Monday, September 29, 2014

Connie Crothers, Concert in Paris

One of the beautiful things about improvised music of course is that the place and time the music is created can have a huge effect on the performance. Inspiration can be heightened by those intersections, and we can get music that surpasses even what we might come to expect from an artist of the first rank. Connie Crothers' Concert in Paris (New Artists 1059) has that quality.

Both Connie's presence in Paris for the occasion of this concert and her first trip there as a student in the late '50s, which was a life-changing epiphany as the liners recount, give impetus to some really inspired pianism. "Deuxieme Naissance" and "Dans Mes Reves" open the concert with some truly transcendent music related to the here and now and the there and then, and yet beyond both. It's as if Maestro Crothers takes all the music that followed from the kismetic trip and synthesizes it into a total summing. Blues phrasing, bop implications are there and yet the full pallet of all the notes are harnessed to an ultra-expressive, ultra-pianistic narrative of feelings. On this opening segment its as if she pulls together everything she is, everything she has been, and puts it all together in total oneness.

Not that the music that follows is in any way lacking, it keeps the momentum going. "How Deep is the Ocean", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and an earlier Crothers piece "Carol's Dream" come into play as she revels in expressive high after high. Avant atonality and jazz-rooted tonality mix together seamlessly for some very poetic stratus elevations.

"Hommage Aux Commundards" has a rather sober cast to it compared to the elation of the earlier segments, but it is quite understandable given her subject--the Paris Commune of earlier times and its fervent aspirations for freedom and a new order. The music does not flag so much as it becomes more introspective, more searching in its dynamic, initially. This might be the place to comment that somehow Connie channels avant classical composers, but really I don't think she does that directly so much as she widens her scope to phrase outside of considerations of jazz per se in the historic sense. It's still all Connie, just as Cecil plays all Cecil and if you can draw parallels to modern classical they have been transformed. So also Connie. This is about an in-the-moment expressiveness coupled with an internally cultivated originality. To me it still epitomises what jazz is about--the lines and the blocks of chordality are about the telling, not so much the form the telling takes, though that too is innovative. It's a matter of emphasis.

"Espoir" gives us the concluding segment of the concert. I'd like to say, "there, you can hear her channeling Roy Eldridge" but she has long gone beyond her well-loved influences, the giants that have come before her and us, to create Connie-music. "Espoir" reflects almost nostalgically on "Come Rain or Come Shine" and it is poetic, filled perhaps with those thoughts we get when we recall a formative past that is now distant yet never really gone. After all the expression that has gone into the concert, we seem to feel, like Billy Strayhorn, "after all...", after all, there we are today, filled with our lives, codifying, condensing, transforming all we have lived through into our art. Certainly Connie does that on this very beautiful recording.

And perhaps, given the exceptional quality of the music here, we can learn from what a master of music does after a lifetime of playing and living. She does not go back. She goes forward but perhaps with a new feeling for all that has gone into who she is now, musically and personally.

I do not wish to put words in her mouth. The music itself speaks to us. It says, "this is what my life has made me. This is the music that most expresses that." And so it is. Concert in Paris gives us a high point among high points. It is all that makes Connie a great artist. It is seminal music. I cannot say more because there is no need to say more.

Just get this one!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jean-Marc Foussat, L'oiseau, Victor 1985-2012

Jean-Marc Foussat has an active presence in Europe as an avant-garde composer-improvisor who occupies a space on the free-avant jazz scene. The CD at hand today would appear to be pure composition, an elaborate noise-and-tone electronic music suite, L'oiseau (FOU CD-01). It is in memory of his son Victor (1985-2012), a memento mori honoring his passing.

The work is in two central sections, "L'oiseau" itself, and "La vie s'arrete". In between is the voice of Victor himself, reciting a brief poem.

Foussat's music must be digested in several hearings to be fully appreciated. Loops and their subtle use contrast against sometimes very thick, noisy soundscape panoramas. Pattern and form emerge from the seeming chaos as one listens repeatedly.

