Friday, June 29, 2012

Jessica Lurie Ensemble, Megaphone Heart

Think of Carla Bley when she does song compositions-arrangements-performances. Then forget it. Jessica Lurie's music sounds nothing like that. But she does something similar, in that she combines rock, jazz avant and whatnot through personally strong arrangements built around her art songs.

Her second album as the Jessica Lurie Ensemble came out this spring. It's time to talk about it. Megaphone Heart (self released) features Jessica's appealing, down-to-earth vocals, her lucid alto-tenor-baritone and flute, her presence. The band includes Brandon Seabrook, a banjo wizard who has several compelling albums under his own moniker, and he also plays guitar effectively here. Erik Deutsch plies the keys. Todd Sickafoose plays the upright and produced the album. Allison Miller is on drums, and Marika Hughes guests on cello.

It's the sort of music that no doubt is finding good airplay on college stations. It has songs that have strength and stay in the mind. The title track most especially. Jessica, Brandon and Erik make a distinctive mark on the music instrumentally. Everyone sounds right for the pieces at hand.

You get a little mid-eastern/klezmer influence, highly transformed into something Lurie-esque. There's also some of the density of rock, and all kinds of singular instrumental combinations. And she can sing!

But is it jazz? Well, yes, at times it is unmistakably that. Other times it combines lots of influences and if you just sit back and dig the entire gestalt of what's going on you'll find that this is a very original journey--into the world of Jessica Lurie and her musical vision.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Remi Alvarez / Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, First Duet Live

Tenorist Remi Alvarez and bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten have been getting increasing attention on these pages, mostly because they are important emerging voices in the new jazz/avant/improvisational scene.

So it is only natural that I cover their collaboration First Duet Live (JaZt Tapes CD-034). It's the two in a live appearance from 2010, at the SMART Art Project Space, San Antonio, Texas.

So much for the preliminaries. The two are in burning form for this 45-minute performance. Ingebrigt can smoke you, can note you, can coax a flurry of sounds from his bass and he does that nicely here. Remi is a strong voice on the tenor and shows you why he is a player who is coming through with a great sound and inventive originality.

It's a fruitful collaboration. Free-spirited avant aficionados like myself will find it excellent listening. Hey, next time a trio with a hip drummer?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble, Eastern Accents in the Far West

Time for something a couple of years old, from 2010, that's worth considering. It's drummer/pianist Dave Mihaly, a former student of Barry Atschul (as I am) and Andrew Cyrille, and a weaver of musical composition. The disk at hand features his Shimmering Leaves Ensemble. The album is called Eastern Accents in the Far West (Porto Franco 016).

The band is Dave plus Ara Anderson on trumpet, bass trumpet, sousaphone and drums, and David Boyce on tenor and drums. Dave and band's decision to go with 14 shorter cuts gives the album a fast pace, with everything from Trane-Elvin swings, to post-AEC funk to free-flowing essays with thematic guideposts.

Dave sounds very loose and creative on drums; Ara and David have earthy, limber avant sounds and attacks on their respective instruments.

The sheer variety of compositional-improvisational feels and the concise nature of each track makes this album easy to digest and quite pleasurable. Like the best of the AACM artists, these are players with a sound personality and an ensemble with bite and tang. Nice work!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jerry Granelli Trio, Let Go

From veteran ace drummer Jerry Granelli comes a nice trio outing, Let Go (Plunge 00638). Jerry is on drums and sounds loose and swingingly nuanced; Simon Fisk doubles on contrabass and cello and fills an important melodic and rhythmic role, plus he's excellent with a bow or pizz; and there is Danny Gore on tenor, baritone and soprano. He's his own man.

All the numbers are co-written by the entire trio and have memorability and plenty of musicality. The pieces, perhaps because all three had a hand in them, flow naturally in terms of composition-arrangement and improvisation.

For several numbers they are joined by Mary Jane Lamond on vocals. She has a playfulness to her vocalizing, a good sound and adds quite a bit to the mix when she is present.

