Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jason Yeager Trio, Affirmation

A pianist who can come up with a fresh angle on postbop and contemporary deserves hearing. Jason Yeager does that and does it well on Affirmation (Inner Circle 043). You get the Beatles' "Julia," a movement from Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" and a host of nice originals. It's the trio of Jason plus Danny Weller on acoustic bass and Matt Rousseau on drums. That's the very together tripartite framework, to which are added guests here and there, the trumpet and flugel of Jean Caze, Noah Preminger on tenor and Aubrey Johnson on vocals. They broaden the sound and add much to the proceedings as needed.

Jason has internalized the modern jazz tradition and gives it back in a personalized way. The flow, the harmonic sense, the lines are where you expect them, only they are not cloned from a generic source. This is Yeager piano, music in the Yeager zone.

And as you listen you get a program of nicely turned contemporary jazz that pleases without trying to make a grandstand-raising play for radio coverage. The music is the way it is no doubt out of artistic conviction and that comes through as an honest triumph of sorts. Bravo!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Andrei Razin, ARSolo

Russian pianist Andre Razin is not known very much in the States. Based on his ARSolo (SoLyd 0412) album of solo piano he should be more widely heard. It is an album that came out in 2011 but shows the artist in a timeless light. There are seven works presented in the program, all showing a poetic ingenuity, an original harmonic-melodic approach that is somewhere between new music classical and contemporary solo piano jazz.

A Russian Keith Jarrett? Maybe, except he sounds unlike Jarrett and much more like himself. There is a kind of alternation between rhythmically active sections and contemplative atmospherics. His playing shows an excellent sense of form-in-spontaneity, with structured elements ordering what sound like impromptu improvisations. And indeed, this is the more improvisatory side of Razin, who also composes in the new classical mode.

His classic roots may come through clearly, but that is not to say that the improvisations sound pre-planned as much as informed by some key motives. As the liners say the program comes off as a continuous suite, touching on Razin's diverse, inventive approach in sections with a feel in-the-moment but somehow inevitable in their logic and spirit combined.

In the process you'll hear some jazz roots, resituated in a context that has as much of the post-Bartokian as an improvisational middle ground that rests in neither camp.

It is a bracing, invigorating performance that should be heard by anyone interested in the contemporary pianist and where the music can go these days. Andrei Razin should not be missed! An excellent album is this. Try and find a copy if you can.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Garrison Fewell, Outside Music, Inside Voices

We've known Garrison Fewell on these blog pages as an important jazz composer, guitarist and bandleader. But today we look at him as an author. His latest book, Outside Music, Inside Voices (Saturn University Press, 329 pages, paper, $25), examines the creative process among 25 leading lights in advanced improvised music today, music sometimes referred to as "free jazz."

The book presents 25 fairly in-depth interviews conducted by Garrison over the course of nearly a year, interspersed with good photographs of the artists concerned by Luciano Rossetti. The basic issue involves spirituality as a component of or impetus to the creative act. "How much does your music," Garrison asks, "get its energy and being from a spiritual mind- and body-set?"

The answer, which may come as a surprise to those who are not immersed in the contemporary improvisational world, is a pretty resounding "yes, it does, in important ways." So we hear from such luminaries as the late John Tchicai and Roy Campbell Jr., but also Steve Swell, Nicole Mitchell, Dave Burrell, Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, and on from there through 17 others.

And no, it is not that all of them practice a particular form of organized religion, though Buddhism does seem to be an element in some artist's lives, but rather that the sounding of the music has a spiritual intent or immersion-component. Anyone who experienced the first flowering of the "new thing," especially via later John Coltrane, should not be surprised to hear this. Nevertheless what matters, and what the book brings out strongly, is exactly how each artist talks about her or his music in these terms. Are there set practices they use to bring such things in their music? Are there political-social components? How do they relate their self-in-spirit to other musicians and the audience in the playing situation? How can such improvisational ways of being be of general use to the public at large in their own lives?