It shows us an electronic composer who does not attempt to construct sounds to comfort the audience. It is rather music on the edge of itself, not disturbing as much as expressionistic. Walls of sound vary in intensity and density in ways that seem to express that which words fail to do. The bird-like, the living creation sort of sounds contrast against a sort of brutal industrialism in a dichotomy that fascinates as it perhaps gives us pause. We do live in such a multivalent world. There is no one, yet all of it gives us one experience, of our lives. Of Victor's life.

That is my impression, not necessarily exactly what Jean-Marc intended. Suffice to say that this music becomes intelligible when one listens closely and repeatedly. I find it very engaging, intense, yet also very poetic.

Recommended for those avant adventurists out there.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Clare Fischer, After the Rain

Clare Fischer (1928-2012) was a jazz composer and pianist who sometimes basked in the limelight, but sporadically so. He wrote beautiful music, some in the so-called "third stream" mode, but rarely was named in short lists of top jazz composers of his era. Nevertheless he left behind a discography of fine albums, many now rather obscure, and is remembered by those who know the history of the recent jazz present as a figure deserving a hearing, one often inspired to make music of an extraordinarily high caliber.

Thankfully, Clare towards the end of his life and posthumously has benefited by several releases of his more ambitious concert music that has otherwise been unheard. Today we look at one, an all-orchestral disk giving us three compositions well worth hearing, After the Rain (self-released CFP012201).

"The Suite for Cello & String Orchestra" is in three movements, the first two with a singing neo-romantic quality that is quite pretty and well-wrought. "After the Rain" is the title of the first movement. There is no readily apparent relation to the Coltrane piece except in mood. The second movement was penned in 1947! The others were written in the '90s it seems. The third movement brings a bit more grit into play and has more of a thematic punch to it. This is music that does not have a pronounced jazz sensibility but shows a mastery of string writing. No wonder he was busy as the string sweetening guy for artists like Prince and Michael Jackson. But the third movement is much more substantial than sweet.

"Time Piece" continues the substantiality with three movements for full orchestra that have modern complexity and compositional flow. The first movement was written out in part in 1953, completed in 1987. The other movements are partly early, partly later, but it all flows together as one unified work. There is more of a third stream quality here, with phrasings and melodic-harmonic cross-pollinations of classical and jazz. It has more of Clare Fischer's thematic knack and musical dexterity at play. This is the Clare Fischer I appreciate. Nothing is predictable and the orchestral colors and pianistic outlook is very much at hand in the best ways. Rather brilliant music, especially the "Blues" and "Fugue" sections. There are orchestrational touches of sheer inspiration and there is memorable music throughout.

"Bachludes I & II" were recorded in the 1980s. They revel in the harmonic thrust of Bach's music, but then transform in Fischer's hands to a less contrapuntal, more fully drenched string concordance. This is music with the sure musical sense of Maestro Fischer. Very beautifully done.

So here we have a disk that has spots of true brilliance, decent recordings and performances of orchestral Fischer. They are quite revealing, showing a side of his music we saw far too little of. Only the middle work has a pronounced jazz-classical nexus and that is worth the price of admission alone. The other works show a Fischer concerned with taking a compositional stance as someone in the modern classical mode. All of the strictly classical Fischer here is worth hearing, the final movement of the "Suite" and the "Bachludes" particularly.

There is a further volume (and a new one coming) that I'll cover here shortly. Fischer fans will find this an ear opener. It's good music, whether you know Fischer's work or not.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Douglas Detrick's Anywhen Ensemble, The Bright and Rushing World

Something quite beautiful this morning. It is a ten-part jazz composition called The Bright and Rushing World (Navona 5955), written by trumpeter-composer Douglas Detrick and featuring his Anywhen Ensemble, a quintet that includes trumpet (Detrick), soprano and alto sax (Hashem Assadullahi), cello (Shirley Hunt), bassoon (Steve Vacchi) and drums (Ryan Biesack).

It has some room for improvisation but the main thrust is the rather wonderfully voiced ensemble writing. The improvisations extend the mood and tonal thrust of the composition as a whole quite nicely. But it is especially in the body of the written syntax that we find a kind of musically subtle nirvana.

