Thursday, February 28, 2013

Francois Carrier, Michael Lambert, Shores and Ditches

Another good one from altoist Francois Carrier and his drumming cohort Michel Lambert, Shores and Ditches (FMR 340-0512). They start things off with a vividly bright duo, "Caldera," that reminds us how much in control Francois Carrier is on his instrument. It's very free and he executes with a tone that varies with what he wants to say, yet also opens up into an almost balladic territory. All this while Michel Lambert shows us he has great dynamic, creative sensibilities as well. Francois comes back hard after a short drum solo, then brings the balladic touch on again to close.

"Upstream" places bassist Guillame Viltard into the mix for a long empassioned improvisation. By the time "Kladi" hits the group is augmented with the addition of Neil Metcalf's flute and Daniel Thompson on guitar, who add effective counterlines and everybody brings on the main current.

The haunting sound of church bells and tinking, rattling percussion set up the title cut, which gives plenty of space once again to Francois and his almost classic-Apollonian soliloquoy.

It's a wonderful date. Carrier is essential listening in the avant free zone, and nowhere more so than here.

Tianna Hall & The Mexico City Jazz Trio, Two for the Road

With "jazz singers", "you'll know when you get there." You'll also know when you don't. In the case of Tianna Hall and her album with the Mexico City Jazz Trio, Two For the Road (Mighty Pretty Records), I knew after only a minute into the CD. Then the rest of the program continued to let me know. Tianna Hall has that creative tension that allows her to take an old standard and bring crackling electricity into its re-presentation.

She has some very nuanced ways that we expect from a singer of the "A" class. Rhythmically, she can and does break it down and rebuild the phrase structures like a horn. Her voice quality is very attractive and she can pinpoint the amount of vibrato, the emphasis on a lyric by accentuation, the limber yet taught phrasing of stanzas. She is something else!

It most certainly doesn't hurt that the Mexico City Jazz Trio is a kicking threesome. That they are.

The song choices are what works for her. So "Till There Was You" comes alive in a Tianese zone, as does "I'm Going to Sit Write Down and Write Myself a Letter". Those who read my columns know how sick I can be of standards these days. But with Tianna Hall, it's new again. She kicks it, all the way through the town and then some. And there are some songs not especially well known in standard town, too, like "Creep", that she positively takes over and owns...completely.

Hear her. There's drama and it is unfeigned. There's musicality and it is real.

Pamela York, Lay Down This World, Hymns and Spirituals

There are times when I look at a CD jacket for the first time and say to myself, "I may not like this." That's what I did think when I first turned to pianist Pamela York's Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals (Jazzful Heart Music 080602). My reaction was not because I had anything against a jazz treatment of well-known hymns and spirituals. It's just that I had been disappointed in most such efforts in the past.

Turns out, happily, I was wrong. Pamela sets out with a piano trio, adds Andre Hayward on trombone for a few tracks, and proceeds to do some very convincing work. This is fully cohesive, creative piano jazz. The arrangements are varied but all on the mark, be it a kind of Tyneresque-Evansish "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". Red Garner block chords on the reggae version of "I Know My Redeemer Liveth", and on from there.

The fact is that the directness and elementality of the songs make it possible with the right set of ears to ground a very good pianism in the displacement-substitution, re-creation of the melodic-harmonic content to make a musically lively modern jazz presentation of it all.

This is music to enjoy. Pamela York has a very nice touch and very good creative imagination.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Paul Winter Sextet, Count Me In, 1962-1963

Paul Winter is best known these days for his innovative, proto-fusion/post-fusion Consort. Many of the members of Oregon started there and both their and his own concepts have made a large impact on the scene.

Perhaps you (like I) never heard some of the first recordings of Paul's. They a part of a 50th anniversary anthology that adds 14 unreleased cuts for a very comprehensive 2-CD look at what he was doing in 1962-63. The Paul Winter Sextet's Count Me In (Living Music 44) is what we have, and it's an excellent listen.

Most of the players' names are not well-known today, except for the presence of Chuck Israels, Ben Riley, Harold Jones and, for a few cuts, Cecil McBee, Freddie Waits, Jeremy Steig and Gene Bertocini.

Otherwise it's a sextet of Winter on alto, Dick Whitsell, trumpet, Les Root or Jay Cameron, baritone, plus rhythm.

The soloists are quite decent, including Paul in a very more boppish vein than later, but the emphasis is on somewhat cool, well arranged compositions. It's substantial music, it swings, it does not sound especially dated. There's even a White House concert from 1962.

