Friday, July 31, 2009

Chris Pasin Releases Album After 21 Years in the Can

In the music scene there are tales of greats, near-greats and just plain old folks who abandon the music world after the scuffling and frustrations prove to be too great. I suppose I was one of them, though I am in it again on some level now. I look back at my Berklee College of Music class and how few of them stayed on the scene. Some, spectacularly, true (Joe Lovano comes to mind, not to drop names). Many not.

As so the back story of trumpeter Chris Pasin has interest because he recorded a very good modern hard bop album in 1987. Split the scene completely. And now, 21 years later, he is releasing the recording and playing again, thanks in part to the musical awakening of his children.

Pasin's Detour Ahead (H20) would or should have been well received back when it was recorded. And today it still sounds current. Pasin has that Brown through Shaw school brassiness and might have made a real name for himself. He still might. His accompanying band is top drawer, with the great Dannie Richmond on drums and some very nice work from reedist Steve Slagle, not to mention Benny Green and Rufus Reid. The music is solid and noteworthy. The Pasin originals have a classic sound to them.

I wish Chris Pasin much success on his return, and his children too!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Incredible Flautist Richard Craig

If you have any interest in the new concert music and the arsenal of flute tone production techniques that have developed over time in that musical form, you must give a listen to Scottish flute exponent Richard Craig.

Right now Mr. Craig has made a recital recording of his unaccompanied playing available as a high-quality download for free, which you'll find under AGP73 in the Avant Garde Project Archives at It consists of a number of pieces by composers I am not familiar with. They are not encore pieces. These are fully worked out compositions of great interest.

Like Gazzeloni before him, Mr. Craig plays with incredible range and dexterity, utilizing both traditional and modern techniques to transform the flute into something with an almost infinite palette of tone color. Those who are interested on how it is all done will appreciate Mr. Craig's performance notes included in the download.

I think you will be quite thrilled with his flute artistry. I was.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Correction, A EuroJazz Avant Piano Trio

One thing I am learning in my ongoing survey of Ayler Records' Download Series, that's how much is going on in Europe these days. Not that I didn't already have some idea, but Ayler manages to unearth a host of previously unknown players (to me), many of them quite interesting.

The young piano trio Correction (Sebastian Bergstrom, Joacim Nyberg & Emil Astrand-Melin) is a good example.

Their self-titled CD shows them swinging in an out manner, playing musical bean bags with phrases, and taking unaccompanied solo spots. They don't show any obvious influences, and that is saying something. What they do show is a spirit of exploration that gives their program the immediacy of the unexpected.

If you like the advanced piano trio improv format, I think you'll find this one to your taste. I hear there's a new one coming out soon. That's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Glenn Wilson's Baritone Sax, 1984

There are household names on the Jazz scene, names just about everybody recognizes--Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis and on from there. These people got their fame mostly on the merits of their music. There are other names we wont mention, who perhaps do not live up to their fame by the quality of their playing. Then there are those musicians who bask in the dim light of obscurity for various reasons, often little to do with the how well they can play.

Take baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson. He attracted some attention on the New York scene in the '80s, then decided to move out of the spotlight, settling in a smaller locale far away from the limelight. Although he has continued to play, he is a player who is not often thought of and gets little to no exposure in the jazz media.

So in 2000 when Cadence Jazz records re-released his first recording from 1985, it was rather an act of faith in his musicianship than a high-stakes entrepreneurial maneuver. That album, "Impasse," I believe remains in print. It's a fine recording, showing Wilson's baritone artistry at its best. He is surrounded by some players who may be more well-known today (Harold Danko, Dennis Irwin, Adam Nussbaum) than Wilson, but he is right up there with them. And as a far as baritone players go, he is a very good one. Possibly great.

"Impasse" gives the listener a varied program of standards and originals, but all of it has the drive and energy of a good post-Coltrane session of that era. It is well worth your time and energy. Glenn Wilson may not be a Miles Davis, but he does the finest version of Glenn Wilson available today. And that's pretty cool.