Detrick's music is lyrical with the tang of modernism to situate the feelings and bring us to the middle of that rush of a world. Douglas remarks in the liners that once he finished composing the work it gained a life of its own. That is certainly true of any creative act, and yet in the musical personality of the quintet's performance we find that Detrick himself still lives, of course. Not in any mundane sense. The performances are themselves a big factor in the success of the work. The ensemble has a definite personality that reflects no doubt Detrick's vision of the music.

So you put the two together and you have a disk that sings with the best of so-called "Third Stream" qualities--the modern classical and the jazz sensibility joined together for a work that has genuine thrust. It makes me want to hear Detrick write for a larger ensemble, though this quintet work stands on its own without the help of further works to validate the musical sensitivity and talent of Douglas Detrick. That's already here. Captured on disk for us.

I find this album intriguing, so much so that I do not care where it fits or what "school" it belongs to. It is an excellent work that sounds better every time I hear it.

The rise of the AACM taught us that composition and improvisation can be whatever it pleases, depending on the creativity and will of the music makers. It may partake of classical elements whenever it wishes. What counts is the result. Detrick triumphs in that way here. Give it a close listen!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Impossible, Ignition, The Unanswered Question

When my basically chronologically ordered queue piles unearth something from a while back, I sometimes have no idea how it chose to surface now. Not that the pile has a mind of its own (I hope not) but the stress and strain of getting through life blanks out the details. So when the trio known as the Impossible and their CD Ignition, The Unanswered Question (UHF-01) hit the top of the "to review" stack, I know I had heard it initially and liked it. Beyond that, zip.

The CD was recorded live in Brisbane last year, apparently came out last October, and here we are. Some things are worth the wait. As I played it the requisite times last week I remembered why I liked it. It is brash, thrashing free trio jazz from Sam O'Brien, alto, Mitch Green, acoustic bass, and Tony Irving, drums.

This has all the trappings of a DIY release. Simple graphics and production values, little info. The recording is quite reasonable and clear. It captures the trio in the throes of over-the-top spontaneity.

There is plenty of heat and frisson on this all-free two-part set. Sam O'Brien carries on throughout with some frenetic chromatic outbursts that are well-seconded by Mitch Green and especially drummer Irving.

Does this cover new territory, break new ground? Not really. But should we expect that out of every free jazz outing? No, not really. What saves this date from the dust bin is the uncompromising freedom. It will not change the world and there are others who have conquered free space with greater distinction, but for sheer abandon this one has something to offer.

It's perhaps for the free jazz completist more than anyone else. Nevertheless you have to admire the zeal with which they go about it! Tony Irving's drumming is classic bombast and virtuoso all the way. Sam O'Brien never lets up. Mitch Green thunders. You have to hand it to them for all that.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kenny Wheeler Jazz Master Class Remembered

New England Conservatory's Jazz Studies Department Chair Ken Schaphorst remembers a Kenny Wheeler master class at the school.

Kenny Wheeler described his compositional process in a masterclass at NEC in 2002:

The process I go through to write or compose a new melody is this--I get up about 7:00 and don't wash or shave or anything, but put on a bathrobe or dressing gown and take a couple of biscuits, a tea, and sit at the piano which is an old slightly out of tune upright. Then I play through some 4-part Bach Chorales. After that I try, with my limited technique to play through some Bach 2- or-3 part Inventions or maybe Preludes. Then I fumble through some more modern music such as Ravel, Debussy, Hindemith, Bartok or maybe the English Peter Warlock.

And then begins the serious business of trying to compose something. This consists of improvising at the piano for anywhere from 1/2 hour to 3 or 4 hours or even more. What I think I'm looking for during this time is something I'm not looking for. That is, I'm trying to arrive at some semi-trance-like state where the improvising I'm doing at the piano is kind of just flowing through me or flowing past me. I don't mean at all that this is any kind of a religious state but more of a dream-like state. And then, if I do manage to arrive at this state, then I might play something that catches the nondream-like part of me by surprise. It may only be 3 or 4 notes. But it's like the dream-like part of me managed to escape for a second or two from the awake part of me and decided to play something of its own choice. But the awake part of me hears that little phrase and says "What was that? That's something I didn't expect to hear, and I like it." And that could be the beginning of your new melody.

