Friday, August 28, 2015

Eugene Marlow with the Heritage Ensemble, Hallelujah! Jazzy & Classical Piano Variations from the Hebraic Songbook

As I travel down the road of musical life I have begun to see clearly that there are two major poles in New York Jewish jazz. There is on the one hand of course John Zorn, and then there is Eugene Marlow. Both go about things in different ways, but neither are to be missed.

Eugene Marlow and his Heritage Ensemble show us their special approach once again on their 5th album, Hallelujah! Jazzy & Classical Piano Variations from the Hebraic Songbook (MEII). For this volume Eugene arranges a wonderful choice of well-known Hebraic songs for solo piano, jazz trio and quartet, giving it all a modern twist and allowing us to appreciate the vivid artistry of Marlow the pianist.

The solo piano tracks have a sort of classical-meets-jazz wholeness. The trio numbers swing very nicely, whether in a Latin mode or otherwise. Though the personnel is not listed on the album I hear most definitely Bobby Sanabria on drums in there, and as usual he is a knockout.

It all has a special emphasis on Eugene Marlow the rather brilliant piano stylist. His transposing of the Jewish melodic modality into a modern zone works beautifully here as we have come to expect.

The more intimate emphasis on Hallelujah! is welcome and moving. These are some of the most beautiful songs in the folkways of Hebraica and the arrangements only serve to heighten that feeling.

A program of great worth is what you get on this one, highlighting the interpretive brilliance and pianistic excellence of Eugene Marlow. Kudos!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Clocks and Clouds, Luis Vicente, Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernani Faustino, Marco Franco

Those of you who follow these musical blogs regularly will get a good exposure to the Portuguese avant jazz-free-new music scene, which is substantial. The post up for today continues that coverage with the album Clocks and Clouds (FMR CD371-0214), a vibrant seven-part journey to free realms with a quartet of very capable players. You might even say that this quartet in Portuguese terms is a sort of all-star lineup. These are names you may recognize, in other words. Luis Vicente is on trumpet, Rodrigo Pinheiro plays piano, Hernani Faustino is on contrabass and Marco Franco plays the drums.

The quartet has excellent chemistry throughout. Each plays a coherent and creative role realizing the spontaneous collective improvisations that make up the program. As in the best of these sorts of outings all four are very aware of what the others are doing at any moment and they respond, not necessarily in kind, but with contrasting complemental phrases.

All four are fully developed musical personalities. Luis wide-ranging and maybe puckish, Rodrigo fully pianistic and filled with multi-noted ideas, Hernani making full use of the huge range of timbres and attacks to give his bass both textural and pitch-specific insights into the mix, Marco making of his drum kit a multi-voiced symphony of free percussives.

Clocks and Clouds follows the wind with the best kind of creative immediacy. The quartet can and does go to many realms of sound possibilities, alternatingly noteful or sparse, mysterious or matter-of-fact, energy-soulful or other-worldly.

In short this is a very successful free outing from four masters of the art. Words can take you to the starting track, but then the music speaks for itself, eloquently and artfully.

Grab this one and get a good earful. It's an excellent example of Portuguese avant today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann, A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America

Kurt Weill wrote some of the most lyrical and compelling songs of the last century. Many of them have entered the repertoire of jazz though the years, as done in many different ways by some of our greatest artists. I won't rehearse a list here, you need only to think of "My Ship" or "Mack the Knife" to think of some iconic versions.

Julia Hulsmann, her quartet and vocalist Theo Bleckmann enter that fertile territory with a special album centered around Weill gems known and less-known. The album is entitled A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America (ECM 2418).

The program generally concerns itself with Weill's American period but also with a song written about America while he was still in Europe, the "Alabama Song." It further gives us songs written by Julia to the poetry of Walt Whitman, who was a Weill favorite. So we get the songs "A Clear Midnight," "A Noiseless Patient Spider," and "Beat! Beat! Drums!"

The idea of jazz realizations of art songs is at the forefront. Note the quartet of Hulsmann on piano, with her sophisticated voicings and brilliant but brief solo moments, Tom Arthurs on trumpet and flugel with a sort of post-Milesian lyricism, and the very subtle and introspective presence of the rhythm team of Marc Muellbauer on double bass and Heinrich Kobberling on drums. They make fine music. Marc Muellbauer arranges four of the songs and does a very singularly great job.

