Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Jason Robinson & Eric Hofbauer, Duo Music of Ken Aldcroft, Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late



For those who require a good bit of substance in their music, there is Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late: The Duo Music of Ken Aldcroft (Accretions ALP071), featuring the tenor saxophone of Jason Robinson and the electric guitar of Eric Hofbauer. Aldcroft and Robinson had planned on doing this music together, but sadly Aldcroft was felled by a fatal heart attack in 2016, and so subsequently the project saw a continuation via Robinson and Hofbauer--which is realized beautifully in the present recording.
There are 12 segments centered around Ken Aldcroft compositions played through and improvised upon by the duo. Some have a kind of New Music totality about them at times, whether contrapuntal, through composed, or otherwise finely crafted and inspired. Others have a more definite jazz swinging implied. Clearly all have plenty of room for improvising and Jason and Eric rise and meet the challenge of putting their personal stamp on their parts in ways memorable and well done.
There is a rhythm-chord guitar and lead line tenor division of labor implied in some of this and it is opened out in innovative ways. The guitar may also adopt an ostinato line for the tenor to soar over too, not surprisingly. But then the tenor returns the favor at times as well.
"Two Hours Early" is a fascinating counterpoint that evokes a broadness realized in improvisations that ring out and evoke. The duo gives us an opening version and another to close. In the process they show what high art sort of things the compositional and improvisational nexus can produce in the hands of the creators involved.
There is space along the way for solo moments of brilliance from both, and double solos, too. A beautiful thing is the way it ever straddles from the compositional to the improvisational without settling in for the most part to head-solo-head formations. In the process we are reminded just how soulfully proficient and resourceful both players are and how they get on famously together as a duo. There is almost nothing that sounds tentative or preparatory. It is all happily significant and artful. 
If on the way we are sometimes reminded a little compositionally of Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and Monk-like arabesques, it is only mostly as precursors than as something imitated. It is a program that sounds wonderful the more you listen. It marks off Aldcroft, Robinson and Hofbauer as innovators, artists of the highest caliber. Most highly recommended.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Jean-Marc Foussat, Daunik Lazro, Evan Parker, Cafe Oto, Wed 22 Jan

Jean-Marc Foussat to me makes some of the most provocative and interesting Electroacoustic (live) compositional-improvisational music today. The recordings he has made in the last decade bear this out, not the least of which is a new one, Cafe Oto Wed 22 Jan (Fou Records FR-CD 38/39 2-CD) a live recording from the beginning of this year.

The first disk is Foussat doing a solo set on synth, voice and electronics; the second CD adds Daunik Lazro on baritone sax and voice and Evan Parker on soprano sax. It is music of a pronounced expression, playing upon the repetitive and sustaining layering quality of "digital delay." Unlike electronics in the earlier days, the possibility of echo-repeat-layer never appears for its own sake but rather as a means to a thicker and more hefty series of explorations.

As I review this in the thick of the pandemic I feel a renewed sense of how precious live spontaneous Improv of such a high caliber is. The health of this fragile form of creation of course depends upon the non-contagious situational possibility, on a healthy world.

Evan Parker often comes at us in endless phrases thanks in part to delay but also breath control. He is often undisguised and riding atop the near-orchestral wash of layered vocal-choral actions, synth colors and whole tones, and Lazro's baritone viscosities of rich timbral emanations.

There are long complex passages all the more impressive and exciting by virtue of their real-time live qualities. Repeat listening to this two-set wonder underscores just how inventive and mutually attuned a level this threesome (and solo) consistently attains. It is a testament to the flexible and imaginative outlook of each of these artists that one can listen and catch the strong musical personalities of each artist yet they are most definitely NOT repeating some formulaic success that unfortunately some other improvisers might fall into. Not here.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Luis Lopes, Humanization 4tet, Believe, Believe, with Rodrigo Amado, Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez

Portuguese electric guitarist Luis Lopes joins together once again with fellow Portuguese tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and the Texas brother rhythm team of Aaron Gonzalez on double bass and Stefan Gonzalez on drums in the group they call the Humanization 4tet. Their new album has recently come out. Believe, Believe (Clean Feed CF549CD) is the title and it continues the fine series of recordings they have put out in the last decade (some I have reviewed here, type their name in the search box above for those.)

