Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Karl Berger & Jason Kao Hwang, Conjure

Violinist-violist-composer Jason Kao Hwang and vibraphonist-pianist-composer Karl Berger have both over the years quietly gone their very own ways to make epic contributions in New (Free) Jazz and Improv, Berger from the '60s onward, Hwang from the later '70s. Jason has been a member of Karl's important and influential Creative Music Orchestra, for music of course with both compositional and improvised elements, but the current outing Conjure (True Sound 02) brings the two together in Berger's Woodstock studio for something different--a completely spontaneous series of duets.

The eight interactions that result cover a unique range of moods, densities, textures, in part because the artists quite naturally sound themselves differently on piano and vibes, on violin and viola, respectively, but it is even more the case that by this point in the game both individually and collaboratively they are of such intensive focus and have honed their expressivity to such an exacting level that the possibilities are potentially without limits. That the session selects from those possibilities according to mutually open communicativeness and mood is only to say that both are well attuned to one another and both are of master improviser status.

If introspection, inward searching, articulate ownership of together-exploration are the tendencies for this session it all seems totally right for the moment of together-being for the now of that present, for that moment in the dual musical biographies of the two artists, that space-in-time.

And it fits the always thoughtful countenances of Karl Berger and Jason Kao Hwang that this album sounds as it does, inventively...superbly so. There is nothing quite like this gathering of a twosome in either discographies, nothing quite as poised to stand in the face of a dual inner reading of musical selves. Clearly there is an abundance of chemistry to be had in nearly every moment of this session.

A series of careful repeated listens brought into clear relief for me the subtly profound depths that the two plummet happily. Set aside some time and listen openly to this one. I believe you too will discover some rare and very meaningful sounds here, spontaneous dual compositions of a remarkably high level of attainment. Kudos to Maestros Berger and Hwang!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Live in Nuremberg

We all know modernity can be a mixed blessing. In music the rise of the long playing record in the '50s and then digital audio and the internet in recent times have made it possible for a great deal of music of all kinds to become available to musically minded listeners as never before. The ease of digital distribution to potentially wide audiences means that the sheer amount and variety of musical fare has opened us up to wonderful possibilities of appreciation we never might have known in previous ages, but by now there is so much, the sheer quantity is daunting. Any given release can easily be lost in the barrage. My job in part is to help alert you to the most interesting, the best, to focus on what's good out there.

All this comes into play as I sit and listen again to a very lively album of Free Improvisations/Free Jazz by two authoritative original voices of the art, tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Ship and their Live in Nuremberg (SMP Records). It's a very inspired set of duets recorded last June, 2019 at the Art of Improvisation Festival. I listen and appreciate how perhaps it is because of the many that we can sustain the very best, that there is no "school" of music making without a sizable classroom and the participation of a critical mass of creative souls.

Specifically, with all the improvised music available out there right now, why this album and not some other? Part of the answer is that the Perelman-Shipp collaboration brings together two mighty oaks of Open Improvisation today, each a formidable voice on his respective instrument. Most importantly the level of interaction between the two has in the recent past had a chance to blossom before our listening selves, with a series of recordings that document for us the growing significance, the flowering chemistry of intersection. (I've covered a good sampling of what they've done together lately. Type their names in the search index box above for relevant reviews.)

Live in Nuremberg puts just the two together on stage for an hour. They reach peaks of inspiration throughout, with inspired-idea after inspired-idea bouncing off one another, reaching back to allusions to classic Jazz at some points yet only with a wisp of suggestivity and then plummeting forward to present and future with soul, energy and an expressive space opening up before us in ways exciting to hear.

It is one of those recordings where the artists fall together into an inventive whirlwind that takes us all far beyond what we might have a right to expect for a purely spontaneous venture. Of course the years of preparation by both come into play and the now intimate familiarity each has with what to expect in style, sound color and substance each from the other plays a critical part in what happens in the moment on that day.

And so in the digital  maelstrom of hundreds of recent releases centered around New Jazz, with all the number of digital and physical albums available now, Live in Nuremberg stands out in spite of the clutter. Give this a few listens and you will be exposing yourself to some of the most consistently inspired and energized examples of the art of improvisation today.

Do not hesitate! Grab onto this one.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Moon Over City Ruins, Chinese Folk and Japanese Hogaku Music

In Moon Over City Ruins (Rhymoi Music RMCD-0003) music producer Ye Yunchuan gathers together an ensemble of young and talented Japanese and Chinese musicians for a program of interceptions between Chinese and Japanese Traditional music by way of a program of Chinese Folk melodies and Japanese Hogaku music. Poetic, nicely unfolding interpretations and some well conceived improvisations frame the pieces along with shifting and varied instrumentations.

The music hearkens back to a historical period where there was an extremely fruitful cultural interchange between the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Japanese of the Asuka and Nara Epochs (538-794).

Instruments to be heard include shakuhachi flute, koto, guzheng, erhu, shamisen, biwa, and the taiko drum.

The album is epitomized by an interpretation of the timeless Japanese classic song "Moon Over City Ruins." Several old Chinese folk songs and additional Japanese classics from the period paint for us a rustic pre-modern landscape where the natural and human worlds existed in a kind of parallel juxtaposition that these ancient strains embody. The music speaks beautiful volumes of a time now long ago. The readings are inspired, surely, and in the music as a whole there is a magic that can still cast its spell on us and most certainly does on this album. Just listen to the arrangement/improvisation on the haunting "Sakura" that opens the program and doubtless you will feel yourself transported as I did.

Strongly recommended.