Friday, May 27, 2016

Jon Balke, Warp

Norwegian artist Jon Balke comes through with a thoughtful album of piano improvisations that have as backdrops electronic-synth and field recording sound images with 16 segments that give us a reflective, open aura. This on his latest, Warp (ECM 2444).

You might say that there is some kinship of the music here with the mature Cecil Taylor as piano soloist, in that there is sometimes a periodicity in the declamatory thematic element of a series of harmonic sequences or melodic motifs that are built upon, but on the other hand Balke does not have the same expression level of Mr. Taylor in full fettle. This is more subdued throughout and less inclined toward scatter and dissonant climaxes.

So it is no doubt better to put that aside and listen with fresh ears. You may also on occasion pick up on the kind of cantabile phrasings and rhythmic push favored by Keith Jarrett. Again, though, Balke goes his own way in the end.

What we do have on this album are some rather lyric, nicely wrought modernisms that respond to the harmonic ambience, the rhythmic pulsations or the acoustic panoramas of the "sound images" with pointed spontaneity. There are also some folkish, even hardanger-fiddle-reminiscent moments that serve to catapult Balke into his own special musical world, a little melancholy at times, but insistently personal and developmental.

Is this jazz? Should you care? Its improvisational and harmonically-melodically modulatory qualities mark it as jazz. But there are new music elements, too. No, it in the end does not matter so much as the pleasure you should get from the experience. It may not delve much into strictly jazz vocabulary, but that has something to do with the newness of it.

It is very imaginative piano that marks Jon Balke as very inventive, creative and conceptually exciting. If you are feeling adventurous, by all means get this and let it fill you with your own sound images. Recommended!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lyle Mays Quartet, The Ludwigsburg Concert, 1993

Lyle Mays came to international notice as a key member of Pat Metheny's breakout popular group of the late '70s and onwards. He gave the group important compositions and a keyboard style that complemented Pat's virtuoso contemporaneity. Yet as an artist in his own right he has never quite attained the popularity and recognition that Pat has. We get a chance to hear him at some length as the leader of his own quartet in the double-CD appearance from 1993, on the recently issued The Ludwigsburg Concert (SWR Jazzhaus JAH-453).

It is an all-acoustic gathering with Lyle playing the piano, Marc Johnson on bass, Bob Sheppard on tenor and Mark Walker on drums. The compositions are by Lyle ("Au Lait" co-composed with Metheny) and the band embarks on an evening of the sort of music you might expect, contemporary jazz with some jazz-rock overtones, but then also plenty of room for Lyle's piano improvising and Bob Sheppard's extended tenor-soprano stylings. The rhythm section is very solid and foundational, an important part of how things moved forward that night.

This is the only legal recording of the quartet live and they are captured with fine audio, in fine form. If nothing else, and of course there is more than this, it reminds you of Lyle's considerable artistry as pianist and composer, while also showing you what he can do as a bandleader on his own.

Not surprisingly this is a sometimes slightly more heated version of the ECM-ish jazz he was doing with Pat in the prime years. The immediacy and fire of the live date makes you less aware of the considerable length of the two-CD set and gives you a chance to get thoroughly into what the band was capable of that night. So we get both exploratory spacey-mellow but then some burning, blazing stretches to even things out.

After a few listens I was pretty well hooked on this music. It is very good, very nice to hear, very much indicative of Lyle the contemporary jazz artist. It's even refreshing to hear now, these considerable years later. An unexpected pleasure. Give it some ear-time, most definitely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tord Gustavsen, What was Said, with Simin Tander and Jarie Vespestad

Tord Gustavsen brings us a series of original songs, arranged Norwegian folk tunes and other related material in a haunting trio context on What Was Said (ECM 2465, available as CD or three-sided LP). It is music with a beautiful ambiance, foregrounded by the moody vocals of German-Afghan singer Simin Tander, who interprets the songs in a special way and also functions in the ensemble with supplementary sung parts. Tord does the arrangements, plays an evocative piano with room for improvisatory-atmospheric brilliance, and adds at key points very atmospheric electronics and synth bass. Jarie Vespestad gives us a very well-considered drumming-percussing that adds much to the overall floating introspection of the set.

One must hear this music to grasp fully its whimsical, reflective-gentle power. The arrangements set the scene dramatically with a spacious, unhurried walk through the poetic song material and its ultimate presence and transcendence-appearance into the special arranged-improvised trio world Tord creates.

