Friday, February 27, 2015

Abdelhai Bennani Trio, Waves

Europe-based avant tenor sax stalwart Abdelhai Bennani has been rather amazingly prolific with the number of albums he has released on the JaZt Tapes label (type his name in the search box above to see what I've covered). He specializes in an uncompromising free jazz approach without concessions and without relent. For the latest, Waves (JaZt Tapes CD-052) he fronts a very sympatico trio in a live date from Paris, recorded in 2006.

The presence of Benjamin Duboc on double bass and Edward Perraud on drums does much to drive the music forward.

Bennani gives us at some length his characteristic sound, born of hoarse throated harmonics, swallowed notes, upper register cries and a sort of conversational phrasing. He is in fine form.

Benjamin Duboc plays with a true front-line extroversion, pizzicato-ing with torrents of notes and rumbling double stops and bowing lines that mingle and meld with Abdelhai's in interesting ways. He can and should be listened to closely in interaction with the whole.

Edward Perraud provides exemplary free drumming with exotic sound colors conjoined with dynamic set cajoling.

The music revels in a pure "new thing" derived freedom that may remind you of some of the classic ventures done over the years. The music excels in a stylistic singularity.

So though there is already much by Bennani available out there, this one by virtue of some excellent trio interactions must be counted as one of the more indispensable ones. It is not music destined for great popularity and gold records, surely. But free jazz acolytes will certainly take to it.

Go to Jan Strom's website to find out about how to order this one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Matt Lavelle, John Pietaro, Harmolodic Monk

The music of Thelonious Monk, if anything, has taken on increasing stature as a body of compositions central to the modern jazz experience. In the period following his leaving us, we see renewed attention to his recordings and a great array of contemporary jazz musicians who perform his music regularly. Steve Lacy was a pioneer in adventurously featuring Monk's compositions long before it was fashionable. Nowadays his recordings of Thelonious's music have achieved classic status.

Yet with the unforgettable melodic and harmonic qualities of his music there is always room for further explorations. It may not be a simple matter to make out of music so well known and widely played something very fresh. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro have done just that with their album Harmolodic Monk (UR Unseen Rain 9953).

The "Harmolodic" reference goes back to Ornette Coleman and his approach, specifically his freedom to go out of the expected key centers or improvisations around chord changes to modulate or introduce notes outside of the usual frame of tonal reference. It's more than that but for now that will do. Matt and John approach the Monk material freely in this way, so they can stick to a tonality or general chord sequence and they freely can go outside of it, and that's what they do and do well.

Matt and John take various approaches to the Monk pieces. Matt on trumpet, flugel and alto clarinet and John on vibes, congas, bodhran and percussion can lope along in tempo, play within the general harmonic structures or advance outwards, go for freetime multitempos or articulate in open tempo with solo horn or vibes, or in tandem.

Matt gives us his beautiful take on a classic burnished tone for his trumpet and flugel playing or he can go for a more punchy, brash sound when he feels the need to energize. He sounds quite well on the alto clarinet too, an instrument he has recently gotten into to replace his former doubling on bass clarinet. He sounds great on it. John plays some very appropriate and accomplished vibes as a key melodic and harmonic presence with Matt or in a solo context. His percussion and hand drumming give the music an additional sound that varies the proceedings nicely.

Throughout there is a great respect for the compositional Monk, due attention to the melodic essentials and a harmonic straightforwardness or an expansiveness as they feel it. It all works beautifully well and shows what two very inventive musical voices can produce when they look at Monk's music in an open-form way.

I am impressed with the outing. I would love to hear them do something like this with a rhythm section next time, but the music speaks for now very articulately without it.

Matt and John have their full artistry on display. The results will absorb and move you. Very recommended listening!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra, Why Do You Ride?

Composer-bandleader Darrell Katz and his JCA (Jazz Composers Alliance) Orchestra has enjoyed a longevity as an advanced big band that would seem to defy the odds. Groups like this don't ordinarily survive long with the financial demands such an outfit entails. And yet here they are with a new album, Why Do You Ride? (Leo 711).

