Monday, June 30, 2014

Scott Shachter, Outside In, A Novel

Today, a jazz novel. There aren't so many. This one is just out and worthwhile. Scott Shachter wrote it and gave it the title Outside In (322 pages, Starbeat Press). Scott is himself a jazz musician, plays alto sax like the main character. His extensive gigging experience translates into some very funny-sad gigs the main character must endure and it rings true. But the novel is more than a story of scuffle and frustration.

Much more. It is a cosmic jazz fairy tale, a story of multiple universes, of the ultimate impact of the greatest jazz.

I wont rehearse the entire story line here for the obvious reason that it would spoil the read. Suffice to say that the main character is on a gig of the jazzmobile sort when a raving maniac tries to get on stage and. . .do what? He appears as a threat.

One thing leads to another and the alto-man gets a gig for the anniversary celebration of a Jewish couple in their apartment in Sheepshead Bay. Who should be there but this same "maniac", their son, an incurable schizophrenic who responds to the character's playing after years of remoteness and semi-catatonia. Turns out the guy does abstract paintings. The paintings are key to the story, but I will refrain from giving away the plot.

The gist is that "maniac" and the alto player begin a long period of interaction that has much to do with the fate of both.

It is a novel of great imagination, of the juxtaposition of fantastic fantasia with mundane jazz-poverty-nightmare, of redemption in the most unlikely circumstances, under the most unlikely conditions.

In the process there is much about the scuffle to survive playing jazz, in the case of the character a form of free jazz. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are about the incomprehension of the average person today regarding this most important of art forms. The character's girlfriend essentially leaves him after hearing him play his original out music with a quartet in some dive. There are constant reminders that, on the outside among "laymen", free jazz is somewhat akin to madness, instability. The character is faced with such a judgement from his lost girlfriend and almost all but a select few. He begins to doubt his own sanity.

Ultimately the novel comes down on the side of sanity--that the high-art form of modern jazz is far from insane. Or does it? I would say emphatically, yes, but there is enough ambiguity that you are left to ponder through the enigmas of outside-inside insane-sane esoteric-accessible standards-freedom dichotomies. Outside In is the right title because the inside of the outside is much different than being on the outside of outside, or in other words there are those who are inside the sphere of modern "outside" jazz and others, a majority, who do not get "inside" the music.

The novel brings us in a fantasy fashion directly to grips with the dilemma--give up the more comfortable and livable outside world to get inside the music or do not and lose the very thing that you are as an artist?

The book is a page turner, well-written, funny and tragic, a fable filled with insights on the music and the world in which it does or does not exist. Surely any lover of jazz will respond to it. But also perhaps those who do not understand jazz will get stimulated to listen again.

Either way Shachter captivates. It's a great read that will also get you thinking.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet, Music Without Borders

I do not have the time to cover everything I would like on these pages. But I make room when I can if something sounds good to me. Such a something is Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet and their album Music Without Borders (Muckenthaler Jazz 017).

This comprises mini-big band sounds in the mainstream, from a paired-down version of Cashman's larger big band unit. It is music that comes out of the extensive jazz concert program at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in California. The nine-piece unit is extremely well rehearsed and able, doing some ten excellent charts by Cashman and Eric Futterer. What's remarkable especially is the large sound they get from the nonet. Then it's of course WHAT the music does that hits you. Well-wrought!

There are hard-boppish soloists in the band who can and do bring us the hot sauce. But I especially like the charts and how they hang together and swing.

The Muckenthaler program and the artists within it are dedicated to using the music to help raise money and consciousness about and for local charities, so that's another reason to appreciate what they are doing.

If you like the Thad and Mel kind of classical modern ensemble jazz you are going to dig this!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Spiral Mercury Chicago/Sao Paulo Underground Featuring Pharoah Sanders, Pharoah & The Underground

There are some albums that, once you hear them, seem to be meant to be. Such is Spiral Mercury Chicago/Sao Paulo Underground featuring Pharoah Sanders and their album Pharoah & the Underground (Clean Feed 301CD). It's a set recorded live at the Jazz em Agosto Festival in Lisbon last summer.

