Monday, May 22, 2017

Earth Tongues, Ohio

The trio Earth Tongues and their 2-CD improvisation Ohio (neither/nor n/n 006) is one of those long building free-new music essays in sound that takes its time unfolding and rewards the patient listener with a finely honed, ever-blossoming panorama

You might not know what to expect, or I did not at least, by looking at the personnel and instrumentation. The jacket tells us that the trio is made up of Joe Moffett on trumpet and cassette player, Dan Peck on tuba and cassette player and Carlo Costa on percussion. What we get is a beginning with little sounds, microscopic fragilities, quietude of a carefully, creatively mapped out spontaneity.

Only in time does the music become ever more present, in ways that remind one of some of the pioneering new music improv groups (MEV, AMM, etc), only updated and personalized for the now we live in.

All makes an artistic sense if you just let it be. The unfolding is the all. And with that we can actualize our listening self to become something other. Such is the best sort of avantdom.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Rob Mazurek, Chants and Corners

The music of Rob Mazurek in the past decade has been remarkable. His use of electronics in a thoroughly exciting free jazz medium, his cornet, his role as bandleader, all stands out in my mind as high points in the later period of avant expression.

And now we have a further example of his, another clear sign that the momentum of his most creative period to date is in no way at an ebb. The new one is entitled Chants and Corners (Clean Feed 416). It incorporates deftly electronics manned by Mazurek, Guilherme Granado and Thomas Rohrer. Mazurek is also on cornet and on piano for one track, Granado is also on keys, Rohrer on rabeca, flutes and soprano. Then there is Mauricio Takara on drums plus Philip Somervell on piano and prepared piano. The totality of the ensemble is as primary as the quality of the improvisations. It is a joyous noise we hear.

To parse each part in a description is perhaps to miss the point? On the other hand one cannot help but appreciate Rob's stunning cornet work. Everybody does the right thing, though. Giulherme's and Philip's keys-piano work is rompingly appropriate. Mauricio drums up a froth. And Thomas adds significantly on reeds. But it is all this within an electronic wash that puts things on a collectively higher plane.

It is nothing less than what one would expect from Mazurek at this stage. But then it is also more, a further development, a remarkable fluency of free musical expression taken another step forward.

Hear, absolutely!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Allen Lowe, In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell with an Ocean View: Down and Out DownEast

Why it has taken a while for me fully to appreciate the music of Allen Lowe is a bit of a puzzle, now that I am totally on his wavelength. Maybe because he is so prolific--the "box" set I reviewed a while back had an awful lot of music to digest and I'll admit I wrote up my review before I had spent enough time with the music to assimilate it fully. I ended up going back to it and the additional spins made it all come together for me.

So, thankfully, there is more coming out. There is another set I'll be getting to but first a single disk release, In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell with an Ocean View: Down and Out Downeast (Constant Sorrow 999). I can identify with the title because I am living it, too. The world is very beautiful but nowadays very hellacious, as anyone reading this might know.

The album begins as is Allen's way with an excellent cast, Allen of course with his inimitable alto and then Nels Cline on guitar, Ray Suhy on guitar, Matthew Shipp on piano, Kevin Ray on bass, Larry Feldman on violin and mandolin, and Carolyn Castellano on drums. The "big names" give us key contributions, but then again so do the "smaller names." Allen however is the guiding force on alto that makes it all come together.

The originals are open, mostly changes-based gems that show Allen has absorbed fully the roots of avant jazz (whatever those are in their great plentitude). He has worked his way through the myriad avenues and byways, doubtless a long process that has led him to his own original path. That end discovery of his musical self after such an extensive exposure to what has been is of course not at all the norm. Not many have so fully slogged through it all as he has. It is key to his music, that working through and beyond.

Each piece is memorable in form and melodic-harmonic movement. They open the way to improvisations of stature.

This is a great place to start if you do not know Allen's music, and you should. It is an additional and very rewarding temporary resting point if you already know him. Either way the music is vital, jazz of the most developed sort,  reaching some of the highest planes of attainment on the scene today.