Simin gives us as well nicely sung improvisational lines that go well with Tord's approach. She at all times phrases beautifully with sotto voce, inner-directed spirit and vocal quietude-dynamics that mark her as original and delightful to hear.

It is a gorgeous album that will have its way with your listening mood if you but let it go its way without imposing a lot of expectations. In the end it is exemplary ECM spacious jazz-folk-ambiance that runs with some of the ambient classics the label has produced but then stamps its vivid personality onto your listening self thanks to the special approach Tord gives it all and he, Simin and Jarie realize with singular success.

This will put you in a special place! Excellent.

The trio is on tour in the US and Canada this June and early July: June 16 in San Francisco, June 17 Minneapolis, June 18 New York, June 20 Philadelphia, June 29 Vancouver Jazz Fest, July 1 Rochester NY Jazz Fest, July 3 Montreal Jazz Fest. Check the net for details.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ehud Asherie, Shuffle Along, Solo Piano Interpretations from Blake and Sissle's 1921 Broadway Musical

There is a point for those who live when a historical period takes on an otherworldly quality. It becomes a kind of exotic blur because, not only was it before your time on earth, it also no longer has the benefit of a segment of living humanity who can vouch for or comment on it because they were alive then and had some connection with it all. They are gone. Shuffle Along, Solo Piano Interpretations from Blake and Sissle's 1921 Broadway Musical (Blue Heron Records) as played with spirit and aplomb by pianist Ehud Asherie, has that kind of reflections-on-the-unexperienced time for me at least. It was my grandparent's peak era, and so too their peers. My grandmother's cousin played alto sax and somehow was very involved in the music of those days, and that's all I can say because even the idea of who he was or what he did is a blur to me, now. I am missing the facts, mostly.

But as it turned out my first listening experiences as a kid centered around stride piano, which I loved to no end. My dad had a few LPs and I insisted he play them again and again. Who was who or what it was I only came to understand as I grew older. But certainly Eubie Blake was a central figure to the music, destined to be important in the jazz heritage sense but also along with Noble Sissle, mainstream stars of a magnitude we perhaps forget. Their "Shuffle Along" was a big success on Broadway in 1921-22, featuring an all-black cast in 484 performances initially, then touring the States triumphantly for three years after its NY run.

What remains for someone of my generation is a very strong familiarity of the song from the musical, "I'm Just Wild About Harry," which growing up I heard frequently enough, though was it on old movies or what I do not remember. The other songs remained only vaguely familiar or unknown to the likes of us.

So when Ehud Asherie sets about to play some beautiful stride-and-after piano versions of the songs, it turns out that there is much to really appreciate in the music at large. Ehud himself devotes loving care to bringing the songs alive again with plenty of respect for the melody-harmony of the songs, but then shows us some excellent jazz piano creative abilities.

Had Eubie Blake not lived so long, paradoxically, he might be better remembered for his ways in his peak period? I do not know that though I appreciated what he was doing when I chanced upon his records made late in life. No matter. What does count is that this is some really worthwhile music and Ehud plays it with a great artistry!

My grandparents, my grand-uncle, all those grands up in the sky must be smiling when they hear this? It erases some good bit of the blur and brings some important sounds into wonderful focus. It shines! Hear it if you want to dig something worthwhile.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Didier Lasserre, Ceremony's A Name for the Rich Horn

No Business Records clocks in with a decidedly different 20-minute EP of trumpet master Jean-Luc Cappozzo and drum virtuoso Didier Lasserre live at la Maison Peinte on the occasion of the 10th anniversary--of what I assume is their mutual collaboration--in December of 2014.

Ceremony's A Name for the Rich Horn (No Business NBEP 3) gives us the title improvisation, an almost ritually constructed, gradually building, instrumentally distinct free improvisation. Didier initially plays space-surrounding rhythmic tattoos that almost remind one of the role of the cymbals in a Tibetan Buddhist chant, with silence surrounding the sparse but insistent pulsations and Jean-Luc gradually appearing in a series of rather brilliant expressions on trumpet and flugelhorn. The entire piece accumulates its sound fingerprinting around the freely developed "ceremonial" articulation of this simple premise, giving us dramatic silences and pungent sound blocks, meditative, reflective, introspective and then at times bursting forth.

It is a most uncanny performance, neither expected nor formulaic. It is singular. It is focused. It is almost spooky. All of that in a space of 20 minutes.