The tempos tend to be slow to allow vocalist Theo Bleckmann space for his deft articulation of the lyric content in a retrospective mood. He sometimes nicely substitutes alternate melody tones in a particular song, which gives us something uniquely different and, once you get used to it, quite artful. He is very musical, subdued and almost starkly concrete in the most excellently moody way.

There are songs in the mix that are not well-known, like "Your Technique," "River Chanty" and "Great Big Sky," all done in special ways, satisfying; then there are the very well known songs such as "Mack the Knife," "September Song," and "Speak Low." The stunning arrangements and performances put the music in a special place, whether it is Weill, earlier or later, or Julia's Whitman songs.

It is a contemporary noir-atmospheric Weill album with the very appropriately inspired performances of Bleckmann, Hulsmann, Arthurs and the rhythm team. It makes for music that creates a world you enter at first tentatively, then with increasing appreciation as you hear the music again and again. It is not a greatest hits sort of album, surely, but it affords us an even greater appreciation of Weill with obscurities as well as standards, all unveiling a sort of new take on Weill through its special musical reworkings.

It is very ECM in its atmospherics yet it is also an album like no other. Stunning! It seems to fit a mood today. Weill could brilliantly capture a gestalt, a zeitgeist, certainly, but he is given a great lift into the present on this outstanding offering. Fabulous!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chicago Reed Quartet, Western Automatic, Mazzarella, Rempis, Williams, Vandermark

From Dave Rempis and his Aerophonic label comes another satisfyingly advanced project, a saxophone quartet, more specifically the Chicago Reed Quartet and their album Western Automatic (Aerophonic 009). It is a worthy gathering of four great avant reedists from Chicagoland in a program of eight composition-improvisations.

Joining Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone is Nick Mazzarella on alto, Mars Williams on sopranino, soprano, alto and tenor, and Ken Vandermark on clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone saxes. Each contributes two compositions.

If you think of the Rova Sax Quartet on one hand and the World Saxophone Quartet on the other, the Chicago Reed Quartet perhaps gravitates towards the edgy qualities of Rova, yet also has the soulful demeanor of World Sax. That is only a rough approximation to give you an idea of what you will hear. The music stands on its own, ultimately. They do not sound like either as much as they sound like themselves.

For all that we get sounds that are robust and full, avant in their expressive thrust, filled with structural-compositional significance and improvisational excellence, both collectively and individually. There is always a good deal going on that brings out the collective and individual personalities of the artists. There is a tang and classicism to the music that somehow strikes me as being exemplary of Chicago style these days, something of course present in much of the original AACM outings, but then extended and worked through anew today as well.

Each work has its own compositional touchpoints and so we hear a spectrum of possibilities that keeps the ears and attention focused in great ways. All who appreciate virtuoso energy saxophonics will find much to like and a good deal of form to fit it all into as well.

It is an essential recording for anyone interested in sax ensemble avant jazz, certainly. This is a group to be reckoned with, and the album maps it all out for us so that in the end we have an offering of substance and, yes, soul! I hope they can come together often and do more. Meanwhile get this one!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jerry Granelli, Gtrio+3, What I Hear Now

Drummer-composer Jerry Granelli has has made his mark on the music world for many years, as a member of Vince Guaraldi's most acclaimed band, as an in-demand session man, an educator, a force in jazz styles both mainstream and outside, as an artist with more than 20 albums as leader or soloist since the latter 1980s.

His latest provides an excellent balance between his drumming and his composing-conceptualization. What I Hear Now (Addo 030) is an evolution of his Gtrio with Simon Fisk on 3 string bassetto and Dani Oore on tenor and soprano, together for a number of years. Now it is a matter of the Gtrio +3, with the addition of Mike Murley on tenor, Andrew McKelvey on alto and Andrew Jackson on trombone.

There is a strong resonance of the four horns as a unit minus a chording instrument. It leaves bassist Fisk and drummer Granelli an aural space where they can articulate rhythm and counter melody freely and creatively. The four horns form contrasting blocks both in terms of collective and individual improvisations, and as a compositional choir that partakes of the looseness of collective freedom but structures it with excellent motives and harmonic movement.

There are moments now and then that remind me in the use of space of the later Paul Motian groups that had multi-tenors. Not that the music sounds like his so much as the entrances of the horns against the rhythm have a pronounced dynamic quality, and in their deft interweaving of the composed and the collectively improvised.