But there is no guarantee that you will reach this semi-dream-like state. After many hours you may not get there. But you might take a break, or you might have a little argument with your wife, and go back to the piano a little bit angry and bang out a phrase in anger which makes you say "Wait a minute! What was that?" There doesn't seem to be any sure way of reaching this state of mind where you play something that surprises yourself. I just know that I can't start the day all fresh at the piano at 7:00 and say to myself "And now I will compose a melody." It seems I have to go through this process which I described.

R.I.P., Kenny Wheeler, 1930-2014.

Ari Brown, Groove Awakening

Whatever happens to me for the rest of my life I hope I will continue to have the time and circumstances to keep listening to uplifting music like the new one from Ari Brown, Groove Awakening (Delmark 5011). Seasons come and go, one's fortunes may sink or rise, but the sort of real jazz represented by this album transcends time and raises you up.

That may be saying a lot. But after following Ari Brown over the years in various guises, including his long tenure with Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, it is not saying too much to name Ari Brown as one of Chicago's greatest living tenors.

This album puts him consistently in the spotlight with good grooving tunes and a hip quintet. He responds to the occasion with all the heat and soul you could hope for. He has the right band with Kirk Brown, piano, Yosef Ben Israel, bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums and Dr. Cuz on the congas and percussion. Kirk Brown's piano seconds Ari's front-line testimonials well, and the rhythm team cooks things up to a boil.

Not everybody can throw in some funky stuff and make it as genuine and convincing as the jazzier numbers, but Ari and company do it right, because they embody the soul that must go in there to make it work. So you get that. A funkish reggae version of Trane's "Lonnie's Lament" will drive the point home forcefully if you give that a listen first.

But of course there is much more to hear and dig into. "In A Sentimental Mood" gives you the balladic side, "3bop 4 Mal" (penned by Kirk) gives you a modern jazz bop side. And there are shades in between, like the Latin-groove "Veda's Dance".

Through it all you get the post-Trane Ari in warm, relaxed, natural settings. It's an album that sneaks up on you and konks you on the head in the best way. This is what pleasure can be!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stefano Bollani, Joy in Spite of Everything

If you get the right musicians together with a leader who has a good idea where he wants to go and a set of compositions that helps bring that direction to bear, and if conditions are ripe for it, you have something very worthwhile. That is the case with Italian pianist Stefano Bollani, his music, and his choice of companions in the recent Joy in Spite of Everything (ECM B0021437-02).

This is music that has a post-Jarrettian flavor to it. Yet it maintains an independent stance. Stefano chose wisely with a line-up consisting of Mark Turner on tenor, Bill Frisell on electric guitar, Jesper Bodilsen, double-bass, and Morten Lund, drums. The rhythm team may be less well-known than the front line but all play very well and sound as if they belong together. And they do.

Stefano Bollani bears close listening. He will surprise you with a phrase that catches you unawares, a run that sounds just right, a creative and technical prowess that puts him at the top of the ECM-style pianists out there today. Both Mark Turner and Bill Frisell sound as good as ever, turning in solos that bring on their own individuality and originality yet swing and poeticize in ways that keep pushing the music forward.

The tunes are very good ones, both of their time and looking forward, embodying jazz tradition yet doing something with that to make it different. They are rather excellent.

Bollani is a joy to hear, a player who is at a peak, certainly, on this album. Everybody else gets right in with it. This is a beauty!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fred Hersch Trio, Floating

In spite of serious illness coming in the way of his music Fred Hersch prevails and thrives in his new trio set, Floating (Palmetto 2171). He, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson romp through standards and originals with true artistry.