Hugues Vincent, Cello Pieces

Hugues Vincent is one of the prime cello exponents in the avant garde worlds today. He makes of extended techniques a natural wholeness of outlook that has great syntactic logic but also a heightened expressionist impact. I have covered him in various contexts on these pages and today I am back with a special new one, Cello Pieces: Hugues Vincent plays the music of Vincent Laubeuf and Kuni Iwase (Zpoluras Archives ZACD 1502).

It is a series of tour de force performances of three open-ended compositions: Laubeuf's  "Telle une illusion qui s'enfuit au reveil" and Iwase's "Trois pieces pour un violoncelle solo" and "Le tumulte du sanctuaire."

The outer works include electroacoustic prerecorded audio that augments and accompanies Vincent's complex parts. "Telle un illusion" also adds distortion pedals to the cello sound at times.

Iwase's three solo pieces give us a beautifully extended series of reflective and reflexive moods, with Vincent moving from phrase to phrase with ever-varying color techniques, in essence posing a particular sound world and then answering that with a very contrastive response, which in turn sets up a question-event that is answered with yet another response. It is no doubt difficult music to play properly and thanks to Vincent's extraordinary technical and expressive control it comes off beautifully well.

The outer works bring in prerecorded concrete sounds that engage in dialogic relations with Vincent's role. "Telle" sets up various cello sound-event motifs which recur in various ways along with more singular color-tone events, all getting an ambiance with the ins-and-outs of the almost world-window-heard-from-a-distance recorded audio quality.

Iwase's "Le tumulte" dialogs electroacoustic sounds as independent synchronous and asynchronous architectural sound structures that interact obliquely with Hugues' radically extended sound contrasts.

All of this music benefits from the compositional directionality of the works themselves, helping to contextualize and interconnect the dots of virtuoso cello sonic extensions and make of it all a presentational whole.

This is avant music on the very nether of the cutting edge, with incredible motility and multi-voiced loquaciousness from Hugues Vincent and provocative contrasting directedness from the composers.

It is no doubt not for everybody out there, but it IS a beautiful recital, a series of very outside engagements in sound color that will hearten and intrigue lovers of the avant and virtuoso avant cello alike.

Here-here! Hear-hear!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Louis Heriveaux, Triadic Episode

From the Atlanta jazz scene bursts forth pianist Louis Heriveaux and his first album as a leader, Triadic Episode (Hot Shoe Records 110). He's spent some time working with others, paying dues, and clearly his day has come, right now. The album features covers and originals, all given a Heriveaux touch and the extremely able and willing musical hipness of Curtis Lundy on bass, Terreon Gully on drums.

Louis opens the set with a good Mulgrew Miller piece. He cites Mulgrew as an influence and that you can hear--along with bop-and-after piano roots of folks like Hancock, the hard boppers, the modern swingers, maybe a hint of Corea, but all put into the immediacy and original outlook of the Louis Heriveaux improvisational stance.

It's a sophisticated view that is harmonically informed and has line-hip linearity. "Body and Soul" gives you his thoughtful ballad style and then you also have a chance to swing along to the originals and other worthy standards fare.

Lundy and Gully make the entire set push forward with the subtle and the seething in the right mix, setting up the Louis earthy-modern soulful strutting and magically lilting contrasts of Louis the mainstream stylist, the new original.

If you love the piano modern tradition this one will give you a good deal to smile about, to tap your foot, to revel in unexpected and expected bright moments, all working together to an impressive debut result. Heriveaux is dig, to stay I would surely think. Wrap your ears around this one without fail!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Starlite Motel, Awosting Falls, with Jamie Saft, etc.

I am no doubt no different than any other musically-minded listener who plays close attention to certain sub-styles of music in formative periods. There was a synchronicity I experienced sometime around 1972 as I had assimilated at least the basic classic free jazz of the preceding era, which when combined with things like Miles Davis's most ambitious electric music beginning with Bitches Brew and onward to his other groups of the time, plus what was going on with Tony Williams Lifetime especially in the interaction of Tony with organist Larry Young and guitarist Tony Williams, and the best moments of the psychedelic bands of the classic sort, well all of that came together in my head and I expected the future to hold much more in the way of a continuing synthesis and development of these strands. Then something happened. A conservative backlash called into question anything electric and/or most everything "outside" and the promise of the future had to wait.

