Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sabir Mateen's Quartet Gives Us "Just A Little Something," Volume One

Tenor-reedman Sabir Mateen, through a long tenure with drum-giant Sunny Murray, with his own groups and other significant associations, has proven to be one of New York's prime avant jazz figures in recent years. He's absorbed the free tradition and realized his original, personal version of it. Albums made with his own groups can come in and out-of-print rapidly, which is a sign of the times. So when one comes along it's important to grab it while you can.

A new release of his quartet, Just A Little Something, Volume One (Deep Listening Institute) is a full set that the group played in Kingston, NY, 2006. (Volume Two continues where One leaves off, but I have not heard it yet.)

This is a ready-to-GO ensemble with free energy drumming from Ravish Momin, the bass and cello of Jane Wang, energetic out piano from Raymond A. King, and the alto, tenor, Bb and alto clarinet, and flute of Sabir. The group is game and Maestro Mateen puts in an excellent performance.

Those who have dug the artist in previous recordings and/or live will not be disappointed. Those new to his music will get a nice introduction here. It's available for a good price at the usual downloadaries. Catch it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ken Silverman Assembles an Unusual Sextet on "From Emptiness"

From Emptiness (SoundSeer S1001) is one of those improv dates that starts in a different sort of place and stays there throughout. You are given notice that this is not going to be business-as-usual from the start, with Kossan opening things with some Buddhist chant, followed by Blaise Siwula and Roy Campbell (on alto and trumpet) doing some duo free improvising, eventually joined by Silverman on guitar and Tom Swafford on violin. This is followed by Kossan on Sanshin (a three-stringed stringed instrument from Okinawa) and Dave Miller's free out-of-time drums.

Eventually Tom Shad makes his appearance on the Turkish Cumbus, a banjo-like instrument, along with Ken on Oud, Roy on flute and fluegel, and Blaise on clarinet.

It's a rather unusual melding of chant and free improv, with perhaps chant being the odd-man out. The chants set a tone and atmosphere but otherwise do not have an especially direct relevance to the improvisations that surround them.

However the unusual instrumentation and the free inventive skills of the musicians (especially Siwula and Campbell) carry the day. Maestro Silverman comes through as a guitarist who (along with the rest) is finding intuitive ways of making this musical amalgam work. You get a different view of him than what he sounds like in a more conventional session. There are times when Eastern sounds and Western freedom make a kind of odd-couple partnership. It is in no way uninteresting. It may take some listeners a number of listens before they can assimilate the contrasting strains. It took me a few times.

In the end though you are left with a most unusual concatenation of sounds. I suppose I should say that this is for intrepid listening pioneers particularly. It is not a disk I would recommend for someone still going through the first initiation/immersion in advanced avant improv.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Francois Carrier Trio Blazes it Up on "Inner Spire"

Francois Carrier, alto, Alexey Lapin, piano, and Michel Lambert, drums, show you what they are made of on Inner Spire (Leo 601). It is NOT sugar and spice, and everything nice. It's fire, power, the flames of focused heavy hitting, free music of the extroverted, get-it-all-out sort.

They are live in Moscow, last December 2010. And they are afire with no hook and ladder in sight. Not to be flip though. This is inspired wailing. At times they sound like a commentary on those moments in the late Trane group when Pharoah, Alice C. and Ali are going at it. Only it's not those three but Carrier and company, so there is a different bent to the note-weaving. Carrier doesn't sound like he's channeling somebody else, nor do the others.

From there the trio explores more pointed sound-upon-sound dialogs and some quieter moments. Here too they are in a free-tradition zone, so to speak, but remain themselves.

Clearly they were inspired by their surroundings. They turn in a hell of a series of improvisations. Carrier is an altoist of great power and he has ideal compatriots in Lambert and Lapin.

This is one for your avant collection that you'll want to hear often, I would think. Get it and you'll see. That's how I feel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jeff Marx's Tenor and Jeff "Siege" Siegel's Drums in Duo "Dreamstuff"

Jeff Marx plays a solid Post-Trane tenor in ways not entirely typical of some of the players out there. There is the passionate sound but there are lines he comes up with that aren't stock-in-trade contemporary tenorizing. "Siege" Siegel is a drummer that you can hear swinging along on a lot of sessions. Their duo disk Dreamstuff (Ayler Download Series aylDL-070) has been out a few years but is no less interesting for it.

