Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Lennie Tristano, The Duo Sessions. With Lenny Popkin, Connie Crothers, Roger Mancuso


I was lucky to come across Lennie Tristano's piano brilliance pretty early in my music listening world--via a ten-inch RCA anthology of "Jazz Piano" that included a very nice Tristano version of "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You." I took to it immediately and from then on I appreciated everything of his I came across, little-by-little. Fast forward to today and some really worthy unreleased Tristano from his later years, The Duo Sessions (Dot Time CD DT8016).

It covers three sessions, from 1970, around 1976 and around 1967-68, respectively. The first locks in with Lennie Popkin on saxaphone, the second with Connie Crothers also on piano, and the third tandems Tristano with drummer Roger Mancuso.

The sound quality is good and the music inspired, a freely articulated kind of Avant Post-Bop/Late Bop. There is no flagging, nothing cliche, nothing humdrum, in other words it is all we might hope for and expect.

So there is a wonderful wealth of late FreeBop lucidity in the sessions with Lennie Popkin, and as you listen you realize that Popkin was and is yet another articulate and swinging saxman of the Lennie School, in my count the third after Konitz and Marsh, sounding really inspired here.

The duos with the great Connie Crothers is supremely out there in the happiest ways and are worth the price of admission alone.

And then with Roger Mancuso as duo-mate we enjoy Lennie with some nicely propulsive drumming--very forward moving in ways that suggest that Lennie here welcomes a more busy drum presence than he is sometimes accused of not abiding. Listen to their improvisations off of "You Stepped Out of a Dream" and you will hear some exciting fare! But it is all good.

All coms across as super together improvs, first-rate later Tristano that anyone who appreciates the truly MODERN world of his spontaneous best will welcome with some joy--like I did and do! Bravo! Indispensable Tristano for all who already know or want to explore. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

In Memory of Mark Whitecage, The Nu Band Live at the Bopshop


Mark Whitecage was one of those reedists whose importance to Avant Jazz was as pivotal as anyone of his generation. Yet the world at large mostly never quite knew of him. He left us this past March 7, 2021, more than a year ago as of this writing. Happily there is an album out that celebrates his life at the same time as it features his performance with the Nu Band live in Rochester, NY on January 18, 2018.  It is entitled  In Memory of Mark Whitecage, The Nu Band Live at the Bopshop (Not Two NW 1019-2).

The band is a most notable one--with Whitecage on alto, clarinet and Dine flute, Thomas Heberer on quarter-tone trumpet, Joe Fonda on bass and flute, and Lou Grassi on drums and percussion. These of course are players who occupy a central place in Improv circles, stalwart innovators and steadfast performers in key sessions over the past several decades or so.

And this one puts all that together in a full blown set where you hear channeled and transformed the history of the Free scene from Ornette, the NY Contemporary Five and on to these artists in complete concordance, in a logical progression. It all can swing or expand outwards in articulations beyond regular pulsations. and everybody has something good to say in the musical dialog.

Each artist contributes one compositional framework or so and all together everything pops out at you with dynamic ecstatics. Happily Mark sounds great and for all that everybody is putting it all together here in a most fitting way, reminding us that Mark Whitecage was on top of the world in his playing even in later years, and for that matter affirming that the Nu Band was/is one to be reckoned with! The front line AND the rhythm section score and we all are the benefactors.

I could wax on but it all comes together if you put this one in front of your ears. RIP Maestro Whitecage and thanks for all the music. Listen to this one, buy it if you can. Bravo!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double, March


You can expect too much from life for sure. And then in time you need to adjust what you assume and recalculate what to do next. When it comes to music though, there is not always a need to adjust to that in any given year there are good and/or excellent new recordings on the horizon. And so the scene never grows old if you keep up with what is happening at any given moment.

One of the happening things right now is drummer Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double and their album March (Firehouse 12 Records PH12-04-01-35). Like with Ornette Coleman's classic Free Jazz lineup there are two of each instrument, for in this latter case a kind of double trio, rather than the double quartet of Ornette's.

So we have leader Tomas Fujiwara on drums, vibes and compositions (add Cleaver as co-composer for last cut), and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Then there are the electric guitars of Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook. And finally we have Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. Of course they can be heard as three pairs of two, a kind of double trio. The first consideration is that they are important artists on their instruments, critically acclaimed and appreciated in the Jazz Improv underground. If you know the scene you will doubtless recognize and be somewhat familiar with the players. if not even more familiar.

