Monday, February 29, 2016

Steve Swell, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser, Solo Trombone Improvisations

Steve Swell is in many ways the leading trombonist in modern avant jazz today. Sure there are others, good ones, but Steve has done more noteworthy music on the instrument in the last decades than anybody else I can think of. His playing reflects great attention to timbre and color, and he in his own way channels the trombone jazz tradition encompassing the early tailgaters, the big-band innovators, boppers and afterboppers, all of it, and gives it his own spin as an important stylist in his own right. As composer and bandleader he has excelled as well. I've covered a fair amount of his music on these pages and now it is time for another good one.

As seminal and all-pervasive an artist as he is, Swell nonetheless to my knowledge has never recorded an all-solo trombone album before. So it is timely that he has finely, finally done so--The Loneliness of the Long Distance Improviser (Swell Records SDS 001).

Last fall he went into a studio in Brooklyn and now we have it. Open horn, muted, sound-oriented, note-oriented, new music and jazz-rooted free improvisations leap forth at us in 15 short segments.

There is a spectrum of expressions that come into play; lots of good ideas and feelings go into the performance; all flows with the surety of a master improviser that he most certainly is. If it seems effortless it is because all the work and shedding that has gone into his music has taken place already, though nobody who continues to produce good things ever really stops that process.

There is a wealth of freely architectural building to be heard and experienced. Freedom is a word that expresses the music, but it is a freedom that has required a good deal of preparation, the structuring coming about while and after he spent years working on multiple sound models and spent considerable time interacting in group situations. You might compare his solo trombone work here with that of Stuart Dempster or George Lewis. You might find that he falls into a place somewhere between the two, but in any case there is soulfulness on display increasingly as the set proceeds, but there is also a new music conjoining of sound-color clusters, both in a virtuoso zone, both arriving at places it takes considerable musical abilities and ears to get to.

And that's where Steve is now. A master of the art of the trombone, going it solo for a set of adventurous and very musical results. Solo albums by individual avant artists can sometimes get boring, if things are not quite right for whatever reason. Loneliness is the opposite. It is vital expression, filled with immediacy and flourish, captivating trombone utterances.

Anyone who appreciates full-blown spontaneous excitement, a no-nonsense getting to it by a single naked instrument, a masterful example of the solo trombone at the hands of a brilliant is an album for you! Kudos!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Enrico Rava Quartet with Gianluca Petrella, Wild Dance

Ever since the 1967 release of Steve Lacy's The Forest and the Zoo many of us in the US have had the happy chance to follow trumpet master Enrico Rava's evolution and development. Some nearly 50 years later the music continues to flow. Recently we had the Enrico Rava Quartet plus trombonist Gianluca Petrella in a new album, Wild Dance (ECM B0023623-02).

It is a fine gathering of 13 original Rava numbers and one collective improvisation, played by Rava, Petrella, and quartet members Francesco Diodati on electric guitar, Gabriele Evangelista on double bass and Enrico Morello on drums.

The collective sonance is special, Petrella and Rava forming a spectrally unified yet two-in-one individual front line, guitarist Diodati comping sparely and soloing carefully and creatively when called upon, and the rhythm team of Evangelista and Morello giving us an open, pulsating looseness that moves the band forward in a swingingly laid-back fashion. But it's not all meditative. Listen to the afterbop motion of "Infant" or "F Express," for example, and you will get another dimension.

Rava sounds as sprightly as ever, but more and more concentrated in his solo work and the dual trumpet-bone double improvs. His tone is ever-ravishing. He has perhaps turned more to the spaciousness of a modern ECM sound than what he was doing 50 years ago, but one should expect development in a great artist and we certainly get that with Enrico.

Evangelista has some of the rootsiness of Roswell Rudd, with whom Enrico did some stellar work. He sounds perfect here. Diodati's guitar has a little of the Abercrombie space lining, but adopted and furthered in original terms. Hear also Envangelista in a solo framework and you get another dimension of the artistry there.