The album contains an ambitious work that serves as the title for the album. It is a ten-part composition that addresses bicycling, Zen thought, and the sayings or apocryphal sayings of Albert Einstein on bicycling and any number of related and less-related topics. The album concludes with the 10-minute "SamiBadGal" and an arrangement of "Monk's Mood" for the JCA Sax Quartet.

Vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton does a fine job in her role on "Why Do You Ride?". Her vocal part serves as the central narrative thread and the elaborate part she interprets with genuine artistry. The 18-piece orchestra/big band sounds well-rehearsed and spirited. There are eclectically diverse sections, straightforward swinging with sometimes advanced harmonic voicings, other times more traditional big band sounds, an avant openness at times, funk-rock momentum, old-timey references, new music composed elements, and the spice of effective soloists.

It all hangs together by virtue of the topical focus.

This is a major big-band compositional statement. It is also a quite enjoyable listen.

Thank you Maestro Katz! Give this one a spin, by all means.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Balkan Clarinet Summit, Many Languages, One Soul

Some musical configurations seem inevitable, yet only after they have already come into existence. Such a group is Balkan Clarinet Summit, a six-member clarinet-reed ensemble comprised of virtuosos of the clarinet stylings indigenous to the Balkans region and also present in other parts of Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. The members hail from Greece, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Italy/Switzerland, and Germany and they are very good at it.

Their album Many Languages, One Soul gives us some beautiful composed music and arrangements that run the gamut of style possibilities, from Klezmer and dance forms outward. Each soloist has his own take on the Balkan style and together they make a confluence that is never anything short of extraordinary.

I won't try and describe the music in detail. It is something that will excite and stimulate anybody who loves the clarinet and of course those who know and love the Balkan style.

Get this one if some psychic tickler is going off in your head. You will not be disappointed!

Grunen: Pith & Twig, Achim Kaufmann, Robert Landfermann, Christian Lillinger

The piano trio in the avant free-new music realms of jazz has shown itself to be a unit that continues to be quite conducive to all kinds of interplay. We have a prime example today in the distinctive trio of Achim Kaufmann on piano, Robert Landfermann on contrabass and Christian Lillinger on drums. The album is Grunen: Pith & Twig (Clean Feed 311) and it's a good one.

These are players operating at a high level of abstraction. There are compositional elements by Kaufmann or Landfermann, and four collective works. The elements can be readily recognized at times, but just as often the improvisations and the compositional structures are so well-integrated that it is not an easy thing to separate the two.

And part of that has to do with the close interactions the trio have developed. Often enough they are as a kind of three-headed organism, each doing something so complementary to what the others are doing that they meld together into a single sound-canvas. This is a trio quite adept in fusing jazz-free and new music soundings.

They have worked out explorations in sound color born of various ways of producing conventional and unconventional sounds out of their instruments--the piano with various preparations and ways of altering the strings as well as straightforward soundings; the bass coming forward with unadorned pizzicato, with robust bowings and harmonics; the drums with full use of kit sonorities and additional sound producing objects, such as a bow for the cymbals, etc. It is not just that they produce an expanded sonoric horizon, of course, but how such things can work together in new music pointillisms or forward driving free group soloing.

They do not fit neatly in a Bley, a Cecilian or a new music zone, but more or less straddle all three influences in oblique and highly productive ways to get their own vibrant blend. It is uncompromisingly avant music that works very well because they are eloquent "speakers" of the language and do not fail to vary the mix and give us an untiring movement across terrains both somehow familiar and yet newly traversed.

A fascinating disk. It will appeal to those who seek a musical abstraction that is both exhilarating and well measured. Bravo!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lo'Jo, 310 Lunes

The uncategorizable French band Lo'Jo has been flying forward with an unpredictable melange of songs, world influence and jazz and/or rock inflections. Their first album came out in 1989. They celebrate their longevity in an anniversary set 310 Lunes (World Village 479102.03).

It contains a reworking of pieces previously recorded but this time rearranged for five piece brass-wind ensemble. Roswell Rudd is on one cut. That's the first disk. As a bonus, the second disk contains their long-unavailable first album from 1989, The International Courabou.

The first album establishes the band with an extraordinarily eclectic mix of funk, rock, world and you-name-it. The anniversary disk gives you a very appealing instrumental set that goes from Klezmer-Baltic to compositional to songlike structures.

