Monday, January 31, 2011

Rick Cutler Lays Down Reflective Piano Improvisations on "First Melancholy"

From the evidence of his second CD First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch (New Dude Records 102) Rick Cutler is a pianist with a lyrical thrust, a soloist that draws upon and extends the work of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in that vein, with graceful ostinatos accompanying movingly expressive right hand melodizing, use of space and a quasi-classical solo style that is punctuated with exotic harmonies and reflective reveries.

Rick Culter has an interesting bio. He's not only a pianist but also a drummer and percussionist, for the latter he was on the original recording of Bernstein's Mass He's also been a pit man for a number of Broadway shows, wrote the music for such things as the Dateline NBC opening and closing segments, done many studio gigs, studied with Chick Corea.

For First Melancholy, though, it's it's a matter of solo piano in the ECM style.

He is different enough that what is happening does not smack of plagiarism. It's Rick Cutler music. I'll be glad to file it over with Jarrett and Corea and Steve Kuhn, and will no doubt play it often.

It's very nice to hear and a credit to Mr. Cutler's talent. Give it a spin!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Orchestral Music of Knut Vaage, Present-Day Norwegian Composer

Norwegian composer Knut Vaage (b. 1961) writes orchestral music that is sensually modern.It is music that constantly moves along, transforms, yet has a discursive logic to it. The three works included in Gardens of Hokkaido (Aurora 5072) give a nicely rounded picture of the breadth and depth of his work, at least a part of it.

The title piece concerns a train trip the composer made from Tokyo to Sapporo, Hokkaido. The constantly shifting landscape viewed out the train's window is one of ever-unfolding change within a continuity of the cultural-geographic space and time of the traversal. And so the solo piano part begins with a motif that is passed around the orchestra in ever permutating form,while the context that the motif recurs in is also constantly shifting. As Magnus Andersson's lucid liner notes make clear, this is a kind of exposition-meditation on the Zen "it" of immanent presence, the suchness of forgetting the past to experience the ever-permuting moments of now. In the process Vaage gives us a rather thrilling concerto for piano and orchestra that is engagingly expressive, totally modern and beautifully crafted.

"Cyclops" revels in quietude alternating with moving sound-block edifaces--in contrast to the rather more boisterous, more multi-delineated preceding work. "Cyclops" is a long dark murmer (and the occasional growl) that underscores the texture that timpani and the lower ranges of the winds can provide in varying sound complexes. Parts have a murky quality, almost as if the orchestra were underwater (so to speak), only to emerge in moments of sharp and sometimes dense clarity.

The final work, "Chaconne," shows how Vaage treats the traditional form of the same name--a continually recurring chord sequence overtop of which is a set of variations. Here Vaage slows down what chordal sequences there are and writes some intriguing variations on variations where neither the chord sequence nor the theme is readily apparent. It is music of great atmospheric beauty, masterfully conceived for flute, harp and orchestra.

The Bergen Philharmonic under the various conductors do a wonderful job realizing this music and the sound is rather brilliantly transparent. In the end one is certain (after many listens) that Knut Vaage is a composer of convincing inventions, and a master of the present-day symphony orchestra. Very much recommended.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chris Dahlgren's Mystic Maze

Bassist-jazz composer Chris Dahlgren has done something different. His new album Mystic Maze (jazzwerkstatt 088) brings together a crack small-ensemble gathering of jazzmen to perform his ultramodern music. And overlaying that is a recitation of some critic's poisonous anti-modern bashing of the music of Bartok.

At first I was annoyed by the recitation. It distracted from what was going on musically, I thought. I still do think that, but on the other hand the critical text is so venomous and off-the-wall that I now think it rather funny.

What's good about this album though is the music, which has a sort of third-stream abstractness about it, a sort of long-phrased quasi-twelve-tone feel that relates in part to the later music of Anthony Braxton without having recourse to Braxtonian phraseology per se. The lines go on--and over, under and in-between there is improvisation and, usually, pulse.

It's a bracing set of pieces, like a dive into an ice-cold stream after hours in an Indian sweat-house.

