Tuesday, December 31, 2013

David Buchbinder, Walk to the Sea

Where else but on Tzadik would you find such effective combinations of the Jewish Tinge and....anything and everything? That's a rhetorical question. The new David Buchbinder album that puts together Jewish and Cuban elements in collaboration with pianist Hilario Duran continues where Odessa/Havana (2007) left off, and yes, it's another Tzadik original. Walk to the Sea (Tzadik 8177) gives us a firey, large band out of Canada, fine singers with a Landino influence, hip soloing from trumpeter Buchbinder, Hilario Duran on piano, and some other heavyweights in the band. The group is tight and on a roll, if it's possible to mix such metaphors. It's the truth.

The charts are really something else and the band nails them. The first album succeeded nicely. This one triumphs! The truth is that a Jewish tonality and a Latin groove work perfectly in tandem--when Buchbinder and Duran put the two together. It's music of a progressive sort, too. The lines are hot, solos supercharged, and new music is made.

This is a hell of a disk!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Brian Settles Trio, Folk

Making a joyfully free noise is a good thing with a trio of tenor, acoustic bass and drums. And you get that very completely with the Brian Settles Trio and their CD Folk (Engine 2013).

Brian is on tenor, Corcoran Holt on bass and Jeremy Carlstedt, drums. There are well-varied compositions that the trio works off of, and they are from the pen of Maestro Settles. They give pacing and set up the varied improvisations well.

This is swinging and loose, ecstatic and boisterous, fired up and committed modern free. Brian sounds terrific with swinging chromatic-centripedal outness. He has a great tone with declamatory depth. You hear the history of the lineage he comes out of, a little Rivers, a little Trane, a little of all sorts of inflections but phrased and noted his own way.

Corcoran and Jeremy really kick it well, matching hardness and drive with Brian's blaze. This is music with heat. It might lower your fuel bills this season. But of course it sounds and that's good for any season.

Mr. Settles sets an inferno of his very own on this set. You gotta love it!

Eri Yamamoto Trio, Firefly

The piano trio in jazz remains one of the constants over the many years of group performances through to today. There can be an intimacy to such conflagrations of course, and especially for the pianist but increasingly for the bassist and drummer, it is a medium to express pure instrumentality, the sound colors available limited by the fixed nature of the instrumentation.

That is put to very good advantage on the Eri Yamamoto Trio's Firefly (AUM Fidelity 079). This one is not her first, but it is her first live recording, from the Klavierhaus, New York.

We have Eri at the piano in a program of all Yamamoto compositions. They and she have lyricism and a sort of restrained yet potent power, in a sound that reminds slightly of Carla and Paul Bley when they combined composition and performance in trio settings. The music is freely articulated, sometimes openly pulsating, other times with a more latent, rubato sort of swing.

David Abrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums work well with Eri in a free driving way. David solos nicely and Ikuo drums with excellent attention to dynamics and detail, so important in the trio mode.

The soloing of Eri has harmonic and melodic definitiveness. She makes excellent use of chromatic and expanded tonal elements to groove in modern ways, but can be diatonically lyrical too when she feels it.

This is a trio to hear. You who appreciate the middle ground between the open intensity of Cecil T. and the lush harmonicity of Bill E. and Herbie H. when in that mode, here it is. It's original and well done. She fits in that middle ground well, but in her own way. So give this one some time and you'll be well-paid by some very good music.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, Trios

By now I would imagine anybody who knows the music knows that Carla Bley has created an extraordinary body of jazz compositions and arrangements, become an excellent pianist of her own sort, and a bandleader of great imagination. For Trios (ECM 2287) she pairs down to a threesome of note: her partner Steve Swallow on electric bass (and isn't it time we recognize just how wonderful a player he has become on that instrument?) and Andy Sheppard on soprano and tenor.

It goes back as far as "Vashkar" (which is a thrill to hear again) and then forward to new things. This is one of those intent yet slowly unwinding sets that Carla and Company do live. But with Manfred Eicher's production touch it is an acoustically stunning setting as well.

There is Sheppard's sometimes post-Garbarekian tone and his own musical sense, a thing of real sonance and very smart note choice, Carla's ever-evolving introspection in extroversion internal-external piano style and the so-musical electric bass of Steve. He never lets you forget that this is a bass GUITAR, both in his ensemble playing and especially in his solo moments.

All three work together to make this more than "just" jazz composition, though of course it is that.

The music hums along like an infinite top, never needing rewinding (at least not by anyone listening). The hard work playing, writing, getting a threesome that sounds just right. All that was long accomplished before the studio date. This is not effortless music; it just sounds that way.

And it rewards! Thank you Carla, Steve, Andy!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin

When I was a Sophomore in High School I was assigned a rookie English teacher who began the first class with "I am so-and-so, I graduated from so-and-so university and I like girls!" Now of all the things to start with, that probably wasn't it. We took it the wrong way and he may well have meant it the wrong way but either way he was off to a bad start. So when I say I like something I sometimes remember that teacher and how what you like may be best repressed or at best may be irrelevant.

However when I say "I like Latin jazz", I feel it is entirely appropriate. It's the truth. And because I do, I immediately responded to the album Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin (Patois 014) by the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet. The title is the right one, because Maestro Wallace and the band lead us through some jazz standards done Latin style and then through some Latin material done with a good Latin jazz feeling.

Wayne Wallace plays in a hot, extroverted trombone style that is virtually indispensable for this music. He is especially good at it, too. There are plenty of solo opportunities for the band members and the special guests and that is as you'd hope. The arrangements are very hip, exciting, hot. It's Bay Area Latin--which as we saw a few weeks ago with Salsa de la Bahia, has had more of a jazz component than not over the years. But Wayne is tops there, virtually speaking. And this album gives you the why. There's his quintet, who are absorbed equally in modern jazz expression and Latin groove. Along with Wayne we have Murray Lowe doing the Latin and the jazz thing on piano, David Belove, a very nimble and hip electric bassist, and the rhythm team of Colin Douglas on drums and Michael Spiro on percussion, doing what is key and doing it with fire.

Add to that a bit of overdubbing and a set of guest artists that build the sound up to large-band size when needed. More bones from Wayne, trumpets, Pete Escovedo on timbales, plus for Cuban traditional authenticity, violins and flutes. Then there are four singers to give that vocal thing the punch it needs, when needed.

Maybe 20 years ago if somebody told you they were going to do a Latin jazz version of "Giant Steps", you would not think it could be done. Wayne does it here and it's ultra-hip, which only goes to show you how well-endowed the band is, but also how what once was considered impossible, even dangerous, now has entered our playing and listening beings as what we can do and hear in the normative sense. Wayne does not do it any humdrum everyday way, far from it, but you get the idea, I hope.

The whole set is filled with Latin and jazz goodies executed with heat, passion and soul.

If you, like I, "like" Latin jazz this is your album. It's as hip as anybody and it has that total groove going! Get in and ring in the new year with killer tracks.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, I Go Humble

I can think of examples where a cross-fertilization of musical genres goes flat. It used to be more common, when the musical-cultural world was changing and there were odd overlaps. Andy Williams sings the "Fish Cheer"? Nothing quite that bad. "The Hollyridge Strings Play the Beatles" was one project that probably never should have happened, although it would no doubt be funny to hear now.

Because of all that I will admit I had misgivings when I put on Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra's I Go Humble (Zoho 201312). It's the songs of Bjork arranged for big band and vocalist. I expected the worst. I was wrong.

It turns out that the good sense of Travis Sullivan in the way he arranged the songs carries the day, along with the fine musicianship involved. We have singer Becca Stevens doing the vocals. That's one key element. She sings with the sort of feeling and power that makes her voice Bjork-like without being a straight copy. She is very good. Then the big band is a well-rehearsed and talented bunch. And the arrangements somehow manage to keep the music faithful to Bjork while adding a straight-ahead contemporary big band flourish that works completely.