One invariably thinks of the Trane-Ali duo Interstellar Space when you get this configuration in a free setting. And yes, there are moments when you hear a bit of a hommage to that. But other times Marx is playing head melodies and otherwise bringing something of his own into the brew. Siege plays freetime now and then but otherwise has more of a pulse and swing orientation than the late master Ali. There are some moments here and there where they are regrouping to find common ground. But those moments don't last long and they fall into something interesting quickly enough.

Perhaps this album will not set the world ablaze. It hasn't yet. But it's different enough, unique enough that it stands out when you've heard it a few times. Something a little different. It's available as a download only (at a decent price) from Ayler Records. Click on the Ayler link to find out more about doing that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CIMPhonia 1998 Part 2, Lest We Forget

I reviewed CIMPhonia Part One just about a year ago on these pages. Today we look at the second volume. It has the same lineup, essentially what is known today as Trio X (Joe McPhee, soprano sax and trumpet, Dominic Duval, acoustic bass, and Jay Rosen, drums) plus some well-chosen bright lights of avant jazz: Mark Whitecage, reeds, Paul Smoker, trumpet, David Prentice, violin, and the late Peter Kowald, acoustic bass.

As before the churning virtuoso two-bass tandem is one of the first things that catches your ear. But of course there's more than that. It's a free-avant set of exploratory excellence. The three horn (or really four when you include Prentice's violin) configuration of McPhee, Whitecage and Smoker (and Prentice) gives collective girth to the improvisations, and each understandably has much in the way of ideas and invention. They occupy the top spectrum of the music, the basses the bottom, and Jay Rosen's always thoughtful drumming rests somewhere squarely in the middle.

Solo moments emerge from the collectivity and then submerge. This is all about the power of seven improv gigantics interacting without reference to anything but their own imaginations. Like the first part, it is state-of-the-art free improv, a rather unsung gem of 1998. Click on the CIMP link in the right-hand column on this page for more information or to grab a copy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Connie Crothers Quartet and Poet Mark Weber Live at the Stone

Connie Crothers is important. Important to the music. Now Branford Marsalis, adding to the recent, rather over- weening pile-up/ discussion /furor about "what's wrong with jazz", noted in a recent interview that cats from New York talk about so-and-so being important, yet no one outside of a small group of people know about it, so how could it be important? With all due respect for Mr. B. Marsalis, whose music I admire greatly, that's easy. The most important jazz today is hardly being listened to by Joe Blow in Podunk. There are reasons for that but they have nothing to do with importance. If a poet is important and yet Mr. Blow doesn't know about it, does that mean the poet isn't important? No. Joe Blow doesn't read any poetry at all, let alone poetry of a living writer. Same goes for jazz, pretty much.

It just so happens that today's recording involves both poetry and jazz. Connie Crothers Quartet and Mark Weber Live at the Stone/NYC (New Artists 1046) is what's on the table today. There's recitation by poet Mark Weber and there is Connie's quartet supplying the music. Is Mark Weber important? I can't tell you that because my knowledge of contemporary poets is not huge. But his poems are supra-personal, very much of today, evocative, and go well with the open-ended jazz format that Connie prefers.

This is not all recitation. There are chunks of pure music. Ms. Crothers' group has been honed with time and they were in good form that night at the Stone. Long-time associates Richard Tabnik on alto, and Roger Mancuso, drums, are there, as is the most excellent Ken Filiano on bass. They go the collective improvisational route here and so it's not a "spotlight on Connie" kind of affair. But what all of them are doing, Connie included, is continuing to develop a "free" sort of music that further evolves the vocabulary of the group, so that no one is copping licks from another player out there, past or present. They are strictly themselves. And the eleven-minute concluding number, "Ontology," gives you the group sans poetry and so a further opportunity to hear the Quartet in a more "pure" form.

It is a disk that takes a few listens to absorb. Neither Mr. Weber's poetry or the Quartet do things that Joe Blow in Podunk is going to understand without a little help and repeated listens. But even Joe could learn to dig this music. It has all the earmarks of something "important." Maybe there's not as much of Ms. Crothers piano as on some of the other recordings, but this is a collective venture. And for that, yes, it is important. Don't blame the music if Mr. Blow does not have the chance nor inclination to hear it. This is America's music. People outside of America know more about it most of the time than Americans do. Now who will you blame for that? Don't blame Connie Crothers. Praise her, rather, for a lifetime of music I believe is important.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Farewell Bill Dixon...Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra, 2008

The great Bill Dixon is gone. I am late at putting my hand at a fitting memorial line or two. This is all I think I need to say: Bill Dixon never sounded like anybody else on trumpet and he never wrote a line that didn't have his indelible stylistic footprint squarely emblazoned upon it.