The four horn players are each significant to the total sound and what individual soloing that happens is very good. But it is a contrapuntal overlap of the four that stands out. Jerry Granelli has a strong sense of what he is after and gets a near-ideal balance between horn quartet and rhythm duo and the various, always interesting blends the band gets.

The compositions stand out as very original, the drumming as special and smartly free, the band as very cohesively together as an memorable musical entity.

What I Hear Now is neither entirely out, nor inside in any formulaic way. It is good jazz, original music, something you should by all means hear.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Buster Bee, 1978

Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, with Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray, founded the monumentally landmark World Saxophone Quartet in 1977. They came up with compositions that brought the music forward with a combination of pre-arranged structures and brilliant improvisational interactions. Early that following year, in 1978, Lake and Hemphill went into the studio in Toronto to record a series of duets that gave us a more pared-down, intimate view of their music, just the two of them on various saxophones, improvising around some of their choice compositions.

The result was the album Buster Bee (Sackville 3018), which has been available in CD format for some time now but still speaks readily and strongly to us in the present.

They both were in peak form, doing as founding members of the St. Louis collective BAG what the important Chicago artists in the AACM were also doing: creating a new series of chamber and larger group musics that showed music lovers an ambitious, non-commercial striving after an avant jazz serious about advancing and extending forms and freedoms into a truly classic Afro-American art form. It of course was much about what jazz had forged previously at its best but now with both collectives a very conscious effort was being made to achieve self-determination and accelerate the creation of improvised music as first and foremost an art, rather than an entertainment per se.

Buster Bee was one of many small chamber efforts being recorded in those days, but along with a handful of sterling examples by Mitchell, Braxton, Lacy and a few others it was especially successful.

The success comes out of the close-knit sympathy of both players towards one another and their collaborative musical vision. Soul and structure, testifying and scaling high walls of sophisticated musical forms come through fully on these six composition-improvisations.

A relaxed, intense yet open two-way dialog is what this album puts forward so imaginatively and consistently. Both come through as master improvisers who can craft compositional foundations that encourage both artists to create significant musical statements in real-time.

All of it speaks to us as freshly now as it did then. If we mourn the untimely loss of Hemphill on hearing this, we also rejoice that Lake is still with us, sounding great.

This is the real deal. A classic from an era that sometimes gets insufficient credit for the high-art innovations it spawned, for changing the focus in the music and opening us all up to the very many possibilities the improvisatory arts have to offer us. Yeah, so listen to this a few times and you will feel very good, I think.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Universal Indians with Joe McPhee, Skullduggery

The teaming of avant titan Joe McPhee with the trio Universal Indians was an inspired idea that bears excellent fruit in the live 2014 Antwerp recording Skullduggery (Clean Feed 328). It is music with some of that classic "new thing" exuberance. It is music that Albert Ayler would have loved to be a part of!

McPhee is on saxes and pocket trumpet, John Dikeman on saxes. The two form an imposing front line with some beautifully in-your-face avant testifying. Jon Rune Strom on acoustic bass has a huge presence in the music both in the solo realm and in the ensemble. Totlef Ostvong's drumming is chargingly extroverted and always interesting.

The vehicles are collective compositions with some thematic guideposts now and again that may well be spontaneous but all the better for all that.

Both McPhee and Dikeman are in fine solo form and work in tandem together particularly well. It is great to hear Joe stretch out in flat-out free context. Truly this is a kinetic four-way blow out, infectiously forward moving and ecstatically satisfying for those who move on the free-way of uninhibited expression.

A fabulously out set! Need I say more?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Terell Stafford, Brotherlee Love, Celebrating Lee Morgan

When I was still in high school I chanced to buy the double LP Lee Morgan Live at the Lighthouse. I became a Lee Morgan fan for life. By now having heard and appreciated nearly all he recorded in his lifetime, I can say without reservation that Lee is one of the supreme jazz masters that lived on this earth in our lifetimes. So when trumpet stalwart Terell Stafford devotes a CD in loving tribute to Lee Morgan, I welcome it. Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (Capri 74138-2) gives us much to celebrate. Terell manages to remake many of Lee's best compositions and to provide us with a 21st-century view of how Lee's music still speaks to us.

That may sound like something easy to do, but to do it right is no simple matter. What makes it work is, first and foremost, that Terell Stafford is an accomplished trumpet stylist in his own right. He comes out of the tradition that spawned Maestro Morgan, clearly, but he has his own take on it all. He extends the music in an original way. You hear all that on the album, for sure.