Thankfully the future eventually made space for the electric outness that had all but ceased to be recognized in the darker times. Needless to say, acoustic improv has come a long ways from then to now as well.

But with something like the album before me, Awosting Falls (Clean Feed 364) by Starlight Motel, I feel like that long delayed synthesis is finally making very excellent progress. It is a very electric quartet with four of just the right people, Kristoffer Berre Alberts on alto and tenor, Jamie Saft on organ, Moog and lapsteel guitar, Ingebrigt Haken Flaten on electric basses (including a Univox Hi-Flyer bass, hey!) and Gard Nilssen on drums, percussion and electronics.

This is not the only band to be making the out-electric jump these days but it is an especially good one. Jamie Saft is a key to all this, taking the implications of what Larry Young was doing and taking it some steps further. Ingebrigt I know more for his contrabass acoustic excellence but he is firmly in the cat-bird seat as a heavy hitting electrician. Kristoffer has the big, brash outside sound that is perfect for all of this. And Gard plays some spiky blasts and tumbling excellence on a rock-weighted drum set, all to great effect.

In the end I cannot tell you what to hear. That will be up to you. But this one has a tremendous energy and iconoclasm that opens up a clearing, scuds over the safe and leafy outcrops and plants with something both new and old-still-dangerous. What Jamie does on organ is a must-hear, but then everybody is totally on top of it.

This is the sort of music some people will hate. That is a good thing. If everybody loves it, there is probably not enough head clearing going on? It sends me anyway. Suit yourself but the future may well be here after all, just delayed a while. Starlite Motel may well be part of it. Listen if you dare!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Merida Encuentro, Songs of Deception, with Blaise Siwula

Merida Encuentro is Blaise Siwula's cooperative trio from down Mexico way. Their new one, Songs of Deception (Setola di Maiale 2016) gives us a special open, freely improvised moodiness that wears well and projects nicely. It is Blaise sounding quite fit and exploratory on clarinet (a treat to hear him at length on this), alto clarinet, soprano and alto sax and wooden flutes, plus Armando Merid Martin, here on acoustic guitar throughout, and Edgar Caamal on drums and percussion.

There is a special sort of laid-back introspection to this set. Not that it doesn't have energy at times, but it also has a kind of mutual reflectiveness, an avant freedom that explores possibilities more than it insists on performative presence, though that is there. But there is a threesome of searching for its own sake, experimental ways to get to where they want to go that make for a understated yet mutually reinforcing kind of three-way.

And I just love what Blaise is doing on the clarinet. Armando and Edgar give us some well conceived dialoging that does much to make this session so mood-open.

It's the sort of music where you need to get on the plane of the trio to fully engage with it. Once you do there is much to fascinate and appreciate.

Another good one! A different one! A worthy one!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jorrit Dijkstra, Never Odd or Even

Solo albums in the later realms of avant jazz can go a number of ways, so that you can never be sure what you have until you give the music a close listen. Of course there are outings that consist of the artist doing what he or she does without any accompaniment, and those can be great if the artist is worthy and the moment right, but then there can be music that functions as a coming together of different elements, like a modern painting done in various stages and showing various performative segments.

Saxophonist and composer Jorrit Dijkstra gives us something worthwhile in the second category on his recent solo effort Never Odd or Even (Driff Records CD 1503). Jorrit creates an ever-varied tapestry of sound expressions and sound colors on the 15 segments that comprise the full totality. His alto, a lyricon, an analog synthesizer and effect pedals are all utilized either in real time or with several overdubs to create episodic, aurally distinctive contrasts that maintain a spontaneity and freely articulated presence rather than some sort of formal structure.

So by means of immediate overdubbing on top of an initial improvisation we get the feeling of multiple instrumentalists engaging in a virtual "now." Or alternately Jorrit feeds his live signal into effect devices that respond with layered textures in real time.

Either way the music has the power and imagination one expects from Jorrit. It is music to expand the confines of the temporal givens of the moment, that inscribes multiple sonorities into our listening selves, that provides us with multiple ponder points of lively musical imagination.

It is a resounding success in the end. Nothing sounds tentative but rather forms a part of a cohesive and avant adventure, a totality that ranges far and never falls short.

Such solo ventures succeed in proportion to the creative opening up and inventive flair of the artist. It is all here in abundance. Listen and you'll travel to the various limits of musical imagination, from the perspective of the best listening point possible, the center of it all.