So we turn to one of his last recordings, Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey 192). As I nabbed this as a download I as per the usual received the music with absolutely no information about it, which is fine for the pop hits of the day but terribly insulting to the artists who do creative music. So here is what I managed to gather about the music after that fact of downloading. It's a collaboration of Bill and Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, quite obviously. And it was recorded in 2008. It seems as if Mazurek was responsible for the compositions but even that wasn't clear on the key sites that had to do with promoting this release. I've gotten to know the Exploding Star through later recordings and it is a beautifully advanced large outfit with many of the leading lights of Chicago's new jazz, but I was unable to find a personel listing for this recording. No matter.

What's important is that the music is quite wonderful. Exploding Star is a fine free orchestra, the music is adventuresome and Bill Dixon plays every note with deliberation and personal conviction. I believe I read a review a while ago where the writer complained that he sounded like he was aging and tired. I think he sounds like Bill Dixon in his last years. I'd rather hear him in that stage of his career than 100 of today's players at the peak of their physical ability. Like the late paintings of Picasso or DeKooning, it is a last statement filled with meaning.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roy Haynes and his "Roy-alty": The Elder Statesman of Jazz Looks Back...and Ahead

Roy. . . Haynes. I hear in my mind Sarah Vaughan saying that on an old LP, setting up a gem of a short Roy solo. He's been at the forefront of jazz so long it makes the head whirl. Important to Bebop from the late '40s and a force for what came after, whether with Trane, Gary Burton, Alice Coltrane, Pat Metheny (and too many more to name), or one of his many groups. And of course it's not just that he was there. As a drummer he is in the small handful of the truly great. His snap-crackle-pop. His whipsaw ride cymbal. The independence and rhythmical smarts of his bass drum and hi hat. The way he tunes his drums and makes them SOUND...sheeoot dude, he was there and influenced every drummer that came after. I mean that.

And here he is today with the new CD Roy-alty (Dreyfus Jazz). He still sounds as great as ever. He covers the music from the last 63 YEARS that he has been associated with...and still looks ahead.

The players? There is his Fountain of Youth band--Jaleel Shaw (alto), Martin Bejerano (piano), David Wang (acoustic bass) and they sound fine. Then there are the guest appearances: Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Stan Strickland, and others.

It's a summing up but not a farewell. And it has a kind of monumental heft to it, like a statue being erected of him playing a rim shot. What it is is a kind of memoir in music from a titan. But this is NOT the Titanic. He is floating still. May he go 63 years more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

David Leonhardt's Piano and Band Play Cole Porter

Looking at the selection of 12 songs played by pianist David Leonhardt and his group on Plays Cole Porter (Big Bang BBR9584), you are immediately reminded of how central Porter's best songs have become in the standard jazz repertoire. These songs have served as excellent vehicles for many of the bop and after masters. So what can Dave Leonhardt and his entourage do that hasn't been done before? The answer is that David sums up the sorts of treatments pianists and ensembles have put across over the years, from Red Garland through Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner.

That is not to say that they are pulling arrangements off of old records. They are doing their own, with the masterstyles repurposed for their viewpoint here in the new century. David L's pianism is first-rate, calling on the traditions of those past masters and making them his own. Vocalist Nancy Reed, who is on hand for around half of the numbers, has a good sense of phrase and a burnished lower range that is quite attractive. Larry McKenna plays a decent tenor free from the sounds and licks so popular right now. The rhythm section of Matthew Parrish (bass) and Paul Wells (drums) gets the feel right for each tune.

In the end, arrangements and Leonhardt's well-healed sense of the jazz piano tradition of the past 50 years carry the day. It may not jump out at you as a "wow this is new" kind of set, but it delivers very solid jazz in the mainstream after-Evans & Tyner world of today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Julian Priester and Aaron Alexander Put it Together on Duo Disk "Conversational Music"

First things first. If you do not know who Julian Priester is (and I of course assume that most readers are very familiar with him) you have missed a very important part of what makes the trombone a central instrument in jazz today. From Max Roach's and Sun Ra's bands in the fifties, Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi in the early '70s, and through to today, he has been a major stylist. The good news is that he sounds great today, especially on the disk at hand, a program of duets with drummer Aaron Alexander, Conversational Music (self released, no catalog #). More good news: Aaron Alexander does too.

This is a free-wheeling session where the players cover much ground: freely up swing, out-of-time double soliloquies, rhythmically non-repetitious frameworks for Julian's extremely fertile improvisational inventions, and other things besides.

