Monday, October 31, 2011

The Nice Guy Trio, Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music

The Nice Guy Trio may well be populated by nice guys. I don't know them personally. But I do know that the Nice Guy Trio makes nice music. Trumpeter Darren Johnston founded the Nice Guy Trio in 2008 with Bob Reich on accordion and Daniel Fabricant on bass. On what I believe is their second album, Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music (PFR Porto Franco 032), the trio plays two suite-like compositions: Reich's "Sidewalks and Alleys" and Johnston's "Waking Music" (which of course explains the title of the CD). They are joined by a string quartet in a very appealing set of music. Sometimes I am reminded of the Turtle Island String Quartet in how the music lays out. Not surprising given that Mark Summer is the cellist here, who is member of that quartet. But this is the trio's concept, and it plays out for the duration of the album. They have natural affinities with Turtle Island in how they look at musical structure. There are forms, structures that come into play during solos, there are compositional aspects and there are solos per se. The affinities are found in how these elements come to bear on the total matrix of sound.

This might have been called Third Stream Music a few years ago. It combines strong compositional elements with space for solos; the string quartet shapes the overall sound in ways that suggest classical elements. It is a Baltic-Mediterranean-and-beyond flavor that is prominent to varying degrees throughout. Johnston as a trumpet improviser has his very own way and gets space to do that during the course of the two very interesting compositions. But Reich and Fabricant get their spots as well, as do the string players. The three-way interaction, the trio with the quartet and everybody together make for lively music.

This is a trio with an original sound. The string quartet's presence and the "Sidewalks" and "Waking" compositions put them even more into their own league. It's stunning music, very well played and rather ravishing in impact. Yes!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bruno Chevillon & Tim Berne, "Old and Unwise": Open Contrabass-Alto Sax Duets

Freedom. Free-dom. What is it? And how do you get it? In music the word denotes something specific. At least in jazz. It means in part starting out a musical performance with the idea that what is going to happen will happen because the players spontaneously put their improvised parts together without a great deal of overt deliberation. They also, to whatever extent. play what they please, without someone dictating to them in some concrete sense. So it could be anything. And when the ensemble has a small number of people, then constraints on the improvisers are even less, at least in some purely "free" situation. So freedom in jazz relies on the maximum of creative input on the part of the players. Such freedom is a part of all jazz to some extent. But so-called free jazz accentuates that. Now of course each player has ways of playing that have something to do with his or her originality and way of musical thinking-feeling. And each responds to the other players. So of course it is not some cosmic random freedom, but a human one that involves intention and will on the part of each musician.

And now we turn to an excellent example of this kind of freedom. Bassist Bruno Chevillon, a name not overly familiar to me, and alto saxophologist Tim Berne, well-known and well-liked for his originality, join forces for the hour-plus session Old and Unwise (Clean Feed 221). It's a series of 11 free duets. It shows Mr. Chevillon a very game player, a very good improvising artist and able partner of the lucid and singular Tim Berne.

Each improvisation is distinguished by a way to go about things. One for example consists of trading short phrases, one more staccato, one legato, one with longer tones, one with rapid exchanges, etc. It is a mark of their rapport as a duo and their individual free imagination that the mood and sound of each duet varies. It also makes what could get tedious just the opposite.

This is high-level music making. It is a testament to Bruno's bass playing prowess and fertile inventive skills that he is a full partner in the exchange with Tim, who has well established his credentials in this arena. Berne is in top form throughout, spurred onward by some very capable bass wielding. The music is more about the notes than about sound color. Improvised jazz line melody is the top priority and they come through the hoop of fire flying freely and gracefully, so to speak.

This one will appeal to all fans of Tim Berne, free contrabass and the creative improvised music scene. Most definitely recommended!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mitch Marcus Quintet, "Countdown 2 Meltdown," 2010

The West Coast is alive for music. It's not a West Coast jazz in a cool sense for the most part these days. It's something else. San Franciscan (but also New Yorkian) Mitch Marcus and his quintet show us some of that in the riotcap avant romp Countdown 2 Meltdown (Porto Franco 009). It's notable for the presence of the very nimble electric guitarist Mike Abraham, the two-reed threat of Mitch (tenor) and Sylvian Carton (alto), and the very lively rhythm section of George Ban-Weiss on acoustic bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.