This is their second album, the first dropping into our ears in 2017, so it has been a while and the band has had a chance to cohere nicely. I am afraid I missed the debut, and here the well-turned compositional frameworks that Tomas gives to the band on this new one helps steer an innovative path for the talented six and sets things up for loose swinging and rocking freedom.

The album was recorded in late 2019, right before the pandemic hit us all and put a halt to most of the live music possibilities for a while.

Alessi, Seabrook and Fujiwara formed the nucleus for the doubling into Triple Double. And then in time came the full double three coupling.  The first album came about in 2017, when the full roster was relatively new to each other as a whole. Now that we have March we can gauge the full growth of the outfit on its second-go-round. And that is a very good thing indeed.

The pairing allows as in this second album a myriad of groupings in various additive and subtractive modes. So "For Alan, Part II" (dedicated to the late drumming icon Alan Dawson, who was Tomas' mentor and teacher in his early days) is a wide-wheeling happy grooving drum solo duet between Tomas and Gerald, one of the finest such things on disk. 

The opener, "Pack Up. Coming for You" starts with a trio of Fujiwara, Bynum and Halvorson in a 7/8 open-ended groove, some time later the second trio possibility comes to the front, that is of course Cleaver, Seabrook and Alessi. Then in the last section we are treated to the full six going at it. In this way we are prepared for the shifting interactions of the six and the creative frisson they create regardless of who is combined at any time.

In the end it is a fully engaging program with the inventive originality of each running up against any and all in turn. After a few listens you come away from it with an appreciation for the effective creative leadership of Fujiwara, his compositional dexterity and the imaginative responses of all concerned. If you are like me, from first finding quite interesting the unusual lineup I put the album on and, in the end, found that all my hopes for such a lineup were justified. To get an idea listen to "The March of the Storm Before the Quiet of the Dark." It is a fine album indeed, a highlight of open-ended jazz groups for this now relatively new year. Bravo!

Note: the album's release date is March 4 of 2022. Do not miss it!

Friday, February 4, 2022

Carla Diratz & the Archers of Sorrow, The Scale


The good thing about social media to me is the musicians, artists and good people you might not otherwise meet in your life. So Carla Diratz has been that to me, a dear friend but even if not an artist-vocalist-songwriter of a deep sort. She and the Archers of Sorrow have a new one out entitled The Scale (Discus 124CD). It is another gem in a long string of such things.

If you appreciate the Rock-Art song world of such folks as Jack Bruce and Robert Wyatt, along with the kind of adventure the Soft Machine was up to in the original years, well all I can say is that Carla and her compadres are yet another example that perhaps has not gotten the recognition she and they deserve.

So I will not quote from them (you will hear them with a listen)  but an important component of all this is Carla's poetic lyrics. They unfold complex image-thoughts.

Then to the music itself? Carla is a vocalist of absolute originality, just right for the tempered cold-heat of her songs. Then there are the core instrumentalists who form especially the foundation for what goes on. There is Martin Archer who realizes much that is prime on keys, saxophones, clarinets, recorders and software. And then Nick Robinson makes an important presence felt on electric and acoustic guitars, loops and a little keyboard as well. Then we have good showings from a rhythm section of Dave Sturt and Adam Fairclough on bass guitar and drums, respectively. Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet gives us some very nice improvising and then finally there are background vocals by Jan Todd and Julie Archer.

The music has a kind of prog art song aspect that is in its own way distinctive and a joyous listen and there are avant jazzy elements too. I think the best indication of the originality of it is that categories are not sufficient to portray what you will hear.

I give this my highest recommendation in the way it hits me as a beautifully complex, original matrix of music to savor.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Francois Carrier, Japan Suite, with Matsayo Koketsu, Daisuke Fuwa, Takashi Itani


The good news about life is that there is always encouraging trends in new music to be had in the world out there. The less good news of course is that life can be challenging these days, whether in terms of health, wealth or universal strivings for happiness and parity in a world where these are often objectives more so than givens..

This blog space of course celebrates the good things, the music worthy of our attention. Today there is a new one by Canadian alto sax master Francois Carrier--the album Japan Suite (NoBusiness Records NBCD 125). 

