Monday, October 29, 2012

Byard Lancaster Quartet, Ancestral Link Hotel, 2005

It's only been a couple of months since Philly-based saxophonist Byard Lancaster left this earth. We will not forget him. He walked tall when he was with us, a continuinly innovative force for the new jazz, with deep roots.

And that's the Byard you hear to good advantage on his 2005 outing Ancestral Link Hotel (CIMP 340). It's a date that sports a lineup especially conducive for showcasing Byard the improvisor and multi-reed man. In addition to an Afro-flute and some "small instruments" he holds forth on soprano, alto and tenor sax. He is the sole horn on the date. Joining him are two acoustic bassists, Ed Crockett and Bert Harris, and the drum support of Harold E. Smith.

Byard seems intent on covering the roots that came together to help form his musical identity. And he does so with grace, fire and Lancastrian style.

So we get a nicely Afro-tribal hommage on "Ancestral Link Hotel", an Ayleresque gospel revival that gets him speaking in tongues on "Holy Buddy," the down and gritty "Slow Blues in G," some hard bop and beyond classics in "Milestones" and "Killer Joe", a free scorcher in "Searching" and lastly, a beautifully wrought unaccompanied soprano sax closer with "You Decide."

It's a portrait of a fine jazz artist on a fine session with a fine band. There is truly no timely way to leave this earth, ultimately, but there are surely timely things to leave behind for those who remain. Ancestral Link Hotel is an appropriate testament to Byard Lancaster, the beautiful soul, the expressive master of music. RIP.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gato Libre, Forever, with Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii

When jazz doesn't seem like most jazz, is it still jazz? The answer that comes to mind is "Who Cares, Talk About Something that Matters!" The truth is, "jazz musicians" make MUSIC. That is their primary concern. Whether or not what they do at any point sounds like jazz is supposed to sound or not should not overly concern us.

Turning to the new CD by Gato Libre, Forever (Libra 104-030), we find music that relates to the above. It's trumpetist Natsuki Tamura and his running partner Satoko Fujii (for this occasion on accordion), along with Kazuhiko Tsumura (guitar) and Norikatsu Koreyasu (acoustic bass). They engage a series of compositions by Natsuki that sound rather folk-like (not necessarily specifically Japanese folk, but folk in a wider sense) and sometimes with a touch of minimalist mesmeric repetition.

Now it's not that there isn't improvisation involved on these performances. There is. And what of it there is is quite fitting and interesting. There is not as much of it as on a typical "blowing date," and the emphasis is on the music as music so to say. It doesn't come across as readily identifiable "jazz," free, avant, or otherwise.

But it does come across as ensemble music of interest. It's an unusual sort of folksy sound that grows on you as you listen repeatedly. And it is well done. So hurrah for it. I am glad Maestro Tamura gave us this to enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Platform 1 Takes Off, with Ken Vandermark and Steve Swell

Platform 1? The name of a very lively "free jazz" quintet. Platform 1 Takes Off (Clean Feed 255) is the name of what I take to be their first CD as a unit.

It's Magnus Broo on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, Michael Vatcher, drums, and Joe Williamson on bass. All but Vatcher contribute compositions for the outing, and they have a memorable head blast off quality.

The rhythm section is loose and first-rate. The front line gives us extroverted improvisational joy and collective madness of the best sort. Swell and Vandermark come though as expected with their well-developed artistry. Magnus Broo holds his own among them.

It's a beautifully performed set of modern, cutting edge avant improv. Those who know these folks from past haunts will not be disappointed; those coming to this music for the first time, with a little patience, will find themselves digging in and digging the sounds, I certainly think. Yes!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mark Masters Ensemble, American Jazz Institute Presents Ellington Saxophone Encounters

Duke. We return to his music time and again to refresh ourselves at the fountain of brilliance. Of course there is the enormous body of recordings he left us. But there is also the furtherence of his compositions through present-day creations, re-creations and re-arrangements, live and in recorded form. There have been ups and down in this latter aspect of Ellingtonia in the past decades. Not everything done of course is brilliant, classic, or even necessary, and yet all homage to the master does him credit on one or more levels. So be it. While tributes to the Duke are commonplace, tributes to the music of his sidemen decidedly are not.

Happily today we have a modern encounter of the latter sort, both unusual and strongly musical in its final form. It is a collaboration between bandleader-arranger-composer Mark Masters and baritone master Gary Smulyan. The music is not that of Ellington per se but some worthy compositions by some of the seminal members of his sax/reed section over the years: Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster and Harry Carney.