Partially perhaps it's because Bjork's vocal parts set up a tonality that is potentially wide-open. And there is always space over, under, around or between the melody line, so that Sullivan can do things with her music that might not have been possible with a less innovative melodist. Nevertheless it is to Sullivan's credit that it all comes together so well.

There are some Bjork chestnuts of course. All the songs Sullivan chose to arrange keep a balance between band and original melody line. They do it so well that I was surprised to be completely taken with it all. It is excellent!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gapplegate Music Review Records of the Year, 2013

I decided it was time to start picking my records of the year for the majority of genres I cover. I did not in the past, except to name Wadada Leo Smith's major album set last year, partially because the genres were mixed up higgledy-piggledy in the various blogsites and partially because everything that makes it into a review here is a winner, or else I would not review it. That latter is still true, but with the maturation of my blog pages it's more clear than ever what goes where, as much as that can be. So I am picking this year for nine categories. See the other blogsites for the rest of my choices. Here are three that all fit one way or another into the "jazz" category.

Best Jazz Album, New Release: KAZE, Tornado, with Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura (Circum Libra) See review, October 17, 2013.

Best Jazz Album, Reissue: Oscar Pettiford Modern Quintet, 1955 EP (Bethlehem) See review, November 13, 2013.

Best Wild Card Album, Beyond Category: Dawn of Midi, Dysnomia (Thirsty Ear) See review, July 17, 2013. http://www.gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/2013/07/dawn-of-midi-dysnomia.html

New Language Collaborative, Retreat

We should never forget that there are players out there very deserving of attention, who for whatever reason don't always get the attention they deserve, just as there are some who may get more attention than they merit. And I don't want to dis anybody, to say who, but if you want a name in the too much attention category, how about Al Hirt, RIP?

The group known as New Language Collaborative has some of those unduly neglected folks, and you can hear them carry themselves forward on their album Retreat (JaZt Tapes 039). The group for this outing includes Ted Daniel on trumpet, Eric Zinman, piano and keys, Glynis Lomon on cello, voice and aquasonic, and Syd Smart on drums and electronic percussion.

This is a free date, a collectively improvised set of definite merit. They let lose in three segments with some excellent interactive dynamics. Ted Daniel may not always be in the limelight these days but he is sounding very fit and eloquent here. Eric Zinman is an all-over pianist that has energy and the ears to match. To hear the two together playing off of each other is very much a something you should hear.

But Syd Smart is right there with them in very creative ways. Glynis Lomon uses her cello in part as a bass would function in such an ensemble, and in part as a soloists making good use of the sound color available to her. The range of color further extends by her vocals, the aquasonic, and the electronic sounds available to Syd and Eric.

Those who don't understand free playing sometimes think that it's just a matter of any and everybody doing anything. Good free playing hangs together in many ways, whether completely intuitive or mapped out to lesser or greater degree, with the ability of the players to make a statement, something in ways communicatively coherent, both in what each member plays and the totality of that effort.

New Language Collaborative make their statement. These are players well-schooled in what they do. And what they do here should be heard.

JaZtapes are limited edition CD-ROM disks put out by the musicians themselves. Go to the url http://www.janstrom.se/6.-recordings/6.3.-jazt-tapes-6267605 to find out more about the series. And you can order this release via the email address studio234@ericzinman.com.

Lorraine Feather, Attachments

Some bloggers only do certain music, just chamber classical, for example, or just free jazz. Not to toot my own horn but my blogs reflect the scope of what I listen to when left to my own resources, which generally is not EVERYTHING, but there is an interlocking set of musics that all come together for me as "music". Well, duh, what else would it be?

So today I present to you a recording that the free folks may not expect, or the high boppers. Of course that matters little at the moment because I REALLY like this album. Now who could it be? Well you probably already glanced at the headline to this post so you know already. It's singer Lorraine Feather and her latest, Attachments (Jazzed Media 1063). You may recall that last April 18th I covered her with Stephanie Trick and their Nouveau Stride duo, which floored me.

So Lorraine is back in her solo guise. This isn't her first in that zone. I have not heard the others. Attachments needs no "before" however to motivate. It's a collection of songs to which she contributed the lyrics, some in collaboration with contemporary musicsmiths, others, like Bach, not. Ms. Feather sings very well, very very well, and so let's get that out of the way, though that is the point in many ways. She has dead-on pitch, great phrasing, and a charming individual sound to those pipes. OK?

But there's more here. Her lyrics are especially concerned with relationships and their complex ups and downs, loneliness and togetherness, sometimes combined in the same moment, and they are stunning. Somehow she combines the sensibilities of Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks and Joni Mitchell. Sad, funny, all kinds of poetic expressions come into play here, and they are combined with some beautiful musical song forms.

It's mostly a small combo, good players. Some of it is jazz in the up sense, sometimes its balladry, always there are twists and turns. "159," the title cut "Attachments," most all of it. These are definitive versions of really great songs. There are definite standard possibilities in many of the songs going forward, but they are so Lorraine that you feel you know her inner being after hearing it all.

I don't want to overstate it, but I am mightily impressed with this record. Great songs are very hard to come by today, as any listen to the Top 40 stations or even many Broadway shows will remind you forcibly. Attachments has real song crafting in the way it used to be and still can be. And Lorraine Feather sings them all with a musicality that cannot be ignored.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Duduka Da Fonseca Trio, New Samba Jazz Directions

Samba Jazz in a piano trio context goes back. The Zimbo Trio were one of the very exceptional exponents in the last half of the last decade. But time moves on. For what's happening right now a good place to turn is on the Duduka Da Fonseca Trio album New Samba Jazz Directions (Zoho 201310).

Of course Duduka is the drummer on this one and he sounds fabulous. He finds some very simpatico and vibrant compatriots in spirit with David Feldman on piano and Guto Wirtti on bass. They run the gauntlet of sophisticated samba grooves with a LOT of excellent piano, hip bass and the excellent, subtle yet devastating samba swing style of drummer Fonseca.

As you might expect there are compositional-changed based numbers that put everything in line. Feldman writes four, Duduka two, Guto one and there are others by others. All set things up and have memorable qualities.

This one has that supercharged samba piano trio thing happening--and if you know what that is, you KNOW this is a very good thing. Time doesn't stand still so there's development and movement happening here. It has many levels. You could spend an entire listen on what Duduka is doing alone--and all three lock together so that it all kicks up plenty of dust and has some balladic breathing space, too.


Pandelis Karayorgis Trio, Cocoon

Of course one of the litmus tests for a modern jazz pianist is the trio configuration. It gives the player a group context that implies some connection with the tradition (at least in the instrumentation of piano, bass and drums) yet exposes his or her way with the pianoforte in a more radical fashion than if horns were involved.

The pianism of Pandelis Karayorgis first got my attention when I was writing for Cadence. Since then I have covered a fair number of his albums. I find him one of the more important and more interesting piano voices out there today.

He recently recorded a new trio outing which we finally get a chance to talk about, namely Cocoon (Driff 1302). I am happy to say that this is another very good one. It involves a three-way confluence between Karayorgis, Jef Charland on bass, and Luther Gray on drums. Karayorgis pens six of the numbers, Gray and Garland each contribute two. They are fine vehicles for the extensive improvisations that follow.

Luther Gray is a great drummer for this kind of date--because he can swing mightily, creatively accentuate any compositional aspects and come up with effective interplay with the other two whatever the context. Jef Charland can walk in ambiguous tonal territory with flair; he solos and interacts with taste and force.

