Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nu Band, The Cosmological Constant

Nu Band is a significant gathering of contemporary avant jazzmen, an all-star lineup, who dedicate their recent album The Cosmological Constant (Not Two 923-2) to the memory of Roy Campbell, a close musical associate and former band member who was taken from us so sadly and unexpectedly a few years ago. If I am not mistaken yesterday would have been Roy's 63rd birthday, so this posting is timely, though of course the NY jazz community's anguish over his loss does not diminish via such anniversaries.

Nu Band carries on with a fine set of originals and some first-rate avant improvisations. The current lineup features the cornet of Thomas Heberer (who also celebrated a birthday recently), the alto sax and clarinet of Mark Whitecage, the bass of Joe Fonda and the drums of Lou Grassi.

These four of course are seasoned masters who show us that their creative powers are anything but diminished with the passage of time. On the contrary. The originals serve to identify the band and set up their solowork. Heberer contributes two, Fonda three, Whitecage one and Grassi three. They stand out as very worthy fare and very conducive performance platforms.

All four players get equal billing, which fits with the high artistry of each and makes this a cooperative venture in the best sense. Each is an important force, an innovator on his respective instrument(s), and we hear that fully on this set. The solo routines give space to all four players in varying combinations.

Grassi and Fonda, as one might expect, are more than a rhythm section--they are equally articulate melodists with the frontline so that the distinction between the two often enough becomes moot. But when they elect to swing ahead in rhythmic fashion they do so with impact and authority.

Heberer and Whitecage work wonderfully well in tandem as well as via their solo selves. Everybody has an original leg-up on post-bop avant line rendering and as you might expect the hearing is a revelation as well as a solid gas.

There are no dull moments to this music--and that's as you would expect with such a gathering. It's a very fine example of a great band carrying on with subtlety and fire. Roy would have appreciated the tribute. We all can appreciate the here and now of the music on this excellent set!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Kenny Werner, The Melody

In the later '80s, with graduate school behind me, back in the NY Metro area, I had one of those kind of deja-vu experiences one has all too infrequently. My friends and I decided to catch a set with the Eddie Gomez group at the now defunct New York club Fat Tuesday's. We had a good table and the band sounded well. I took a look at the piano player and it hit me that I somehow knew the guy, while I was digging what he was doing. It eventually dawned on me that this fellow was a classmate of mine some 15 years before at Berklee, that I had seen him around in the halls though I never actually knew him. It was Kenny Werner, by then well established as a jazz artist around the scene. I knew his name from record albums, knew and appreciated his work, but his face in person told me that our paths had crossed physically those years ago.

Time has gone by, Kenny has further enhanced his reputation as a pianist of true importance with Joe Lovano and others, he has written a fine book about musical mastery, and now here he is again--with a piano trio album, The Melody (Pirouet 3083).

Just because we passed each other in the hallways in 1971 is of course no reason to like his music. That is something one either hears and appreciates or does not. I have found him to be an excellent exponent of modern harmonically rich jazz for some time now. He clearly has grown out of the Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea acoustic modes, but over the years and now especially has turned that into his own completely original sound.

The trio sports excellent players in Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Art Hoenig on drums. A fine piano trio demands much these days from its bassists and drummers, and this trio is no exception. We get a sensitive and evolved way of building foundations and launching outwards from them with this rhythm section.

But especially worthy of your ears is the finely wrought, complete pianism of Kenny. He sounds better than ever here, with some excellent compositional springboards (and a jazz standard or two), a finely honed, brilliant harmonic-melodic way about him and a beautiful sense of touch.

He asserts in this set his supremacy in the changes-centered realm of jazz piano artistry, both as fine and innovative a player as you will hear today in this zone and a way about him that will bring joy to those open to pianistic excellence. This for sure is one of his finest albums. The mature Kenny Werner is something to hear, a master of the idiom, greatly swinging as well as finely subtle.

Thanks Kenny for giving us this music! Very much recommended.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Old Time Musketry, Drifter

Old Time Musketry and their album Drifter (NCM East 40139) have a certain appealing quirkiness. The quartet occupies its own niche in the contemporary jazz landscape. They are composition oriented, structured in a sort of "progressive" way, sometimes overtly avant, always most definitely "new" and unusual.

