Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Stephane Spira, Giovanni Mirabassi, Improkofiev


Every so often, more at times, I remember I do not know everything. I do not know every new Jazz artist worth hearing or I might miss some at first, I do not know the future like some fortune teller gazing into a crystal ball. That's when I am glad to be "in the loop," tapping into the pipeline of things coming out for example. So today is a good example of why that can be critical, with the coming of a new CD by Stephane Spira and Giovanni Mirabassi with the provocative and revealing title Improkofiev (Jazzmax JM80404). That these artists are not that familiar to me is my own fault, I suspect--an accident of non-intersection. It reminds of why one needs to keep an open ear to the musicsphere, to be ready for anything.

It is a quartet-quintet date (the latter on one cut that adds flugelhornist Yoann Loustaldt) featuring the principals of the group, Stephane Spira on soprano saxophone and writer of two of the seven pieces here along I suspect with the arrangements, plus pianist Giovanni Mirabassi. They are nicely forwarded by fellow band members: drummer Donald Kontomanou and bassist Steve Wood. Everyone coalesces together quite well, and understandably but notably soprano and piano have the bulk of the solo time and they give us a Postbop lucidity that is rewarding to hear. Bassist Wood and drummer Kontomanou have cameo solo appearances and they do not waste them. With an album and artistry like this however it is the compositional and arranging particularities that stand out as much as the soloing. The swinging eloquence at times reminds favorably of early Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett and perhaps too the Andrew Hill of his classic period on Blue Note. Soprano-wise you can detect an influence of Wayne Shorter and Dave Liebman--all that not a copy mind you so much as a certain commonality of deliberation and line movement.

And then the prefigured element is quite outstanding as well. The three part "Improkofiev" sequence is a nicely astonishing sort of thing, with arrangements of three passages from the wonderful Violin Concerto No. 1 of Prokofiev given a truly jazzed rethinking/recontextualizing. It is so dramatically transformed that I listened several times without consulting the CD jacket and felt to myself "I know this music, yet somehow I am feeling redirected!" Then I listened more after I knew what was up and it confirmed my feeling of going somewhere new with something so familiar and appealing. And it is all quite revealing as you discover the roots to feel what especially soprano and piano do with the music, how the improvisations are fitting but excellent in their own right.

The same might be said for their improv/transformation of Satie's most famous of the Gymnopedies. It is slightly edgy, less directly lyrical. The Carla Bley "Lawns" has here that kind of sprawling gospel-funk that Jarrett used to do so well, only they go their own way and the Carla element still holds forth nicely.

The two Spira Jazz compositions here fit right in with the overall stylistic thrust of the music and hold their own in variously refreshing ways.

I have been enjoying this one thoroughly and I do not hesitate to recommend it to you. It has "Classical" roots in part, obviously, yet it does not sound exactly Third Stream-y so much it has taken melodic-harmonic ideas from Modern Classical classics and made them over to a sophisticated PostBop matrix. It succeeds completely. Hear it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Live@VisionFest 20, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi


Time seems to fly by half the time. Here we are contemplating a fine album Live@VisionFest20 (Not Two MW1023-2) and as I listen with a lot of pleasure I of course then note with alarm that clarinetist Perry Robinson and alto saxist Mark Whitecage are both gone from this earth! The good news is that bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi are still thriving, and that we have this excellent set of all four to enjoy as many times as we want!

As I mentioned on the last Whitecage review I also recall hearing Mark and Perry with the Gunter Hampel Big Band at Sweet Basil and not only was that in 1985 but my two dear friends who went to see them with me are dead as well. As it turned out that set was recorded too and it still sounds great to me. So thank the stars for recordings!

But what matters here is this new release. The VisionFest is like what Newport was years ago. If an important conflagration was slated to play, you know they were going to give it their all. Are sure enough, this quartet set has a full flush effort going for it. It is a Free exploration of course, and the 34 minute "One for Roy" is an especially flat-out scorcher with Filiano and Grassi laying down a thick carpet of energy and heat while Robinson ranges fully and firey across the entire spectrum of his clarinet. And then Mark comes through with some of the most fully stoked chromatic runs ever. That in itself is a thing of fineness and we remember why he mattered always!