I wasn't sure at all what Paul Winter was up to then, but I am very glad to know now. It's a fine intro to early PW.

Greg Duncan, Chicago, Barcelona Connections

Trumpet/Flugalist Greg Duncan is up to something on Chicago, Barcelona Connections (New Origins 001). Something good.

First off he plays his own brand of post-Hubbard, post-Milesian trumpet and you can hear that to good advantage on this recording.

Secondly he's gathered together musicians I can only assume from both Chicago and Barcelona, Spain, and put together a Latin/Spanish Jazz repertoire, worked out some very nice arrangements, and let loose.

It's an album of high merit. Everybody and everything sounds right, including some well-sung vocals by Patricia Ortega.


Sonic Liberation Front, Jetway Confidential

Sonic Liberation Front play their own kind of Afro-Cuban-influenced avant jazz and they do it very well. We reviewed their last album Meets Sunny Murray on these pages (type in search box for that one) and, as good as that one was, the new one, Jetway Confidential (High Two 030) is even better. Afro-Cuban influenced hand drumming meets large band avant jazz composition meets collective and individual soloing of merit.

These folks are Philadelphia based, a sort of new Sun-Ra-like ensemble geographically and stylistically, only they sound very much like themselves. Drummer-percussionist Keven Diehl writes most of the compositions and is a driving force behind the 23 member band. There are vocals now and again that seem to relate to traditional Cuban Lukumi music.

This is top-notch avant music that anyone who digs Ra and after will get behind! Catch it.

Paradoxical Frog, Union

Paradoxical Frog returns with a second album, Union (Clean Feed 262), that continues in a way where the first left off (see earlier review on these pages via the search box at the top of the page). It's a trio of Kris Davis, piano, Ingrid Laubrock, tenor and soprano sax, and Tyshawn Sorey, drums and also melodica and trombone for this outing. It's a very serious venture of high modernist composition/freedom, all three contributing their pieces and all three performing with collective and individual strength and originality.

Kris Davis plays carefully thought-out, harmonically expansive lines that Ingrid Laubrock counters with her own personal take on modernity. Tyshawn Sorey is the percussive dynamo that he is, for this trio a meticulous sound sculptor as well as a driving force.

The music has the New Music spaciousness and control with some of the energy and propulsiveness of New Thing. It comes off very well because these are a well-matched, gifted threesome.

Music of the era. . . music without a commercial bone in its virtual body. . . music that stakes critical ground in the new age we live in. . . music you should hear.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith Needs Your Support On A New Project

Wadada Leo Smith, legend, composer, trumpetissimo extraordinaire, vital force in today's music, needs your support on a new project. It's a brand new composition in his acclaimed Ten Freedom Summers series (the first, newly recorded part of which I named my Album of the Year a short while ago--see below).

More specifically he needs $17,000 to complete and premiere the new work, entitled The March on Washington D.C.- August 28, 1963. It will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It will be the 22nd composition of Ten Freedom Summers, which the trumpeter has written over the past 34 years and calls "one of my life's defining works."

To donate to the project, log on to by Monday, March 11, 2013. Please paste the URL in your browser and hit enter. Help if you can!

Liudas Mockūnas and Barry Guy, Lava

Barry Guy over the years has remained essential, personally original and openly creative. He still occupies a space at the very pinnacle of excellence in the "free" jazz, improvisational contrabass realm.

For Lava (No Business NBLP 54), he teams with saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas for a limited edition LP of the two holding forth in the free zone. Liudas dons the soprano, tenor and bass saxophones and interacts impressively well with the always on Mr. Guy. Barry's playing is here as elsewhere a model of sound originality, dynamic heft and percussive/timbral zone patterning.

It's avant improv at levels aficionados will recognize as peak. Mr. Mockūnas holds his own impressively. This is what we come to expect from No Business releases: pure genre (whatever that means), uncompromising, vital.

Friday, February 22, 2013

SCUO, 5678765

Avant free rock-jazz. What's that? If you want to know, one place to start is the duo SCUO. If you know already SCUO still has ideas you'll put yourself into, I think.

SCUO come out of Richmond, Virginia. It's Ron Burton on guitar, Scott Clark on drums. Their EP 5678765 (New Atlantis NA-CAS-004) is a cassette deal, which means it has that different-shaped cover. (Hence the cover illustration is rectangular, as you see.)

