Monday, December 30, 2019

Best of Folk Music from Latvia

I have the good fortune to be hearing this anthology of the Best of Folk Music from Latvia (ARC Music EUCD2882). And so I report in on it today. I cannot say I have heard a great of traditional fare from this country--which regained its independence from Russia in 1991. The 18-song collection gives us a good cross-section of strongly melodic material  High quality audio coming out of the modern recording studio situation remains a constant throughout.

Arrangements vary from traditional-village to contemporary rock-tinged, from traditional instruments to mainstream Western. The songs are often modal minor and are apparently often based on Dainas two-stanza form, marking birth, marriage or death and/or designed to be sung on cyclic yearly calendar milestones such as Christmas, Easter, Summer Solstice, etc. There are more than 300,000 Dainas-associated melodies that have been identified and some 1.2 million texts according to the liners of this album. That is quite a cache!

The vocalists and instrumentalists are first-rate and the music vibrant and winning, memorable and down-to-earth. If I am a novice and have little-to-no experience with the music of this region I can say that the program on this album is a winning one to my ears.

Happily recommended.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Silent Fires, Forests

The ever smaller typefaces used in modern graphic design make us squint, or me anyway. The Silent Fires album Forests (Amp AT058) has that sort of look and as elegant as it is it graphically whispers a name that might the better be shouted to the heavens? This album is such a pleasure to hear that I more feel like shouting praise than squinting.

It is Karoline Wallace on vocals, Hilde Marie Holsen on trumpet and effects, Hakon Aase on violin and percussion and Alessandro Sgobbio on piano. The eleven numbers here come from the pen of Sgobbio and there clearly is improvisation at hand as well, the most notable of the latter especially from him.

These are song-like and songful reflections with a built-in makeover of some of the atmospherics of the classical ECM Jazz that became especially influential towards the end of our last century. It is open-form music with musical objectives, signposts that all realize at times, part of the ensemble at others, with the vocals a central focus along with implied, inherent song form.

Sgobbio's piano playing is a luscious thing, searching, advanced yet always thoughtful and impressionistic. Vocalist Karoline Wallace has a clear, sweet. pitchful-wispful voice that does not remind of Astrud Gilberto yet has some of her sweetness in abundance for sure.

Hakon Aase's violin tends (to my ears) more often to appear in an improvisational commentary role than does trumpetist Hilde Marie Holsen but both add much to the ensemble when they are present, for color and substance.

Put it all together and there is a consistently magical spirit-music going on, wall-to-wall. Not cool so much as poem-cavernous, this is. It is sweet but not stickily, sickeningly so. Far from it. Wallace and Sgobbio strike it off with a remarkable chemistry the others second and forward.

It a word, beautiful. This is one outstandingly beautiful recording and Silent Fires deserve acclaim for it. A big bravo, very big.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Francois Houle, Alexander Hawkins, Harris Eisenstadt, You Have Options

The in-tandem gathering of Francois Houle on clarinet, Alexander Hawkins on piano and Harris Eisenstadt on drums is significant, as is the flowering of such on the album You Have Options (Songlines SGL1628-2).

The album successfully straddles the realms of avant improvisation and jazz composition with three pieces by Houle, two by Eisenstadt, two by Hawkins and one each by Steve Lacy, Charles Ives (!), and Andrew Hill.

At times one is reminded of the Jarrett-Redman piano-clarinet doublings on the now rather ancient album Birth, but merely as a predecessor, not in terms of imitation.

This is primo New Music-Avant Jazz with excellent clarinet work from Houle and equally thoughtful and inventive contributions from Hawkins and Eisenstadt. It is one to grow into, for the more one listens the better it seems, at least to my ears. I believe most readers will feel the same if they give this one their attention.

All three artists have slowly and surely become central to the music without a lot of fanfare. Here they give us the unexpected yet nonetheless continue the winning ways we have come to expect from each in the past decade, give or take.

Very strongly recommended. Grab this one and listen!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Bobby Kapp, Ineffable Joy

A wonderful quartet outing forms one of the latest in the billowingly targeted collaborations between tenor saxman Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp. Ineffable Joy (ESP 5036) brings back longtime Shipp collaborator bassist William Parker and drummer vet Bobby Kapp on a freewheeling eight-numbered studio date.

This one really feels as quartet-like as it is, in that everybody occupies an instrument zone that forwards the free-rhythm-with-soloists idea that evolved into a foundation of "Free Jazz" in the sixties. That is not to say that the playing is derivative because it is not. It is just that it is part of a whole in avant music making that has a history, and that it makes it all new at the same time as it belongs to a special way of quartet-ing.

So we have Maestro Parker striding, bowing, and carrying forth in ways that punctuate and open up Maestro Kapp to swing-beyond-swing zones and set up Maestros Shipp and Perelman to be freely where it seems right and in the now of things.