The lineup puts together an inspired gathering of Rob Mazurek's Sao Paul Underground (Rob on cornet, electronics, flute, voice; Guilherme Granado on synths, samples, percussion, voice; and Mauricio Takara on cavaquinho, percussion, electronics) with Spiral Mercury Chicago (Rob plus Matthew Lux on bass guitar and Chad Taylor on drums) and Pharoah Sanders on tenor and voice.

This is all I can assume under the direction of Rob Mazurek. It sounds that way. He provides the compositions. As with Rob's later ensembles there is a very electronic ambiance to the music plus lots of freeplay and avant breadth. It's a perfect foil for Pharoah and he sounds energized, in fine form. Rob takes a fair share of the soloing as well and he sounds his usual adventurous self.

It's one of those sonoric extravaganzas Rob has been doing in recent years. Everyone pulls together to make a joyful, sometimes raucous noise. There is much in the way of texture, spaciousness and freetime swing, all together or in parts depending on the moment.

The themes are provocative. The band has leverage and an excellent sense of dynamics. So you get arcs of drama and feel throughout.

Just on the basis on Pharoah's presence alone this is a winner. Combine that with Rob and the very hip ensemble put together here and you have a sure-fire set of sounds for the future of yesterday, which turns out to be today! Hear this many times and you'll know that Rob, Pharoah and company are giving you some of the best out music of our time!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Leslie Pintchik, In the Nature of Things

Jazz. OK, what is it? One answer was formulated by Fats Waller, I believe, and essentially translated to "Never Mind. Shut up and listen and you'll hear what it is." Now that doesn't satisfy everybody but it nonetheless holds true today as much as ever. I could throw around some definitions but not today, not here.

Better to listen, because that's what the definitions would then imply. If you don't listen closely and repeatedly, no words will help. So what is jazz? One answer is the album today. Pianist-composer Leslie Pintchik and her ensemble put together a new program of music you could profitably hear to help you on your way to a mental construct of "jazz". It's called In the Nature of Things (Pintch Hard 002). We've covered another of hers here if you want to look that up.

Well this is modern jazz, not so much commercial (which to me would be a negative most of the time) as current. Leslie is at the piano, Steve Wilson presides often enough on alto and soprano saxes, Ron Horton brings his trumpet and flugelhorn, Scott Hardy is on acoustic bass, Michael Sarin on drums, and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion.

They do one standard for the measure and the rest are Pintchik originals. These are well-made. They have chord changes of interest which Leslie and company solo over with skill and finesse. The head melodies are fetching and well-voiced for the ensemble. Leslie has a harmonically rich, rhythmically lively piano style that bears your ear-attention, most definitely.

It is a pleasure, a treat to hear. And you know what? It's like jazz, you dig? As in blow (your horn). It's a good example of the middle-ground today.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rodrigo Amado, Wire Quartet

I don't think I am going out on a limb when I say that Rodrigo Amado is without a doubt one of the most exciting and innovative tenor saxophonists on the avant jazz scene in Europe today. It is so, to my mind. He's been racking up a discography of gem-after-gem (many covered here) and stands out as someone who has a clear direction and the facility and sound to make it all so.

He has a couple of new ones out that I'll cover on this page over the next several weeks. The first up is a foursome gathering named the Wire Quartet (Clean Feed 297).

It's a scorcher of a studio date, with Amado and his colleagues in full-forward mode. Joining Rodrigo are Manuel Mota on electric guitar, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. If you follow the Portuguese scene you will recognize some or all of these names. They are players at or near the very top of their craft/art and they work together to give a dramatically free jazz dynamic throughout.

Everybody sounds great but it's Rodrigo that masters through the three segments, a master phraser-inventor with a rich tenor tone and poise. He sounds like a new "classic", though that may be a contradiction in terms. But no, the new can be the classic of now. It has to be because otherwise we are saying there is nothing being made of classic status today. And that just is not true.

So this is Rodrigo Amado right now--with three of the best on the Portuguese scene, all coming through with music that is meant to be a part of where we are. Right now. It is! Check this one out or miss out....