Well now such a recording and such a festival is all the more valuable in the scarcity of every moment going forward. This is essential music, just as the VisionFest in NYC is essential each year. So grab this one and get gone to the good stuff!

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Alessandro Sgobbio, Piano Music


Piano music, solo piano music at one time "on disc" was pretty rare in "Jazz!" There was Bill Evans, Muhal Richard Abrams, of course some choice bits of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller nailing it in Camden, NJ, some Lennie Tristano that was wild or madly swinging or both, of course Thelonious Monk. Then Keith Jarrett with a few that kind of changed a lot of things. Who have I missed? A great deal but still not as much as you might think. You should explore it all without fail! Come what may I plan never to stop exploring the wonderful whole of it. 

Well Classical music is a huge other category and thank the muses for all of that, too. My first piano teacher told me I should play drums because I arranged one of his silly canned songs as a cha cha, a march, something else dance-like. He was wrong, damn it. I could have picked up drums later. I was in first grade, stupid! Well the piano was still there so I kept at it as I felt it. but there were no formal lessons again until 1971! I am glad though about the piano because it helped me listen to others playing!

Well I am still up for such things. The other day Alessandro Sgobbio told me he had a solo piano album coming out. Could he send a copy? Sure. Well here it is, words about it anyway, his Piano Music (AMP Music and Records AT0114).

So if I may caution you if you are an early bird you can pre-order this on Bandcamp--and September 2022,  voila!

So I have been listening to this a lot. It is a series of compositions that have an immediacy that gives it a Jazz sort of ambiance, something of course that Keith Jarrett helped forward so well and now the mantle passes to another, more than one other, no doubt. Well Alessandro shows us with this album he has his own vivid, lyrical, pensive, rapturous sense. It is perfect, each of these pieces has a perfectly lively and original way about it.

This is a full-bore winner from start to finish, if you seek that dream world of expression a piano can give you like no other instrument in many ways.

I will not try to explain this music except it is performative and spellbinding. I can imagine many of you will love it? I think so! So get it. It is worth waiting for but trust me, it will take you someplace nice!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Tomasz Dabrowski & The Individual Beings, Polish New Jazz


When I was a good deal younger and LPs were king I took delight in finding a couple of excellent albums of Polish Jazz on Muza Records--by Kristof Komeda and Tomasz Stanko, respectively. There would be others to come and I have always appreciated the fine artistry and stylistic boldness of the best of Polish jazzmasters. Now here we are today and both Komeda and Stanko have left this earthly world. But happily there are others coming to us and all is well, certainly for the group known as Tomasz Dabrowski & the Individual Beings (April Records 093CD).

It features trumpet master Tomasz Dabrowski and his seven-tet in a tribute to Tomasz' friend and mentor, the great Tomasz Stanko. You can hear the line of influence in Tomasz's deliberate, probing trumpet style and an intelligent compositional stance.

Unless you are really on top of the Polish Jazz scene today the group members might be unfamiliar to you, and a few are not Polish, not that it makes a difference in total. Yet at any rate they get together nicely--though the trumpet playing is ever at the forefront, mostly. Still, kudos for all of them, Fredrik Lundin on tenor sax, Irek Wojtetezak on tenor, soprano and electronics, Grzegorz Tarwid on piano and keyboards, Max Mucha on double bass, Knut Finsrud on drums, and Jan Emil Mlynarski on drums and electric drums.

What matter in the end is the density of musicality and the Modernist compositional contentfulness and trumpet presence in it all. Dabrowski is a trumpeter and jazz stylist that deserves acclaim and appreciation. He is excellent in his very own way. Anyone who likes or loves Polish Jazz as I do, you will find this one a real boon! Get it!


Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet, 132350


This CD came in the mail recently along with a note that this in fact would be one of two last pfMentum releases, which is a shame because the label has been a producer of some very worthwhile Avant Jazz and generally Progressive musical fare over the years. As all 13 of my on demand CDs were put out of print a year ago along with everything else in the Amazon program, I cannot say I am surprised. There are hard times these days with COVID and general upheaval in the music business. But nevertheless I am of course very glad to have this one. It is the Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet of some 23 artists doing a live set Jeff's entitled 132350 (pfMentum PFMCD150).

The band is stellar and well disposed to the Avant-Free Jazz fare. The set opens and concludes with two ditties sung by Jeff  in a kind of bad-good Dylanesque mode to pump organ accompaniment--"Father Death Blues" opens the way to dark yet humorous ways and the Skeeter Davis classic "End of the World" caps it all off nicely. In between are four Kaiser compositions that give the band instrumental direction and dramatics in thoroughly nice ways.

The names of the luminaries you will doubtless recognize in the band are Vinny Golia on saxes, Dan Clucas on trumpet, Michael Vlatkovitch on trombone, and Mark Dresser as one of the two bassists.

Judging from the liners this was recorded sometimes before the Pandemic put a temporary halt to such things. It is a thoroughly exploratory space shot for your musical senses, a very exciting set of nicely clustering pan-sonic explorations of musical space.

It is a fitting end to the pfMentum label and a tribute to the importance of Jeff Kaiser as a big band leader-composer-artist. Do listen to this. It will gradually grow and take life in your musical consciousness. And that is a very good thing, I think. Strongly recommended!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Glenn Dickson, Wider Than the Sky, Solo Clarinet and Loops


I feel humble some days when I get the mail and find endless CDs by people about whom I have niot a clue! The good news about all that is that some folks are very good, so one has hope even if one has no idea what is coming next. Today I am happy to check in with you and talk about a clarinet player named Glenn Dickson. Now I racked my brain and then did a search here and realized I did know of Glenn via an avant Klezmer album by Dickson and friends entitled  Blood, with the band under the name Naftule's Dream (see August 17, 2016 article on this blog).

Well Glenn Dickson comes through with another side of his artistry,namely an entire album of clarinet solo with electronic loops he entitles Wider than the Sky (Naftule's Dream Recording CD NDR104). As you listen to this full length, seven cut CD you hear the same Dickson clarinet in the sense of being quite virtuoso-like, with beautiful agility and modality primality. We hear the solo clarinet excel overtop a series of live digital loops of multitracked clarinets sustaining and repeating as called for. I've played this enough times to be sure but in truth I loved this one from the first hearing. It is Avant Folk Primal you might say.

The entire sequence places the listener into a peaceful, dream-like state and yet remains wholly cohesive and musically contentful.

You might not exactly expect such a program in today's vast soup of stylistic possibilities-, but then it is not out-of-place, either, I suspect you'll like this one for its cosmic quality and its terrific clarinet artistry. It is out physically on July 8, 2022 if you are reading this slightly early. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Jean-Pierre Jullian Quintet, Foret Lacandone


Jazz composers when they are good make for music of a high level. It is surely so on the recent album by composer/drummer Jean-Pierre Jullian and his Quintet doing an album entitled Foret Lacandone (Mazeto Square 37700057053050). The instrumentation is not entirely the norm and that plus the players' sympathy and prowess form a strong foundation for the works Jullian brings to us, some 16 compact but detailed inventions.

Jullian puts complex contrapuntal dynamic lines in motion for the band of alto/baritone sax (Guillaume Orti), transverse flute, bass flute and piccolo (Etienne Lecomte), vibraphone and marimba (Tom Gariel), contrabass (Claude Tchamitchian)  and the composer on drums. The players each address their jigsaw-like connected parts with lyricism and drive and when called upon improvise smartly around the structures of each piece. It is not entirely about the improvisations but they fit in with the kind of relevancy and stylistic acumen one would expect.

In the end it is the charts by Jullian that carry the day, with a modern tang and grit and a multiple line motion that swings yet caresses our musical senses at the same time. It is original, very inventive, complexly, rhythmically engaging and a joy to hear. Jullian is the real thing. Bravo. Hear this one, get it!