The music has the Lounge Lizards-Zappa anything-goes quality with the hard-swinging sensibility of Mingus. The band has good soloists all around and they finesse some fine arrangements and play as hard as they need to to get the fire stoked.

If you like the adventurous kind of new jazz that hits it but gives you plenty of super-eclectic composition-arrangements, I have no doubt this will catch your ear as it caught mine. Very much recommended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Connie Crothers, Band of Fire: Live at the Stone with Roy Campbell

This is the third of a trilogy of recordings Connie Crothers made during her tenure at the famed NYC club The Stone in 2010. We've discussed the other two in earlier posts (see below). For this set Connie engages her long-lived regular group of Richard Tabnick on alto, Roger Mancuso on drums, and Ken Filiano on the bass, plus the addition of trumpet firebrand Roy Campbell.

The Band of Fire (New Artists 1050) title well describes what was happening that night. They play three longish numbers, Connie's post-Lenniesque "Ontology" and two collective improvisations.

And what happens is the band most definitely takes fire. Roy Campbell sounds beautiful, filled with a blazing kinetic energy that soars. Richard Tabnik, too, is hard hitting in his attack, sounding as good as I've heard him. Connie is a marvel as always, inspired here to let loose with barrages of notes, clusters, runs and glisses, in ways that make her one of the seminal pianistic forces active today. The rhythm section charges ahead and does much to keep it a four-way dialog with plenty of power and noted significance.

This is what Connie's group can do so well. They turn up the heat more than usual though. It's another exemplary album for Connie. Great for showing the fire-y side of her artistry, great for showing the band in full flight, great for giving Roy Campbell a platform to launch to an outer place.

It's great ultra-modern jazz improvisation, free and focused, musically dense but pivotally pointed forward. Music to quicken the pulse, enliven the spirit, energize the senses! So here's another one from Ms. Crothers that you really should not miss.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Trumpetman Ralph Alessi Fields Powerful Quintet for "Wiry Strong"

In the struggle to stay ahead and/or catch up in these difficult economic times, the distractions and out-and-out traumas of survival can take us away from the good things that come by us in spite of all. That in part happened to me in the last week or so. Ralph Alessi and This Against That's Wiry Strong (Clean Feed 220) played numerous times on my system, yet it failed to register with me. I was elsewhere in my head. Then the last time out and right now as I listened one more time as I write this, I am realizing that this is some very good music.

It's Mr. Alessi on the trumpet, a very facilitated cat, filled with great tone and good note ideas, and his compositions, which give you modernistic, pulsated things to experience in the best sense. Ravi Coltrane takes up the saxophone, and Ravi is not flagging in any way! The two make for important carriers of two-part compositional leads, and work deftly for and against each other with a dynamic friction that frissons its way into cool places. Andy Milne has large harmonic ears and good line-drawing abilities. The rhythm section of Drew Gress (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) turns in very effective performances. There's sometimes that sort of subtle depth of a Filles de Kilimanjaro on a compositional and improvisational level.

There are a series of collective improvisations and then the aforementioned compositions. The music weaves in and out of free and motored modal territories, with Ralph channeling the best of the modern trumpet heaters from Freddie Hubbard to Miles and Dave Douglas, in ways that suggest he is going to good places and becoming an original in his horizontal and vertical musical stances.

This one will get you listening. It's a great little disk--and not that little because you get 71-plus minutes of Alessi's approach. Great to hear and rewarding to listen to on deep or multi-tasked levels. The deep reveals very creative musical minds at work, the multi-task level gives you a broad swath of very interesting in and out jazz of today. Don't take this one for granted. Hear it!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Red Trio Back For Their Second Album: "Empire" with Guest John Butcher

When it's a matter of new, outside free-jazz ensembles, not all that many can afford to stay together for a second go-round. The Red Trio have. Their first came out in 2010 on Clean Feed (see review from April 5, 2010). It was quite lively and showed much promise.

They return with the vinyl-only release Empire (No Business NBLP 37) in a limited edition of 400. That is a good thing because this is some very well-executed outness. Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano), Hernani Faustino (bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums and percussion) are joined this time out by tenor-soprano man John Butcher.