Can you tell I recommend this unreservedly? I do.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Jason Anick & Jason Yeager, United

In today's realms of "serious" music, including the art of jazz, nothing is absolutely given. That means that anything is possible, even if some pathways are not exactly welcomed by a large segment of the music listening public. We who make and/or cover such musical roads may need to learn that an isolation from the mainstream of musical and verbal discourse becomes more and more a reality, a condition that one must either accept as a fact of life or take an unappealing turn to the popular.

Neither this writer nor the music he covers today is about to "sell out." Yet in fact the music has the ability to garner a wide appeal if things were different out there. Maybe it will after all.

I speak of the collaborative teaming of  violinist Jason Anick and pianist Jason Yeager on the album United (Inner Circle 067CD). It consists of some evolved originals by Anick and Yeager, some selected compositions by Zbigniew Seifert, plus Harrison's "Something" and Miles' "All Blue."

There is a slight classical element to be heard in the originals but a pronounced contemporary jazz center that shows off the very focused abilities of Anick and Yeager, a rhythm team (alternating, two different ones) and some guest appearances by trumpet and saxophones.

The spotlight is squarely on the two in fascinating interplay. If the material reminds of Burton or Corea in classic phases, perhaps that has something to do with the Berklee nexus of the players? I does not matter. What counts is the beautiful musicianship of the team and how they extend and interpret the compositions in a total gestalt of intertwining poetics.

Anick is a hell of a violinist and Yeager a wonderfully alive pianist.

It's all good.

Frantz Loriot, Reflections on an Introspective Path

Why do I write these? Not for fame or fortune, for sure. An entire CD of avant jazz viola solos may be critical to the new music scenario, and by directing readers toward it I am helping to define what's going on right now. So for better or worse I keep on. Even if my championing seems to me a thankless task.

But no matter. Frantz Loriot is the viola master I speak of above. The 2014 recording of his solo viola improvisations is entitled Reflections on an Introspective Path (neithernor n/n 002). I covered Frantz's large ensemble compositions the other day, and he has distinguished the proceedings of a number of improv ensembles as violist. I've covered a number of these as well, as the index search box above will reveal.

In spite of all that (and it is excellent) this recording perhaps represents the ultimate challenge. Hit the studios with only yourself and your viola. Create a CDs worth of edgy solo viola improvisations.

The key to such an outing is expressive invention. Frantz Loriot has that. He disregards much of the time the accepted conventions of string technique and instead forges his own path of timbrally rich, counter-"legitimate" extensions of the sonic possibilities of the viola. And each of the seven improvisations contained on the album concentrates on a particular extension complex and its expressive potential.

In the end we have an ever-contrasting series of adventures. Loriot is not content to stay in place, but rather to confront a widening vector of extended techniques with a free jazz fire and a new music recombinatory abstraction of means.

This will not be everyone's cup of tea. But for those who let themselves open up to the sound dynamics Frantz so single-mindedly masters on this program, it is a revelation. As the Marcel Duchamp quote on the album sleeve implies, sometimes you have to free yourself of the technical habits of normality in order to create anew. Loriot does this consistently and poetically.

And so you who seek to go beyond need to hear this.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Benedikt Jahnel Trio, The Invariant

The Benedikt Jahnel Trio celebrates ten years as an entity with a striking album that selects eight of Jahnel's compositions and presents them as they are played these days, after years of live performances and a boiling down to the sophisticated essence of what they are now.

The Invariant (ECM 2523) alludes both to the persistence of the trio and its consistently high level of musicianship. That Jahnel should be an ECM artist is also an invariant--of the label's initial and continuing attention to some of jazz's most innovative pianists, beginning of course with Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett and following through to the present day. The most distinctive of the ECM ivory manipulators have much in common: a highly developed harmonic and melodic sense and the ability to swing as strongly as they can create lyrical largos of great creativity.

