Friday, July 30, 2010

Sun Ra Revisited, 1965

Sun Ra's Nothing Is, recorded live on a tour of NY State Colleges in 1965, was surely one of his best early releases. The band live, which we were to learn increasingly, was the band at its best. And here they were with all the elements in place. The original LP had 40 minutes give-or-take of the concert material and it was an instant classic, though the world at large took some time before it came to embrace the music and join the already convinced.

Now we have a release of the complete date, more than two-hours worth of Ra and the band in excellent form. College Tour Volume One: The Complete Nothing Is. . . (ESP 4060) is one of those revelatory issues that comes along infrequently. The band stretches out and soars. There are many nice surprises: a longish version of "The Satellites are Spinning," a bop-to-swing "Velvet," a long version of "Second Stop is Jupiter," and more. Too much to note here.

What's especially nice is the chance to get Sun Ra's acoustic piano work in some depth. It's worth listening to in isolation, because it gives you in a rather early stage the combination of styles he and the band were synthesizing so effectively. And the band sounds great. Clifford Jarvis and Ronnie Boykins get several chances to act as a hard-bop rhythm section and they do it with fire. There are plenty of all-out horn assaults that the band was so good at putting across, and of course there are some more of the chants, some in very different versions.

It's a great document for showing how the Sun Ra organization at that very moment were incredibly innovative (and of course remained so). When you think of out big bands, you realize they were pretty much IT back then. You can hear on this complete concert how Sun Ra was carving out his group sound with deliberation and total originality. You can hear it all on this set. He had gotten it together totally by 1965.

It's an event no avant aficionado should miss. Sun Ra devotees will especially be happy. I was. I am.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Mark Lomax Trio Steps Forward with Some Good Outbop

I am not entirely familiar with the names represented on today's CD.That is not surprising. We have many names out there, people playing music that is worth considering. The names of Mark Lomax, drummer, and his associates Edwin Bayard (tenor) and Dean Hulett (acoustic bass) may not be on the tip of the tongues of jazz-improv lovers everywhere, but they go some distance on The State of Black America (Inarhyme 1005) in making that a possibility. It's a full set of outbop-nubop-nobop, swinging rooted music that shows off their abilities in a good light.

Though Mr. Bayard plays the tenor, I hear a certain affinity with the late Jackie McLean in his solos. There's an edgy sharpness and a full-out presence that he shares with the Mac. That doesn't mean he is some sort of McLean protege. It just means that I am favorably reminded of things I liked in Jackie's playing.

The trio is on the mark throughout. I am happy to have the chance to hear them on this disk. And I would certainly look forward to hearing more from them. It's a goodie, this one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jugendstil II: Fine Improvisations from Konitz, Cheek, Leibovici

The second album by the improvisational chamber trio Jugendstil (Jugendstil II) (ESP 4059) has the magic that can only come out of the musical alignment of three inspired players. . . resulting in exceptional group interactions and individual presence, all honed to a brittle, fragile, yet exceptionally sharp surface. An improv syzygy. . .

It's a classic lineup for intimate chamber improv: the alto of the great Lee Konitz, who is sounding as good as ever, the tenor of Chris Cheek, a perfect foil for the bittersweet Konitz tone, and a solid anchor from bassist Leibovici. The group is supplemented here and there by harp, mallets, flutes, celesta and clarinet. Their subtle addition adds atmospheric, impressionistic ambiance.

But it is the focus on the three players in intimate interaction that is primary. The two horns engage in an extraordinary dialog that you expect from Lee Konitz but sometimes do not get from his accomplices. Cheek is the man to listen, respond and speak plainly but eloquently as called for. The same applies to Leibovici, but for the most part in a somewhat secondary role.

It all works smashingly well. This is a major addition to the Konitz legacy to my mind. But also to those of Chris Cheek and Stephane Leibovici as well. Alternately languidly, then crisply poignant. But most definitely poignant.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Odean Pope Fields Octet on "Odean's List"

Odean Pope has been on the scene ever since he became an important member of Max Roach's group years ago. But he sometimes gets overlooked in the scramble to assemble a national shrine to the best players active. Yet he belongs there.