But in many ways this is an ideal showcase for Pandelis and what he is up to. There is still the Monk-like foundation of his touch and an extension of the dissonant advanced comping and percussiveness to a point well on and self-developed. There is the presence of tradition in other ways too. Listen to "You Took My Coffee and Left," a blues, and you'll hear the old and the very new interacting--it's still very much a blues in structure but it takes it all further.

You can hear a bit of the Bley out-in-in harmonic openness, only it's fully Karayorgisized. There are well-placed out block chords, right-handed horn explorations and the split chord-horn left-right mix that you expect in the tradition, but the timing and the choice of notes is impeccable. His rich inventiveness comes through very well here--and that is something to ear-in on! Every solo is a lucid story that doesn't repeat as much as flows with thickly percussive rhythmic thrust and melodic-harmonic inspiration.

Well so this one is what anybody interested in piano trio freedom within the jazz tradition should hear. It is a major addition to the Karayorgis discography, which to me is a fine thing indeed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Stefano Bollani, Hamilton de Holanda, O que sera

When I put on my reviewer cap I open myself up to all kinds of music that I might not have gotten to otherwise. And sometimes that is an excellent thing indeed. Take the album up today, a duet album by the phenomenal Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and a Brazilian master of the bandolin (a 10-string mandolin), Hamilton de Holanda. O que sera (ECM B0018881-02) brings the two together in an extraordinarily vibrant duet live at the Jazz Middelheim festival in Antwerp last year.

The result is some extraordinary virtuoso duo playing. There are a number of Brazilian standards, something by Piazzolla, a couple of originals and other things. What stands out very strongly is the exceptional musicianship of the two. They take samba, bossa, and other forms and make them vehicles for their own madcap flight into sonic space.

Chops there are a' plenty between the two. But this goes considerably beyond mere chops into expressive territory virtually uncharted. The two create a surge of energy and sublimity so infectious that you are carried along into a meta-South-American musical paradise that you never knew was there but somehow was all along, lurking in the possibilities two exceptional players could realize. They do.

I am otherwise speechless, of course in the best way. Hear these two!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sonny Simmons, Beyond the Planets

With all the hectic qualities of the Holiday Season in effect I nevertheless keep on plugging with the music blogs. Today I especially wanted to highlight the latest album by legend Sonny Simmons. It's a two-CD set called Beyond the Planets (Improvising Beings 20). As I understand it, this may well be the last release for the label Improvising Beings. They've been doing important work documenting the avant jazz scene but it appears that there is no longer the funding there to put out new ones. So get the existing ones now while you can. And thanks Improvising Beings for all the music.

At any rate this Sonny Simmons album has very solid cosmic dimensions. It's the Sonny in his Eastern influenced mode, which from the time of Manhattan Egos on has been a part of his music. Don't expect a lot of notes from Sonny this time out. He's paired down his soloing to an expressive but succinct essence. On both disks he plays alto and English horn.

The first disk is with Delphine Latil on harp, with whom Sonny collaborated in an earlier effort for the label (see search window index for the review on these pages). She plays the first four numbers solo, and it's extemporaneous, open-formed cosmic music with a bit of a "new music" corner to it. Then Sonny joins here for a 20-minute number that really evokes a mood.

The second disk pits Sonny on his two winds with electric guitarist Thomas Bellier. This is more in a psychedelic zone, raga-rockish. Bellier plays the right things and Sonny is right there with him.

As long as you aren't expecting the more explosive Sonny, you'll get into this one. It's a valuable addition to the Simmons discography and makes for very transcendent cosmic listening.

Thank you, Sonny. And thank you Improvising Beings.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy, Vol. 2

I believe I noted this in my review of Volume One, but it bears repeating. That is, that the Whammies do for the music of Steve Lacy what Lacy himself (along with Roswell Rudd) did for the music of Thelonious Monk. They recontextualize it by taking the compositions and playing them in the spirit of the author, but then also make it fresh by adding the chemistry and personalities of the new set of players involved.

This is most certainly again the case with The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy, Vol, 2 (Driff 1303), perhaps even more so. It's an excellent group of players: Jorrit Dijkstra on alto and lyricon, Pandelis Karayorgis, piano, Jeb Bishop, trombone, Mary Oliver, violin and viola, Nate McBride, bass, and Han Bennink, drums.

Some heavy players for sure, then. And what they do with Lacy is make him new by their own singularities as players. Everybody is attuned to the Lacy abstractness and takes on the music in their own right. Fittingly the volume ends with "Shuffle Boil", a Monk composition to brings things full circle.

This is important music both for the Lacy works and for the players' way with it all. It's music that in no way sounds dated--and of course there would be no reason why it should. It's music as modern as today, yet of course with roots in the lineage of avant jazz.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Javier Vercher, Ferenc Nemeth, Imaginary Realm

It should come as no surprise to those that follow the contemporary jazz world that there are talented players out there who one has not heard before, that there are continual discovery situations one comes up against. The sound of surprise is also the sound of previously undiscovered sound-makers, some of them really quite good.

That pretty much sizes up my reaction to the new album by Javier Vercher and Ferenc Nemeth, Imaginary Realm (Dreamers Collective 1003). These are two players, tenor saxist and drummer, respectively, who have been paying dues in New York and playing together for some time in the process. Their first album came out in 2007. This is their second, for this outing teaming up at key points on the album with pianist David Kikoski.

The set played on this disk is evocative, free-wheeling and free but also at times with implied harmonic reference points in a tonal-pivotal realm. These are open-form compositions, originals, with Vercher sometimes following a chromatic path similar in direction to such post-Trane luminaries as Liebman and Bergonzi but taking it to his own personal space. Kikoski grounds much of the proceedings in his own harmonically sophisticated world, which goes well with Vercher's outlook. Ferenc Nemeth plays some actively freebased and also implicitly or explicitly swinging drums throughout, with skill and big ears. There are moments of quiet ambience, especially when Javier and Ferenc go it alone. But the open-air sound of those moments contrast nicely with more earthy explorations.

This is a talented threesome that makes a modern free-edged music you would do well to hear. If they signed to ECM they'd be getting famous by now. But then that may be true of any number of players. Nonetheless these artists are well worth hearing. A most pleasing record!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Salsa de la Bahia Vol. One, A Collection of SF Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz

Salsa and Latin jazz from San Francisco? I'll admit that up until now, I've known nothing about it. With the two-CD set Salsa de la Bahia (Patois 015) I now know. I now know what a vibrant thing that is.

Ever since my older brother moved to Puerto Rico and began sending me some records when I was a young adolescent I have been a huge admirer of Salsa. A later visit to Puerto Rico only confirmed it. And of course living around New York City meant that I could find more records and keep my interest alive. But of the SF scene I have not had the opportunity to know the first thing.

This anthology convinces me that there is great music going on there. There are 22 cuts by people I don't know. It all began in a club in SF called Cesar's Latin Palace, opened in 1968 by pianist Cesar Ascarrunz, who for ten years lead a heavily jazz inflected Salsa outfit there. It included the likes of Joe Henderson, Luis Gasca and Julian Preister! From there the scene burgeoned.

The anthology surveys the scene today with some beautiful music that has a healthy jazz as well as Salsa component. It's music of pure pleasure, with everything you come to the music for--including great horn sections, kicking Latin percussion, soloists and vocals of distinction! Yeah!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gregorio/Swell/ Karayorgis, Window and Doorway

Part of where free-avant improvisation has been going has something to do with "New Music", that is it draws freely upon non-jazz concert elements at times but still has the expressivity and immediacy of jazz. We can hear this in a vivid way from three masters of free music who improvise and compose in equal measure. I refer to the trio of Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet), Steve Swell (trombone) and Pandelis Karayorgis (piano) in their live performance at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, released on CD with the title Window and Doorway (Driff 1301).