Part of that has to do with the musicians involved, part with the instrumentation and the roles each instrument plays in the totality. The group consists of Adam Schneit on tenor and clarinet, who also contributes two of the compositions, JP Schlegelmilch on accordion and piano, who crafted the bulk of the compositions here, plus Phil Rowan on acoustic bass and Max Goldman on drums (and tambourine and melodica). Brian Drye guests on trombone for one cut.

Everybody is first-rate musically. The tenor-accordion frontline makes for a sonic identity, not just by virtue of the actual sound of the instruments together but also importantly in how the music is arranged and the improvisatory skills of the two. Alternately they can switch to, for example, clarinet and piano, which then gives the music another dimension. Both are interesting and accomplished soloists, as is bassist Rowan.

The composed approach defines the music especially. The writing is quite nicely involved and intricate in a modern folksy-cafe-meets-contemporary manner. And there are through composed elements the ensemble takes on for the solo segments that continue to mark off the sound as unique.

The words I have used so far to describe the music relate to my experience of listening to it, but do not do full justice to how this music sounds. Imagine then some lineage that includes Weill and Carla Bley. Somehow Old Time Musketry relates to those roots but very much goes its own way. Schneit and Schlegelmilch have much to do with that in their writing and improvisatory interactions. Both are original and the rhythm section greately adds to the sound via what it plays and how it helps in creating the song-composition structures.

It is a fine album. It is a different kind of contemporary sound that resonates with roots but goes well along on its own path.

Listen to this one!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All Included, Satan in Plain Clothes

From last December at Oslo's Nasjonal Jazzscene we have the very potent free-avant jazz quintet All Included and their Satan in Plain Clothes (Clean Feed 326). It is a vibrant showing firmly in the post-new thing realm more so than a new music orientation, which is only to say that it has especially strong jazz roots more than not.

It is a European gathering of heavies perhaps not as especially well known in the States as they should be, but worthy of our ears in all senses.

In the quintet is saxophonist Martin Kuchen, trumpet wielding Thomas Johansson, trombonist Mats Aleklint, double bassist Jon Rune Strom and drummer Tollef Ostvang. They are markedly intent on articulating some excellent head compositions, three by Strom, two by Martin Kuchen and one by Leo and Martin Kuchen. The frameworks are classic sounding vehicles in a new thing zone.

The originals set things up for a free falling or swinging excellence from the rhythm team of Strom and Ostvang, who spike the music and at the same time bring an irresistible momentum to it all.

Martin carries a saxophonic torch heroically and lucidly. Thomas shows a good deal of the old/new jazz tradition in his well healed performances. And Mats has a bit of the old tailgating exuberance along with an avant soulful drive. The three in the frontline work very well together in realizing the heads, engaging in three way improvs and in their individual solo spots.

If I sometimes hear a little of the New York Contemporary 5 and the New York Art Quartet in the music it is only to say that they are extremely mindful of the roots of free jazz and work as an ensemble in ways that reflect the lessons to be learned from those seminal '60s groups without slavishly copying or consciously setting about to create parallels. They have roots but they also have something to say about how we can work out new sounds that go beyond those roots in happy ways.

If someone were to ask me, right now, to play some exemplary free jazz made today, I might certainly put this one on, along with perhaps a good deal else. That is how much I value this date, obviously. It is a genuine goodie. So get a copy if you will! I expect you'll feel like I do after a few listens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Laszlo Gardony, Life in Realtime

Laszlo Gardony has broken out of the pack in the past few years to establish himself as a creative force, a contemporary modern jazz pianist and bandleader of note and promise. I've covered several of his albums here (check the search box) and am now happy to talk a little about his new one, Life in Realtime (Sunnyside 4019).

This one finds Laszlo fielding a together rhythm team of self, John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums, plus a three-tenor lineup of some potent voices: Bill Pierce, Don Braden and Stan Strickland (the latter doubling on bass clarinet as well). I've appreciated Stan since his days with Baird Hersey's Year of the Ear and he still sounds great. The other two have crossed my ear paths fortuitously over the years as very articulate hard post-boppers. Yoron is a drummer's drummer and shows why that is so on the album. Lockwood locks in with Yoron and Laszlo for some significant modern pulsations.

The entire album was recorded at Berklee's Performance Center a year ago. It has the sort of spirited thrust of an engaged audience-performer intersection, making the music climb several notches higher than a studio date ordinarily does.

The music is first-rate contemporary jazz heat, with lots of blowing space for all and a particularly fine showing in that wise with Laszlo and the three tenors. From "Impressions"-like modal blowing to hard bop to reworkings of the standard "Lullaby of Birdland" and originals, it all takes pride of place as a very engaged and hard charging foray into the modern jazz arts.