Much more importantly, this is dense music, a lot of music for two people to be making. Scott Clark plays some very hip drums and has a big part to play in the compositional sound involved. Ron Burton somehow joins a Beefheartian skronk, the Water Wheel hypnotics of Hamza al Din (not overtly there) with blazing fast tremeloed, double-picked chords and lines. So it's all over the place in ways that sound great and keep your attention riveted.

This is music of both form and outness. And it is very, very worth hearing. Get the cassette!!

Alexis Parsons & Connie Crothers, Hippin'

Alexis Parson won some polls last year because she is very good. Connie Crothers wins polls and has for years because she is central to the music. Put the two together and let them freely interact without any song material except, towards the end, "Wild is the Wind."

Now of course Connie playing free is nothing new--but again of course it is nearly always extraordinary. "Free" vocals are not something you hear a great deal of. We musn't forget Abbey Lincoln and Patty Waters, two of the first, and there have been others, some excellent, that have followed, but not really a huge number of them.

After Ms. Parsons did her album of songs a while back (which I covered) I knew she was strong. But for a free date? Here we have the two and their Hippin' (New Artists 1047) doing just that. It turns out Alexis is very poised, inventive and personally unique in this mode too.

If everything works well for a date like this, the people involved have to be very attuned to what they will do. That's most certainly so. Then what they do needs to have interest, trajectory, drama, and so forth. There never is any doubt with what Connie would do here, because she is a monster improviser-artist. And so that happens to be the case once again. And Alexis Parsons gives you the surprise of having very much her own way of getting free and out there.

This is a winner! Outside and thoughtful in excellent ways.

Jeb Bishop, Jorrit Dijkstra, 1000 Words

After yesterday's review of the Whammies, we return with two of those folks doing duets. It's Jeb Bishop and Jorrit Dijkstra and their 1000 Words (Driff 1202).

Both Jeb and Jorrit of course have established themselves over time as extraordinary players (trombone and alto, respectively) and very game jazz composers. On this album they combine the two for a series of duets that are anything but humdrum.

It's the very engaging qualities of the compositions that put the album into excellent territory. They frame the improvisations, set them up and surround them. And since these are top-class improvisers, the whole thing very much comes together.

I am reminded of Roscoe Mitchell's excellent small group, drumless albums of some years ago. Like them this has torque and freedom, outness tempered by music-compositional goals.

It's a fine date. You'll find plenty to dig into here.

Louis Durra, Rocket Science

Pianist Louis Durra's new Rocket Science (Lot 50 1201) continues and builds on the idea of an acoustic piano trio that plays a sort of jazz-rock--familiar songs like "One Love" and "Back in the USSR" along with originals, all with the idea of making the trio thing accessible to folks who might not dig "Laura" or the old standards thing.

There are other trios doing it too, as you know I am sure. Durra and his bandmates Jerry Kalaf (drums) and Ryan McGillicuddy or Larry Steen (bass) do some somewhat ambitious arrangements that might not be quite as hairpin as Bad Plus but have straightforwardly listenable premises.

It's good music. It plays well on the playback machine (dare I still call it a stereo?). It is worth your time. Need I say more?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stephen Gauci, Thunk!

As a companion piece to the Whammies review today, we go to a program of Thelonious Monk arrangements and improvisations around them that keeps things fresh and exciting. I speak of Stephen Gauci and his album Thunk! (Not Two MW868-2).

Stephen Gauci is a tenorist that's getting things very together with a series of his own recordings and as a member of Michael Bisio's group. This time out he gets a nice combination of self, Mr. Bisio on bass, Kenny Wessel on guitar and Jeremy Carlstedt on drums. I've seen that they've been gigging around the city. Alas I've never have been able to catch them due to everyday snarls and SNAFUs.

But the album gets their music down for us all to hear. We have a good sampling of classic Monk tunes, like "Ruby My Dear" and "Nutty", only it's arranged subtly, differently, sometimes with a straight-eight funk feel, sometimes by extending a harmonic section, adding an ostinato, all good ideas.

Stephen sounds great, Kenny Wessel really comes on, Michael Bisio is his usual outstanding self and Jeremy Carlstedt does everything right.

So it's not "just" another Monk tribute. These guys have been playing the tunes for a long while and the arrangements seem like they evolved out of thinking about and dealing with the music, not as a grafting.

So it all rings out true and plumb without missing soul and expression! Stephen Gauci is a player you need to hear and this is a perfect place for that. Listen up and liken it up? You no doubt will.