Warmly recommended.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Matthew Garrison, In Movement

Jack DeJohnette has over his career extended and recreated the possibilities of drumming in his own image, whether it is a matter of swinging in time, freely invoking open-space interactions, or creating his own irresistible deep-grooved, bebopish approach to rock-funk, straight-eight time. Of course he as a band leader has had a huge impact on the new jazz, especially in the later-'70s-early-'80s. His presence as an important, key element in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio has carried him through to today with a legacy that impacts us all and promises to do so for a good deal of time ahead.

Yet it is a fine thing that he has lately been branching out into different projects, notably his reuniting with AACM greats in a Chicago concert (type his name into the search box above to get my review of that) and now with an excellent trio that includes Ravi Coltrane on reeds and Matthew Garrison on electric bass.

The first fruits of this collaboration are happily available to us on the new CD In Movement (ECM 2488). Jack does a bit of excellent piano playing here but is otherwise firmly planted into the matrix as the drummer. Ravi gives us his great tenor, soprano and sopranino stylings, and Matthew doubles on electronics nicely in addition to some very fine bass. The result is an intergenerational communion of highly inspired music. (Jack sat in with Coltrane's group some 50 years ago and of course Ravi is John's son as Matthew is the son of Jimmy Garrison.)

After a moving incantatory version of Trane's "Alabama," which needless to say still resonates completely and sadly with current racist backlashes, we get a program of space funk and ultra-modern jazz via a couple of collective improvisations, the classic "Blue in Green," Earth, Wind and Fire's "Serpentine Fire," Jack's own classic "Lydia" along with several other nice originals. A high-point among many such is the Jack-Ravi tribute to Trane's last drummer and an icon in himself...."Rashied" (for the late Rashied Ali).

Everybody is completely on the mark for a seminal outing--by the trio as a whole as well as definite high-water marks for each of the players involved. It is music that covers all the bases you might expect from these players and does so with exceptional spirit and verve. It is one of those highlights-of-the-year albums for me thus far.

A very happy convergence it is. You will smile to yourself no doubt when you hear it. My highest recommendation!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla, Kirkastus

Juhani Aaltonen is one of those reedists from up in Northern Europe that we cannot afford to ignore, so important has been his musical development over the years. Iro Haarla is a pianist-harpist-composer from over there that may have an even lesser presence over here in the States, but certainly deserves our attention. Put the two together on a recent album of duets, Kirkastus (TUM CD 045) and you are in for something special.

These are improvisations on and around ten Iro Haarla composition. Hearing the music is like sitting in a room full of mirrors and windows on a bright spring morning, the sun dazzling and transporting you to a transcendent state of being after a long dreary winter. Or at least that is my feeling hearing it.

Juhani sounds beautifully lyrical in an original but strongly post-Tranish way on tenor. He is brightly projecting on flute, warm and mellow on alto and bass flutes. Iro plays piano and harp in ways that very much enhance her compositional lucidity. It is a set to put you in a state of appreciation and hope, a poetic set that you may find yourself turning to often.

It is an extraordinary and heartening album. There is nothing about it that lessens the purity of the artists' intent, yet it sings proudly and fully with strength and power but with tender fragility as well.

I love it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

William Hooker, Light, The Early Years 1975-1989

If there's one thing to be said about drummer/bandleader William Hooker, and actually of course there are many things, it is that from the beginning he's never been reluctant to express himself fully on the drums. Combine that with his very musical sense of the possibilities and his abundant technical facility. It all means that he is one of those instrumentalists in the new jazz who you can identify pretty quickly in a "blindfold test," maybe after only a few notes. He is that kind of one-of-a-kind artist-innovator.

And as a bandleader he gives the sidemen plenty of room, plenty of freedom to express their own personal sounds and approaches. And so a performance of his group virtually always involves some original and collectively personal expressions, as varied as the makeup of that particular group unit.

His importance on the scene goes back a ways, and nicely, we get to revisit or get into some of his foundational music on the very welcome 4-CD box set Light, The Early Years 1975-1989 (No Business NBCD 82-85).

On it we get some excellent solo spots and some small group sessions, some originally available on William's Reality Unit Concepts label, and a good bit of unreleased material, too, altogether giving us a vivid picture of the artist and his bands over those critical years.