They may not be extremely well-known over here in the States, but this anniversary set will give you the chance to sample their very adventuresome swath of stylistic fusions. So you may well want to get into this one!

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer and Rez Abbasi have in common their roots, one way or another, in their South Asian heritage. They for a time came together in various excellent lineups but at present all three have established separate identities with their own bands. Alto saxophonist-composer Mahanthappa, Iyer and Abbasi all have been producing some excellent work, and now we get a chance to hear Rudresh in full-bloom with his own quintet on the new CD Bird Calls (ACT 9581-2).

It is music of a rather astonishing vitality and in a very far-ranging way a tribute to Charlie "Bird" Parker. The album alternates between a series of clarion "Bird Calls" (1-5) featuring some scorching Mahanthappa alto, and a series of compositions that utilize musico-structural frameworks from Parker-associated compositions ("Donna Lee," "Now's the Time," "Parker's Mood," etc.) but makes of them things entirely new. So much so that unless you are alerted to look for Bird underpinnings you may be altogether unaware as you listen.

And to me that's the best kind of tribute--where you move the music along into the future rather than revisit the rote past.

Rudresh's playing by now is something pretty extraordinarily dexterous and accomplished. He has developed his own virtuoso saxophony that owes to Bird the swift flight over harmonic structures but indeed flies on its own two wings.

The band is excellent. Both Adam O'Farrill on trumpet and Matt Mitchell on piano can match Rudresh in note weaving prowess yet remain themselves, too. Francois Moutin on acoustic bass and Rudy Royston on drums give the band strong foundations and drive the music forward in swinging straight-eighths momentum more than a triplet-inflected one. The rhythmic drive of the whole band does not really sound rock-oriented as a result. And perhaps that is an aspect of the South Asian rootedness of Mahathappa's way.

In any case this is devastating music. Rudresh's virtuosity and consequently the entire band's is not about velocity for its own sake, but most importantly, it is a velocity that expresses musical content--much more, that is, than the scalular exercises some artists out there can fall into. As with the virtuoso jazz greats like Bird, the motion is directed toward a particularly inventive musical expression. Mahanthappa has fully flowered in this path and the band, excitingly, has taken on the Rudresh approach as its own, so that you get one unified, exhilarating style of expression.

Bird Calls is as much a call to the future as a look back. It honors Bird by NOT imitating, but building atop.

A marvelous recording! Be sure to listen to this one.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Akua Dixon

Akua Dixon, first-call cellist for jazz-oriented dates which need a string section, steps out on her own with a magnetic, vibrant disk simply entitled Akua Dixon (Akua's Music, self released). Akua of course is on cello throughout. She has assembled a state-of-the-art string ensemble including such luminaries as John Blake, Jr. and Regina Carter, violins, viola, cello and bass. And drums for one cut. She herself adeptly arranges the music--standards, Mingus, a Piazzolla tango, etc.

The arrangements are effective and languidly jazzed in a beautiful way. There are very good soloists in Akua, Regina, etc. but what especially stands out are the arrangements, which grab you with their strong jazz voicings and artful nuances. The solos add much, but are the finishing touches to an exceptional mix of string sonarities.

Mingus's "Haitian Fight Song" is a good place to start. The fugal theme sounds great with the strings here and that's a first sample of the good things to come. It is perhaps not easy to make "Moon River" sound fresh, but you rehear the beauty in a surprising way with the strings out front in Akua's original and effective arrangement. And the solos!

If you are like I am, if you revel in the possibilities of what string ensembles bring to the music and crave more of it, here is the place to be.

Yes! More!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Anthony Braxton, Trio and Duet, 1974

It's hard to believe now how much controversy surrounded the emergence of Anthony Braxton as an artist in his early days. I can remember a blindfold test where a prominent artist was played For Alto and the extraordinarily hostility that music evoked. And in the years following there were a fair number of detractors with bad things to say of his approach to traditional jazz repertoire, where he most certainly followed his own muse rather than what was considered necessary when playing on the changes. He approached the harmonic structures obliquely, sometimes seemingly disregarding them altogether. That was capital heresy then. Similarly his work in the realm of "new music" composition met with disapproval from a vocal contingency.

