Friday, February 26, 2021

Martin Kuchen & Landaeus Trio, Mind the Gap of Silence


Saxophonist Martin Kuchen has been making some joyful Jazz noises over in Europe for a while now. I've covered him on these pages from 2009-2017 (type his name in the search box for reviews) and now he is back with something recent in company with the Landaeus Trio for an album called Mind the Gap of Silence (Clean Feed CF552CD).

It is a full set of structured freedom based on springboard Kuchen compositions that have a kind of folk elementality (minor mode at times) yet an expressive thrust to set the band on its way, six times in all, recorded before the Pandemic, 2019 in Sweden.

Martin mans the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones with a mastery and sureness that pulls the music forward. He has a full throated, overtone laced sound that at times recalls favorably Bechet's soprano and perhaps early Ben Webster tenor, only without a lot of vibrato.

As I write this morning I am listening to the last track, the final "Sounds & Ruins." It manages to situate in a place somewhere between a rhapsodic later-Trane-meets-Ayler, with maybe a bit of the thrust of an Archie Shepp, and ultimately pronounced roots that hearken to our deepest universal folkways. 

The opening "Sorkifsta" is memorably minor-folk balladic and plunges us into worthwhile musical territory that keeps up throughout.

Matthias Landaeus on piano is a carefully but soulfully lyric presence that gives Martin a productive foil and contentful response throughout. Double-bassist Johnny Aman gives out with a very whole expression, a woody tone and consistently fitting solo and accompanying thrusts. Drummer Cornelia Nilsson can push a freetime percussiveness or a nicely loose swing, and it all sounds right, always.

"Old Harriot Hat" is the most overt swinger of the bunch and it brings out the extroverted best of the quartet, especially Martin and Mathias. Martin could be playing with Hawk on 52nd Street for that dramatic swing-bop largeness you hear with such immediacy. And Mathias bounces along himself into very solid swing territory. Good show!

The title cut has balladic torque and further shows us Kuchen's lively retapping of roots. 

"East Hastings Satian Slow Stomp" gives us an almost hymn-like testification and some very soulful soprano along with a nicely brushed drum solo. I still enjoy listening to drums and bass solos, so thanks for some nice ones on here. 

"Love, Flee Thy House" continues all with a very intense soprano and a kind of post-Trane rhapsody followed by a free-riffing undulation that grows dramatically in intensity for a definite statement of high expression.

After  passing through the entirety of this album a bunch of times I must say it gets me nodding and smiling,  smiling and nodding. Everybody puts it together here both indivudually and collectively. It is one of the best I've heard from Martin so of course I recommend that you check it out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies, This Land


Vocalist Theo Bleckmann I have come across in the Jazz singing realm (see my review here from August 26, 2015). Until now I have not come to know him much as a composer and artist on the edge of Jazz and New Music, with the notable exception of his effective appearance as vocalist on Phil Kline's Zippo Songs (see post of May 20, 2010). We get to experience another side of him on his latest, Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies and the album This Land  (Westerlies Records).

It is unusual fare. Theo Bleckmann brings his voice and live electronic processing for a close collaboration with the Westerlies, a brass quartet of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpets, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombones. The program is some 14 songs that emerged as a result of the five artists' collaborative residence at Yellow Barn chamber music center in Putney, Vermont during June of 2018  

As a kind of a natural outcropping of the unsettled political and physical world of recent years they turned to the idea of a music of resistance, of protest, of solace, of a search for refuge and belonging. Alternately, as trumpeter Riley Mulherkar puts it, it comprises "songs old and new that encompass satire, love, sorrow and fear in our shared musical language."

The striking thing about all of this is the situation and/or resituation of diverse songs for originally conceived conjunctions of the specially integrated brass choir and Theo's very musically nuanced voice. All this comes together with a handful of compositions forged anew along with an eclectic selection of songs from folk roots and songwriters of engagement such as Woodie Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Phil Kline and others. 