Mississippi Heat, Delta Bound

Oh, yes. The blues live today. The blues collective Mississippi Heat marks that by celebrating their 20th anniversary (!) on the nicely played set Delta Bound (Delmark 823).

It's an ensemble that's filled with soul and spirit. The harpist Pierre Lacoque has that big sound that reminds of the best--Walter, Sonny Boy, Butterfield, Cotton...he nails it. Inetta Visor and guest Deitra Farr have strong vocal styles with what the music needs. And the guitarwork from Giles Corey, Billy Sutterfield and guests Carl Weathersby and Billy Flynn rings and rings true.

The program is a mix of new blues and some classics ("Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood") that sound real because they are.

I am sure seeing these folks live is a special treat. The next best thing is this recording. Get it and you'll get to it.

The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy

Steve Lacy had such a distinctive style on soprano. His groups, especially from his middle period on, had a very distinct way about them as well. These factors were so prominent in his later music that I, at least, have tended to associate them as a nearly inextricable part of his compositions. Like Lacy's own treatment of the music of Thelonious Monk, a change in context for the compositions can help one listen to the melodic-harmonic implications of the compositions in themselves. Just as Lacy and others gave us an earful of Monk-as-composer that helped us more appreciate his music, so now this engaging recording at hand.

The Whammies are doing the same thing for Steve Lacy's music on The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy (Driff CD 1201). Who are the Whammies? They are an all-star avant unit of Jorrit Dijkstra on alto and lyricon, Pandelis Karayorgis on piano, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Nate McBride on bass, Han Bennink on drums and, for half the numbers, Mary Oliver on violin or viola.

These are artists known for their improvisational personalities and for the most part composers of merit in their own right. They hommage the hommagian, so to speak, by including one Monk number, "Locomotive." Otherwise it's Lacy all the way.

And it's not "straight" Lacy for that matter. It is arranged, freely articulated and improvisationally packed music of a very high order, individually and collectively. The set reaffirms the importance of Lacy the composer while also giving you a great ensemble going to it.

Don't miss this one. I hope the Whammies keep it going. It's a great combination of players!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jacob Garchik, Jacob Sacks, David Ambrosio, Vinnie Sperrazza, 40Twenty

The "new thing" art avant jazz tradition of Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd is extended and made new again in the hands of the quartet that enlivens the disk 40Twenty (Yeah-Yeah 004).

It's a well matched group of jazz composer-instrumentalists: Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jacob Sacks (piano), David Ambrosio (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). Each has a vital role to play in realizing the quite interesting compositions; each contributes at least one, Sperrazza and Ambrosio two apiece.

It's music with a harmonic base, but in no way a cliched one. The compositions set the mood and haunt the improvisations by integrating with them throughout.

Garchik is a very fine exponent of the trombone of finesse and control, virtuoso soul and line-crafting excellence. Sacks is a post-Nichols wonder of good musical sense. Ambrosio can solo with real ideas and hangs well with Vinnie Sperrazza's very swinging and smart drumming.

This is a quartet that does not come along every day. There is everything going for it, an avantness that incorporates earlier avant tradition while establishing a complete, cohesive identity of its own. Exceptional new music! Recommended.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mike Longo Trio, A Celebration of Diz and Miles

Listening to Mike Longo and his new album, A Celebration of Diz and Miles (CAP 1033), I keep asking myself, "How is it that Mike has been basking in obscurity for a number of years?" I don't have the answer in this space and even if I did, the remedy is simple. Listen to what he is doing right now.

Here we have him and his trio, with Paul West and Ray Mosca, bass and drums, holding forth live at the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium of the Baha'i Center in New York, playing grizzled old classics associated with Diz and Miles, songs played to death, and yet Longo finds something very cool to say with them. That's jazz, right? I am not being flip.

"All Blues," "A Night in Tunisia," these are the classics that Diz and/or Miles played night after night back in the day, and of course Mike (with Diz) did, too.

To make them seem fresh, to solo with such imagination, who would expect it? Of course anyone who has followed Mike over the years. Some of us have lost track. Here is the chance to catch up. This is wonderful Longo.

Accidental Tourists, The L.A. Sessions

The lyrical side of contemporary jazz has been flourishing for some time. Keith Jarrett has something to do with that, as we know. Bill Evans, too. Chick Corea can't exactly be ignored, either. Nowadays there are scores of very good pianists out there who don't especially sound like any of the above, yet widen the path to the singing melodic-harmonic pianism that can appeal to so many yet remain musically sophisticated.