Each of the trio contributes two or more compositions as springboards for the improvisations and there are also three collective works.

Steve Swell should be known to all as at the top of avant trombone player-jazz composer-bandleaders. Pandelis Karayorgis may not be as well-known out there but has built a considerable reputation (deservedly) as one of the brightest new voices. Guillermo Gregorio I do not know all that well, but on the basis of this recording he certainly is right up there with the other two.

The music is abstract without being arid. It has soul and brains, too. It is doubtless one of those sleeper disks--something of great impact and avant beauty but not as well heard as it should be. The performers come through with a group synchronicity born of compatible, fertile musical imaginations and sensitive improvisational reflexes. The compositions set the mood and provide rough maps of the musical terrain which the trio covers with agility and creative thrust.

It's a disk to be heard and appreciated. Gregorio, Swell and Karayorgis are dwelling in advanced, frontier musical settlements and they stake out the territory with authority.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tiger Hatchery, Sun Worship

ESP Records made its mark in part as the label that dared cover free-jazz artists (circa 1965) on the fringe when almost nobody else was doing so. Their catalog of releases in that decade reads nearly like a who-is-who of the genre. In their 50th year they remind us that free music is by no means only a thing of the past with a release by Chicago trio Tiger Hatchery, Sun Worship (ESP 5003).

The press sheet mentions Peter Brotzmann and Albert Ayler as precursors to what the trio is doing, and I would most certainly concur. It's outside intensity all the way, for sure, and so that fits. Mike Forbes incants on various members of the sax family with an in-your-face insouciance that you will want to pay attention to, since this is no background music. Ben Billington on drums is a dynamo in the way you might expect. He adds considerably to the level of power here. But it is bassist Andrew Scott Young who puts it over the top and gives this trio an almost rock push. He is all over the place, kicking the living H out of the proceedings in ways that make me listen to what he's doing. He has a kind of traditional arco ESP bag which you can hear, but the pizzicato is devastatingly strong. He is either close miked or plugged in, and at times sounds like he is playing an electric, but either way he brings up the bottom with fire.

Well, so this is impressive free mayhem. Certainly one of the stronger, most mayhemishian free jazz release this year. So if that motors you you will not go wrong here! You won't need to have a dental hygienist clean your teeth if you play this one a couple of times at full volume. But your neighbors might give you some odd looks later, too. That's a given.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Art Hodes, I Remember Bessie, 1976

Chicago-based pianist Art Hodes (1904-1993) may not be remembered as much today as he deserves but he left behind a legacy of traditional jazz on disk for labels like Blue Note and Delmark that bear hearing again and again. One that most of us missed was recorded in 1976 and came out on the obscure Euphonic Records at the time. Most fittingly Delmark has re-released it. I Remember Bessie (Delmark 254) is with us again and it is a beautiful set of solo piano renditions of songs associated with the great Bessie Smith.

If you've listened to Bessie in any depth, along with her contemporaries Ida Cox and Ma Rainey for example, you'll note a style of piano playing in the accompaniment which is not so much filled with the oom-pah of stride as something else, syncopated and melodious, an early jazz-blues style. Such artists as Fletcher Henderson and Clarence Williams played differently in the blues vocal setting. And Art Hodes was there, too.

What I Remember Bessie gives us is 17 slabs of pure Art as blues accompanist--but in this case accompanying himself, instrumental inside of instrumental. There's much to love here, especially if you dig Bessie. "Cake Walkin' Babies from Home," "You've Been A Good Ole Wagon," "After You've Gone," those tunes that Bessie nailed once and for all. They are here.

But more than that it's a tribute to Art and his way with that style. He still had it in 1976 and gives us a focused look at what it was all about.

Essential listening for the history of piano in jazz. And lots of fun!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano, 1965, ESP Anniversary Reissue

Other than an excellent album Ran Blake made with Jeanne Lee in 1962 which disappeared rapidly, Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano (ESP 1011) was his first. It was still around on LP by the time I had heard of him so I grabbed a copy and got my first taste of his very own way of playing.

It has been remastered to mark ESP Records 50th Anniversary, which is an excellent thing because the album is historically and otherwise important and it has been very scarce over the years. The sound overall is very good with the exception of a few fortissimo chords that were recorded a bit too hot.

Otherwise you get all the unusual features of Ran Blake's pianism--the outside pan-historical approach to improvised piano, the radical reharmonizations and revoicings of standards like Russell's "Stratusphunk", "On Green Dolphin Street", "Good Mornin' Heartache", and Ornette's "Lonely Woman". And there are four Blake originals, very much worth hearing.

Blake by now is well-known and well-recorded. Back in 1965 he was virtually unknown but already well into the post-Monkish out style that has marked him over these many years as 100% original. The album is absolutely indispensable for anyone who wants to follow the original "New Thing" as it unfolded then. Plus it is an excellent record in its own right. I am very glad to have it once again!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Susanne Abbuehl, The Gift

Some artists seem destined for the ECM sound. Swiss-Dutch singer-songwriter Susanne Abbuehl most definitely is one. In her third album for the label, The Gift (ECM B0018444-02), she captivates with song settings of poetic lyrics by herself, Emily Dickenson, Emily Bronte, Sara Teasdale, and Wallace Stevens. The music has a natural ambiance that comes out of Susanne's own sensibilities--a lovely lyrical voice, a feel for the inner meanings of the lyrics, her open musical sense and the well-thought arrangements for her accompanists Matthieu Michel on the flugel, Wolfert Brederode on piano and harmonium, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums and percussion.

The music has a spacious peacefulness, like a crystal clear pond in stillness which contains much that is visible and shades of color in between. It has ECM jazz sensibilities but also a near-folk quality as well, something long-time ECM listeners will find new yet familiar.

It is pure beauty. It is what you may need to hear after a day of everyday madness. It is a Brown Study on a compact disk, something you can enter into and leave behind what does not need to be rehashed. It is a great antidote for the shell shocked.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Manhattan Brass, Manhattan Holiday

Any brass quintet that includes the likes of Lew Soloff and Dave Taylor promises to be a good thing. That is Manhattan Brass (along with R.J. Kelley, Mike Seltzer and Wayne du Maine). Set them loose on Carla Bley and Jack Walrath arrangements of seasonal goodies and you have Manhattan Holiday (self-released).

This no ordinary holiday fare. This is real-deal jazz arrangements of both traditional and less traditional music. Like Manhattan itself during the holidays it conjoins all sorts of things, every block has something different, so every musical block is another something to appreciate. The Bley and Walrath arrangements are great fun but great music too, with unrepressed exuberance and a chance for those marvelous jazz voicings and yes, solos too as called for. Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" (great choice) gets a rousing version along with "The Christmas Song," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," the old and the newer but with explosive irreverence wrapped in packages of surprises, like a mix of grandpa and the kids on gifting morning, a wide gamut of moods and emotions get due attention.

It's that way--the brass group is a very integral part of traditional holiday music, but it's also a part of jazz of course--so the two get together like old friends who may not have seen each other for years but can compare experiences and come together in the best sort of togetherness.

This one is great fun. And just plain great, too!

Friday, November 22, 2013

O.I.L., Orchestrated Improvised Lives, Noah Rosen, Alan Silva

Orchestrated Improvised Lives, or O.I.L. (Improvising Beings 21) is the duo of Noah Rosen at the piano and Alan Silva on the orchestral synthesizer keys. They recorded some free improvisations live in Paris in 2011-2012. The album at hand contains those spontaneous moments for us to relive and appreciate.

What is striking about the music, thanks especially to Maestro Silva's way with the synthesizer he plays, is the nearly orchestral texture of the sound. It is almost as if you are hearing a free concerto for piano and "orchestra", which in many ways it is, except of course the "orchestra" is as concerted as the piano.