The situation/resituation strikes one immediately with the opening rearrangement-recomposition of Joni Mitchell's old Clouds era song "The Fiddle and the Drum." Theo's bell-like vocal hews closely to the melody while the brass quartet harmonizes and periodizes it into a new experience, wonderfully rejuvenated.

Similarly innovative things take place in various ways and shades with the Woody Guthrie "I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore," and "Two Good Men" along with the Spiritual "Wade in the Water," and various others, including Phil Kline's moving "Thoughts and Prayers." 

The originals are absorbing and worthy. "Grandmar" by Andy Clausen combines brass choir with jazz leanings via some nice trumpet soloing. "Land," also by Andy, has tensile strength and anthemic memorability. "Another Holiday" came forth as Theo Bleckmann came to grips with the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016. It jars through its wish for a normalcy that events belie, contra various assertions out there of the "new normal."

The rare mix of Folk, New Music, Contemporary Song and Jazz elements defies easy description but upon hearing ravishes and moves us to thoughts of new horizons. It is music that consoles as it rejuvenates and always with an ultra-musical sensibility. I do recommend this one strongly if you seek a capital /n/ in your New! Bravo.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Burton Greene Trio, Peace Beyond Conflict

Those who have followed the trajectory and development of "Free Jazz" in some depth should be familiar with the music of pianist Burton Greene. He has been a vital force on the scene since his first albums on ESP in the mid '60s. (Type his name in the search box above for a number of review discussions on this blog.)

His discography is extensive and filled with some excellent sessions. I am happy to say that things keep on. Today I am on here to consider a New York live trio session from 2003.  now only recently available, that is entitled Peace Beyond Conflict (Birdwatcher Records). The conjunction is an excellent one with Burton of course on piano, Adam Lane on bass and Dave Brandt on drums.

Adam Lane anchors the trio with strength and flexible interplay, whether soloing overtop or sharing the aural space in a three-way. Dave Brandt sounds right on the drums, helping spur the music on with freetime looseness and sound color sensitivity. Burton is in great form, percussive and effervescent (like on "Gnat Dance") or lyrically legato and balladic in turn (like on the title work "Peace Beyond Conflict"), always with his own sound, his own sort of fire and grasp.

Four pieces grace the session, three Burton compositions and one by Ali Akbar Khan. The eighteen minute "Carnival of Mother Kali" uses Khan's line as a springboard for a quasi-Indian openness that intrigues and gives you much to consider.

In the end we have a vibrant set that forms a welcome addition to the Greene corpus and will no doubt give you much to enjoy in extended listens. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Luisa Goncalves, Unno

Portuguese pianist Luisa Goncalves steps forward with her album Unno (Trem Azul TA014CD), a solo outing. She has classical training, which certainly makes itself felt on the seven composition-improvisations that comprise the album. All compositions save one are by Ms. Goncalves.  A rolling and tumbling rendition of the standard "Laura" is the other that fills in and gracefully informs us of this part of her roots. So in this and other extended ways there are classical elements yet quite often a jazz feeling in the harmonies and rubato melo-harmonic thrust of this music.

Like Keith Jarrett (and perhaps a bit of Bill Evans) she spans the two genres but after several listens you do not confuse her with others, for she spins a lyrical but hard-edged personal approach that is most definitely her own. On the classical side there is like with Jarrett a channeling of the Grand Tradition of sensitive and somewhat tempestuous piano a la Chopin, Liszt and Debussy-Ravel, yet again her channeling is her own.

With the exception of the brief and arpeggiated closing piece "Circle," this is not a recital that brings to the forefront a demonic quickening of right hand lines, for she is here mainly after cluster-melo-harmonics of a more unified and more contemplative sort.

It is very easy to flow with this music. And it may well grow on you as it did me. For all piano lovers I would think. Recommended. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Scott Lee, Through the Mangrove Tunnels


By the time that Rock began intertwining seriously with Jazz and New Music Classical as a three-way meld, the term "Third Stream" to describe Jazz and Classical combinations was somewhat on the wane. But the various possibilities of two- and three-way amalgamations continued to develop through to today. Frank Zappa was a foundational pioneer and a brilliant practitioner of the three-fold possibility and of course there were others. Fast forward to the present and a new release worth considering.