Markus Burger is one such pianist, a very good one. His group Accidental Tourists is a trio with ex-Evans vet Joe LaBarbera on bass and Bob Magnusson on drums. They've got a new, nice one out, Accidental Tourists (Challenge 73332).

The disk contains mostly Burger compositions, and they are ringing testaments to the Burger way of proceeding. The trio has that interactive thing going that no modern-day trio should be without, which means that the bass and drums have a large role to play.

At Cadence for a while Bob Rusch dubbed me the go-to guy for piano trio reviews, partly because I found it a natural thing given my interests, and I hope partly because I was steeped in the piano history-tradition and could pick up on what was going on. I cover a lot more ground in my blogs than I tended to do at Cadence, but an excellent trio such as this one warms my heart as ever. These three stack up!

This is music to live inside of and relish. These folks are good. So don't miss it if you look to supplement what you listen to with some new names.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Paul Lytton, Nate Wooley, with Ikue Mori and Ken Vandermark, The Nows

If Nate Wooley won some free jazz polls at the end of the past year for trumpet, it has no doubt something to do with his performances on The Nows (Clean Feed 260), a two-CD set of himself and percussion adept Paul Lytton in two live settings, the first at the Stone in NYC with Ikue Mori joining in on computer for about half the program, and another date at the Hideout in Chicago, with Ken Vandermark gracing the podium on bass clarinet, clarinet, tenor and baritone for the second half of the set.

Nate is exploring sound territory that is most decidedly avant and extended; Paul complements perfectly with a widened percussion kit and a keen dramatic sense. The guests fit in quite nicely--and it's always a treat to hear the Vandermark baritone.

In the end, though, the two principals carry the day with some exceptionally imaginative out playing. "A triumph!", I could add. Well, OK, it is that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jeff Holmes Quartet, Of One's Own

Monk, Jarrett, meet Jeff Holmes, a pianist who is related to you. He is carrying on with a quartet, on an album Of One's Own (Miles High 8621). He has grasped the essence of what you guys are about, and is taking it someplace of his own.

The quartet is up to the challenge. Adam Kolker plays tenor, soprano and bass clarinet in a modern zone, sometimes functioning as Garbarek and Dewey R did in the old Jarrett quartets, but with a personal sound, again of his own. James Cammack on acoustic and electric bass and Steve Johns on drums propel the band to swing or do the straight-eight as needed. The solos are crafted well, the originals very good, and Jeff Holmes plays some excellent piano here.

This is a pianist to watch, to hear, to look forward to again. And this album captivates.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sabu Toyozumi, Kosai Yujyo

It's a Monday morning here where I sit in real time, and I don't think it makes sense to launch on a windy diatribe about how to listen to "new music," except the obvious and very brief admonitions: "Have patience!" And "Repeat the experience as many times as you can!" That's true too of computers, when virus software starts going off the deep end, scanning and rescanning anally to no point other than insanity, as it has done just now, freezing me out mid-phrase. Hey, software, I pay YOU, and I'm telling you to let up.

The "patience" factor I found very critical in listening to and evaluating Sabu Toyozumi's densely, long formed 2-CD set Kosai Yujyo (Improvised Beings 14). Sabu is on drums and erhu. He is joined by no less than 16 musicians, but not all at once for the most part.

It's very free music that unfolds over a long period of time, and it has a Zen sort of "suchness" that doesn't get through to you right away. At least it didn't to me. There are long sections where an idea is worked out. The idea makes sense in terms of what follows and you understand where it all arches only after you experience the whole thing a number of times.

Then you do. This has great free drumming and some beautiful earfuls of free sound sculpting. There is a "frog-in-pond-on lilly-pad. Plop." thing going on in a way. The "plop" at first is just a "plop." Then it's more than that. So it's not bebop. It's plop.

Am I making myself understood? No? Well this is something to get inside of over a long time. Then the plop becomes art. Plop art.

OK? It's good. Excellent. Excellent plop.

Sara Serpa, Ran Blake, Aurora

Classificatory issues are somehow crucial to the internet, which without the search engines and some sort of set of categories one ends up with William James's "blooming, buzzing confusion." So we have today an exceptional recording, Aurora (Clean Feed 264), that brings together vocalist Sara Sherpa with piano giant (not in size but stature of course) Ran Blake.

