Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jason Yeager Trio, Affirmation

A pianist who can come up with a fresh angle on postbop and contemporary deserves hearing. Jason Yeager does that and does it well on Affirmation (Inner Circle 043). You get the Beatles' "Julia," a movement from Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" and a host of nice originals. It's the trio of Jason plus Danny Weller on acoustic bass and Matt Rousseau on drums. That's the very together tripartite framework, to which are added guests here and there, the trumpet and flugel of Jean Caze, Noah Preminger on tenor and Aubrey Johnson on vocals. They broaden the sound and add much to the proceedings as needed.

Jason has internalized the modern jazz tradition and gives it back in a personalized way. The flow, the harmonic sense, the lines are where you expect them, only they are not cloned from a generic source. This is Yeager piano, music in the Yeager zone.

And as you listen you get a program of nicely turned contemporary jazz that pleases without trying to make a grandstand-raising play for radio coverage. The music is the way it is no doubt out of artistic conviction and that comes through as an honest triumph of sorts. Bravo!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Andrei Razin, ARSolo

Russian pianist Andre Razin is not known very much in the States. Based on his ARSolo (SoLyd 0412) album of solo piano he should be more widely heard. It is an album that came out in 2011 but shows the artist in a timeless light. There are seven works presented in the program, all showing a poetic ingenuity, an original harmonic-melodic approach that is somewhere between new music classical and contemporary solo piano jazz.

A Russian Keith Jarrett? Maybe, except he sounds unlike Jarrett and much more like himself. There is a kind of alternation between rhythmically active sections and contemplative atmospherics. His playing shows an excellent sense of form-in-spontaneity, with structured elements ordering what sound like impromptu improvisations. And indeed, this is the more improvisatory side of Razin, who also composes in the new classical mode.

His classic roots may come through clearly, but that is not to say that the improvisations sound pre-planned as much as informed by some key motives. As the liners say the program comes off as a continuous suite, touching on Razin's diverse, inventive approach in sections with a feel in-the-moment but somehow inevitable in their logic and spirit combined.

In the process you'll hear some jazz roots, resituated in a context that has as much of the post-Bartokian as an improvisational middle ground that rests in neither camp.

It is a bracing, invigorating performance that should be heard by anyone interested in the contemporary pianist and where the music can go these days. Andrei Razin should not be missed! An excellent album is this. Try and find a copy if you can.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Garrison Fewell, Outside Music, Inside Voices

We've known Garrison Fewell on these blog pages as an important jazz composer, guitarist and bandleader. But today we look at him as an author. His latest book, Outside Music, Inside Voices (Saturn University Press, 329 pages, paper, $25), examines the creative process among 25 leading lights in advanced improvised music today, music sometimes referred to as "free jazz."

The book presents 25 fairly in-depth interviews conducted by Garrison over the course of nearly a year, interspersed with good photographs of the artists concerned by Luciano Rossetti. The basic issue involves spirituality as a component of or impetus to the creative act. "How much does your music," Garrison asks, "get its energy and being from a spiritual mind- and body-set?"

The answer, which may come as a surprise to those who are not immersed in the contemporary improvisational world, is a pretty resounding "yes, it does, in important ways." So we hear from such luminaries as the late John Tchicai and Roy Campbell Jr., but also Steve Swell, Nicole Mitchell, Dave Burrell, Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, and on from there through 17 others.

And no, it is not that all of them practice a particular form of organized religion, though Buddhism does seem to be an element in some artist's lives, but rather that the sounding of the music has a spiritual intent or immersion-component. Anyone who experienced the first flowering of the "new thing," especially via later John Coltrane, should not be surprised to hear this. Nevertheless what matters, and what the book brings out strongly, is exactly how each artist talks about her or his music in these terms. Are there set practices they use to bring such things in their music? Are there political-social components? How do they relate their self-in-spirit to other musicians and the audience in the playing situation? How can such improvisational ways of being be of general use to the public at large in their own lives?

These are just some of the questions and themes that run through the dialogs. In the end readers get a rather full picture of open-form improvisation as a kind of way of life. Everyone seems to have something interesting to say. Not everyone puts a great deal of active thought into the way of the spirit and their music, mind you, but virtually everyone acknowledges an extra-material inspiration that goes into their spontaneous being in performance.

The book moves along at a rapid pace and brings insights to musicians, music fans and curious outsiders alike. It's a great read, something for a general audience concerned with creativity and of course for the avid new music listener and performer. Those who do not understand "free" music should get a framework that will help them grasp the creative processes and motivations of the players. Those who do get the music already will nonetheless benefit from the ideas so nicely expressed by some of our greatest living practitioners of the improvisatory arts.

Very much recommended. An absorbing and inspiring discussion.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Natsuki Tamura, Alexander Frangenheim, Nax

Natsuki Tamura is the trumpet master often associated with Satoko Fujii, as many will know. He has built a solid reputation out there as a free player who can go folkish or get very abstract, depending on the project. Today we hear him in the latter zone, in duet with contrabassist Alexander Frangenheim on a CD program entitled Nax (Creative Resources CD 280).

Tamura and Frangenheim dedicate themselves to fully abstracted free soundings, from full-toned utterances to noise-tinged sound colors. It's not an album where a tango or an old folk song intervenes; it is uncompromising new music making, both well conceived and sequentially unfolding.

As avant zoning it more or less pre-selects itself to listeners attuned to the outer stratosphere. Those who appreciate the inventive turbulence and sometimes quietude of cutting-edge improv will find this a bracing adventure into what can be done.

It blows, pizzes, and bows its way into rare territory with confidence and creativity. If you respond to that as I do, you will find this one a real ear-opener!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tineke Postma, Greg Osby, Sonic Halo

Wherever we are in improvised music we are always subject to the mental compass points we oriented ourselves with. Depending on those we could think we are halfway on the way to some goal, or beyond that goal and on the way to another. It depends on how you chose to get your bearings.

Take for example the sort of jazz-rock-funk that Miles had much to do with and then some of the acoustic-progressive furtherings that Steve Coleman and Dave Holland were important exponents of. We could say that now we are at the full flowering of a progressive, free-flowing post-bop rock-funk sound. Or perhaps we have gotten to a halfway point. We don't know what is to come in the years ahead so we cannot be sure of where we are on the "map."

One thing though is this: wherever we are, the album Sonic Halo (Challenge 73370) is in the vanguard. It's a two-horn alto-soprano frontline of Tineke Postma and Greg Osby, with some very excellent sidemen in Matt Mitchell on piano and electric piano, Linda Oh on acoustic bass and Dan Weiss on drums.

Dan can be counted on to contribute nicely to whatever he is on, so that in itself is a staple of this music. Linda and Matt are subtle and very worthy voices here. And then there's the two horn line of Greg and Tineke. These two work hand-in-glove so well that they open up a sort of zone where through alternating compositions and together-blowing they stand out as exceptional.

This is very progressive modal-centered music with sophisticated harmonies, complex rhythmic hits, and an open-sky hipness that gives a basic straight-eight funk an evolution similar in complexity to what later bop did for swing. Endless free flowing variation is the rule here, and it all is handled with inventive, brilliant ease.

And the blowing is very hip indeed. Postma and Osby are perfect foils for each other; the three-rhythm team make sure that the cauldron never stops boiling, so to speak.

It's music that bears your most intensive aural inspection and comes off as breakthrough soundings.

Sonic Halo has wings, has brains, has soul. It is an excellent listen!

Allison Au Quartet, The Sky was Pale Blue, Then Grey

From Canada comes the Allison Au Quartet and their The Sky was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-release). I don't know a great deal about the artists here. A few listens, though, and you know you are in the presence of thoughtful and expressively accomplished players. And the compositions, by Allison Au with one co-written by pianist Todd Pentney, have a contemporary freshness that frames everything well.

The band features Allison on alto sax. She stands out as a player with an alternatingly pure and hard-toned strength, facility and imagination. Pentney is on piano and keys and gives the band a second solo voice of distinction. Then there is the rhythm section of Jonathan Maharaj on bass and Fabio Ragnelli on drums, players with contemporary looseness but continuously vibrant pulsation.

The music is evolved contemporary, the pulses rocking ahead with jazz-rock-funk-swing and Latin feels but at the same time involved compositional intricacies and straight-to-your-being blowing which has smarts and feeling.

It is, if you want forebears, a sort of extension of ECM middle-period acoustic jazz-rock and maybe Gary-Burtonian involved lines, but then not quite and it is renewed by Allison's good sense both at the pen and at the alto.