Masters arranged the numbers for what turns out to be a rather stellar cast of musicians: a sax section of Gary Smulyan, Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster, Don Shelton and Gene Cipriano, plus a great rhythm section: Bill Cunliffe, Tom Warrington and Joe LaBarbara.

Gary Smulyan in the principal soloist throughout and gives us another look at his essential baritonisms. But other soloists enter the fray with success as well. It's a repertoire of pieces both quite familiar ("Jeep's Blues," "Rockin' in Rhythm") and those less so.

Everything sparkles in the sax-rich arrangements and the musicians pull together to give you a full program of great sounds. This is something different and special in its own way. It will certainly be appreciated by all Ellingtonians out there. Good show.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ezra Weiss, Our Path to This Moment

Big band music by ambitious composer-arrangers wil never die. Financing the roll-out and continued existence of a big band devoted to original music becomes increasingly difficult however in these economically uncertain times.

So when a good project comes along we should try and patronize it all we can. Such a good thing is at hand with the Rob Scheps Big Band playing the music of Ezra Weiss, on a CD entitled Our Path to This Moment (Roark Records).

This is a fully decked-out organization, with good players, soloists and rehearsal time well spent. Ezra Weiss' charts have very modern mainstream depth. His charts sometimes remind just a little of Kenny Wheeler's venture into large ensemble territory. There is a bright, full sound in the horns with distinctive voicings that project nicely.

The originals have weight, the rearrangements of "It's You or No One" and the folk strain "Wayfaring Stranger" show imagination and creativity.

In a word, "worthwhile."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Angles 8, By Way of Deception, Live in Ljubljana

Today, the second of two Clean Feed Live at Ljubljana Jazz Festival disks covered this week (Monday I covered one by Igor Lumpert's Trio). The Swedish large ensemble Angles 8 steps forward for their lively set Angles of Deception (Clean Feed 256).

Martin Kuchen's compositions, direction, and alto sax are what is primarily motoring this band, and they come across especially here with a kind of joyful Afro-riffing that shows the positive influence of Ornette, Sun Ra, the "ethnic" side of Don Cherry and the buoyancy of Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra.

It's Martin and seven other well-healed musicians from Europe (trombone, trumpet, baritone-soprano, alto, vibes, piano, bass and drums) igniting five of Kuchen's pieces in a very lively manner.

All the front liners can solo and do so freely and sometimes collectively, while riffs and counterlines take off and rock the house.

It's a first-rate band doing first-rate music. Afro-free jazz on fire! Be sure and get an earful of this one. It's quite excellent, really. Encore!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Michael Bisio, Dominic Duval, No Greater Love, 1999

A lengthy, freely expressed, chamber jazz outing by two reeds and two basses could end up being a snore-inducing bore in the wrong hands. A muddy tangle. When the four musicians are Joe McPhee (soprano), Joe Giardullo (bass clarinet and soprano), Michael Bisio (bass) and Dominic Duval (bass), the results are not going to be anything like that. This you know if you know these players. Plus in 1999 this was a working aggregate, so they were not getting together for the first time. That is on the CD No Greater Love (CIMP 209), which I happen to be listening to lately as part of my extra-curricular enjoyment.

It's the Joe McPhee Bluette of the era, at Cadence studios in upstate New York to record an album of music of the spiritual-soul side of things. They did that. It came out as In the Spirit (CIMP 199). They in the course of making that album recorded more than they had intended, including music that was outside the concept of that album.

The other, spontaneous expressions, one spiritual, one standard and sequences of rather brilliant collective improvisations, were captured and put out as the album at hand.

Here we have inspired music making by four masters of the improvisatory arts. All four come through with improvisations worthy of their reputation. In the course of the session advantage was taken of the various combinations possible--reed solo, reed duet, reed and bass duet, one or more basses alone, all four, etc.

There is subtlety and there is excitement, structure and spontaneous freedom, tradition and innovation, things we have come to expect from the four artists and are in full abundance here. The expectations one has when two of jazz's most accomplished bassists and two of the most original and creative reedists pair together are met fully on this disk.

One for the ages? A remarkable gathering in any event.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Szilard Mezei Vocal Ensemble, Fujj szel, Zenta, visszhangozz szel!, 2011

Today in our rough-and-tumble survey of the Not Two label releases by jazz composer-violist-bandleader Szilard Mezei, we come to an ambitious offering by the Szilard Mezei Vocal Ensemble entitled Fujj szel, Zenta, visszhangozz szel! (Not Two 883-2).