Then there's the band. They are right there in the swinging pocket demanded from the music, but they are no Blue Note era clones, far from it. Saxophonist Tim Warfield channels it all to his own perspective on it, as does pianist Bruce Barth. They add their own solo strengths to the music. Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall provide the underpinning and push that drive the music to where it needs to be.

It's great to hear the remakes of gems like "Mr. Kenyatta," "Speedball," and somewhat lesser-known things like "Yes I Can, No You Can't" "Caroline," and Terell's own original "Favor."

Terell gives us some wonderful trumpet artistry here. The band stays with it and everything clicks with heartfelt love of Lee and the music and how it all can still be a platform for jazz of the high-caliber variety.

Oh, yes, they can! And they do! This is a great album. It is a tribute to Lee and it is a tribute to Terell and his band. Hear it!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Wild Bill Davison, The Jazz Giants, 1968

I first came under the exuberant spell of the cornet of Wild Bill Davison when I happened on an Eddie Condon Columbia LP during my youth. It was one of the best, I later found, of Eddie's albums in the '50s. That tremendous rip and high swinging acrobatics of Davison got my attention right away, and I've been a fan ever since.

It so happened that Wild Bill and some traditional jazz all-stars who dubbed themselves The Jazz Giants had a gig up in Toronto in 1968. The music sounded so good that a recording seemed a great idea. And so it was arranged that they get into a local studio and set down for posterity what they were up to. The result was the first album on the newly forged Sackville label. It is in reissue with extra cuts (Sackville 3002) and now very available as distributed by Delmark.

Claude Hopkins was on piano and responsible for the musical direction of the unit. In addition to Wild Bill and Claude there was an excellent gathering in Herb Hall on clarinet, Benny Morton on trombone, Arvell Shaw on bass and Buzzy Drootin on drums.

The repertoire was a straightforward selection of the sort of music they all had lived with for many years, "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "Dardenella," "Black and Blue," "I Found A New Baby," etc.

Wild Bill is at his extroverted, ripping, ecstatic post-Armstrongian best. He blows his top. But everyone sounds just great. Hall, Morton, Hopkins and even Shaw have plenty of space to show their mastery and the Hopkins-Shaw-Drootin rhythm team concoct a mighty swing.

The album is a must for Wild Bill fans and highly recommended for its old-time infectiousness no matter whether you have dug deeply into the tradition or not. A joyful sound is made throughout.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Colours Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto, Home Away From Home

The recording at hand is about a convergence, a happy coincidence of a big band residing in Senigallia, Italy and a talented jazz composer. Colours Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto, Home Away From Home (Neuklang 4097) vividly documents the ultimate fruits of that collaboration.

Massimo Morganti's Colours Jazz Orchestra is a wonderfully precise and swinging big band with good soloists and an ensemble sound that rivals the best out there today. Ayn Inserto is a US-based artist with a real sense of the possibilities of large big band jazz, a successor in progressivity to George Russell and Gil Evans, truly.

Of the seven works on the disk, five are composed by Ayn, all are her arrangements. Joe Henderson's classic "Recorda Me" and Daniel Rosenthal's "Subo" are the arranged numbers, the rest give us the Inserto compositional way, diverse, well voiced, adventurous.

The 18-member Colours Jazz Orchestra makes for a mighty confluence of sound throughout. And they are tight, very much so!

There is an orchestrational brilliance to this music and a sense of part writing that shows a total immersion in the big band world, both cognizant of the roots and extending them outwards and upwards with originality.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the music on this posting, I should probably just recommend it strongly and let you hear it for yourself. It is extraordinarily well written contemporary jazz that is more progressive than flat-out avant. Such distinctions do not mean a good deal, anyway. She is a voice out there, a real voice! Listen!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Francois Tusques, le fond de l'air, with Mirtha Pozzi, Pablo Cueco

Pianist Francois Tusques was a seminal force in the early European free jazz movement. If he sometimes does not get the recognition he deserves, many of his early recordings can be found on the net these days, and they are very recommended listening. The good news is that he continues to thrive as a performer. A recent release, le fond de l'air (improvising beings 31) finds him in great form as the principal melody-harmony instrument in a trio with two very worthy ethno-percussionists, Mirtha Pozzi on n'tama, bombo, tamboril, etc., and Pablo Cueco on zarb, berimbao, cajon, quijada, etc.