She is a player very well showcased here in ways that bring pleasure and good sounds to your ears with consistency.

Recommended!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Hamburg '72

For all the beautiful things Keith Jarrett has done in his career, the original trio of Keith, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, with or without Dewey Redman, holds a special place in the music of the later 20th-century. After all this was, following Keith's important association with Charles Lloyd, the group that gave us the first phase of Jarrettian music. The amazing runs, yes, and the compositional clout of the man, the free interplay of the three masters which both came out of the influences of Ornette Coleman and Paul Bley in solo and group playing, but then went beyond that into something very special and original.

Sitting here listening to the newly released, previously unreleased Hamburg '72 (ECM B0022313-02), with that trio in their last phase, I am struck anew on the tragedy of loss. Paul Motian is gone and now so is Charlie Haden. We can never hear this trio as a living entity, never again. But we can hear them of course in all their recorded glory. In this case a finely sonic live recording of the trio in their last full flowering is what brings tribute and remembrance in a very fitting way.

It is beautiful to hear this, to me. Make no mistake. They are filled with the special creative synergy of the three as a oneness, no less here than in previous recordings. There is a spirit of adventure in their extraordinarily productive looseness. Keith is playing at one of his peaks, not just from the piano chair but also on soprano sax, something we took for granted then, but in its absence today we shouldn't have. He was singular there as on piano, just a bit less developed technically, of course.

But the interaction of Keith, Charlie and Paul is there. Again we may have taken it for granted in some ways, but there was a magic and a tabula rasa uniqueness of the way Paul and Charlie came up with ways of propulsing freely yet very personally. Add Keith and there is a dynamism of free structure in every way pattern-setting. The trio ultimately had a huge influence, on just about every piano trio that came after, in terms of those with a free avant approach, and even those who didn't.

And you can here why on this recording clearly. More than that, the pieces played on this date sound especially good because they are never played quite like this before or after. Charlie's "Song for Che" is momentous, never played by Keith otherwise in recordings. Rather momentous also are the versions of Keith's "Piece for Ornette," "Everything that Lives Laments" and "Take Me Back."

It is as fitting a tribute to Charlie and Paul as anything, for they sound beautiful. And so does Keith. All three would go on to do other work, great work, but the special magic of these three together would never quite be equalled. This issue is important because it gives us the trio in ways that we didn't hear on record at that point. The trio so late on, as a trio.

If you love this period, or even if you don't know it all that well, this must be heard!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Alicia Olatuja, Timeless

If you heard Brooklyn-born Alicia Olatuja sing at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, then you are prepared for what you get on her beautiful album Timeless (World Tune). Her voice is rather incredible. And she puts it to excellent use in a series of songs both familiar and less-so. The music is soulful and jazz inflected in a general way, in part thanks to her bassist husband Michael Olatuja who had a hand in the production and arrangements from what I understand. He plays some really nice bass, too.

Listen to her version of "Human Nature" and you'll hear right away that you are in the presence of a vocalist of extraordinary depth, finesse and beauty.

And every track one way or another confirms that, whether it be "Over the Rainbow," "Amazing Grace," or "Truth in Blue."

I don't usually get clammed up, to say the least. Her voice leaves me speechless. Consider me clammed right now. You want something to warm you up inside, the voice of Alicia Olatuja does that.

Hear this one!

Joseph Daley, Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love

Anybody with an involvement in the modern jazz scene knows Joseph Daley as a prime tuba virtuoso, who has made his mark across the spectrum of new jazz offerings, perhaps most notably as the tuba presence in Sam River's acclaimed Tuba Trio, where he defined how a tuba could be both a backbone and a vivid solo presence in a free yet structured three-way dialog.

What might not be as well known is that Joseph is also a fine composer. His recent Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love (Jodamusic 002) will set that straight. Maestro Daley conducts a small chamber orchestra on this recording in a series of eight lively portraits.

The orchestra is packed with artists who fill our ears with sounds that reflect the jazz improvisational and the new music camps equally but in line with composer Daley's own special musical ways. So we have players like Jason Hwang, Elektra Curtis, Sarah Bernstein, Akua Dixon, Marika Hughes, Ken Filiano, Warren Smith, and guests Jerry Gonzalez, Onaje Allan Gumbs and more.

The portraits show Daley as an original voice, an inventive persona, a composer of real merit. The first five portraits, "Whispercussion," give pride of place to the percussion master Warren Smith, in a kind of concerto context that shows Mr. Smith in his varied excellence on mallets, percussion and drums as it gives us music that sings out and builds a rich backdrop for his excellent solo work.

"Shadrack" highlights the multiple reed master Bill Cole in a fascinating world-spanning piece. Akua Dixon solos nicely on cello as well. "Doretha and the Blues" is dedicated to Joseph's soul-mate of 43 years, Wanda Doretha. It is a lush and soulful hipness that comes at us with some really beautiful string and orchestral scoring. Charles Burnham takes on the solo violin role with some definite testifying going on! "Industria" gives us Maestro Smith on tympani, Elektra Curtis, violin, and the basses of Benjamin Brown and Ken Filiano as soloists. The music is a sort of Afro-jazz caravan moving steadily into tomorrow, very hip and modern but with very strong roots.

This is music of adventure, Afro-American modern if you will, music of today, filled with both tradition and newness. Joseph Daley is a composer of stature, a real force. The music combines a heritage and a view to the future in ways that make you want to listen often, each time getting more from it all.

Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Delfeayo Marsalis, The Last Southern Gentlemen

Over time the trombone contingent of the Marsalis family, namely Delfeayo, has not gotten near the attention of brothers Wynton and Branford, yet he is a musician of real stature. He and his father Ellis team up with an excellent quartet on The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour 081814).

Ellis's well conceived pianism adds much to the proceedings. He sounds as great as ever. Filling the rhythm team chairs are bassist John Clayton, who brings excellent note choice and a fullness to his role, and "Smitty" Smith on drums, a monster that we don't hear as much of lately as we might wish, but plays his role to the max here.

The program is a mix of standard chestnuts, originals and a surprisingly fetching New Orleans rendition of the theme from "Sesame Street" with some hip wah-wah bone from Delfeayo.

It's old-school mainstream that manages to sound fresh, thanks to the complete trombone excellence of Delfeayo, in whom you can hear the entire history of the instrument, filtered and selectively grooved and burnished by intensive living within the tradition. I guess by now you should expect such a thing of Mr. Marsalis. But he and the quartet are so dedicated to it, without pretense or contrivance, that it rings very, very true.

It gives you the straight-from-the-heart classicism that warms the soul and mind of this listener, for one. Delfeayo is a master. Like early-middle-period Miles, he can play a worn out old tune and make it come through with bell-like directness, not so much through a noteful virtuosity as via attention to the tone and attack of every note.

So in the doing of all this The Last Southern Gentleman brings much pleasure. A trombone cornucopia such as this fits all seasons. Things never grow tired when the spirit is there. It is there.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pedra Contida, Xisto

Pedra Contida (Contained Stone) is a Portuguese quintet assembled especially for a Jazz ao Centro Clube invitation to perform for a week in the village of Cerdeira as part of the Schist Village Network project. Leader-organizer Marcelo dos Reis gives us a full album of the music they performed there in July of 2013.

The music is in three parts--the first four pieces composed by Marcelo, the second a series of solos and duos, and the third a collective improvisation by the whole group. All are part of the disk Xisto (JACC 022). The quintet includes dos Reis on acoustic guitar, voice and singing bowls; Angelica V. Salvi on harp; Nuno Torres on alto sax; Miguel Carvalhais on computer; and Joao Pais Filipe on drums and percussion.

This is a group that draws inspiration from open-form new music more than so-called "free jazz" per se. It is abstract music that relies on sound worlds that are colored by conventional and unconventional ways of playing to realize textures that vary and keep interest level high. Each member of the quintet contributes to the sound in ways that blend and become super-organic, so to say.

There is a dispersal of sound that maximizes space and individual contribution for a result that requires somewhat disciplined listening if one is to reap the benefits of this rarified sound abstraction expression. The results are intriguing and very fascinating if one gives the music the attention it deserves. But you must meet it half-way.