So I could put the CD in the guitar blog, which paradoxically also covers singers, or this blog, which covers "jazz" and tends more toward the instrumental, sans plucked strings as a central focus. I make the semi-arbitrary choice of following what I will do after writing up the review, file together with other Ran Blake recordings. We opt to let the pianist define the place, in no small way because Ran Blake has been a defining force in the music for so many years.

This is in part because a collaboration of Maestro Blake with a singer (and there have been many) is going to bring a certain harmonic and melodic event horizon to bear on things. Ran plays harmonic music with a very wide set of compositional gestures that often "paint" to the implied logical edges of the harmonies of the song at hand. The vocalists who join with him have a melody line to work off of and either go beyond or contrast with Maestro Blake's voicings. They must be very good and have a keen ear for it all to work.

Aurora, by nature of the unique qualities of Sara Serpa's vocal instrument, and because there are more original compositions performed (by Serpa and/or Blake) than is sometimes the case, there can be an all-over context that refers more to the performance event/work and less to the song, at least to the ear that does not find the song familiar. With Blake's "Mahler Noir," (droll title aptly applied), he directly recomposes using quotations from songs, and it's especially about the recomposition at that point. Well perhaps that's always the point with Ran, anyway. We push on.

Those pieces are of great interest, as are the versions of "Strange Fruit," "The Band Played On," "Fine and Dandy," "Last Night When We Were Young," and other less familiar songs.

Ms. Serpa has a marvelously nuanced approach, which is essential to a Ran Blake collaboration. Her voice is quite beautiful timbrally as well. Ran Blake rises to the occasion with his ever varying approach.

The results are what you might hope for. Exceptional art song/art improvisation. I will listen again, surely, for there is much to gain with repetition of such a swath of creativity.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jason Kao Hwang, Burning Bridge

Jason Hao Kwang has been producing some excellent music lately, music that combines many influences but comes across as Hwang music, things that combine new concert music sounds and those of avant jazz, and here, on Burning Bridge (Innova 840), classical Asia and all of that together.

The ensemble consists of Hwang on violin, Taylor Ho Bynam on cornet/fluegel, Joseph Daley on tuba, Andrew Drury on drum set, Ken Filiano on contrabass, Son Li on pipa (Chinese lute), Steve Swell on trombone, and Wang Guowei on the erhu (Chinese bowed instrument).

The results are thoroughly convincing, conceptually strong and filled with excellent music, excellently performed.

What is reaffirming as well as a little startling is how well the music fits together. It comes across as whole, and significantly so at that. It's avant, free, composed, pan-ethnic (we are all ethnic after all) and completely inimitable. The improvisations are right there, what you'd expect from such a distinguished crowd, and the music is right there too, all a product of the "Hwang vision," so to speak,

I won't try and describe it further. Tabula rasa is never quite rasa, a new page connects with previous ones, and so Jason's music is both in a continuum and the interruption of that continuum. Bravo and may Jason Kao Hwang continue indefinitely into infinity!

Gary Joseph Hassay, Sonkei

If you do not know the music of Gary Joseph Hassay, you probably should. He plays alto sax, sings quasi-Tibetan chant on occasion and has a conceptual view of avant jazz/improv that marks him out as distinct and original.

I've covered his music in my blogs and on Cadence and I was happy to hear a 30-plus minute live improv he did with drummer-percussion Tatsuya Nakatani live at a gallery in Easton, Pennsylvania some time ago. Sonkei brings together two Asian-sonic-sounding adepts in some pretty profound music.

What sounds like a bowed gong, somber drum beats, vocal and alto sax--with sonically rich timbres--make for what is a very fascinating, ritualistic kind of avant. Things get more busy and turbulent towards the middle and then subside back into gong sounds and cosmic quietude.

You can stream this improvisation, a part of an official release on re:Konstrukt, right here:

Sonkei by Gary Joseph Hassay on Mixcloud

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Angelica Sanchez Quintet, Wires & Moss

Angelica Sanchez is officially here to stay. She's played and recorded with Wadada Leo Smith and others, she put out a very nice solo piano album a while back (type her name in the index box to read my review) and she now returns with a quintet on Wires & Moss (Clean Feed 259).

There's a warmth to her freedom, compositionally and as a pianist, and it shows nicely on this disk. She's gathered excellent all-star caliber players in Marc Ducret, guitar, Tony Malaby, tenor and soprano, Drew Gress on contrabass, and Tom Rainey, drums. And she's put six of her compositions together for the occasion.

This is a band that can solo! And they do overtop the very hip-ly loose straight-eight free doings of the rhythm team.