The very well known and the lesser known but deserving players on the New York scene in those days make worthy appearances, side-by-side or sequentially. So we have David Murray, Mark Miller, David S. Ware, Les Goodson, Hassan Dawkins, Alan Braufman, Mark Hennan, Jemeel Moondoc, Roy Campbell, Booker T. Williams, Lewis Barnes and Richard Keene, all nicely present in varying group combinations.

There is a good deal of supercharged avant jazz energy and smarts to be heard on this set, and it all serves to frame the period, the excellence of William Hooker's melodically open drumming and the fire and conviction of his collaborators.

The sound is very decent, the music inspired and abundant. This set gives you an excellent introduction to William Hooker's art, or fills in any blanks you may have from this important era of the New York scene. Either way, it is some fine free music! Grab a copy if you can.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Noah Preminger, Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground

Tenorman Noah Preminger returns on the heels of his beautiful live album (Pivot, see my March 18, 2016 review on this blog) with a follow up, Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground (self-released). It is like the previous one very much live in its dynamic thrust, though this time it is not in front of an audience. It sports once again his fantastic band, with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Ian Froman on drums. Once again it takes on some beautiful blues classics, mostly from the Delta, and does something very nice with them.

The blues perennials are arranged for the quartet in ways that proclaim their continued relevance to the jazz of today, and then they open up a space for the quartet to burn wonderfully well.

Jason Palmer is a trumpet player who has all the tools and sensibilities to make himself a key part of the quartet. He sounds great. Cass and Froman give us truly exemplary rhythm team fire. And Noah sounds increasingly sure and personal, a tenor sax centrepiece among the "new" players out there. It wasn't like he wasn't playing great, arcing lines in his earlier recordings, but with this band and the blues roots and freedom they dive into with such enthusiasm, it is contemporary jazz on a wonderfully high plane now. Not just Noah, but an extraordinary working band and a blues projection that never lets up yet gets a burning, freely heated treatment.

Fantastic! Noah is skyrocketing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Blaise Siwula / Eric Plaks, Time In, Spontaneous Compositions

It makes perfect sense that avant saxophone virtuoso Blaise Siwula and relatively new-coming piano firebrand Eric Plaks would team up for a mutually rewarding encounter, Time In (No Frills Music 0010). I've of course been covering many of Blaise's expressively beautiful albums over the years on this page, and I have recently covered Eric Plaks on several exemplary outings here (type their names in the search box above for reviews).

Eric's richly sensory-motored scatter piano virtuosity is on full display, extraordinary noteful and unrelenting in its torrential excitement. It spurs Blaise on to do some of his most energetic, blazingly forceful and eloquent improvising, whether on alto, tenor or soprano. He is on fire and manages to find once again his own special space where the history of the music gets channeled into his own special avant space.

There are seven freely improvised segments that vary the pace, density and mood quite well. Blaise responds brilliantly to Plaks' urgent, energetic, driven piano with some very abstract counterlines, hugely satisfying timbral sculpting (depending on the sax at hand) and brilliantly in-and-out of tonality streams that respond to the well-conceived modulatory tonal-pan-tonal piano outbursts. Eric now and again responds to Blaise's historical channeling with a little stride outness but there is never a question of the state-of-the-art avantness of the encounter. This is 2016 and we never feel otherwise.

It is a wonderful album on many levels, like a stiff belt before your day in court, so to speak, it anticipates the future while also ignoring it for the elation of the moment, the shouting forth of out abundance with a preparatory act that is wholly right in itself.

I've never heard either sound quite so good! It is Eric at his most concentrated and Blaise at his most extroverted. It is both attaining a freedom of ecstasy! Many stars of appreciation, if I gave out stars. If I did this it would get all the stars possible. If I don't give stars it is because I want to avoid the praise/condemnation machine that sometimes can result from such efforts. Quantifying something qualitative is a mistake, to me. But if you must, think of this as a five-star recording.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, Andando el Tiempo

This May 11th marks the 80th birthday of Carla Bley. She has long been a titan in the new jazz composition and performance world, and now we increasingly rejoice in her very productive longevity. To celebrate Carla and her brilliance ECM is releasing a new album, Andando el Tiempo (ECM 2487). There is also a birthday event on the 11th of this month in New York's Steinway Hall at 7 pm if you are in the area.

The album brings new clarity and poignancy to her trio gathering of Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano and Steve Swallow on electric bass. After 20 years together they have become a totality of directional achievement, a oneness of expressive thrust that is remarkable to hear. The compositions, as Carla remarked in a recent interview, in effect are "really big band music reduced. I have to play way over my head and so do the guys. They have to take on a lot more than they would if I still had a big band."