The album is going to appeal to Rava fans, for sure. It gives us new and excellent examples of his special ways, furthered to move on to the present-day. Anyone who appreciates a painstakingly sculpted modern/postmodern jazz sound that has adventure and lyricism built squarely into the presentation will love this one.

Bravo, Enrico!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stefano Battaglia Trio, In the Morning

When I get an abundance of good things for review, I sometimes find there is more to cover than there is time. But I do make a point of getting to everything worthwhile even if I have a backlog. That is the case with the fine album from last year by the Stefano Battaglia Trio, In the Morning (ECM B0023620-02), concentrating on the music of Alec Wilder, who wrote some classics that belong in the Great American Songbook and also was a fine composer of chamber music.

Now Wilder music predisposes me to pay attention to a group and its release, but beyond that Stefano Battaglia and his trio outdo themselves with some stunning improvisations here. There is a post-Jarrettian attention to modal-zonal grooves that have a quasi-world sound, but also some really fine harmonic-melodic realizations and excursions by Battaglia and bassist Salvatore Malore, and some excellent drumming by Roberto Dani.

They manage to work with the stunning Wilder song forms and make of them something personal and improvisationally advanced. It's a live recording at the Torino Jazz Festival, 2014, and it is quite obvious that they are in a very inspired frame of mind.

What is evident and praiseworthy is the way they make tracks beyond the open yet structured freedom of the Jarrett Trio at its peak and use it as a foundational basis to build considerably and fruitfully upon.

This is some magic music, I tell you true. The more I hear it, the more it speaks to me. It is probably and in fact undoubtedly one of the landmark piano trio recordings of last year. It tickles my musical being, and I think it will do the same for you.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Naima, Bye

New music nearly always involves a jump into a stream of the unexpected, especially if you are not familiar with the artists-creators. That experience can be invigorating, if everything is right. I felt that special something on the first hearing of the Valencia, Spain-based electroacoustic piano trio Naima and their recent recording Bye (Cuneiform Rune 418).

It is a distinctive and distinguished threesome that combines the sophisticated harmonic-melodic impact of early Jarrett trios and perhaps even a touch of Evans trio interactivity with some of the arranged complexities of the Bad Plus--and the immediacy and electricity of jazz-rock. Naima is Enrique Ruiz on piano and synths, Luis Torregrosa on drums, and Rafael Ramos Sania on acoustic bass. This is their fourth album. It uses electric effects and synthesizer in conjunction with the acoustic instruments to break the music into multiple sound-color cells, which with the largely Ruiz-Torregrosa compositions and arrangements manages to carve out an original approach, all of which ends up sounding like none of their possible influences.

They avoid typical head-solos-head structures for more unexpected composed-improvised sequences. Some of it has a kind of minimalist-rock repetitive mesmerizing moment but integrated at all times into a harmonic-compositional vertical edge. And the music has a continual linear unfolding that keeps the ears very much on the alert.

There are a couple of Jaga Jazzist and Elliot Smith covers which sound fine but mostly it is a set of originals that expresses at times the loss of love ones, two in particular, that band members suffered through recently. Those feelings form part of the impetus behind the music heard here.

So there is at times a pointed expression of that loss, transformed artistically into trio music of impact and ultra-musicality.

I will not give you a track-by-track rundown of the album. Each number has its own pristine quality. It is best heard than described. But I will say that this is a beautifully talented outfit who give us some substantial trio music that has unpredictably explosive electricity in its arsenal (which it unleashes at special times for great dramatic contrast) and all the subtlety of a crack piano threesome.

Most unusual and original, this. If you want something that refuses to be pinned down yet is filled with musical abundance, this one is for you. Jump into the musical stream of Naima and find your way into their currents!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg, Celestial Weather

Wadada Leo Smith is one of those few artists whose every release these days should be heard. That list of artists for me is small but his music, his trumpet playing and composing show us a creator who keeps getting better, deeper, never flagging, ever.