And so we have a strongly rooted set that sets about to restructure ageless contemporeinity, to fashion it into the shape of the spontaneous now. Good pianism and lively tenor explosions are especially out front for a happy result.

Nice! And another notch in the Gardony belt at that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Intricacies, Paul Hubweber, Frank Paul Schubert, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Clayton Thomas, Willi Kellers

As this Monday in the heart of September dawns I can hear the extensive traffic making its way into Manhattan on the local Interstate some five blocks away from my I believe soon-to-be-abandoned home. Like in years past when I traveled that route into the city daily, individual and commercial traffic has once again amassed to put the big push into the season ahead, filled with people scurrying and striving to do the will of their masters, and trucks filled with various crap destined to be sold during "Black Friday" and the "Christmas rush." Peace on earth and good business to retail. As for many years since the downturn, I am not included in that mad dash to the holidays. For a number of years that traffic sound diminished greatly with the recession but now it is back. I may no longer be needed in this commercial orgy, so instead I write about some "crazy music" surely not part of the mad accumulation of riches, nor am I in any way compensated for these sometimes Herculian efforts. I set the stage for this review because surely this music vividly contrasts with the common denominator cash-dash that surrounds me. And that to me heightens the contrast between "free, avant jazz" and the creation of "product" that otherwise is in this world I am in, central and all-encompassing.

What would the group of musicians gathered together on the two-CD recording today, Intricacies (NoBusiness CD 74-75), think about it all, let alone the owner of the label so aptly called "NoBusiness"? They are surely aware that there is a gap between what they do and "business as usual." Avant garde improvisation is NOT a business. It stands outside of the world of commerce, for the most part. It is judged by standards, surely, that have nothing to do with financial success, that instead dwell in the realm of creative artistic expression not meant to "sell" much.

And who am I, the enthusiast and sometimes participant on the new musical arts? It is of no importance outside of the small circle I inhabit--the creators, the supporters. So no matter.

What matters in the end is the music. Intricacies gathers together five intrepid free arts practitioners, holding forth at the B-Flat club in Berlin on a February night in 2014. You may know Alexander von Schlippenbach, who is on piano throughout. You may be less familiar with his associates, Paul Hubweber on trombone, Frank Paul Schubert on alto and soprano, Clayton Thomas on bass, and Willi Kellers on drums. They are all very good.

Paul Hubweber plays an extroverted and adroit role in the ensemble as the trombonist. Frank Paul Schubert, too, has much to say on reeds. As expected von Schlippenbach comes through with a pianistic fluidity that lives up to his near-legendary reputation in the free music world. And both Thomas and Kellers give us a rhythm section that ranges far and wide to push it all forward.

This is a solid block of excellent free improvisation that lets the collective take its own way through the open possibilities of what can be. It is free music with the individual stamp of the players, in the manner that you might expect in the Euro realm of the music today, by those who show prodigious "jazz" roots in what they do, but with the slant of this special group of players on a good night.

So in spite of the turmoil of commerce and its selectivity of who grabs the most goodies and who perhaps gets nothing much from it, there continues the art forms of those pretty much on the outside of it all. And the music expresses something of the "beyond" I guess, of not being in the center of it all, but creating a creative center of its own with the reward of being recognized by the avant community? Yes. So I might say that here is an audio product of that "outsideness" that is worth your attention. It is exemplary music, something important to the collective, good music with no pretensions or ambitions in the commercial sphere, yet music that captures our times with creative zeal, uncompromisingly of our world without going by rules others might think central to it.

So I do suggest you buy it and in that way buy into an alternative to the mad rush of big profit and big doings. This is small doings. Small but someday no doubt recognized as an important part of the creative world today? Yes, I hope for that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Karl Berger / Kirk Knuffke, Moon

Today's music is a real treat! It is a two-CD duet between Karl Berger and Kirk Knuffke. It is entitled Moon (NoBusiness NBCD 76-77). On it we get 16 numbers composed by Karl, Kirk or both, with extensive improvisations.

Knuffke is that rapidly rising cornet firebrand who has graced quite a few sessions of late, a player of classic poise and excellent ideas. Berger is a living monument, a vibraphonist among the very best, a beautiful force for avant jazz, new thing, or whatever you want to call it since the '60s and his seminal recordings on his own and with Don Cherry. He also is the founder of the all-important Creative Music Studio, leader of a very fine big band, pianist of thoughtful demeanor and composer of great strength.

