Thursday, March 29, 2012

Romain Collin, The Calling

What starts in the jazz community doesn't always stay in the jazz community. To put it another way, when a upcoming jazz artist gets a reputation among fellow musicians and advance-garde enthusiasts, with some luck and the right releases, his or her music can come to be appreciated in the wider music-listening world. Such a fate may well be in store for pianist-composer Romain Collin. His album The Calling (Palmetto 2156) will be officially out this coming month (though it appears to be available now, at least as a download). I have an advance copy playing one more time as I write this, and I must say that his is the sort of music that could garner him a wide coterie of enthusiasts.

It's a piano trio throughout, with Collin joined by Luques Curtis and Kendrick Scott on double bass and drums, respectively. They are augmented by John Shannon on guitar and Adrian Daurov on cello for several tracks.

In part this music is about the acoustic jazz-rock piano trio sort of thing that Jarrett and then Mehldau, Benevento, and a number of others have made a part of their approach. Romain and his trio play with the sophisticated interactions one expects from a good piano trio: interplay and openness with arranged-composed signposts along the way. There is a very interesting, identifiably original compositional richness to Collin's music that sets him on in his own plane, so to say. Sometimes it is lushly rhapsodic, sometimes pointedly thrusting in a rhythmically kicking fashion. He has a lyrical strain to him that many will find to their liking. And from a technical standpoint his playing shows he has been thoroughly schooled pianistically and makes imaginative use of that background. He can also throw a solo at you that will give you pause and make you smile.

This is a kind of wistful jazz-rock romanticism with compositional heft. His music has all the earmarking of a wider audience. He's the sort of artist that can convert new age lovers into something more formidable without sounding like he is "playing down" to them.

That's a knack. It is a thoroughly enjoyable album with some heavyweight pianism. I wish him all success.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Danny Fox Trio, The One Constant

There are new and interesting things happening with the piano trio in jazz today. Acoustic rock elements and non-traditional forms appear increasingly in some of the new ensembles. The Danny Fox Trio is one of them, and their CD The One Constant (Songlines 1588-2) shows them forging ahead nicely with a very modern approach.

The trio showcases the individual and ensemble talents of Danny Fox, piano, Max Goldman, drums, and Chris Van Voorst van Beest on the upright bass. It's a program of interesting originals that unfold in interesting ways. There is a rock influence but they aren't exactly playing rock. They are playing new music with a straight eighth-note periodicity for the most part and there are ostinatos that contrast with counter themes in ways that make for interesting tensions. And there are rhythmic kicks built into the song-structures that both have a new music connotation and the anticipation-delay feel of big band music, at least as I hear it.

It's not a typically improvising sort of trio in the bop sense. Danny Fox improvises melodically-harmonically in ways that sound modern and relate to the themes introduced. But you won't hear a Bud Powell lick.

What the music gives you is in the NEW realm. It's involved and quite interesting. Hear them!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kali Z. Fasteau, Kidd Jordan, Newman Taylor Baker, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland

Several things you can depend upon with Kali Z. Fasteau's congregations. First, of course, that she plays an impressive battery of different instruments in freely evocative ways. She sets moods and follows up with the right sort of note conjuring. It is as a wind/reedist and pianist that she perhaps most impresses, but it is the overall sound envelope and flow that remains at the forefront of her music. Secondly she is a great facilitator. She gathers together some seminal players in interesting ensemble combinations, and she sets up an improvisational situation where they give us their very best.

This is true of her recorded output as a whole. It is very true of Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland (Flying Note 9012). Here we have a 2007 concert that teams Kali with tenor titan Kidd Jordan and the big-ears drumming of Newman Taylor Baker.

It's a collective ensemble much of the time and Kidd Jordan sounds beautiful. Baker gets maximum traction from listening and contributing just the right percussive wash, and Kali alternately brings in important contributions on piano, echoed flute, drums, vocals, soprano and bowed strings.

The Kerava date has that cosmic dimension one has come to expect in Kali's music. With the formidable trio lineup of Fasteau-Jordan-Baker things most definitely get going.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dick Wood, Not Far From Here

There was a soulfully raw sound in many of the new thing freedom bands in the early days that somehow seems to have all but disappeared in many corners of the free zone these days. Dick Wood's Not Far From Here (pfMENTUM 065) brings that back in no uncertain terms.

The band charges ahead throughout, led by Wood's alto and flute. With him are Dan Clucas, cornet, Hal Onserud on acoustic bass, Mark Trayle, electronics, and Marty Mansour on the drums. For two cuts they are joined by Dan Ostermann on the trombone and Chuck Manning on tenor.