These are just some of the questions and themes that run through the dialogs. In the end readers get a rather full picture of open-form improvisation as a kind of way of life. Everyone seems to have something interesting to say. Not everyone puts a great deal of active thought into the way of the spirit and their music, mind you, but virtually everyone acknowledges an extra-material inspiration that goes into their spontaneous being in performance.

The book moves along at a rapid pace and brings insights to musicians, music fans and curious outsiders alike. It's a great read, something for a general audience concerned with creativity and of course for the avid new music listener and performer. Those who do not understand "free" music should get a framework that will help them grasp the creative processes and motivations of the players. Those who do get the music already will nonetheless benefit from the ideas so nicely expressed by some of our greatest living practitioners of the improvisatory arts.

Very much recommended. An absorbing and inspiring discussion.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Natsuki Tamura, Alexander Frangenheim, Nax

Natsuki Tamura is the trumpet master often associated with Satoko Fujii, as many will know. He has built a solid reputation out there as a free player who can go folkish or get very abstract, depending on the project. Today we hear him in the latter zone, in duet with contrabassist Alexander Frangenheim on a CD program entitled Nax (Creative Resources CD 280).

Tamura and Frangenheim dedicate themselves to fully abstracted free soundings, from full-toned utterances to noise-tinged sound colors. It's not an album where a tango or an old folk song intervenes; it is uncompromising new music making, both well conceived and sequentially unfolding.

As avant zoning it more or less pre-selects itself to listeners attuned to the outer stratosphere. Those who appreciate the inventive turbulence and sometimes quietude of cutting-edge improv will find this a bracing adventure into what can be done.

It blows, pizzes, and bows its way into rare territory with confidence and creativity. If you respond to that as I do, you will find this one a real ear-opener!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tineke Postma, Greg Osby, Sonic Halo

Wherever we are in improvised music we are always subject to the mental compass points we oriented ourselves with. Depending on those we could think we are halfway on the way to some goal, or beyond that goal and on the way to another. It depends on how you chose to get your bearings.

Take for example the sort of jazz-rock-funk that Miles had much to do with and then some of the acoustic-progressive furtherings that Steve Coleman and Dave Holland were important exponents of. We could say that now we are at the full flowering of a progressive, free-flowing post-bop rock-funk sound. Or perhaps we have gotten to a halfway point. We don't know what is to come in the years ahead so we cannot be sure of where we are on the "map."

One thing though is this: wherever we are, the album Sonic Halo (Challenge 73370) is in the vanguard. It's a two-horn alto-soprano frontline of Tineke Postma and Greg Osby, with some very excellent sidemen in Matt Mitchell on piano and electric piano, Linda Oh on acoustic bass and Dan Weiss on drums.

Dan can be counted on to contribute nicely to whatever he is on, so that in itself is a staple of this music. Linda and Matt are subtle and very worthy voices here. And then there's the two horn line of Greg and Tineke. These two work hand-in-glove so well that they open up a sort of zone where through alternating compositions and together-blowing they stand out as exceptional.

This is very progressive modal-centered music with sophisticated harmonies, complex rhythmic hits, and an open-sky hipness that gives a basic straight-eight funk an evolution similar in complexity to what later bop did for swing. Endless free flowing variation is the rule here, and it all is handled with inventive, brilliant ease.

And the blowing is very hip indeed. Postma and Osby are perfect foils for each other; the three-rhythm team make sure that the cauldron never stops boiling, so to speak.

It's music that bears your most intensive aural inspection and comes off as breakthrough soundings.

Sonic Halo has wings, has brains, has soul. It is an excellent listen!

Allison Au Quartet, The Sky was Pale Blue, Then Grey

From Canada comes the Allison Au Quartet and their The Sky was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-release). I don't know a great deal about the artists here. A few listens, though, and you know you are in the presence of thoughtful and expressively accomplished players. And the compositions, by Allison Au with one co-written by pianist Todd Pentney, have a contemporary freshness that frames everything well.