The new one bubbles over with the sort of high spirited, energetic state-of-the-art free-wheeling contemporary Jazz that the 4tet has become known for. There are song structures or melodic kernels and a rhythmic looseness that still tends to pulsate forward, often free but directional, swinging indirectly or directly as fits the mood, ever freely loose in the best ways.  Six compositional-improvisational segments (one in two versions) make up the whole.

When such a talented and sensitively attuned group plays together intensively and extensively for a good while as the Humanization 4tet has, there is one hopes a continual growth and a resiliency to the sureness of the free expressions as they project into aural space. Believe, Believe happily shows the fruits of that sort of hands-on, mutual improvisational opening out.

Aaron and Stefan have played music together for as long as two brothers who grew up together might and with their father Dennis Gonzalez on trumpet have long been playing as the excellent and acclaimed Yells at Eels group. When you listen to the prodigious rhythm team work on this album you hear the results of talent and experience, for they are strong and sure, and form a crucial bedrock for how this band moves strikingly forward.

It is true also that the double-front line of Luis Lopes on guitar and Rodrigo Amado on tenor sax show the natural aging of togetherness, like a fine wine. So Luis springs forth with very energized abstractions on guitar that fit in well with Rodrigo's tenor effusions and the rhythm team's assertions. He does some of his best playing on disk here. And it serves notice to all who hear that Luis is happening. He is a guitarist of the highest caliber, always ready-to-hand with creative fire and poetic tone.

Rodrigo continues to shine forth as one of the very best and original avant tenors playing today. He is of course an indispensable component of the 4tet and sounds fabulous throughout.

So we have a band with all the talent and seasoning one could ask for, creating some of their most compelling and ravishing best on this CD album. Believe, Believe has all you could ask for, all you might hope for to make you a believer in this 4tet and all they do. One of their very best. Get this one and believe!


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Endangered Quartet, Heart

Things that are unpredictable and open tend to be interesting if they are at the same time artful. That applies to a group that calls itself the Endangered Quartet and their recent album they call Heart (Panoramic Recordings PAN15). The idea centers around the four musicians who came to know one another well musically and otherwise, essentially in between as well as in the middle of the sort of  musical projects one falls into as opportunities arise.

The music making in between the bread and butter gigs spawned the idea of the Endangered Quartet. Specifically two years ago saxophonist Roy Nathanson hosted a somewhat spontaneous and informal get together in his Brooklyn living room with musical friends and associates Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Tim Kiah on bass and Jesse Mills on violin. The idea was to form a composing collective. As Nathanson remarks in the liners "We built it around the idea of letting the instruments have a certain intimacy together, one that allowed for the compositions to breathe." The total equality of the four together without hierarchy was the other basic assumption.

The basic idiom of the group is multiplicity--in a chamber mix of classical, jazz, plus a few rock and folk elements. The lack of a drummer does tend to open up the sound, that and the eclectic mix of elements does what some of Jimmy Giuffre small groups did in their classic days perhaps. Not to put too fine a point on it but there is a similar open space for breathing yet the sound is most definitely their own, definitely that of the Endangered Quartet.

The nine originals define the sound the group is after nicely. The four "covers" help make clear the roughly hewn and lively spontaneity that subsides with the arranged milestones that set off a strong sense of intimate interplay, They also serve to illustrate just how far ranging the group traverses--A very familiar Chorale of Bach with new lyrics by Kiah, the Beatles' "Blackbird" with a band vocal and some pretty free improvising between the soundings of the head melody, Ornette Coleman's "The Circle with a Hole in the Middle" played with soul and freedom, and Leadbelly's iconic "Goodnight Irene" done with disarmingly straightforward qualities.