This is post-bop at its loose but focused best. The trio, with or without Ms. Lamond, is a winner. Well worth hearing!

Monday, June 25, 2012

John Yao Quintet, In the Now

A trombonist and composer of talent, vision and stature. That's John Yao. The debut of his quintet, In the Now (Innova 823), brings together some excellent players for a program of modern jazz that looks forward, establishing an identity among groups that place themselves staunchly in the jazz-as-art-not-entertainment tradition.

The compositions have substance, providing the improvisations with a set of contrasting frameworks that serve as launching and reference points throughout. The rhythm section cooks things up. Ingram is in the right places with the right sorts of things whether it be on Hammond, Rhodes or piano. Jon Irabagon has made a big impact on the scene as a young Turk on saxophone (here alto and soprano) and he lives up to that reputation with some fine work here. Yao shows he's a player to hear today, a trombonist who shows he is headed somewhere. The album is a winner! Give a listen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alan Rosenthal, Just Sayin'

I wasn't very intimate with the music of pianist-composer Alan Rosenthal before his new CD Just Sayin' (self-released) crossed my desk. Now I most certainly am!

He meshes together with the great bass and drums of Cameron Brown and Steve Johns, respectively, and lets loose.

He has affinities, certainly, with middle-period Paul Bley and early-mid Keith Jarrett. And a touch of Bill Evans. But he goes his own way with that to create a very inventive set of performances. It's new-bop, free-bop, bop-be going on in the best sense.

The compositions pop, the band swings brilliantly and Alan creates some very choice pianism. It's all there: touch, striking voicings, lines of originality and some very groovy Cameron and Steve.

Eight Rosenthal originals plus the old "Red, Red Robin" as a change up make for a very listenable set.

It's an extraordinarily nice trio outing that will make you happy if you seek something in the modern vein that is NOT shopworn.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pail Bug

Pail Bug (Generate Records 18) features a quartet of improvisers who follow the star of new music sounds more so than post-bop/freebop. They are Dietrich Eichmann on piano, John Hughes, double bass, Astrid Weins, double bass, and Jeff Arnal, percussion.

Their pedigree tells you a bit about where the music comes from: Jeff studied with Milford Graves, Dietrich with Schippenbach, and both John and Astrid have been associated with Peter Kowald.

The press sheet tells us that the group creates compositions "built from the extreme magnification of small sounds and gestures." And indeed this is more a micro- than a macro-music. The multilayering of sounds created by the collective places emphasis on the interaction of detailed improvisations. It's not, in other word, a band that focuses on the "big head" powerhouse thing or on aggressive soloing.

In that the music has more in common with AMM or MEV than in does with, say, Albert Ayler in full-shout mode. Or for that matter, more in the quieter sounds made by Cecil Taylor ensembles at the beginnings or endings of long improvisations.

If you listen with those parameters in mind I think you will find an interesting program of no compromising improv. They are off to a good start. May they continue to develop as an ensemble.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Michael Treni Big Band, Boy's Night Out

There is mainstream modern and then there is mainstream traditional. The Michael Treni Big Band is the latter, at least on their latest CD Boy's Night Out (Bell Production). This band has affinities with the original Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Vanguard band, late Woody, that sort of thing.

But they are good at it: tight ensemble, swinging rhythm section, nice soloists, good arrangements. Michael Treni is on trombone. I see Jerry Bergonzi is in there on saxes (and I hear him too). The rest of the names don't ring a bell with me, but they sound well together.

It's a nice romp through some perennials, "Something's Coming" from West Side Story, "Lullaby of Birdland," Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G.", "Here's That Rainy Day," and others less familiar. It all sounds very good. You like this sort of thing, you will most definitely like this band!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Marshall Gilkes, Sound Stories

We live in an age, musically and perhaps otherwise, where multiple, pluralistic stylistic trends and content development proceed on multiple sets of virtual rivers and tributaries, each subject to its own set of standards and criteria and none superseding the others.