The addition of Butcher adds another significant voice to the dialog. The three pieces find the augmented trio (quartet) in total control over the exuberant chaos they conjure up. Each player contributes his eloquent avant voice to an ever-shifting, pulsating mass of sensuous, energetic collage. This sort of free music is quite difficult to play well (in spite of what you might have heard). The four of them DO it well. They get the coloristic punctuations just right with a kind of total synchronism that can be thrilling to behold. This music does not swing in the conventional sense. But the ins and outs, the entrances and exits of each player when done right (as it is here) is its own sort of out-of-time swing. And they have that quality without exception.

The Red Trio (and John Butcher) outdo themselves on this one. Immerse yourself in it and you will come away with a big smile on your face! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Frank Carlberg's Piano and Compositions Come to the Forefront in "Uncivilized Ruminations"

Frank Carlberg is not just a new jazz sort of fellow. He's doing something actually rather new. If you start with the sort of angular abstractions Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi used to do, you get a stepping off point for where the music on Uncivilized Ruminations (RPR Red Piano Records) begins. Unfortunately the graphic design of the CD jacket makes whatever is on it unreadable, a too common result when there is no art director around to tell you that white and light yellow type cannot be read when knocked out of a light grey screen. Luckily the press release gives me the info I need.

It's Frank pian-izing in very interesting ways; Christine Correa handling the vocals with confidence. Then there's a well chosen mix of excellent instrumentalists in Chris Cheek (reeds), John O'Gallagher (reeds), John Hebert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). Everybody brings out the implications of Frank's compositions with attention to the musical structure and improvisatory inspiration.

And these are compositions to spend time with, substantial post-Lacyisms with enough well-arranged complexity that you get more the more you hear them.

Frank Carlberg has dome something very worthy here. Hear!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dead Cat Bounce's "Chance Episodes:" Four Horns, Rhythm, and Matt Steckler's Artistic Vision

Matt Steckler, driving force behind the ensemble Dead Cat Bounce, joins three other reed soloists and an actively charged rhythm section in a program of Steckler compositions. Chance Episodes (Cuneiform Rune 323) is the concretion of the session, so to speak, and is some kind of concretion at that!

It's the dynamic of a tightly interactive sax quartet with bass and drums, playing some charts that have a modern ring to them (sometimes a la Elvin Jones' classic recordings with multi-saxes and rhythm). The interplay, written or otherwise, between the horns is beautiful to hear and there are very good soloist in there too. The music combines the heft of a little big band with the flexibility and spontaneity of a small group.

Stickler is the man of the hour, though. He knows what to write for such a group. It brings out the best in the soloists and stands in its own right as extraordinarily valid contemporary jazz composition.

Grab this one and you'll grab a platter of irresistible goodies. This one stands up and bites you on the ear. One of the surprises of the waning days of 2011!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Allen Lowe's Three-CD Gigantisaurus "Blues and the Empirical Truth"

Allen Lowe is a provoc- ative, original cat. He has strong ideas about the music, its history and his place in it. Now up in Portland, Maine, spending time working on some comprehensive musical anthologies and no doubt occupying more than one brown study thinking about it all, he re-emerges with a heady three-full-CD set devoted to the Blues and the Empirical Truth (Music & Arts 1251).

First off, there is a great deal of music to digest. It doesn't hand you the blues in some predigested, predictable way. This is music of a rawness and vitality and a music that is willing to bend and even break the blues to fit a new re-situation. Sure there are 12-bar forms that get fairly strict adherence, but there are any number of compositions with varying degrees of looser approaches that continue to utilize one or more blues elements, the cry, the blue notes, the wailing bends, and harmonic stretchings. It's all blues-y certainly, but it does not adhere strictly to rote bluesrendering all the time. And this is a good thing.