The melding of open expression and binding structure, vocal and instrumental, genre bending and genre grafting, the free from of contemporary improvisatory ways with classical edifice shadings, all these elements work together to create a novel freshness that wins your attention and brings surprise and pleasure if you listen with an open mind. Happily recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Brian Landrus, For Now, with Fred Hersch, Drew Gress, Billy Hart

Brian Landrus has always come through as a player at the top of his game. This recent one gives us a total musical package of great blowing, compositional and arranging acumen and very distinctive group sound with a hand-picked team well chosen. The title tells us that this is For Now (BlueLand Records BLR-2020) as all worthy Jazz must be. Brian flourishes on baritone sax but also sounds great on the bass clarinet, alto flute and flute. He is joined by the formidable artists Fred Hersch on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Up-and-coming trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and violinist Sara Caswell also grace the program with some attractive cameo solos. And a string quartet joins in the sonic tapestry from time-to-time for a well conceived musical aura. It all works together in a program that stands out as far from routine or ordinary..

Of course it all sets off Landrum's vibrant, nicely detailed solo style. By now it is clear that he is one of the very best of the living baritone artists, a subtle and lucid voice, too, on his other instruments, a musical star who always seems to ,maintain a consistent brilliance and spirit.The beauty and strength of the Landrus-Hersch-Gress-Hart quartet shines through. Hersch's stellar pianism sounds perfect, driving and open when comping and an excellent solo presence that spells Landrus just as one would hope for. Rodriguez and Caswell are wonderful in their spots as well. The Gress-Hart rhythm team is as good as anyone out there now.  To listen to what they do in itself on this album is a wonderful listen.

The string quartet parts are strong and sweet combined, never gratuitous, ever sturdy and robust. The Landrus treatment of standardx allows us to refresh our idea of them. Landrus on solo bass clarinet on "Round Midnight" extends  nicely what Eric Dolphy did so well in his last years. And the Landrus-Hersch duet on Monk's perennial "Ruby, My Dear" reaffirms the timeless beauty of the song and showcases the two at an inventive peak.

The Landrus penned items give us the amassed talent in a setting that has recognizable signposts of harmonic-line-weaving mainstreaming with all the passion such music demands to speak to us today. There are no compromises--just some stunning artistry that sounds meaningful from first-to-last. It is a newly forged classic for our time and all the better for us! I gladly recommend this one to your ears.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Gao Hong & Issam Rafea, From Our World to Yours, Chinese-Syrian Musical Collaborations

The album featured today is in fact the follow-up to an earlier duet that garnered praise and acclaim since its release. It all came about when Syrian oud virtuoso Issam Rafea was invited to the US for a residency at Carleton College, where Chinese pipa virtuoso Gao Hong was a faculty member. They ended up recording in 2017 a completely spontaneous duet album that was subsequently named Life As Is. It was nominated for several Independent Music Awards and garnered critical accolades.

Now they return for a sequel, From Our World to Yours (ARC Music MCPS EUCD 2899). The music as on the first album comes out of a mutually attuned sensitivity towards the stylistic background and musical personality of the duo partner. So also there is a real-time accommodation in the mutual use of space, leading and accompanying and attention to the natural timbers of each instrument in tandem. Minor modes and pentatonic expressions join the two artists and cultures. The close dialog that results is rare and finely executed.

Some fifteen improvised segments flow through our listening senses in the nearly hour-long program. It is the most productive of cultural exchanges, a true bridging of two venerable traditions via two brilliant exponents. The masterful Gao Hong and Issam Rafea leave us with a most pleasurable and striking synergy on From Our World to Yours. It is a triumph of the globalized world we live in today, perhaps almost unimaginable 100 years ago. That it took place is cause for appreciation; that it is as brilliant as it is comes out of the sheer musical inventiveness and exceptional openness of the two artists involved. Bravo!


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Simon Nabatov, Time Labyrinth

Jazz pianist-composer-stylist Simon Nabatov flourishes on a recent release of a larger band outing entitled Time Labyrinth (Leo CD LR 881). It is a vibrant and nicely put-together program of six Nabatov compositions, played nicely,  backdropping spotlight improvisations that flesh out the ideas and give them the immediacy of now. The zone occupied is Avant-Free as you would expect, the compositions are thoughtful, the soloing significant. And it is a winner.

Joining Simon at the piano are Frank Gratkowski on reeds, Matthias Schubert on tenor sax, Shannon Barnett on trombone, Melvyn Poore on tuba, Dieter Manderscheid on double bass and Hans W. Koch on synthesizer. The lack of a drummer opens up the articulation of the musicians into a slightly more New Music-chamber zone without negating the cutting-edge Improv orientation of it all. Some most notable of the collective improvisations give us a stunning Nabatov paving the way with his intricate pianisms--for example hear the opening "Waves" and following "Metamorph," the latter especially intriguing with its harmonic sequencing yet ultimately its pan-tonal texturing.