Jahnel is one of the very best of the current crop of artists. He shows you that dramatically on the album--just as the trio of himself, Antonio Miguel on double bass and Owen Howard on drums drives home the extraordinary evolution of the modern piano trio as we now experience it. All three artists are integral to the outcome, the years of recording and gigging making themselves felt with a palpable excellence of interdependence and interplay.

This is as fine example of the piano trio art as you are likely to hear this year. It is a celebration, a tribute to dedicated continuity and growth.

By all means, hear this and be moved.

Beyond Trio Live at Spectrum, Cheryl Pyle, Roberta Piket, Newman Taylor Baker

What we know today as avant jazz can take many forms, in a spectrum ranging from free jazz to new music improv with many shades in between. We get a blend slightly verging toward new music realms on the Beyond Trio's download EP Live at Spectrum (11th Street Music 2013). This edition is a very good one, caught in peak form in 2013. Cheryl Pyle chimes in on flute, Roberta Piket on piano and Newman Taylor Baker on drums.

Baker brings his chamber percussion set and its ubiquitous washboard for a discerning barrage of freely articulated small sounds. Roberta Piket sounds out responsive, advanced lines that come out of a Taylorian-Bleyian-new music lineage, opening up the harmonic center to a greatly expanded chromosphere. Cheryl Pyle is in excellent form on flute, deftly winding her way through the full range of the instrument and the open-form chromatic choices that are part of her hallmark.

In the 30-minute set presented on this album we get a number of contrasting moods and some striking trio interplay. It is one of the best for this trio and Cheryl, a refreshing offering of what makes this band something altogether else! Listen and enjoy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Frantz Loriot, Manuel Perovic, Notebook Large Ensemble, Urban Furrow

The idea of "never too late" fills my head as I jump in to cover something that may have come out in 2015 yet remains a vital offering for big band avant-free jazz improv-composition today. It is violist-composer Frantz Loriot and composer-arranger-conductor Manuel Perovic heading the Notebook Large Ensemble on the album Urban Furrow (Clean Feed 338).

All compositions are by Loriot, except the brief "To HR," which is co-composed by Loriot and Perovic. There are nine musicians involved in the band, an international intersection of worthy players: Loriot's viola of course, plus two reed players, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar, cello, doublebass and drums.

A broad wash of collective and individual improvisation moments set off and make alive the compositional elements. From the vamp-like chord progression integral to "West 4th," the abstractions and harmonic underpinnings of "Division," the song form and changes on "To HR," and so forth all the way through the album's sequence, there is a close fit between the writing and the improvisational spirit that brings the music to life.

And in the process free improv and compositional structures blend together to create a music than is more "both-and" than it is "either-or."

The result is a music that is neither strictly avant garde nor is it mainstream. It has an outness to it that brings foundational elements into play that the uninitiated listener might hang her or his ears onto to guide the experience and make it more readily accessible than a strictly avant journey would.

What matters is that the music hangs together as a whole, that all elements work together to create an interesting and satisfying musical experience. There is plenty here to dig into.

And I recommend you do that!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chris Greene Quartet, Boundary Issues

Tenor-soprano jazzman Chris Greene wants to cross through stylistic barriers. He and his quartet set about to do just that on Boundary Issues (Single Malt 011). What we get is an album of contemporary jazz that shows its hard-bop roots and adopts the rhythms of our current world to the needs of Greene's historical-contemporary explorations. His beautifully open horn tenor sound and ravishing soprano are unleashed and focused to ride across nicely burning grooves, whether it be the reggae pulsations inherent in his arrangement of Silver's classic "Nica's Dream," or the funkified or swinging takes on standards, selected contemporary jazz gems from folks like Kenny Kirkland, or Greene's own originals. The band stands out while Greene lets loose.

His sidemen are the right ones for this date. Damian Espinosa on piano and keys, Marc Piane on acoustic and electric bass, and Steve Corley on drums have what it takes to motor the music along, add their own personalities and solo effectively. Greene stands out in the end as a player of finesse and soul, thoroughly immersed in his version of the contemporary style.