OK, all that considered you would expect this two-CD set to be something fine. And it is. There is a strong connection in place between the two throughout. Karl sounds just fabulous. And he even plays some melodica here, happily. Kirk gets a chance to interact with Karl in ways that show an introspective, intimate side of his playing we don't hear as much of in the larger ensemble performances. The compositions are anything from "blowing" structures to full-blown, more or less through-composed gems. They combine with the improvisatory brilliance of the two in especially good form to make a recording that breathes with true life.

I do not need to break the music down into little bits. You can do that as you listen. The fact is, though, that the music hangs together so well as a whole that the experience is in that way holistic. It is exceptionally there at nearly every moment. It is a voyage from disk to ears that puts you in a special place, the sort of thing only two masters of the improvisatory arts can give you and that on especially good days.

I cannot recommend this album more heartily. It is a strong part of our now fading year, certainly.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Darius Jones Quartet featuring Emilie Lesbros, Le bebe de Brigitte (Lost in Translation)

Darius Jones is not only an alto saxophonist of importance in the new "jazz." He is also a composer-conceptualist of great imagination and merit. You get all of that in his latest album, volume five in his "Man'ish Boy" epic. Le bebe de Brigitte (Lost in Translation) (AUM Fidelity 095) is the Jones Quartet with vocalist Emilie Lesbros. The instrumentalists are Jones of course, Matt Mitchell on piano and Rhodes, Sean Conly on bass, Ches Smith on drums plus Pascal Niggenkemper adding his bass for one number.

The compositional element drives the music in various directions, from a swinging feel to bluesiness, balladry, a freely forward moving, and such. Emilie Lesbros is very much integral to it all, out front and expressively present. She contributes some of the lyrics and on one she is composer and lyricist. Darius gives us five compositions and wrote the lyrics for two of them.

This is all about identity, about, in Maestro Jones' words, how "much of the hatred and ugliness in the world comes from everyone trying to create a unison when they should be striving to create a harmony." When people fail to communicate effectively with one another, it often has to do with differences in language and culture. There is a kind of loss in translation. Much effort is needed to come to understand those people who come from contrasting backgrounds from your own, and this music embodies that problem as well as solves it in a real-time microcosm.

Such is the case, Jones notes, in a musical encounter as much as it is in any other. And so this album and its music is that attempt to arrive at a harmony. That it does is a part of Jones' own conceptually directed openness as well as the band's identity as developed individuals each with a place they have come from as well as a distinct something to say.

The result is a product of the very musical sensibilities of Jones, Lesbros, Mitchell, Conly, Smith (and Niggenkemper) and Jones' strong compositional framework.

Darius sounds especially beautiful on alto here, expressive and singular. The band in each of its parts stands out as a whole, too. Mitchell is a rapidly moving force on piano these days and he contributes some fine work. But then everybody is key here.

The many moods and nuances of the music make for an excellent set. It is music that requires your active participation, of course. If you devote your undivided attention to it, worthwhile unfolding universes of meaning and mood are revealed.

One of the serious contenders for the year's best! Need I say more? Hear it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chamber 4, Marcelo Dos Reis, Luis Vicente, Theo Ceccaldi, Valentin Ceccaldi

I am happy to have over the years gotten a pretty good bead on the Portuguese avant-new music-free jazz scene. It is vibrant and vital, I think. Today something by Chamber 4 (FMR 393-0615), which turns out are four familiar players of note (familiar to me, familiar to you if you've followed my blogs or know otherwise of them). It's the very compatible foursome of Luis Vicente on trumpet, Valentin Ceccaldi on cello and voice, Theo Ceccaldi on violin and voice, and Marcelo dos Reis on acoustic guitar, prepared guitar and voice. All four have made some excellent music together and with others in the past. I've covered a fair amount of it. This one ranks among the very best.

We have five free collective improvisations on this CD, recorded live in 2013 at Lisbon's Les Devagar, LX Factory.

What strikes me listening is the considerably coherent dialog of the four, the timbral contrasts born of intelligent sound-color admixtures. Luis plays lots of trumpet, notefully fluent and sonically informed. Valentin and Theo use conventional and less conventional string attacks to once again give us the "string section" interplay that adds a great deal to the end result. Marcelo gets all kinds of sounds from the prepared and standard acoustic guitars and puts that well considered sound-texture/note choice to bear in the context of the total ensemble.