"Reader" follows with Gratkowski's flute handing the lead melody over a richly harmonic accompanying field of horns and piano. "Right Off" is another high point with Barnett's trombone taking center stage while dynamic pointilistic entrances to second the solo eventually prevail--the latter distinctly in a presence from Nabatov and ensemble.  "Repeated" has some breathtaking piano moments. "Choral" ends us with a very memorable theme and a dramatically fitting close to a truly superlative sonic adventure.

This is a stunning program that anyone should listen to closely, anyone who wants to know what's happening in the most current avenues of Improv and Avant Jazz.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio, with Francois Moutin, Rudy Royston

If you like many of us these days need to reaffirm creative movement forward, turn to alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and his Hero Trio (Whirlwind Recordings  WR4760), the album and the group. No doubt some readers will know Rudresh as the brilliant principal alto sax master of our times. If not here is a chance to hear him do music more familiar to you, perhaps. As he states in the liners, after some 15 albums of his own compositions, he turns here to the music of some of his heroes, prime influences and inspirations, making the music over in his own special musical image. And why not? In a way this is a companion album to his Bird Calls, widening the scope somewhat while also turning to classic material and paring down to an essentialist trio with an excellent sense of adventure.

So we get some imaginative makeovers of choice lines and songs--of Charlie Parker ("Red Cross," "Barbados," and "Dewey Square"), John Coltrane ("26-2"), Ornette Coleman ("Sadness") Keith Jarrett ("The Windup"), Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire,"). Stevie Wonder ("Overjoyed"), and some American Songbook Standards ("I Can't Get Started," "I'll Remember April")--the latter two in part Rudresh's homage to the sax trios of Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz, and so also "Sadness" especially for Ornette's sax trio work.

This is notably Rudresh's first saxophone trio outing and it swings, rocks and opens up nicely in the hands of Rudresh and his colleagues double-bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston. The arrangements are subtle, open and most conducive to Mahanthappa's hard-driving, innovative line weaving and the very compatible accompaniment, the second and third improvisational voices from Moutin and Royston.

Every number undertaken sounds freshly re-minted, Mahanthappian, transformed into something very contemporary and admirably improvisatory. The trio cooks with joyous abandon yet structural smarts too. It is a most stirring outing, something you will no doubt want to hear, perhaps also to have! Recommended.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Quartet Red, Vladimir Kudryavtsev, Fred Costa, Gregory Sandomirsky, Piotr Talalay

Quartet Red (Leo CD LR882) consists of Vladimir Kudryavtsev on double bass, Fred Costa tenor sax and voice, Gregory Sandomirsky piano and voice, and Piotr Talalay drums.

The quartet plays a present-day kind of improvisatory Freedom Jazz that is in a line of evolution from the '60s innovators. Fred Costa has a great big tenor sound that reminds slightly of Gato Barbieri in terms of the harmonic-rich texture of his notes at times but otherwise strikes out on an original path. Gregory Sandomirsky plays high-rolling piano that incorporates the Jazz Tradition in good ways. There is a bit of stride on "Farewell Coctail" (spelled that way) along with key centered romp riffs and extended technique energy forays. Both the tenorist and the pianist sing and scat a bit and one of them sometimes sounds slightly gruff like Tom Waits but it all fits the objectives of the music at hand. They are "band vocals" more than some bid for commercial airplay. And the singing does not intrude but blends well with the overall sound of the quartet.

Vladimir Kudryavtsev on acoustic bass and Piotr Talalay on drums give us wide ranging freedom both in and out of time and play fittingly throughout.

Overall, all four as a quartet sound adventurously like themselves on this set.

According to the liners it all started out as a few gigs with tenor, piano and bass beginning in 2015. Drums were added for the Moscow tour late in 2018 (though apparently Talalay had played with the three off and on for 15 years) and this recording was made as a part of that.