The participants--Dahlgren, Antonis Anissegos, Eric Schaefer, Gebhart Ullmann and Christian Weidner--all do a great job interpreting the music, adding the looseness and flourish of avant jazz.

In the end, the recitation is integrated well into the pieces. And the music is very, very interesting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So Percussion Play Paul Lansky's "Threads"

There is good news. Bang-on-a-Can's label Cantaloupe Music is back in a big way with Naxos distribution. One of the first of the new releases is So Percussion's recording of Threads by Paul Lansky (Cantaloupe).

If you haven't heard So's version of Steve Reich's Drumming (also on Cantaloupe) you are missing something very good. The ensemble plays with the sort of drive and conviction a percussion group has to have or what's the point?

Paul Lansky's piece fills out around 30 minutes with ten varied movements. There are moments that sound post-gamelan-like, a little nod to Taiko drumming, something that sounds like bamboo from Borneo meeting a quasi-Latin groove and much else. It is a loosely integrated series of pieces that charm, uplift and captivate in one broad series of strokes. The different sound colors of the four percussionists playing a fairly wide arsenal of instruments little and not-so-little are on display. Each movement is a sound world unto itself. This is music with a pulse. It is music with a heart and soul.

It's worth a half-hour of your time, surely. It is worth it many times, many listens later.

Welcome back Cantaloupe!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tyler Blanton, Vibist, and his Debut CD "Botanic"

I've been covering some of the new vibists on these pages in the recent past. Today, another. Tyler Blanton makes his debut with the recent Botanic (Ottimo). This is a player who executes cleanly the bebop lines so authoritatively established by Milt Jackson, as well the harmonic richness and slight country-jazz feel of the early, multiple-malleted Gary Burton. In the process Blanton doesn't quite sound like either. He is less legato that Milt could be and he drives in ways that Gary usually doesn't.

For the album he has assembled a cast of players familiar with his music and style. Joel Frahm plays a prominent role as a contemporary sounding tenorist and soprano man; the bass and drum chairs alternate between Aidan Carroll and Dan Loomis, and Richie Barshay or Jared Schonig, respectively.

The album concentrates on Blanton's writing as well. He shows himself a very competent and energized writer of ensemble vehicles ranging from boppish items to modern-sounding changes-based vehicles to jazz-rock anthems.

Though this the artist's debut Blanton shows remarkable poise and directedness. He makes all he attempts; he shades his phrases with subtlety. And Joel Frahm puts in some very nice performances too. Oh and they all swing nicely.

Recommended for those who dig the vibes!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Leslie Pintchik, Thoughtful Pianism

Pianist Leslie Pintchik has great touch. She can caress the keys of the piano or get them ringing in sympathy with her directional objective. Her trio of Scott Hardy, bass, and Mark Dodge, drums (joined by Satoshi Takeishi on percussion), move with her as a unit. They are attuned to the music she wishes to make and contribute greatly to the final result.

We're Here to Listen (PintchHard 001) is her third recording, and it is quite lovely. There's a stunning reworking of Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind," which de facto makes her one of the pianists these days who have moved beyond the great American songbook, or widened the definition of what that contains. And she does just enough with the harmony and rhythm to make it her own. The album also has a standard or two, but the main body of work presented here consists of her own numbers for piano trio. They are varied but consistently effective in showing off her and her trio's cool-to-hot blowing style. Ms. Pintchik does not wear her technique on her sleeve, but instead relaxes and concentrates on making musical statements of substance. She succeeds.

Leslie Pintchik is a pianist to watch. Or rather to hear. I hope that her development is as impressive as her beginnings are. This album gives you where she is right now, which is in a great place, and one hopes prefigures where she is going in the next 10 years or so! Listen. YOU are here for that, too!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Michael Daugherty's Latest Collection of Brightly Colored Orchestral Music

American orchestral composer Michael Daugherty writes melodic motifs that are neither cliche nor are they exceptionally original. What they are is distinctly American. They often draw on the music in the air out there, in the vernacular, in rock, pop, mainstream jazz, musicals, in the lounges and on people's i-pods, the sort of thing the mailman might whistle while making his rounds or the guy who is stacking cans at the local Shoprite. It is what Mr, Daugherty does with these motifs that constitutes his great appeal, his natural feel for orchestration and the flow of his musical syntax. As you listen to his new CD Route 66-Ghost Ranch-Time Machine (Naxos 8.559613) his brilliance at musical bricolage is apparent and palpable.