The result is an extension of what she did/does with Wadada, free jazz-rock going considerably further in sophistication and complex running counterpoint than some of the heavier handed variety out there. Then Angelica will surprise you with some very advanced piano, lyrical and very creative, surprise you because it all fits together in her head but most leaders don't mix it up quite like this. New music meets meta-groove? Well, yes.

It goes a long way forward, miles ahead ahead. And it's very original too! Listen to this one a bunch of times and you will get there, in new territory.

Bobby Bradford, Frode Gjerstad, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love, Kampen

The best moments of the Bobby Bradford-John Carter group were tremendously exciting. With John Carter long gone all that has come to an end. Happily the immediacy and thrill of the quartet has a new counterpart in Kampen (No Business LP 51).

Bobby Bradford charges forth, sounding very fit, Frode Gjerstad holds his own very effectively on clarinets and alto, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten does some excellent work on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love prevails at the drums. Now that's a heck of a group and they live up to their potential completely and nicely on this album.

There's the sort of freedom to be had here that has the interactive clout of four sympathetic, gifted and very creative individuals. The four-way dialog is fabulous, the two-horn front line getting a third "horn" in the excellent bass playing of Haker Flaten, with Nilssen-Love coming through as he always does with loose but driving, sonically sensitive drumming.

It's a beautiful LP, not to be missed. Bradford fans will not be disappointed. What a band.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kali Fasteau, Vivid, 1998-99

Ms. Kali. Z. Fasteau knows how to get a great batch of avant players together and facilitate them. Here we are today with yet another recording in her pretty extensive, impressive discography, Vivid (Flying Note 9007) live from 1998-99. Kali is joined by the happy confluence of Hamid Drake, Sabir Mateen, Joe McPhee, Ron McBee and William Parker.

This is excellent for some really lively horn swarms, collective improvisations of genuine fire and spirit with very hot free rhythm underpinning. As always Kali makes her presence felt most effectively on vocals and a variety of instruments, and her compatriots surround, expound, and cover all the free ground that is truly their turf.

This one is hot!

Carlos Alves "Zingaro", Jean Luc Cappozzo, Jerome Bourdellon, Nicolas Lelievre, Live at Total Meeting

A European avant quartet live, featuring the interesting violin playing of Carlos Alves "Zingaro"? That is what is in the offing on Live at Total Meeting (No Business NBCD 48).

The somewhat unusual lineup of violin, two horns and drums holds forth at the Total Meeting Festival in Tours, France, December 2010. Zingaro is joined by Jean Luc Cappozzo on trumpet and bugle, Jerome Bourdellon on flutes (including an incredible sounding bass flute) and bass clarinet, and Nicolas Lelievre on percussion/drums.

It's a very free spontaneous set where everybody lets loose and hopes it all works. It does. Zingaro, Jean Luc and Jerome have something to say on their instruments (LOVE that bass flute) and Nicolas adds his somewhat subtle percussive barrage.

If you love free done well, here it is, by people we don't hear that much from otherwise. Encore!

Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton, 'Round Midnight

Scott Hamilton came on the scene as a "very old school" tenor adept at a time when very few were still with us who were carrying on in that mode. Harry Allen is a newer (to me anyway) and slightly younger exponent of that same school, so it makes sense that they join together for this two-tenor gathering, 'Round Midnight (Challenge 73348).

Rossano Sportiello has impressed me in the past as another game adept in the tradition, in this case on the piano, and so it seems quite fitting that he occupies the piano chair for this set. He and the horns do very nice work throughout. The rhythm team of Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs, bass and drums, know how to motor the music and keep the whole thing swinging.

So you get Zoot and Al, Bean and Ben, a little of the Texas tenors and the swing/bop convergence done with conviction. There is no holding back, no attempt at total recreation but instead the raw excitement of jazz as surprise, not as surprising perhaps as these styles were when first born, but spontaneous and honest.

There are standards and some swinging originals. It is a nice change to hear people play like this and actually mean it. But with this gang that's not so much a surprise as a confirmation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Michael Attias, Spun Tree

By now the avant-stream in contemporary jazz has a number of facets going for it. One of them is highly compositional but with plenty of solo space, freedom and construction joining hands for a new meld.

Michael Attias's disk Spun Tree (Clean Feed 261) is an excellent example. It seems that the structural innovations of the best of the AACM composer-instrumentalists, George Russell and Bill Dixon's compositional approaches, influences of new music and the energy of the new thing classics have become synthesized in new and rewarding, even exciting ways. Spun Tree fits right in there among the best.