Friday, June 20, 2014

Paul Bley, Play Blue, Oslo Concert

A pianist as important to the modern jazz scene as Paul Bley has been, some 50 years after he began making recordings that set out his mature, free-avant style, he could easily rest on his laurels and devote his active concertizing to recreating the music that first set him apart. That he refuses to do this, that he continues to probe and explore the possibilities he can open up now, all this is to his everlasting credit.

You can hear his refusal to imitate himself in the new release Play Blue (ECM 2373 3766190), a solo concert recorded in 2008 at the Oslo Jazz Festival.

You listen closely to the composition-improvisations and yes, you know it's Paul Bley by a few telltale phrases here and there. But otherwise he is almost made anew here. It's harmonically dense and advanced, very pianistic, and the level of melodic-harmonic invention is very high. But it's almost as if the influence he has had on pianists has become such an entity outside himself that he is responding to that presence of self-out-of-self with a new spin, a new Paul Bley.

Yes, there is that rubato expressiveness, still. But the what of the improvisations has changed. Yes, as the title of this disk implies, he has the expressiveness of the blues throughout, and sometimes there are bluesy passages per se, but even then it is a very free relationship to those roots. His playing remains as original as it ever has been, but there is a rather different Paul Bley playing now, at least on this recording. Still free, still advanced, but without the figures that in other hands have become partly cliche.

All I can say beyond that is the new Paul Bley is perhaps more deeply mature, more purely improvisatory at times, but no less brilliant, certainly. If anything, he gives us an altered brilliance that may well, 50 years from now, serve as another model for how to take it out.

In the present though this is music of inspiration, a new Paul Bley at his best. Kudos to Mr. Bley and much thanks. Do not miss this CD!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Omoo, Emilie Weibel

Sometimes you just luck out. Emilie Weibel got in touch with me a short time ago and said, "I have a recording out and thought you might want to hear it." Well I didn't know her from Adam but there are plenty of people I don't know out there so I said, "Sure! Send it!" She did. I am glad of that.

Her album is called OMOO (Inner Circle Music 041). It's Emilie on vocals, music box, percussion, electronics, keyboard and xylophone. It's all Emilie, accomplished by multi-tracking, and if you are a purist in that way you ought to consider that all recordings are by nature virtual, none of it is actually "live". I do this myself as needed, not to call attention to my music here, just sayin'.

What counts is the quality of the results. Listen to her version of "Footprints", an arrangement she tells us was inspired by Marc Copland. It has intimacy as does all of this music, a beautiful vocal tone (as etc.), and some very cool lyrics and vocal ensemble workings (as etc.)

The emphasis is on her vocals, which have a singularity, a purity, a beauty. But so also the songs, mostly hers, get to you, as do the arrangements.

It gains by overdubbing a singleness of vision. She has a way, a set of feelings and sounds and they come at us here one after the other.

If you like modern yet very lyrical music beyond category, inflected by jazz and anything else that Emilie has assimilated and incorporated, just get this one and listen up. She is OMOO. And that is very much herself!

Recommended, rather strongly in fact!

Matt Newton, Within Reach

The piano trio and small ensemble modern jazz in general often depend on a little discussed aspect of the sound to get the full spirit of the music in motion. I mean the ride cymbal of the very best drummers, how he (or she) sounds it and how it is recorded as a part of the overall mix. Two recording venues come to mind, the Van Gelder studios and how Rudy captures the cymbal sound--of Elvin Jones in the classic Tyner and Trane dates, for example; and the large downtown Columbia Studios in New York back in the day and how Columbia engineers got Tony Williams's cymbal (and his set in general) to roar in those pre-electric Miles Davis ensembles. Of course the way Elvin and Tony activated their ride cymbals in their own special ways made it possible to get that sound.

Anyway we come up the years to now and a Matt Newton piano trio album Within Reach (FTM 906). I had not known Matt's playing well until now. He is up there in Canada most of the time, I outside of New York City. But after hearing Within Reach I feel I know his playing, and it's very, very good.

