Wednesday, May 30, 2012

David Haney Quartet, Avenue of the Americas

Pianist David Haney (now the chief force behind Cadence Magazine) comes up with one of his more unpredictable efforts on the recently released Avenue of the Americas (CIMP 386), which was recorded in 2008. It's a little different in that it teams up Haney with Doug Webb (tenor) and Mat Marucci (drums), the latter a tandem that has recorded a number of albums for the CIMP family of labels in a zone that's a little more straight-ahead than what David does. They are joined by Jorge Hernaez on bass.

Bob Rusch describes in the liners a series of logistical disasters that surrounded this date. It is in some ways a miracle that the music happened at all under the circumstances. But you can read those notes yourself so I will not go into detail.

Combining the near misses of getting it all together with the stylistic synergies and common-ground groping of the band members during the date leads to what turns out to be quite interesting results. Oft times Doug Webb plays in a post-Trane free/post-bop mode while David gets free post-Cecilian jabs from his piano. Jorge's bass often walks and Mat Marucci straddles the space between freetime and swingtime.

Mostly it hangs together with a frisson all its own. Honestly for the first listen I didn't quite get where it was going. Subsequent hearings put it together in my mind. There's not as much David Haney piano as you might expect but what there is keeps your attention and Doug Webb most certainly gets on a mainstem and stays there.

It's an album you have to listen to a few times. But then you are rewarded.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

David Bindman Ensemble, Sunset Park Polyphony

The David Bindman Ensemble, in their recent 2-CD opus Sunset Park Polyphony (self-released), follows in the footsteps of ensembles dedicated to modern jazz composition and adventurous improvisation. Like the ensembles of Henry Threadgill, Dave Holland, and Tim Byrne, this band's music has structured compositional elements interwoven with contemporary soloing that is not quite free in the sense of Ayler or Ornette, but neither is it tied into bop-lifting, according to the jazz detective I hired to investigate.

All humor aside (and perhaps it is already aside anyway) the ensemble has much going for it with Bindman's compositions, his alto and his tenor, plus Wes Brown on contrabass, Royal Hartigan, drums, Art Hirahara, piano, Frank London, trumpet and flugel, and Reut Regev on trombone.

This is Bindman's showcase and that of his ensemble. If they keep moving in this direction they'll have something. Perhaps they might free it up a little bit more often but that's just my gut reaction. Nice music.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jeff Hamilton Trio, Red Sparkle

Jeff Hamilton has for years been one of the premier drummers working in old-guard mainstream. In many ways he is to the drums what Scott Hamilton is to the tenor. They both work in styles that predate contemporary mainstream. And they do it well.

For Red Sparkle (Capri 74114-2) Jeff puts together a hard swinging trio with Tamir Hendelman, piano, and Christoph Luty, bass. The program is grits and groovy originals and standards done in the way that they might do it in a club. I felt like I should be drinking a beer as I listened.

Tamir sounds like everybody and nobody at once with his hard-hitting block soulfulness. You hear a little of everything from Milt Buckner to Red Garland, Oscar Peterson to Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal to Ray Bryant. But no it's not a lot of bop lining that he's up to . . . more like a mini-big-band on the 88s. Christoph articulates his part in the three way arrangements well and gives the music the fundamental grounding it needs. Jeff shows his taste, drive and finessing of the traps.

It may not be breaking new ground, but Red Sparkle masters the older paths with enough push and liveliness that it does not sound routine in the least. It's a good meal for the ears.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hristo Vitchev, Weber Iago, Heartmony

Heartmony (First Orbit Sounds Music 171) is the second duet recording between guitarist and composer Hristo Vitchev and pianist Weber Iago. Without intending to compartmentalize rigidly what is going on here, since music is always more than the labels one can pin on it, the two create a series of lyrical numbers that have some relation to middle-period Keith Jarrett and classic ECM duos. That is not to say that this is a case of overt lifts or lick-nabbing. The music has its own integrity.

The compositions stand out. And both Vitchev and Iago have developed their improvising chops to a point of definite individuality. You cannot pin down the players to a pat set of influences. They both spin solos that say something on their own terms.

