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?