The album reissue up today, Braxton's Trio and Duet (Sackville-Delmark 3007) bring us to his work in 1974, when the controversy most certainly still reigned. It is again very available thanks to Delmark's Sackville reissues. When we listen with fresh ears now we realize that the musical daring of that mid-early period has largely been assimilated into the avant-mainstream today. Braxton has prevailed. That doesn't mean that there are not some out there who disapprove. But even late Coltrane still seems controversial to some.

For the contemporary new jazz-new music world, Braxton has won.

So nonetheless it is good to hear this mid-seventies release for all the young-lion exhilaration that it contains. Half of the album is devoted to the abstract trio piece that has all the markings of Anthony's more ambitious compositional adventures of the period. Braxton on reeds, a still-young Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer go through the composed-improvised sectors of the composition and show us how seamless the two aspects had become. It is a beautiful work, beautifully performed. So much that came later was influenced by this chamber-avant approach that we forget how daring it was at the time.

The second half of the album is Braxton on alto and Dave Holland on bass running through a series of jazz standards. The reissue gives us two additional cuts for a good twenty minutes of more music. These explorations no longer seem shocking to us, partially because so many have followed in Braxton's path by bringing a personal way around changes that it seems as legitimate as it most certainly is. Holland sounds fantastic in the manner he then straddled cogent walking with an abstract solo style that was highly original and very noteful. Indeed, even Dave himself no longer sounds like this. Anthony is very much into his way with the tradition at the point of this recording and sounds uniquely himself, like no other, blistering and iconoclastic.

There have been so many Braxton albums that it is easy to neglect this one. Hearing it again after so many years it sounds better than ever to me. It is one to discover, to re-discover, and to appreciate. Braxton's artistry is well at a first-period peak and his colleagues sound beautiful, too. Grab this one for an excellent example of Braxton in 1974.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet, Afterimages

If a new Pandelis Karayorgis album comes out (and it has) and I do not cover it more or less right away, it is an oversight. My piles of CDs awaiting review can sometimes get cumbersome, and a spill of the box intended for this particular blog late last year put my hypothetical sequence into permanent chaos.

But anything worth hearing is worth talking about at any time, so today we get to contemplate the Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet and their Afterimage (Driff 1404). The quintet date continues Karayorgis's fertile cross-pollination with some of the heavy Chicago cats on the scene. We get a potent lineup on this one with Dave Rempis and Keefe Jackson on reeds, Nate McBride, bass, and Frank Rosaly on drums. Pandelis directs the proceedings from the piano, while also furnishing ten compositions for the quintet to immerse themselves in and blow off of.

The compositions set up a harmonically advanced, modern post-boppish avant-free landscape that has interest in its structures and gives the players a good bit of latitude. Everyone rises to the occasion, with Rempis, Jackson and Karayorgis quite naturally forming the front line.

I have said often enough here that Karayorgis comes out of Monk more than Cecil or Bley. It's as if the music is an outcrop of what Monk might have done if Monk took his music further out in later years. That is a gross simplification, but the jagged-edged angularity is in Karayorgis's pianism, taken in his own way further afield and originally reworked to become something else.

Rempis sounds great on baritone (an important exponent these days) as well as tenor and alto; Jackson gives us some outstanding tenor and bass clarinet. Together their multisax orientation changes the sound of the group accordingly over time and they put in some excellent work. It is no surprise that McBride and Rosaly really nail down the free and the pulsating in swinging ways.

There is much music to be heard here and it all works. This is another fine out expression from a combo of players who work together with the ease of mutual understanding and compatibility.

Oh, yeah! Do not miss this one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tri Nguyen et le quatuor 'Ilios, Consonances

Those with a sense of adventure and those with a love of traditional music from Vietnam will find today's release something of great interest. Tri Nguyen was raised in South Vietnam, where he was trained in the indigenous classical music of his country by a master, then one of the last still practicing, at the same time as he received Western classical training as a concert pianist.

He came to the West and has embarked on a successful career as a pianist, but he has never left behind the ancient traditional Vietnamese classical art as exemplified by repertoire for the Vietnamese zither. There is little interest in this music among the young in Vietnam today, but Tri Nguyen has made a point of keeping it alive by continuing to develop his formidable zither playing and increasingly presenting it to Western audiences.