Beyond that this is very memorable music. It is filled with sunshine and positive feelings. In that they have the same effect on me as classic Oregon. The mood brightens and one feels good afterwards.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kidd Jordan, On Fire

Kidd Jordan has it. He has had it for many years and perhaps the world is finally catching up with him. He brings his tenor to the trio date On Fire (Engine) and kindles a free-improvisational flame that burns brightly throughout the entire session.

With him are two world-class improvisors: Warren Smith on drums and vibes, and Harrison Bankhead, on cello so my information tells me, though Harrison often sticks with the lower register to get the bass tones more often than not.

This is free-flowing fare. Kidd burns, Warren gets a beautiful diversity of sounds and accents, freely tumbling, and Harrison whips together a veritable froth of double stops, fundamentals, and driving torque.

If you know these three players you can probably already imagine what this will sound like. It does not disappoint. Kidd is one of those big-eared tenorman that has the tone and imagination to move you off your seat. With the considerable savvy and drive of his trio-mates he does. If you don't have a representative example of the Jordan approach, this is a good one. But it is equally good to flesh out your collection. It's Mr. Jordan undiluted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Odean Pope Quartet, Fresh Breeze, 2008

Most readers will know that tenormaster Odean Pope had a long and productive tenure as a member of one of Max Roach's best bands. His own recordings show him in musically solid, compositionally well-suited, good blowing modes.

One of the best is an album from 2008: Fresh Breeze (CIMP 378). It's a quartet date but the way Odean writes and arranges for it, it sometimes sounds like a larger band. The lineup is Maestro Pope on tenor, Bobby Zankel, alto, Lee Smith, bass, and Craig McIver on drums. The rhythm section is in good form and the two horns lock into much that is worth hearing. Eight substantial numbers, good solid ensemble, Pope and Zankel soloing well...that's what you get here. It's worth backtracking to find this one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Michael Vlatkovich Ensemblio, An Autobiography of a Pronoun

Trombonist-composer Michael Vlatkovich has been responsible for some excellent avant music in the past. His latest may well be his most ambitious, and perhaps his most original. I speak of his An Autobiography of a Pronoun (pf MENTUM 067). It's been out for a little while but I am just getting to it (hey it's just me here, covering 500-1000 recordings per year on the three blogs).

I'm certainly glad of it because this one is very worthwhile. It's a fairly large ensemble, eleven musicians to be exact, doing Michael's compositions. Besides Vlakovitch there's Jeff Kaiser, William Roper, Brian Walsh, Harry Scorzo, Jonathan Golove, Tom McNalley, Wayne Peet, Anders Swanson, Mark Burdon, Ellington Peet. Brass, wind, strings, piano, bass, drums/percussion is how it breaks down.

The music strikes a good balance between the composed elements and the loose improvisational/spontaneous stance. When there's pulsation it is made more complicated and unique when Ellington Peet does the ride cymbal work and Mark Burdon the rest of the drum functions. The freetime passages gain something via this division of labor as well.

There is good use of the coloristic and textural possibilities of the ensemble, good use of the players' approaches to their instruments and sustained, flowing moods for each piece that have foundations in the writing and sequencing of the parts and are carried over into the improvisations.

It's a fascinating set, well worth hearing. Support small labels and this excellent ensemble by BUYING a copy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Francois Carrier, Michel Lambert, Alexey Lapin, In Motion

Altoist Francois Carrier made a trip to Russia in December of 2010. He fielded an excellent trio in drummer Michel Lambert and Russian pianist Alexey Lapin. A first CD of a concert in Moscow came out some time ago under the title Inner Spire (see my review of September 23, 2011 on these pages).

A second volume is now avilable, In Motion (Leo 623) and it continues to document this completely free, completely improvised trio holding forth. Alexey has power and a sustained ability to create vibrant onslaughts. Though the piano here at the St-Petersburg venue is slightly detuned, he creates a sound matrix that adds a great deal to the overall vibe.

