Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Silke Rollig, Burton Greene, Space is Still the Place

Advanced avant jazz vocals are probably the hardest challenge an artist can face. We all know how some of the historically critical vocalists approached swing through bop. They envisioned their voice as a horn, doing the subtle rephrasings like a great saxophonist or trumpet player might, and scatting with wordless lines in improvisatory fashion.
When the music got "free" we had various approaches from Jeanne Lee, Patty Waters and others, but it was by no means an easy thing to pull off. Essentially though there was the emotive, timbral, expressive side and the finessive, difficultly advanced lining side. Both are still with us in various ways in avant realms. And then there is of course a carry over of more traditional jazz singing ways, ballads and song reframings owing something to the master vocal interpreters of the past.
Silke Rollig goes for all three aspects in her recent album with piano icon Burton Greene, Space is Still the Place (Improvising Beings 39). The album covers much ground beginning unexpectedly but effectively with a cover of a Kurt Cobain opus "Something in the Way" and goes from there with a series of Rollig and Greene originals and collaborative pieces.
Burton sounds as good as ever. Silke takes on some difficult music heroically, mostly in the Burton zone and she also freely emotes/plays with vocal utterances, all with a distinctive vocal instrument and a freedom that even toys with intonation at times.
The end result is a musically packed set that relies on compositional and improvisational originality from both sides of the duets. One needs to listen more than once, certainly, to get all of this in. And as one does it blossoms outward as some very out and unusual vocal-piano interactions, with more synchrony (intuitive or planned, or both, depending on the moment) than one might ordinarily hear in such settings.
Rollig has a very ambitious span of things she does here. Some of the lines she articulates in tandem with Burton's piano are quite difficult; others are more laid back and considered; and then there are the open, free soundings that fall somewhere in between.
It is an extraordinary album, a walk on a tightrope without a safety net, a musically full album that will satisfy the Burton Greene fans and challenge you to get on Rollig's wavelength. Once you do, there you are! This is music sometimes difficult, other times organic, always provocative! Listen!


  1. Good point, Nick! Well, you can start by doing a search for Improvising Beings Records! Thanks for reading the blog.