Certainly that is happening in the music called jazz and its many relatives by birth or marriage. And for someone like me, who revels in multi-renaissances, it is an exciting and rewarding time to live. Paradoxically, it is also a time where musical giants and potential giants, along with their shorter but equally serious handmaidens, scuffle to live, a situation that we cannot discuss here, but is as real and is as disturbing as anything we all face.

The point right now is what kinds of flourishing we are witnessing. Yesterday we had an excellent avant big band led by trombonist Steve Swell; today we have an excellent small-group mainstream jazz recording by trombonist Marshall Gilkes, namely Sound Stories (Alternate Side 005).

Marshall Gilkes plays a lot of trombone, with hipness and taste, and nice tone. His running partner, the up-and-coming (or is it "there-and-coming"?) Donny McCaslin on tenor, does the same in his own way. The two together and separately have much to do with the success of this, Marshall's third album.

The piano-bass-drums team is the right combination to go with the two-horn team. Adam Birnbaum on piano (a name you may well know) is heat and finesse personified. Yasushi Nakamura and Eric Doob on bass and drums, respectively, give the music that kick it needs and at the same time swing the hell out of everything.

And the compositions, all by Marshall, are complicated, driving, kicking, odd-timed and even-timed goodies of a high order. He combines sophistication with soul and the band goes with that perfectly.

In the end this one is not something to be ignored or taken for granted. Gilkes is a trombonist of real stature, the band is excellent and the compositions fresh and exciting. It may be easy to miss this one. You should not. Get it if you like new bone and rather great music for the quintet of today.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Steve Swell's Nation of We, The Business of Here, Live at Roulette

New York used to be now, according to Ornette's album title. It still is. It may not be a place to make much money, most of the time these days though--if it ever was for some things. But it is a place where trombonist-composer-bandleader Steve Swell could assemble 22 of the finest avant jazzmen and form the out big band Nation of We. And make an artistic success of it to boot.

They've had one or two releases out. Now we have the best yet, The Business of Here. . . Live at Roulette (Cadence Jazz Records 1238).

The business/logistic end of a project like this can be somewhat daunting these days: gather the musicians, rehearse, get the gig, play and record the proceedings, get the CD produced, pay the musicians, get the release out there, etc. Thanks to the persistence of all concerned, especially Maestro Swell, we have the release in our hands, in our ears, and it is worthy of all the efforts against all odds.

So here we have it...22 musicians holding forth at the Roulette club in NYC. There's Steve Swell of course, on trombone, composition, arrangements, conduction. And there are cats like Jason Hwang, Daniel Levin, Guiseppe Logan, Darius Jones, Sabir Mateen, Ras Moshe, Matt LaVelle, Dave Taylor, Chris Forbes, Todd Nicholson, Jackson Krall, and others.

Like the big bands of Sun Ra when on a certain planet, and those of Alan Silva and Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra, this is BIG sounding music. This is "free" big band, with motifs, conductions, collective and individual solos. Most importantly it projects--excitement, complexity, energy, a hugeness of sound. And it does all that in the high tradition of the spirit feel.

In the second decade of the millennium, THIS is a big band that should be getting recognition. The Business of Here is a tour de force of imagination and execution. It is a band I hope we get to hear a great deal more from. In the meantime grab a copy. Everyone with an interest in the lively free arts should have one and listen carefully! The music is important.

Friday, June 15, 2012

TromBari (Glenn Wilson, Jim Pugh), The Devil's Hopyard, Music of Thomas Chapin

Glenn Wilson, baritone sax, and Jim Pugh, trombone, form the nucleus of the band TromBari. For the project at hand they assemble a version of the ensemble that includes violin, cello, cello or bass, and bass, drums and percussion to play the music of the late Thomas Chapin. The Devil's Hopyard (Jazzmaniac JR3625) is the CD in question and it's something to be heard.

Glenn Wilson is a vastly underrated barimaster and Jim Pugh an excellent trombone counterpart. They are in great form here. The rhythm section kicks it all with lots of heat when needed. Josh Hunt's drumming is just right, very swinging with a great sound, and his counterpart Chris Nolte on bass is there, too. The duo give the music a great swing when needed. The string section of Dorothy Martirano, violin, Tomeka Reid, cello, and Armand Beaudoin on cello and bass, can solo collectively and/or individually and play the arranged parts with the proper straddling between new music tone and jazz inflection. Percussionist Matt Plaskota adds color to the mix in good ways.