As a beautiful example of that, he has joined forces with the 'Ilios String Quartet in an album that arranges traditional zither music and some new compositions for zither and quartet. Consonances (Lunelios CD 888 1001) gives us a full program of music of great beauty, adopting traditional pentatonic works and adding a classical reference here and there, such as an adroit intermingling of Mussorgsky's "Promenade" theme from "Pictures at an Exhibition" with a traditional Vietnamese melody that has great similarity.

It is a very effective melding of the zither and quartet. The quartet participates in the music with very characteristic parts that add much to the ambiance of the tradition without in any way diluting it. And Tri Nguyen sounds wonderful here.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Dial & Oatts, That Music All Around Me

I've found Garry Dial and Dick Oatts, both separately and in tandem, players and composers well-worth hearing. Their new one is exceptional. That Music Always Round Me (BCM+D 2-CDs) combines Oatts' soprano, Dial's piano, a mid-sized instrumental ensemble and the massed choral forces of the Temple University Concert Choir, the Temple University Vocal Jazz Collective and New York Studio Vocalists along with vocal soloists. They conjoin for a most ambitious work that utilizes the poetry of Walt Whitman as lyrics and features the impressive choral arrangements of Richard DeRosa. The music was composed entirely by Dial & Oatts.

I have the unfortunate tendency when first listening to non-classical choral music of envisioning the wholesome, crew-cutted and bobbed personages of Sing Out!, a quasi-folk choral group of my youth. And so I had to deconstruct that image when first listening to this work. Once I did I was ready to appreciate this unique and ravishing offering.

The choral ensemble(s) almost function as the horn and wind sections of a big band, with parts floating above the rhythm-team that you could imagine being played by instrumentalists. Except of course they are not. They are sung, sung well, and we get the Whitman poetics to contemplate along with the very contentful compositional presence.

This is very much in a jazz vein, with spaces for Oatts and Dial as soloists. Dick sounds especially good, but both are very much present and accomplished in their spots.

After you get used to the feel of the way the various forces work together there is much to appreciate. This is a milestone that triumphs as a unified work. I've never heard choral jazz sound so convincing. More than that everything works together to ravish you with music that is memorable, lyric, swinging and harmonically rich.

I won't say more. This must be heard to fully appreciate. It is rather remarkable!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Matthew Shipp Trio, To Duke

Pianist Matthew Shipp has become in recent years a pianist at the very top of his game, one of the stylistic master pianists of our era. He is one of those very few pianists in jazz where every new recording must be heard, because each one breaks ground and/or consolidates his later developments.

The Shipp Trio has become a phenomena unto itself. The combination these days of Matthew and Michael Bisio on bass is one of exciting and exalted rapport. Drummer Whit Dickey puts in a third voice of exceptional pliability on drums, pushing the music in rhythmically open directions with a special mastery of his own. I understand that he has left the group recently to pursue other projects. So this may be the last recording with this specific line up. This may well be the last recording with Dickey at the drums. He sounds good, very good.

The recording is To Duke (RogueArt ROG-060), a tribute to Duke Ellington with the trio doing very personal versions of seven Ellington classics, plus three Shipp compositions that play off of their immersion in Duke's magic.

There have been some threads recently on social media that question the in/out, avant/mainstream division as something that breaks down with artists who channel both tradition and innovation. Certainly the Shipp Trio here make a case for a simultaneity of stylistic preoccupations that transcends the splitting of categories in jazz practice.

The music respects the tradition in Shipp and Company's treatment of the Ellington themes. The themes are springboards to an original trio openness while retaining the identity of the themes very strongly. Matthew tends to state the themes with a special propulsion that puts them in a tempo zone, yet while this is happening bass and drums play freely in and around the tempo. Both Matthew and Michael then play freely with the implications of the themes, masterfully so, with abstracted offshoots of the thematic material that can be blazingly all-over, mesmerising in Matt's use of repetition-development of phrases, or post-Monkish punctuations with "syncopated" chordal bursts. But of course what is thought of as Monkish was also very much Duke-ish. Monk got something from Duke's playing that is not often spoken of, but you hear it if you listen to both closely. So that all fits.

The interaction of Shipp and Bisio by now has become a wonder. They intertwine around themselves in brilliant ways--and Dickey is right there opening up the rhythmic possibilities in and out of the implied tempo.