Go to for more info.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One More for Michael Jefry Stevens, This Time in a Quartet

That pianist Michael Jefry Stevens has entered an especially prolific stage is evidenced by the number of inspired releases he has been in on of late. Today we have him in a quartet setting. The Southern Excursion Quartet, namely. It's a fertile bed that produces a bountiful harvest on their album Trading Post (Artist Recording Collective). Stevens is joined by tenor exponent Don Aliquo, bassist Jonathan Wires, and drummer Tom Giampietro, with all four contributing original compositions.

This is a group effort all the way, with piano and tenor wielding most of the solo space, but with bassist Wires getting some time in the spotlight as well. Every piece has its own special ambiance, with the emphasis on tonal and somewhat cool approaches to the music. That is not to say, however, that this is in any way smooth or emasculated in its resulting sound. There are quiet yet intense fires burning throughout. It is a very lyrical, tuneful and satisfying set.

Now if they turned up the burners a little, I think I would like them even better.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Michael Jefry Stevens On A Roll, with No Ham or Baloney

Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens has been particularly active of late, with various tours and albums on Cadence, Konnex, and others. And now here's another, A Scent in Motion (Konnex), finding Stevens in a trio setting with bassist Steve Rust and drummer Harvey Sorgen. Stevens combines the propulsively swinging, harmonically rich vocabulary of the best that sort of pianism has to offer with more outside ventures. He does that here, and he does that in a way that makes him one of the more important 88-operators active today.

Rust and Sorgen have the knack to make this trio a fully three-way affair. This is not a pianist with accompaniment. The numbers are originals by Rust or Stevens, and one group collaboration. They are always captivating. Stevens, like Paul Bley, never entirely abandons the harmonic tradition, yet like Bley he does everything with impeccable pianistic execution and imagination. And he does it in the manner of Michael Jefry Stevens. Perhaps his time has come.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Baertsch Weaves Solo Piano Magic

In our continuing look at Nik Baertsch's first albums on Ronin Rhythm Records, we are now perched over his third, Hishiryo (2002), for solo piano. This is an opportunity for Baertsch to get a full orchestral resonance out of a prepared piano, and he most certainly does that. String dampening via various objects is the main component of his piano preparation and it serves to heighten the percussive effect. The rhythmic qualities of his music and the sound of the piano itself invite comparisons to John Cage's iconic piano works. Certainly such comparisons would not be unwarranted.

Much of the music involves ostinato patterns over which second and sometime third melodic voices are heard. There are moments of "groove" as we might expect of Baertsch's approach, but also more quiescent, mystically Eastern sounding pieces, and that's when the Cage influence is strongest.

Nobody should think that all new music must be freshly invented out of the nothingness of space, the ether, or what-have-you. That Baertsch builds upon the work of others is only natural. All musicians do that. Baertsch succeeds in creating a captivating suite of piano pieces here by transforming his influences in interesting ways.

So long as you aren't expecting a full-flush funk-out, Hishiryo will bring you pleasure, I think. It is one of his more essential offerings.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Heinz Geisser and Guerino Mazzola. Who? Seriously Though.

Why I am doing this review instead of working on my MUSIC JOURNAL reviews, which are due? The answer, for better or worse, is that like Tai Chi for some, Gapplegate blogging is part of my morning ritual, like my morning walk and cup(s) of coffee. Then comes the latter review work and guitar shop duties. The blog helps me clear my throat (my "written throat??")! The day flows into the other tasks set before me and I operate (one hopes) with an industrial-style mania and a clearly focused mind. That's the plan, anyway. And without a plan, all is hopeless. So let's begin.

You may ask yourself, "who are Heinz Geisser and Guerino Mazzola?" The Fats Waller retort, "If you don't know by now, honey. . . " doesn't work here. Fact is, Geisser is an all-over-the-place free drummer and Mazzola plays dense anti-aircraft flack piano reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. They have a number of CDs out on Cadence Jazz Records (which I have not checked out as yet). So it is not like they are an unknown quantity. Their Live at Airegin (Ayler Download) features the two in a smash-'em-up, break-'em-down first half of the recording. And that's well done.

Things get really interesting, though, on the second half of the recording, wherein they add vocalist Yuki Saga and electric guitarist Takayuki Kato. Saga has an unusual sort of sound effects voice, high pitched and expressive; Kato plays an out abstraction of multiple lines and noise-art effects. The four together construct a world of their own. It's fun and good humored. It's whacked. It's almost a happy music, almost funny, which many free improv pieces by other practitioners are not. That is refreshing. It's a good listen.