The new one consists of four evocative tone poems for orchestra, all written between 1998-2006, some in several movements, each lasting a relatively short time (between seven and 20 minutes), each tied into an implied descriptive verbal-visual program. So we have "Route 66," "Ghost Ranch," "Sunset Strip," and "Time Machine." Like Copland's "Appalachian Spring" or Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," Daugherty's music is geared toward a musical depiction of an aspect of Americana (except perhaps "Time Machine"). As you listen you know that this music should be accessible to a wide group of listeners. And why not?

Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra do a smashing job realizing the music, as they have done on past releases (see this blog for an earlier review). The sound stage captures the detailed, brightly impastoed glow of Daugherty's orchestrations.

In short this is a release that should have great appeal. I found it delightful.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Anthony Braxton at Victoriaville, 2007

People outside of the United States, people who haven't spent time here lately, have a conception of America as a land of soft luxury, of abundance, of a glamorous and hedonistic existence. If you watch some TV shows, that's the view you get. Fact is, here on the ground, especially in the New York Metro Area where I dwell, it takes an enormous amount of money to live a plain, unadorned, near-poverty-level existence. A paradox? I guess. Sure somebody might have an HD-TV or a cool pair of sneakers, but they can't meet their monthly expenses as a result, and the TV throws out non-stop distortions and even outright untruths, cajoling the unsophisticated and unwary into believing all kinds of things that are not in their best interests, which in turn leads them to make decisions that further undermine their security and well being to the advancement of certain other interests. Excuse me, but it does need to be said.

OK, so that's what it feels like here right now. And then you look at a guy like Anthony Braxton, who might have been the jazz poster-boy of the past 20 years if he had diluted his music in certain ways or cow towed to older forms of improvising. Not only has he not done that, he continues to create ever more advanced and uncompromising music, music that is a little difficult for many people to understand. He is a man of courage and determination.

His long Composition No. 361, recorded live at the famed Victoriaville new music festival in 2007 (Victo 109), is a good example of the high level of his recent music, and also a good example of why he'll probably never appear on an MTV video (yes, they still do that).

It's music for 13 players. . . a sort of big band? Well, the musical result is not what you'd expect from a big band. It's more a large chamber ensemble of improvisers, including Taylor Ho Bynam, Nicole Mitchell and Mary Halvorson, to name a few of the more well-known people.

The 70-plus minute performance of the piece shows Braxton in a rather abstract mode. There are jagged-edged contours to the music, ever-shifting in ever-evolving combinations. There are moments of "free"-sounding soloing and there are moments that bring the music closer to a modern classical stance, and there are many moments where the two ways of proceeding are conflated. And always in a way that is recognizably Braxton-like. It takes a fair number of listens to latch onto the sonoric flow and logic of the piece. But in the end the listener is rewarded with music that opens up an aural pathway into the musical consciousness of the listener in ways that are very stimulating.

America. Not a place where a Braxton can thrive these days. Yet he has the courage to BE. To be himself. I consider that a high form of musical heroics. The results you can hear on Composition No. 361. I thank Mr. Braxton for staying with it. My world is a better place for it. Yours can be too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Amy Briggs plays Tangos for Piano

The tango is of course first and foremost a dance that's accompanied by music with a recognizable loping sort of rhythm. At this point a large body of music has developed around the dance, some sickeningly familiar (think of Montovani), others marvelously crafted gems created where the tango is still a thriving cultural complex (Argentina especially) and still others written by composers who wish to work within the form to forward modern classical expression.

Pianist Amy Briggs shows us on her vital solo piano album Tangos for Piano (Ravello 7808) that, something like the morphing of the minuet movement in the classical symphony to a scherzo, present-day composers have extended the definition of tango to, at its further end, a state-of-mind, a suggestion of the loping rhythmic form in a universe of modernity.