The band features Allison on alto sax. She stands out as a player with an alternatingly pure and hard-toned strength, facility and imagination. Pentney is on piano and keys and gives the band a second solo voice of distinction. Then there is the rhythm section of Jonathan Maharaj on bass and Fabio Ragnelli on drums, players with contemporary looseness but continuously vibrant pulsation.

The music is evolved contemporary, the pulses rocking ahead with jazz-rock-funk-swing and Latin feels but at the same time involved compositional intricacies and straight-to-your-being blowing which has smarts and feeling.

It is, if you want forebears, a sort of extension of ECM middle-period acoustic jazz-rock and maybe Gary-Burtonian involved lines, but then not quite and it is renewed by Allison's good sense both at the pen and at the alto.

She is a player very well showcased here in ways that bring pleasure and good sounds to your ears with consistency.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Hamburg '72

For all the beautiful things Keith Jarrett has done in his career, the original trio of Keith, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, with or without Dewey Redman, holds a special place in the music of the later 20th-century. After all this was, following Keith's important association with Charles Lloyd, the group that gave us the first phase of Jarrettian music. The amazing runs, yes, and the compositional clout of the man, the free interplay of the three masters which both came out of the influences of Ornette Coleman and Paul Bley in solo and group playing, but then went beyond that into something very special and original.

Sitting here listening to the newly released, previously unreleased Hamburg '72 (ECM B0022313-02), with that trio in their last phase, I am struck anew on the tragedy of loss. Paul Motian is gone and now so is Charlie Haden. We can never hear this trio as a living entity, never again. But we can hear them of course in all their recorded glory. In this case a finely sonic live recording of the trio in their last full flowering is what brings tribute and remembrance in a very fitting way.

It is beautiful to hear this, to me. Make no mistake. They are filled with the special creative synergy of the three as a oneness, no less here than in previous recordings. There is a spirit of adventure in their extraordinarily productive looseness. Keith is playing at one of his peaks, not just from the piano chair but also on soprano sax, something we took for granted then, but in its absence today we shouldn't have. He was singular there as on piano, just a bit less developed technically, of course.

But the interaction of Keith, Charlie and Paul is there. Again we may have taken it for granted in some ways, but there was a magic and a tabula rasa uniqueness of the way Paul and Charlie came up with ways of propulsing freely yet very personally. Add Keith and there is a dynamism of free structure in every way pattern-setting. The trio ultimately had a huge influence, on just about every piano trio that came after, in terms of those with a free avant approach, and even those who didn't.

And you can here why on this recording clearly. More than that, the pieces played on this date sound especially good because they are never played quite like this before or after. Charlie's "Song for Che" is momentous, never played by Keith otherwise in recordings. Rather momentous also are the versions of Keith's "Piece for Ornette," "Everything that Lives Laments" and "Take Me Back."

It is as fitting a tribute to Charlie and Paul as anything, for they sound beautiful. And so does Keith. All three would go on to do other work, great work, but the special magic of these three together would never quite be equalled. This issue is important because it gives us the trio in ways that we didn't hear on record at that point. The trio so late on, as a trio.

If you love this period, or even if you don't know it all that well, this must be heard!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Alicia Olatuja, Timeless

If you heard Brooklyn-born Alicia Olatuja sing at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, then you are prepared for what you get on her beautiful album Timeless (World Tune). Her voice is rather incredible. And she puts it to excellent use in a series of songs both familiar and less-so. The music is soulful and jazz inflected in a general way, in part thanks to her bassist husband Michael Olatuja who had a hand in the production and arrangements from what I understand. He plays some really nice bass, too.

Listen to her version of "Human Nature" and you'll hear right away that you are in the presence of a vocalist of extraordinary depth, finesse and beauty.

And every track one way or another confirms that, whether it be "Over the Rainbow," "Amazing Grace," or "Truth in Blue."