Aaron can and does play an orchestral sort of set drums. He goes for a sound full and varied and it sets up a context for Mr. Priester's excursions. Julian brings out his patented trombone sound, which has many subtle innuendos but especially distinguishes itself with a bright ringing clariance (I mean like a clarion bell).

Duets of this sort could get tedious if the players don't have a pretty clear idea of the different territories they wish to visit. That is most certainly not a problem on this session.

It's first-rate free-form duotizing. And it's one of the trombone albums of the year in my mind. Need I say more?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vicious World Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright

Who is Vicious World and what are they doing messing around with Rufus Wain- wright? Vicious World Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright (Spinaround SRCD001) is an 11-tune disk played by an unusually instrumented ensemble. Vicious World is the brainchild of reedist Aaron Irwin and Matthew McDonald, trombonist. They are joined by guitarist Sebastian Noelle (who cranks out some solo gems when called upon), plus contrabass, drums, violin and cello.

The sonarity of the combined forces is a big factor in the success of this album. Irwin and McDonald come up with some brilliant arrangements of Wainwright, with the strings adding a carpet of tonality to the front line of bone and winds and the actively tasteful guitar work of Noelle. Bone and sax solos are quite craftworthy as well.

What comes out is almost a Third Stream kind of music, in a lineage from the chamber jazz that the MJQ proferred on their classic album Third Stream.

That's what's happening on this one. It is happening so well that you find yourself transported into its world. You don't worry about WHAT it is because it is so well put together that you let yourself be immersed in it. As far as Wainwright fans go, I don't know what they would think. If they like good sounds they'll like it.

A well executed gem of arrangement brilliance. And there's nothing vicious about it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Does Jazz Stink? Part Two.

Over the holiday weekend the internet was a bubbling cauldron of con- versation about the question of whether or no jazz "sucks" (see previous posting). A number of musicians, writers and record people were in and out of the threads and I joined in as well.

Reflecting on the many hundreds of words that were exchanged, a few patterns emerged. Some felt that if there was a problem with jazz today it was the big labels that were to blame and how they pushed marginally relevant jazz product at times, things that had no right to be considered jazz. Others lamented that young jazz artists sometimes put out self-released music before they were ready, and that hurt them and the music; still others blamed the self-releases put out by artists who perhaps really were not worthy of a hearing at any point. Some felt that there was a drop off in quality, some not. There was a sentiment that a pronouncement at this point was not necessarily good for the music as a whole; others noted that such claims had been made in the music since its beginnings. Some agreed completely that the "suck" speech needed to be made, since they felt jazz was at low ebb. There was some talk of charlantry, the need to play changes-based jazz before doing anything else, the importance of playing the blues, or on the other hand, the idea that playing music NOT based on changes was not only a legitimate way of proceeding, but an exacting musical discipline in itself when done right.

I don't think any of the points raised were wrong. It is all a matter of the weight you give any particular point.

It was an interesting experience. Coming away from it I find that whatever may be the case in the world at large jazz musicians remain a passionate and committed lot. Nobody wants to be branded as someone in the lousy camp, of course. Yet some also felt that those that sought to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the music were not always being completely honest with the public or with themselves. I brought up the old cutting contest mentality and how the fears of getting cut traditionally led to a sort of arrogant bluster on the part of musicians. "So-and-so? He ain't doing sh_t!" I do believe that attitude can lead to the sort of "jazz is in trouble" rap that we see alive today. I don't know in today's world if that is really much of a help to one's own position, since things have changed so.

We have been in a major recession for a number of years now. Of course that effects the music scene dramatically and jazz is a part of it. With fewer gigs, fewer opportunities to play the music you hear for a major distributor of music, widespread copyright infringement in the downloading world, you see results in smaller sales figures of new releases of "serious" jazz, and a related drop-off in opportunity for artists. The continued sway of the Trad movement also leads to normative demands that become judgemental absolutes when applied to particular artists. Those artists can be seen as having failed jazz by not following the rules.