So what, then, about today's music, a CD of a long Scott Lee composition entitled Through the Mangrove Tunnels (Panoramic Recordings  PAN20)? It comprises the title work of eight movements featuring a premier New Music string ensemble--the Jack Quartet, plus pianist Steven Beck and Russell Lacy on the drum set. 

The all-acoustic ensemble functions as a "group" in the Jazz and Rock sense--they perform mostly together with the drums playing a Rock or Jazz-Rock beat as the foundation with piano and string quartet there to play out the primary composed parts that deliberately contrast and alternately conjoin with the drums for a continuingly fascinating blend.

Through the Mangrove Tunnels flows together in its eight-part sequence to illustrate in music the experiential and historical flow of things in the swamps and bayous of Florida where the composer grew up. 

The ensemble engages rhythmically in ways that combine New Music Classical abstractions along with figures that suggest Rock and sometimes Jazz phrasings. Melodically and harmonically there are at times suggestions of relatedness to Jazz-Rock but nearly always while referencing New Music elements. 

Sometimes harmonically and rhythmically there are more direct Rock-Pop referencing in the strings and piano, for example on "The Ballad of Willie Cole." which goes its way without drums. "Playthings of Dance" gives out with a kind of old school pop-jazz theme that then expands outward into Modern territory before returning as a kind of "Sweet Band" gush. It is unexpected and amusing to boot. "Engine Trouble" for quartet alone has definite rhythmic bite to it.

The music consistently stimulates and retains its refreshing originality throughout. I highly recommended this one for all who like to explore the possibilities of genre gap spanning. Bravo!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Jean-Marc Foussat, Thomas Lehn, Spielgelungen


Any follower of my blog no doubt has read a review or two on the music of live electronics wizard Jean-Marc Foussat. Now there's another--an interesting duet of synths with Foussat and Thomas Lehn,  Spielgelungen (Fou Records FRCD31). 

It's an hour long CD of a live concert recording from March 2017 of the two improvising electronic sound structures in Paris  It shows a seamless dual stream of sound in motion, a pitch and noise based comingling that has an inventive linear unfolding, built of fairly thick impastos of sound poetics. generally more electronics generated than concrete transformed with the exception of Foussat's voice which appears as an integral part of the mix without calling attention to itself per se. There are other concrete transformations if one listens for them but the basic mode is synth-generated sound, and that of course is expected and well done. 

The point is the continuous inspired production of musical-sound events that relate one to the other in a long flowing language of electronic Modernity. It is often importantly about long sustains with layers atop of shorter, somewhat more staccato sound figures. Loops too make an important presence without ever completely overtaking the wider blend. Anyone who knows Foussat's work will find this engaging but also a coherent working out of new sounds in ways consistent with Foussat's style. And in that way Thomas Lehn fits right in nicely.

The horizontal narrative quality of the sound structures recall classic old school works without directly referencing them. The emphasis is on spontaneity and forward motion.

It is a fairly long stretch of continuous music at an hour's length but the time passes quickly thanks to the consistently high interest level of the music. Thoroughly recommended.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Potsa Lotsa XL, Silk Songs for Space Dogs


"Potsa Lotsa" is the name of a wonderful old Eric Dolphy work he recorded at the Five Spot with the legendary group he co-led with Booker Little in 1961. So if we encounter a band called Potsa Lotsa XL, it says something good about where their roots lie. And so too when alto sax-jazz composer Silke Eberhard heads up the Potsa Lotsa XL Tentet in the recent album Silk Songs for Space Dogs (Leo CD LR 878) I pay attention. After a bunch of listens I am glad to say good things about it here.