It's a new music chamber improv ensemble with free jazz overtones--and it straddles those two worlds with increasing fluidity and ease. The interplay is born out of a mutual music attuning that no doubt results from deep listening and a very comprehending familiarity with each other's stylistic penchants.

And the more you hear this one, the more it makes good, even inspired musical sense. These are players who excel together with an immediacy not so many ensembles of the free sort have achieved. I must say I am convinced for sure that Chamber 4 not only know what they are doing; they are doing superior work!

If you want an excellent example of what Portugal has to offer right now in the avant realm, do not hesitate. Get this one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Kelsey/Porter Duo, Plays Ornette Vol. 1, Free

I know the artistry of alto saxist Chris Kelsey well enough these days to expect something very worthwhile with anything he puts out. Pianist Lewis Porter I am not as familiar with. It turns out that their first volume of duets of the music of Ornette Coleman, Free, Kelsey/Porter Duo Plays Ornette, Vol. 1 (Tzazz Krytyk) is something excellent to hear.

They tackle some of Ornette's lesser-known numbers, like "Harlem's Manhattan" and "Check Out Time." The recent loss of the jazz titan makes this release timely, though they had been rehearsing and working over the numbers on the album long before the sad news reached us all.

It is a tribute in a way Ornette would have liked best. They do not try and copy his style so much as find their own way through his music. And they do it well. Chris is burning in a sort of post-Braxtionian manner, with soulfire and illuminating soundings of the possibilities available to him as his own stylist. Lewis Porter surprises continually with free-wheeling ideas and clusters of expression that fit completely with what Chris is doing yet in no way go in expected, predictable zones.

The two have developed a very tangible chemistry that results in some fine music. Both take note of what the other is doing while creating two-way improvisations that are much more than the sum of parts.

The music triumphs as excellent examples of both artists today, as a duo of true bipartite organicism, and as a glowing tribute to the master, Ornette Coleman.

Great sounds! Do not miss!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lorraine Feather, Flirting with Disaster

Lorraine Feather, accomplished singer and songwriter, is to me one of those who are, in Duke's phrase, "beyond category." That is not to say that there aren't categories one could and perhaps should apply to her music. And on the internet, I know I had better come up with categories if I want my articles to be read. So yes, this is contemporary jazz, songs that might be appreciated by anyone out there with a little sensitivity, as sung by a golden voice of great character and musicality.

I've appreciated everything I have been able to hear of hers (and you might type her name in the search box above if you wonder what I've said about the others). The new one, Flirting with Disaster (Jazzed Media 1072), continues her progression, and may in fact be a breakthrough album in terms of public attention, which she very much deserves.

There are 11 originals to be heard, written by Lorraine and various co-writers. They are all about love, relationships, the fullness of promise and the emptiness of loss, or both in the complexities of life. She is on a lyrical level into the sort of poetic, romantic yet realist situational story-song that resonates with (if you need precedent) that later period of Joni Mitchell when she was jazz-inflected yet still strongly personal. It's about being an adult with feelings in a world that might open to beauty or just as well collapse into a cold, empty absence.

Some teacher in college once hipped me to the idea that writers of an autobiographical sort sometimes create a difficult living zone in order to have something interesting to write about. That may be true but Lorraine is not about that, not about creating a self-story sensation so much as expressing a poetic universal, about capturing the resonating feelings centered around the beginning of relationships, their moments of fulfillment or perhaps the sad closing aftermaths. It's about the fragility of it all. And if you think that is interesting and want some excellent music themed in this way, this is for you.

Now, reflective songs like this are all-too-rare these days it seems to me, but more than that, Lorraine makes beauty out of it. The songs, her expressive and very unique vocal instrument, and the arrangements are all things that set her apart. Not to mention winter, which she gets beautifully insightful about on "Feels Like Snow" here. Some of us feel the winter more lately I suppose than others, but it is a season that has symbolic significance. And Lorraine gets that.

Well so what's so "beyond category" about it all? It's music that anyone, virtually anyone who looks for great lyrics, wonderful songs and beautiful singing will appreciate, I do think. Yesterday was Lorraine's birthday, as I understand it. She's the sort of artist whose birthday needs celebrating, to my mind. This is central contemporary music. You feel it might be your birthday when you hear her music. It's special in that sort of way. It's music that you wish long dead friends were still around for, because you wish you could play it for them. So you play it for yourself instead.