Every number has its own way of going about this--poetically, artistically, transcendently. It is brilliant as the art of improvisation. Matthew leads the way with an open inspiration that never flags. The couple of Shipp originals fit perfectly without straying from the path traveled by the trio here. "Sparks" is especially attractive and cool. It's a cut I would play for someone who asked me, "What is Matthew Shipp all about these days?" In around three minutes it states a great deal and then is gone, in ways similar to how Duke was initially limited to short time spans in the days of 78s. It says much in a compact space.

So, at the end of the day, after five listens, I must say this one is a kind of masterpiece. It's one of my favorite Shipp Trio albums. You need a little time to grow into it, or I did (always do) and then it stays with you after the music stops. It's that kind of experience. If you don't know Maestro Shipp's way, and there may be some out there who don't, this is a great place to start. It's a great place to BE, regardless. Get it!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas, Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival

It is ever more clear to me that William Hooker is one of the premiere free improv drummers of our time. In a small group setting he can be counted on to invent an almost orchestral panorama of sounds and gestures. You get this very strongly in his duet performances with soprano, alto and tenor saxman Liudas Mockunas on their 2013 performance Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival (No Business CD 68).

It is just the two of them in a totally free context for a lengthy and rewarding set. Mockunas has much spirit and a full sound that complements Hooker's drumming synergies with a parallel energy and flourish that make the meeting seem totally right.

There is a tumbling forward into our present-future throughout. Mockunas has his own sound on all three saxes and Hooker responds in kind.

There was magic in the air on stage and in the audience that day. And the duo brings it into our hearing with great, long cosmic phrasings and extended form.

This is a set that will satisfy those who like their freedom scalding hot. It's a blazer to clear your head and set you spinning into space. Bravo!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff

One thing seems clear to me this morning. That is that pianist Vijay Iyer does not care what is expected of him as a leader of a modern jazz piano trio. "I'm interested in how things grow when no one's forcing them to," he says. That means he and his trio give latitude to the inner muses within them. And those muses are driving the trio in various directions that are unexpected and original.

You can hear that in the latest outing, Break Stuff (ECM B0022567-02). He and his partners Stephen Crump on the double bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums are going somewhere, an original set of places. There is a looseness much of the time, coupled with polyrhythmic feels, minimalist openings in the firmament, sometimes with seemingly more than one tempo active, linear expansions on thematic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements, Strayhorn's "Blood Count" and Monk done in ways nobody else would think to do, original structures that can cook or they can clean the counter of pots and pans, as they feel it.

It is easy enough to say that Vijay's South Asian roots give him a special feel for rhythm. And something African in feel, too. Now that may be true but how that works out with his trio nowadays is not in any way automatic. There is a subtle channeling that all three are in on and it is very original.

An outstanding album, this is. They are touring the US February 19th through April 11. Eugene and Portland, Oregon, are the starting points, then New York, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. Check the net for more info. They are into something definitely "progressive," so now is a good time to hear them. And grab this disk!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Andrew Drury, Content Provider

You may know Andrew Drury as a fired-up, most original drummer who has sparked many a session in avant contemporary jazz around New York and over the world. What you may not know is the Andrew Drury who is a potent composer and bandleader. That you can hear wonderfully well on his brand new release Content Provider (Soup and Sound 50001). He sometimes reminds you how much he digs Eddie Blackwell, but there is so much more, too.

He's picked some very game players in Briggan Krauss on alto, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar. (Brandon is perhaps more well-known as a blazing banjoist, but as guitarist here he sounds quite good, quite at home.)

The compositions are challenging and filled with rhythmic complexities and noteful stamina. The music suits Andrew's very involved and hip drumming and he takes advantage with some great work. There are free elements and some heavy rock moments thanks to Brandon's heat. Briggen and Ingrid make a great two-horn team. They work some very involved two-horn dialogs that get over-the-top in very cool ways. And of course they solo individually with their own very personal approach.

Brandon's guitar work is pretty exceptional--he goes out and gets some real steam with avant metal moments that certainly get my attention. And the two horns and guitar voicings of some of the themes are really strong and right at you!