Dick writes all the pieces, which have an early Simmons, early Dixon-Shepp-Cherry feel to them. The band blows through them with the conviction, looseness and fire of an early Art Ensemble, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that therefore they are the next AEC. The point is that they go about their music in ways that are not especially polite, and that's good.

This is a group effort with lots of cross-improvs and sounds both little and big. Nobody is going to blow you away as the improviser of the century, but collectively they get it very right. And that's refreshing. That's good to hear.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Post Jazz Mistress, "Global Warming"

After 10 years of playing together the Italian guitar-bass-drums trio Post Jazz Mistress have developed the kind of rapport, blend, and kinetic energy reserved for the very talented and collectively persistent units in the music. I say that and yet I don't believe I have ever heard the band until now and their new release Global Warming (TRP Music 0057). It's Osvaldo Di Dio, Vincenzo Virgillito, and Antonio Fusco, on guitars, contrabass and drums, respectively.

The album has some of the lyricism of Metheny, the controlled spaciality of later Terje Rypdal, and perhaps a few other things in there as well. There is a compositional and instrumentational division of labor that comes out of a sure and passionately committed treatment of their material. All three voices are equally important in the putting across of a piece and the improvisations that come out of it. Like the old classical jazz '78s, a number may be 2/3 compositional, but when the solo comes in, you are ready for it and the soloist says what he does with a sort of haiku profundity-in-controlled-brevity.

The pieces, the integrated trio sound, and the gorgeous guitar and bass wood/metal drums skin/wood/metal sensual beauty of it all make this one a knockout. Sophisticated jazz-rock lovers take note. This one will make you smile and then play it again, smile and play it again, smile...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Herculaneum, "Uchu"

Here today we have the fifth album by Herculaneum, Called Uchu (Herculaneum Sound). It's an LP on limited edition vinyl.

The band, a sextet, is headed up by Dylan Ryan, the drummer, who pens many of the originals. The rest of the band is Nick Broste: trombone, David McDonnell: alto saxophone, Nate Lepine: tenor saxophone, Patrick Newbery: trumpet, and Greg Danek: bass. Uchu makes it clear that the band espouses their own brand of modern, well-composed jazz, with interesting ensemble routines and a fired-up rhythm section. There is good contemporary idiosyncratic tenor soloing from Lepine, but everybody in the front line can and does solo with accomplishment. They get some collective solo excitement going at times too.

This is new jazz--modern in the post-Holland, post-Byrne, post-Threadgill sense. It is fresh, tight, freely unfolding at times, and charging forward with some exciting music. I find it rather exhilarating. Here we have a band for our times. They deserve greater exposure and recognition. Nice album!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nordeson Shelton, "Incline"

Nordeson Shelton is Aram Shelton on alto sax and Kjell Nordeson on drums. Incline (Singlespeed Music 009) is a set of freely improvised pieces by the duo. They found themselves working together in the San Francisco Bay area around 2005, first in a quartet on the Clean Feed album Cylinder, thereafter as the duo Nordeson Shelton.

Nordeson's drumming and his kit expand the usual sound parameters with an interesting array of metalic objects, small drums and large, and some trashy sorts of cymbals among the usual ones. He sets up interesting backdrops and counterlines to Aram's alto which has a creatively dry sound. Aram in turn creates less-standard sorts of lines than the usual free-horn barrages, though he is not above applying some heat at times.

Nordeson Shelton show originality and imagination on this one. It may sway a little towards the new music side of the nm-jazz spectrum but it doesn't short-change immediacy in the process. A promising beginning. Indispensible? No. Interesting? Yes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

FAS Trio, "Chimeco"

The FAS Trio is a heady blend of sax-bass-drums. Their album Chimeco (Discos Intolerancia) showcases a major free outing by the group. They are Mexico-based for the most part. Remi Alvarez is the tenorist, David Sanchez is the contrabassist and Jorge Fernandez takes on the drums.

And the result is some fine improvising. Remi Alvarez has a strong tone. In his own way he takes to heart Sam Rivers' challenge for players to develop their own phrasings, their own way. He does. There is strong work from Mr. Alvarez from start to finish, in an expanded tonal mode. Mr. Sanchez's contrabass and Mr. Fernandez's drums are right there with him in a three-way expression that hangs together as a cohesive, freely improvised whole.

