Friday, October 6, 2017

Ellason, Traditional Cuban Music

I've spent a good deal of my life listening to Afro-Cuban and neighboring musics. I cannot pretend to be an expert but I am profoundly influenced by it all. With a diplomatic semi-normalization of US-Cuban relations we can now hear a great deal more of what has been happening on the island. Ansonica Records is an ambitious undertaking of  Parma Recordings, aiming to bring US-Cuban musical collaborative projects to our ears as well as documenting what is happening in Cuba today.

In the latter category is the notefull passion of Traditional Cuban Music (Ansonica AR0003) as played and sung by Ellason, an excellent all-female outfit. The aim is to revive the music of Compay Segundo and Sigundo Garay and get general inspiration from the genre known as La Trova.

It is essentially in the style of 1940's Havana jazz bands, featuring especially the Charanga form with a driving heat and lyrical crispness. Lead singers and chorus are spectacularly good, and the band of bass, guitar, congas, bongos, cowbell, two clarinets and violin get a wonderful sound and heat everything up so that you surely want to dance.

I dearly love this band and their music. Anyone who digs the old sounds will revel in it all. Havana comes alive and we are there. Wonderful stuff!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Alan Sondheim, Azure Carter, Luke Damrosch, Limit


This past September 8th I was happy to review a recent Alan Sondheim album with Azure Carter and Luke Damrosch. We have yet another, entitled Limit (Public Eyesore 138). Sondheim, you will recall, had a couple of multi-instrumental iconoclastic free improv albums out on ESP back in the day. He is going strong again, as this album attests.

Luke Damrosch plays madal and is responsible for engineering and programming, Azure Carter gives us her quirky songs and sings them with disarming straightforward candor, and Alan handles the music concepts and plays a battery of instruments as we have come to expect, in this case viola, guqin, flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, long necked saz, dan moi, ghichak, ukelele, guzheng, holeless shakuhachi, hegelung, sanshin and rebab.

The blend is spaced out at times by studio enhancements. All is plainly what it is, regardless. And what it is gives the listener plenty of pause (plus playback and fast forward)! There is at all times a provocative kind of freedom that, as is Alan Sondheim's way, never stays put in a single free idiom, instead covering free jazz and world roots in ways he has come to make his fingerprint sound.

Azure adds much with the special songs that form a vivid, whimsical contrast to the freedom swirling about her.

Limit pleases greatly if you give the music a chance to grow within you. It is not like anything else exactly. It is Alan Sondheim.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Biggi Vinkeloe Band, Aura Via Appia

Melody, song and freely stepping forward are central to the beautiful album by the Biggi Vinkeloe Band, Aura Via Appia (Omlott MLR 015 2017). It centers on the presence of the band in Rome, on the singular feeling that evokes, a songfulness, a singular directionality brought on in part by being there, or so I would suggest.

The band itself has presence. It centers around of course Biggi on flute and alto, Robert Bellatalla on double bass and Peeter Uuskyla on drums. Joining them is Nema Vinkeloe on well done vocals and violin for the two Swedish folk songs and Pharoah Sander's wonderfully familiar "Japan." Simon Uuskyla nicely brings his voice to the two versions of Mozart's "Un Aura Amoroso" and his "Speculum Dianae".

This is music that sings, and to me that is always a big part of Biggi as an artist. Her alto and flute are ever singing, as they very much are here. The entire album however does embrace a singing of a singing, in the Mozart, in the folk songs. There always is a kind of discursive logic to Biggi's soloing, a speech-song quality. And we get lots of nicely hewn Biggi here, as good as anything and that is very good indeed. The band has open forward free movement that sets Ms. Vinkeloe into a space where she can shine brightly. So she does. And the song moment only bring that to us as a reinforcement, an affirmation.

Aura Via Appia has a gentle, open joy about it. We sing along in our hearts, because the music cannot and should not be denied. You listen the more, the better it gets. Kudos to Biggi and the band. Listen to this!

Monday, September 25, 2017

LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst, Metamorphosis

The world of Portuguese new music-avant jazz is a most fertile one. I have been happy to cover it increasingly over the years. It surely forms one of the more vibrant and varied, innovative and original scenes out there today. An especially rewarding outfit is that of LAMA, which if you type their name into the search box above you will see I have been reviewing on a regular basis for some time. The latest, Metamorphosis (Clean Feed 433) brings into the fold once again clarinetist-bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst for a rather riveting set.  LAMA itself consists of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Goncalo Almeida on double bass, keys, effects and loops, and Greg Smith on drums and electronics.

The music combines compositionally directed and free improv sounds in very logical and earthy ways. Of the five segments as recorded at Jazzcase last January, three are by Almeida, and one each are by Badenhorst and Smith. Ms. Silva has ubiquity and strength on trumpet; Badenhorst counters with his own clarinet-family gumbo. The rhythm-electronics team of Almeida and Smith bring a huge presence to the music conceptually and personality-wise. They are a big reason why everything hangs together while it expands outwards continually.