Bravo!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Music Review Records of the Year, 2014

Once again it is time to pick the Records of the Year. I am doing this on my other two review sites as well. There were an awful lot of great releases in 2014, so it has not been easy. That only points to the healthy condition of our improvising artists today. Here are my choices.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Matthew Shipp Trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, The Root of Things (Relative Pitch) See review, February 12, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Connie Crothers, Concert in Paris (New Artists) See review, September 29, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, Reissue: John Coltrane, Offering, Live at Temple Univ, 1966 (Reso- nance Impulse) See review, October 15, 2014.

Best Wild Card Album, Beyond Category: Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2, A Collection of Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (Patois) See review, October 9, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Abelardo Barroso and Orquesta Sensacion, Cha Cha Cha

Abelardo Barroso will be a familiar name only to those who are intimate with the history of 20th century Cuban music. Yet he experienced fame as a singer of son in the earlier recorded days and resurrected himself to acclaim in 1955 as the singer with Orquesta Sensacion. The best of those latter sides have been remastered and reissued as Cha Cha Cha. Leader Rolando Valdez gets a beautifully hot yet sweet sound from the strings, flute and rhythm players of Orquesta Sensacion and Barroso soars atop with his golden-toned voice.

The Cha Cha was a hot commodity in those days and the group scored with several hits that played in Cuban jukeboxes continually. The album covers all of that and more.

It's classic Cuban dance music of the era, sounding today every bit as vibrant and infectious as it no doubt did then. With the strings riffing in bowed or pizzicato style, the solid flute player, the horns and the insistent rhythm...and Barroso! This is the band at their height, a period between 1955 and 1959.

It is music that still packs a huge punch. It is an essential slab of Latin music you definitely need to hear and dig!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vezhlivy Otkaz, Geese and Swans

For you restless souls like me who seek the different and worthy even if it is not lurking at your back door, I have something for you today. I present to you the Russian band Vezhlivy Otkaz, an outfit quite well-liked over there by many, yet unknown to us in the States. They have a number of albums out. Today we cover their 2010 opus, Geese and Swans (Zen 033).

The music on this one defies easy description or blithe categorization. It is essentially music in song form, music which incorporates elements of progressiveness from rock, jazz and musical theater (I am thinking of classic Kurt Weill, though he may not be a part of their direct influence) plus what one might call folk-ethnic elements. This is most definitely music carefully composed and arranged, but with a lively spontaneity to it.

The band is first-rate, seemingly centered around guitarist and vocalist Roman Suslov, who had a hand it seems in the composing. Orbiting around his central pivoting point are Mikail Mitin on drums, Pavel Karmanov on grand piano and flute, Dmitry Shumilov on electric and acoustic basses and vocals, Sergey Ryzhenko on electric violin and vocals, Andrey Solovyov on trumpet. Together they form a tight-knit, musically sophisticated outfit that has drive and a dynamic directness as well.

The music puts the band through some intricate progressive routines that show originality and the local as well as the universal. This is music not quite like anything you may have heard. It has a songful, rough-hewn lyricism that contrasts well with musically demanding virtuosity. It gives you an excellent listen.

If you want something very much new and unexpected, Vezhlivy Otkaz and their Geese and Swans come through with an album that gives you all of that, and does it very, very well.

Quite recommended.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

David Virelles, Mboko, Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankomeko Abakua

Pianist-composer David Virelles is up to something rather different on his album Mboko (ECM B0021717-02). Cuban born and bred, David has reimagined the music of Abakua, a traditional male initiation society in Cuba that has roots in West Africa. It involves masked dancing and the experience of a cosmic Divine Voice in musical sound.

The essence of Abakua in ritual sound comes to us in recomposed form in a series of ten ritualistic movements for piano (Virelles), two double basses (Thomas Morgan and Robert Hurst), drum set (Marcus Gilmore) and Roman Diaz on the four-drum biankomeko, a fundamental part of Abakua.

The music is not a recreation as much as a contemporary analog to the rite. A ritual feel is at the forefront with the majority of moments where Afro-Cuban rhythm dominates or, alternately, where a kind of musical incantation is at the fore.

Virelles solos over the hypnotic rhythms in a very modernized Afro-Cuban mode, both engaging Afro-Cuban pianistic tradition and going forward in a sort of post-Bley avantness.

He played on recent albums by Tomasz Stanko and Chris Potter so his jazz credentials are strong. This album expands his approach both backwards to ancient roots and forwards into the advanced present.

The result is long-formed development of sound-specific mood over a full-length program. It is a vibrant, singular disk that takes its time creating sound worlds very worthy of Afro-Cuban tradition yet in their own way an extension into high-art improvisatory realms.

Hearing Mboko brings you under a spell that engages a sacred spirituality. It does it with a definite personal touch that calls attention to David Virelles as an artist of real importance. I hope we get to hear much more from him in the years to come.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Maldivian Traditional Music

Something different? What about music from the Maldive Islands? They are off the coast of India and now are independent. There is a recent 3-CD set out (though I have only heard one disk for preview) called appropriately Maldivian Traditional Music.

The music on the DL I got for review consists of male vocal music, in unison or as call-and-response with hand clapping and hand drumming of a vibrant sort. It is stirring, elemental music that sounds related to Sufi music from that part of the world and pockets in the Mid-East.

This is music seriously intended, not in the least bit "commercial" but DIY traditional. I don't know what else is covered in the set, but this bit of music is enlightening and moving on the primal level, with in some ways a music that crosses the borders between African, South Asian and Mid-Eastern music sensibilities.

Check it out!

Linda Sharrock, No is No

Linda Sharrock set the avant jazz community on fire in her days as co-conspirator with Sonny Sharrock, the late great guitarist and then-husband of Linda. She was a prime vocalist in the primal scream style that had nothing initially to do with Yoko Ono, but rather went along with some of Abbey Lincoln and Patty Waters sides in the first heyday of protest and avant expression. She and Sonny made several albums together in the '60s and then, for a time, nothing (at least that I am aware of). Nothing much of her after.

Her personal history in the intervening years I will leave to those who know it. The main thing is that she is back, very much so, and holds forth with some very fire-y music as the vocalist with a crack lineup of free-avant jazz artists today. No is No (Improvising Beings in 30) gives us two-CDs of Linda and company live, essentially going into space and creating a great noise there.

This is totally improvised music in the tradition of the old days where collective breathing of fire was a staple of the new thing. Linda is very much present, warming up and maintaining a certain level with "wah-wah-wah" soundings and then lifting the roof off the venue with some blood-curdling cries. It is not music for the timid, to say the least. But in her cries are the struggles to be faced by us all, especially those who do not feel themselves as participating in some sort of consensus world. It is a cry for freedom, of freedom, from a world where some still feel enchained.

And it's not just what she does on these sides, it's her vocalic-volcanic presence and how it inspires the instrumental sextet to outreach themselves and reach for the stars. This is one of the most extreme recent examples of avant jazz in terms of sheer energy, a calling out, a cry of existence, for existence.

Reedist Mario Rechtern and pianist Eric Zinman turn in especially strong performances here. But then Itaru Oki on trumpet (especially), Makoto Sato on drums and Yoram Rosilio on bass are very much key as well. This is collective, fired-up mayhem at its classic best.

It will smoke you. You either give in to the reaching out of our stratosphere and join the flight into the beyond, or you walk away. There is no in-between because this music will not work for you on any other level than participation. You are the Fifth Beatle, the Lost Tribe, the Godot who appears or you are left behind.

And in that this is superlative hot-freedom blowing and vocalizing. If you are ready for it, it is here for you. Anybody who finds Sun Ra at his most intense, Ascension at its cacophonic best or a number of classic other free dates . . . . If that is a world you gladly inhabit, then this is for you! If you don't know what that means, you may find this blissful if you open yourself to it anyway. It clears out anything remotely prevaricating and gives you pure truth. Not necessarily the truth, for there is more than one. That's how I feel. It sends me out there!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Marcin Wasilewski Trio with Joakim Milder, Spark of Life

Things can get going over in Europe to the extent that those of us in the States who aren't completely on top of what's happening there can find something fully flowered and in full strength when we are just getting to pay full attention to an artist or group. I find myself in that situation with Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio. It's Marcin, Slawomir Kurkiewicz on double bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums.

Here they are with their fourth ECM release, Spark of Life (ECM B0021718-02), joined by special guest Joakim Milder on tenor, a Swede with a post-Garbarekian sensibility that goes well with the trio.

The group has been around since the '90s, including tenure as part of Tomasz Stanko's outfit. So there is a Polish lyricism that has affinity with Stanko's later work, plus a love of the Polish icon Komeda, shown here by their nicely done cover of his "Sleep Safe and Warm" from Rosemary's Baby. Other than that there is a good mix of originals and unusual covers, from Sting and Herbie Hancock onwards.