The set has energy, poise and melodic movement of an inspired sort. You can grab the album on i tunes. And if you are a free-thing enthusiast, you will want to! Recommended. Otra vez!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The New World Jazz Composers Octet, "Breaking News"

Daniel Ian Smith's full octet does something not easy to do. They play hip nubop charts with the mid-later Blue Note Renaissance attention to swing, finely rendered jazz composition/part writing and some very worthy solo work. That is on Breaking News (Big and Phat Jazz Productions 1022). They call themselves the New World Jazz Composers Octet.

Mark Walker is a very swinging drum cat and that sets the foundation for some very good doings. There are good soloists a plenty: Felipe Salles' and the leader's tenors, Tim Ray on piano, Ken Cervenka and/or Walter Platt on trumpets...And there are some very hip charts by Platt and Salles as well as Jeff Friedman, Matthew Nicholl, Richard Lowell and a three-part "Trilogy" by longtime Berklee presence Ted Pease.

This is their third album to date and it shows that they are a force of good for the state of the jazz world. And they can hit it. They do! Recommended.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Noah Kaplan Quartet, Descendants

Tenor saxist Noah Kaplan graduated from the New England Conservatory, where he quite obviously studied with the late Joe Manieri, and now emerges with an interesting album centering on his quartet, Descendants (HatOLOGY 688). It's a freewheeling avant date with very nice collective and individual moments from Joe Morris, guitar, Giacomo Merega, electric bass, Jason Nazary, drums and of course Kaplan.

I found I first had to get used to Noah's playing style, which uses glissandos and quarter tones along with bursts of more "conventional" avant phrasing. It's ultimately well worth hearing what he does here, though it takes a while to get into. Joe Morris's chromatic atonality is well suited as a countervoice to Kaplan and he sounds quite nice on this session, as always. Merega and Nazary open things up quite a bit in the free domain and so give the front line the ultimate flexibility to weave their spells.

It takes a few listens to get acclimated. Then, if you are like me, you dig it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Carol Morgan Quartet, Blue Glass Music

Trumpetismo Carol Morgan returns with a nicely put-together quartet on her Blue Glass Music (Blue Bamboo Music 019) in a program of songbook and jazz standards and a couple of originals by band members. It's thoughtfully straight-ahead jazz in a contemporary bopping-the-changes mode. Drummer of note Matt Wilson grounds the music with his tasteful swing, Martin Wind wields the bass in appropriate ways, tenorist Joel Frahm plays an eclectic and limber tenor, and Carol Morgan shows her debt to the cool-heat of past masters while sounding ever more confident in her own right.

This has good blowing frameworks and the emphasis on the trumpet-tenor solo spots, with some nice interplay between the two as well. They cover some well worn paths, from "April in Paris" to Ornette's "Lonely Woman," but they do so with the special fingerprint of players with their own take on where to take it all.

Ms. Morgan has poise and fluency. She is sounding better than ever here. Nice job.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lama, "Oneiros": Contemporary Modern Jazz from Portugal

Lama is a trio of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, flugel and electronics; Goncalo Almeida on contrabass plus effects and loops; and Greg Smith on drums. Their album Oneiros (Clean Feed 240) gives us a good hearing of what they are about with eight pieces, six by Almeida and one apiece by Silva and Smith.

First off, a quibble. Sometimes the electronics on the pieces sound extraneous and unnecessary, little sounds akin to surface noise or digital distortion. I found it most times a distraction to what was going on elsewise. Once I recognized what it was I was hearing (not my stereo blowing up) I managed to partially tune it out and concentrate on the other musical voices. Other times the electronics seem more integral to the proceedings. There are only a few sections that have this sort of electronic undercurrent, so it is a minor concern.

This is contemporary trio jazz with Silva's trumpet defining the sound distinctively. Much of the music works around motives that repeat and transform, solos following in part the impetus and implications of the motif. Silva's brass work tends to be puckish in interesting ways, she does not often let loose with long strings of improvisational speech but more often sticks to short stabbing cells that she works out of. Goncalo has a more long-phrased approach and does some quite interesting work within the collective format. Greg Smith plays nicely free or swinging drums depending on the context and is a good addition.

All-in-all this is a quite interesting set. It is so as much or more so compositionally-conceptually as it is improvisationally in any long-lined linear sense. But that in part is what makes the music different.

I found the music stimulating. Let us see where they go from here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

David Arner, Live from the Center, 2003

The more I listen to pianist David Arner's recorded output the more I am convinced he is one of the more important avant improvising pianists active today. His 2003 Live from the Center (Dogstar 0506) reaffirms that. It's a solo concert with Arner and a good sounding grand piano holding forth at some length.