So though I am late in posting on this, his album of duets with long-time bassist associate John Lindberg is another essential listen. The album is entitled Celestial Weather (TUM 046). I can't remember hearing John Lindberg doing something I did not like, either, for that matter, so not surprisingly this one makes me smile.

The Finnish label TUM does its usual exemplary job with the audio and physical packaging.

And so the music....It is an hour of excellent things to hear. There are three multi-part numbers involved. The first, by Wadada, pays tribute to the wonderful bassist and human being from the AACM and especially the Art Ensemble of Chicago. "Malachi Favors Maghostut - A Monarch of Creative Music" does the late master honor. John's bass playing seems suitably puckish here and Leo plays something that Malachi would no doubt have loved to be a part of. Both fill the air with some fine, outgoing extroversions worthy of the tribute.

Next follows the two-some's collective five-part "Celestial Weather Suite." It is open-freedom music, each part named after an unusual weather event, "Cyclone," "Hurricane," etc. They explore various creative possibilities, each interacting sensitively and soulfully to the other. There is agitation, there is relative calm, but there is never a loss as to what to play.

The final is the two-part Lindberg piece "Feathers and Earth." As with the others the compositional element is so integrated into the improvising that it is not all that easy to separate the two, but here there is a head melody/motif beginning the second segment. What matters is the totality and that there is no denying. It is essential.

In the end we get inspired trumpet and bass playing, a duet far beyond the expected status quo, whatever that might be, and into some SERIOUS (Sirius) stellar explorations that while spontaneous as a whole are the product of two lifetimes of committed musical direction.

So of course I can only recommend this to you. It is celestial in the best sense. And the listening is nothing but pleasure.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bathysphere, Jorrit Dykstra, Pandelis Karayorgis and Big Band

From the adventurist Driff label comes Bathysphere (Driff 1502) a rather exciting big band project from Jorrit Dijkstra and Pandelis Karayorgis. The 15-piece band features some of the best on the Boston scene, plus a few imported from elsewhere. The original charts are divided up between the two leaders, with four by Karayorgis and three by Dijkstra. They were written with the players in mind and so have a kind of organic resonance reinforced by the close relationship between the written and the improvised.

The band sports a full contingent of deep-noted players: Charlie Kohlhaus on baritone (and tenor), Jeb Bishop and Jeff Galindo on trombones, Josiah Reibstein on tuba, plus Nate McBride and Jef Charland on basses.

Tony Malaby and Seth Meicht join Kohlhase and Dijkstra in the reed section (and Dijkstra also plays some analog synth). Then there is Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet plus Forbes Graham and Daniel Rosenthal on trumpets, Luther Gray on drums, Andrew Neumann on analog electronics, plus of course Pandelis at the piano.

It is then a very potent group of players. The Bathysphere, that round iron diving rig that allows for very deep sea explorations, is an apt metaphor for the music, which has much depth, is exploratory and of course carries plenty of deep tone clout in its makeup.

The charts very happily prevail--covering a considerable stylistic distance from references to big band tradition and the bop and after giants to the outside contemporary avant realms. The piano of Pandelis, the alto of Jorrit and the solo power of other key players enrich the music considerably. Pandelis does some great work on piano especially. The compositional element is foundational, memorable and nicely alive.

This is primo avant big band music. Along with Michael Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus (covered yesterday) it is one of the most exciting large ensembles you can hear out there these days. The album is a showstopper for sure, so definitely give it your undivided attention. I hope the lineup can flourish and continue to evolve in the years to come despite the formidable economic obstacles such ensembles face today. For now, though, they come at you full-blaze! Do not miss this.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Michael Formanek, Ensemble Kolossus, The Distance

If you are like me and have been following composer-bassist-bandleader Michael Formanek and his music with interest but not as closely as perhaps one should, you are in for a rather shocking surprise. His debut recording of the 18-piece big band Ensemble Kolossus, The Distance (ECM 2484) is a milestone in contemporary modern jazz composition. Mark Helias conducts the ensemble in a program of beautifully advanced music. Formanek cites a wide array of creators that have influenced the ultimate sound of the unit, from Messiaen's organ music to the large ensemble sounds of Mingus, Sun Ra, Threadgill and Braxton.