This is quite amply demonstrated on his recent album Odean's List (In + Out 77102-2). The album features Odean in an octet setting, with three saxes, two trumpets and piano-rhythm. Jeff "Tain" Watts sounds excellent on the drums and James Carter doubles on tenor and bari to add to the lively sound of this group. But everybody seems to be in the mode. It's a richly voiced series of straight-ahead originals (and a standard or two) at play here, and the arrangements compliment the soloing for a full aural kick in the teeth.

The material has much of the late-'60s-early seventies post-Trane ambiance to it, which means there's exuberant fire and hard swinging. Odean and his principal soloists sound terrific and the full-out density of the group in happy cohesion leads to a very satisfying experience.

This is one of Mr. Pope's very best albums. It makes me smile to hear it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

John Stevens Trio with Frode Gjerstad, Last Recording

John Stevens's Detail was undoubtedly one of his most fruitful associations. This is free jazz at its finest. Norwegian altoist Frode Gjerstad and bassist Kent Carter meld with Stevens and create a magical music that transcends time and place. They most certainly do this on their final recording, Last Detail - Live at Cafe Sting (Cadence Jazz 1068).

The release brings to you in fine fidelity the doings of a set of music from May 2, 1994 (plus one cut from May 27). It smolders. burns and leaves you to bask in the glow of the evenly sustained embers of the last days of John Stevens's musical life.

It's some of the best music the three have made, collectively and individually. You should not miss it if you can help it! Check it out by going to, then clicking on CJR.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Live DVD From Vibist Mark Sherman

Live jazz DVDs can be great ways to experience the music. That's so with the Mark Sherman Quintet's Live at Sweet Rhythm (Miles High 8610), It's a longish set (or composite set) in a congenial club setting. The Quintet unselfconsciously goes through their original tunes with a looseness good live jazz can have if conditions are right.

Mark Sherman plays a keenly honed vibes style that incorporates the Bags through Hutcherson and mid-Trane sort of stylistic conglomeration. But he does it with real skill and swing and he does not seem at all cloned. His band is quite congenial to his style parameters. I'm quite impressed with drummer Tim Horner. He plays beautiful time, with the kicks and pushes that put the group into the pocket. Dean Johnson's bass is also super-foundational to the band's driven pulsations.

Pianist Allen Farnham plays an uncluttered harmonic comping which, most importantly for this instrumentation, does not clash with Sherman's chordal moments. Farnham digs in for some melodic blowing and most definitely serves as a nice contrast to the vibe pyrotechnics of Mr. Sherman. Finally Joe Magnarelli adds much to the doings on trumpet and fluegelhorn. He has a little of Art Farmer in his approach, to my ears, as well as the mainstays of the hard bop trumpet lineage. As the sole horn he gives another punctuation to the improvisational prose and he plays his role quite well.

They run through ten tunes on this audio-video capture. There's Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle," done nicely, and nine Sherman originals. Some are really fitting and move! Others sometimes have a slightly ordinary harmonic predictability. Well, they blow in the tradition, and the tradition is not often given to startling (to present-day ears) chord sequences, so what it is, it is supposed to be.

The sound is very decent. The video work concentrates on showing the band straightforwardly and that's a plus for feeling like you are there. Supplementary sections supply short interviews by each of the band members. That's informative and adds to it all.

The band in general and Mark Sherman in particular play here a very solid set and will satisfy anyone with a mainstream bent. Sherman's vibes are something to check out!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Don't Take Ken Peplowski for Granted

Ken Peplowski? Well. . . he's playing better than ever. Take him on a day when he is psyched to lay down some terrific solos. Add Shelley Berg (piano), Jay Leonhart (bass) and Joe La Barbara (drums) and set them loose. What you get is Noir Blue (Capri 74098-2).

Everybody seems to be bringing it on this one. Peplowski most so. His DeFranco-Goodman clarinet limpid or hot, alternatingly. His tenor with just a hint of terminal vibrato and sometimes a hoarse throat in the older manner. . . . and yeah, it can swing like the Dickens.

The band runs down some songbook and jazz standards without sounding like it is sick of any of them. And some of those song forms are not that often played either, like the Ellington-Strayhorn "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies" (from the sometimes overlooked masterpiece New Orleans Suite). That one sounds just great! And there are a couple of originals by Berg and La Barbara, respectively, and they do not detract from the proceedings. The general level is high here from the first to the last notes of the recording.