The star attraction here is the Chapin music, two burners and the ambitious five-part "Devil's Hopyard Suite." They are compositions with grit; they swing and bop with fire and they go on to more extended melodic developments that get the ear to listen and appreciate.

Glenn and Jim give the music a leverage that makes this album especially excellent. They play their parts with conviction and they solo collectively and individually in ways that attest to their own prowess and their long-time association.

In short this CD has it all going, great compositional platforms played with authority, a horn & strings sound that puts this music in a league of its own, and the exuberant presence of two horn masters.

I hope this band does some touring because it is impressive and should be heard widely. The Devil's Hopyard delivers some excellent music that you should not miss.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ches Smith, Psycho Predictions

The very hip drummer Ches Smith, a name that should be familiar to the devotee, combines his driving/smart style of drumming with some bold electronics on the new LP Psycho Predictions (Preposterous Bee).

This is hot stuff, avant, with some of the drive of rock but the sensibility of the new music and what sometimes we call jazz.

It is very electronic, so if you hate that (and shame on you if you do) you might not take to it at first. For the others, open your ears and you will get three provocative pieces that fuse drumming, percussion, vibes and synthesizer/computer programming into a big-aysed congress of newness.

It's compositional and it works. And the performances are right there in your face in the best sort of way. So listen (more than once) and you'll get someplace from here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith, Ten Freedom Summers

When a musical giant produces a masterpiece, one is at first speechless. That was my first reaction to Wadada Leo Smith's moving and monumental Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Rune 350-353), a four-CD set of 19 interrelated compositions portraying the bitter, courageous and ultimately breakthrough struggle for African-American freedom, the Civil Rights movement in the period of 1954-1964.

I was speechless. Truly. Speechless because the music has such significance, on any level you could experience.

It is a product of 34 years of compositional labor, compositional inspiration, though much of the work was completed in the past three years. It is a pinnacle of achievement in a remarkable creative career and a summing up of all that has been and is Wadada the master creator. But most of all it is a music statement of high importance.

The musicians involved in the project are of course all-important to its success. And they come through. Aside from Wadada on trumpet, there is his Golden Quintet--Wadada plus Anthony Davis on piano, John Lindberg on bass, and drummers Susie Ibarra and Pheeroan akLaff. Their performance is phenomenal. Then there is the modern classical group Southwest Chamber Music under the direction of Jeff von der Schmidt. They, too, are in a fine mettle. They excel in their readings and add the important third dimension to this totalizing work. (The three being trumpet, quintet and chamber group.)

The music in sequence showcases Wadada's by now iconic trumpet mastery, the improvisational and compositional realizations by the quintet and the contemporary music as played by the chamber orchestra. The three forces work together as equal sonic partners for music that does not flag nor does it seem anything but an inevitable, natural musical flow from event to event. And each event is necessary, wonderfully evocative and profoundly moving.

If nothing else this series of works integrates the composed and the improvised in ways where it makes no sense to parcel out the music categorically. The music is one and it makes one cohesive statement. There is stylistic integration of the forms that Wadada hears, as a composer, as a free improviser, and someone who has worked his way out of later Miles to come back to himself even more strongly. He has distilled the essence of his music to make an extended mega-work that despite its length is never tentative or indulgent, but always right on point musically.

I will leave it to the listener to discover the interrelations between the music and the events in the Civil Rights struggle that it depicts, commemorates, mourns and celebrates accordingly. Those ten years turned out to be momentous and as important to the rights of all African-Americans as it is to the people of the United States at large. The fight of course did not end in 1964. It is still taking place. All the more important then to look back on that critical period and remember through music.