After hearing Quartet Red some six or seven times I must say it sounds very good to me. It's a fully spontaneous set but shows how free players very familiar with each other's style can catch on quickly to various grooves and open-ended flings with a sureness born of familiarity and talent. Good one!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Adam Rudolph, Ralph M. Jones, Hamid Drake, Imaginary Archipelago, Karuna Trio

Today some freewheeling inventions from the Karuna Trio on their second album together, Imaginary Archipelago (Meta Records 024). The threesome consists of Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake on drums-percussion and Ralph M. Jones on saxophones and flute. It is the sort of musical set that takes advantage of the studio at times to create a pronounced ambiance with the principal instruments joining forces now and again with vocals, secondary instruments and enhancements, though the latter is utilized as primarily coloration to offset the free-live immediacy with a reflective veneer.

The conceptual premise of the album is that the "three person Research and Development team" discovered an archipelago, 11 aural-sonic islands, each with a distinctive sonic language that nevertheless connect together as a whole. Eleven separate music moments on the album represent each a sonic geographic space. Each articulates freely, generally pulsates in ways that go some distance beyond Don Cherry and Eddie Blackwell's classic 2-album Mu of 1969 yet does in some ways represent an outward extension of that landmark music.

Free and tribal, in other words? Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes. that would be one way to put it. It is music to be experienced as a whole, a sharing of a sonic universe between three musical masters who understand one another perfectly and take the music soaring now, considering now, always going forward in ways that have a spiritual ambiance, a new Space Age attitude that puts the listener on eleven separate but unified paths to a cosmic center.

It is not the sort of music that lends itself to navel-gazing musicology though it may be just the thing for a personal introspection. It is music that sounds well and wears well. It repays the effort you put into listening, which is what we should expect of any new music no doubt. So I do recommend this one. It is very much a now expression and we very much need that now. Listen.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Matthew Shipp, The Piano Equation, Solo Piano

The solo improvisatory flight, especially in the freedom realm, involves if a good outing the ecstasy of possibility and the intuitive rightness of choice. That just means that in every moment the improviser makes her or his technical mechanics articulate what the improviser imagines, intuits and invents out of the moment. The idea of "making it all anew," to create channels in the stream of momentum, it is always there in some way when things go well, and each outing somehow in such cases synthesizes and expands an underpinning of root vocabulary, creating a musical series of sayings from the immediate act of intending. Something like that.

Pianist Matthew Shipp is one of the present-day masters of making spontaneous excellence out of these doing-being elements. His latest solo outing, The Piano Equation (Tao Forms TAO 01) gives us eleven segments of testificatory sublimity that bring to us this art in its highest form. Given that as I write this while the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, as our decentered times plunge us into the need for social distancing, solitude, cautionary solo living, what better way to value the art of being alone than in this superior offering? It fits our time, surely.

What seems especially salient, important, special about this outing is not something entirely new to Matthew Shipp the solo artist, not at all. That is his deep rootedness in the music over time. I've heard throughout the years in Matthew's playing the channeled spirits of Monk, Duke, maybe Elmo Hope and Randy Weston, somebody mentioned the other day Earl Hines, Matthew himself mentioned McCoy Tyner (RIP) and I could make up a longer list but that is not as important as calling attention to Matthew's own kind of Blues and Roots, what he does with it, in other words. It is always there somewhere in his playing, and the music is all the better for it in how he remakes it all anew.

Always there, but on The Piano Equation we have an especially hefty helping of Matthew's own, free-based version of hard-swinging. It all swings. And with his touch being especially percussive I am reminded of the late Horace Silver in the sound and the relentless drive this set gives to us at key moments.

Listen to "Clown Pulse" and you get that hard-charging thing undiluted, straight without chaser. And then in other moments the swing implications are still there but expanded into other expressions and ways of harmonic-melodic saying. So for example there is a balladic sound going for "Land of the Secrets" and I hear a little rechanneling of Tadd Dameron, which to me is a fine thing indeed.

The beauty of it all is that the whole goes in various directions one could not predict in advance but the common thread remains. Then again, the last segment "Cosmic Juice" reminds us that the music has a future, always, and that the swinging can coexist happily with a venture into other spaces. Like a chiming clock we live all time inside us as well as without.