And yes, drummer Ethan Ardelli gets a beautiful leverage on his ride cymbal--it rings out fully and rhythmically in a hip way. It's captured in an excellent balance with the sound of his kit. He is a player! And he sets up things so that bassist Dan Fortin has space to sound through it and Matt floats atop. Fortin does good things on this set too, both solo and ensemble-wise.

And so we have a kind of ideal setting to hear Matt. He is harmonically active and acute with a beautiful touch and great ideas, a sense of space and when to play, then of course what to play. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea come to mind as forebears, certainly, and Matt takes that basic premise and goes someplace very good with it.

One piece is by Dan Fortin, the rest by Matt and they are excellent vehicles that hold their own and give the trio something to dig into. One number adds Felicity Williams on wordless vocals and Harley Card on guitar; both nicely bolster the melody line set down by Matt's electric piano.

In the end you have some really good piano trio music here by three players that deserve a hearing and more exposure. I am so pleased with this one I eagerly anticipate the next. Meanwhile check this one out!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ken Peplowski, Maybe September

The Ken Peplowski revival that's been going on for several years continues. It's not that he went anywhere so much as he is getting a new appreciation for his quirkily traditional clarinet and tenor sax through a series of applauded albums. Maybe September (Capri 74125-2) gives us another one to like. He is joined by a together group of supporting artists in pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson.

As is the case with Ken's recent endeavors he chooses a very eclectic mix of tunes that suite him and make it all work. So you get Irving Berlin's rather obscure "All Alone by the Telephone", an arranged excerpt from a Poulenc clarinet sonata, Brian Wilson's "Caroline, No" and Lennon-McCartney's "For No One". Oh, and Duke's "Main Stem", too.

Rosenthal is swinging, bluesy, very together post-boppishly and otherwise as the second voice. Matt Wilson plays as nicely as ever and gets some cool solo spots (and all condolences to him and his family on the recent loss of his lovely wife). Martin Wind is there where he needs to be and propulses the swing quite well.

And that's the nuts and bolts of it. What's as always a kick about Ken is that his playing is all his own and coming from a trad period style, yet the band and he can get pretty free and creative in how they present it all.

Ken is an institution by now. This album gives you plenty of clarinet and enough of that tenor of his to delight the ears. Yeah, Ken! Thank you.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Miami Saxophone Quartet, Four of A Kind, Live in Concert

I don't suppose I need to wax on in detail about how the World Saxophone Quartet and then the Rova outfit made of the saxophone foursome an institution in the jazz world. It happened. Since then understandably there have been others. One of them, a good one, is the Miami Saxophone Quartet.

They have a live album out that shows them in a very full light. Four of A Kind (Fourtitude 005W) gives us a generous set of music. It is the quartet plus a rhythm team. The quartet consists of Gary Keller, Gary Lindsay, Mike Brignola (baritone, as the family tradition would have it), and Ed Calle. Lindsay's compositions and arrangements make up most of this set, with the exception of two-thirds of their "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" arrangement, which is Ed Calle's doing.

This is their fifth album. They have a tempered maturity in their blend that reflects how long they have been at it. A couple of jazz standards--Brubeck's "It's A Raggy Waltz", Ralph Burn's "Early Autumn" and Duke's "Sophisticated Lady" --serve as good foils to the original music, which has harmonically lush beauty.

There is an impeccably musical singularity to this group by now which is captured brightly and vividly on this album. With the rhythm an integral part of the proceedings it is like a mini-big band at times. There is quite decent soloing all around, too.

This is very solid, engaging jazz with no attempt to go for the formulaic ploy for radio play. They stick to the music that defines them best, an honest sort of sophisticated mainstream with arrangements that perk up your ears.

Yeah, Solid! Recommended.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Andrew Hadro, For Us, The Living

For the present-era we might reflect back on these first years of the millennium and remember all that we've all been through. . . some things quite unexpected and traumatic, other things very promising. And so the music we create as collective beings, as artists and as listeners, you would think would reflect those experiences.

Baritone saxist and music-smith Andrew Hadro came through it like the rest of us. And perhaps the depth of feeling you hear in his music, the lyric and expressive passion does reflect the "having been".