So the electric part may get some purists snarled up. It's time we recognize that it's not only legitimate to do this (and how many years ago did Sharrock first startle us?), but it can also, as here, be a vital expression of our contemporary world.

It still ain't what you do. It's still the way hatcha do it . . . as Jimmy Lunceford's band put it so many years ago. And the way Andrew Drury and band do it is beautifully. Beautifully alive.

This is a drummer's album in some ways. It has the rhythmic vitality that drummer-leaders give you when they feel it. And it has a very vital energy and electricity that speaks to our world today. So, yeah! Dig on this one because it has the courage to make a beautifully huge noise!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research, Hat and Shoes

Is there a relation between where you live and the music you make? Always, I suppose, though often enough it is not easy to put in a short number of words. Gebhard Ullmann is an example of the complexity of that. He is a European who makes significant free improvisational jazz that has as much or more a relation to roots New York "New Thing" as it does to any "European School" of avant improvisation we may care to evoke.

This is beautifully clear in his Basement Research ensemble recording Hat and Shoes (betweenthelines 71238). The title reminds of Eric Dolphy's classic piece "Hat and Beard" and I am sure it is intentional, for the music here seems a modern extension of the later Dolphy ensemble ethos. Not in any obvious way, but there is a growth from the Dolphy trunk so to speak. Not just in Ullmann's excellent bass clarinet work--and tenor sax. But also in the ensemble's special collectivity, the compositions and how they jump start some really good group improvisations and solos.

He is very well served by the band he has assembled. The critically important Steve Swell joins the ensemble on trombone, as a key component of Ullmann's music over the years. Julian Arguelles makes a fine showing on baritone sax. And the rhythm team is excellent as well, with Pascal Niggenkemper on acoustic bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Some Europeans, then, some Americans, and a clear vision of the interpersonal freedom and compositional staging needed.

It is an album that excels extraordinarily well at pitting talented improvisers with vibrant material, like Dolphy's Out to Lunch only very much of today.

Everything and everyone comes together for a beautiful result, surely one of Ullmann's very best albums and some prime examples of the prowess of all the players. Don't miss this one!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Laurence Cook, Burton Greene, A 39 Year Reunion Celebration

As Eric Zinman's liner notes to the album at hand explain, Paul Bley introduced drummer Laurence Cook to pianist Burton Greene in 1968. They hit it off musically and made some excellent sessions together with Mario Pavone on bass in the next couple of years.

Now 39 years later they reunite thanks to Zinman on a session titled appropriately A 39 Year Reunion Celebration (Studio 234 011).

Laurence has always impressed me as a kind of "thinking person's drummer," a free player who chooses his notes wisely and provides a very creative backdrop for free ensemble explorations. Burton it goes without saying has for a long time now prevailed as one of the new thing's pioneering pianists and an artist who continues to grow and expand his compass, year after year.

The two together in this 2008 Cambridge session are in a most inspired mode. Obviously the intervening years have done nothing to dampen their mutual musical compatibility and it shows in the way they interact. Laurence plays the drums as a modern painter wields the brush (and in fact he started as a painter), deliberate yet open to the spontaneity of the creative moment, sensitive to the drums in front of him and their potential, patiently drawing out the sounds in conjunction with Burton's varied and expressive creative stance.

And Burton sounds as good as ever, perhaps a bit more reflective now than when he first started out, not afraid to work in tonal realms but ever the abstractionist at heart, giving weight to each episode, drawing from other's compositions as well as some of his own, and just going it spontaneously with Laurence when that seems right.

The meeting turned out, not surprisingly, most opportune and fortunate. This is some of the finest recent work from either of them, worthy of listening to closely and often. In short it is a winner! Encore!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kenny Wheeler, Songs for Quintet

The passing of trumpet-flugelhorn-composer-bandleader Kenny Wheeler recently marked the loss of a major figure in the jazz of the later 20th century. He was a rather rare artist who could and did sound completely at home in the more avant camps (such as when a member of Anthony Braxton's celebrated quartet years ago) and in the tonal, changes-oriented contemporary jazz scene. He excelled in both worlds.

As if to remind us of what we will miss, his last album is out. Songs for Quintet (ECM B0022443-02) gathers together a nice grouping of mutually compatible players and sets them loose on some excellent Wheeler songs. They cover remakes of some older classics, such as "Old Time" and "Nonetheless," plus some very attractive new ones.