After all is said pianistically we think back upon what we have heard and shake our heads up and down. It is an affirmation that the music continues to live in thriving health in the person of Maestro Shipp. As long as we have ears and Matthew keeps his imaginative inventiveness rolling there is the art at its finest. There are some others still out there, too, of course. We have many reasons to be happy for the state-of-the art. So get this one if you want to take stock of where we are now. It is definitive testifying that we live in the music despite some very difficult times. Live on!


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Aruan Ortiz, Inside Rhythmic Falls, with Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera

Cuban-born pianist Aruan Ortiz does something wonderful with his Afro-Cuban heritage, specifically the 19th century music called changui, a fusion of Spanish cancion and African Bantu percussion coming out of the sugar cane fields--along with the Haitian slave style known as tumba francesca. All that combines with Ortiz's poignant memories of the maelstrom of rhythmic music that rebounded and collided in the streets and byways as he grew up in Santiago de Cuba.

The results are in the beautifully done album Inside Rhythmic Falls (Intakt Records CD 339/2020), which channels all Ortiz's Cuban life input into a feeling of being literally knocked over by rhythm. The Afro-Cuban roots are "abstracted" into a Modernist musical world throughout.

The album centers on the Ortiz piano with the remarkably sprightly drumming these days of Andrew Cyrille and the very game hand drumming of Mauricio Herrera. There are a number of tracks that feature Afro-Cuban chant vocals by Aruan and Mauricio plus drums and/or hand percussion and these help set up both the homage to the roots and then also the very advanced piano, drums and percussion spots which follow--those being very free yet do keep in a sort of aesthetically cloaked way the root consciousness that overall marks this outing significantly. It is moving, subtle yet bristling with musical poetics.

This is plainly excellent music. All involved sound wondrous, especially Ortiz and his deft interactions with drum master Cyrille, but too also Herrera.

It is nothing if not completely internalized, organic, lucidly inherent yet modernistically transcendent. This is no mere flirtation with the past. It is much more and says musical reams about rooted respect amidst a determined moving forward.

A fabulous record. One of the best of its kind. Viva!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Peter V. C. Morris, A Musical Portrait

Peter V. C. Morris may perhaps be a new name to you as he was to me until now. Pianist, saxophonist, he studied piano with Lennie Tristano, classical piano with David Saperton, and tenor sax with Warne Marsh. He was part of the Tristano scene when Lennie had his New York studio on 317 East 32nd Street and admired Lennie's music as well as Marsh and Charlie Parker. All that makes definite sense as you listen to A Musical Portrait (New Artists NA 1067), a full CD of (one assumes) home recordings of the artist on piano (and one on tenor sax) in 1954, 1955, 1959, and one from 1988.

The idea of a "portrait" rings true, as the totality of the selections do manage to paint for us a complex totality of what Peter was about. So we get him running through some classical compositions by Chopin and Bach, some standards with accompanying improvisations and then some Morris free improvs and a compositional idea or two.

It is true that as home recordings these do have flaws. The audio quality is sometimes very good and sometimes not as good, though the latter are in the minority. The piano is sometimes significantly out-of-tune. But then those few cuts that have that problem  also contain some inspired improvs so if you can ignore the tuning you get a better idea of the Morris musical mind at work. After a first listen I started cutting through the tuning defects and really appreciating what Peter was doing.

And now after a good number of listens I must say that Peter Morris here shows us at his best a definite post-Tristano talent. Listen to his singing approaches to Bach's "Allemande" and "Sarabande" from the "French Suite No. 2" (1959). Listen to the chromatic-diatonic freeplay on "Flamingo" (1955), the original open improv "Counterpoint" (1955), or the remarkable "Boston 1954" and its early foray into free improv, or for that matter his "Peter's Blues" (1955) and you'll hear someone traveling his own path, someone who deserved to be better known in his heyday.

The "warts and all" of this set needs to be considered along with its decided merits but all-in-all we get a happy glimpse of someone it is certainly very good to hear. It is revealing for those intent on understanding the full gamut of emerging avant jazz piano in the '50s. After a good week of intense listening to this I must say there is much to recommend it for those serious about their avant-free jazz history. The bright moments are bright indeed. Just listen.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Matthew Shipp String Trio, Symbolic Reality, with Mat Maneri, William Parker

That our present-day musical artists move forward through time cannot be appreciated enough. It is an indispensable and considerable part of what makes life worthwhile, at least to me. That we are alive in this very moment means we have available to us the unfolding of that moment as captured in the music we seek out as it is happening today, right now.