The trio interacts in excellent fashion, showing mutual empathy and togetherness that is in part a matter of their long association, in other parts a matter of their mutual commitment to the lyrical romanticism that comes in its roots out of the Bill Evans-Keith Jarrett nexus.

These are some very subtle players doing deeply tonal harmonic-melodic wizardry that sounds "nice" no doubt to the uninitiated, yet on inspection from those who have listened long to this kind of music, they are filled with all the sophistication and, yes, brilliance of the most classic examples, only their way is theirs. They can get some traction, too, in exciting ways. It isn't all just singing-and-winging along sorts of things.

Milder sounds effective and completely in tune with the trio.

It's a lovely listen and an impressive outing all around. This kind of outfit must be a gas to hear live. But then again all this music is live, in that it lives!

Get an earful of this one if you can.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marquis Hill, Modern Flows, EP Vol. 1

The problem sometimes with modern jazz that injects a contemporary funk element and other contemporary elements is that all too often the music is geared to please rather than express. Some of it is ultra-mundane, banal, tired. Not so with trumpeter-composer Marquis Hill and his recent album Modern Flows, EP Vol. 1 (Skiptone Music).

Marquis gets together a very capable and hip ensemble, a sextet of instrumentalists plus vocalist and two poet-rap personages. He builds charts that have very much something to them, modern Afro-influenced jazz that features intricate arrangements with excellent writing for the horns of Hill and altoist Christopher McBride and some very hard hitting rhythm-solo work from Justin Thomas on vibes, Josua Ramos on acoustic bass, Bryan Doherty on electric bass and Makaya McCraven on drums.

To that are added poetic recitations/raps/vocals from Meagan McNeal, Tumelo Khoza and Keith Winford. The lyrics-words portray the plight of the Afro-American today in no uncertain terms, African roots, chokeholds, Obama bashing, identity and respect, among other things.

It all works really well, thanks in part to the very fluent musicianship and the compositional brilliance. You listen, you listen again, and there is no weary recognition that here we have a bunch of cliches strung together for radio play. It is the opposite. It gets better and the substance of the music is THERE.

No kidding. This is excellent. It hearkens back to old Blue Note horn voicings, hip tunes and the best of funk-jazz from the golden age of Norman Connors, Herbie, Azar Lawrence and the others. It's in its own court, though, too.

Get this one if you want something that convinces yet gets funky in a really advanced but rooty way!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Michael Mantler, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update

Jazz-composer Michael Mantler in tandem with his then-spouse Carla Bley did an awful lot of good things with the Jazz Composer's Orchestra in its series of recordings--as well as creating a viable model for independent new music distribution while their JCOA remained active. The Mantler JCOA recording came out in 1968 and in many ways revolutionized the idea of the new jazz big band. It remains to this day seminal and sounds every bit as advanced as it did then. Time went on and so also Mantler went on to do other excellent work, but nothing quite on this ambitious scale.

So when Michael agreed to revisit his early scores, both from the original album and not, in conjunction with the Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band under Christoph Cech and the radio.string.quartet.vienna, in a new project for ECM, one had high expectations. What came of it, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (ECM B0022098-02), now out, lives up to expectations in every way.

Sure, we do not have the pathbreaking soloists that were on the original--no Don Cherry, no Pharoah Sanders, no Cecil Taylor, no Larry Coryell...but for that you still need to listen to the original recording, which was reissued some time ago on ECM and I believe is still in print. The new soloists do their job and guitarist Bjarne Roupe gives us some exceptional sounds. The performances and ECM's audio are fully top-notch.

These are reworked charts to include the electric string quartet and Roupe, and as a big bonus provide some excellent scores from the period that have not been previously recorded.

What we get is a beautifully rendered series of large group compositions that not only hold their own, but stand out as models for a modern, "ahead" orchestral jazz every bit as advanced as they sounded back in 1968. Along with the work of the late Sam Rivers, Mantler's charts remain a guiding light for what a modern jazz orchestra can be all about.

The recording is simply excellent.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trio 3 & Vijay Ayer, Wiring, with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille

There are master jazzmen, avant or otherwise, who as they mature gain a depth to every note they sound, just about, and an impeccable feel to whatever they do. Such a three are certainly Oliver Lake (alto sax), Reggie Workman (bass) and Andrew Cyrille (drums). Their incorporation as Trio 3 is more than just a great idea, it is a band with a certain monumentality about it. Each excels as a master of their instrument; each has a musical sensibility that years of open playing have made possible--but of course only with the work of titans such as these. And each works together to get an interplay far above "avant business as usual."

So when they team up with a guest who is younger yet most definitely on the track to an open profundity, expect some real kinetic synergy. Such is the case with the teaming of pianist Vijay Iyer and Trio 3 on the album Wiring (Intakt 233).

There are compositions by all and one by the very undersung Curtis Clark. A high point is Vijay's "Suite for Trayvon (and Thousands More)," which underscores the series of brutal and very questionable shootings of Afro-Americans by those in law enforcement made only too real this past week by a "no indictment" decision in another case. A sense of outrage is put into music. And I hope it will help the collectivity out there come to grips with the facts and demand reforms. Period....Question mark.

But this album lays it all out to give us great playing from start to finish. Iyer fits right in and they get from the quartet a classic sort of freedom of expression that has in it the essence of the very best from times past. Trio 3 were a part of those earlier days, an important part, so it does not surprise. It confirms.

Yet one cannot predict what a meeting such as this will bring about. Iyer and the three hit it off strikingly well. They make a set that ANYONE with an interest in the new jazz should hear. Something of an instant masterpiece is what this is. Only of course to make music of this depth and power takes the collective work and experience of many years!

Don't miss it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Daniel Blacksberg Trio, Perilous Architecture

Today, a refreshing return to No Business and their limited edition vinyl releases. Only 300 copies of trombonist Daniel Blacksberg's Trio doing Perilous Architecture (NBLP 76) have been pressed. Yet the quality of the music belies what will be its scarcity. I don't know much about Daniel save that he sounds very good here, burred and blazing, ranged out and acrobatic, free and idiomatically trombon-esque. He is joined by Matt Engle on contrabass and Mike Szekely on drums and they do well in a modern equivalent of "new thing" aero-sweeping.

Daniel supplies the compositional motival head structures and they fit what follows nicely, and vice-versa. This is unpretentious free blowing that comes at you like a palette cleanser, wiping out the residue of whatever you were listening to before and freshening you with something honest and real.

Now I could say more, but why? This is good blowing. No need to spell it out. Blacksberg and trio do it right. Bone lovers will grok! If you aren't a bone lover, you should be...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Post on Smithsonian Website for UNESCO Reissue Series

My UNESCO-Smithsonian review article just posted--on the music of the Kurds and of West Futuna. http://www.folkways.si.edu/news-and-press/unesco-collection-week-31-exploring-regional-identity-the-music-of-the-kurds-and-west-futuna. Paste the url in your browser to read. Thanks!

Robin Williamson, Trusting in the Rising Light

There is music that defies expectations. Music that presents itself beyond the categories one has internalized. Robin Williamson is like that. His is a kind of art song, at once folkishly Celtic (he is Scottish, actually), yet with sophisticated, very poetic lyrics and a singer-songwriter thrust. His fourth ECM album Trusting in the Rising Light (B0022100-02) brings all that home to me. I have missed the earlier ones. This one features Robin on Celtic harp, guitar, Hardanger fiddle and vocals. Mat Maneri adds his patented smarts on viola. Ches Smith appears on vibes, drums and percussion. So we have two avant prog jazz luminaries contributing their own ethos to the mix. The results are, after a period of acclimation, very rewarding.

Could I say that Robin Williamson is a folk-Scottish sort of Leonard Cohen? Not quite but in a way. A modern troubadour? That's a part of it. An avant folk bard? Yes. He was a founding member of the Incredible String Band. Perhaps that explains much once you recall. Yes, the quirky folkiness of psychedelic Zen madness is still there, much burnished over time, experimental yet elemental, rooted yet spiralling outwards into today and the future.

So that's it in a nutshell. This is an album to light your imagination. Song and poetics, earthy roots and avant reaching forward, all combine in ways that grow stronger the more you listen.