The band has a sound in very much the later Wheeler style, and if that sound is also a classic ECM sound, do not forget that Kenny helped very much to shape it with his lyric and open rhapsodic yet bittersweet style. Stan Sulzmann on tenor saxophone, John Parricelli on electric guitar, Chris Laurence on double bass, Martin France on drums make up with Wheeler's flugelhorn the complete unit.

They play each number and go to the soloing with an assuredness and poise that knows what Kenny is about and gives lyrical strength and heat as it is abundantly, alternately called for. Kenny still sounds very good here and it is of course with sadness that we realize we will not hear that beautiful horn playing in person again.

But we do have his impressive body of recordings. . . and this final one, in every way worthy of our rapt attention, a final kind of tribute, and a goodbye.

Well recommended. RIP Kenny Wheeler.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Woven Entity

Music that transcends borders may be a little harder to write about than music that doesn't. Part of that has to do with giving the reader an idea of what she/he will hear. Sometimes "like Brainiac, only with more hair," to quote Captain Beefheart, may sound great but may not be helpful.

That is the situation with the London-based outfit Woven Entity, enjoying their first release, which is self-titled (Babel Label BDV12123).

It's freely improvised music that owes little to jazz per se yet has a more DIY approach than you might hear in more formal new music settings. It is a quartet with a percussive orientation, which means it can groove with pulsations of various kinds and ordinarily does.

Who are they? Lascelle Gordon is one of them. He started as a DJ in London, graduated to a number of bands in avant rock and improvisation, and now appears before us as a key member of Woven Entity. He plays percussion and a battery of miscellaneous instruments here.

Patrick Dawes plays percussion and has been around in various contexts prior to Woven Entity.

Paul May nails things down on drums. He's played with pianist Carolyn Humes and been a part of the electro-acoustic improvising trio Sonnamble, Elvers.

Peter Marshall is on bass. He's played with Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford, and Robert Dick among others.

That's the lineup. Now what do we get? This album concentrates on out grooves that have some tangential relation to dance music, but in fact are far removed from it. There is a bit of turntabling, some electronic and electro-acoustic colors, bass anchorage and multi-instrumental ensembles with the emphasis on percussion.

More than that, there is the sense that the whole is ever-shifting and permeable. They go to various zones with freedom and some lock-step tribal sense. They excel at something that is at this point very much their own. Think of Zappa's "Son of Monster Magnet" only with all these years intervening and a more dedicated sense of structure-in-freedom and you might not be so far away from what this is. Also there are moments where one is reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in their percussion groove moments.

It is good. It is evocative. It is non-normal in a very avant way, yet there are plenty of foot-tapping episodes to guide you through. I like it! You might as well.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Juan Pablo Carletti, Tony Malaby, Christopher Hoffman, Nino/Brujo

Sometimes it amazes me no little how much good music comes out lately. Other times I have a pile of dogs to contend with. But with a little care in selection there is much to be heard. Today's example is as good as any, a limited edition 300 copy LP pressing of the trio of Juan Pablo Carletti (drums and composition), Tony Malaby (tenor) and Christopher Hoffman (cello) on Nino/Brujo (New Business LP 79).

The compositions are good platforms for the blowing, the trio is in great form and everything happens as if the stars were aligned properly. Tony is of course a tenor man of consequence, someone who you know will put in a good showing for himself, and he does. Cellist Christopher Hoffman takes an active role and brings bowing, double stops and pizzicato work that ordinarily a contrabass would handle, yet of course you get that upper range here. Juan Pablo Carletti does some compositional doubling with Tony on Glockenspiel and plays some excellent group-oriented drums.

It is the kind of free but themed improvisation that grows on you. This is new music firmly in the jazz camp, free and carefully wrought. Between the three there are always interest event-inventions and after a few hearings you start to appreciate what sort of inspiration is happening.

Contemporary free jazz has good health today. It isn't gasping for air. There is a marvelous flourishing of the music all over the planet. This is a good example of its primacy! 300 copies seems too little, but it's all the more reason to grab one. The artistic merit is not at all in proportion to the maximum sales figures. No Business knows its business though, so get one of these while you can!

A very good date! Recommended.