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.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Best of Folk Music from Latvia

I have the good fortune to be hearing this anthology of the Best of Folk Music from Latvia (ARC Music EUCD2882). And so I report in on it today. I cannot say I have heard a great of traditional fare from this country--which regained its independence from Russia in 1991. The 18-song collection gives us a good cross-section of strongly melodic material  High quality audio coming out of the modern recording studio situation remains a constant throughout.

Arrangements vary from traditional-village to contemporary rock-tinged, from traditional instruments to mainstream Western. The songs are often modal minor and are apparently often based on Dainas two-stanza form, marking birth, marriage or death and/or designed to be sung on cyclic yearly calendar milestones such as Christmas, Easter, Summer Solstice, etc. There are more than 300,000 Dainas-associated melodies that have been identified and some 1.2 million texts according to the liners of this album. That is quite a cache!

The vocalists and instrumentalists are first-rate and the music vibrant and winning, memorable and down-to-earth. If I am a novice and have little-to-no experience with the music of this region I can say that the program on this album is a winning one to my ears.

Happily recommended.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Silent Fires, Forests

The ever smaller typefaces used in modern graphic design make us squint, or me anyway. The Silent Fires album Forests (Amp AT058) has that sort of look and as elegant as it is it graphically whispers a name that might the better be shouted to the heavens? This album is such a pleasure to hear that I more feel like shouting praise than squinting.

It is Karoline Wallace on vocals, Hilde Marie Holsen on trumpet and effects, Hakon Aase on violin and percussion and Alessandro Sgobbio on piano. The eleven numbers here come from the pen of Sgobbio and there clearly is improvisation at hand as well, the most notable of the latter especially from him.

These are song-like and songful reflections with a built-in makeover of some of the atmospherics of the classical ECM Jazz that became especially influential towards the end of our last century. It is open-form music with musical objectives, signposts that all realize at times, part of the ensemble at others, with the vocals a central focus along with implied, inherent song form.

Sgobbio's piano playing is a luscious thing, searching, advanced yet always thoughtful and impressionistic. Vocalist Karoline Wallace has a clear, sweet. pitchful-wispful voice that does not remind of Astrud Gilberto yet has some of her sweetness in abundance for sure.

Hakon Aase's violin tends (to my ears) more often to appear in an improvisational commentary role than does trumpetist Hilde Marie Holsen but both add much to the ensemble when they are present, for color and substance.

Put it all together and there is a consistently magical spirit-music going on, wall-to-wall. Not cool so much as poem-cavernous, this is. It is sweet but not stickily, sickeningly so. Far from it. Wallace and Sgobbio strike it off with a remarkable chemistry the others second and forward.

It a word, beautiful. This is one outstandingly beautiful recording and Silent Fires deserve acclaim for it. A big bravo, very big.