Just hear the album! Buy it if you want some great songs and singing in your life.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Convergence Quartet, Owl Jacket

The Convergence Quartet is a significant gathering of notable instrumentalists who also compose/arrange, in a provocative limited-edition LP release of six numbers entitled Owl Jacket (NoBusiness Records NBLP84).

Specifically this is a cooperative venture between Taylor Ho Bynam on cornet, Harris Eisenstadt on drums, Alexander Hawkins on piano and Dominic Lash on bass.

Harris arranges two traditional Ghanaian songs, "Dogbe Na Wo Lo" and "Mamady Wo Murado Sa;" Dominic gives us "Jacket" and "Azalpho;" Taylor contributes "Coyote;" and Alexander comes up with "Owl."

The music is smartly free but also structured by the compositions-arrangements. All four give us original improvisational inventions that work together well in the four-way. When combined with unusual and idiomatically structured compositional ideas the whole set stands out.

Bynum's "Coyote" and Alexander's "Owl" are good examples. They both have a memorable post-modern/post-minimal circular melodic head structure that sets up what the ensemble improvises off of in excellent ways.

In the end the music stays with you. It shows off the ingenuity and creativity of the foursome while also letting your ears grab onto compositional guideposts that lead you through the journey.

A seminal release that gets better and better the more you listen. Only 300 copies have been pressed, so get this one now if you can.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Josef Woodard, Charles Lloyd, A Wild, Blatant Truth

Anyone who grew up when I did and was musically aware will know the name of Charles Lloyd, and no doubt his music as well. Many who who came to the planet later may also know and appreciate him, but there was a time when Lloyd the masterful tenor saxophonist and his quartet were on the very top of the world. His name was on the lips of the hippie-hipster cognoscenti, as the first jazz artist to capture wholeheartedly the allegiance of the young, flowering boomer audience. His recordings sold in the millions, he played the Fillmore East and West (before Miles did), he was a kind of guru to the young and their quest for an alternative life. This was in the later '60s. Then just as quickly he burned out, disappeared from the scene, and lived in self-imposed exile on the coast of California for years, a hermit-sage.

He never quite disappeared from sight but it wasn't really until the '80s that he seriously reconnected on the jazz scene and brought his music forward. From then on he remade himself as an artist, regained his light in the jazz firmament. His music evolved and flourished again. In many ways there he is still, a wise elder, now an octogenarian.

And now all those complex developments in his life are mapped out in a very first biography by Josef Woodard, Charles Lloyd, A Wild, Blatant Truth (Silman-James Press, 229 pp., paper, $18.95).

Josef is a talented jazz journalist who partly by virtue of his Santa Barbara home base got to know Charles rather well and in the course of many years interviewed him numerous times. The reviews were centered around promotional moments in Charles career and in part have a self-promotional slant, which reveals something of two constrasting Lloyds, the public figure and the recluse. So it is never a mere recounting. It is from this lengthy and invaluable documentation that Woodard has woven together the biography at hand. He fleshes out the narrative with additional connecting details, commentary and other interviews, so that there is a biographical continuity in place as the main story thread.

The end result is a narrative that primarily tells the tale of Lloyd's life in his own words. Since the original intent of the reviews were about in-the-moment concerns, projects, group tours and single appearances, new albums and such, and not primarily as an a-to-b recounting, there are a number of alternative flows to the book. For example we get a good deal of Lloyd's view of his inner growth on a spiritual, consciousness-raising level. And this is partly a key to Lloyd. As a musical-spiritual being he has traveled a long and at times difficult road. All that is wrapped up in his presentation of self-to-world, and his presentation of world-to-self, too.

Because each interview segment was a slice in a moment of Charles life, we get repetitions with variations of how Charles felt about parts of his life story. So there are times when the book reads as a series of reflections of Lloyd's view of himself over time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is in that way not an entirely conventional narrative. Charles has a way of speaking that, as the author notes, goes forward in circles, with digressions on the past, reminiscences and spiritual thoughts, then finally a return to the present. And so as you proceed forward in the chronology you also look backward repeatedly, and in part see how the perspective changes somewhat as Lloyd goes through his life in time.

Charles is a complicated personality who, perhaps like many of us, has conflicting feelings and needs--the need to create great jazz in front of an attentive audience, to be gregarious and outgoing, but also the need to retreat from what he calls "the tollbooth," the business of it all and its distractions, the modern contemporary pursuit of mammon-like gain that is so much a part of our world, the potentially self-destructive lifestyle of gigging.