So part of what I have been trying to do in life in the past decade is to write about a selection of musical recordings that to me typify the very best of our era. I am happy to report in on one such recording today, specifically the Matthew Shipp String Trio and their album Symbolic Reality (Rogue Art ROG-0096). The trio consists of Matthew Ship on piano, Mat Maneri on viola and William Parker on double bass. You may already know that the three individually are among the very foremost living improvisational exponents on their respective instruments. Or if perhaps you are not for whatever reason all that familiar with these artists, here is a chance to hear them at their best.

The beauty of recorded media of course is that it makes available a selection of musical moments so that all who wish may focus on what is going on at this very moment. That Symbolic Reality gives to us an especially rewarding set of such moments I am happy to say.

Whatever comes to us now of course assumes a history of each artist alone and with others, whether facing the mikes in a studio or too in front of an audience. There is much that had happened musically before this August 2019 date and I hope there is a lot more yet to come as well of course. Part of understanding the now is know the then, even if the scope of this review does not give us much time and space for it. Yet all of that takes a back seat to the performative magic we uncover by listening to this one, especially. Because this one is special. It soars to a great artistic height.So even if you do know the work of all three, this one needs to be appreciated in itself.

A key to the sounding of this music is that all six segments are in fact Matt Shipp compositions. How that works out is that Maestro Shipp's piano part has a brilliantly elaborate quality and some of it sounds very compositional--or in other words worked out in advance, at least conceptually if not in note order. There are also parts that sound very freely improvised. Mat Maneri's viola and William Parker's double bass react to Matthew's piano in ways no less brilliant but to my ears sound like mostly free improvisations. In this way things have a continuously directed underpinning yet still continually breathe spontaneity, all in the best ways.

What is especially winning in this 45-minute recorded set is the "nothing wasted" chamber intensity of it all, the remarkable content-fullness. Every moment counts and one could profitably give four separate listens focusing in turn on Matthew's, Mat's. and William's parts separately and then the entire trio as a whole. Each listen would reveal much and that sum totality says a good deal about the exceptional quality of the performances, the compositional and improvisational intensity of focus throughout.

It says all told a great deal about the new era of improvisational music and how these marvelously talented artists fit themselves into it. And too it is a testament to Matt Shipp's musical leadership. His piano work here is some of the most concentrated and profound. And too the trio as a whole comes through with wonderful things without fail. Everyone thrives for an excellent outing.

Most highly recommended. Matthew Shipp has been reaching new peaks it seems with every recording and this one does so without fail. Put your ears on this one, do!


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Karl Berger & Jason Kao Hwang, Conjure

Violinist-violist-composer Jason Kao Hwang and vibraphonist-pianist-composer Karl Berger have both over the years quietly gone their very own ways to make epic contributions in New (Free) Jazz and Improv, Berger from the '60s onward, Hwang from the later '70s. Jason has been a member of Karl's important and influential Creative Music Orchestra, for music of course with both compositional and improvised elements, but the current outing Conjure (True Sound 02) brings the two together in Berger's Woodstock studio for something different--a completely spontaneous series of duets.

The eight interactions that result cover a unique range of moods, densities, textures, in part because the artists quite naturally sound themselves differently on piano and vibes, on violin and viola, respectively, but it is even more the case that by this point in the game both individually and collaboratively they are of such intensive focus and have honed their expressivity to such an exacting level that the possibilities are potentially without limits. That the session selects from those possibilities according to mutually open communicativeness and mood is only to say that both are well attuned to one another and both are of master improviser status.

If introspection, inward searching, articulate ownership of together-exploration are the tendencies for this session it all seems totally right for the moment of together-being for the now of that present, for that moment in the dual musical biographies of the two artists, that space-in-time.

And it fits the always thoughtful countenances of Karl Berger and Jason Kao Hwang that this album sounds as it does, inventively...superbly so. There is nothing quite like this gathering of a twosome in either discographies, nothing quite as poised to stand in the face of a dual inner reading of musical selves. Clearly there is an abundance of chemistry to be had in nearly every moment of this session.