What's so remarkable about Fred is that he can give us his own vision of the contemporary jazz piano trio (thanks also in no small part to his very game associates) that has roots in the mainstream yet ventures adventurously into inventive zones that do not hearken back as much as look forward. The Latinesque treatment of the opening tune "You & the Night & the Music" is a perfect example. Fred Latinizes the song in his very own way, generating excitement and charging the whole song with kinetic rhythmic energy. The title cut "Floating" follows, a beautiful ballad original that resists the almost inevitable backward look to Evans and others that most pianists in this zone would fall into. Yet Fred keeps it where HE wants it, plays himself.

The CD goes on from there and we get a full impression of the Fred Hersch Trio today. Not predictable, not content with status quo, yet very much within the flow of the great piano trios of the past. To do that and yet not sound derivative is no mean feat. Yet Fred and company do it and do it to a "t".

I recommend you hear this one. And hear it again. This is stunning music. Fred Hersch is a force today. The trio is, too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rallidae, Paper Birds

Not everything I hear gives me a clear, immediate reaction. The trio Rallidae and their EP Paper Birds (self-released) made me pause. What is it? What is my reaction? I was not sure at first. It's a trio of Angela Morris on tenor sax and vocals. These are her compositions. Alex Samaras vocalizes. Scott Colberg plays the contrabass and joins in on vocals at certain points.

This is open, free jazz oriented music, yet arranged in such a way that there are song elements as well, sometimes at the forefront. Angela plays tenor creatively and can be listened to with profit for what she alone is doing. Scott plays some quite appropriate bass. Alex sometimes scats and other times gets into the song-composed elements. The others contribute vocal harmonies or densities. Sometimes Angela takes the lead vocal and sounds fine.

That's the basic overview. But then what you get is so...peculiar in a creative way that it took me a while to absorb what is going on.

And then it came together for me, though it still is off-kilter enough to make me scratch my head now and again.

There is humor, poeticism, and the vocals have a slightly lounge-lizard meets modern-compositional-progressive feel to them. And after a while you get with that, appreciate the freedom inherent, dig into the compositions more fully.

And you are left with a feeling that this is NEW. So ultimately I came down on the side of, "yeah, alright"! If you are like me you may take a few listens to get there. Angela Morris has a concept, for sure. Let's see where she goes with it. In the meantime, this one has a provocative and fresh quality. Listen and hear for yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mark Turner Quartet, Lathe of Heaven

There was a time several decades ago when tenor player Mark Turner seemed poised for a major career as a jazz leader. What happened? Nothing, really. I mean nothing that had to do directly with Mark Tuner as an artist. It turned out that various factors in the economy and the difficulties faced by the music industry translated into the partial eclipse of the jazz world as a star-making apparatus. It wasn't that Mark's music wasn't up to snuff, it was a matter of the launch into super-stardom. Very few if any serious players have dominated in this way in the recent past.

I am not here to lament that, nor am I here to approve of it. It simply is a factor of the present-day. But here we have a new Mark Turner album on ECM, the Mark Turner Quartet coming forth with Lathe of Heaven (ECM 2357). It is a deceptively subtle outing, filled with mid-tempo music that is not exactly laid back, but musically concentric in a way that sometimes reminds of parts of Miles' Filles de Kilimanjaro in its attention to the chamber sophistication of the writing and the two-horn interplay.

The band is a good one, with Mark of course on tenor, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joe Martin on double bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums. All contribute to the whole as a group, and the compositions set the mood, which is more introspective than perhaps one might expect from Turner. Yet that quality is accentuated by the tenor-trumpet interplay and the significant soloing of Mark especially. There is a melodic immediacy in his playing which was always there but seems further developed in its fluidity more now than ever. Avishai Cohen also has some beautiful solo moments here.

It is an album that has its way and creates real beauty, yet may take a few listens to really appreciate. Chamber jazz of a high level is the order of the day, and all excel under Turner's sure leadership. This may be the most exemplary instance of Mark making a impactful musical statement as a leader. Not that anything was lacking before, just that Mark Turner has come closer to realizing an original group sound. The ECM ethos is all over this music, true, but it is completely personalized to express what Mark Turner has become so completely. Himself.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jon Di Fiore, Yellow Petals

When it comes to piano trio jazz, it is unusual to find the drummer in the leadership position. I can think of a few instances but it is nonetheless infrequent. If the drummer writes the music and has a very musical touch then it makes sense. That is what we get on John Di Fiore's album Yellow Petals (Third Freedom Music 1003).