Drummer Lambert gets the free kicks, punctuations and turbulent percussion undercurrent going in fine ways. He drives the energy level up and helps keep it there.

Francois Carrier as one might expect has his powerful tone and dynamo passion at full output this night. He's an altoist that one can be sure will put in excellent work no matter what the occasion. A post-Trane full-toned reediness and gradual sort of ascension forms the centerpiece and highlight of this performance. He is incandescent.

So there you have it. Another fine gig with this one-time lineup, well recorded and filled with bristling electric energy.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heiner Stadler, Brains on Fire, Complete, Reissue

When I and the world were younger and the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association was distributing all kinds of interesting avant jazz and new music, sometime in the mid-seventies, I came across Heiner Stadler's first, then second volume of Brains on Fire. I was attracted by the impressive personnel line-up, people like Reggie Workman, Jimmy Owens, Tyrone Washington, Lenny White, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Joe Farrell.
Once I heard it a few times though I was most impressed with Mr. Stadler as a jazz composer. His charts had looseness, freedom and a thoroughly developed avant writing style that gelled and made the listening a very illuminating go. Here was an expanded tonality handled with a post-Russell aplomb and interepreted with verve and fire by some of the best jazz musicians around.
So when I was sent a copy of the new two-CD reissue, complete with a large amount of unreleased material (Labor 7069), I was happy. The original music still sounds terrific; the new pieces/performances give still more good reasons to have this set in one's collection.
Perhaps most intriguing of the new material is "Bea's Flat," a 24-minute rearrangement of an old Russ Freeman number, for the Big Band of the North German Radio Station (with Schoof, Dudek and Mangelsdorff). But it's all good.
Lovers of free-composed modern jazz need to check this one out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chicago Underground Duo, Age of Energy, Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek

Here's a good one, the 6th recording by the Chicago Underground Duo, Age of Energy (Northern-Spy 020). It's Chad Taylor on drums and percussion and Rob Mazurek on trumpet, and I assume both on computers, keyboards and drum machines.

Both players play and compose with a deep structural sense. That comes out here in a series of really engaging electro-jazz-rock-funk things that are as much rooted in earth as they are cascading toward space.

The electronics work very well with the conventional instruments. All work together like different colored threads in a tapestry. They fit. They give you much more than what each individual thread might if left alone and unintegrated.

The ghost of psychedelic Miles lurks in the wings as an important influence, as well he should. But Taylor-Mazurek are light years away as far as what they do with the free-electro-rock idea. Much of it has a soundscape richness that in its own way makes use of the sound-color legacy of Fripp-Eno but in a more linear manner.

Chad sounds great, Rob sounds great and the electronics give it all a big, cosmic sound. This one smokes it in very futuristic ways. Dive into this one and you'll be glad you did.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ahmad Jamal, Blue Moon

Pianist Ahmad Jamal enjoyed wide popularity, critical acclaim and a definite influence on other musicians through his trio recordings on Argo from the mid-to-later '50s and early '60s. Miles Davis himself admitted that Ahmad's playing and trio concept had an effect on his own music during that period.

It was a trio where the bass and drums had specific rhythmic and compositional-arrangement roles to fulfill that were unique for such groups at the time. And Ahmad rode on top of the flow, using space and harmonic-melodic-rhythmic looseness in very creative ways to bring out the three-way dynamic.

In his latest CD Blue Moon (Jazz Village 570001) he recaptures that brilliance, updated for today. There's a trio format plus added Latin percussionist. They have worked out a series of motives, grooves and rhythmic post-funk approaches to standards and originals in keeping with Mr. Jamal's original concept.

And Ahmad sounds great. All the loose concentration, the space, the creative verve, it's all there once again in a very attractive program. Great to hear him and his band sounding like this! Grab this one.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ran Blake with David "Knife" Fabris, Vilnius Noir

One thing about pianist-recomposer Ran Blake: you can depend on him as one of the most active and creative harmonic-pianistic personalities of our age. He takes familiar song material and in many ways recomposes each to suit his wide sensibility. His is a freedom of nuance, a freedom of recreation. If anything that propensity and talent has deepened as he gets older.