And so we get a great deal of compositional and improvisational expansions from all three. The result of course is that Carla the pianist as well as the composer is very much more out front than in the early days. And she sounds each note and each chord beautifully, significantly. Steve Swallow's bass guitar has both a foundational and a melodic role to play and he does it with an artistry unparalleled by any other living electric bassist. Andy Sheppard has come a very long way since his beginnings as well. His is a presence of pristine soprano and tenor lyricism and bite. All together they now make for a most remarkable musical entity.

The new album features all new Bley pieces and they are very much astonishingly impactful and communicatively lyrical yet bracing vehicles, each a gem of novel yet characteristically Bley-like form.

This is a marvelous recording that I do not hesitate to recommend it to those who love her but also even to those less familiar. It is a cornerstone sound capture of Carla Bley and the trio in the latest period. Outstanding.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Michel Benita Ethics, River Silver

Bassist Michel Benita steps out with an album that features his own group Ethics--on the recent album River Silver (ECM 2483). It is a very listenable yet contentful amalgam of world music and lyrical ECM jazz, with bright contrasts between the Algiers-born bassist, Japanese koto adept Mieko Miyazaki, Belgian flugelhornist Matthieu Michel, Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset and French drummer by way of Istanbul Philippe Garcia. Each brings a special sound to the whole in a program that is widely eclectic--a Northumbrian piper composition, something from Norwegian composer Eyvind Alnaes, as well as an original by Miyazaki and a number of tunes by Benita himself.

What you get is an elaborate, spacially open, exotic melange of meditative yet pulsating interactions that clearly belong to the ECM lineage yet expand that with new possibilities and potentials very nicely realized.

Matthieu Michel's flugel is beautifully burnished, Mityazaki's koto is poignantly marked and melodic, wrapped in blankets of sound from Aarset's enhanced guitar and the artfully punctuated bass roots and flourishes of Benita, all getting subtle percussive pulsating washes by Garcia. The arrangements have great textural diffuseness and nicely intricate blendings of an unprecedented richness. All is lyrical yet more in the mysterious mode than the sentimental, more spacey than heartfully gushing, more pan-harmonic world infused than regionally bound.

It is one of those albums whose mellow quality acts as a container for musical sophistication inside folk straightforwardness. Even within the ECM world this one stands out as stubbornly singular.

I found myself responding increasingly to its sun-clear wiles. This is not grandad's bop but it is a kind of ensemble jazz of purposefully understated, moving breadth. Hear ye this! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Yells at Eels, In Quiet Waters

Dennis Gonzalez and his sons Aaron and Stefan return with the latest Yells at Eels opus, In Quiet Waters (fortune 046 033). After more than 15 years together they have a unity that is very much a product of the constant give and take. Dennis of course is a remarkable presence on cornet, C trumpet and various miscellaneous instruments. Aaron has become a titan on acoustic bass and a welcome second-line electric bassist. Stefan is a drummer of considerable power and finesse but also gives the trio an important additional voice on marimba and vibes.

The album includes a couple of terrific alternate takes of compositions that came out on several anthologies of Dallas music, plus a revisitation of older repertoire in a live Dallas club setting. For the first time in a while the trio decided to forgo the addition of a guest artist and so it is just the three. That in fact is refreshing because the threesome in their loose-tightness are very much something that has evolved exponentially over the years and it seems right to experience it straight up once again for this album.

Many of the numbers are by Dennis and they are beautiful vehicles to launch the band into improvisational realms of significance. Aaron and Stefan each contribute a few compositions of their own as well, and they are worthy. One is in two versions, the second a surprising interjection into different waters but I will not spoil it for you. You should let it make you smile unaided by my words.

As the liner notes suggest, this is the band at a peak before a number of  happenings changed the lives of all, one thing supremely wonderful, the other an unwonted affliction that happily was surmounted after some no doubt quite painful times.

But put that aside for the moment and listen. Dennis comes through beautifully with some of his most inspired artistry. There are very few trumpet/cornet players alive that so thoroughly create such a musically original and heated self-expression. He is the complete artist, with a ravishing set of tones and the sort of inspired phrasing that makes him instantly identifiable. His overall concept, his compositional acuity, and his improvisational brilliance have always been a critical part of the Yells at Eels approach and we hear that very nicely indeed once again on this new one.