The album contains nine Di Fiore compositions of interest, played well by the trio of Di Fiore, Adrian Moring on acoustic bass and Billy Test on piano. This is music that has some debt to the classic Evans and Bley trios (and then some of the early Tyner outfits too) in the subtle finesse, harmonic richness and/or contemporary melodic-brittle qualities. The band can swing like mad and of course can settle into a dreamily sophisticated reverie. Or they can straddle in the territory that combines both. They do that sometimes.

Each player makes an excellent contribution. Jon's drumming bears close attention. Billy Test channels in his own way the sensitive pianism of the tradition. Adrian Moring has the beyond-walking presence we would expect.

But the compositions stand out, too. "Demise" is an excellent reworking of a Chopin Prelude. Other pieces have various dedications, to family and loved ones but also to the music of North Africa, Spain, minimalism, Guillermo Klein.

It is music in the grand tradition of the modern piano trio, and a very good addition to it at that. Listen and dig into it. It wears well.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Girma Yifrashewa, Love & Peace

We go through life and every so often we are surprised, pleasantly so, to experience something we didn't expect. That's the case for me with Ethiopian pianist-composer Girma Yifrashewa and his album Love & Peace (Unseen Worlds 13). This is an album of compositions for solo piano, played by the composer.

What's striking for starters is how Yifrashewa uses Ethiopian minor and pentatonic modes in the service of a hauntingly atmospheric, at times almost Satie-esque introspection. Then there are more rollicking numbers, too. But all reflects a classical poise and the vibrant Ethiopian sense of tonal form, something which if we had a time machine we would see goes back many centuries, I suspect.

You might say that Girma Yifrashewa does for Ethiopian music what Abdullah Ibrahim did for the music of South Africa. That is, he puts the essence of his home music into a very pianistic set of expressions. Only perhaps here the music is less obviously jazz-influenced, more classically oriented. But only in degree. One can certainly imagine jazz musicians doing versions of this music with authentic success. But that's for another time, perhaps.

For now we have this very attractive set of piano pieces that rings out true and clear! I love it. You may too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ravi Shankar, A Night at St. John the Divine, 1976, Nine Decades Vol. IV

East Meets West Music's ongoing project of digitizing and making available some of Pandit Ravi Shankar's recorded performances is surely a noble one. The fruits of this endeavor can be readily enjoyed in the latest release, A Night At St. John the Divine, Nine Decades Vol. IV (East Meets West 1013), a recording made at New York City's imposing cathedral on August 6, 1976, an all-night concert celebrating the then 20th anniversary of his first US concert.

It must have been some night, with a full troupe of Indian classical masters each giving a recital segment, climaxing with Ravi Shankar appearing with Alla Rakha for a performance of two ragas that coincided with the summer dawn.

It is of course Ravi at the peak of his powers in many ways and the performance lives up to how masterful and brilliant an artist he had become. Pandit Shankar's affiliation with tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha was his most famous, at least here in the West, and for good reason. The recording of Raga Vachaspati that concludes the recital tells you why--especially in the magical concluding movement where a rhythmic figure of four-fours plus "one-half and one half" holds sway. The pattern is brilliantly worked around by Shankar and Rakha with the exceptional creativity and rapport that they had developed working together for so long.

The performance of Multani has a long and moving alap and beyond. It is one of those magical performances that Ravi could give us, akin to his recording of Raga Bhimpalasi from the famous Monterey performance some years before. His exploration of the lower register of the sitar with shruti bends and finesse has something extra-worldly about it, but then of course he goes on from there with customary brilliance.

In short this is prime Ravi Shankar, essential though as yet unknown until now for all those who had the misfortune of missing the performance. I believe I was working the midnight shift that night in New Jersey. For myself and the rest of us who couldn't be there this is a revelation; for those who were it will be a moving reminder, an excellently recorded commemoration and celebration.