What is refreshing about it all is the open form of the music. Neither player is looking to recreate the sound and style of some previous free musics we have grown to know and love. So in fact one needs to clear the aural memory of whatever it is one might expect to hear and then let the music wash over your senses.

Noah Rosen calls upon his own sensibilities to create well-executed music that owes something to the jazz tradition as much as it references advanced and sometimes rhapsodic new music realms. Alan Silva brings a great deal of color to the music, choosing his notes but also his sounds carefully to build mode and depth.

Together they make a deliberately independant statement as to what free improvisation can be. And what that is comes across to the open-eared listener as MUSIC without the need for parcelling it off as "this" or "that". It is both. It is neither. It is music that projects outward as creative freedom. And that is good.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Albert Ayler, Live on the Riviera, 1970

This Monday marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of Albert Ayler. He lives on in his recordings and his wide influence out there. Those who follow the all-too-short career of the saxophone titan, in terms of the chronology of the disks, have no doubt felt like I do, that there are really three periods represented. The first was before he had fully broken free from bop form. In those early recordings he has a bit of a Sonny Rollins in there among other things. Then there are the seminal recordings, the free, new thing Albert at his best. Following that, cut short by his tragic death, was a period of experimentation with rock and soul and the music he made with Mary Maria and Albert vocalizing.

It was the final phase that microphones caught live at the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, July, 1970. As part of ESP disk's 50th anniversary that session, Live on the Riviera (ESP 4001), has been reissued. (I gather that it came out originally in the early years of the new Millennium?)

Albert fronts a quartet for this date that includes a ready-to-rumble rhythm team of Steve Tintweiss on double bass and Allen Blairman on drums. Then Mary Maria is front and center as vocalist and also plays a little soprano. Albert lets loose on tenor, soprano, musette and vocals.

The date was recorded just months before Ayler left our world. He died November 25th, This concert was on the previous July 25th. We get in clear sound the quartet going to it. Mary Maria is I suppose an acquired taste. When much younger I honestly didn't know what to make of her. Albert as a vocalist falls into the same category. But once you get on their wave length, here as much as on the commercially released albums, you can then get more with what the whole band is up to.

This was Albert still playing free but with vocals to break it all up. "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe" is the more profound of the Mary Maria vocals; she mostly intones the words here as opposed to the more vocal version on the album release.

The vocals are not otherwise a surprise over and above the LP versions. But the band and Albert himself are in an up mood. Listening to Ayler's tenor here is central to the experience. His tone had gotten at times very gravelly, almost like a bar-walking version of Rollins but no, it's more Ayler than not. He may be a little less ready to completely go out there on this night, it's true. What he plays though, we who revere his music appreciate. And the band is on top of it--free-timing their way to a good zone.

This may not be a perfect concert. It is manna though for Ayler enthusiasts like me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Keefe Jackson's Likely So, A Round Goal

Chicago reedman Keefe Jackson and his all-reed group Likely So score a big one on A Round Goal (Delmark 5009). Seven reedists in the avant jazz realm join forces for a set of all-Jackson compositions, recorded live earlier this year at the Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland.

This is music that builds on the reed ensembles of the World Sax Quartet, the Rova Sax Quartet and some of the things Roscoe Mitchell did on Nonaah. Dave Rempis, long-time Jackson associate, is here along with other game cats.

The idea Keefe Jackson had was to get some compositions together that left plenty of room for improvisation and group interaction.

It's fire-y free-flowing jazz in the new Chicago mould that builds out of the brilliance of AACM artists and adds to it. You must play it a few times before it all comes together in your head/ears. But then...look out! Seriously.

New York Voices, Let it Snow

Ah, the holidays. As I grow older I find them more an ordeal, more "happy" only if your life is happy, otherwise a time where you feel the loss of loved ones, of lives long left-behind, a promise of peace that never seems to come for long, of an increasing lack of good will out there. Now of course there is the religious aspect and I respect the transformative power that can have, whether it be in the form of Chanukah or Christmas. Being perennially musical of course, to me the right music can give me happiness...but no, NOT via the co-optation of Black Friday (now Thursday too) nightmarish commercials with those insane shopping madwomen and madmen racing down aisles in the middle of the night to save a dollar on God-knows-what while "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" archly plays in the background. If I never hear "Jingle Bells" on those ads again I will not be unhappy.

But of course the Holiday Season is about traditions, cultural stretch and longevity, and music can bring that home in very powerful ways.

That can be nearly infinite, depending on your upbringing and local history. A tradition can be renewed and can speak to us. So we turn to something that does that well. New York Voices is a vocal group that goes beyond groups like Manhattan Transfer, reaches back to the close harmony tradition of the vocal groups that were often an important part of big bands, like the one with Dorsey that included a young Sinatra if I remember right. I never used to like that much when I was younger. But now I recognize that if it is done well and tastefully, it is a real force of expression. That's how I feel about New York Voices, in particular their Christmas/Holiday album Let It Snow (Five Cent Records 0001).

They give us a mix of secular and more traditional songs, "We Three Kings," "I Wonder as I Wander," Bach's beautiful "Sleepers, Wake!" and "Christmas Time is Here", too. The trick is all about the skillful singing, the arrangements for the voices as well as a big band. They are very good. It's the sort of music my dad would have liked, RIP to him. And as a kid I would have listened too.

Now we can only look back but from the point of view of a changed world. But nonetheless this is first-rate, tasteful fare. You want holiday, you can get something worthwhile with New York Voices.

"From now on our troubles will be out of sight?" Not for some of us, those of us who will go through the Winter without heat, possibly without food, possibly without shelter. As long as I still have electricity I'll give this one a few more spins before the new year is upon us. And I am very particular, as you have gathered. So I hope all this season you can kindle some joy. This is to you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

William Hooker, Heart of the Sun

William Hooker is a free-drummer of great, dramatic dynamics, a player with real fire and, increasingly, a bandleader of importance. All this can be heard to good advantage on his new one, Heart of the Sun (Engine 051). It's a live set recorded at the Roulette this past February. Hooker presents his music on this outing with a trio that roars, whispers and incants its way into your soul, soul-to-soul.

The ever-significant Roy Campbell puts some serious trumpet heat into the musical cauldron in a way only he can do. He is glowing. On open horn he gives us a clarion call. On mute he extends his sound with smarts and flair. And his flute playing is quite decent and definitely worth your eartime. An unusual touch comes from David Soldier on violin, banjo and guitar, who is filled with the spirit and colors the ensemble nicely. His banjo playing brings some roots into the picture in very hip ways.

William Hooker sounds his always creative, busy, virtuoso driving self here with some of his very best drumming on disk.

It's new new thing all the way with some nice head melodies and supreme free fire-breathing. Heart of the Sun flames your way with excellent sound! You can heat your pad with this one, honest. Check it out.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Live at "A Space" 1975

I missed the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet's Live at "A Space" 1975 album when it first came out on vinyl. With Delmark's reissue series of the Sackville recordings I can hear it now (Sackville 2080) with the addition of 20 extra minutes. I am glad of that, certainly.

The quartet was one of the seminal if short lived groupings of AACM musicians dedicated to a chamber, new music sort of presentation. Of course before them was Anthony Braxton's trio with Wadada Leo Smith and Leroy Jenkins. The Art Ensemble of Chicago live in the first decade of their existence and even after that were known to devote some of their live sets and parts of their albums to more abstract, less rhythmic compositions-improvisations of course, and this quartet was a more intense exploration of that territory as Roscoe conceived it. The initial studio album on Sackville gave us a good listen to what they were doing. Live at "A Space" 1975 expands and elaborates that.