This is a download-only release that you can get over at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Herculaneum Bring a Subtle Form of Modernism to Light

I never heard any Herculaneum until recently, when I happily received their Herculaneum III (Clean Feed) for review. I'm glad that happened. They are a mid-sized jazz ensemble, with a lineup of guitar (John Beard), alto/clarinet (David Mcdonnell), trombone (Nick Broste), trumpet/fluegel (Partick Newbery), flute (Nate Lepine), bass (Greg Danek) and drums (Dylan Ryan). All the principals solo well, with taste and skill. Yet it is the charts, the vast majority by Ryan, where the group really excels.

The compositions/arrangements sometimes suggest a modern equivalent to Jimmy Giuffre, when the ensemble routines carefully map out the role of each instrument, including the drummer. Other times there just seems to be plenty of musical meat on the structural bones. Ensemble passages of a brilliant sort compete for at least equal time with soloists, so that every minute of this CD brings you eventful, very very solid modern music.

I am impressed with Herculaneum. Their third CD should not be missed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jacob William's Secondary Deviations

Jacob William plays upright bass. He assembled a quartet for a studio date that can now be had as the Ayler Download release Secondary Deviations. It's an hour of explorations in sound and feeling, with altoist Jim Hobbs and trumpetiste Forbes Graham holding full sway in various interactions with Willam and drummer Croix Galipault. The rhythm team provides solid support, not to mention some moments in the limelight here and there. A highlight, "Palm Dance," starts with bass riff and gets into a somewhat pointilistic free-funk thing.

It's good that Ayler seeks out relatively unknown and fresh voices on the new music scene. The recording at hand is of a piece with that. Sax-trumpet dialogs are a strong part of the set. This is a group which, collective and individually, could grow into something strong, given sufficient time together as a unit and, of course, enough opportunities to work together live. As it is they show promise and come through with very listenable results. Go to for further information.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Milo Fine and a Pure Form of Freedom

Speaking the other day about genre purity versus hybrid amalgams and syntheses, I hope I did not imply that purity was somehow a negative thing. It would be a little ridiculous, for example, to criticize a bluegrass player because he did not incorporate Tuvan mouth singing into his performances, wouldn't it?

So when we turn to the CD of the day, Milo Fine's Motion Ejecta (Cadence Jazz), and we find a kind of free improv purity, I most certainly have no objections to it, nor should I. And what of this music? The disk contains two separate concerts recorded in England in 2003. On board for both occasions is leader Milo Fine on drums and clarinets, Mick Beck on tenor sax and bassoon, and Paul Hession on drums.

This is music that speaks eloquently the free improv language developed over the years in the USA and Europe. Beck's tenor sax-bassoon improvisations feature growls, stutters, and various cogent torrents of notes while Fine's clarinet squeals with high intensity and engages in ludic dialogs with Beck. Fine and Hession set percussive fires with freetime dynamism and generally help motor the improvisations to their respective destinations.

This music does not stray into offramps leading to, for example, references to other styles or periods of jazz. It stays with an uncompromising determination on the "out" highway. They have all learned the vocabulary well and speak it with eloquent fluency. Bravo for that! Check the Cadence website for more details on this CD.

Friday, July 10, 2009

John Corigliano and Bob Dylan. Strange bedfellows?

American composer John Corigliano manages to get regular-Joe-type audiences to listen to, and even like contemporary concert music where others have failed. It's not that he is shilling for popularity. He just has the knack of writing music that has a kind of unforced accessibility. He is not out to advance the borders of what can be played in the medium at hand, but he's not a retrenchant neo-romantic conservative either. At least, not in any typical sense. His compositions The Red Violin and The Ghosts of Versailles made the violin concerto and the modern opera, respectively, things that could actually be "popular," a hard thing to do. And he did not do that by watering down his musical vision.

So when he created a somewhat ambitious work for soprano and orchestra that utilized some of Bob Dylan's most familiar lyrics, it was of a piece with his unselfconscious populism. Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2000) may irritate purists on the Dylan side and those on the "classical" side at the same time. Maybe. But there is a large-middle ground of folks who could, and perhaps should appreciate it. It gives a modern concert novice something very familiar to grab onto: seven of Dylan's most enduring and engaging lyrics.

