of Bobby Timmons, Red Garland, and early McCoy Tyner." Hmm... The Bobby Timmons influence is there I suppose, and Red without the block chords exactly the way Red did them, and McCoy with that very lubricated right-hand line invention, yes. Well, I don't disagree with that, so no harm in quoting it!
This is an album that sometimes has a little of the coolness that the piano-vibes quartet can project, but it also swings hard, much harder than MJQ was apt to do. It has heat, too. To backtrack though, the people in this quartet: Mendenhall on piano of course, Mark Sherman on vibes, as we hinted at above, John Schifflett on bass, and Akira Tana on drums. That turns out to be a very attractive combination. They do an all originals set (except there's one Rogers and Hart standard). One of the originals is by vibist Mark, the other eight are by Eddie M. They are in a charming sort of hard-swinging sophisticated harmonic-melodic bag typical of some cats circa 1959-64 or so. There's nothing wrong with that if done well, and done well is what they do! Besides which I can't think of anybody getting this much mileage out of this style in years.
Eddie M. is a fine late-bop pianist with a full set of ears and the ability to craft some beautiful comp-and-line solos. Mark Sherman matches up very well with Eddie as the second solo and ensemble voice. There's Bag-to-Hutch in there and he knows just what to do, phrases beautifully, and can swing heavily when needed. The rhythm section is admirable. Akira Tana we know can do this sort of thing with his eyes closed, but John Schifflett, whom I do not know much about, sounds great as well.
I love this one. The only thing missing? Trane from the Bags and Trane era. OK so they can add a hip tenor next time if they want. This one does just fine without that. Get it and feel some of the joy that is absolutely there!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
This is by no means a seminal contribution to the history of jazz. It is rather an informal, anecdotal, entertaining series of light interviews. It covers artists that may not get a lot of attention these days, such as Joe Venuti, Jonah Jones, Arvell Shaw, and Helen Humes, and surely that is a good thing.
My only serious beef with the book is occasionally the follow-up interviewees seem more concerned with talking about themselves and what they are doing rather than sticking to the artist who is supposed to be the subject of the chapter.
But it is quite amusing and interesting to read candid comments from the participants. For example one reads that Benny Goodman was motivated as much as anything to a return to performing by the fact that others were being applauded in Goodman tribute shows and not Benny himself.
The book also has a serious side. There is some attention to the perils of being black and on the road in the Jim Crow days.
It is on the whole an entertaining read and that's what it is supposed to be.