And speaking of last, the very last number is Peplowki's "Little Dogs," his tribute to Ornette Coleman. It has a kind of outside-ish head and then Ken plays some quite interesting outbop on tenor. Hey, do an entire album like this. Why not? It's quite interesting.

The whole set makes me wonder where I've been. I am guilty of taking Mr. Peplowski for granted. This one shows that we should most definitely pay attention. It's a very good outing and quite refreshing. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz Play Old-School Funky

How you feel about this CD depends on how you feel about mid-'70s funk. True there were commercial excesses that just about killed the form back then. But there were things that had substance as well. If you don't like that music, you will not like this music.

If the best moments of Herbie Hancock's funk ensembles still sound good to you, I think you'll like this one. Vincent Herring is a very good player. You wont hear him doing post-Cannonball hard bop here, like he did with the Jazz Messengers and later on his own. He plays a bit less sometimes than he would on a more straight-ahead mainstream date. But what he plays is just right. In fact Morning Star (Challenge 73297) can be said to proffer a "just right" kind of old funk. This band has been doing what they are doing for the past five years. And everything fits together right. Anthony Wonsey plays some very respectable keys too. The rhythm section is locked in.

And when they give the treatment to "Naima," I must say it does please me. Well now, that's what I think. There's room on the planet for styles that some people did their best to discredit a few years ago. It's the musicians' right to fit into whatever niche they choose. And if it is done very well, like this Earth Jazz band does, it's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keefe Jackson and Quartet Notch Off A Winner

Chicago. I've written about some of the very lively music coming out of there on numerous occasions. Today, another CD by some of the brightest in the firmament. Keefe Jackson, with his tenor, his bass clarinet and his jazz compositions, leads a quartet on the new Seeing You See (Clean Feed 176). It's a superb combination of musical vehicles and lustrous blowing.

Keefe has his own sound and approach. He is not given to the continuous unleashing of extra-timbral resonances (nothing wrong with that, though), but concentrates more on creating interesting lines. He is in terrific form on this album. Then there's Jeb Bishop, a trombonist that perfectly aligns stylistically with Jackson. He too is after the expressively outgoing linear improvisation. And he happens to be one of the most formidable trombone talents to come along in quite some time. The rhythm section finds the virtually ideal embodiment in Jason Roebke on bass and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. They can swing strongly or take a more diffuse freetime approach, or something in between the two (which may be hardest to pull off) depending on the character of the piece at hand. And they do it with seeming ease, which belies the hard work and dedicated realization of talent that it takes to get to their level.

I find just about everything that this loose confederation of Chicago cats put across to be important music. This one takes the legacy of Ornette's classic pianoless quartets and builds a new, sparklingly clean-edged edifice on top of it. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shepp, Cherry, Tchicai: The NY Contemporary Five's Lively and Lovely Montmartre Album

There has been so much ink spilled over the music of Don Cherry and Archie Shepp, especially back in earlier days, that I feel preceded. This has never stopped me in the past though, and not now either.

The album by Archie Shepp and The New York Contemporary Five (Delmark 409) first came out in the states in 1967 I believe. I didn't get to it myself until around 1971. It's a live date from the Jazzhus Montmartre, 1963. Shepp, Cherry and John Tchicai were the equally featured front liners, with bassist Don Moore and drummer J.C. Moses rounding out the group.

It's available on CD now, and one can only feel glad of it. The New York Contemporary Five were one of the first important groups to step into the floodlights after the advent of Ornette Coleman's seminal quartet recordings and appearances. By the time this album was recorded, the classic OC Quartet was no more (at least for a time) and so Don Cherry was free to pursue new horizons. He found them with Tchicai and Shepp. The set recorded that night featured two pieces by the founder of the feast, as it were, Ornette, plus a Monk classic and one original apiece by the three front liners.

It is a band that goes both beyond and behind what OC had been doing. The band is putting across a sort of early freebop associated with the principals through the OC influence, but also extending it as well as rooting it in new soil. The horns put together head arrangements plus some horn lines to accentuate the soloist of the moment. That works fine and is completely idiomatic to where they were back then. And that was a very good place indeed. Shepp was forming his style and was well on the way to getting it perfected. Sometimes he sounds a little more under the influence of Trane than he would later be, but he sounds quite enlivened. Cherry is himself, as always, puckish, foundational yet given to flights outside the range and sound of what the mainstreamers were doing. Tchicai is the more unsung of the three historically and he shows why he should be recognized. His sweet-and-sour plaintive alto is in very good evidence.