Certainly his album For Us, The Living (Tone Rogue 002) has a concentrated, centered sort of purposefulness to it that may be something "of our time". There are mostly Andrew's compositions represented here, with a few others, not standards, to mix things up.

The band is quite together. Matt Wilson gets the drum chair and he gives us that smart-precise-driving artistry going that adds to any modern jazz session. Daniel Foose has the double-bass slot. He gives dimension to the compositional thrust here and makes a great pair with Matt. Carmen Staaf has a harmonic sense and pianistic facility with the space to express himself.

Andrew gets a baritone sound that can be light and airy as well as forceful and rough-hewn. He is a voice for today. On flute he breaks things up nicely and is no slouch. His writing stays in the mind too.

For us, the living comes out of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which celebrated 150 years in 2013. The great task remaining before us continues to loom, so Lincoln's words remain as crucial as ever.

This album has staying power. Andrew Hadro gives notice. He intends to remain before us in the best sense, for a long time to come. This one has much to recommend it. It promises even greater things from Maestro Hadro! Get it!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

B'Shnorkestra, Go to Orange

Go to Orange (PS 1301) introduces us to B'Shnorkestra and the music of Samantha Boshnack, an ambitious proponent of big band/orchestral jazz that has free, avant, ethnic, sometimes Indonesian flavored minimalist aspects, sometimes Latin and/or rock-beat overtones and a sound that has NEW written all over it in large letters. The orchestra has a seven-person string section well used, plus three horns (including Ms. Boshnack on trumpet), two drummers and several guest artists (conga, violin and gender/rebab).

This is music that has drive and lays out well. The line interplay between horns and strings is something to hear. Altogether this is a different sort of music, clearly in the jazz camp but pan-ethnic too and sometimes startling in its juxtapositions.

It makes excellent use of strings and horns in a modern new jazz context. I would say it presents some of the most interesting combinations I've heard so far this decade!

It's a hearing-is-believing sort of album. A blow-by-blow description of the eight pieces here would bog down so I refrain.

I heartily recommend you hear this one!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

FBB: Sibelius-Akatemian Folk Big Band

We live in an era where musically almost anything can happen. You might not hear much of it on the radio, but if you do a little searching some wonderful things may pop up. In many ways I am lucky that in the course of my blogs people who send things out for review by now know that I have an open stance and am pretty much ready for anything.

And so we have something extraordinarily unusual today thanks to those who present me with music to consider. It is FBB: the Sibelius-Akatemian Folk Big Band (SIBA 1012). Folk big band? That's right. As you might have gathered from the mention of the Sibelius Academy, this is a Finnish outfit. It is a group of singers, strings, guitars, winds, accordions, percussion and you-name-it.

The emphasis is on Finnish folk tradition and new music that extends that tradition. Folk fiddling is out front but then the whole band is out front. Sometimes you have the eerie feeling that you are listening to traditional Irish music, but no, it's just the affinity across regional traditions. Then there are things that sound like they could be medieval--and again it's part of the rootedness of this music. You'll hear all kinds of things mingling together that have lived musical lives in Finland. And it is beautiful, truly, all of it.

This is in every way a remarkable record. The artistry is top notch, the arrangements are just ravishing, and the music will haunt you. If the world is your home musically, this is definitely HOME. You don't want to miss this one if you look for things that are different yet musically alive! Live with this one a bit and you will find yourself opening up to it! Definitely recommended.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band, Game Changer

I was communicating online the other day to a jazz-brother-running-buddy (I won't mention his name because if he does do what he says he'll want to announce it in his own way when ready) who was musing aloud about writing a piece for a large flute ensemble. In the course of what he was thinking-talking he mentioned Henry Brant's "Angels and Devils", a pioneering work of last century for flute orchestra--an incredible sounding sonance. I wasn't thinking but I should have mentioned the album on tap today, the Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band and their Game Changer (Capri 74124-2). There are 16 flutes in all manner of sizes-ranges. Hubert Laws, Holly Hoffmann and Nestor Torres are the main soloists. And then of course a rhythm section--Mark Levine, Rufus Reid and Akira Tana.