Ms. Briggs performs 22 tango miniatures on the album by a great variety of composers. Some of the works are well-known, such as the one by Stravinsky (which is given a ravishingly poignant expression on the disk), and some are so new the ink has barely dried on the music paper.

The result is a very engagingly superb performance of music that enchants and provokes at the same time.

Amy Briggs has such a clear sense of the phrasings, rhythmic complexities and harmonic-melodic logic of each piece that one is led through the modernistic thicket in ways that affirm that complexity and accessibility can indeed go hand-in-hand.

I am so impressed by Ms. Briggs playing that I am tempted to jump ahead and say that this may well be the solo piano album of the year for me. It's lovely and astounding work. She has the drive and immediacy that the best of the jazz pianists have shown and she brings the music very much alive. Bravo! Grab this one without hesitation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A New Recording of "Sketches of Spain"

Why do a new recording of Sketches of Spain? I probably don't need to remind readers that the original recording with the incredibly plaintive Miles Davis trumpet and Gil Evan's beautifully shimmering impressionistic score is a classic among classics. So why do another version?

The answer to that has something to do with the whole idea of jazz repertory revivals in general. Why do them? When do they work and when don't they, and why? Part of the answer to that is two-fold.

There is one objective one can shoot for: to recreate as closely as possible the sound of the original, with ensemble musicians internalizing the particular style so well, you think you are hearing the original, with soloists so immersed in the style of the original musicians that you think you are hearing the reincarnation of those masters who did what they did in the first place. And yes, there are some solos that are so connected with the originals that it would be unthinkable not to quote from them in the very least--Ben Webster's solo on "Cottontail," the arpeggiated clarinet part in "High Society" that I-forget-who originally made a part of the music, that pretty much gets recreated verbatim in most versions since. Anyway, that's one way to go about it. Most such recreations (at the whole-hog extreme point, anyway) in my opinion are disappointing. It's not so easy to recreate the original sound of Duke's big band circa 1941. Most of the time it sounds like what it is: cats trying to do something that the individuals involved worked maybe 30 years to get right. You just don't sit down and say, "OK, I'll be Ben, you be Blanton, you do Rabbit," etc., and expect it to come out sounding "authentic." If recordings existed of Beethoven, Mozart or Bach performances made at the time those masters were alive, there would probably be the same problem, though classical scores paradoxically (in their concreteness) give the conductor more interpretive leeway in the performance traditions that have arisen in the last 200 years, give or take. More so than in jazz? I think so. But I would need to give you a book to talk about it, so I'll shut up for now.

There is a second way to realize jazz repertory. That is, doing a creative re-enactment that transforms the original sound and soloing in ways that those involved see fit, to make it all new. Of course jazz musicians have done that for years. Follow through all recorded versions of "All the Things You Are," for example, and you'll hear what different artists have done with the "original."

So too in a self-consciously repertory-oriented recreation equal amounts of creativity can come into play. What the Mingus Big Band has done is an example of that. They often re-create Mingus classics without trying to duplicate exactly one particular arrangement and/or performance. The same goes for "Zappa Plays Zappa," for example.

So where does this leave us, in terms of the new version of Sketches of Spain (Sheffield Labs 10089), with Lew Soloff taking on Miles solo part and Steve Richman conducting the Harmonie Ensemble New York in the realization of Gil Evan's score? Since Gil Evan's score puts this at least partly into the classical camp in terms of interpretation, that in part gives a ready-made answer to part of the question, as mentioned above. Then of course, what of Miles' landmark solo part? The answer is that Mr. Soloff plays squarely in the classic Miles style of that era, but he does not play Miles solos verbatim. In fact he interjects the Lew Soloff approach at the same time, especially for the long vamp on "Solea." He does a great job. But of course it is not Miles playing as he did back then. Can't be.