Rather essential.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Sketches of Spain Revisited

Jazz repertoire can be a tricky thing. If the music was poorly recorded in the early days of the 78, then there can be valid reasons to re-address the music. Otherwise, to my mind, why redo something unless you are going to do it differently?

Sketches of Spain, the Miles Davis/Gil Evans classic is a good case in point. Lew Soloff and Steve Richman did a remake of the music that I reviewed here on January 18, 2011. I liked that Lew was doing Lew and that was fine.

Now we have another version, a bit more radically reworked, by trumpeter Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (316 Records 31607). Like the Davis-Evans version they start with the final movement of the beautiful "Concierto de Aranjuez" and end with Gil Evans' "Solea", but more or less that's where the commonality resides. For those two movements Evans' wind writing remains the same (minus bassoon), but the rest is changed. Orbert reduces the trumpet-brass section and adds a string quartet, oud, and another percussionist. He reframes those arrangements, more on that in a minute, and replaces the center three movements with two new originals and an arrangement of "El Albaicin", originally written for piano by Albeniz and now converted into a showcase for string quartet.

The new movements are quite Spanish in sound and give us something different to contemplate. The arrangements to the remaining outer movements have less of that Evans' impressionistic touch, the middle movements are so different that you probably are best to forget the original version as you listen, and Orbert in the solo trumpet role makes no attempt to channel Miles so much as strike off on his own. He sounds convincing as Orbert Davis. That's what counts. And the whole thing is in a slightly transposed mood.

Is this version "better" than the original? No, I would not say that. Get the original Miles/Evans recording for its magic. No one could have done what they did better because they were originals of the highest order. But the Orbert Davis version is in reality a new thing altogether, appealing in very many ways, a brand new piece of music on the whole.

So it is recommended, quite enjoyable and engrossing. It just isn't the same as the original. So start there first. If you already have, this incarnation gives you something different. And it is good. There you go.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Denny Zeitlin, Stairway to the Stars

There is more than one Denny Zeitlin--pianist, composer, electronician, advanced garde jazzman, purveyor of interpretive acumen for the standard repertoire. On the trio effort Stairway to the Stars (Sunnyside 1380), as one might gather from the title, exactingly thoroughgoing re-thinking of standards is the order of the day.

Denny assembled a trio for the San Francisco Jazz Festival and a gig following that at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, 2001. He chose bassist Buster Williams for his beautiful sound and sense, and a then-young Matt Wilson on the drums.

Fortunately the Jazz Bakery gig was well-recorded, and we now have some excellent music on disk from the stint, the recording at hand.

The trio runs through some standards well- and less-well-known, my favorite being an excellent rendering and interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Deluge". But there are really stunning versions of such familiars as "Oleo", "You Don't Know What Love Is", and "Spring is Here", among others.

What is remarkable is the Denny Zeitlin harmonic-melodic pianistic exponent, which is at full throttle and continually to be heard on this set. He is a master of such doings in his own right, even if these days more time and attention may be given to the Evans-Jarrett contingent. Just listen to Maestro Zeitlin's excellent work here and listen again.

Buster Williams not only fits right in, he sounds inspired and at his best. The piano trio in full flourish needs an acutely aware bass master who does much more than walk, of course. And Buster comes through in rather spectacular fashion. We know now how musical Matt Wilson is as a drummer. The special subtlety and punch demanded of a trio drummer was something he already could muster up, and that he does here.

The time of the recording chronologically was 2001, but really this kind of set is without provence. When everything is right there is a timelessness. That is clearly the case on Stairway to the Stars.

This one is not to be missed!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fred Tompkins, Fanfare 8: The Early Works

I had the good fortune to come across the music of Fred Tompkins partly because I was studying way back when with the great Elvin Jones, and Fred put out one or two albums of his music (distributed by the JCOA folks) that Elvin mentioned to me. Elvin was on much of the music, plus some great players like Jimmy Owens, Farrell, Liebman, Pepper Adams, Grossman, Richard Davis, Ron Carter, etc.

Fred's music combined modern classical and jazz in ways nobody else quite managed to pull off then, so I was quickly converted to a great appreciation of his compositions.