After my period of speechlessness and several more listens to the entire cycle I regained my voice. This is music of the sort that comes along only a few times in any generation. It is a landmark achievement. The music breathes life into our times by defining it in relation to the critical historic past, and it does so in a way that future generations, I believe, will associate with our era. We are witnesses and participants in history. A history of the Civil Rights Movement, yes, but also in music history. Ten Freedom Summers will be one of the defining works of our era. I do believe that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Clarinet Trio: 4 (Jurgen Kupke, Michael Thieke, Gebhard Ullmann)

Wind-only or horn-only ensembles rely as much as any conflagration on the distinctive sound of the instruments separately and collectively and the distinctive character of the pieces played. Without some special set of qualities things can begin to have a certain sameness.

The Clarinet Trio have all these things going for them. They deliver individual sonarity, a disciplined ensemble sound in a free-flowing context--and both compositions and improvisations that go far from the ordinary.

The new album, simply titled 4 (Leo 622) reflects the members's long association (since the '90s) and the unique makeup of the program. This is Gebhard Ullmann's baby in many ways. He plays bass clarinet in the ensemble and provides all but one of the compositional frameworks (there's an Ornette Coleman work; there are also two collective improvisations by the trio). Joining him for the distinctive group sound are Jurgen Kupke on clarinet and Michael Thieke on alto clarinet and clarinet.

Each composition is its own universe with written-out sections of great motor vibrancy contrasted by quieter moments of relative repose, notes deliberately played sharp by the ensemble for a blue note avant effect, different forms of articulation and dynamics.

The end results are striking. It's a trio with a sound like no other, playing music that is challenging yet appealing, that stretches from the bluesy roots to the newest avant branching off, Ullmann-style.

4 is one of the most interesting and exciting jazz wind ensemble recordings I've heard in years. There are ear-opening blends, a striking originality and a program of great musical ideas worked out with precision, freedom and passion combined.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Steve Lacy, Estilhacos, Live in Lisboa, 1972

The Steve Lacy outfit that included Steve Pots on alto, Irene Aebi on cello and vocals, Kent Carter on bass and various drummers, was one of Lacy's most productive and long-lived. They recorded many albums, gaining in the process followers and critical acclaim. I do not recall many live albums however. That does not mean there weren't any.

Clean Feed has recently released a set of the band live in Lisbon from February 1972, Estilhuacos (Clean Feed 247). For this recording Noel McGhie is on drums, Irene does not sing, and the band runs through some of their more familiar pieces from the era along with a few that are less so.

The recording is not perfect but has general clarity, if occasional slight distortion at the peaks. There is the spontaneous freedom situated around the pieces as you would expect. Potts sounds his extroverted self, Aebi adds her color, Carter thunders and plummets, McGhie is loose and flexible and Maestro Lacy is perennially himself.

It may not be a "drop everything and go get this" sort of release, but it offers the band in a slice of time. This is how they sounded on that day. It's different enough that it adds another take on the collective spirit of the band. It may not be THE single Lacy album to get if you don't have any. But if you are a fan of Lacy in this period you will no doubt appreciate it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Joe McPhee, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Brooklyn DNA

Windmaster Joe McPhee and contrabassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten team up once again to pay tribute to the borough of New York City that, both historically and in the present, has formed a vital center for jazz musicians, and undoubtedly showcases as much of the music as any location in the United States today. Appropriately Brooklyn DNA (Clean Feed 244) is the title of the CD.

It's a wide-ranging series of duets that have plenty of freedom, structured by the logic of the artists' approach and the melodic themes that intertwine with the improvisations in many of the segments. A freely conceived theme-and-variations approach has been an important aspect of Joe McPhee's work over the years and it continues on here at key points.

Flaten brings up the bottom with intelligent and resourceful all-over playing. He has technique and imagination. He seems to thrive on the open freedom such a duet provides. McPhee creates his vital presence on pocket trumpet, soprano and alto.

The music comes at you with energy and a depth charge or gets contemplative. There are segments that imply a free pulse and those that phrase openly without reference to time.