It is a happy program of song gems performed without pretense yet with great impact. A joy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP, Return the Tides

Rob Mazurek, cornetist, composer, bandleader, has increasingly introduced electronics into his music, to excellent effect (for those who dig that--and I am one). He lost his mother tragically in eleven days earlier this year, a victim of the cancer that takes a person unawares and devastates quickly. It was a profound shock to his sensibilities, as these things are. The music on his new album reflects the aftermath of loss in profound and overwhelmingly intense ways. This is Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP, the Sao-Paulo based outfit with Rob on cornet and electronics, Mauricio Takara on drums and cavaquinho, Guilherme Granado on keys, synths and sampler, Thomas Rohrer on rabeca, electronics and soprano sax, Rogerio Martins on percussion, Rodrigo Brandao on voice and everyone else contributing their voices as well.

The album is Return the Tides (Cuneiform). It is a hugely despairing cry on one hand, an outburst of collaged grief, very thick and electronic, recorded very hot almost to the level of distortion. And yet as music and gesture it attempts a transcendance, a beyond state. Whether it quite gets there is no doubt a very personal matter with Rob and his loss. I cannot say.

It is very heavy, even for Rob, filled with an avant metal force that goes out to the universe. Rob is playing with searing heat and the band most definitely keeps up with him.

It is in a way a disturbing album. A cry. But an artwork that by transforming the intense feelings gets us to feel its representation in sound and understand. Perhaps it's Rob's most extreme statement to date. If I had engineered this date I am not sure that I would have mixed the outcome at these levels, but then that's part of the expression here. It's a distorted kind of anguish, and as expressive as anything I've heard recently. So for Rob it must be saying what he felt. Amen to that.

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Over Time, The Music of Bob Brookmeyer

Bob Brookmeyer, simply put, has been underrated for too long. It's not just as a valve trombonist, either. He wrote music that sounds as fresh now as it did then. If I am not mistaken my first brush with Bob as composer came via the charts he did as member of Gerry Mulligen's Concert Jazz Band, which in many ways was the precursor to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band that began holding forth at the Village Vanguard on Monday nights with Brookmeyer a charter member. He left the band to do studio work on the West Coast but returned to the band as its musical director after Thad Jones passed.

Some of his compositions-charts were an important part of that band's repertoire in the '80s. Time went on and I lost track of what he was doing. But a new albums puts it all together for us, past and present. I speak of a special Vanguard Jazz Orchestra album devoted to the music of Brookmeyer--Over Time (Planet Arts 101413).

First off the band sounds phenomenal. Oatts, Smulyan, LaLama and Jim McNeely are all there and a host of others whose names perhaps I should recognize but I don't. Nevertheless the band is in crack form. They take on eight of Brookmeyer's arrangements ("Skylark") and compositions (the rest), some from a while ago, others so advanced and modern they could have been written yesterday.

There are times when Bob combines new music techniques with his completely idiomatic feel for big band; other times they are boppish and post-boppish. Always they have a flare.

It's all so good that I am slightly stunned. The combination of the completely fresh musicality of these works and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's heated and superlative execution of same are such that I can only say, "listen to this one without fail!"

It's a corker and should remind us all of Maestro Brookmeyer's impeccable originality. I'll stop there.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Variable Density Sound Orchestra, Evolving Strategies

Guitarist-composer Garrison Fewell's Variable Density Sound Orchestra has made some excellent music in the past. The smaller ensemble heard in the album Evolving Strategies (Not Two MW911-2) has a particular resonance, in part because of the beauty of the compositions and their improvisational fulfillment, and in part because they are some of the last recordings made by the avant titans John Tchicai and Roy Campbell, Jr., both of whom were tragically taken from us not so very long after.

The band as a whole is every bit as good as the illustrious nature of the names. OK, perhaps bassist Dmitry Ishenku is not very well known, still he is very good. But then there is trombone master Steve Swell, who graces the session with his rangy expressions and a composition that stays long in the mind, "Mystical Realities," with a very groovy ostinato and a head melody that matches it. John Tchicai is on tenor and gives us two of his compositions and some beautiful improvisations. Roy Campbell reminds us why he is so missed on trumpet, flugel and flute. Reggie Nicholson turns in as always the right performance, with an impeccable feel and touch on drums. And then there is the leader, Garrison Fewell, with his very smart guitar freedom and exemplary compositions.

These are players at the peak of modern avant jazz and they perform accordingly. Whether collectively or singly they come through with sterling utterances that could serve as models for what the state-of-the-free-art is all about today. The compositional frameworks are both sophisticated and down-home at the same time, reminding at times of what was so exciting about the work of AACM artists in the first years of their blossoming (and after, surely).

It's an album you grow into each time you hear it, so that by now it is a recent favorite for me. It is that good and so much worth hearing and having. Get it!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fred Hersch, My Coma Dreams, Jazz Theatre, DVD

The true artist is one who can take all the experiences life has to offer, the peaks and the lowest traumatic events, and transform them into pure poetry. Jazz pianist-composer Fred Hersch shows us how artistic expression can turn darkness into light, adversity into transcendence. His jazz theater work My Coma Dreams gives us in no uncertain terms the triumph of the human spirit over life-threatening illness.

The entire multi-media jazz theater work is now available on DVD (Palmetto 2175) and it is a profoundly moving experience to see and hear it. The story centers around Fred's bout with HIV /AIDS and a life-threatening septic infection he contracted in the course of his struggles. The condition necessitated a medically induced coma which he endured in a near-death state for a long period of time while hospitalized. That he survived to regain his full self-hood personally and musically is nothing short of a miracle and the story brings it all to you in no uncertain terms.

The jazz theater work involves of course music--Fred at the piano with a largish chamber ensemble of jazz players and a string quartet, with vocals and a master narrative by Michael Winther. There are visuals key to the drama projected onto a backdrop behind the musicians and narrator. The theater work comes together as a total media experience.

Essentially the work combines the narrative of the events leading up to hospitalization, the coma trauma as experienced by Fred's partner, by Fred himself in his moments as a conscious being and then the series of dreams he had while unconscious. The dreams are singular and strange, involving imagery and events of a surreal nature. Except for the opening dream of the weavers, they are played out instrumentally with text and imagery on the projected backdrop filling in the context. The weavers dream sequence involves a beautiful song sung by Winther, accompanied by the ensemble.

Winther excels in his role as dramatic enactor of Fred and his partner's heartfelt, loving anxiousness during the external and internal sequences of events. The music is quite beautiful and just to have Fred up on stage playing wonderfully gives the entire drama a consoling aspect. Yes, he survives and listen, he is playing very beautifully, as well as he ever has.

In the end the totality of the drama leaves you with hope, though through it all are the moments of despair that you experience yourself with harrowing realism. Yet the dreams and the music counter the trauma with genuine poetic beauty.

It is a landmark work, a Fred Hersch masterpiece that conjoins with Herschel Garfein's excellent "libretto" and staging to create gripping drama and a feeling for the mysteries of life and death.

To say it is a tour de force is to understate. The DVD is out this November 25th. You must experience this! Sales of this DVD will in part go to benefit the work of Treatment Action Group, an independent organization concerned with the treatment and cure of the AIDS affliction. You can order it directly from http://www.treatmentactiongroup.org/mcd (copy and paste this URL into your browser).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Miles Davis Quintet Featuring John Coltrane, All of You: The Last Tour, 1960, 4-CD Set

There are magic moments in jazz that are so good they can give you the chills. You can certainly say that of the classic Miles Davis small groups in the mid-to-late '50s with John Coltrane. There was a progression to the group of course, from superlative bop and onto the modality of the last phase and Kind of Blue. Appearing live however, Miles' band in the later phase mixed the two styles as a matter of course.

By 1960 Trane had left the band briefly to play with Monk, was securely back in the fold but he had by then made up his mind to leave Davis and form his own group. The spring tour of Europe was made reluctantly by Trane. He already had recorded and released quite a few albums under his own name, but the Atlantic association and the release of Giant Steps put his solo career on firm footing. He was eager to continue to grow as a bandleader. Nonetheless he agreed to the tour. It was a lengthy and somewhat grueling series of gigs all across Europe. The regular band was put through a hectic pace of concerts, most of which fortunately were recorded and broadcast over local radio, a few were recorded privately. Nonetheless a substantial documentation of the tour remains.

Some of the concerts have been issued over the years. Now we have nearly all of it together in a nice four-CD set All of You: The Last Tour 1960 (MCPS). It's Miles, of course, Trane, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums. The recorded quality is generally excellent, though one date under-miked Kelly and a private recording also has less sterling qualities. But what counts is the music.