The interpretation/performance of the big band/orchestral parts to the piece has other considerations. There are subtle differences in the balance and emphasis on particular instruments in the ensemble at play here, and that makes for interesting contrasts. Francois Moutin realizes the bass part more like Charlie Haden might rather than Paul Chambers. He is also a bit more prominent in the mix. All that seems right and good. Further the ensemble performance is quite lively and detailed, and does bear comparison with the original.

So ultimately the answer has to be "Why not?" The results of the new version keep the essence of Gil's beautiful score intact and Lew Soloff does a nice job doing Lew-doing-Miles. Does that mean you should have this CD in your collection instead of the original? No. I can't see that this would replace or supersede the first Columbia recording. What it does, for those who love the music, is give you another version that you can enjoy alongside of the original. It does not replace the first version; it supplements it. Like with the classical repertoire, this version has enough different about it that it can enrich your appreciation of the music. Like having Toscanini doing the Eroica and also, say, Bernstein. Both are good to have and hear repeatedly. So it is with this CD and the original.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The International Street Cannibals Deliver Their First, "Ballets and Solos"

When a new label emerges that is run by a group of composers of new music, it cannot but be a good thing. Especially if those composers are dedicated to realizing music that will benefit from the greater depth of coverage that such a cooperative venture provides. That's the case with Composers Concordance Records and their first release (COMCON001). This is a grass-roots NYC uprising of an iconoclastic bunch who have been influenced equally by contemporary classical compositional stances as well as rock and other modern-day musics.

Ballets & Solos is a product of the composer-driven ensemble International Street Cannibals, conducted ably by Dan Barrett. They juxtapose three chamber ensemble pieces with a number of solo compositions. The group pieces have in common a rock insistency, especially Joseph Pehrson's "Good Time" and Dan Cooper's "Dance Suite." The latter piece even begins with a kind of heavy metal riff transfigured and extended in a contemporary classical mode. Gene Pritsker's "A Challenge in the Dark" has a mellifluous quality combined with the contrapuntal complexity of a post-Stravinskian sound world.

The solo pieces provide interesting contrast. Pat Hardish's "Solo for Pete" gives Peter Jarvis and his drum set a rock workout. There are two pieces by Otto Luening, both worth hearing, well-performed and spiced with a bit of vernacular and dance-music qualities, so they fit in well with the rest of the music.

The album concludes with Greg Baker performing Gene Pritsker's piece for solo guitar, "Dead Souls." This too has some clear and captivating references to dance music, echoes of some ghostly fandango of a lost age.

So here we have an auspicious beginning for Composers Concordance. Ballets & Solos is an agreeable, provocative and ultimately quite enjoyable excursion into territories both well-explored and unfamiliar. It bodes well for future offerings and I wish all involved much success in this venture!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Solo Drums From Newman Taylor Baker: "Drum Suite Life"

The drum set as we know it has a surprisingly short life. Essentially sometime around the turn of last century the basic marching drum ensembles of snare drum, bass drum and cymbals-hit-together-in-pairs became a three-piece set for a single player, thanks to the development of the foot pedal and the foot-activated sock cymbal or high hat. Since the latter device was good for four-square time keeping but not necessarily the best way to produce a cymbal crash, another cymbal or two on one or more stands became a part of the set. Eventually a set of tom toms were attached to bass drum and/or affixed with legs in the manner of a chair. The modern drum set was essentially finalized in that form and remains with us today.

Players at first regarded the set as if it was an adaptation of the marching ensemble for a single player. Snare playing still had a continuous phrasing style, with the marching drum rudiments continuing to form the essential technical vocabulary. Bass drum and sock cymbals played simple figurations in a consistently regularly articulated two-four or four-four for the most part, an extension of their alloted role in the marching band.

It took a number of years and the innovations of some key players to get to the drum set as a fully musical instrument. No need to rehearse the details, except to say by the middle-to-late sixties very sophisticated drumming and melodic solo stylings were out there in the hands of players like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ginger Baker and others. Max Roach did a number of unaccompanied drum solos for an Atlantic album in the mid-sixties, and it went on from there.

Segue to today and Newman Taylor Baker, who joins the ranks of the handful of drummers who have crafted an unaccompanied series of drum solos for a single album. Drum Suite Life (Innova 238) captures his creative abilities in an eight-part recital.