Well OK all that having been said I think that both a critical attitude and a meta-critical attitude (that is, looking with clear eyes on any general pronouncement about the music) is as necessarily today as ever. If there are that many more releases in smaller quantities, then gauging the overall health of the music is in part a process of weeding through all the "product" and finding what's good. I do know there is plenty of good jazz out there. If I didn't believe that I would have no purpose in writing this blog. I don't think the music as a whole is in trouble. What it needs most is encouragement, financial and personal support, and a creative environment where musicians are not afraid to transgress normative rules of what they are supposed to be doing. Jazz is great when artists break the rules; it can also be great when they follow the rules. But no amount of intimidation by rule followers is going to be a good amount. Learn the changes, or don't. (And if you play changes-based music be aware that if you do the same old chords and apply the same old scalular patterns to the chords you are probably going to sound generic. I've heard so much of that I will admit.) If you have real talent it will come out--and it DOES need to be systematized. Changes-based soloing is one way, but there are so many other musical-pedogogical areas of concern that can flesh out an artist's vocabulary and expressivity. Harmony can be critical. But melody, rhythm, and a personal SOUND may turn out to be far more important to new generations of artists in the future. Or not. We must encourage the players to have courage. We must support creativity on all fronts. And we must be sure our artists are properly paid for their artistry. All will be well if we act in these ways.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Does Jazz Stink Today? What Are You Listening to?

Hey, Jazz Sucks. In case you didn't know that's a "controversial" statement made by a musician on "his or her" FaceBook wall lately. It's really not a new story but it always sells. "Jazz is dead," somebody who will remain nameless said around 1965. Yet here we are.

How do we decide if one form of music sucks, right now, once and for all? We use the evidence of our senses? Then, what, have we listened to every jazz release in the last few years? Or just some? Or just a few? And which ones?

It's a bit dicey and probably ingenuous to come out and say that the music you make for a living sucks. Everyone sucks that plays it. Except you? Or do you suck too?

I think it's probably a truism to say that the business of playing jazz for a living (or writing about it, for that matter) has increasingly gotten tenuous. It has started to suck. But if I sit down and write up a list of 100 musicians playing jazz right now that I think are excellent, 20 labels that are consistently releasing interesting jazz, ten or twenty regions in the world where there is a good jazz scene in terms of musicians, if I wrote up just those things I know I would think that jazz was very much alive and vibrant. Now if I started eliminating items from this list based on an arbitrary critereon or two--swings in the manner of Horace Silver, plays the blues most of the time, or whatever it might be, I could whittle the list down bit-by-bit until there was . . . nothing, nobody left.

Hodier once claimed that nothing Duke Ellington did after the Blanton-Webster days was any good. How did he get to that? Drew up a list of things he didn't like about later Duke, then used that as his reason why Duke "sucked." It's easy enough to do. Try this (and I've heard it): "nothing significant has been done in electric jazz/fusion since Miles' Bitches Brew." OK now all you have to do is figure out how to negate everything that came after with a list of things you don't like. You can do it. Easily. But that doesn't mean you are right.

But where are we at the end of such an exercise? We are like the bird that flies in circles so fast that it ends up going up its own ___ and disappears. We refer to self-imposed criterea. We ignore what is out there.

I find it mindless to claim that [all manner of] jazz today sucks. If that were true, then shut down all the radio stations that play new music, stop publishing the periodicals, shut down all jazz digital music sites, stop the labels, close the clubs. How ridiculous. Not everybody is great. Not all releases are classics. And that has always been. If the "lay" public thinks you are serious, that in fact no jazz being played today is any good, they will abandon the living form of jazz for good and you will be left to. . . do something else with your life. This sort of statement is an end-game that draws attention to yourself, isn't it?

Jazz is not dead, nor does it sleep. You want I should draw up those lists? Well then how about paying me? Jazz doesn't suck. But it sure sucks trying to be involved with it and also survive. But crying out that jazz is lousy is like deciding to play football only after amputating your legs. Stupid move. Sorry.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rich Halley's Quartet Goes Long and Strong on "Requiem For A Pit Viper"

Tenorist-band- leader-tunesmith Rich Halley turns in one his very best efforts on the new CD Requiem for A Pit Viper (Pine Eagle 003). It's Rich plus trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Chris Reed and drummer Carson Halley in a long set of originals with lots of room for solos. As is generally the case with Rich's band concept there is a distinct post-Ornettian vibe. The pianoless group generally keeps the time going and freeboppingly rides atop in their own way--calling on a tradition that looks back to some of Sonny Simmons's (and Prince Lasha's) classic groups. In other words Rich and Michael play themselves with linear thrust; the rhythm section play themselves within the loose swing and rocktime of the genre.

Halley's son Carson puts a good showing together and moves the group along with dialogic use of the full drum kit; bassist Clyde Reed has a big Hadenesque sound and he walks with power. Michael's trombone works well with Richard's tenor, both showing the inventive fire and freedom that position them as some of the West Coast's most important free-avant figures active today.

Requiem has it all happening. This is a good one to grab as an intro to Rich Halley's music.