Time went by, I had to sell my first record collection to help raise money for grad school, and by the time all that was over I could not find the albums again.

Quite thankfully Fred has been in touch (because of my blogs) and has sent me a CD compilation of those years, Fanfare 8: The Early Works of Fred Tompkins (F.K.T. Records). I am glad he did. If anything the music sounds even better to me now than it did then, partially because there was so much I was trying to absorb in those days I suppose. But also because it now seems clearer how good these works are since we can hear them fresh again in a later era.

Fanfare 8 gives you a bumper crop of Tompkins works from those days, with the jazz luminaries holding forth but always in the compositional frameworks Fred set up. There are 14 compositions in all represented here, all in their own way gems, covering the period of 1967-1981.

The rhythm sections improvise, there are horn solos here and there. The rest is as Fred notated the works. This was a great idea as the works swing (greatly, especially with Elvin in there) yet there is modern classical structure and jazz feel combined.

I won't run through a description of each, because the music speaks so eloquently that my words don't seem necessary. It is a blockbuster collection for anyone interested in the modern nexus. Tompkins was one of the greatest, if lesser known, of the so-called "third-stream" composers. He's still at it, too, but has as expected evolved. I have a newer disk I'll cover soon.

In the meantime don't miss this one. It is exceptional.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Michael Vlatkovich, Multitudes Telepathic

Jazz and poetry have made for a productive companionship over the years, from Langston Hughes to Amini Baraka to the AACM. So trombonist Michael Vlatkovich's Multitudes Telepathic (pfMentum 078) has precedent. On it we have the poetry recitation of Mark Weber against an open jazz framework.

There of course is no one way to do these things, but it must all come together in some way for it to work. Mark Weber's poetry seems suited to jazz accompaniment because his poetry is in the moment--about being there in some form of fashion, for better or worse. The open-form free jazz of Michael Vlatkovich has the same starting place, the there of where.

He and his trio of self, Clyde Reed, upright bass, and Dave Wayne, drums, are an open book and the music here gives us that creative openness to experience that goes well with the sort of Zen is-ness of Mark Weber's poems.

The trio makes some fine free music here, as one has come to expect from Vlatkovich and his ensemble. And Mark Weber's recitations sustain the need for imaginative words, for narratives that evoke and make the music something more than it would be on its own.

So we have something worthwhile here!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Matthew Shipp, I've Been to Many Places

Just coming out now is the latest solo piano album from Matthew Shipp, I've Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear 57209.2). It marks a point of departure for Matthew in that he in essence is summing up his musical endeavors, looking backwards and by being where he is now making of that looking back something new.

That of course has to do with Matthew's emphasis on the spontaneity of his musical invention. How he plays something he did years ago now is not reproduction but rather re-creation. So we get "Tenderly", recorded originally with David S. Ware's Quartet, "Summertime", first recorded in duet with William Parker, and "Where is the Love," which was used as a loop on a recording with hip-hop artist El-p. And what he does with all of these is to renew them, to make them anew. Such is the case throughout.

As Matt himself suggests on the liners, this album gives us a kind of culmination of Matthew the musical thinker executed one-to-one from thoughts to keys. He is charged with kinetic electricity throughout, taking a step from freedom of expression to a kind of mind-meld of Matt-inside-his-pianistic-head.

The set has real flow. The difference between open-form key weaving and "standard" is one of setting loose the harmonic-melodic familiarity of a song form with the same attention to being in the now of creation.

It gives you an excellent picture of Maestro Shipp as he expresses himself today, right now. And for that it is exceptional. There is nothing that sounds tentative. All sound is in command and commanding. The two versions of "Where is the Love" spell that out nicely. One is filled with forward momentum, the other more reflective. And if there was a third version, it would be no doubt something else again. He has his piano sound directly wired into his creative head, from a jab or a legato phrase to the way he makes the piano sustain when he wants it to. He is moulding the sound at every moment in his own vision.

I've Been to Many Places has all the makings of one of the prime improvisational piano solo albums of the year, maybe the album. Needless to say I recommend you get it!