One thing to get out of the way first off: Mr. Baker is not technically overendowed. Compared with Rashied Ali, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette or Tony Williams, his independence (that is the coordination between all four-limbs) is not well developed, or at least is not made use of on this CD. His concept of time does not seem to be extraordinary or original either, compared with those named above. Further his command of marching rudiments, which he makes use of in a couple of segments, is only average.

However, what Newman Taylor Baker IS is imaginative and creative. "Red Brush Blues" is a brilliant transposition of the blues feeling to a solo drum piece. There are other nice moments on this disk. If you like the drums, you will appreciate this one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ray Anderson / Marty Ehrlich Quartet and "Hear You Say"

What a great idea for trombonist Ray Anderson and reedman Marty Ehrlich to form a working quartet! The results have paid off musically, as can be heard in profusion on their Hear You Say - Live in Willisau disk (Intuition 71303). They've played together in various contexts over the years, but this is the first of what I hope are many co-leader efforts.

Joining them is a rhythm team that drives the frontliners to some high places. Brad Jones is spiky and ever-pushing on the bass; Matt Wilson brings a very swinging percussive finesse to the sound, and that is one of the reasons why he's at the very top of the first-call list for drummers in and around NYC.

Together the four create an uninhibited, over-the-top exuberance that combines the incendiary aspects of traditional New Orleans frontliners and the sailing qualities of Ornette Coleman's classic small groups. In the process though they remain totally themselves, which is saying a great deal, as Anderson and Ehrlich have been playing their own tune for many years.

Like all great chemical composites in the improvisational arsenal, the joining of the four creates something over and above what each of them might do individually. This is a set that soars! It's something I would have no second thoughts about playing for someone who wanted to know what "modern jazz" sounds like today. Enough said. Just listen and you'll see.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

d'Incise's "Les Restes du Festin" for Experimental Electro-Acoustic Soundscapes

d'Incise's Les Restes du Festin (Test Tube 123) is a 67-odd-minute panorama of ambient and dynamic sound. It was composed from the improvisations of Johann Bourquenez (piano), Christian Graf (guitar), Christophe Berthet (saxophones), Gaƫl Riondel (saxophones), Cyril Bondi (drums) and d'incise (piano and percussion), along with sound contributions from Lena, Bluermutt, Hopen, Ibakusha, and Monsieur Connard.

What you get is a quite interesting aural tapestry that provokes the imagination. d'Incise has been pretty prolific in putting together free net label albums, but this one is definitely the best I've heard from (I assume) him. It's a free download so you can afford to give this one a listen without risk. There's a vibrant scene of such releases and programs in Europe lately. Insubordinations is one of the labels that seems most active. This one is on Test Tube however. Go to to download.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jon Irabagon's "Outright!"

Jon Irabagon is one of those adventurous souls that comes along every so often. He interjects a kind of "anything goes" philosophy into all he plays, and he covers just about everything you can think of. On Foxy (see earlier posting) he showed how he could play one bebop number for 79 minutes in a trio context and generate the kind of excitement that is reserved for the rarest moments.

It's time to set the clock back to 2007, and his quintet Outright! (Innova 699). This is an excellent disk. It gives you the ensemble context of his music in ways that intrigue the ears.

For most of the album, Irabagon's alto is joined by Russ Johnson's trumpet, Kris Davis on keys, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Jeff Davis at the drums. Jessie Lewis joins on guitar for one cut, the Outright! Choir steps into the fray on yet another, and a big-band version of the group prevails for ten minutes on yet another.

This is ensemble music that unleashes Mr. Irabagon's very expansive stylistic grasp. The music ranges from highly original free-avant excursions to bop, swing and even New Orleans style. What impresses me about this one is the organic synthesis that happens between the pre-planned composed aspects and the improvisational. There is a seamless meld most of the time, a natural unfolding of the music toward a totality that does not show its seams.