The band plays consistently cuts from Kind of Blue ("So What," "All Blues," etc.) along with "Walkin'" but they also at times turn to other chestnuts from earlier days, "Round Midnight," "If I Were A Bell," and "All of You."

The audiences generally did not know the Kind of Blue music and Trane's new explorations so sometimes they did not get it. But the music is excellent in the most consistent way in spite of that and a certain tension within the band because it was clear that this was Trane's last go round as a member of the group.

Miles turns in some breathtaking solos, the band is in excellent form for the most part, but it is John Coltrane on these sets that most consistently astounds. He takes long solos often, experimenting with the ultra-sheets of sound that he takes to the limits here. Then too he repeats motives at times, works on harmonics and generally uses his solo time to hammer out ideas that ultimately blossomed forth in his later style(s). There are some incredible moments, some torrents of notes now and then that have overwhelming power. But at all times what he is doing is foundational. A transition period for him? In a way, yes (after all, "So What" turns to "Impressions" in his own band). In other ways this is Trane that you don't hear in quite the same way before or after. He is inspired.

Needless to say, this is an essential set. You may already have some of it. But to hear the concerts collected and sequenced chronologically is a revelation.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

François Carrier, The Russian Concerts Volume 2, with Michel Lambert and Alexey Lapin

François Carrier has been pretty extraordinarily productive in the number and quality of his releases of late. I've covered many here over the last several years (type his name in the search box above for those posts). Now there is another very good one. It's Volume 2 of The Russian Concerts (FMR CD381), continuing the live recordings made on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2013.

As before Carrier is on alto, joined by long-time drummer associate Michel Lambert and Russian pianist Alexey Lapin for a full set of open-form free jazz, avant jazz, free improvisation with the emphasis on complete spontaneity. François Carrier has become one of the guiding lights on the international saxophonic scene and he comes through once again here with some vibrantly stirring improvisations.

And as with the first volume, the threesome make inspired sounds together. Alexey is spikey and all-over present on piano; Michel punctuates and cracks the percussive sky with responsive free-time sensibility.

As is the case with the last volume, the trio have their quieter moments but much is about an on-the-edge expressivity, as much concerned with the notes as horizontally panned and fanned out as about the vertical concern with aural texture.

If you liked the first, this one continues the immediacy. If you know neither or for some reason have missed Carrier and his music, you probably should start with the first volume. Either way this is excellent free expression, confirming the threesome and their significant encounters in those days in Russia.

Very recommended.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jorrit Dijkstra, New Crosscurrents

We are back today on a rather gloomy November Monday morning with a recording to cheer you up. I speak of a download-only album by saxophonist-composer Jorrit Dijkstra and a fine Dutch sextet from 2003, New Crosscurrents (Driff). The band is Jorrit Dijkstra, alto saxophone, David Kweksilber, tenor and alto saxophone, Wiek Hijmans, guitar, Guus Janssen, piano, Raoul van der Weide, bass, and Wim Janssen, drums. It was a expansion and extension of the quartet "Sound-Lee!" whose purpose was to celebrate the music of Lee Konitz, the Tristano school's most illustrious and celebrated graduate.

The band plays music from Tristano's famed 1949 recording Intuition, George Russell's "Ezz-thetic," plus cool-school influenced works by Guus.

It's a live date with decent sound. The band takes the compositions and opens them up to lively improvised-laden interpretations that make full use of the band's blowing prowess. Much of the improvisations are collective and contrapuntal, which makes perfect sense given the compositional slant of the music.

This one may well be a sleeper but it deserves your attention, especially if you dig the school of music that the band extends. Guus is a new jazz composer for me but he fits in well with Tristano and Russell as a part of what was happening then. The freedom inherent in the music as performed is in keeping with the avant nature of the originals but also updates it into our era. That's an excellent idea and it works very well indeed.

Good one! You can purchase this download by going to Bandcamp.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Roadsides

Some albums are so unique one has to think for a minute before one tries to describe what you will hear. That is very true of Israeli singer-songwriter Ayelet Rose Gottlieb and her recent Roadsides (Arogole Music 021). Ayelet composed a series of 12 songs based on the work of Palestinian and Israeli poets, a gesture of solidarity with the people of the entire region one has to appreciate.

She does the singing and it has nuance and an expressive beauty. The songs are what one might call Mid-Eastern jazz with an emphasis on song form, some songs being squarely in a very modern-ish ECM-like or otherwise jazz zone, with the Mid-Eastern tonal minor element coming to the fore or receding a bit depending on the song. The ensemble that accompanies her reinforces that two-world (or is it three?) sound via an eclectic mix of oud and violin, guitar, piano, acoustic bass and drums, with the addition of traditional percussionists, etc., from time to time. Some songs have a jazz-rock underpinning, some not, but all are quite interesting in their arrangements, in their song-ful-ness and in their vocal presence.

The result is a modern pan-Israeli-Palestinian music that has much charm and substance if one opens up to it. Fascinating and rewarding listening!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Fat Babies, 18th & Racine

Classical jazz repertoire projects, as most of us well know, are a growing segment of the current-day jazz field. I have a mixed view of it all but when it comes to early jazz projects I am inclined to be more receptive than not, if they are done well. Why? Because for one thing the recording technology of those early days gives us less of a feel for how ensembles actually sounded in real-time. And if the band gives us a good performance of the material we find ourselves transported back in time to what a live experience of the music was really like.

The Chicago outfit known as the Fat Babies do that for us, very nicely in fact. 18th & Racine (Delmark 255) I believe is their second album. (See the March 19, 2013 posting on their first, Chicago Hot.) It is a seven-piece band who have done their homework, more than that even, in that they have internalized the early jazz style so that both in the ensemble and in the solos an authentic and fully alive feeling surrounds you as you listen. These cats can play and they do. They do it right.

The repertoire is what you might have heard if you caught some of the Chicago School musicians on a live date, for the most part. They uncover some gems only a specialist in the period may know well--"Liza," "King Kong Stomp," "Blueberry Rhyme," as well as the familiar "Stardust" done Chicago style. They also throw in an original, the title cut. The seven piece band of leader Beau Sample on bass, Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements, plus some hot cats on trombone, clarinet and sax, piano, guitar or banjo, and drums make it all work.

This is early jazz with all the fervor and heat of the era presented to us in sterling modern digital fidelity. The Fat Babies are onto something. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Whammies, The Music of Steve Lacy 3, Live

The Whammies continue to regale our senses with innovative and exciting reinterpretations of Steve Lacy compositions. What seemed on the first release to be a one-off project in fact continues quite productively, so that we now have a third volume in the series, The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 3 Live (Driff 1401). Type "Whammies" in the search box above for my reviews of the first two volumes.

The band remains much the same. Jason Roebke replaces Nate McBride on bass here; otherwise there is the familiar excellent lineup of Jorrit Dijkstra on alto and lyricon, Pandelis Karayorgis on piano, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Mary Oliver on violin and viola, and Han Bennink on drums. In many ways the ensemble combines the best of Chicago, Boston and Northern European avant jazzmen, sharing among themselves their love of freely stretching composed material. And so like the two others in the series the Lacy compositions are refit to the ensemble's creative needs, much like Lacy himself did with the music of Thelonious Monk. That they end the set with Monk's "Hornin' In" underscores this sort of round robin unfolding.

Nine Lacy tunes are given the Whammies treatment. With Lacy's compositional wealth there are plenty to cover and these are excellent vehicles once more. Taking Lacy's soprano out of the equation and handing the music over to these very sympathetic and rather brilliant instrumentalists give us a new sense of the extraordinary angularity of the Lacy approach.

The hour-long program has some beautiful spaces for improvisations by band members. Everyone most definitely hits their spots and the collectively loose openness also hits home wonderfully well.

Volume Three is in no way a let-down. It is every bit as good, perhaps even better than the first two. The band gels as a unit as much as ever. The experience of playing together over time unsurprisingly gives the ensemble in essence an even more homogenized blend without sacrificing the very out-front individuality of every member.

Another winner! Very much recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Danny Fox Trio, Wide Eyed

Last March 27, 2012 I covered the Danny Fox Trio and their album The One Constant. They are back with a new one, Wide Eyed (Hot Cup 133) and it continues where the last left off. Once again Danny is at the piano, Chris Van Voorst Van Beest is on acoustic bass, and Max Goldman is at the drums.

Like The One Constant, Wide Eyed has a contemporary new jazz feel to it with rock influences and intricate compositional structures, a sort of Bad Plus in categorical terms via how much group structure is called for, but nonetheless with their own original compositional and improvising stance.