Along with Formanek is an unusually full rhythm section of piano, bass, marimba, guitar and drums, all of which get put to important usage throughout.

Chris Speed on sax and Ben Gerstein on trombone have stellar solo roles, but then Formanek and others do as well. The massive full-blown sound of the ensemble cannot be denied. It is powerhouse music.

The ultimate effect is impressive. There is great compositional detail in the arrangements and the outcome has originality and great expressive thrust. It is quite simply a tour de force of ultra-modern jazz big band music, one of the seminal jazz composition triumphs of the present. It is both a summation and a cogent furthering of where we have been going in serious jazz composition in the past decades. Get it without fail!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, 10

What exactly is Afro-Peruvian music? One excellent answer comes from The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet and their 5th album celebrating ten years of music making, 10 (Zoho 201509). It is trumpet-leader Gabriel Alegria and a worthy band of trumpet, saxes, percussion, guitar, double bass, drums and vocals. They are joined by an illustrious gathering of guests that includes Ron Carter, Essiat Essiat, Arturo O'Farrill, Badal Roy and some prominent Peruvian musicians in a program of very Afro-grooving music.

The band makes all kinds of music their own with special arrangements. There are the traditional and Peruvian standards alongside anything from "Caravan," "My Favorite Things," "Birdland" "Lonely Woman" and even "The Star Spangled Banner" and the Peruvian National Anthem. It is the making-over of it all into Afro-Peruvian jazz that brings us into a different sunlight.

Lots of Afro-Peruvian percussion, trumpet and sax ensemble and solo spots, and tradition-inflected vocals movingly carry the day. The objective was to bridge the geographical and musical space between Peru and USA both in the repertoire and its treatment.

The music and the group thrive by the artistry of all concerned and the special arrangements the band realizes with fire and groove.

Very recommended for those who would like to dig into some unique and very fine Latin Jazz in a contemporary mode.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Left Exit, Mr K, Featuring Michael Duch & Klaus Holm

Just what the world needs, another album of avant improvisations, right? I doubt that you would read my blog if you really felt that (sarcastic) way, because it is obvious that I devote plenty of space to it. But of course that does not mean that I only cover the so-called "weird" music out there!

Nonetheless today we are greeted by such things, starting with a stunning cover and following through with contents to match. It is the quartet known as Left Exit and their fascinating album Dr K (Clean Feed 346). Karl Hjalmar Nyberg is on saxophones, Andreas Skar Winther on drums and strings, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on sax and clarinet and Michael Francis Duch on double bass.

These are rather new names to me but the proof is in the hearing and that I must say has piqued my ears nicely. It is all about a collective new-music oriented freedom with an emphasis on texture and color. All four manage to come up with stunning combinations. Duch stands out especially for his bowed timbral extensions but there is a mix of reeds, bass and drums (and "strings") that continually intrigues and shows a marked aural sensitivity and creativity.

It is another of the fine collective improv outings coming out of Europe these days. It is especially admirable for the single-minded construction of aural worlds it gathers for us in ten segments, each making virtuoso use of extended techniques for an especially resonant universe where at time pitch color is as important or more important than the extended or primal tonality the band incidentally produces. Other times the quartet gets going with a little bit of soul in a free jazz zone. Either way they succeed nicely.

It is that "more" that brings us a satisfyingly extension of what can be done these days. It may be in the "tradition" of new music freedom improv, but it unerringly finds its own set of zones and so creates an originality that is very uncanny as it is enjoyable to hear.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

William Ruiz, Cheryl Pyle, Mahasen

For today's selection we have a lively interchange of percussion and flute on Mahasen (11th Street Music). William Ruiz creates a series of stirring Afro-grooves for various malleted percussion, primarily the African marimba and slit gong. The hypnotic ostinatos are punctuated by lyrically conceived counter-ostinatos by Cheryl Pyle.