You can hear this clearly on the new LP-only release Vilnius Noir (No Business NBLP 45). He is joined for much of the album by guitarist David "Knife" Fabris. The chemistry is excellent between the two, with Mr. Fabris paralleling Mr. Blake but coming from a slightly different melodic world (that more conducive to the guitar), and so there is a kind of creative frisson that you can sense in their interactions.

The Blake solo spots are equally worthy. As usual with Ran Blake's repertoire, you never know what he might transform-improvise around. This time out there are some obscurities, some Ran Blake improvised compositions and the more expected-unexpected songs and compositions, like Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour," Michel Legrand's "Watch What Happens," George Russell's "Stratus funk"--a good mix of familiar and less-familiar.

It's Ran Blake at his best and David Fabris sounding great against Ran's full-backdrop and inimitable direction. Listen by all means. No Business is putting it out in a 500 record edition so get to it before it goes OOP!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The October Trio, New Dream

The advanced contemporary pianoless jazz outfit today has become something different than it once was. The classic Sonny Rollins trio of the late '50s, for example, essentially proceeded as a piano-included quartet might at the time, only the space freed up by the absence of piano comping/chord spelling allowed the soloist more freedom and the rhythm section to loosen up and play more densely, to simplify the matter greatly.

By the time a group like Air was flourishing in the '70s, the entire trio had more compositional roles to fulfill in addition to the solo plus flow and momentum mode.

A group such as the October Trio is an heir to that legacy, as you can readily hear in their recent CD New Dream (Songlines 1593-2). It's Evan Arntzen on tenor, soprano and clarinet; Dan Gaucher, drums; and Josh Cole at the contrabass. They roll effortlessly through a series of originals that give pride of place to the group arrangement, a free looseness and multi-improvisational roles to all three members, often simultaneously.

The playing is quite good as are the compositions, which range from free-declamatory to free-rock.

This is a band to watch, a band to hear. The album shows them to have a sound well on the way to maturity, a music that combines the flair of freefire with the musicality of distinctive part-arranging.

Check this one out, by all means.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Steve Kuhn Trio, Wisteria

Steve Kuhn's illustrious career as pianist-composer-bandleader has been rolling along for so long now that it might be easy to take him for granted. We shouldn't. Judging by his latest trio recording Wisteria (ECM B0016762-02) he is as vital as ever. The combination of refined harmonic-melodic sophistication and restrained fire is there still, and perhaps ever more so. Like Keith Jarrett, he owes something of his mature style to a Bill Evans influence. Unlike Jarrett, he incorporates these elements into a Steve Kuhn sensibility.

The trio is an excellent one: Kuhn with Steve Swallow's ever more singular electric bass and Joey Baron's swingingly dynamic drums. They give it all a great big push in a program of originals, other lesser-known jazz gems and a standard.

Steve's roots go way back of course, so you hear a touch of the line weaving of the great instrumentalists of the late '50s and early '60s. And again it is fully incorporated into the Steve Kuhn ethos.

Without indulging in excessive hyperbole I think it is fair to say that Mr. Kuhn remains at the top of the hill among changes-oriented jazz pianists active today. This album offers good evidence of that as it also gives you a program of piano trio sublimity that entertains and uplifts. Beautiful album!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ion Zoo, Venus Looks Good

Ion Zoo is a quartet that focuses on collective spontaneous improvisation-composition. Venus Looks Good (Open Form 091108) presents 18 of their short vignettes. The ensemble consists of Carol Sawyer on vocals, Steve Bagnell, reeds and percussion, Lisa Miller, piano, and Clyde Reed, contrabass.

The music is free with some jazz inflection and a pronounced new music feel. Each improvisation conjures a collective, overlapping four-way invention with a particular mood--abstract, whimsical, energetic, spatial, sparse, etc. They get the various miniature pieces together via some effective listening and reacting.