It's a full disk of Szilard's large ensemble doing five of his pieces. Kinga Mezei presides as vocalist and she has a hearty, earthy voice that carries nicely over the ensemble and sounds quite lovely as well. The ensemble for this outing is Szilard on viola plus Rankovic on alto sax and bass clarinet, Bede on tenor sax and clarinet, Burany on baritone and soprano, Aksin on trombone, Aleksic on piano, Papista on tuba, Malina on doublebass and Csik on drums.

It is a lively blend of musical colors that Szilard makes full use of, and there are solid avant improvisers to take the spotlight and carry the day when needed.

The disk stands out for its very intriguing, substantial large ensemble new jazz compositions, the distinctive sound of the band, Szilard's working of traditional Hungarian, eastern European folk elements into the mix here and there, and the improvisational heft of the band as a whole.

It is music that is very original, and as such difficult to describe in words. It's very beautiful, and this is an excellent album. If you are looking for something different on the new jazz scene, here it is!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Igor Lumpert Trio, Innertextures Live

Igor Lumpert's well-conceived tenor improvisations, Christhopher Tordini's virtuoso bass anchorage and Nasheet Wait's fire-y and accomplished drum statements are on full display for their live at the 52nd Ljubljana Jazz Festival set in 2011, recorded and released as Innertextures Live (Clean Feed 257).

It's first-rate post-bop, seven Lumpert blowing vehicles that give the set a very contemporary slant. The three are most definitely inspired to do their best, a swinging, forward lurching six-legged improvisational creature of delight.

Tordini and Waits meld into classic tight-loose propulsiveness and stay there throughout. Igor lets loose with inspired improvisations that show influences as diverse as Rollins and Rivers, yet grounded in pure Lumpert.

It's a hell of a nice go. Happy surprise! Good listening.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vlatkovich Tryyo, Pershing Woman

Trombone avantist Michael Vlatkovich comes through with a sterling live trio set on the recent Pershing Woman (pfMentum 071). Michael teams up with two game players for lots of kinetic fireworks on this one. Jonathan Golove's electric cello gives the band a lighter-than-air foundation that seems to free the band for a lofty flight path. He can bow with Michael's bone in heads for an interesting sound or of course pizz away like a tenor bassist. He forms a good part of the melodic-harmonic motion of the band and does it well. Damon Short swings along quite nicely throughout on drums. He engages Jonathan for rhythm propulsion and spurs on Michael and Jonathan for their forward moving solo spots.

And Michael Vlatkovich! Through his well-positioned outbopping compositions and rough and tumble trombone anarchy he maintains his stature on Pershing Woman as one of the outstanding trombonists and bandleaders active today in the new jazz.

It's an album that captures a lively gig and shows the trio in full flower. Lend an ear.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fred Londberg-Holm's Fast Citizens, Gather

The latest CD from Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens is a corker. It's called Gather (Delmark 2017). This is a coterie of Chicago jazzmen who can play, led by Fred who can also write. All but two of the numbers were written and arranged by Londberg-Holm and they work very well with the players at hand. The front line is a potent mix of Aram Shelton, alto sax and clarinet, Keefe Jackson at the tenor and bass clarinet, Josh Berman, cornet, and Fred, cello and tenor guitar. When backed up by the one-two thrust of Anton Hatwich and Frank Rosaly (bass and drums, respectively) this is one heady mix. There are group improvisations of an exhilarating kind, very good individual solo spots and arrangements/comps showing lots of imaginative creativity.

The group has character--every player is a fully developed improviser with a sound, and Fred uses that and their abilities to build impressive performances that are out and structured at the same time.

There is point in the final cut, "Roses" where it sounds as if everyone is on trumpet and that is pretty funny!! But otherwise this is seriously good avant jazz from strong players (and writers). It gets down to business carving out seven niches of exciting avant jazz, showing you why Chicago is still a major center for the music. Get this one by all means.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

John Clark, Song of Light, 1978

John Clark, master French hornist, sideman with such titan outfits as the big bands of Carla Bley, Gil Evans, McCoy Tyner and Charlie Mingus, did an album of his own in 1978. I am sad to say I missed it that time around but glad to say I am catching it as a new reissue. Song of Light is available again as a CD on Composers Concordance (009).

It's John on (sometimes multi-dubbed) French horn, Michael Cochrane on piano, Ron McClure on bass and Victor Lewis on drums.

Clark and company attack seven of his compositions, which turns out have some definite bite and substance to them (he studied with George Russell as a student). They are in a kind of funk-rock zone especially current at the time, but the melodic-harmonic architecture Clark builds around the beat is significant and worthwhile and of course his horn playing is exemplary as well as soulful.

