Thursday, June 25, 2020

Endangered Quartet, Heart

Things that are unpredictable and open tend to be interesting if they are at the same time artful. That applies to a group that calls itself the Endangered Quartet and their recent album they call Heart (Panoramic Recordings PAN15). The idea centers around the four musicians who came to know one another well musically and otherwise, essentially in between as well as in the middle of the sort of  musical projects one falls into as opportunities arise.

The music making in between the bread and butter gigs spawned the idea of the Endangered Quartet. Specifically two years ago saxophonist Roy Nathanson hosted a somewhat spontaneous and informal get together in his Brooklyn living room with musical friends and associates Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Tim Kiah on bass and Jesse Mills on violin. The idea was to form a composing collective. As Nathanson remarks in the liners "We built it around the idea of letting the instruments have a certain intimacy together, one that allowed for the compositions to breathe." The total equality of the four together without hierarchy was the other basic assumption.

The basic idiom of the group is multiplicity--in a chamber mix of classical, jazz, plus a few rock and folk elements. The lack of a drummer does tend to open up the sound, that and the eclectic mix of elements does what some of Jimmy Giuffre small groups did in their classic days perhaps. Not to put too fine a point on it but there is a similar open space for breathing yet the sound is most definitely their own, definitely that of the Endangered Quartet.

The nine originals define the sound the group is after nicely. The four "covers" help make clear the roughly hewn and lively spontaneity that subsides with the arranged milestones that set off a strong sense of intimate interplay, They also serve to illustrate just how far ranging the group traverses--A very familiar Chorale of Bach with new lyrics by Kiah, the Beatles' "Blackbird" with a band vocal and some pretty free improvising between the soundings of the head melody, Ornette Coleman's "The Circle with a Hole in the Middle" played with soul and freedom, and Leadbelly's iconic "Goodnight Irene" done with disarmingly straightforward qualities.

The melding of open expression and binding structure, vocal and instrumental, genre bending and genre grafting, the free from of contemporary improvisatory ways with classical edifice shadings, all these elements work together to create a novel freshness that wins your attention and brings surprise and pleasure if you listen with an open mind. Happily recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Brian Landrus, For Now, with Fred Hersch, Drew Gress, Billy Hart

Brian Landrus has always come through as a player at the top of his game. This recent one gives us a total musical package of great blowing, compositional and arranging acumen and very distinctive group sound with a hand-picked team well chosen. The title tells us that this is For Now (BlueLand Records BLR-2020) as all worthy Jazz must be. Brian flourishes on baritone sax but also sounds great on the bass clarinet, alto flute and flute. He is joined by the formidable artists Fred Hersch on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Up-and-coming trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and violinist Sara Caswell also grace the program with some attractive cameo solos. And a string quartet joins in the sonic tapestry from time-to-time for a well conceived musical aura. It all works together in a program that stands out as far from routine or ordinary..

Of course it all sets off Landrum's vibrant, nicely detailed solo style. By now it is clear that he is one of the very best of the living baritone artists, a subtle and lucid voice, too, on his other instruments, a musical star who always seems to ,maintain a consistent brilliance and spirit.The beauty and strength of the Landrus-Hersch-Gress-Hart quartet shines through. Hersch's stellar pianism sounds perfect, driving and open when comping and an excellent solo presence that spells Landrus just as one would hope for. Rodriguez and Caswell are wonderful in their spots as well. The Gress-Hart rhythm team is as good as anyone out there now.  To listen to what they do in itself on this album is a wonderful listen.

The string quartet parts are strong and sweet combined, never gratuitous, ever sturdy and robust. The Landrus treatment of standardx allows us to refresh our idea of them. Landrus on solo bass clarinet on "Round Midnight" extends  nicely what Eric Dolphy did so well in his last years. And the Landrus-Hersch duet on Monk's perennial "Ruby, My Dear" reaffirms the timeless beauty of the song and showcases the two at an inventive peak.

The Landrus penned items give us the amassed talent in a setting that has recognizable signposts of harmonic-line-weaving mainstreaming with all the passion such music demands to speak to us today. There are no compromises--just some stunning artistry that sounds meaningful from first-to-last. It is a newly forged classic for our time and all the better for us! I gladly recommend this one to your ears.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Gao Hong & Issam Rafea, From Our World to Yours, Chinese-Syrian Musical Collaborations

The album featured today is in fact the follow-up to an earlier duet that garnered praise and acclaim since its release. It all came about when Syrian oud virtuoso Issam Rafea was invited to the US for a residency at Carleton College, where Chinese pipa virtuoso Gao Hong was a faculty member. They ended up recording in 2017 a completely spontaneous duet album that was subsequently named Life As Is. It was nominated for several Independent Music Awards and garnered critical accolades.