The set is together and in the end a beautiful listen. Greene is something new and worthwhile. Hear him.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Dickey / Maneri / Shipp, Vessel in Orbit

When formidable jazz artists get together in a spontaneous act and create a body of music, if the conditions are right something very valuable may be created. It is true that those with no understanding of the music may hear no difference between an inspired date and one less so. Nonetheless those who have been trained to grasp, to feel the essence of the music take notice.

Much of new avant jazz today may be misunderstood or unappreciated by those who have not taken the effort to live with such sounds over an extended period. As the great John Coltrane told a Japanese interviewer many years ago, "It is something that you may understand over time, or you may never understand." I am quoting from memory so I may not be giving his exact words, but the truth remains.

How long it took me to understand fully the free improvisational art form we are blessed with in our time is not easy to reconstruct exactly. I delved into it all when quite young and back then there was a spirit of growth and a need to question the world that predisposed me to explore such things, so that when I first heard Coltrane's Om I immediately felt the importance of the music, though I did not understand it yet. It was something "in the air" then, something that went along with the spirit of the age. I eventually listened to more and more of this kind of music and there was a number of years I put into the first effort, understanding growing with every new artist or recording I surveyed. There was no "aha" moment because understanding never ceases to grow if you allow it. Now there may be less inclination for people to travel beyond their typical comfort zone today. Or I may be wrong. My neighbors for sure have no real idea of the music that they may overhear me listening to. But their natural curiosity is not obvious. They may be too old for that?

The point in this is that you either have a need to expand your being for whatever reason, or you maybe do not. Those who don't may never come to the music. Others may find they are ready for the truly new.

It is those in the second group who along with avant jazz converts may find Vessel in Orbit (AUM Fidelity 101) of intuitive or concrete importance. It may hit you immediately or only after several listens. But it is built into this music and only needs your participation to complete the communication, to create for your being the art that is intended to be a gift to you.

The music is a product of the fruitful meeting of Whit Dickey on drums, Mat Maneri on viola and Matthew Shipp on piano. Eight free improvisational segments grace the album, each a coherency that can stand on its own or add collective weight to the whole album in sequence.

The threesome is primed and filled with great musical ideas. Maneri is less often heard with these two co-creators than the two co-creators have been heard together. In fact a previous meeting on disk with either has escaped my memory if there have been any. Whit was a full-time member of Matthew's trio for a long while and so the two have had a good deal of time to forge a dialog. Whit has as I understand it been ill for a time, so there has been a refreshing pause in their musical discourse. All sounds extremely well with the two here, for sure. They jump right in where they left off.

Maneri sounds completely at ease on this album so if there may be less logged-in musical interaction between himself and the other two, there is an immediate connection they make here. It is some of the finest Maneri moments I have heard on record. He unleashes torrents of pristine improvisational lines, unpredictable yet sounding totally right for this trio context.

Matthew Shipp seems to find that the relaxed gathering puts him in the mind to upend his creative vessel and let great things pour out continuously.

Whit takes advantage of the open potential of the trio to create ever varied patternless freedom via continually significant drumming. So this is pretty momentous, all of it!

There are times when the history of jazz makes an allusive appearance via a kind of style quotation scenario, but then it is mostly improvisations that have the purity of the now, the eloquence of the making present of the present.

The music is not so much energy directed, though there is much energy. It is a three-way willingness to speak with new words, to make sense out of the previously unexpressed, the potential to express.

The result is very beautiful! You who do not know what freedom is might start here and perhaps change your life. Those who already know will find joy in this outing. It is exceptional.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo, Peace, Tribute to Kelly Churko

The recorded opus of avant jazz composer-pianist Satoko Fujii continues to grow, impressively. There is a consistency of innovative thoroughgoingness and dedicative detail. One of the latest, Peace (Libra 217-039), is by the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo. A lively and well disposed ensemble of 14 Japanese avant jazz stalwarts, including Fujii partner Natsuki Tamura, is joined by guests but Fujii music familiars Christian Provost and Peter Orins on trumpet and drums, respectively.