I don't usually get clammed up, to say the least. Her voice leaves me speechless. Consider me clammed right now. You want something to warm you up inside, the voice of Alicia Olatuja does that.

Hear this one!

Joseph Daley, Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love

Anybody with an involvement in the modern jazz scene knows Joseph Daley as a prime tuba virtuoso, who has made his mark across the spectrum of new jazz offerings, perhaps most notably as the tuba presence in Sam River's acclaimed Tuba Trio, where he defined how a tuba could be both a backbone and a vivid solo presence in a free yet structured three-way dialog.

What might not be as well known is that Joseph is also a fine composer. His recent Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love (Jodamusic 002) will set that straight. Maestro Daley conducts a small chamber orchestra on this recording in a series of eight lively portraits.

The orchestra is packed with artists who fill our ears with sounds that reflect the jazz improvisational and the new music camps equally but in line with composer Daley's own special musical ways. So we have players like Jason Hwang, Elektra Curtis, Sarah Bernstein, Akua Dixon, Marika Hughes, Ken Filiano, Warren Smith, and guests Jerry Gonzalez, Onaje Allan Gumbs and more.

The portraits show Daley as an original voice, an inventive persona, a composer of real merit. The first five portraits, "Whispercussion," give pride of place to the percussion master Warren Smith, in a kind of concerto context that shows Mr. Smith in his varied excellence on mallets, percussion and drums as it gives us music that sings out and builds a rich backdrop for his excellent solo work.

"Shadrack" highlights the multiple reed master Bill Cole in a fascinating world-spanning piece. Akua Dixon solos nicely on cello as well. "Doretha and the Blues" is dedicated to Joseph's soul-mate of 43 years, Wanda Doretha. It is a lush and soulful hipness that comes at us with some really beautiful string and orchestral scoring. Charles Burnham takes on the solo violin role with some definite testifying going on! "Industria" gives us Maestro Smith on tympani, Elektra Curtis, violin, and the basses of Benjamin Brown and Ken Filiano as soloists. The music is a sort of Afro-jazz caravan moving steadily into tomorrow, very hip and modern but with very strong roots.

This is music of adventure, Afro-American modern if you will, music of today, filled with both tradition and newness. Joseph Daley is a composer of stature, a real force. The music combines a heritage and a view to the future in ways that make you want to listen often, each time getting more from it all.

Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Delfeayo Marsalis, The Last Southern Gentlemen

Over time the trombone contingent of the Marsalis family, namely Delfeayo, has not gotten near the attention of brothers Wynton and Branford, yet he is a musician of real stature. He and his father Ellis team up with an excellent quartet on The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour 081814).

Ellis's well conceived pianism adds much to the proceedings. He sounds as great as ever. Filling the rhythm team chairs are bassist John Clayton, who brings excellent note choice and a fullness to his role, and "Smitty" Smith on drums, a monster that we don't hear as much of lately as we might wish, but plays his role to the max here.

The program is a mix of standard chestnuts, originals and a surprisingly fetching New Orleans rendition of the theme from "Sesame Street" with some hip wah-wah bone from Delfeayo.

It's old-school mainstream that manages to sound fresh, thanks to the complete trombone excellence of Delfeayo, in whom you can hear the entire history of the instrument, filtered and selectively grooved and burnished by intensive living within the tradition. I guess by now you should expect such a thing of Mr. Marsalis. But he and the quartet are so dedicated to it, without pretense or contrivance, that it rings very, very true.

It gives you the straight-from-the-heart classicism that warms the soul and mind of this listener, for one. Delfeayo is a master. Like early-middle-period Miles, he can play a worn out old tune and make it come through with bell-like directness, not so much through a noteful virtuosity as via attention to the tone and attack of every note.

So in the doing of all this The Last Southern Gentleman brings much pleasure. A trombone cornucopia such as this fits all seasons. Things never grow tired when the spirit is there. It is there.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pedra Contida, Xisto

Pedra Contida (Contained Stone) is a Portuguese quintet assembled especially for a Jazz ao Centro Clube invitation to perform for a week in the village of Cerdeira as part of the Schist Village Network project. Leader-organizer Marcelo dos Reis gives us a full album of the music they performed there in July of 2013.