Danny composed the 11 pieces you hear; the entire trio had a hand in how they arranged the performances.

As with the last album there is space for open freedom and structure surrounding it. The music hearkens less to Paul Bley or Cecil Taylor new thing approaches and more, if you will, to "progressive" (even I dare say Brubeckian) and "new-music influenced" tendencies.

The compositions are well done and the trio makes a lively sound out of it all.

I recommend you hear these three. This album delivers its own sort of punch. Well done.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon, Perpetual Motion (A Celebration of Moondog)

When an album wakes you up, and you play it maybe three times before you start getting the hang of where it is coming from, that certainly bodes well for the ahead qualities of the music. I experienced that with the album by Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon, namely Perpetual Motion (A Celebration of Moondog) (Jazz Village 570047D).

Moondog, as many will know, was a fixture of non-conformity, a hobo who crafted his own music well outside the mainstream of anything going on in the United States at the time, save perhaps Harry Partch, but even then more a parallel than a matching force. Moondog was a fixture of New York outsider art, performing on the street and creating a number of albums in his day that mostly puzzled the world but influenced those open to its iconoclasm. His was a folk avant music, if you will...more out of time than ahead of it.

So French reedist Sylvain Rifflet amassed his tenor, clarinet and electronics gear and melded with American new light Jon Irabagon (perhaps best known as a member of MOPDTK) on alto and tenor, adding to it all with an unusual group and recreating Moondog anew with some striking rearrangements of his music. Sylvain conceived carefully of a reworking of the music, utilizng a children's choir, Irabagon's glowing sax work, adding Bejamin Flament on percussion, Phil Gordiani on guitars, Joce Mienniel on flutes and MS 20, and Eve Risser on piano. It all was recorded and video'd live at the 30th Banlieues Bleues Festival.

The audio has a sort of assertive iconoclasm in keeping with Moondog's outsider stance. It goes in many different directions in a new jazz-meets-new-new diversity. Rifflet and Irabagon do some great improvising together and separately, and the rest comes together with a sort of anything goes and the devil take the hindmost boldness.

This is music better heard than minutely described. What's nice is it goes the distance in its own way so that even if you know Moondog inside-out this adds to his legacy and gives us contemporary jazz that fits no mold at the same time.

Get with this one. No, I am not going to mention Blue. This recording gives you reasons to move on, very good ones.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Louis Sclavis Quartet, Silk and Salt Melodies

I have not been hipped to French clarinetist-composer Louis Sclavis all that much until now. I did like his work with the Eldorado Trio (see review from back on November 10, 2010). His new album Silk and Salt Melodies (ECM 2402) has been on my player and I appreciate what I hear.

The music has a general ECM vibe, meaning in part it is melodious and spacious. But there is also an active element, a noteful, partially folk-inspired aspect that sets his music in a larger context than just a lyric melodiousness would imply. (And of course ECM music is more than that anyway most of the time.)

As a player he is well worth hearing. How many clarinetists are active today? Not enough but he qualifies as one to hear. And the band on this date has a kind of singularity. The sound colors of the band make for something that stands out. Gilles Coronado on guitar is widely eclectic. Benjamin Moussay on piano and keyboard has prowess and a very pianistic modernity. Keyvan Chemirani brings out a key ensemble trait with his finely executed traditional Persian hand drumming on the zarb (tumbek).

Together they match up with some serious compositional contributions from Sclavis. The results stand out as chamber jazz of a very worthwhile sort. It's all different enough that having this to hear repeatedly is very recommended.

Jean-Marc Foussat & Ramón López, Ça barbare, là!

The jagged linearity of synthesizer and electronics soundscaped and interspersed with brief loops combines with freely imaginative drumming on the hard-hitting album Ça barbare, là! (Fou CD 04), by Jean-Marc Foussat & Ramón López. We have covered some of Foussat's inventive work in past months (type his name in the search box for those). This one has an especially spontaneous dynamic with the open-field experimental improvisations of Foussat manning the electronic array of sounds and Ramón López coming through with very appropriate free drumming via a full arsenal of percussive sound colors that he uses appropriately and creatively.

The music has a DIY immediacy that does not hearken to jazz roots or what typically comes out of the new music area. It is neither as much as it is itself.

And what that is perhaps is better heard than described. Or perhaps I should say that it is difficult to describe. There are music-noise events spontaneously generated with varying degrees of energy and intensity. The electronics give us widely differing sound poetry with continuous and discontinuous sequences that López counters with an assured sense of gesture. It is music that is experimental, yes, but not at all tentative. It is not at all formal sounding as much as it is human.

And in the end it is the panorama of colors that beguiles and attracts. It has a more expressively direct than overtly abstract demeanor, meaning this feels like soloing, improvising in a personally idiosynchratic way. And for that is more akin to "jazz" than new music audio lab kinds of electronics (and I am thinking more of the electronics of the '60s composers when I say what it is not).

After a few listens I found the entire album convincing. It is "out there" in the orbital sense and it is very much a mutually exploration of two like-minded pioneers out to discover themselves.

So if you like uncharted experimental improv territory, this covers it well! Even with originality, as far as that word applies here (and it does). So listen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Yom, Le Silence de l'Exode

If this blog goes further afield than some to cover the world in its widest sense, it is in part because I believe firmly in the interconnectedness of "serious" music today. There is much in the way of cross-fertilization of styles to be heard on the contemporary music scene.

A very good example of this can be found with the clarinetist-composer Yom and his Klezmer-meets-the-world approach. Le Silence de l'Exode (Buda) is an integrated compositional suite that addresses the Jewish Exodus and the diaspora as a musical state of mind. Yom is joined by a contrabassist, a cellist, a Persian traditional percussionist and at times an oud player to create a hauntingly eclectic fusion of Jewish and mid-eastern elements.

The virtuoso clarinet of Yom takes center stage for the most part. He is a formidable player with a fabulous tone that is both Klezmer-like and also suggests the ornate, noteful cross-roots of the style through what sounds like Greek, Turkish, Baltic and mid-eastern ornate clarinet sub-styles. His very engaging, spectacular playing has a beautiful complement in the bass, cello and percussion with their composed-improvised parts. And the cellist especially, but the others too get the chance to show virtuosity as the suite unfolds.

Perhaps nowhere is it more clear how contemporary fusion jazz and mid-eastern music are natural allies in sound. I would not hesitate to call this one a kind of tour de force for the Klezmer clarinetist and his band. It journeys virtually to a time when the music of the Israelites may indeed have sounded something like this, but in any event Yom shows how his own Klezmer affiliations benefit from a widening of the perspective. It is a musical presentation that has great power by virtue of its strongly integrated inspiration and haunting melodic qualities.

Everyone fits together to fashion a music that convinces with its compositional-virtuoso way of looking at the musical roots of the region and the diaspora as a whole.

Bravo! A spectacular record. Peace.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Phil Haynes, No Fast Food, In Concert, with David Liebman and Drew Gress

With a trio of sax, bass and drums in modern advanced jazz these days we expect to have a good amount of interplay between the three artists. Drummer Phil Haynes and his No Fast Food trio has that and maybe even more than is the norm. Haynes has supremely capable improvisers in David Liebman on tenor, soprano and flute and Drew Gress on bass. No one needs to tell you that if you follow the music, yet Phil's compositions and the sequenced dynamic that is on display between Haynes and cohorts make this band explosively triple.

Often enough these days if a band is drummer-led you may not be able to tell. He or she may not always be out front. Not so with No Fast Food. Phil Haynes gives us lots of excellent drumming, though he is in no way out to steal the show. It is a naturally organic triple-sound.

You can hear this plainly and to good advantage on the 2-CD In Concert (CornerStoreJazz) out fairly recently.

The music is culled from two small jazz venue appearances. Both find the band in top form. Liebman seems to be grateful for the hard swinging, open approach of the trio, for he sounds his very best. He is a living master, of course, and does not hang back. Drew Gress has paid dues and played with all kinds of folks, gaining in poise and stature cumulatively as time goes by, so that now he is doing some of his best work. He may not come off the tip of your tongue if someone asks you to name three of the top modern jazz bass players today, but there is no doubt he is one of the very finest for sheer musical imagination and deeply rich tone. And Phil Haynes! He swings hard like Elvin, has an acute sense of set sound and inventive figuration like Tony, and he plays with the others, not especially against them (and not to take away from the latter strategy when it works). He shines forth as an especially well-integrated musical drum master in this trio. A player who has soaked up the tradition and gives out with himself.