Corigliano takes those lyrics and composes a completely idiomatic concert work around them (I mean idiomatically Corigliano). Hearing the familiar words of "Mr. Tambourine Man" totally divorced from the Dylan-Byrds context can at first be a little disconcerting. But then you find yourself listening to the words anew, and hearing the music itself with a more intense concentration than if it were just some "new" music. Dylan heightens Corigliano's music; and Corigliano does the same for Dylan's poetic messages. You must listen several times to absorb this work, which is true of any music worth hearing, I believe. Once you do, you may feel like I did, profoundly moved. And as a witness and participant of the moment we live in.

The version I heard was performed by soprano Hila Plitmann and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. They do a nice job with it and the sound is spatious. A bonus of Corigliano's Three Hallucinations comes with this Naxos release. A fine painter in tones he shows himself to be. And Naxos CDs are at a much-welcomed budget price. So perhaps you might consider a purchase.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nik Baertsch's Second: Groovy Minimalism Redux

Since I'll be looking at the first seven releases on Ronin Rhythm here and at my other site, I won't go into the background every time (see the first post on Baertsch from last month).

OK, so today we have a look at the 2006 release Randori which documents Ritual Groove Music No. 2 from 2002. It shows Baertsch moving solidly into a minimalist rock-funk with his small-to-mid-sized ensemble. There are polyrhythms, Headhunters-style grooves with the emphasis on trance, and a superficial resemblance to the Necks' repetition jams but more African inspired and with every instrument playing a well defined role in the total mix. In that way, they are quite apart from the Necks' approach. This is ritual mesmerization without expectations that anybody is going to play a "solo" exactly.

If you find those parameters attractive then I believe you will find excellent listening on Randori. Variety and contrast set off the various grooves and the ensemble churns out infectious, interestingly layered vamps like a well-oiled rock machine. It's not stuffy either. It's fun.

Oh and I should mention that the Ronin series can now be purchased for download as well as on CD.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fred Anderson, Venerable and as Vibrant as Ever

Tenor Saxophonist Fred Anderson has been an important presence on the Chicago jazz scene for well more than 40 years. A charter member of the AACM, long-time Jazz club owner and an utterly distinctive tenor stylist, his stature in the "new" music world is unquestioned.

His most recent album Staying in the Game (Engine) gives ample evidence of why that is so. If anything, he sounds more vital now perhaps than at any time in his career. The CD gives Fred plenty of space to unwind some long and inspired solos. He's ably accompanied by Harrison Bankhead on bass and Tim Daisy on drums, but it's Mr. Anderson who shines especially bright.

Most if not all improvisers have particular pet phrases or motives that they interject in the course of the flow of the music by preference, habit or to balance the musical syntax. It is perhaps an indication of how inspired Anderson is on this recording that he resorts to such phrases very little. It's a constant barrage of creative energy for Fred on the six improvisations that comprise the set. Indispensable Anderson, I would say. And a perfect introduction to his mastery for those who may have missed it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shipp Piano Trio and the New Synthesis

In the many musical niches active out in the world at this very moment, the idea of an absolute purity of style has seemed to have passed. At the time of "high modernism," especially in the '50s and for the most part of the '60s, a particular artist often was expected to develop a distinct style and stick to it. If they didn't, critics were quick to call them to task. When Albert Ayler flirted with the fringes of rock, Ornette Coleman involved himself with contemporary concert music, Miles added rock and funk to his arsenal, there were those who were uncomfortable with it. When fusion came along, many disapproved, although some of the commercial excesses of that style as practiced by a few artists also helped kill it off for a time. A kind of genre fascism came into play. Neotrad practice was as much a "thou shalt not" (play anything that smacks of rock or outness) as a "thou shalt" thing.

I perhaps oversimplify. I do believe that we see today a returning freedom to dabble in various stylistic combinations without penalty. So we turn to a recent album by Matthew Shipp, Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear), and find a kind of synthesis there.

Mr. Shipp is an avant pianist with a pretty long resume of recordings and associations. He is surely one of the more important and interesting pianists active right now. He is joined on this new CD by bassist Joe Morris and drummer Walt Dickey. Both contribute much to the success of the recording.