What more or less serves as a continual presence is Allen Lowe's alto-tenor of fire and his compositional-arranged imprint. He in effect emigrates the blues to various landscapes. You get Allen's version of New Orlean-jazz-blues, preblues roots, Ornettian blues connotations, folk blues, urban blues, Bessie-Ma-songstress blues, rock blues, skronk blues, McLean bluesnikian derivations, Bird rechannelled and lots more, all harnessed to pull the Lowe carnival of sound. He's surrounded himself with a shifting set of heavy cats: Roswell Rudd, Matthew Shipp, Mark Ribot, and others. One controversial move is to place Jake Millet on electric drums. Jake gets a wash of cymbals and tubby drum sounds that have a sort of noise-envelope like you would hear on swing-bop 78s, less the dropping of bombs per se. But it situates the music in ways that are meta-commentaries on the various historical styles. And in many ways that is what this is all about. A modern, out view of the blues as an organic whole.

Does it work? Yes, on all fronts. Even on the rare occasion where it all seems on the brink of falling apart, it doesn't, but rather pushes the music to the edge of coherence, which I find rather cool. Everybody contributes, but it is Lowe that stage directs and sets the tone. It's a creative representation of blues in its essence: music that has raw immediacy and goes well beyond strict adherence to mechanical form.

It's a lot to digest but there is nothing un-needed or superfluous.

A kind of out-blues tour de force is what it is. Recommended!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Swingadelic Big Band Pays Tribute to Duke Pearson on "The Other Duke"

Swinga- delic holds forth at Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ, on selected nights. A regular gig, some decent soloists and some good arrangers plying their craft on a regular basis can do wonders. We have the evidence of that in their tribute to Blue Note pianist, composer and A&R man, the late Duke Pearson, The Other Duke (Zoho 201107).

It's a straightforward, straight-ahead little big band outing that features many of Duke's most familiar tunes plus a few related ones from the dusty virtual archives of jazz memory. Hard bop funk, Blue Note boogaloo, and melodic contour pieces give you plenty to appreciate.

It's what it is. And what it is is well done. This is not groundbreaking music but it's good, solid big band and it pretty much nails some Pearson gems.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Connie Crothers and Bill Payne Engage in Lively New-Improv Clarinet-Piano Duets: "The Stone Set"

Pianist Connie Crothers is back with another nice offering: The Stone Set (New Artists 1044), a two-CD volume of duets with clarinetist Bill Payne. The first disk captures the two playing a set at NY's The Stone, 2009, probably the premier venue these days for what's important in new jazz and free improvisation. The second disk, Conversations, covers another session of the two playing in Connie's loft in Brooklyn.

It is a chance to hear the two interacting with an open-form set of improvisations. Bill Payne favors cleanly articulated, almost classically pure clarinet sounds that fall into a "new music" hybrid between jazz-based improv and avant classical freedom. He reminds every once in a while of Rolf Kuhn, then, no, he reminds of nobody but himself. Ms. Crothers responds with some of her finest open-framework improvisations to date, corralling all her pianistic textural, harmonic and melodic spontaneities to the interactions at hand.

It's rarified, high-road modernism and it's a model of creative interaction. Connie Crothers, as I've asserted in an earlier review, is an important force in the music today. Her many years playing this music have allowed her to dig ever deeper into her fertile musical imagination and express it all with superb musicianship. And she has found an able and fully compatible collaborator in Bill Payne.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Michael Dessen Trio: "Forget the Pixel" Puts A Personal Stamp On New Jazz

Michael Dessen, trombonist-improviser-composer-bandleader. California based. Basic facts. His newest album Forget the Pixel (Clean Feed 222) brings his trombone, straight horn and electronically enhanced, into orbit with two excellent players: bassist Christopher Tordini, with a bold sound, a smart manipulation of composed motifs, a fluid ensemble presence and a soloist of Zen-like space arrangements. Then there's Dan Weiss, to my mind one of the luminous young drummers on the scene today. He doesn't glow in the dark, but his sense of the rhythmic and color possibilities of the drum set spur on the session.

Michael Dessen writes compositions that go way beyond the cliches and flavor phrases of the month. They are subtle and original and his trombone playing follows that same path.

This album is a sleeper. You must listen to it or you wont get it. That is not as obvious as it sounds. There are albums that enter your ears whether you will it or not. Forget the Pixel works with "willed listening." If you are passive about it, you'll miss it.

And for all that this is well worth the effort. It is different enough that one might put it to one side as an example of how the freebased contemporary scene is not a regurgitation of what went before. It is the further development of the music. It is a matter of new personal approaches, when it's right. This one is right.