Now they return for a sequel, From Our World to Yours (ARC Music MCPS EUCD 2899). The music as on the first album comes out of a mutually attuned sensitivity towards the stylistic background and musical personality of the duo partner. So also there is a real-time accommodation in the mutual use of space, leading and accompanying and attention to the natural timbers of each instrument in tandem. Minor modes and pentatonic expressions join the two artists and cultures. The close dialog that results is rare and finely executed.

Some fifteen improvised segments flow through our listening senses in the nearly hour-long program. It is the most productive of cultural exchanges, a true bridging of two venerable traditions via two brilliant exponents. The masterful Gao Hong and Issam Rafea leave us with a most pleasurable and striking synergy on From Our World to Yours. It is a triumph of the globalized world we live in today, perhaps almost unimaginable 100 years ago. That it took place is cause for appreciation; that it is as brilliant as it is comes out of the sheer musical inventiveness and exceptional openness of the two artists involved. Bravo!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Simon Nabatov, Time Labyrinth

Jazz pianist-composer-stylist Simon Nabatov flourishes on a recent release of a larger band outing entitled Time Labyrinth (Leo CD LR 881). It is a vibrant and nicely put-together program of six Nabatov compositions, played nicely,  backdropping spotlight improvisations that flesh out the ideas and give them the immediacy of now. The zone occupied is Avant-Free as you would expect, the compositions are thoughtful, the soloing significant. And it is a winner.

Joining Simon at the piano are Frank Gratkowski on reeds, Matthias Schubert on tenor sax, Shannon Barnett on trombone, Melvyn Poore on tuba, Dieter Manderscheid on double bass and Hans W. Koch on synthesizer. The lack of a drummer opens up the articulation of the musicians into a slightly more New Music-chamber zone without negating the cutting-edge Improv orientation of it all. Some most notable of the collective improvisations give us a stunning Nabatov paving the way with his intricate pianisms--for example hear the opening "Waves" and following "Metamorph," the latter especially intriguing with its harmonic sequencing yet ultimately its pan-tonal texturing.

"Reader" follows with Gratkowski's flute handing the lead melody over a richly harmonic accompanying field of horns and piano. "Right Off" is another high point with Barnett's trombone taking center stage while dynamic pointilistic entrances to second the solo eventually prevail--the latter distinctly in a presence from Nabatov and ensemble.  "Repeated" has some breathtaking piano moments. "Choral" ends us with a very memorable theme and a dramatically fitting close to a truly superlative sonic adventure.

This is a stunning program that anyone should listen to closely, anyone who wants to know what's happening in the most current avenues of Improv and Avant Jazz.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Hero Trio, with Francois Moutin, Rudy Royston

If you like many of us these days need to reaffirm creative movement forward, turn to alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and his Hero Trio (Whirlwind Recordings  WR4760), the album and the group. No doubt some readers will know Rudresh as the brilliant principal alto sax master of our times. If not here is a chance to hear him do music more familiar to you, perhaps. As he states in the liners, after some 15 albums of his own compositions, he turns here to the music of some of his heroes, prime influences and inspirations, making the music over in his own special musical image. And why not? In a way this is a companion album to his Bird Calls, widening the scope somewhat while also turning to classic material and paring down to an essentialist trio with an excellent sense of adventure.

So we get some imaginative makeovers of choice lines and songs--of Charlie Parker ("Red Cross," "Barbados," and "Dewey Square"), John Coltrane ("26-2"), Ornette Coleman ("Sadness") Keith Jarrett ("The Windup"), Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire,"). Stevie Wonder ("Overjoyed"), and some American Songbook Standards ("I Can't Get Started," "I'll Remember April")--the latter two in part Rudresh's homage to the sax trios of Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz, and so also "Sadness" especially for Ornette's sax trio work.

This is notably Rudresh's first saxophone trio outing and it swings, rocks and opens up nicely in the hands of Rudresh and his colleagues double-bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston. The arrangements are subtle, open and most conducive to Mahanthappa's hard-driving, innovative line weaving and the very compatible accompaniment, the second and third improvisational voices from Moutin and Royston.

Every number undertaken sounds freshly re-minted, Mahanthappian, transformed into something very contemporary and admirably improvisatory. The trio cooks with joyous abandon yet structural smarts too. It is a most stirring outing, something you will no doubt want to hear, perhaps also to have! Recommended.