What strikes me about this release is how Arner emphasizes the improvisation-new music aspect of his work. Inside-the-piano thrums, dampened strings, clusters of notes and fluid note-weaving are at the forefront, with less referential allusions to historical jazz styles than can be the case in other recordings he has made.

Another thing that struck me on repeated listens to this disk is how rhythmically different he is and how different his approach to melodic cells is as compared with the approach of Cecil Taylor. Cecil is of course a prime ancestor to almost all piano improvisations of this sort. To manage NOT to sound like him is not easy. To sound like David Arner in ways that are musically stimulating is that much more remarkable in light of the Master Taylor's all-encompassing influence. Of course there are other influences to be heard here, but again in terms of David managing NOT to sound like them either in any direct sense.

Aside from that this is a musical piano hour-plus of great interest. It should provide endless hours of listening for those like myself who imbibe such music as prime aesthetic nourishment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dennis Gonzalez, Joao Paulo, "So Soft Yet"

Dennis Gonzalez over the years has shown himself not just as a creative and masterful trumpet player and important bandleader. He also composes some excellent music and, equally importantly, he plays and conceives most everything with a sort of thoughtful compositional deliberation. I've never heard a release of his that didn't have its own reason for existence, a clear "thing" happening, a kind of focus.

With keyboardist Joao Paulo he has an ideal duo partner. Joao too has a deliberation in his spontaneity, a structural thinking inherent in his note and timbre choices.

So when they got together for a second volume of duets (see the July 6, 2009 article for a review of the first) these factors were again decisive in the resulting music, So Soft Yet (Clean Feed 243).

Joao Paulo gets a sound on the electric piano, plays a folk-free sort of accordion and uses the full scope of the conventional piano strings--plucked and sounded, dampened, regular key articulation, etc., to set the mood of each number. Of course it is also WHAT he plays that sets up the duet interaction. Simple pulsed riffs, freely unfolding tonal-centered flourishes, gospel-like rollers, lyrical balladic freedom, atmospheric ambiance, almost koto-like figures, rapid repeating and varying riffs that expand into free tonal interplay...I could go on.

And Dennis responds with a series of marvelous improvisations on C trumpet and Bb cornet, limber and eloquent, spontaneous and structured.

It's another enormously engaging series of duets that are as pleasing to hear as they must have been a pleasure to play. Hear this one!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quintet, Turn Signal

Mike's Wofford's well defined pianism and musical personality was an important component of Shelly Manne's last units. Holly Hofmann has been gaining increasing credence as a flautist of considerable resource and mainstream inspirations. Put the two together with Terell Stafford (trumpet and flugel), Rob Thorsen (bass) and Richard Sellers (drums), and give them some interesting material to work with and you have something worthwhile. That is, on Turn Signal (Capri 74111-2).

I like the repertoire, an original each by both leaders, some lesser-known jazz compositions, including Dick Twardzik's "The Girl From Greenland," and a standard ("Pure Imagination"). The arrangements are well wrought and create landmarks through which the improvisations weave.

Wofford sounds excellent on piano these days. A complete melodist-harmonist in the sophisticated tonal vein that Bill Evans most succinctly established in his own way, Mike Wofford in another. Hofmann has a beautiful tone, good ideas and some soul too. Mr. Stafford has equal solo billing much of the time and deserves the hearing he gets as a well-burnished noteful presence. The rhythm team knows where to put the pulse, embellishes and drives at the appropriate points, and gets in the groove.

So in the end this is thoroughly accomplished, thoroughly enjoyable straight-ahead jazz. It should have a wide appeal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bobby Bradford, Mark Dresser, Glenn Ferris, "Live in LA"

What are the chances that Bobby Bradford would be prominently featured on two disks in a row on this blog? It would be slim only because of the luck of the draw. Nevertheless it is happening today.

And so we have a trio of Mr. Bradford (on cornet) plus bassist Mark Dresser and trombonist Glenn Ferris, Live in LA (Clean Feed 241). There are trios with this instrumentation that seem wholly self-sufficient; others you ask yourself "where's the drummer?" Live in LA almost seems like the latter. The periodicity of much of the music (in a post-early-Ornette groove) seems to need the equivalent of an Eddie Blackwell back there polyrhythmically pushing it. But no. If that were the case Mark Dresser's fine bass playing and the liberties he takes might have been lost or hindered a bit. So the trio format allows Dresser to be a more fully front-lined member of the trio. And so it is.