This is provocative, very lively jazz-improvisation. It gives you another take on why Irabagon is becoming very important on the scene today.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Grunen Gets A Green Light For Its Advanced Piano Trio Improv

We are back again on a Monday morning after a recharging weekend. And we greet the week with a strong piano trio whose new album is titled appropriately Grunen (Clean Feed 202). The music is like a luxuriant springing up of plant life. And like a naturally flourishing patch of green the music does not follow a regimented order of how to develop and grow in tandem, but rather fills the spaces and leaves others in ways that are anarchically beautiful.

For the record (and otherwise) Grunen features pianist Adam Kaufmann, bassist Robert Landfermann and Christian Lillinger on the drums. This is most definitely NOT a Bill Evans type trio. It begins and ends on the edges of musical abstraction. Each member is integral to the whole. Adam Kaufmann plays with a great variety of attacks (including the conventional, inside-the-piano and prepared). He creates brilliantly brittle new music-oriented clusters, melodic fragments and sharply edged chords while Landfermann and Lillinger work to create a sponteneously out counterpoint of sounds and pitch-noise eruptions.

This is by now an approach that has a fairly long lineage from early Bley and Cecil through to a good number of others.

And it's not that what they are doing is brand spanking new on the improv scene. What counts is that they do it so well. It's obvious on listening that all three musicians have gained a real control and facility for the outside improvisational possibilities of their instruments and they combine together in ways that fascinate and provoke your attention.

The out piano trio has a winning new three-way promulgation on Grunen. It's really four-way, though, because you the listener are invited, even required to participate by unraveling the inherent logic of their free dialogs. There's much here to piece together in the aural imagination. Very much recommended.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nathaniel Stookey's Junkestra

Cage-Harrison's "Double Music" for percussion ensemble; the music of Harry Partch; Cage's Prepared Piano Sonatas and Interludes; Lou Harrison's home-made gamelan music; the sound-sculpture music of Lasry-Baschet. . . there are some precursors to Nathaniel Stookey's Junkestra (Innova 773). However that just gives you the idea that new percussion sounds are not as new as one might think. It does not take away from the sonorously exciting appeal of Stookey's music.

Junkestra (2007) is a three-movement suite of sorts. A "Dance Mix" concludes the CD. All told, you get 15 minutes of music. Fifteen minutes of music well worth hearing, though.

There are seven percussionists involved, plus some beautiful playing from David Weiss on the musical saw. The instruments involved give out a sound halfway between a gamelan orchestra and some of the impromptu sounds I would get in my youth when I dragged my mother's pots and pans out of the kitchen and went to work.

The sound is exotic, yet familiar in that way. And the music is very well crafted and very well performed. It's modern music that is actually fun! I love it. And it's an important addition to the percussion repertory. A great listen!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Brad Goode, Trumpet "Tight Like This" CD

Brad Goode has been around. Ernie Krivda, Von Freeman, Jack DeJohnette and his own bands for some time, not to mention many other associations. He is a trumpet player with roots. His first strong influence was Satchmo and he studied with Cat Anderson.

His new Tight Like This (Delmark 594) has much going for it. There are strong roots here, but they've been taken somewhere new. There are some older numbers, Cugat's "Nightingale," an Irving Berlin tune, a classically hip "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise." And there are also a goodly number of Goode originals, which hang together nicely.

He and his fine quartet take that music somewhere different. It's rooted, as I said, but it's transformed to fit in their own contemporary world. Adrean Farrugia is new to me. He plays a very hip piano, very lucid and not coming out of an obvious influence. He swings and makes real musical sense with his improvisations. Kenny Sill is a hot bassist, capable of walking the dog to death or taking a nice solo. Anthony Lee kills me on drums. He can crack the sky or quietly sizzle along. And Brad's trumpet is not easily classifiable. So let's not try. He's a terror with or without the mute. He runs cool and hot, in the best sense. He's remarkably poised.