The two dig into eight segments that ultimately constitute a varying but conceptually constant approach. Continuous pulsating percussion and sweetly articulated flute motifs work together for music where the sound architectonics hold sway over your listening self and put you pulsatingly forward into segmented space.

It has a continual present zone that occupies your ears with unflagging zeal. You put the music on and it does the rest. It proceeds on with deep rhythmic drive, putting you in a groovy place throughout. The artistry of both in this duo ensures that the results keep on coming at you happily.

Making this sort of thing work well is not at all easy. Ruiz and Pyle succeed fully in part because they stick to the game plan of wall-to-wall groove. It is some beautiful sound, a succinct triumph of the rhythmic arts. Check this out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Naked Roots Conducive, Sacred 521, Valerie Kuehne, Natalia Steinbach

Some music defies categorization so thoroughly and effectively that it becomes its own category. I believe that is the case for the Naked Roots Conducive and their album Sacred521 (Limited edition self-released CD). It is the duet coupling of Valerie Kuehne on cello and Natalia Steinbach on violin, both on vocals. They come at us with some very interesting originals.

I have had the occasion to cover Valerie Kuehne's music, happily, as part of her Dream Zoo incarnation (see my Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review February 20, 2012 and March 15, 2013 postings).

At the time I felt her music was variously attached to categories of "classical, experimental, melodramatic popular song, avant cabaret" and Sacred 521 gives us a further evolution along those lines. With the combined strings of violin and cello, playing intricate and expressive written and improvised parts that integrate well with the song-oriented dual vocalizations we have something even more enticing. In other words Natalia Steinbach makes for a near perfect musical partner with Valerie Kuehne.

As they state in the album's liners, the music (and its dramatic lyrical content) "seeks to provide education and cultivate awareness concerning mental illness, addiction and trauma," ultimately "to help others recover and find a way of living that is rooted in hope and creativity." The music expresses the anguish of undergoing trauma in an everyday world that generally avoids connecting positively to ameliorate and cure those who are afflicted in such ways. Yet in the end there is positivity and hope.

The process of healing finds its concretization in the vividly expressive aestheticism of the music on Sacred 521. It is outlandishly over-the-top at times, but then there is always a very original combination of string-part interactions and vocal immediacy. The whole thing has a point, which helps to put it all in focus.

It may take some getting used to, and some may not find their way through that, but those that do will experience a one-of-a-kind music, beyond category, yes, but in that sense a self-contained world of expression all its own. Bravo!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Laurie Antonioli & Richie Beirach, Varuna

Jazz vocalist Laurie Antonioli seems perfectly matched with the piano subtleties of Richie Beirach in their album Varuna (Origin 82698). Laurie has a superbly vibrant vocal instrument that she puts to beautiful use on this set. Phrasing, tone, pitch control and artistry are out front in the best ways here. Richie Beirach has not been in my ears much in later days (and I have no idea if he has made himself relatively scarce or I have simply missed his new recordings) but he comes through on this duo with all the mastery and pianistic musicality that has been his hallmark.

The program alternates between standards and not-so-standard standards ("Summer Night," Scriabin's "Prelude in E-flat minor," Trane's "Impressions," "Over the Rainbow," "My Funny Valentine")....and some very interesting originals (co-authored by the two: "Varuna," "Inside My Dreams," "My Love," and the three-way invention with the addition of bassist of Pepe Berns for "Resolution Suite," plus an Antonioli-Patitucci penned "You're an Angel Now"). These are substantial, striking originals and the standards are given special twists and very musical treatment.

Vocalists like Antonioli do not grow on trees. She has the complete package and Beirach quite clearly is inspired by her artistry to play as wonderfully as one might wish.

This is one stunning set! The year is yet young, but it comes through as a highlight of vocal albums thus far, and Beirach sounds fabulous, too!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series

When technology allows us to do unprecedented things in music it makes us take notice, to listen with renewed energy if everything goes well. That is the case with the three-hour DVD of new music, Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series (pfMENTUM DVD 094).