I cannot do proper justice to the music using the words at hand to me this Monday morning. That would take a great deal more effort, because this is not easily categorized. It is new, involved, evolved and free yet carefully thought-out. What is important is in the hearing, after all.

And so I do heartily recommend you hear this one repeatedly. It is much a thing to absorb you and give some meaning to what is the modern now. Take it on seriously and you will be the richer for it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dennis Gonzalez's Ataraxia, Ts'iibil Chaaltun

Trumpetist-bandleader-jazz composer Dennis Gonzalez has never been a follower so much as a prime, parallel force in the Zeitgeist of present-avant jazz. He continues to strike an independent yet forward striving path with the trio Ataraxia and their 2-LP offering Ts'ibil Chaaltun (Daagnim DVDI).

The vinyl presentation is state-of-the-art, a beautiful object in itself. The music is singular, with classical Indian-cum-fusion-Milesian-cum-free-jazz  furtherences saving our musical day. The trio says much with only three voices, Dennis of course, Jagath Lapriya on tablas and Drew Phillips on contrabass. The music wisely conflates multiple stylistic worlds with an organic wholeness that seems effortless but of course is a product of careful interlistening and instrumental insights.

There are the tablas nicely laying down the rhythmic core, occasional tambura drone, thoughtful contrabass anchorage and variations, and some haunting Gonzalez trumpet.

It turns out to be a marvelously varied platform that never seems the least bit contrived. It explores a spectrum of possibilities in ways that ring the truest and make a major art music statement.

It may not be exactly what you would expect from Dennis Gonzalez. And that is partly the point. He never rests and in the travelling comes a mastery of possibilities for which this trio has fully prepared.

A milestone, this is! And fully worthy to traverse universes, to take your ears to places somehow familiar yet boldly personal. Wow!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Joris Teepe & Don Braden, Conversations, with Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson

What can still be can satisfy when it is put together just right. Conversations (Creative Perspective Music 3004) by bassist Joris Teepe and tenor-flautist Don Braden is one of those kind of sessions. It is a tenor-bass-drum lineup that accentuates forward momentum swinging in a loosely cohesive, very inter-conversational way. The emphasis is not so much on breaking new ground as it is on finding new ways to walk down a fairly well-trodden path.

The trio here dwells comfortably and brilliantly on the edge of late hard-bop freedom. There is very hip propulsion, basso profundo musicianship from Teepe that can dwell inside and outside of the assumptions of a jazz classic, standard or original, and a Braden tenor fluidity that recalls early Sam Rivers, mid-Wayne Shorter, even Sonny Rollins is an advanced mode, that sort of thing, only Braden-fresh.

Bass and sax have a frontline presence together often enough. But Teepe also keeps the rhythm-team movement happening with Gene Jackson or Matt Wilson, both of whom distinguish themselves in turn. The fact that they do a nice version of Elvin Jones' classic "Three Card Molly" is great, but it also puts you in mind of that early trio with Farrell and Garrison, not to mention the classic Rollin's threesome before that. And it is not the notes themselves but that evolved cross-talk that is present here.

The choice of material and their attention to getting inside it makes for a strong outing. The Corea "Humpty Dumpty," Mingus' "Pork Pie Hat," Shorter's "Footprints" and the standards like "This is New," plus a couple of nice originals by Teepe, Wilson and Braden, all of that keeps the ears fresh and comfortable with the new-old, structure-form oscillations.

It is in every way top tier modern jazz! Everybody shows strength and creative open-field vision.

Yes!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Anemone, A Wing Dissolved in Light, Peter Evans, John Butcher, Paul Lovens, etc.

If you revel in the extroverted and brash yet smart sort of free jazz outings, I believe the recent album A Wing Dissolved in Light (No Business NBLP 105) will appeal very much to you. The group calls itself Anemone. Those that follow the avant garde jazz scene will surely know the work of trumpetismos Peter Evans, who on this set concentrates most productively on the piccolo trumpet. Then there is tenor and soprano master John Butcher, who has made a dramatic impact on the scene for a while now. Drummer Paul Lovens has iconic status, deservedly. Joining them are two somewhat lesser-known but essential artists, Frederic Blondy on piano and Clayton Thomas on double bass, both of whom make important contributions to the whole.

Gone are the head-solos-head one-by-one improvisational routines to be replaced by the group explorations "orchestrated" by the collective intuitions, restraint versus assertion dialectics that Anemone unveil so well. If this often enough is what new free jazz favors, it nevertheless poses a great challenge to the participants, since every minute must entail careful listening and a demand to make every note count.

Anemone shows us, not surprisingly, that they are masters of the instant form collective. There is no moment when the music seems unpurposive. On the contrary it all hangs together remarkably well.

If you want to know how evolved freedom jazz can be right now, this is as good an example as any.

So pay this one close attention if you can. It rewards with some sublime spontaneity.