A number of arrangers are responsible for the charts and they do well. The selections are chosen with care and good taste. Nelson's "Stolen Moments", Herbie's "Speak Like A Child", Trane's "Impressions" and a bunch of others, all good choices. The massive flute sound makes all the golden chestnuts breathe anew.

It's a sensual delight that gets to you in all the right ways.

Got flute? This is FLUTE! Hear it.

EITR, Trees Have Cancer Too, LP

The nexus between new music and avant improvisation conjoins and comes at us vibrantly on the LP release by EITR, Trees Have Cancer Too (Mazagran, Trem Azul 006). It is the Portuguese duo of Pedro Lopes on turntables, Pedro Sousa on saxophones, and both engaging a battery of electronic sounds.

They give us nearly 40 minutes of soundscaping that is at times noisy, always eventful and with a kind of avant narrative structure that poeticizes and gives us an unworded story line for our ears.

This isn't pat-your-foot music. It unwinds in time and is of time, but it is not in metric time. Once you get used to that there are a great deal of exotic sound structures to take apart in your head, as you get a bit at a time and it evolves and convolutes about itself before your ears. There are long sustained sounds that make it all a soundscape. It is an original set of sounds well-paced. You have to hear it to get into its anatomy/structure, really. Words don't do it justice.

The whole thing is quite out there and quite good. Thank you again, oh Portuguese music-makers. Here's another goodie.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Catherine Russell, Bring it Back

Catherine Russell gets my attention every time she makes an album, it seems. She is a singer's singer, with soul, finesse, dead-on pitch control, a great sounding voice and a real sense of style. She is a "jazz singer" in the real sense; whatever you might define in those terms, she pretty much has it.

So we have the latest, Bring it Back (Jazz Village). It's music that has that soulfulness and swing of the music of the later big-band era and into the early '50s when soulfulness came especially to the forefront. (And allusions to the earlier blues singers as well.) She's backed by an almost big band with nice charts that make me think Benny Carter.

There are welcome songbook chestnuts done her way, which is the only reason to redo them, please note out there. Duke's "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart" is done to a "t". "Please come back sweet music, I know I was wrong!" Amen.

The backup band sounds great and Catherine sounds even greater, whether you micro-listen to every phrase-turn or just let her get to you in a big-picture way.

Everybody and their grandmother has reviewed this one by now I'll imagine. So I chip in my two cents anyway. When I get something good like this, time doesn't diminish it.

Catherine Russell is the real thing. We know it when we hear it. So please give her your ears.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Frank Rosolino, I Play Trombone, 1958

That trombonist Frank Rosolino is not better remembered today is perhaps puzzling. His tragic end (look it up if you must) in the '70s probably did not help things. But for a time he was well-admired as one of the major jazz trombonists of the era.

He first came to a wider public notice as a member of Stan Kenton's outfit in 1953-4. His combination of lyrical elements, his fine tone and original stance, as the great Julian Priester commented the other day on social media, and his sometimes muscular attack all made him a player to be heard.

He was surely at a peak when he entered the studios in 1958 to record an album for the then flourishing Bethlehem Records. I Play Trombone (Bethlehem 26) has finally been reissued. I never saw it in the bins over the years so I assume it has been unavailable since its initial release. Either way it is primo Rosolino playing with passion in a very conducive quartet setting.

Rosolino alternates between muted and open horn and sounds absolutely terrific. A huge element in the mix is the presence of Sonny Clark, a pianist then at a peak himself, spelling Frank with hugely expressive, beautiful bop soloing. Stan Levy swings along nicely on drums and one Wilfred Middlebrooks sounds very capable on bass, though most of us have forgotten him rather thoroughly by now, alas.

The band handles a few standards with commitment, does a nice version of Rollins' "Doxy" and gets into a couple of Rosolino blowing originals.

It is an album I have the feeling I'll be coming back to again and again for Rosolino and Clark's hipply together presence. It is an album thoroughly rooted in the music as it was unravelling then--not cool, but hot, hard-boppishly aggressive in something of the way Miles was doing at the time, yet also lyrical. It's a blowing date, a very together, well thought-out one.