It is a lively Free quartet date with Carrier plus three Japanese Avant Improv champions--consisting of fellow alto saxophonist Matsayo Koketsu, double bassist Daisuke Fuwa, and drummer Takashi Itani.

This is a recording of a live gig in Japan in 2019. There are eight segments in all, each a collective improvisation. The ear as it hones in on the music gets naturally attracted to the contrasts between the two altos, Masayo often in extended technique expressive freedom territory, inspired and branching out onto stream-of-musicality events nicely. Francois at times matches him sound-color-for-sound-color, other times drives his alto into his invigorating classic tone flurry of flowing note clusters He comes through always with vividly imaginative advanced connectivity, whether it be the color end or the noteful end of his innovative musical self.

Bassist Fuwa and drummer Itani come across with lots of locked-in free energy backdrops that spur the altos ahead and remain interesting and essential as a rhythm section, worthy of attention in listening as much as the saxes, and in the end filling out the totality of musical movement in rewarding ways. 

Each improvisational segment rings out with expressions exploratory, high energy, or contemplative in turn. Carrier to my mind is an essential altoist and these Japanese virtuosi make perfect artistic-expressive partners. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Lena Bloch & Feathery, Rose of Lifta


As I write this article the winter has begun to bluster where I am. And that first blustering reminds you to keep safe, if nothing else has in the past few years. And then listening to some good music reassures how good things help you through less good things. That transcends all seasons. Today the good something comes in the form of a new album by tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch, who I have appreciated over the years, reviewed on these pages (type her name in the index box above), and now comes at us with Lena Bloch & Feathery in an album entitled Rose of Lfta (Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 5115).

A poetic phrase on the back cover by Iman Annab puts us in mind of a thematic view: "Against all odds the rose will continue to climb." And perhaps that's a kind of parable for all of us? That life now perhaps as ever but maybe never so much as now--that life requires us to continue against all odds? I suspect so.

The music comes to us in the form of a ready-to-hand quartet of Lena on tenor. Russ Lossing on piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. The band and compositions by Lena and Russ call to mind in some ways the old Jarrett Quartet with Redman, Haden and Motian, in its lyrical and dramatic sprawl, except perhaps a bit more of a Mideastern flavor in the minor tinge of it at key points. And too each player and the group as a whole remains beyond that Jarrett precursor, remains steadfastly original in good ways.

It is music played with a loose freedom that nonetheless is grounded in each composition and retains the general form of the song/changes/tonality. The improvisations are seamless with the compositional parts so it all flows together--and it that way is a group showcase more so than a sort of solo centered approach. Bloch and Lossing acquit themselves nicely in the ad lib aspects nonetheless and the rhythm team swings with a looseness that is modern and appealing.

The mix of cogent composition and ear opening expressive looseness and improvisation is very appealing and substantial. It is a happy album to hear repeatedly and reminds us that Lena has artistry in reserve. Bravo! Recommended highly if you are in a Modern Avant Jazz mindset.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Sara Schoenbeck, Sara Schoenbeck, Free Improvisational Encounters for Bassoon


Karen Borca in her recordings with Jimmy Lyons and others first impressed me as a world class avant improvisational Jazz bassoonist. I still appreciate her pioneering style. Today there is someone happily new for me, another Free Jazz bassoonist with her own fleet and concentric power, one Sara Schoenbeck. Her self-titled album (Pyroclastic PR16) is recently out and I must say I am impressed.

She is a bassoonist with a robust, full throated tone, with excellent sound color control, limber delivery and inventive line weaving abilities. And with this ambitious album of chamber avant improv she shows herself to be an ideal improv partner who listens and adds just the right interaction to push the music forward, which is saying a great deal. And what an impressive and exciting roster of improv mates.

We are talking about drummer Harris Eisenstadt, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Nels Cline, saxophonist  Roscoe Mitchell, pianist  Matt Mitchell, bassist Mark Dresser, the keyboards and electronics of Wayne Horovitz, cellist Peggy Lee, and pianist vocalist Robin Holcomb.

I will not try to describe each of the nine duo interactions except to say they are vibrant, happily varied, contrasting and superlative. You come away with a real appreciation for Schoenbeck's artistry, imagination and happy collaborations without fail.

You might not at first blush think this a game changing album. But no, put it on a few times. It is excellent in all ways, whether you are a bassoon aficionado or just a music lover in search of new and good things. Sara makes me want to hear more, lots more. Hurrah!