The music is in three parts--the first four pieces composed by Marcelo, the second a series of solos and duos, and the third a collective improvisation by the whole group. All are part of the disk Xisto (JACC 022). The quintet includes dos Reis on acoustic guitar, voice and singing bowls; Angelica V. Salvi on harp; Nuno Torres on alto sax; Miguel Carvalhais on computer; and Joao Pais Filipe on drums and percussion.

This is a group that draws inspiration from open-form new music more than so-called "free jazz" per se. It is abstract music that relies on sound worlds that are colored by conventional and unconventional ways of playing to realize textures that vary and keep interest level high. Each member of the quintet contributes to the sound in ways that blend and become super-organic, so to say.

There is a dispersal of sound that maximizes space and individual contribution for a result that requires somewhat disciplined listening if one is to reap the benefits of this rarified sound abstraction expression. The results are intriguing and very fascinating if one gives the music the attention it deserves. But you must meet it half-way.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Music Review Records of the Year, 2014

Once again it is time to pick the Records of the Year. I am doing this on my other two review sites as well. There were an awful lot of great releases in 2014, so it has not been easy. That only points to the healthy condition of our improvising artists today. Here are my choices.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Matthew Shipp Trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, The Root of Things (Relative Pitch) See review, February 12, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Connie Crothers, Concert in Paris (New Artists) See review, September 29, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, Reissue: John Coltrane, Offering, Live at Temple Univ, 1966 (Reso- nance Impulse) See review, October 15, 2014.

Best Wild Card Album, Beyond Category: Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2, A Collection of Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (Patois) See review, October 9, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Abelardo Barroso and Orquesta Sensacion, Cha Cha Cha

Abelardo Barroso will be a familiar name only to those who are intimate with the history of 20th century Cuban music. Yet he experienced fame as a singer of son in the earlier recorded days and resurrected himself to acclaim in 1955 as the singer with Orquesta Sensacion. The best of those latter sides have been remastered and reissued as Cha Cha Cha. Leader Rolando Valdez gets a beautifully hot yet sweet sound from the strings, flute and rhythm players of Orquesta Sensacion and Barroso soars atop with his golden-toned voice.

The Cha Cha was a hot commodity in those days and the group scored with several hits that played in Cuban jukeboxes continually. The album covers all of that and more.

It's classic Cuban dance music of the era, sounding today every bit as vibrant and infectious as it no doubt did then. With the strings riffing in bowed or pizzicato style, the solid flute player, the horns and the insistent rhythm...and Barroso! This is the band at their height, a period between 1955 and 1959.

It is music that still packs a huge punch. It is an essential slab of Latin music you definitely need to hear and dig!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vezhlivy Otkaz, Geese and Swans

For you restless souls like me who seek the different and worthy even if it is not lurking at your back door, I have something for you today. I present to you the Russian band Vezhlivy Otkaz, an outfit quite well-liked over there by many, yet unknown to us in the States. They have a number of albums out. Today we cover their 2010 opus, Geese and Swans (Zen 033).

The music on this one defies easy description or blithe categorization. It is essentially music in song form, music which incorporates elements of progressiveness from rock, jazz and musical theater (I am thinking of classic Kurt Weill, though he may not be a part of their direct influence) plus what one might call folk-ethnic elements. This is most definitely music carefully composed and arranged, but with a lively spontaneity to it.

The band is first-rate, seemingly centered around guitarist and vocalist Roman Suslov, who had a hand it seems in the composing. Orbiting around his central pivoting point are Mikail Mitin on drums, Pavel Karmanov on grand piano and flute, Dmitry Shumilov on electric and acoustic basses and vocals, Sergey Ryzhenko on electric violin and vocals, Andrey Solovyov on trumpet. Together they form a tight-knit, musically sophisticated outfit that has drive and a dynamic directness as well.