And in the process the rhythm team inspires some extraordinary soloing collectively and individually from tenor and piano, not to mention excellent rhythm team inventions in themselves. By now we have four masters of open form in an ultra-hip committal to making the most of every musical moment.

You listen and you hear the history of the form but you hear too the culmination of it all into where these four were in the very moment of the studio date at hand.

Compare the near balladic "Ebullience" with the somewhat more dense and up "Bliss" and you in a way have the right-now analogue parallel to "Cool Blues" and "Koko?" Not exactly yet this is a part of the continuum in time and aural space and an important part at that.

So get in with this one and be in with the present example of improvisatory music at its finest. Outstanding!

Folk Music of China, Vol. 1: Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu

The Naxos World label comes through with music of regions not as familiar to non-local listeners, namely Folk Songs of China, Vol. 1: Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu (Naxos World NXW76088-2). We hear unaccompanied vocal renditions of songs sung by ethnic minorities from the tribes of Tu, Bonan, Dongxiang, Yugur and the Salar. That fact along makes this release notable.

As far as the experiencing of the songs goes it is in the nuances that we gain insights I feel after listening a number of times. Yet too there is a visceral homespun quality to it all that disarms and puts the listener in a new place, so to say.

Several song types are represented. Hua'er  has to do with the young lady lovers of young men. Western Yugar styles appear as well, in long epic forms and shorter ones. Then there are Yanxike, or banquet songs sung ordinarily at weddings. Salaqu or Yu'er are songs of the Salar peoples and ordinarily utilize the pentatonic scale. Finally we hear several songs from the Dongxiang.

Understandably the music sometimes differs from what a Westerner might think of as typically Chinese. And so it adds to the vast folk wealth we can experience for ourselves these days and therefore is a valuable addition to one's folk-ethnic library if one is predisposed in this way. Fascinating.

Indonesia - Bali, Homage to Wayan Lotring

A retrospective of a master composer and musician of 20th century Balinese Gamelan music is at hand and a fine thing it is. To give it its full title, it is Indonesia - Bali, Homage to Wayan Lotring (Ocora C582076/77 2-CDs). It is an intriguing compendium of some 15 Lotring works--nine for full Gamelan orchestra, plus three specifically for Legong Kraton and three for Gender Wayang.

Those who have sampled a good bit of Balinese Gamelan over the years have undoubtedly heard Lotring works without necessarily being aware, for he was in many ways the "Beethoven" of Gamelan for the important first half of the 20th century, having a long illustrious career on the island. Born in 1898, by the '20s he was a fixture of Gamelan and by the '30s his fame had spread beyond (thanks in part to Colin McPhee's writing) to general musicological Gamelan acolytes of the age at large abroad. And he kept moving forward for a long life of accomplishment. 

When appropriate he wrote music and created the dances for the music simultaneously. His first works were for the Gender Wayang chamber groups that provided Shadow Puppet backdrops and pieces often centered around Hindu sacred topics. He then went on to compose for full Gamelan orchestras with dedicated dancers for each work. And of course he also wrote works that were meant to be performed with the orchestra alone.

What strikes me over the years with Lotring's music is the sheer beauty of the main melodic underpinning in the context of incredibly lively figuration in the metallophones. Tempo changes, really stunning, tantalizingly brief grooves and unexpected shifts in the musical momentum give us an incredibly rich tapestry that unfolds memorably in each of the exemplary pieces on the program.

These are "authentic" field recordings and so one might hear, say,  a baby crying or someone coughing in the background every so often. But the sound is very good and the performances excellent so one should not care about such things.

I would say that this set is essential for anyone seeking to experience some true milestones in the Gamelan arts. Lotring's music is central and the set maps out some very wonderful examples for us to treasure, beautifully played. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tiger Trio, Map of Liberation, Joelle Leandre, Myra Melford, Nicole Mitchell

Today we have a Tiger Trio made up of three women improvisers at the very top of their game for Contemporary Improvisation or "New Jazz" - Joelle Leandre on acoustic bass, Myra Melford on piano and Nicole Mitchell on flute. They gather for some eleven spontaneous improvisations on the recent album Map of Liberation (Rogue Art ROG-0093).

The result is vital music and a happy marriage of instruments, voices, technique and extended technique, and sheer brilliance of invention. They show the kind of simpatico openness of response to one another that mark the very best of such gatherings. And in many ways it all thrives by each artist staying in a mutually compatible zone of sound expression, for example high flute-tone flight slurries with bowed harmonic sustains on bass and high note sprinkles on the piano for "Reflection."

It is an album that to me grows in stature with every new listen--as the intentions and expressions become more familiar at each pass and therefore more clearly communicating to my inner ear.

I recommend this album very highly. Do not miss it if you follow the latest in the Improvisatory Arts!