Essentially it is all about the new possibilities of real-time connectivity that the faster-speed internet of today allows. It was the brainchild of San Diego new jazz composer-instrumentalists Mark Dresser (bass), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Myra Melford (piano) and Michael Dessen (trombone). With the advent of software and ultra-fast internet hook ups they conceived of three live concerts that would combine the core quartet with instrumental artists in three differing locations. The compositions were written by the various participants, rehearsed and then played together in concert while recording simultaneous audio and video with a real-time mix of both locales-ensembles.

So we get the quartet in San Diego with a trio of players in Amherst (Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson and Bob Weiner) in a full concert of originals, a second with the quartet and a Zurich contingent of Matthias Zeigler and Gerry Hemingway, and a third with the San Diego outfit and a larger group in Stony Brook, NY: Sarah Weaver (conductor), Jane Ira Bloom, Ray Anderson, Min Xiao Fen (pipa), Matt Wilson and Doug Van Nort (on laptop electronics).

This complex and elaborate synchrony is at the moment a most rarified product of sophisticated technology that a University environment enables. Doubtless we will not be seeing a simultaneous gig at the Vanguard and Ronnie Scott's, for example, any time soon.

But amazingly we get three full programs of very adventuresome avant compositions opened up by gifted improvisors, with the two-location sounds and images captured fully and excellently on this DVD. If the music and performers were not special, as they certainly are here, it might be less interesting. But that is not the case. The music and performances are beautifully present throughout.

It is a musical tour de force of where composed avant improv can be today, plus a triumph over the constraints of space. Is it as interesting to watch as it is to hear? Perhaps less so, but without seeing the whole thing taking place, you perhaps may not get it like you do in the audio-video zone. And as Dresser and Dessen note in the concluding interview on the disk, the very nature of this new synchronicity perhaps gives us more inspired compositions and performances than we might ordinarily get in an everyday playing situation. There is something supercharged taking place in these concerts, no doubt about it.

Suffice to say that this is a very satisfying confluence of music and performers. It is the first in what perhaps could be a series of ever-more complex integrations of performers separated widely in space but not in time--two large jazz orchestras, say, along with a symphony orchestra and a folk ensemble from some far away corner of the earth, all connected together in some universe-dimensioned musical work? Yes.

For now we get something quite marvelous with Virtual Tour. A big bravo!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Naked Truth, Avian Thug

Another good one from rarenoise records, who have been giving us consistently worthy examples of avant electric jazz-rock fusion and happily so. Today it is the band Naked Truth and the album Avian Thug (rarenoise rnr057 CD or LP). It is a very game quartet with Graham Haynes making a significant re-emergence on trumpet and electronics, Lorenzo Feliciati on basses, guitars and keys (and co-producing along with Bill Laswell), Roy Powell on all manner of keys, and fuse-prog drummer of note Pat Mastelotto.

This is post-Milesian, post-Mwandishian space music in the best tradition, but innovative and updated. There is some remarkable interplay between band members and solid, advanced compositional head structures that give the music a jolt.

Graham sounds hauntingly good here, moving the electricity of his trumpet forward beyond Miles but clearly with a reverence for the master. Pat M. gives us electric and acoustic drumming that has modern jazz-rock heft but also plenty of variability to open things up. Feliciati teams with Powell for some beautiful sound color mixes and driving power.

Think of the Miles Fillmore band and how it alternately rocked out and took it out and you will find that approach further developed in Naked Truth. There are more colors technically available to a band like this these days and so we get a more orchestrated palate of outness than was the norm earlier, plus the studio plays a role at times reinforcing sounds via some additional dubs from what I hear. But primary is the inventive imaginations of the quartet, the ability to improvise color, texture and notefulness.