In the quartet was of course Roscoe on saxes, the legendary Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, a young and very much upcoming George Lewis on trombone in his recorded debut, and Spencer Barefield on guitar, a sensitive, attuned musician who plays an important role in the group but on this live date an extraordinarily spare one.

The bonus additions to the CD release include a version of Trane's "Naima" and versions of "Dastura" and "Nonaah". The pieces here from the original vinyl release are "Tnoona," "Music for Trombone and B-Flat Soprano", "Cards", and "Olobo".

The music gives us another look at the quartet in a live setting. George Lewis sounds quite inspired but then so does Mitchell and Abrams. There are moments of excellent interplay, such as the three-way version of "Cards", there are solo moments where group members have a chance to express something on their own--with Abrams and Lewis turning in some especially excellent moments, and there is the whole advanced vibe of the group and its abstractive expressiveness.

All of it is most definitely worth hearing, even if you know the studio date. The quartet did not exactly get on the top-40 charts in those days, and of course that was because they were too good! The CD shows you why.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Booker Ervin, The Book Cooks, CD Reissue

There are jazz luminaries in the rich history of the music who for whatever reason never quite entered the pantheon of immortals (wherever that may be located) but made some excellent music that still bears hearing. Such an artist is Booker Ervin. A tenor sax man with great fire and power, he came to fame as a member of Charlie Mingus group from 1958-1960 and made a career of it with his own groups, gigging and recording a good number of albums under his own name in the later '50s through the sixties.

One of the best also happens to be one of the first, The Book Cooks (Bethlehem 6048), which originally came out sometime around 1960 or so and has been reissued on CD in the Bethlehem redux program which is underway (and quite welcome, I might ad).

It bears the distinct mark of Mingus in the material, mostly written by Booker. That is understandable and quite appropriate, since Booker was coming off a two-year stint with the master. Mingus's drummer Danny Richmond is on the date with his always churning, swinging fire. George Tucker sounds great on bass, a player who did not always get the recognition he deserved. He is recorded well here. You can hear his wonderfully woody tone and note choice clearly and in tandem with Richmond the stage is set for some supercharged blowing. Tommy Turrentine sounds good on trumpet, Tommy Flanagan masterfully bops his way through on piano, and then in a bit of a surprise Zoot Sims locks horns part of the time with Booker--with some hip two-tenor battles. Zoot is playing great but it's Booker who comes out on top in the end. He was simply on it that day.

And that fits, because this is Maestro Ervin at his strongest. This is the sort of hard bop that was Mingus's strong suite then, and Booker is well in his comfort zone. You hear that plaintive cry that was his trademark, but only as a part of an inventive arsenal of late bop facility, a sheets-Trane hardness and adventurous noteyness, all in line with the way Booker could get something going strong then.

And so I would recommend this one if you don't know Booker well. There are some excellent slightly later ones but this one still sounds convincing and vital. So it makes a great start to your Ervin collection. At this point in his career he was taking the town by storm.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oscar Pettiford Modern Quintet, 1955 EP Reissue

In the '50s there was no finer jazz bassist than Oscar Pettiford. Sure, Mingus was right up there with him, and Paul Chambers a close second. Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden gave listeners much to think about at the end of that period but in the end belonged more to the next decade so far as impact goes. And none of them played cello like Oscar.

One of Oscar's first solo LP recordings came about in late 1955. It was what was dubbed and titled the Oscar Pettiford Modern Quintet (Bethlehem 1003) and released shortly thereafter as a ten-inch LP. For the Bethlehem reissue series under way it is now available on CD. Those were the days where often less was more. So we get six numbers in 15 minutes. There isn't a wasted moment though.

In the band is Oscar on bass and cello (the latter overdubbed when necessary), a young Charlie Rouse on tenor, Julius Watkins on French horn, bop vet Duke Jordan on piano and Ron Jefferson on drums. Half the numbers are Pettiford's, including "Trictatism", which ought to be more performed today because it is classic. Then there's one by Gerry Mulligen, one by Quincy Jones and a standard.

It's a very potent outfit that bops and swings just fine, but in its arranged-composed quality has something in common with Miles' seminal Birth of the Cool. Pettiford solos on bass and cello in ways you would expect, namely with a real brilliance, and he walks with authority. Rouse sounds great. The ensemble is an unusual sounding one with the addition of Watkins and his definitive take on jazz French horn in those days. His solos have conviction. Then Duke Jordan is right there too with a post-Bud-Powell bop horn-like-right-hand in his solos. So all is most definitely well on the personnel front and the numbers are very hip.

It's pure pleasure if you dig where bop was mid-decade. And it's pure Oscar, too. To me it's 15 minutes of music that makes me smile. What could be better?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charles Mingus, The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus, CD Reissue of Original 12-Inch LP

I was lucky that when I was very young and casting about for "real jazz" to listen to I stumbled upon Miles, Trane, Monk....and Charles Mingus. I was absorbed by it all, and had much to learn from it, but Mingus (Blues & Roots was the first for me) seemed like familiar territory because my dad had Ellington records and I heard them. But then there was something else very different that was pure Mingus. And I took to it right away.

Years later I was at Berklee (1971-2) and teaching there was a guy named John LaPorta. I knew nothing of him except by then he was to me some old guy and what did I care? Then I found out he had been in an early Mingus band and so I tracked down the LP. The music originally was on two ten-inch LPs on Period Records, both titled Jazzical Moods. A few years later it all came out on one 12-incher under the title The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus, on Bethlehem Records. Both labels were long defunkt by the time I made my rounds of the Boston record stores, and in fact the album, whole or in pieces, was reissued a good number of times by the end of the vinyl era, in remasters of wildly varying quality. No matter. I found a copy in some guise and listened. . . and grew to like it very much.

The sides were recorded in December of 1954 so this was one of Mingus's very first releases. It was one of the first Jazz Workshop outfits and a pretty unusual combination of Mingus on bass and piano (overdubbed), John LaPorta on clarinet and alto, Teo Macero (later famed jazz producer at Columbia) on tenor and baritone, Thad Jones on trumpet, Jackson Wiley on cello and one Clem DeRosa on drums. They do some excellent Mingus originals, one co-written by John LaPorta, a LaPorta number, and standards arranged by Mingus or LaPorta. The entire session, as on the Bethlehem label, has just been reissued from the analog master tapes as part of what I presume will be the mass-resurrection of the Bethlehem sides.

And so this one is very much available again. The fact that "experiments" was part of the Bethlehem-issued version is no accident. For this was a period where bop combined with compositional, even classical elements in some of the jazz at the time. It was part of the "cool school" which Miles Davis had much to do with initiating on his Capitol Birth of the Cool sides from the beginning of the decade. The music had a heavily arranged component most of the time and featured some advanced compositions as well.

This Mingus album loosely fits into that mode, though with Mingus on bass it swings more so than most outfits of the type and most certainly nothing comes off as anemic, a charge critics levelled at this and other musics associated especially with the West Coast. As much as I appreciated the hard-swinging hard bop that came out in reaction to the coolness of cool, I also pretty early on became long tired of the polemic that formed around the this-or-nothing stance of the later '50s. Mingus reacted to his critics by swinging about as hard as anyone could by then without simply exploding, almost as a caricature of what was expected, which was a part of the complexity of Mingus and his relationship to the world outside of himself.

But if you listen to this album you will hear some excellent music, polemic or no. "Minor Intrusions" is a Mingus classic, certainly. The whole album to my mind still comes across well, daring at times for the time, and always excellent musically. Solo-wise nobody is slouching either.