It's that synthesis that I'd like to bring in focus for a moment. Matthew and company have their moments of out freedom, as one would expect, and it's all done very well. They also, for example, quote freely from the Bill Evans' version of "Someday My Prince Will Come," engage with Latin rhythms, allude to hard bop. . . . In other words, there's nothing "pure," no absolute borders around the stylistic area occupied. And it's not a matter of the group saying to themselves, "if we play some of this, the CD will sell more copies and get more radio play." Rather it's a stylistic compulsion on the part of the artists to express themselves fully through whatever musical resources are available to them. By letting the walls of stylistic absolutism fall away, they enrich their vocabulary and give the listener a program that not only pleases, it gives a dynamic and creative twist to the music so that it can live and breathe freely. "Freedom" is not a constraint to play by the rules of what freedom is supposed to sound like; it is the opportunity to build musical programs that do not carry with them narrow proscriptions of what is allowable.

Matthew Shipp lets that happen. In the process, he creates a "free" piano trio recording that is one of the best I've heard this year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gonzalez & Paulo Craft Thoughtful Duets

I'll admit one thing straight off. I've never heard a Dennis Gonzalez recording I didn't like, or at least find very interesting. Second thing: I'm afraid I've never heard a Joao Paulo recording before this one. Listening to their duos on Scape Grace (Clean Feed) was an affirmation of the new and a confirmation of the already known. Gonzalez plays the trumpet family of instruments with warmth and a directly communicating musicality. Joao Paulo responds with an equally warm and direct pianism that works quite well in this context. They are both on the same wavelength. An almost folk-like series of melodies and harmonies result. It's refreshing to hear after the many hours of review slogging listening I do in a day.

They remain pretty diatonic throughout. So what's wrong with that? After everything has been done or attempted out there in the music world, a return to simplicity can feel like a wholesome blast of mountain air after a long trip through smog and traffic. That's the way this recording feels to me at any rate.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Most Pleasant Surprise from Warren Smith

Drummer-vibist-percussionist-composer Warren Smith has been showing his worth through countless sessions and dates for a long, long time. Yet I think I've been inclined to take him for granted. But not after hearing his big band recording Old News, Borrowed Blues (Engine). Warren culled together some of his earlier pieces, fleshed out the charts for a 15 piece ensemble, and set to work.

A Reggae number, burners and more ambitious fare fill this disk. The band has a gritty attack and the ability to groove on a dime. They make up in feeling what they may lack in polish, which is only to say that they do not go in for the slick, eviscerated kind of big band music you can hear out there. That's important I think.

I came away from this CD with a great respect for Mr. Smith the bandleader-arranger-composer. His Composers Workshop Ensemble should be heard more widely. One hopes he can arrange further sessions and releases. This one is a kicker and has that infectious intensity of purpose that the best music needs to have to be great.

Engine Records is affiliated with ESP Disk. Google the ESP site to order.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Barnhart and the Anatomy of the Jazz Blockbuster

You can tell when a CD is intended to be a Jazz blockbuster today without a lot of work. The telltale signs are many. Here are a few ways to signify blockbuster:

1. Put the artist on the front in suite and tie, playing his instrument
2. Get as many ringers into the program as you can, like Wynton and Ellis Marsalis, Clark Terry
3. Use a testimonial quote from somebody everybody will recognize, preferably outside of Jazz, like Bill Cosby
4. Start one or more tunes with the funky New Orleans Marching Band Beat
5. Have at least one vocal track
6. Play as many standards as you can
7. Play at least one tune with the Neotrad Swing veneer

All these preconditional formulas are true of trumpeter Scotty Barnhart's Say it Plain (Dig). It's built from the ground up as a blockbuster. Now he happens to be a very good trumpet player and that's plain from his performances on the album. Of course, the truth is that you can't entirely rely on formulas to get blockbuster results. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue didn't have guest appearances by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. They played no standards. There were no testimonials. Yet it is the blockbuster of blockbusters. Well duh.

These formulas do disservice to the artists who let themselves in for such treatment. Nonetheless the Scotty Barnhart CD shows a talent we should be appreciating. I'd like to hear a CD with him and his group, just flat out playing without the trappings. I think that would be a good thing for his career. I could be wrong.