So in the end we have a very musical set that rocks, wails, takes it out, and gives us fine composed landmarks along the way. Graham Haynes sounds better than ever; but then everybody hits on it. This is a band to be reckoned with! Excellent!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Art "Turk" Burton and Congo Square, Spirits: Then and Now, Featuring Ari Brown

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Chicago's famed AACM, formidable congolero and bandleader Art "Turk" Burton gives us two sessions featuring his Congo Square ensemble on the recent release Then and Now (TNT CD 101). The title is the right one given that we get a live session of the band in July 1983 and then a studio gathering from around a year ago, February 2015.

This is heavy-hitting, deep Afro-Cuban hard bop freedom, with two large ensembles having their way nicely with some jazz classics and Burton originals. This is the AACM in the swinging groove mode, with a wealth of seminal players known and less known, carrying forward the Afro-American roots and taking it always beyond.

The early set features Turk with the unsung Vincent Carter on soprano, who did not live long enough to make his name for us all, but sounds great here. Then there is Mwata Bowden on baritone and Douglass Ewart sitting in for the second number on alto along with legend Donald Rafael Garrett on bass. The rhythm team for this session is Theodis Rodgers Jr on piano, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. The band is grooved and loose.

The second gathering features a long and very Afro-Latin version of "Afro Blue" along with a further nod to Trane with "Moment's Notice" (with lyrics by vocalist Taalib-Din Ziyad) and "A Love Supreme." The session concludes with three engaging Burton originals. "Mojuba" has a burning percussion-drum thing that locks in and moves your feet like nothing else on the planet. Hot!!

In other words this second half of the album gives us a well-paced set that has plenty of room for Turk's congas along with "Cha Cha" Torres on bongos, Luis Rosario on timbales and percussion, Avreeayl Amen Ra on drums and Harrison Bankhead's bass firmly in the groove. Ari Brown sounds fabulous on tenor and soprano. Kirk Brown excels in an Afro-Tyner mode that kicks the band forward. And Taalib-Din Ziyad's vocals bring another nice dimension on his features. Check out his flute, too!

All in all with both groups the emphasis is on the earthy roots mode that of course has always been a key part of AACM tradition. It is a glorious hoot all the way with a rock solid groove that Turk spurs forward at all times, and some excellent soloing from the horns.

This one has it all there from start to finish. The Afro groove never sounded better and the free blowing atop puts it all into the modern zone as one always can depend on from AACM's bright lights. It's a great way to send the AACM off into another 50 years. Long may they flourish!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Urs Bollhalder Trio, Eventide

I suspect that because the piano was my very first instrument, beginning at age four, and because my mom did her best to produce on our piano her own versions of music now thought of as part of the great American songbook, but back then just the songs she grew up hearing, a crack piano trio stirs me greately. I still remember my mom searching by ear for the right chord to a note in the melody, practically running the gamut of every possible group of tones until she found just the right one, and how maybe that opened me up aurally. It occurs to me now that within all her searchings there were many she rejected that had in microcosm the sophisticated substitutional harmonic language that the later tonal schools of jazz piano embraces, exemplified of course by Bill Evans, but of course by many others before and after. It stretched my ears and helped make me receptive to the music I was to hear and love later on.

So with all that in mind it is somewhat natural that what pianist Urs Bollhalder and his trio do would give me something that I would respond to instinctively. They certainly give me much to listen to closely and appreciate on their new one Eventide (MGB Jazz 15). They are a Swiss-based gathering of real merit. Urs is the pianist, Heiri Kanzig is the contrabassist, and Kevin Chesholm is on drums. According to the liners they first began playing as a trio in 2010, and by now they have all the subtlety of interactive trios that one could hope for in the music.

Eventide thematically directs us to the sea and its infinite possibilities, in what seems to be an all-original set (Bollhalder's music?) that gives all involved plenty of opportunity to express themselves.