And it's great to have the original-tapes remaster to linger over now.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chip Stephens Trio, Relevancy

If I were pianist Chip Stephens, I'd be happy with my trio recording Relevancy (Capri 74120-2). Why? It comes across with total conviction, for one thing. He plays in a bop-rooted, hard-driving, all-details there kind of modern mainstream way--with early-middle-period McCoy Tyner and later-period Bill Evans as forebears. Maybe a touch of freeness here and there, too--in a post-Paul Bley mode--a hint, anyway. The music hits hard, swinging with everything it has, no matter the material, which includes a classic Carla Bley piece, standards, originals, and Evans's "24 Skidoo" as the resting point.

The trio has that three-way interplay that this style demands and his team is totally right and totally up for it. Joel Spencer has the drive of a Philly Joe Jones, impeccable time and slapdash solo flair. Bassist Dennis Carroll does all you could ask for, walking, adding to the dialog and soloing with ability and ideas more-or-less a la post-Eddie Gomez.

This is a trio outing that makes you say "yeah!" Chip has all that voicing finesse and a hornworthy right hand, too. More I need not say. Because if you dig this lineage you will dig Mr. Stephens and his trio here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Michael Vlatkovich, Chris Lee, Kent Mclagen, Succulence of Abstraction

Here we have a live from Albuquerque date with a strong trio headed by trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, aptly titled Succulence of Abstraction (Thankyou MV 015). This is freely unfolding music in a pronounced jazz mode, swinging open form, with Vlatkovich joined by Kent Mclagen on acoustic bass and Chris Lee on drums.

It's one of those sets that gives you smart playing but hard swinging, too. It's filled with some great Vlatkovich trombone, not surprising given that he is one of a small handful of important forward-moving bone-ologists out there today. The rhythm team of Mclagen and Lee are fine indeed, both propulsors of excellence and players of substance in their own right. And the three-way effort is solidly knit together in the best traditions of the "pianoless trio".

There are head structures and lots of solo time in a post-new-thing zone. You could picture Archie Shepp added to this group easily. He isn't but that is OK because the three alone give you all the music you need.

A really good one, this.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Noah Young, Unicorn Dream

Noah Young, originally known as Richard Youngstein, is a fine contrabassist, jazz composer, perhaps lesser known out there yet a fundamentally important figure in avant-free jazz from its formative period in the '60s on. He came on the scene in Roswell Rudd and Robin Kenyatta's respective groups, played with Carla Bley on Escalator Over the Hill, with Jimmy Giuffre, all kinds of seminal folks. He married and raised a family, found that the gigs were not enough to sustain him, ended up training and practicing as a licensed psychotherapist. He lost his beloved wife to cancer years ago. Now he himself is quite ill, and can no longer play because of neurological complications. But he is a living force on social media, coming up with inspiring thoughts, culling from wisdom from the east, and struggling to stay here on this earth to help others. I count him as a friend, full disclosure here, so my words are not entirely impartial. But as we know there is no such thing as impartial. We are by nature partial beings. And I would not be writing this if I didn't feel strongly about the value of his music. So we press on.

He put out his own album on LP in 1980. Unicorn Dream (Laughing Angel 33). It is out of print at the moment but somebody should do something about that. If you look around on the net you may be able to find a copy nonetheless. It's become a part of yesterday. But it sounds like today.

The album presents various avant-free-contemporary jazz segments in ever shifting combinations. Most of the compositions are Noah's and they are excellent. There's one by Andy LaVerne and that one has a mid-period Corea feel to it. The rest are post-Ornettian and prime examples at that. Noah plays excellently on contrabass throughout, whether out-walking, soloing with a very inventive and hip outlook, or as a member of the ensemble, a horn-like presence. There's one, the title cut, which is Noah overdubbed to form an acoustic bass quartet and that's something to hear--it has teeth!! And then there are shifting group configurations from cut to cut. Cleve Pozar, a fabulous drummer that needs to be remembered and heard, is a near continual presence and he sounds terrific. But then so does Mark Whitecage (on alto and flute), Bobby Naughton (vibes), Perry Robinson (of course clarinet) and Peter Loeb on tenor, who I don't believe I've heard previously but turns in a fine performance.

This is one of those releases that may have slipped through the cracks back then for many listeners, but there was no justice in that. In fact it is essential, excellent listening whether you love a bass played with true artistry or you just want to hear some primo avant jazz from the era. It's as good as it sounds on paper if you know the names. Or even better. And if you don't, here is your chance.

Try and find a copy! It will gladden Noah's heart if you listen. Mine, too. This is the real deal!

Chris Abrahams and Magda Mayas, Gardener

Not everything in the heavens and on earth is known in our philosophies, to garble Shakespeare a bit on this Monday morning. In music that is occurring right now, unfolding before our very ears, that may be especially true. Take the album Gardener (Relative Pitch 1011), a series of duo improvisations by Chris Abrahams and Magda Mayas.

The two each play pianos, harpsichords and harmoniums, as they see fit from number to number. They get heavily immersed in some highly abstract, avant new music sorts of improvisations, creating a complex diversity of sounds both exotic and down-to-earth. And they do it very well. This is music that no philosopher could have dreamed up 100 years ago. And yet it fits in with the new free-avant music world that has grown increasingly multi-faceted in the last 20 years or so. No longer can you say that "free music," "free jazz" or "avant improvisation" is only a matter of this or that. It is today a matter of many different shades of performative sound.

Abrahams and Mayas come down in an area of abstraction that took shape in various ways both in the music of Cecil Taylor and in Europe--all in the very late '50s and into the '60s and beyond--what some people now call improv. It has some roots in avant classical but has the expressive spontaneity of jazz improvisation, and of course with Cecil these latter roots are especially fundamental. With Abrams and Mayas the attention is to the immediate in-the-moment sculpting of sound and timbres, so the piano for example is as often as not prepared, and the sensual qualities of the three instruments played by both performers contrast and commingle in attractive ways. Then too it IS about the notes, about the phrasings, the sounds and the silences, and some of the avant jazz aspects of the music come through at times in these zones especially.

But no, there are no symmetrical, structured barline sorts of regularities here. It is open form pretty much all the way. And the trick with this kind of music, as done well like the two artists at hand do, is to let yourself focus on the passing parade of sound and tone, to evacuate the evaluating mind of expectations, and to let the sounds take you where they will. Listen more than once, preferably many times, and the singularity of the program will become apparent. That's what I did. I come away from this one with a feeling of satisfaction, that what these two are doing is good, very good, and the idea that I will welcome another hearing.

That's when you know you've got something. This is something. Recommended.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lotte Anker, Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernani Faustino, Birthmark

I sometimes have to catch myself wondering how so many excellent players out there can devote themselves to a form of music that offers potentially and comparatively little in the way of economic recompense, yet demands a lifetime of study and performance, a sacrifice often of the comforts of home to be replaced by continual touring. These people are heroes and they should be touted to the skies by every cultural agency that has anything to say about anything artistic.

I speak of those who play advanced improvisational music, called jazz by some, which to me still makes sense because it is rooted there one way or another. People who play music that is avant, free-flowing, are never going to score a top-40 hit, most likely. Those who judge the artistic merits of the music world in terms of number of units sold are never going to get it, no matter how accomplished and advanced the music. Do we judge Plato on how many copies of The Republic he "sold?" Of course not. If we start doing that we are doomed.

So that's what hits me as I listen to a really captivating album by three practitioners of the improvised arts. I speak of Lotte Anker, Rodrigo Pinheiro and Hernani Faustino and their album Birthmark (Clean Feed 267). Lotte is Danish. Rodrigo and Hernani are Portuguese. Lotte is a woman and plays the tenor, soprano and alto; Rodrigo and Hernani are men and play the piano and the double bass, respectively. And of course it is a matter of how they do all that.