The tentet is made full use of in these eight outstanding Eberhard compositions. The band consists of Eberhard on alto, Jurgen Kupke on clarinet, Patrick Braun on tenor sax and clarinet, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschloshl on trombone, Johannes Fink on cello, Taiko Saito on vibraphone, Antonis Anissegos on piano, Igor Spallati bass and Kay Lubke on drums. These are not exactly super well known artists but forget all that and listen, for they congeal as a remarkable ensemble that swings and articulates the advanced charts with fervor and precision, and those who solo are accomplished and do not waste their chance to shine.

These are ultra-modern post-Dolphian charts of a beautiful complexity and expressive directness. They can groove madly and always sound somehow "authentic" and forward moving in the best ways. Every composition has presence and originally while they encompass Jazz Composer Modernist traditions and make them new.

The lining is expansively chromatic and harmonically advanced. Everything feels like it belongs together in the best ensemble complexities from Miles' Birth of the Cool through classic Mingus, George Russell, Tristano, Braxton, etc.

This is a real sleeper. Perhaps it is easy to miss but anyone interested in the top edge of the current scene will find this extremely interesting. Do not miss it. Bravo to Silke Eberhard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The JCA Orchestra, Live at the BPC


When I went to Berklee College of Music there was no Performance Center. But then Hendrix was only recently dead, and Coltrane was still around only a short four years before. So that was a while back. In any case I am glad Berklee now has a performance venue. otherwise for one thing there would not be this album by the JCA Orchestra (Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra), or not at any rate one called Live at the BPC (JCA Recordings 1805). And that would have been a pity, for it is well worth hearing.

This is apparently their 11th album. I've missed a few but have appreciated them nearly from the first. They are in great form here and feature six compositions by four members.

For various reasons I am most familiar with the scores of Darrell Katz. So I perked up when I saw he had contributed one to the program. The 20-minute "A Wallflower in the Amazon" is a strongly rich palette of ensemble writing with a brilliant vocal and band sequence featuring singer Rebecca Shrimpton,  based on the poetry of Paula Tatarunis--and in this new version (it was originally on album 10) adding nicely the "Strings Theory Trio" of Junko Fujiwara, Mimi Rabson and Helen Sherrah-Davies, on cello (Junko) and five-string violins (Mimi and Helen). Well done!

Mimi Rabson's "Super Eyes - Private Heroes." swings beautifully and has a breathtaking bouquet of unfolding harmonic-melodic lines and some contrapuntal movement also, all of which sets up the soloists in a grand manner. It takes as its inspiration the Spy-Crime music of classic James Bond movies and the like. It stands out nicely.

To backtrack to the first cut, Mimi's opener "Romanople" has a pronounced ethnic feel, understandably since it leads with a Turkish odd-metered folksong like ditty. It all is a kind of musical-historical  retelling of when the Roman Empire had twin capitals in Rome and Constantinople. So the folksong gets extended treatment--as what it might have been around Constantinople, then migrates to Rome as a brass band styled section, then gets embroiled in the Roman military war machine. It retains interest throughout by nicely scored variations. Bravo!

David Harris "The Latest" brightly moves forward with a kind of post-Afro-Bossa flourish. There's a nice electric guitar solo too by Norm Zocher. It is an imagination of McCoy Tyner's "Fly with the Wind" band on tour, something they might have played.

Bob Pilkington's "The Sixth Snake" gives us a kind of pastoral quasi-balladic, highly inventive interlude with well crafted part writing. It is based on the number series 27563. It segues into a rock-funk openness and room for some nice trombone from the composer among other soloists who also do nicely (Maxim Lubinsky on piano, Lihi Haruvi on soprano).

For a definite change of pace there is David Harris' "Orange, Yellow, Blue," which uses Butch Morris' idea of the conduction and a combination of some written segments and improvisations cued especially for the moment to make up a free wheeling outer exploration that moves along and finds a groove in time.  Good show.

So that's the size of it. Live at the BPC presents a winning program of state-of-the-art contemporary big-band Jazz composition and reminds us just how varied and interesting that sort of thing can be. Highly recommended.