It is a tribute to Woodard's openness to the complex persona of Lloyd that he repeatedly got Charles to open up to him over the years. And so this is a story of the inner narrative of Lloyd in his quest for spirituality and musical growth as much as it is a story of learning to master a personal approach to the art of jazz, the associations, the groupings, the interactions with fellow musicians, record labels and audiences, his reception and reputation over a very long period of time.

This perhaps will never be the definitive Charles Lloyd biography because of how it is made up. It is nevertheless a kind of definitive look at how Charles has reacted to his life events and how his inner-self has been a critical, perhaps the critical factor in the directions his life has taken. So for all that it is a fascinating and absorbing read. By its very nature it is a critical source document for Lloyd's own vision of his life and in part how some of his fellow musical travelers have seen him.

For the painstakingly detailed blow-by-blow narrative of a definitive biography it is an excellent first start, but is not primarily that. And as such it gives the reader an excellent introduction to the development of his musical style over time, a guide to his recorded output, a chronology of his Memphis beginnings, his initial rise to prominence and the subsequent re-thinkings he underwent to get back to the music.

Most certainly after reading A Wild, Blatant Truth you will feel like you know Charles Lloyd and what kind of man he is and has been. You will no doubt appreciate his music more fully, too. For all that it is an important read. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Deux Maisons, For Sale

Catching up on some worthy music today, namely the very focused avant quartet known as Deux Maisons and their album For Sale (Clean Feed 320). If you have been following my posts and the Euro-Free-New-Music scene in general you may well recognize some or all of the names: Luis Vicente on trumpet, Theo Ceccaldi on violin and viola, Valentin Ceccaldi on cello and Marco Franco on drums.

The album features six collective improvisations that have both jazz and avant concert elements, which is a growing amalgam among recent and edgy European improv ensembles.

What struck me on first listen and thereafter is the way the two Ceccaldi strings form a sort of mini-string-section in contrast to Vicente's trumpet and Franco's drums. They come across in many ways as a kind of threefold timbral sound interaction. But not of course in any old way, given the caliber of the artists and their clear directional thrust.

The music runs a sort of idiomatic gamut, with all four artists interacting rather exceptionally well, setting up spontaneous counterpoint in inventive ways, each showing a set of original approaches to the instruments they have mastered, and ultimately achieving a lucid four-voiced music that is a good deal more than four-in-one, more one-from-four, if that makes sense.

Franco makes excellent use of varied parts of his total kit to create nicely phrased washes of sound that set the scene for the bowed-plucked-muted-open interactions of the three melody instruments.

It is one of those sessions where everyone has a determined confidence each in the other to create significance and they go boldly where they may, with true success.

For Sale is something I might put on for someone who wanted to hear the state-of-the-art today in chamber free improv. It convinces and intrigues!

Highly recommended. One of the best examples of high-avant spontaneous music today!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Samuel Torres Group, Forced Displacement

Samuel Torres is a very talented conga master. He heads the Samuel Torres Group in a vibrant recent album of Latin jazz, Forced Displacement (Zoho 201507). It is an eight-member ensemble with an excellent trumpet-sax-trombone horn section, piano, bass, drums, and percussionist Jonathan Gomez along with of course Samuel presiding from the congas.

Ten tightly together Torres compositions comprise the program, which are substantial in themselves and serve to showcase Torres's multi-conga melodic-percussive mastery while also getting some wonderful Latin grooves going and setting the stage for some very good soloing from the band.

Torres's playing is not to me missed. It is exhilaratingly advanced and innovative. He is a melodic force in the compositional framework, with his multi-congas tuned to scales, and can flat out groove, too. And the band is very hip, very fresh, tight, and musically sound in the best ways.

Anyone who wants to be bowled over by a top-notch congalero will find this one unbeatable. But then it is some advanced and forward moving Latin jazz, too, with very involved arrangements and a wide spectrum of musical ideas and grooves.

Forced Displacement reaches for the sky and grabs it. Listen to this one, definitely!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar, Live in Bagalore, Ravi Shankar's Farewell Indian Concert

The passing of India's most prominent musician Ravi Shankar in a way put an end to an important phase in Indian Classical music, one where the excellence of the tradition and the innovations of the present-day era were especially and artfully embodied in a single figure who achieved for the music a world awareness and appreciation as never before. And of course the music lost one of its very most brilliant sitarists and composers, a Master for the ages.