This is free music that rollicks. Not that it is carefree, especially. But everything flies out of the three instruments/instrumentalists in such a lucid way that it all seems so easy, easy-going. These are players who make it sound easy. It is far from that. There is nothing more difficult than creating a music out of a musical language very few speak fluidly and make it make sense. These are ultra-fluid speakers of the new improvisatory language and their three-way inventions have the quality of a profound conversation among equals on topics that are very central to their beings.

There is as much "new music" discourse here as there is "free music" discourse. It's very abstract yet filled with feeling. There is an attention to the sound, the timbres, from all three that is uplifting. Lotte coaxes her own particular tone-personality out of the three saxes and her note choice has very much something personal as well. We've encountered Rodrigo and Hernani before on these pages and they are as effective as ever. Rodrigo works with cascades and string manipulation or sometimes just brings out of very appropriate super-rubato two-hand counterpoint. Hernani makes full use of the contrabass and what it can do arco and pizz. He listens and responds with what seems exactly right and also initiates the conversational segment when it seems time. He's right there in ways that make it work, and a joy to hear.

These are three artists at the top of their craft making a spontaneous music that rings true and has real locutionary power. Birthmark is a genuinely exciting contribution to the music. So, listen already, OK?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Shadow Man

Tim Berne's Snakeoil band continues and perfects the long evolution and development of his music. The new album Shadow Man (ECM) makes it clear that he is still moving forward. Tim puts together the compositional-conceptual forms as you would expect, plays the alto and fronts a quartet that sounds much denser than a four-person outfit usually does.

That is in great part so because of how Tim and ensemble give you intensely worked out multiple sounding motival rubato often enough. There can be a pulse involved but it is plastic, malleable. In a way Tim Berne has been working out his own group logic from such roots as Trane's Sunship, and perhaps some of Braxton's classic pattern repetition pieces, and maybe Roscoe Mitchell of Nonaah, though the music sounds nothing like any of the three, exactly. There is almost a four-way, subtle-ized free-modern fanfare going on in the music, a way to approach the long-form of modern improvisational music by freeing the ensemble of the standard post-bop role-playing and having each player develop an integral part of the improvised-composed whole. Then there are endlessly counterpointed ensemble passages too, which ultimately work around variable patterns of intervals that extend outwards, potentially into infinity. Soloing on top of either form further extends the long-range, long-term possibilities of a work and yet gives you a feeling like you are still in the "head" mode. Or at least that is what I hear happening.

It helps to have a foursome with excellent improvisational instincts and imagination. Tim of course, Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums, vibes and percussion. This is a group where each member is totally key to the compositional-concept sound, not spelling rhythm or harmonies as much as actively entering the four-way musical discourse.

And so that's what I am hearing. It is Tim Berne's own way and Snakeoil is perhaps the ideal player combination for hearing it. Shadow Man has a breathtaking beauty-in-hardness to it. It is one not-to-pass-by. Tim Berne is here in the present-future and we cannot ignore the music because it is fundamental to OUR present-future, I think. Mind you I am not saying that Maestro Berne is THE next thing. He is clearly A next thing, an important music-maker to coexist alongside some other key cats today. But you listen four or five times yourself. New music, jazz, call it what you want. But don't ignore it!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lama + Chris Speed, Lamacal

Not every musical collaboration is "made in heaven". Some have their moments but maybe aren't as productive as they might seem on paper. Others have that extra something, where all involved share the performative act as sympathetic equals, dedicated to a singular undertaking. I would definitely put the meeting of Chris Speed and Lama, on their recent live disk Lamacal (Clean Feed 275), in that second category.

The foursome hold forth at the 10th Edition of the Portalegre Jazz Festival in a full set of sonic adventures. Chris plays tenor and clarinet throughout, then it's Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugel, Goncalo Almeida on double bass, effects and loops, and Greg Smith on drums and electronics. The non-acoustic/effects elements have an integral, inclusive role to play at points in the program, coloring the ensemble sound, most obviously the bass. It's the acoustic playing (whether over, around or [mostly] by itself) in the end that brings it all together.

What's good about this encounter? Plenty. One thing is how well Susana and Chris work together as the front line soloists. Ms. Silva has good ideas and execution and Chris complements her well. Chris on clarinet is something to hear (and I'll admit I haven't paid enough attention to that side of his playing until now). Of course his tenor work has stamina and vision--and it combines effectively with Silva's trumpet, whether they are playing around with compositional elements or doing a dual-improvisational thing.

The composition/sound landscaping gives the music dramatic longevity. Your ears do not tire because there is pace-changing diversity in a freely-avant yet structured setting. Almeida writes four of the seven; the others contribute one apiece.

Almeida and Smith have very nice push and subtle interplay as needed. And Almeida often plays a pivotal role in the structure of the compositional framework through ostinatos and such. And he solos with intent and results, then gets some good wood on the ensemble passages consistently, too. Smith has creative force in his playing and does not resort to any of the free cliches you can sometimes hear overdone elsewhere.

The music can kick it up well to a more frenetic level when it is time. The feels and melodic modes are worthy of hearing and put all the improvising on a hear-it-over-again basis.

Very nice effort. These four got something going on that gig. You should find it very stimulating--like I did.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album

Ever since Brian Jones of Rolling Stones fame recorded and released an album of music by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Morocco, the group of wind players, drummers, etc., has been an important part of the musical map we who take note of such things have in our heads.

They've had a number of albums over the years and also been collaborators in meta-fusion encounters, notably with Ornette Coleman. And now there's a new album out, put together especially as a benefit for them and the funds they need to keep on, The Road to Jajouka (Howe).

This is a fascinating collection of collaborations between Jajouka musicians and contemporary jazz and rock musicians of note. The participants include Ornette Coleman, Marc Ribot, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Flea, John Zorn, Lee Ranaldo, Mickey Hart, etc.

It places the Jajouka tonality and playing style in a variety of Euro-American rock and jazz modes and does so with consistent success. And, best of all, you'll be helping them by getting the CD. Ultimately you should hear an album of their music in the North African context, but that can be something you can do later. This one is a kind of great adventure of musico-cultural integration and stands on its own with some very different twists and turns!

Friday, October 25, 2013

SOS, John Surman, Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, Looking for the Next One

SOS only released one album during their brief but productive lifetime on the '70s British jazz scene. So the uncovering and release of another two full-CDs of music is quite welcome. That is what we have on Looking for the Next One (Rune 360-361). SOS was the product of a three-way collaboration between John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore.

All three were (and are) primarily known as saxophonists and of course all three have a strong presence in that department. For the set Osborne is on alto, Skidmore on soprano and tenor, and Surman on baritone, soprano and bass clarinet. One of the things that makes this trio unique though is the way Skidmore can switch over to drums, Surman to synthesizers and keyboards, and Osborne to percussion at any given point to give us a sound that has many facets and seems--and is--much more than a three-sax gathering.

The other factor that makes this group stand out is the compositional side of the performances. Skidmore, Surman and the trio as a whole construct very interesting compositional materials out of folk roots and more avant leanings. All serve to frame the improvisations fully and provide a continuous evolution of feels and moods. It's free music with a structured backbone, so to say.

The first disk is a product of two London studio dates from 1974 and 1975. Tony Levin joins the band on drums for the last two cuts to give even more fullness to the sound. The second disk is a live set well-captured at the Balver Hoehle Jazz Festival, Germany, from the summer of 1974.

The music is in full fidelity and contains much that is remarkable. The synth/keys and drums give the band the ability to stray into more electric territory--like later Soft Machine in some ways, and they do so to good effect. The three-horn interaction and individual soloing are impeccable and rousing, all that one could hope for from these three.

This is a release that opens up the listener to a new, fuller understanding of how talented the three were and how intriguing and exciting was the music they made together. They deserved more attention, surely, than they got as SOS back then. But we have this set now and we can fully appreciate them in some depth. Grab this!