But then Dennis has given Aaron and Stefan plenty of freedom to develop in the trio context and by now they are formidable parts of this triumvirate. All three create some magical momentum throughout the album. And towards the end of the live set Stefan and Aaron push the boundaries explosively and Dennis dives into the vortex too for some inspired climactics.

In the end we are treated to some outstanding modern avant jazz. One of their best, surely. In the fire-music mode they are unmatchable today. But they have considerable finesse and subtlety too when they choose to go in that direction, and the results there are also of true musical profundity.

This is a must-listen, a must-have album, one of the very best so far in the now not-so-new year. Grab it for sure. A big "whoo-hooo" for this one!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Francois Tusques, Itaru Oki, Claude Parle & Isabel Juanpera, Le Chant du Jubjub

From across the pond today we catch up with a most adventurous release from the ever intrepid Improvising Beings label, namely Le Chant du Jubjub (IB 43) featuring free jazz piano vet Francois Tusques, trumpet master Itaru Oki, accordionist Claude Parle and vocalist/recitationist Isabel Juanpera. It is the sort of set that is not easy classified, and all the better for it.

There are expressively free duos and trios that bring out the musical personalities of the instrumentalists, there are poetic recitations and quasi-sprechstimme passages that bring Ms. Juanpera into the spotlight, and there are structural, composed elements that owe their existence to Francois' special sensibilities.

Everyone sounds quite well: Tusques is in good form as his very unique pianistic self, Parle sounds a noteful and folk-energetic counterpart to Tusques in quite interesting and very varied ways, Oki plays an informed and creative role as the third voice and Juanpara makes dramatically audible Tusques' narratives with clear relief.

What makes this date so unusual is the unpredictability of it all. Francois comes through with ostinatos, deep harmonic structures, or sustained onslaughts of notefulness that mark him as invariably himself; Parle ever an inventive foil to the Tusques piano; Oki a sensitive earful of well chosen smears, runs and timbres; Juanpera a musical-verbal game changer.

Le Chant du Jubjub revels in the unexpected. It is one of the more original free sessions to be heard out there right now. It is most worthy of your time. Kudos for Tusques and company!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Avishai Cohen, Into the Silence

Is there any way to capture what makes an album special in mere words? Ultimately, no. But those of us who wield a pen must keep on regardless. Avishai Cohen's Into the Silence (ECM 2482) has something about it that is beyond simple words, or complex ones, for that matter. It is what used to be called "mood music" tried to do but generally failed. It is what the best of musics can do, but rarely enough. It is a singular thing. Not to be mass-produced, I mean not these notes, these sounds, the presence of Avisai on trumpet, Bill McHenry on tenor, Yonathan Avishai on piano, Eric Revis on contrabass, and Nasheet Waits on drums.

It captures a feel of after. After the garbage trucks with their noisy clatter have gone by, picking up those huge mountains of things we once paid dearly for, what's left now nearly valueless. It is the feeling a year later when someone important to us has passed, and what remains, memories, silence, and absence. It is when we pick up and go on.

Avishai's trumpet has some relation to Miles in his more introspective moments. Avishai has some of that searching quality. He goes into his own space with it all. Drummer Nasheet Waits gives us some beautiful counterpoint to the Cohen expressivity, neither predictable nor commonplace. Bill McHenry builds when called upon his own edifices alongside Avishai, cogent, coherent, lucid, terse. Yonathan and Eric make the most of it all too, with some considerable musicality.

It's about the spaces that embody the after, compositionally meeting the consciousness of that emptiness, improvisationally making that present vacancy sing in the moment, making that feeling very collectively personal.

Oh sure, this is an album that perhaps only ECM could make seem so poignant, that perhaps only Manfred Eicher could capture with such poignant spaciousness. And he does. But like the best recordings there is a mutual sympathy of artists and sound capturers and so creating also the maximum potential sympathy with the artists, the capturers, and the you.

If there is a zeitgeist of now, of how it feels to be sitting in one's chair and wondering where it has all come to, this music captures part of that, a zeitgeist not so much of doing, but after it and before the next doing. It is I think a part of that spirit of the now.

It is a moving aural document that will put you where you already are, but make it resonate vibrationally in some profound ways. It has a remarkable continuity and gives us a part of the art of improvisational expression we do not always get--something wholly unified yet ever moving on.

A record that reaches out to you with total artistry....