A series of careful repeated listens brought into clear relief for me the subtly profound depths that the two plummet happily. Set aside some time and listen openly to this one. I believe you too will discover some rare and very meaningful sounds here, spontaneous dual compositions of a remarkably high level of attainment. Kudos to Maestros Berger and Hwang!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Live in Nuremberg

We all know modernity can be a mixed blessing. In music the rise of the long playing record in the '50s and then digital audio and the internet in recent times have made it possible for a great deal of music of all kinds to become available to musically minded listeners as never before. The ease of digital distribution to potentially wide audiences means that the sheer amount and variety of musical fare has opened us up to wonderful possibilities of appreciation we never might have known in previous ages, but by now there is so much, the sheer quantity is daunting. Any given release can easily be lost in the barrage. My job in part is to help alert you to the most interesting, the best, to focus on what's good out there.

All this comes into play as I sit and listen again to a very lively album of Free Improvisations/Free Jazz by two authoritative original voices of the art, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Ship and their Live in Nuremberg (SMP Records). It's a very inspired set of duets recorded last June, 2019 at the Art of Improvisation Festival. I listen and appreciate how perhaps it is because of the many that we can sustain the very best, that there is no "school" of music making without a sizable classroom and the participation of a critical mass of creative souls.

Specifically, with all the improvised music available out there right now, why this album and not some other? Part of the answer is that the Perelman-Shipp collaboration brings together two mighty oaks of Open Improvisation today, each a formidable voice on his respective instrument. Most importantly the level of interaction between the two has in the recent past had a chance to blossom before our listening selves, with a series of recordings that document for us the growing significance, the flowering chemistry of intersection. (I've covered a good sampling of what they've done together lately. Type their names in the search index box above for relevant reviews.)

Live in Nuremberg puts just the two together on stage for an hour. They reach peaks of inspiration throughout, with inspired-idea after inspired-idea bouncing off one another, reaching back to allusions to classic Jazz at some points yet only with a wisp of suggestivity and then plummeting forward to present and future with soul, energy and an expressive space opening up before us in ways exciting to hear.

It is one of those recordings where the artists fall together into an inventive whirlwind that takes us all far beyond what we might have a right to expect for a purely spontaneous venture. Of course the years of preparation by both come into play and the now intimate familiarity each has with what to expect in style, sound color and substance each from the other plays a critical part in what happens in the moment on that day.

And so in the digital  maelstrom of hundreds of recent releases centered around New Jazz, with all the number of digital and physical albums available now, Live in Nuremberg stands out in spite of the clutter. Give this a few listens and you will be exposing yourself to some of the most consistently inspired and energized examples of the art of improvisation today.

Do not hesitate! Grab onto this one.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Moon Over City Ruins, Chinese Folk and Japanese Hogaku Music

In Moon Over City Ruins (Rhymoi Music RMCD-0003) music producer Ye Yunchuan gathers together an ensemble of young and talented Japanese and Chinese musicians for a program of interceptions between Chinese and Japanese Traditional music by way of a program of Chinese Folk melodies and Japanese Hogaku music. Poetic, nicely unfolding interpretations and some well conceived improvisations frame the pieces along with shifting and varied instrumentations.

The music hearkens back to a historical period where there was an extremely fruitful cultural interchange between the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Japanese of the Asuka and Nara Epochs (538-794).

Instruments to be heard include shakuhachi flute, koto, guzheng, erhu, shamisen, biwa, and the taiko drum.

The album is epitomized by an interpretation of the timeless Japanese classic song "Moon Over City Ruins." Several old Chinese folk songs and additional Japanese classics from the period paint for us a rustic pre-modern landscape where the natural and human worlds existed in a kind of parallel juxtaposition that these ancient strains embody. The music speaks beautiful volumes of a time now long ago. The readings are inspired, surely, and in the music as a whole there is a magic that can still cast its spell on us and most certainly does on this album. Just listen to the arrangement/improvisation on the haunting "Sakura" that opens the program and doubtless you will feel yourself transported as I did.

Strongly recommended.