By now Joe McPhee is a sort of modern avant institution. He is in a classic present. Ingebrigt Haken Flaten gives the music the thrust it needs to move forward. It's a great combination and they are at their best.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Akira Sakata, Nobuyasu Furuya, Live at the Bitches Brew

In keeping with yesterdays posting on Nobuyasu Furuya's Quintet, we dive in today with a lengthy duet between Akira Sakata and Nobuyasu, Live at the Bitches Brew (Transheart/Solid 1470). It's a Japanese release of the two (Sakata on alto and clarinet, Furuya on tenor, alto, clarinet, flute and percussion) holding forth for an extended set.

Free improvisation is the order of the day with lots of energy and fire. They get an old-fashioned blow-out going much of the time, with some quieter sections interwoven into the set as relief and respite.

Those who like a hard-core romp with two blazing horns will appreciate this. I think a rhythm section would have brought this fire into brighter relief, but I am sure that will happen if it hasn't already. The two match horns with power and dash!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nobuyasu Furuya Quintet, The General

Nobuyasu Furuya brings to the table a big tenor sound in the tradition of the new thing players of the '60s without sounding quite like any one of them. His recent quintet LP The Major (No Business LP44) brings him together with some choice European players for a set of exuberant and raucous free improvisation of the old school, meaning that the music reminds of the Archie Shepp ensembles of the classic phase, the NY Contemporary Five, the NY Art conflagration, later Trane, Sonny Simmons, etc., without going the imitation route.

It's some delectably over-the-top testifying going on. He is joined by Rodrigo Pinheiro at the piano, Eduardo Lala on trombone, Hernani Faustino on the contrabass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. All have the new thing down and have developed their own voice on their respective instruments.

The collective ensemble improvisations here tend to be the most gratifying and exciting to me, and that's the emphasis at any rate. We also hear Nobuyasu's flute and clarinet as well, and he does a good job bringing out color and fleetness on the flute, texture and grit on the clarinet.

If you like the flat-out madness of the best classic avant jazz, this one will put you in a fine frame of mind. It did that for me.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Freestyle Band (Henry P. Warner, Earl Freeman, Philip Spigner)

Freestyle Band put out an LP in 1984 in a limited edition. That album with the addition of two lengthy additional tracks is out again as the self-titled Freestyle Band (No Business NBCD 41).

It's an unusual ensemble of Henry P. Warner on clarinet and alto clarinet, Earl Freeman on bass guitar and piano, and Philip Spigner on hand drums.

A wide open sound they get, with Spigner's hand drums laying down a kind of free-Afro-Cuban barrage, Earl Freeman playing melodic figures of note on the electric bass and what sounds like a phase shifter, and Henry Warner freely charging forth on his clarinets.

The collective sound they get is not quite like any other, the closest being perhaps Chicago's Ethnic Heritage Ensembles in their classic phase.

Once you get on their wave length there is much to be appreciated. They explore the possibilities of sound and tone freely and imaginatively while each takes on a distinctive role. The music has some of the primal qualities of some of those early ESP disks, only it's most definitely their own thing that is happening. Kudos to the three! A treasure for the dedicated Afro-free-improv listener.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Clare Fischer Orchestra, Extension, 1963

The 30-minute 1963 Clare Fischer Orchestra album Extension (Pacific Jazz 017) helped launch the composer-arranger as one of the finest, if under-appreciated, such practitioners of his generation. The album has been rather scarce in the years following its original issue. Thankfully it's available again in a finely put-together reissue package.

This is a West Coast date, of course, and includes some fine and sometimes rather unremembered musicians of the locale, Sam Most, for example, and Jerry Coker along with Bud Shank and Larry Bunker. Clare plays piano and organ throughout. It's a kind of big band-orchestra amalgam and the amassed forces give out with a rather large but often contrapuntally layered sound texture.

The late Clare Fischer has never been an easy one to pin down and it is as true of this album as the ones that followed. The influence of 20th century concert music, bop, cool school and Afro-Cuban elements combine here in rather masterfully worked-out sequences.

The remastering and packaging are exemplary, with a miniature reproduction of the original album two-panel design and text. It's very subtle music, mostly, and essential Fischer. You might want to grab this limited edition issue now before it disappears.