There are three compositions by Fujii, one by Tamura. They show us a dynamic and exciting band running through with interpretive and soloistic acumen the well-sequenced thematic, sectional, individual and collective improvisational-compositional excellence one comes to expect from the Fujii/Tamura ethos.

You are in the process treated to endlessly recombinatory improvisational pairings and solos along with some blisteringly hot or alternatively introspective compositional elements.

It has all the Fujii complexities and memorability. In a selfless way what it does not have is the Fujii piano, or for that matter any piano playing whatsoever. But this band is filled with excellent musicians who are called upon to create vast expanses of cosmically charged sound.

It is important music, something anyone following the cutting edge of the new jazz should definitely hear.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Possibilities, Get 'Em

A trio named Possibilities has made a CD and I find it very good. Get 'Em (Possibilities/DAJ Records DAJ 001) is the title. Tim Bennett mans the saxophones and wrote most of the material on the program. Dan Stein plays acoustic bass. Peter Manheim is on drums.

There are song structures along with an avant freedom, in a contemporary mix with an eclectic edge that it seems an increasing number of new jazz artists utilize in personal ways. Bennett has a mastery of the flowing contemporary line that reminds me of the "Beatrice" phase of Sam Rivers, or for that matter the in-and-out complexities of some of jazz's greatest of '60s-and-beyond masters.

So there are loose funk modes and beautifully swinging grooves, free "rubato" adventures, all of it forwarded in nicely attractive, spontaneous ways. The rhythm section does quite a bit more than pull their own weight. Mannheim and Stein are schooled and soulful teammates that set off Bennett's very considerable sax facility and imagination.

Bennett has no trace of the derivative lick folks who were coming up a while ago. He is blessed with the seeming ability to hew his own lines at all times, none of them overly beholden to the masters that have come before but also permeated with the essence of later jazz developments.

There is a very enjoyable and moving straddling of past and present, innovation and respect for the elders, jazz art essentials and future movement instantiations. This is movement and it is also a joy.

Bennett seems destined for something important. This trio already is there! So check it out.

Monday, May 1, 2017

ONE, Jason Rigby: Detroit - Cleveland Trio

What you are not aware of might not hurt you, but it might deny you a source of pleasure and enlightenment. ONE (Fresh Sound New Talent 505) by Jason Rigby: Detroit - Cleveland Trio is such an offering.  It pits tenor-soprano man Rigby with the excellence of Cameron Brown on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Jason shows what he is made of. This may not be his first album--I am aware of five or so. It is certainly one of his strongest, a great introduction for those who do not know his music or a confirmation for those who do.

One gives us a strong set of originals, a tune by George Schuller and a couple of American Songbook and jazz standards. Throughout there is attention to song structure, including the changes underpinning where applicable, but a freewheeling freedom that also places the music comfortably in the avant camp at times.

Cameron's excellent bass work forms the rock-solid core around which everything turns. He can spell out the changes in a masterful way, he can solo with real authority, and take the free-oriented segments under his wing with creative thrust, Gerald's drumming can swing fabulously and/or open the freedom feel up with a control and flourish that makes him indispensable to the whole.

Jason springs forth on One as a fully mature tenor-soprano man of true stature. If at times I might feel this trio encompasses the roots of the pianoless trio from the pioneering Sonny Rollins units through to the Sam Rivers trios at their best, it is because Rigby has a command over the saxophone in its historical sweep and forges a language of his own in the best traditions of a rooted launch upwards. And it also strongly goes into a new way of old with the beauty of the Cameron-Cleaver rhythm team.

With a few listens you come away with the feeling that THIS is what great jazz is all about. There is a fluency and mastery that is timeless. I get the feeling I had listening to early Chico Freeman albums--that here is a player destined for great things.

I think I'll leave it at that for now. Listen to this music, please. We are in good hands with Jason Rigby. He doubtless has a role to play in the future of this music. I am heartened.