Frank sounds wonderful here. If you don't know his work, this is a great first stop. Everybody else, you are going to dig it! The reissue apparently is available as a 12" LP as well as a CD.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wouter Kellerman, Mzansi

For whatever historical reasons the tin whistle has been well established in South African traditional music for many years. South African flautist and all-around musical artist Wouter Kellerman unleashes that and his standard flute in an album of traditional and modern South African music, Mzansi (Kellerman 47006).

The album has pan-African influences in its instrumentation and approach as well as a conventional rhythm section. We get South African vocal stylings, a funk ambiance, contemporary elements like reggae and the melodic, playful flute solos of Kellerman.

He is perhaps no Eric Dolphy (actually he owes more to a Roland Kirk soulfulness) but he has a beautiful tone and plays nicely in a folk-jazz sort of way. It's the sound of the album as a musical offering, a modernized Afro-funk that gives you an impactful experience, rather than a flute-plus-rhythm "pure jazz" effort. But that is cool once you listen a few times and adjust expectations.

It's a beautiful listen.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ghost Train Orchestra, Book of Rhapsodies

The Ghost Train Orchestra with their album Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate 5064) takes a good idea and makes of it a palpable reality. Brian Carpenter and his large ensemble-big-band-cum-orchestra with the addition of a wordless choir this time out (a second album) focus on five swing-era composers and some of their innovatively quirky jazz-meets-classical-meets-novelty numbers and expand the original arrangements for a larger conflagration.

The five are Alec Wilder, Raymond Scott, Charlie Shavers, Reginald Foresythe and Louis C. Singer.

The music is excellently (re-)done, filled with a kind of iconoclasm that at the time fascinated prescient listeners and had a certain cache but was not taken as seriously by the mainstream jazz establishment of the day as the music might have been.

Well, that is partly because this music did not fit neatly into categories as established--though Shavers in the context of John Kirby's small group did impress a small coterie of jazz-oriented listeners during the band's extended run on 52nd Street. Part of the stick-in-the-mud quality involves the classical elements. And part of it is sheer eccentricity.

No matter all that. We have this recording to savor some of the music of these five. The modern re-arrangements make a case for the potential currency of the music a la the space-age bachelor resurgence we have seen, tongue-in-cheek or no. This was the exotic music of the day in the American pop world. It is more than that in it is some very well put-together music that transcends origins.

I am not quite sure what to make of the wordless choir parts but they add some depth to the sound though in a camp sort of way. The point though is the overall thrust of the music. The Ghost Train Orchestra captures the quirkiness along with the sophisticated conceptual compositional stances. And they manage to make it all good fun in the process. That is saying a great deal.

Listen, by all means.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jeff Cosgrove/Matthew Shipp/William Parker, Alternating Current

From the first minute of Alternating Current (Grizzley Music) you know you are in for something special. It's a date organized by the inventive free drummer Jeff Cosgrove featuring two long-time masters of the new jazz, pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker.

The focus is a kind of homage to two modern titans of the drums, the late Paul Motion (via a performance of his "Victoria") and the very-much-with-us Andrew Cyrille (the freely unravelling title cut is dedicated to him).

This is open-form music all the way. Matthew Shipp is in an exploratory mood, coming up with organic variations-on-variations that combine his gift of opening us to a broad harmonic pallet while also realizing his striking ability to weave lines that catch our ears off-guard and impress on them phrases that speak directly and memorably to us. William Parker gives generously to us his wide-ranging, brilliantly realized lower-register inspirations. Jeff Cosgrove holds his own with naturally pulsating inventive freedom. Together in this expansive format ("Bridges of Tomorrow" alone runs nearly 40 minutes) they get a three-way dialog together that covers a great deal of ground, that needs to be heard more than described. (Language can only get you so far...then your ears must take over.)

To hear them forge their very personal version of Motion's "Victoria" is a treat and a high point. But really it all reaches high-point, the sometimes elusive zone, an aural "Shangri-La", a special island of sound where everybody clicks and wonderful music is made. The most brilliant of the "free improvisers" create spontaneous form anew each time they play. These three do that here especially well.

Open up and let this music in. You will be glad you did. Very recommended.