Well, I suppose you can tell I liked this album quite a bit. Check it out, check it out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Steve Reich, Our Reigning Minimalist King, and His Latest

Steve Reich's compositions have shown development, a kind of period-to-period movement. There were the initial electronic and instrumental process studies (like for instance "Come Out"), the first extended ensemble works ("Four Organs"), an increasing African/Indonesian element ("Drumming"), the injection of a sophisticated melodic inventiveness ("Music for 18 Musicians"), the heightened focus on vocal elements ("Tehillim"), the development of an orchestral palette and introduction of slow movements ("The Desert Music"), the attention to speech elements and how they inflect into musical phrasing ("Different Trains") and on from there. With Reich's 2010 release Double Sextet / 2 X 5 (Nonesuch 524853-2) we find him doubling back, in a sense, to the chamber style of his third and fourth periods. Now that's fine with me. He crafted some minimalist masterpieces then, like the "Octet/Eight Lines," and any chance we get to hear him construct pieces out of his own paradigmatic melodic-rhythmic singularity is worthwhile indeed.

There are two pieces on this disk, as the title suggests. "Double Sextet" was written for the eighth blackbird ensemble. They record the two sextet parts via overdubbing. It's a wonderful piece in a classic Reichian vein. The fact that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 is an indication of the recognition he now gets, and deservedly so.

"2 x 5" was written for a five-piece electric Bang On A Can ensemble, including two electric guitars, electric bass, piano, and drums. What they play is not rock in any sense, but Reichian line-raveling for what otherwise could be a rock band.

Both pieces mesmerize without a catatonia-inducing stasis or an overarching banality (two faults I occasionally detect in some minimalists). This is prime Reich, with all the subtlety and wonderful ways. He stands at the forefront of those who have forged this modern style and I believe he is the very best of them all. This album gives you some intriguing and very pleasurable evidence!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rodrigo Amado's "Searching for Adam," Important New Improv Set

Rodrigo Amado needs to be heard by all those into the free thing. He's poised, filled with good improv ideas, and his new album, Searching for Adam (Not Two 837-2) shows it all off in a very good light. The band is an impressive lineup of New York's finest--Taylor Ho Bynam on cornet & flugelhorn, John Hebert, bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The rhythm team has bold fire and dynamic energy to spare; Bynum is a stick of dynamite. He crackles, sizzles and sears his way through the set, truly on fire.

And Rodrigo? First off I love his old-school tenor sound. He channels Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and he channels early Archie Shepp's channeling of same. But the notes and phrases are Rodrigo's and they work together potently. On baritone the sound of Serge Chaloff comes to mind--gutsy or expressively tender from moment to moment. RODRIGO's notes, again, not a string of bop cliches. The BIG sax sound is not something many jazz departments out there seem to be teaching, so Rodrigo's sound is all the more rare these days, but all the more welcome. Sound is not something you can easily teach I guess, nor is the logic of a way of phrasing, sound and note-wise. So Rodrigo is doubly valuable in that he excels at both aspects.

The band has a clear direction and they go there. It's simply one of the best free ensemble disks so far this year. OK, the year is rather new, I'll grant, but I suspect I'll be saying the same thing come December.

Those who don't know Rodrigo Amado's music are missing out. This one is a great place to begin. Track it down and get down with the tracks. You'll be happy you did, I think.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Neue Bilder: The Music of James Harley

James Harley composes in the now somewhat venerable tradition of classic modernism. That is not to say that he is some clone of Webern or Boulez. It's only to say that the periodicity and flow of his music has little of the droning insistency of minimalism or the lavishly applied impasto of the neo-romantics. It means he pays careful attention to sound color; he constructs complex, many-voiced aural tapestries that create a sonorous musical whole out of the comings and goings of the individual instrumental voices. The fact that he does this is not exceptional. It is the quality of the invention, however, along with the attention to the part writing that puts him in a good place as, to my mind, one of the most important Canadian composers active today.

The album Neue Bilder (Centrediscs 15010) gives you a good sampling of his music, well performed by the New Music Concerts aggregation under Robert Aitken. Two larger chamber ensemble works form the origin and terminus points for a concert that also includes three more intimate chamber works: for solo flute (very imaginatively performed by Aitkin); flute, cello and piano; and bass flute and percussion, respectively.

This is a winner. Recommended.