That's what you hear in these two full disks, the sound of a very together trio that can play a blues with a soulful contemporary stance, take it out, and at the same time work within varying compositional structures for a program that never tires.

It is perhaps a sleeper? There is so much coming out these days that you might miss it if you are not paying attention. But you should not because it is some great new jazz!

Get it if you can. For Liebman. For Gress. And for Phil Haynes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Frank Lowe Quartet, Outloud, 1974

After his first album Black Beings came out (see February 2010 review at http://gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/search?q=black+beings for my take on that), Frank Lowe went back into the studios, this time with Joseph Bowie on trombone, William Parker on bass, and Steve Reid at the drums. It was May 1, 1974 and "loft jazz" was at a peak in New York. The tracks recorded then were intended as Lowe's second but instead his label at the time had him return to the studios to record what became Fresh, a different sort of album altogether.

Happily for us the real second album, Outloud (Triple Point 209), is now available in a state-of-the-art 2-LP set that includes the welcome bonus of the group at Rivbea for the second LP.

After the two-tenor (Lowe and Joseph Jarman) onslaught of Black Beings this was a slightly less dense outing. Outloud gives us Lowe as the sole tenor. He is inspired to create a mix of testifying outbursts and some passages of more openly melodic improvisations that show a slight influence of Archie Shepp but as an inspiration, not as a copy. It is all Lowe. William Parker is truly on fire on bass. His playing is exemplary in every sense. Steve Reid stokes the fire with driving drums. Joseph Bowie is at his raucous and inventive best. The Frank Lowe compositions are excellent vehicles and set the table for a great improvisatory meal of sound, so to speak.

This is a heretofore unknown new thing loft era avant jazz classic. The Rivbea session, captured sometime soon after with Rashied Ali as engineer-recordist adds to our full appreciation of that band. The music is just slightly more dense. Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah joins the group for the final side and gives us all that makes him the great improviser he is.

The accompanying booklet is excellent. This is what a (new) reissue should be: beautiful pressings, great graphics and superior music in all senses. Very much recommended.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Touch and Go Sextet, Live at the Novara Jazz Festival

I've lived now for over 20 years in a Manhattan-adjacent NJ town that was where Ozzie Nelson grew up and attended high school. He went on to become a successful singer-bandleader and then was responsible for the quintessentially '50s Americana comedy TV show "Ozzie & Harriet." The show stood in its quirky way for the Middle America that Ozzie grew up in and espoused. Today there is not much evidence of that pancake-eating homespun suburbia. It is not to be found. Not in this town, anyway. Not around here. In its place is a new America, pluralist, culturally diverse and ever-evolving into something we sometimes are not so sure of. The music of today that captures that new world we live in is surely not Ozzie's big-band sides, nor Ricky's rock and roll, but more the modern fractalist new jazz, such as can be heard with the Touch and Go Sextet.

Their album featuring drummer Vijay Anderson's compositions is out. It is called matter-of-factly Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds 0314). As the liners tell us the band formed originally to showcase guest composer-artist-instrumentalists--Avram Fefer, Vinnie Golia and Marco Eneidi. In the meantime Vijay Anderson was studying with the great Roscoe Mitchell at Mills College. Roscoe instilled in Vijay a confidence in his composing which ultimately and fortunately led to this album project covering Vijay's music, recorded with the sextet live.

The band is a group of talented, mostly West Coast players and they shine forth on the album. Vijay of course is at the drums, Aaron Bennett is on tenor and baritone, Sheldon Brown on alto and bass clarinet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Lisa Mezzacappa on acoustic bass.

The compositions are nicely turned with ensemble contrapuntal thrusts of a very modern sort and room for collective and individual solo expression.

The believing is in the hearing, however. It is not just that they do a free/composed set with maximum individual-collective expression, it is how well they express Vijay's formidable charts and how that launches the sextet into excellent avant modern jazz territory.

This is a capstone disk, a really fine assemblage doing music with a personal and collective stamp that flows with the best on the contemporary scene but does it in a unique way. I am stoked with this one. By all means, get it and listen!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Darius Jones, The Oversoul Manual

Darius Jones has impressed me with his very together, accomplished avant alto saxaphone work. We took a look at a wonderful duet he did with Matt Shipp earlier this year (type "Jones" in the search box above for that). Now he comes to us on his own in a very different context: an a capella vocal work for a quartet of female voices, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, in the fourth part of Jones' Man'ish Boy cycle, entitled The Oversoul Manual (AUM Fidelity 091).

It is conceived as a "sacred alien birthing ritual" via an interrelated presentation of 15 parts. For this work Jones creates his own vocabulary of an imagined alien people. The quartet sings in a kind of ritualistic new music style, which in part comes out of Jones' roots singing in church in Virginia in his youth but beyond as well into avant realms.

The composition has more of a new music ambiance than typical of avant jazz, but that is only to say that Maestro Jones comes to us as a composer rather than an improvisor (and of course one could say rightly that improvisation is spontaneous composition. Very true that is. But this is new music first and foremost.).

Kudos for vocalists Sarah Martin, Jean Carla Rodea, Amirtha Kidambi and Kristen Slipp for their fine work here. This is music that demands ritual drama, a certain precision and pitch exactness though the parts can be difficult to execute. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit give us a strong performance throughout.

The music is original and very moving, though you might need to listen a few times to get on its wave length. The birth of "Man'ish Boy" is an important event in the ongoing story, but it is also about the truth that comes to us beyond words, embedded in musical form.

Bravo! Jones is an innovative force on the New York contemporary scene. This work confirms it in the best way. Listen to this one!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alan Sondheim with Christopher Diasparra & Edward Schneider, Cutting Board

Alan Sondheim came to our ears years ago principally on the two albums he did for ESP, Ritual-All-7-70 and T'Other Little Tune, issued in 1967 and 1968, respectively. I came to him a little later through these albums, which impressed me as uncompromisingly home-made in their DIY experimental avant improvisatory thrust. On them Sondheim played guitar and a battery of other instruments, neither evoking jazz or new music syntax but rather forging his own vocabulary that reached out to world musics but only obliquely so.

Much time has passed and apparently also a number of releases came out that I have not heard as yet. He returns to the ESP fold with a new recording Cutting Board (ESP 5004). On it Sondheim matches sonic textures with Christopher Diasparra on tenor and baritone saxes, and Edward Schneider on the alto sax. Sondheim plays a wealth of instruments, from chromatic harmonica, sarangi, classical guitar and flute to electric saz and ukulele. As always Alan's playing is about sound and texture, not as much typical linear technique.

The totality of the album hangs together as experimental free improv more than free jazz per se, though Schneider and Diasparra give out phrasings more akin to post-new-thing sax expressions than not.

As is always the case with Sondheim, the music suits your ears best when you wipe your listening mind of expectations. This music has little in common with JATP, standards, or even ensemble avant jazz and new music as they come to us today. It is Sondheim music and for that it is very good. It is musical sound as art. So go ahead and listen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bud Powell, Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961

Bud Powell in the later phase of his career has some parallels with later Lester Young. Both suffered in their later years from external and internal difficulties that were made even more difficult by racism in its various guises. Both are considered to have done their best work in the earlier days of their career. And both could belie their general reputation of decline to make excellent recordings in the later phases of their musical lives.

A favorite Bud Powell recording for me, later or not, has been for many years his Live at the Blue Note Cafe, 1961 which came out on LP in the '70s and got my attention from the first as a beautiful representation of later Bud when he was totally on. I have not followed the ups and downs of its availability over the years because I already had the LP. But now, happily, it is available again on ESP (4036). The trio of Bud, Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums) were in regular residence at the Blue Note in Paris when these sides were recorded. Earlier that year the trio rolled the tapes for three numbers of the trio with Zoot Sims. They are included here and I am happy they are. It is more fine music and Zoot sounds very much into it.

The rest is trio all the way, with all three in excellent form. Bud is fired up and sounds in total command. They run through standards and bop classics. Bud sounds a bit more Monkish perhaps than he did in the classic period, no more definitively so than on a moving version of "Round Midnight" but also on "Thelonious," and "Monk's Mood." They are worth the ticket for this CD alone. But then it all is excellent. Keep in mind, this is not Bud channeling Monk. It is Bud as himself, which was always Monk-influenced in the widest sense.

It is prime Powell, evidence that he could still very much come through in the later period.

It is essential. I don't need to say more.