Bollhalder is a beautiful exponent of tonal-harmonic jazz piano with his own way, with clear roots in the Evans-and-beyond school and the fully three-way trio interactions that only can come about when of course the bassist and drummer are fully developed and mutually attuned. Kanzig is a bassist with a highly evolved musical sense and an ability to articulate beautifully the options available to him within the rhythmic-harmonic-melodic possibilities both latent in the compositions and present in what Bollhalder and Chesham are doing in any moment. Kevin Chesham is just right for the trio as well, with big ears, the ability to swing understatedly and inventively and to color the music with his cymbal-drum pronouncements.

And then there is Uri. He is a player of extremely well-developed sensibility, taking the substantial originals and filling them out with beautiful voicings and advanced lines that swing modernly and have very inventive generative qualities.

There is something familiar to the music, in that it is firmly within the modern trio tradition, yet you do not hear the influences that go into the music as much as you hear the syntheses that Urs and the band make of them, and their injection of themselves and their own original inspirations.

Bollhalder is a fine player, a pianist of importance, as are the trio members all on their respective instruments. The music is ravishing. Here's one you will not want to miss if you love the art of piano trio jazz. My mom would have loved this. Outstandingly well done! Encore!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Sound Convincer, States of Transmigration, Dimitar Pentchev

When a classically-trained pianist turns to improvisation, one can expect something different than when a jazz or avant jazz pianist goes about it. How different and how convincing of course depends on the artist involved, no less than in the realms of jazz.

With this in mind I turn to an album by The Sound Convincer, aka the Canadian pianist Dimitar Pentchev, and the album States of Transmigration (self-released). It is basically a solo piano outing with the addition of percussion and/or electronics, voices and various sonic backdrops as needed.

Dimitar sees this music as related to the cadences and rhythms of human speech, and you can certainly hear inflections that reference back to the spoken word.

We get 13 improvisation-compositions in all, each of which shows a different aspect of Dimitar's approach to musical sound. Some have minimalist repetitive thrust, some are balladic musings, some have an openness coupled with speech-like rhythmic drive.

Atmospheric, structured, sometimes cadenza-like, sometimes nocturnal, all the music comes at us in pleasing ways, but does not make use of the jazz or free jazz vocabulary, and in this way Dimitar evokes his own roots (classical and modern classical) with poetic, personal expression. He utilizes inside-the-piano and prepared modes at times to extend the sound available to him, all to good result. And so ultimately he gives us another way to express an open style, different than what you might typically hear from a jazz practitioner.

Most importantly the music captures moods and ways of expression that ring true as they bring us to a variety of places. It is never dull, continually enlivening and provides us with a music that is interesting and prosaic-poetic. If you are pianistically inclined and look for something different and out of the ordinary, here is a place to find it. Well done!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces, Green

Guitarist Rik Wright and his Fundamental Forces quartet have been coming out with music for some time now, basically in a jazz-rock vein. I've listened and appreciated, but their latest, Green (Booshkaboo CD), seems to me to be their best yet, catapulting them onto a higher plane that works within the parameters they have set down but gaining strength by long association and a loosely-tight ease that comes in part from that protracted togetherness.

Yes, I suppose you could say that this still dwells in a mainstream matrix not untypical of what is coming to our ears today, but there is a something extra, an increased presence of combustible energy and eloquence, and an ever more substantial quality to the compositions-tunes taken on.

The quartet is of course Rik on electric guitar, James DeJoie on alto, baritone, clarinet and flute, Geoff Harper on acoustic bass and Greg Campbell on drums. Rik gives us a moderately electric sound with some nice chordal aspects and a knack to put together clean and concise solos that do not pigeonhole him as follower of x, y or z. James DeJoie plays an adventuresome set of reeds with his own way, with fire and finesse. Geoff firmly anchors the group at all times with rock-steady presence and a full tone. Greg gives the band a definite kick with strength and ways of turning the beat, expanding it, finding a fired motility to send the band to good places.

The tunes, one by DeJoie, the rest by Wright, have something about them that makes the outing worthwhile, much more than a blowing date.

So that's my take. Rik Wright comes into his own with this one and the quartet makes a statement that takes them well out of the ordinary for dates like this. Nice!