The entire proceedings were recorded live at Chez Helene Aziza, Paris, in front of an appreciative audience.

What's nice about all this is is first off Francois' broad expanse of stylistic coverage, from the classic "Come Sunday" to open freedom and more structured playing that has the rhythmic drive to complement the two percussionists in his own way, with a special concentration and focus. And there are moments where he channels African and Afro-Latin grooves to go with the drumming, too.

You hear lots of rhythmic vitality from the primal percussive movement and a wide gamut of jazz-piano roots by Tusques as well--perhaps a Monk flavor now and then and things quite beyond in an open zone but very much Tusquesian.

The percussionists set up some wonderful pulsations and Francois locks in with his own take on the piano. He remains very much himself, yet the percussionists get something out of him not always entirely typical but excellent nonetheless.

An unusual album and very much a feather in the considerably feathered hat of Francois Tusques! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Wolves to Whales, Wooley, Rempis, Niggenkemper, Corsano

With From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic 007) we have an all-star avant jazz lineup creating a program of vibrant free sounds. Nate Wooley plays trumpet, Dave Rempis sticks to the alto sax, Pascal Niggenkemper is on acoustic bass, and Chris Corsano provides the drumming.

Each artist has made a name for himself on his respective instrument and the four create lively sonic tapestries with five collective improvisations. What strikes me about this date is the sound event variables they carefully and sensitively evoke. For example the opening "Slake" features moments where with various conventional and extended techniques the group dwells in quietly upper register tones nicely for several episodes.

"Serpent's Tooth" begins with malleted toms and a bass motive freely articulated against the alto playing patterns repeatedly, then muted trumpet enters with long tones and on from there.

In short there is freedom, there is energy but there is also a structured use of what you might call role-playing among the four at strategic points.

The innovative interactions pay off with a program that has aesthetic variety as well as free expressive impact.

In the process all four come across with their stylistic individuality and yet form true cohesion as a quartet.

It's a very good listen and another excellent release from Rempis and his Aerophonic label.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Alex Conde, Descarga for Monk

Monk Latin style? Yes, on pianist Alex Conde's Descarga for Monk (Zoho 201501). Well, Latin by means of Spanish duende to be precise. The Valencia-born pianist recruits bassist Jeff Chambers, John Arkin, drums, John Santos, percussion, and on occasion Amparo Conde and Carmen Carrasco on palmas and compas (hand claps and footstomps a la flamenco).

Alex Conde gives us his own innate Spanish tinge, the band jumps right in, and they tackle nine Monk standards in ways that, not surprisingly, show that Monk's melodic and harmonic brilliance can be shaded effectively with contrasting musical forms. Alex does a good bit of improvising that shows his own stylistic sense more so than a direct channeling of Monk, and the band gets a rhythmic flow that is infectious and convincing.

There's "Round Midnight" but also "Ugly Beauty," "Ruby My Fear" but also "Think of One." In short Alex and company tackle the well-known and the somewhat lesser-known with a Spanish-Latin flair that makes for good listening and a good bit of toe-tapping as well.

If Monk rings your bell like he does mine, you will find this another way to hear his music and will appreciate the treatment, I think. And Alex comes across as a talented pianist, too.

A good one!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Simao Costa, Pi_Ano Pre Cau Tion Per Cu Ssion on Short Circuit

In the world of new music everything proceeds forward without pause. The European improvisational school of new music does not stand still. We have a very good example of that in Simao Costa's recent album Pi_Ano Pre Cau Tion Per Cu Ssion on Short Circuit (shh puma 009). It is a singular, seven-part work for solo prepared piano that includes electro-acoustic alterations via transducers, speakers and objects.

The idea according to the liners is to hear the music as if you were inside the performer's head. There is an immediacy to the music that goes along with that, but there is a good deal else besides.

There are moments that reverberate with the energy scatter of Cecil Taylor, the electronic resonance of Stockhausen in his "Manta" and a little Cage-ian prepared-mystery. But in no sense are these influences given to us untransformed. They are merely stylistic touch-points one might take note of as guideposts when you are wondering what to expect from the music.

The transducers at times alter the string vibrations and cause sustains that partake of the strings' acoustic properties as they make of them an increased coloration.

In the end Simao Costa creates for us an "inside the piano-inside the head" poetics that goes from station-to-station with events that give us sonic adventures to savor and grow into.