The band on this album is relatively small, a quintet, yet the way the voicings work it often sounds fuller. Michael is on the alto and he has some excellent support from Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Sean Conly on double bass, and Tom Rainey at the drums.

They run through eight composition-improvisations with great spirit. The composed parts don't fall into head-solos-head patterns so much as appear as vignettes to catalyze improvs and comment on them and vice versa. I won't say this sounds like Ornette's classic Free Jazz or Trane's Ascension. It doesn't. But the structural innovations of those classics have been expanded on and taken further in the complexity of how the music works.

Great compositions, soloists and pacing make this album a listen you should not miss! Michael Attias has it going for him.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Empty Cage Quartet, Limited Edition LP on Prefecture

The Empty Cage Quartet has been filling the West Coast and elsewhere with good sounds for ten years now. They have a relatively new recording out, a limited edition, self-titled LP (Prefecture 06).

The LP sometimes has an advantage that we used to see purely as a disadvantage, the shorter playing time. Some music gets into our heads easier and more completely in shorter doses. I wouldn't go so far as to say we should return to the 78 and the 2 x 3 minutes format, but any length of music surrounded by the silence of the after-end has a distinct discipline by virtue of time. So the LP clocks in around 40 minutes and must say whatever it does within that time frame.

The Empty Cage Quartet makes new music and one must get into it on its own terms. It has some of the two-horn influences of Miles' Filles de Kilimanjaro and Ornette's The Shape of Jazz to Come, but only in a hereditary sense. Empty Cage music is its own music.

Jason Mears, alto sax and clarinet, Kris Tiner, trumpet, Ivan Johnson, bass, and Paul Kikuchi, drums and percussion define the music personally, improvisationally and compositionally.

There are one and two-horn parts, both written and improvised, that stand out. Paul Kikuchi, like Tony on Filles, sometimes has almost a concerto-like role to play in the music, providing outstandingly inventive figures. Ivan Johnson imaginatively and firmly anchors it all.

Rock-steady, free or swinging, it hangs together with contrasting linear and circular qualities that work together to make something important. But hold on, it goes by in a hurry, each side keeping you riveted with nothing at all extra, just the essence.

ECQ is essential, essentialized and irresistible for those with the ears to hear it. Grab one of these while you can. You'll be glad you did, I think.

Julian Shore, Filaments, with Kurt Rosenwinkel

There is contemporary jazz to be had out there that has a lyrical melodic-harmonic brightness. In some ways it comes out of the Brazilian nexus that initially hit the States and the jazz scene in the '60s and has been internalized ever since. Then there are the lyric sensibilities of Vince Guaraldi and early Keith Jarrett, the ECM sound, Pat Metheny, all contributing something important to this kind of music today.

Julian Shore's album Filaments (Tone Rogue Music) fits right into this development, rather brilliantly in fact. It's a disk of Julian's brightly shimmered music, with Julian on piano, adding much in that wise, some lovely wordless or otherwise vocals from Alexa Barchini and/or Shelly Tzarafi, a good solid rhythm section, some horn soloists appearing succinctly here and there, and Kurt Rosenwinkel in a marvelous guitar fettle for three cuts, Jeff Miles sounding good also for three others.

It is beautifully tuneful jazz. And it is original in its own way. A stunner.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Greg Abate Quintet, Featuring Phil Woods

Many years ago, Phil Woods, then a young man just beginning his long and fruitful career, teamed with fellow altoist Gene Quill for a number of sides. It was a lively affair. The interaction of the two altos was very dynamic and exciting. The sound of the two together was something to hear and remains so.

Altoist Greg Abate has done a present-day equivalent by inviting Phil to join him in a quintet setting. The album, self-titled (The Greg Abate Quintet) (Rhombus 7112), puts the two together with a first-rate straight-ahead grouping of Jessie Green on piano, bassist Evan Gregor, and the drum ace, long-time Woods associate Bill Goodwin.

It's some hard-hitting, bopping contemporaneousness going on here. Abate makes a strong showing both on alto and also soprano, bari and flute, Phil sounds great and they both sound beautiful together. The bandmates make sure that everything swings hard as called for and the blowing originals give the springboards needed for some impolite, exciting jazz.

Abate heads a great outing, sure to appeal to hard bopping fans out there. Try NOT to tap your toes too loudly if you have neighbors below your floor.