The music puts the band through some intricate progressive routines that show originality and the local as well as the universal. This is music not quite like anything you may have heard. It has a songful, rough-hewn lyricism that contrasts well with musically demanding virtuosity. It gives you an excellent listen.

If you want something very much new and unexpected, Vezhlivy Otkaz and their Geese and Swans come through with an album that gives you all of that, and does it very, very well.

Quite recommended.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

David Virelles, Mboko, Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankomeko Abakua

Pianist-composer David Virelles is up to something rather different on his album Mboko (ECM B0021717-02). Cuban born and bred, David has reimagined the music of Abakua, a traditional male initiation society in Cuba that has roots in West Africa. It involves masked dancing and the experience of a cosmic Divine Voice in musical sound.

The essence of Abakua in ritual sound comes to us in recomposed form in a series of ten ritualistic movements for piano (Virelles), two double basses (Thomas Morgan and Robert Hurst), drum set (Marcus Gilmore) and Roman Diaz on the four-drum biankomeko, a fundamental part of Abakua.

The music is not a recreation as much as a contemporary analog to the rite. A ritual feel is at the forefront with the majority of moments where Afro-Cuban rhythm dominates or, alternately, where a kind of musical incantation is at the fore.

Virelles solos over the hypnotic rhythms in a very modernized Afro-Cuban mode, both engaging Afro-Cuban pianistic tradition and going forward in a sort of post-Bley avantness.

He played on recent albums by Tomasz Stanko and Chris Potter so his jazz credentials are strong. This album expands his approach both backwards to ancient roots and forwards into the advanced present.

The result is long-formed development of sound-specific mood over a full-length program. It is a vibrant, singular disk that takes its time creating sound worlds very worthy of Afro-Cuban tradition yet in their own way an extension into high-art improvisatory realms.

Hearing Mboko brings you under a spell that engages a sacred spirituality. It does it with a definite personal touch that calls attention to David Virelles as an artist of real importance. I hope we get to hear much more from him in the years to come.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Maldivian Traditional Music

Something different? What about music from the Maldive Islands? They are off the coast of India and now are independent. There is a recent 3-CD set out (though I have only heard one disk for preview) called appropriately Maldivian Traditional Music.

The music on the DL I got for review consists of male vocal music, in unison or as call-and-response with hand clapping and hand drumming of a vibrant sort. It is stirring, elemental music that sounds related to Sufi music from that part of the world and pockets in the Mid-East.

This is music seriously intended, not in the least bit "commercial" but DIY traditional. I don't know what else is covered in the set, but this bit of music is enlightening and moving on the primal level, with in some ways a music that crosses the borders between African, South Asian and Mid-Eastern music sensibilities.

Check it out!

Linda Sharrock, No is No

Linda Sharrock set the avant jazz community on fire in her days as co-conspirator with Sonny Sharrock, the late great guitarist and then-husband of Linda. She was a prime vocalist in the primal scream style that had nothing initially to do with Yoko Ono, but rather went along with some of Abbey Lincoln and Patty Waters sides in the first heyday of protest and avant expression. She and Sonny made several albums together in the '60s and then, for a time, nothing (at least that I am aware of). Nothing much of her after.

Her personal history in the intervening years I will leave to those who know it. The main thing is that she is back, very much so, and holds forth with some very fire-y music as the vocalist with a crack lineup of free-avant jazz artists today. No is No (Improvising Beings in 30) gives us two-CDs of Linda and company live, essentially going into space and creating a great noise there.

This is totally improvised music in the tradition of the old days where collective breathing of fire was a staple of the new thing. Linda is very much present, warming up and maintaining a certain level with "wah-wah-wah" soundings and then lifting the roof off the venue with some blood-curdling cries. It is not music for the timid, to say the least. But in her cries are the struggles to be faced by us all, especially those who do not feel themselves as participating in some sort of consensus world. It is a cry for freedom, of freedom, from a world where some still feel enchained.