In his last years, through increasingly frail, he made excellent music that may not always have had the speed of execution of his prime period, yet his brilliance and inventive genius remained intact. And so it was on February 7th, 2012 that he, his illustrious daughter Anoushka and an excellent ensemble appeared in what turned out to be his farewell performance in India.

Fortunately for us the audio and video equipment were running so that we can now appreciate that two-and-a-half-hour concert in a state-of-the-art collection of two CDs and a DVD--on a set entitled Live in Bangalore (East Meets West EMWM1014).

As one has come to expect Maestro Shankar fields an excellent ensemble. His daughter Anoushka on second sitar, Tanmoy Bose on tabla, Pirashanna Thevarajah on mridangam, Ravichandra Kulur on flute, Sanjeev Shankar on shenai.

The DVD includes the opening portion of the concert, with Anoushka Shankar heading the ensemble in a wonderful mix of ragas and a Ravi Shankar composition originally meant for sitar and violin, here performed quite nicely by sitar and flute. Anoushka is an accomplished and fully flowered sitarist in her own right and she gives a great performance to set the tone for the evening. This part of the concert is on DVD only due to space considerations, but no matter.

In the second half Ravi joins the ensemble. He and all concerned show a loving joy in the creation of musical magic, which is most moving to see. Several ragas feature Ravi in inspired alap and gat sequences, with Anoushka joining in the composed sections and engaging in some jugalbandi interplay with Ravi. Flautist Kulur also plays an important role. Raga Tilak Shyam is especially moving, with a very inspired Shankar and truly lovely compositional elements.

The mrindigam-tabla solo duet is phenomenal. And the grand finale gives the entire ensemble a chance to shine brightly.

Since Anoushka is very much still with us we feel the loss of the Master acutely but we appreciate her artistry here all the more, as she will be with us for years to come to carry on and expand upon the tradition. Such is how it has been for a thousand years and a thousand years to come.

Anyone who loves Indian Classical and Ravi Shankar will find this a wonderful documentation of his last years as well as a very beautiful example of the classical art. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wayne Horvitz, Some Places are Forever Afternoon

Do not take Wayne Horvitz for granted. He is not fixed into the scene like a peg in a hole. His latest album, Some Places are Forever Afternoon (Songlines 1612-2), subtitled "11 Places for Richard Hugo," is a collection of interrelated compositions inspired by the places the poet dwelled in and the verses that came out of his place in that space.

The pieces are scored for a seven-instrument ensemble: Wayne on piano, Hammond B-3 and electronics, Ron Miles on cornet, Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon, Peggy Lee on cello, Tim Young, electric guitar, Keith Lowe, bass, and Eric Eagle on drums.

It is music redolent of the American West that Hugo immersed himself in. It is music that conveys a musical evocation, each piece taking inspiration from a line or two of Hugo's verse.

Beyond that it is contemporary composition of a modern jazz, post-jazz sort with space for improvisations but an emphasis on the seven-part writing and how it can evoke something of Hugo. But then it is more besides. You find yourself in boogie blues rock territory for a few minutes, for example. You find yourself in various musical settings, some more compositionally formal than others, but all brilliantly conceived and realized.

Each instrumental artist injects something of self into the parts, whether improvisatorily or in the interpretive reading, the realization of pulse and texture. Like Duke's music, this suite thrives in the way the parts work for the ensemble artists. Ron Miles takes some beautiful solos, too!

It is music that has that special something that captures moments in the contemporary air, things that very much sound like they grab at the possibilities of the contemporary as it lays out potentially, but then ultimately come at you in a distinctively Horvitzian manner.

It is not quite "Americana," in that it is very personal and less "universal," but it surely captures some local elements and transforms them. You find for example, that you have entered a sort of country and gospel realm, but not so much literally as transformatively. And so it goes throughout.

The music has such image-ination that it speaks far more elegantly than I can with words this morning. Suffice to say that the music gives you, the listener, a wealth of connotations and a hearty population of meaningful ghosts of thought-images, all to do with I guess the feeling of "being there" that Richard Hugo so vividly conveyed in verse.

It is a milestone compositional offering by Wayne Horvitz. It gives us a depth of field that reminds us that Horvitz has a multi-dimensional musical imagination. It is music to hear right now. A fantastic achievement, really. Viva, Wayne!