I found the album fascinating. You may well feel the same.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Open Field + Burton Greene, Flower Stalk

Not all so-called "free" music is alike. Anyone who listens to it extensively knows that. Just like not all Indo-Pak classical is alike. So Open Field + Burton Greene and their beautiful Flower Stalk (Cipsella 002) is by no means quite like any other album in the avant improvisation realm. Why is that?

Burton Greene is an integral part of this music. He is virtually an avant institution, a pianist soundsmith with extraordinarily open ears and a superb sense of what to play and when to play it. He fills a key role here on piano and prepared piano. Open Field joins Burton on this album. It is a Portuguese-based trio of Jose Miguel Pereira on double bass, Joao Camoes on viola, mey and percussion, and Marcelo dos Reis is on nylon string guitar, prepared guitar and voice.

The drummerless quartet enters into chamber jazz territory that has a new music spaciousness to it, a sensitivity to part playing and sound color. All work together in pretty profound ways to get some immediate and vibrant ensemble combinations that vary dramatically in mood but create layers of invention that stand out.

There is no idling or preparatory runs on this one. All five pieces are filled with significant totalities where each instrumental part has its own special presence yet the working out of the ensemble as a whole gives the listener a poignant unity.

It's a beauty. The album is in limited edition release so get this one while you can. Kudos! Collective improvisations of excellence are here to be appreciated!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Charles McPherson, The Journey

Charles McPherson! We need to embrace the happy reality that the alto sax master is very much with us and playing beautifully. After studying with Barry Harris in Detroit, he burst upon the scene as one of Charlie Mingus's prime reedmen from 1960 to 1972. Like Jackie McLean and John Handy, he was and is one of the alto luminaries that took the message of Charlie Parker and expanded on it to develop his own original voice. And like those two he was an important part of the Mingus sound during his tenure, and recorded some great albums of his own over the years as well.

The good news is that he gives us another excellent outing right now on his CD The Journey (Capri 74136-2). He puts forward for us on the program three very good originals, a few standards, and some other nice contemporary bop-and-after originals by band members.

It is a good mix of players that hold forth as Charles' quintet. Keith Oxman complements McPherson with a stylistically strong bop-and-after tenor; Chip Stephens plays a bright, fully formed, hard swinging piano style that fits in well. Then there are strong rhythm teammates in Ken Walker on bass and Todd Reid on drums.

The front line shares the blowing duties with lots to say. Stephens and Oxman keep up with Maestro McPherson and no doubt inspire him as well, for he sounds great throughout, with that expansive, free and heated, swinging way in full bloom. There is nothing lacking; Charles hits it and keeps on all the way through. It is a joy to hear him and the band spur each other on and pay respects to the tradition while going deeply into their own and especially McPherson's scorching and soulful way.

In short this is a treat, a major statement from an elder statesman of the music who remains vital. Get the real thing here!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Brotzmann/Edwards/Noble, Soul Food Available

The question to me is not whether you should have avant reedist Peter Brotzmann's music in your collection. If you embrace avant "free" jazz, you no doubt should. The question then is how many. For the completest who already has 50 or so, there is no issue since you want it all. For those with only a few, selection becomes important. The second release of the Peter Brotzmann trio of Peter on tenor, alto, b-flat clarinet and taragoto, John Edwards on double bass, and Steve Noble on drums has been out for a little while: that is, Soul Food Available (Clean Feed 316). It was recorded live at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2013.

If you don't know, Peter Brotzmann burst on the scene in Europe in the late sixties as someone who had listened to and internalized the torrents of tenor sounds that Albert Ayler made so originally and vibrantly in his lifetime. Brotzmann created an equally torrential expression that related to Ayler but branched off into his own realm.

He has been at it ever since, an indefatigable expressionist who can be relied upon to produce energy music of a high level in ever-varying playing contexts.

For the Ljubljana set he brings in a trio where he is often very out front. Edwards and Noble provide the sympathetic, energized openness that is much needed to motivate Brotzmann to speak torrents. They both have the torque and imagination to bring the free moments to vibrant life.

Brotzmann responds with fanfarish high scaling, of course especially on the tenor but also in a varied way on alto, clarinet and taragoto.

It is an excellent full-length example of the raucous yet considered sound of Brotzmann in full bloom in this, his later period. So if you don't have any or much of him in a small group setting later on, this one fills that gap very well. It is excitingly uncompromising total freedom. And it blazes through the heavens like, I suppose, a meteor.