That's the point of this one, I think. It's three important improvisers playing out of some head compositions, or improvising from the get-go, expanding their solo work and getting into two- and three-way collective improvisations too. It's good to hear Glenn Ferris again, onetime youthful star of Don Ellis's big band and an important member of Billy Cobham's Crosswinds ensemble. Perhaps his playing is a little less brash today, a little more mature, but no less striking. Mark Dresser is filled with good ideas throughout, as you would expect. And Bobby Bradford sounds terrific, as only he can in the way he does.

By the way, the "live" in the title refers to the immediacy of the music, not to the audience, which is actually not there in any audible sense. It was recorded at Bruce Fowler's house. The sound is quite decent.

So in the end this is a fine outing for all three, individually and collectively. Do not hesitate.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Vinny Golia Quartet, Take Your Time

Vinny Golia has for 30 years give-or-take created vibrant uncompromising jazz that bears his distinctive waterprint. That he is very much alive and well is quite apparent on the 2007 recording just now coming out: Take Your Time (Relative Pitch 1003).

It's a quartet of fine players--Vinny on tenor, alto and soprano, Bobby Bradford on cornet, Ken Filano on bass, and Alex Cline on drums.

This one is remarkable for the Golia-Bradford interactions, the interaction of the two with Cline and Filiano, and the latter with themselves.

It is an appealing straightforwardly "new thing" date, with heads and plenty of space for the soloists. Bradford sounds his effective self; Vinny moves to his own inner voice, original all the way, and the Filiano-Cline combination catapults the music ever upwards.

Is this album a huge revelation and the best thing Maestro Golia has ever done? No. But it IS an excellently realized, unpretentious meeting of four accomplished improvisational masters, who by being themselves, by playing with soul and fire, by their candor and concentration, give you a lively set of new jazz.

And that's what it is all about. Part of it anyway.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Acoustic Reign Project, "Arc"

The Acoustic Reign Project came out with their first CD in 2003. They return with a new recording entitled Arc (Sol Disk 1102) and it brings nearly an hour of good sounds into your life.

The band is a nice mix of free improvisers: Jim Knodle, trumpet, Brian Kent, tenor, Reuben Radding, contrabass, Roger Fisher, guitar (on the final piece) and Jack Gold-Molina on drums. They rip through five numbers, tending toward the collective improvisational stance, broken into different groupings and cross-dialogues throughout. These work well and nobody is a stylistic stand-in for some iconic forebearer. They are themselves and what that is works effectively as a unit. The rhythm team of Radding and Gold-Molina lay a plastically solid foundation for the front line while soloing well themselves and the front line has good ideas that do not suffer in their execution.

It's a very solid go-round. Enthusiasts of the free-avant jazz avenues will find this a satisfying listen. One hopes we won't have to wait as long for the third. This second album establishes the need for more!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kali Z. Fasteau, Animal Grace, 2010

There is one thing about Kali Z. Fasteau's music of which you can be sure. She cannot be easily pigeonholed into a single stylistic category. Her music has free elements, world elements and her own expressive elements that set her apart. Plus she chooses wisely and carefully the artists she collaborates with on any given recording.

Today's CD is a great example of all this. Animal Grace (Flying Note 9014) combines highlights from two live sessions. The first, "Live in Harlem" finds Kali on the piano, mizmar, nai flute, voice, violin and soprano sax, in tandem with drumming legend Louis Moholo-Moholo.

There is a dynamic interaction going on, Kali playing some very nice post-Trane piano against Louis's recognizably distinct free drumming, followed by the echoed nai flute and more space for Louis. Kali uses a signal splitter in the next segment, enabling her to sing chords. A violin excursion follows, then a strong soprano-drum duet to close off the set. Moholo's attentive surges of drums give Kali a great sounding board to play off against, and in the piano and soprano segments she shines particularly brightly.

The second segment, "Live in the Alps," gives Kali a larger group to work with: Bobby Few on piano, Wayne Dockery on bass, and Steve McCraven on drums. Here Kali again shines on soprano and nai, as well as split-signal voice, mizmar, sanza and drums. It's the segments where Few does his inimitable thing, the rhythm section cooks/explodes and Kali gives forth with post-Trane sopranoisms that especially captivate. But it is captivating music all around thanks to all concerned. Kali and Bobby Few stand out the most consistently, not surprisingly, in exciting ways.

Suffice to say that this is an outing well worth your listening time. While it's not easy to pin Kali Fasteau down, it is easy to like her brand of freedom. This is a very good place to hear it.