It's a good listen, even after all these years.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Josh Berman and His Gang, There Now

Cornetist Josh Berman gets good ideas. Then he does something good with them. For There Now (Delmark 2016) he's gathered together some of his heaviest Chicago running buddies: Jeb Bishop, Guillermo Gregorio, Jason Stein, Keefe Jackson, Jason Adasiewicz, Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly...then gone and rethought some classic Chicago jazz and built some new pieces around those re-thinks.

So we have tunes mostly associated with Austin High Gang members, especially some Eddie Condon recordings from the late twenties, and new Berman pieces. All take on the possibilities of the old meeting the free-out-arranged music that Berman and his cohorts favor.

The result is music that rollicks, rolls, and generally exuberates musical joy of a most extroverted sort. The old-new conjunction works well with the caliber of players here and the arrangements are loose and conducive of collective and individual excellence.

Check out their versions of "Sugar," "Jada" and "I've Found A New Baby" and you'll hear all kinds of elements in play, an out soulfulness that makes "avant old" make perfectly good sense.

It's a damned fine album. One of the best of the year, I think. You should hear it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sonny Simmons, Francois Tusques, Near the Oasis, Live at Vision Festival 16, 2011

The best album that Sonny Simmons and/or Francois Tusques ever made? Near the Oasis (Improvising Beings ib10) may not be that. It is a kinetically charged meeting of the two at the 2011 Vision Fest in New York.

It starts with a kind of cosmic thing with Sonny on English Horn, Francois at the piano, and that's the finest moment of the set because it puts them both in a place they've never quite been, together or alone.

From there a remarkable look backwards with four bop standards: Monk's "Round Midnight" and "Bolivar Blues" plus the old standbys "Theme for Ernie" and "Night in Tunisia".

Bird, Monk, blues and bop, Sonny and Francois show their roots in convincing ways here. When traditionally out players tackle the older material, it can be quite interesting to hear. Sonny and Francois do most certainly NOT play rulebook bop here. It's the notes they want in there, what they hear, not just those that Bud and Bird would have played. So it has the exhilarating moments where they expand the tonality and widen the channel, so to speak.

It's a worthwhile performance, sure to appeal to Simmons and Tusques fans as something different, a one-off that may never be repeated and has its many charms.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Greg Lewis Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black

Greg Lewis and his Organ Monk project/ensemble return for more with Uwo in the Black (self-released). It's the music of Thelonious Monk...for Greg Lewis' organ quartet, you dig? And in the process Lewis puts in some of his own numbers, which works. "In the Black--My Nephew" is a rather touching ballad, for example.

So the band is Lewis of course on organ, Ronald Jackson on guitar, Reginald R. Woods on tenor and Nasheet Waits on drums. They are loose and up for it on this session, filled with the spirit and letting loose. And they tackle some of the less traveled Monk-ways with "Skippy," "Teo," "Bright Mississippi" and "Ugly Beauty."

Everyone is on the bean and Nasheet kicks it up a couple of notches for Lewis to soar over. So we can bask in the radiating heat. This is Organ Monk at its best. And that's really something to hear!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Szilard Mezei Trio; Barmikor, Most (Anytime, Now), 2006

Szilard Mezei's Barmikor, Most (Anytime, Now) (Not Two 794-2) provides listeners with an up-close earful of Szilard's original viola style in a lively trio setting. Ervin Malina's bass playing is a key part of the mix, as his arco playing matches Szilard's for ostinatos and such, and he is otherwise quite pleasingly articulate. Istvan Csik drums through the set with a freewheeling exuberance that fits the music.

Szilard Mezei shows us here why he is a violist in the free realm that needs to be taken seriously as an innovator, a composer of stature, and a bandleader that brings out the best in his well-chosen cohorts.

Another good one!

Monday, October 1, 2012

David Bixler, The Nearest Exit May Be Inside Your Head

David Bixler, alto saxophonist, writer of music, bandleader, steps forward on his The Nearest Exit May Be Inside Your Head (Zoho 201206). It's thoughtful mainstream by a quintet--Bixler, John Hart, guitar, Scott Wendholdt, trumpet, Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and Andy Watson, drums. They wrap themselves in 10 Dixler originals, in the process getting a good group interplay and worthwhile soloing.

Bixler has a Bird-through-McLean-Cannonball-and-Woods feel to his playing without copping licks. And of course that's rare. He gets good wood on the ball, so to speak, throughout. Wendholdt holds his own on trumpet with hip articulation and nice sound. John Hart comps and solos with facility. The rhythm team of Okegwo and Watson come out with solid strutting and get a momentum going in fine fashion.

Hard bop and beyond is where this goes. It's a twist on what's been done before. It avoids the cliches of the genre and showcases some serious players, Bixler at the front of them. Give it an ear.