So this would be a good addition to your avant collection if you don't have enough of him as he plays today. If you don't know him at all, this isn't a bad place to start. If it does not offer huge surprises, it captures Peter in fine form with an excellent trio. Enough said.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Amira Medunjanin, Silk & Stone

The particular is the universal. I've learned that growing up in the era we currently occupy. In the '50s most music emanated from local sources, AM radio out of necessity; television had both local and national feeds but the regional network broadcast stations decided what feeds they would pick up. My father's record collection was somewhat typical of the local hi-fi enthusiast of his age group. But then my uncle was Greek and he and my aunt ended up opening a travel agency. My uncle listened to European and other international music often enough and my father was influenced. He introduced that world into our listening habits via hi-fi music LPs from Spain and Italy and then Calypso from Harry Belafonte, among other things. From those early days there ultimately came a wider blossoming of interest for and availability of all kinds of world musics, thanks initially to Folkways and some other small labels. From then on eventually one could increasingly sample almost any kind of music from any corner of the world. Even the top-40 charts had its brush with the globe, whether via "Sukiyaki" or the Singing Nuns! For those who cared any number of examples of the local-particular became a potential part of a personalized universal world culture for them.

And so we continue to be fortunate to have available if we seek it out musics from everywhere and anywhere. Today an excellent example of the sort of music one might never have had the chance to hear 60 years ago, namely Sarajevo chanteuse Amira Medunjanin in her fourth album of traditional sevdah songs from the Balkan region, Silk & Stone (World Village).

Ms. Medunjanin's voice is warm and nuanaced, a beautiful instrument she puts in the service of some very memorable music. Since the Balkan region is somewhat new to me musically, I do not know the songs, but they are very melodically alive and range from minor-key Eastern European-Middle Eastern sensibilities to folkish modal-diatonic strains. An occasional odd-meter reminds you of something Balkan music does so well.

The arrangements are quite vibrant and interesting, thanks to the fine sense of pianist Bojan Zulfikarpasic and guitarist Bosko Jovic. Conventional western instruments seamlessly rub shoulders with the kanun and the oud. The piano playing is often quite distinctively nice, and the guitar steps out front on occasion to good effect. Add the double bass and sometimes the more "exotic" stringed instruments and you have some very musical arrangements that help the listener grasp the sense of the song structures.

In the end Ms. Medunjanin's artistry, the beauty of the songs and the strong musicality of the arrangements carry the day. This is one captivating album! Buy it without fear! This particular music as performed so well by Amira and company should have universal appeal for those who love to explore.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tony Malaby's TubaCello, Scorpion Eater

A little bit of back tracking today, with an album that has been available for a little while, but deserves discussion. The release in question is Scorpion Eater (Clean Feed 318) by Tony Malaby's TubaCello. As the group name suggests, this is a Tony Malaby led-group that features tuba, cello (and drums).

Tony of course holds forth as leader on tenor and soprano and is responsible for all the composition frameworks save one, which is a collective work. The album gives us good reasons why Tony is one of the top reedists on the avant jazz scene today. Joining him are Dan Peck on tuba, Christopher Hoffman on cello, and John Hollenbeck on drums, percussion and prepared piano.

The sax-tuba-cello-drums configuration gives us a special sonority that Tony utilizes well for the compositional ins-and-outs. And Dan and Christopher play important roles in the unfolding of the music. There is freedom, a special sort of group vibe, good interplay and spontaneous aural sculpting of a memorable sort.

Tony's well developed saxaphone sound and smart yet soulful note choice set the pace for the group and all three sidemen happily bring their sensitive and inventive selves into the picture for an all-encompassing result. The music pulses forward well thanks to Hollenbeck's motored excellence and the sort of contrapuntal interplay of tuba and cello against that, but there are also moments of chamber sound timelessness, depending on the particular segment of the composition within the total context.

It's not just a showcase for Tony's saxaphone style, though it is that at times. It is a total group effort that moves the music forward while not unmindful of the roots. Tyler's "Eastern Man Alone," Arthur Blythe's interactions with Abdul Wadud, River's Tuba Band with Joe Daley, things like this have some relation to the TubaCello band, but only in the foundational sense. The music sounds like itself here.

And what that is comes to you in very worthwhile ways. Scorpion Eater is one of Tony Malaby's best. The band gives you much to explore! Recommended for anyone keeping track of where things are going in the improv avant jazz realm.