Carol Sawyer's vocals are well done. She has a levity and humor in her presentation that helps the advanced vocalisms go down easy. Her personal style and musicality help give a defining identity to the ensemble. Steve Bagnell makes good use of his time on reeds and adds texture when he switches off to percussion. Lisa Miller gets inside the piano or phrases some conventionally played utterances that add much to the improvs. Clyde Reed holds up the bottom well.

It's a recording you must hear a few times to get into the maelstrom of its musical ideas. In the end you have some excellent ensemble free improvs, different enough to forge a definite identity for the unit. And they NEVER bore!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Zusaan Kali Fasteau (Kali. Z. Fasteau), Prophecy, 1993

Kali. Z. Fasteau has staying power. In a long and productive career as an avant improviser stemming back from her association with Donald Rafael Garrett through to today, she has remained true to her vision while continuing to expand her multi-instrumental versatility and sound color palette.

As part of our periodic explorations of her music (thanks to Kali sending me a batch of her disks) we look today to an early release on the Flying Note label (9003), her 1993 Prophecy: The Whale and the Elephant Trade Notes on the State of the World. In some ways it is among her most versatile, covering both the world-tribal and free improvisation zones with a fullness of instrumentation and inspiration of a high order.

It's Kali on vocals and a wealth of instruments, the formidable William Parker on contrabass, Shela Somalia Richards, violin, Ron McBee, percussion, Newman Taylor Baker, drums, Oscar Brown III, contrabass, Ronnie Burrage, drums, Badal Roy, tabla. In other words, a heady crew.

It's music of a cosmic dimension, of course. You expect that of Ms. Fasteau's output and you get it. She's consistently extended and expanded the open spirituality and eastward-leaning world village expression pioneered by Trane, Pharoah and others.

I won't go into details on the musical content in this post, except to say that is Kali's music at its collective best. If you want to pick one of hers to start checking her out, this is probably the one to get.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sarah Elgeti Quintet, Into the Open

Today, Danish tenor/ soprano/ flautist Sarah Elgeti and her quintet in a diverse program of contemporary jazz, Into the Open (Your Favourite 020). She is joined by regular quintet members Marianne Markmann-Eriksen on alto and baritone, Christian Bluhme Hansen on electric and acoustic guitars, Jens Kristian Andersen on bass and Thomas Praestegaard on drums. A keyboardist and an extra alto sax join the throng to bolster the sound on selected cuts.

Sarah plays with facility as do the other frontline members of the ensemble.

The primary thrust is on Elgeti's compositional group sound and the diverse territory covered: contemporary jazz-rock, ensemble swing, balladry and a bit of outness here and there.

This is likable, solid, seriously put-together music. The band is off to a very good start. I will be following further developments with interest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lazro-Pauvros-Turner, Curare

The outside edges of improvisation and jazz continue to exist and thrive all over the world. The message of Ayler, Trane, Ornette and Cecil has spread and been adapted over the years into subsets of common vocabulary which could be divided into a number of schools. I wont set about doing that systematically this morning because in part my time is limited, but I will say that the recent release Curare (No Business 38) loosely and effectively makes music that comes out of the sound-as-sound quasi-new music camp.

It's a trio of Daunik Lazro on baritone and alto saxes, Jean-Francois Pauvros on electric guitar, and Roger Turner on drums & percussion. They wind their way through a series of four improvisations notable for the sound textures and colors evoked. All three rely on conventional and unconventional sound production techniques, quite inventively so.

The music that results is a panorama of interactive acoustic sound layering. They work within a pattern of sound and silence less pointilistic than more-or-less continuous.

I remember years ago a review in Downbeat gave the ESP release of the European Free Music 1 & 2 album the rating of four stars/one star. Now that of course was the reviewer's equivalent of throwing up his hands, saying, "how can you evaluate this avant stuff?" Well of course you can and must. Curare succeeds in what it sets out to do. It follows an aesthetic through in ways that show a feel for sounds and the idea that variety and interest, interaction and simultaneous sound composition can be done well or less-so. Curare does it well. The fact that some people may not understand the music or may even come to hate it is not our business. The problem is theirs.

So set sail with this one to one of the avant colonies newly settled. You'll feel at home if you allow yourself an open stance towards it all.