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.