And it's not just what she does on these sides, it's her vocalic-volcanic presence and how it inspires the instrumental sextet to outreach themselves and reach for the stars. This is one of the most extreme recent examples of avant jazz in terms of sheer energy, a calling out, a cry of existence, for existence.

Reedist Mario Rechtern and pianist Eric Zinman turn in especially strong performances here. But then Itaru Oki on trumpet (especially), Makoto Sato on drums and Yoram Rosilio on bass are very much key as well. This is collective, fired-up mayhem at its classic best.

It will smoke you. You either give in to the reaching out of our stratosphere and join the flight into the beyond, or you walk away. There is no in-between because this music will not work for you on any other level than participation. You are the Fifth Beatle, the Lost Tribe, the Godot who appears or you are left behind.

And in that this is superlative hot-freedom blowing and vocalizing. If you are ready for it, it is here for you. Anybody who finds Sun Ra at his most intense, Ascension at its cacophonic best or a number of classic other free dates . . . . If that is a world you gladly inhabit, then this is for you! If you don't know what that means, you may find this blissful if you open yourself to it anyway. It clears out anything remotely prevaricating and gives you pure truth. Not necessarily the truth, for there is more than one. That's how I feel. It sends me out there!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Marcin Wasilewski Trio with Joakim Milder, Spark of Life

Things can get going over in Europe to the extent that those of us in the States who aren't completely on top of what's happening there can find something fully flowered and in full strength when we are just getting to pay full attention to an artist or group. I find myself in that situation with Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio. It's Marcin, Slawomir Kurkiewicz on double bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums.

Here they are with their fourth ECM release, Spark of Life (ECM B0021718-02), joined by special guest Joakim Milder on tenor, a Swede with a post-Garbarekian sensibility that goes well with the trio.

The group has been around since the '90s, including tenure as part of Tomasz Stanko's outfit. So there is a Polish lyricism that has affinity with Stanko's later work, plus a love of the Polish icon Komeda, shown here by their nicely done cover of his "Sleep Safe and Warm" from Rosemary's Baby. Other than that there is a good mix of originals and unusual covers, from Sting and Herbie Hancock onwards.

The trio interacts in excellent fashion, showing mutual empathy and togetherness that is in part a matter of their long association, in other parts a matter of their mutual commitment to the lyrical romanticism that comes in its roots out of the Bill Evans-Keith Jarrett nexus.

These are some very subtle players doing deeply tonal harmonic-melodic wizardry that sounds "nice" no doubt to the uninitiated, yet on inspection from those who have listened long to this kind of music, they are filled with all the sophistication and, yes, brilliance of the most classic examples, only their way is theirs. They can get some traction, too, in exciting ways. It isn't all just singing-and-winging along sorts of things.

Milder sounds effective and completely in tune with the trio.

It's a lovely listen and an impressive outing all around. This kind of outfit must be a gas to hear live. But then again all this music is live, in that it lives!

Get an earful of this one if you can.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marquis Hill, Modern Flows, EP Vol. 1

The problem sometimes with modern jazz that injects a contemporary funk element and other contemporary elements is that all too often the music is geared to please rather than express. Some of it is ultra-mundane, banal, tired. Not so with trumpeter-composer Marquis Hill and his recent album Modern Flows, EP Vol. 1 (Skiptone Music).

Marquis gets together a very capable and hip ensemble, a sextet of instrumentalists plus vocalist and two poet-rap personages. He builds charts that have very much something to them, modern Afro-influenced jazz that features intricate arrangements with excellent writing for the horns of Hill and altoist Christopher McBride and some very hard hitting rhythm-solo work from Justin Thomas on vibes, Josua Ramos on acoustic bass, Bryan Doherty on electric bass and Makaya McCraven on drums.

To that are added poetic recitations/raps/vocals from Meagan McNeal, Tumelo Khoza and Keith Winford. The lyrics-words portray the plight of the Afro-American today in no uncertain terms, African roots, chokeholds, Obama bashing, identity and respect, among other things.

It all works really well, thanks in part to the very fluent musicianship and the compositional brilliance. You listen, you listen again, and there is no weary recognition that here we have a bunch of cliches strung together for radio play. It is the opposite. It gets better and the substance of the music is THERE.

No kidding. This is excellent. It hearkens back to old Blue Note horn voicings, hip tunes and the best of funk-jazz from the golden age of Norman Connors, Herbie, Azar Lawrence and the others. It's in its own court, though, too.

Get this one if you want something that convinces yet gets funky in a really advanced but rooty way!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Michael Mantler, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update

Jazz-composer Michael Mantler in tandem with his then-spouse Carla Bley did an awful lot of good things with the Jazz Composer's Orchestra in its series of recordings--as well as creating a viable model for independent new music distribution while their JCOA remained active. The Mantler JCOA recording came out in 1968 and in many ways revolutionized the idea of the new jazz big band. It remains to this day seminal and sounds every bit as advanced as it did then. Time went on and so also Mantler went on to do other excellent work, but nothing quite on this ambitious scale.

So when Michael agreed to revisit his early scores, both from the original album and not, in conjunction with the Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band under Christoph Cech and the radio.string.quartet.vienna, in a new project for ECM, one had high expectations. What came of it, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (ECM B0022098-02), now out, lives up to expectations in every way.

Sure, we do not have the pathbreaking soloists that were on the original--no Don Cherry, no Pharoah Sanders, no Cecil Taylor, no Larry Coryell...but for that you still need to listen to the original recording, which was reissued some time ago on ECM and I believe is still in print. The new soloists do their job and guitarist Bjarne Roupe gives us some exceptional sounds. The performances and ECM's audio are fully top-notch.

These are reworked charts to include the electric string quartet and Roupe, and as a big bonus provide some excellent scores from the period that have not been previously recorded.

What we get is a beautifully rendered series of large group compositions that not only hold their own, but stand out as models for a modern, "ahead" orchestral jazz every bit as advanced as they sounded back in 1968. Along with the work of the late Sam Rivers, Mantler's charts remain a guiding light for what a modern jazz orchestra can be all about.

The recording is simply excellent.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trio 3 & Vijay Ayer, Wiring, with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille

There are master jazzmen, avant or otherwise, who as they mature gain a depth to every note they sound, just about, and an impeccable feel to whatever they do. Such a three are certainly Oliver Lake (alto sax), Reggie Workman (bass) and Andrew Cyrille (drums). Their incorporation as Trio 3 is more than just a great idea, it is a band with a certain monumentality about it. Each excels as a master of their instrument; each has a musical sensibility that years of open playing have made possible--but of course only with the work of titans such as these. And each works together to get an interplay far above "avant business as usual."

So when they team up with a guest who is younger yet most definitely on the track to an open profundity, expect some real kinetic synergy. Such is the case with the teaming of pianist Vijay Iyer and Trio 3 on the album Wiring (Intakt 233).

There are compositions by all and one by the very undersung Curtis Clark. A high point is Vijay's "Suite for Trayvon (and Thousands More)," which underscores the series of brutal and very questionable shootings of Afro-Americans by those in law enforcement made only too real this past week by a "no indictment" decision in another case. A sense of outrage is put into music. And I hope it will help the collectivity out there come to grips with the facts and demand reforms. Period....Question mark.

But this album lays it all out to give us great playing from start to finish. Iyer fits right in and they get from the quartet a classic sort of freedom of expression that has in it the essence of the very best from times past. Trio 3 were a part of those earlier days, an important part, so it does not surprise. It confirms.

Yet one cannot predict what a meeting such as this will bring about. Iyer and the three hit it off strikingly well. They make a set that ANYONE with an interest in the new jazz should hear. Something of an instant masterpiece is what this is. Only of course to make music of this depth and power takes the collective work and experience of many years!

Don't miss it!