A note about J.C. Moses. He plays a fair amount of drums on this set. Does he overplay? Subtract his many accents and bombs and it would not have been the same group. So no, he does not.

This and their Savoy recordings are prime examples of the new. new thing. They sound as good or even better to me than they did when I first heard this album. It is timeless. It is indispensable listening for the serious follower of the avant garde lineages of free jazz. But more importantly, it is perfectly raw, but perfectly great music.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nobuyasu Furuya: This Cat Brings the Power!

Nobuyasu Furuya, Japanese power house! Nobuyasu plays a BIG tenor, a snaky bass clarinet and a richly expressive flute. At least he does on his CD Stunde Null (Chitei, no catalog # listed). Half the disk consists of Furuya with a bass and drums configuration; the other half adds piano and trombone (the latter from Eduardo Lola, who sounds good).

This is music in the classically out free jazz tradition. Furuya channels Ayler, Shepp, Brotzmann, Gato and the other extroverted tenors of the new thing for his own high intensity expeditions. He has that big, gritty sound that projects right into your cerebral cortex. It's a nicely free and focused out set of performances. The trio sounds just right and the larger group gets that much more torque on their musical driveshafts.

I'm not sure if Mr. Furuya has ever been stateside, but I have no doubt he would be well received at a place like the Stone.

This is wildly raucous freedom. It burns and I highly recommend those inclined give it a listen. Bravo, Nobuyasu Furuya!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tommy Brunjes and Theta Transport: New Age, Old Age, New Ethnicities, Frozen Minimalism?

I can't tell you how interesting it is to get things for review that one would never hear or even consider, supposing one still habituates what are left of the brick and mortar establishments, which one does not. I do miss the days when I went to a record store with x dollars to spend and took chances on things I really didn't know much about so my knowledge and ear capacity could grow.

That impetus, more or less squelched for a time, has re-arisen with the packages of unknown music that arrive daily in my mailbox. And there's the Internet. But another time for that. (Too complicated and there are lots of issues involved with it. No need addressing them right now.)

So when I pulled percussionist Tommy Brunjes' CD out of the mailer, and read Theta Transport: Rhythmic Entrainment for Entering the Zone of Creativity (Sounds True, no catalog number), I raised my eyebrows a hair and, I'll admit, struck a sceptical pose.

Forget about what "entrainment" might be. The CD also notes that one should "File Under New Age." Well now that made me doubly dubious. To my mind there's nothing quite so banal as bad Keith Jarrett imitations or super-cosmic elevator drivel. At least that's pretty much a consistent gut reaction with me.

However I feel obligated to listen to whatever is sent my way. At least once. So I put the disk in the player and let it rip. Hmm....Turns out this is rather distinctive music. There are insistent mallet pulsations, a mid-eastern frame drum, some continual synth white noisoid sonorities and some extra sound dabs from the vibes here and there. The music locks into a trance groove early on and more or less stays there for an hour. Unlike minimalism, it's aim is not to change much at all. It's some kind of cosmically unspecific ethnic music from an unspecified region.

Yeah, it's not SUPPOSED to change. So OK I can get that. It may seem like the most boring record ever made, a backing track, a one-hour background to a foreground that never makes itself known. On one level it is all of that. But the foreground, I guess, is supposed to be you the listener somehow being creative. Making wax drip onto paper in colorful patterns, painting grandma's old tea service in purple and pink. . . whatever.

Funny thing is, it really isn't bad to hear. As long as you don't expect anything to happen (because it does not) you can put it on and drift into its snoozy somnolence. If this is what new age can be, well, it's not nearly as bad as what else there's been.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Clarinet Hive" Offers a Set of Interesting Works for the Clarinet Family

The world of contemporary classical music is a very diverse one, as we've discussed. Right now a wide spectrum of styles exist side-by-side, none taking primacy as the "music of our era." That's probably a good thing for the listener.

Such a state of affairs is reflected in a new release, Clarinet Hive (Naxos 8.572264). On it are six shortish to longish works for various-sized clarinet family ensembles. The shorter works are framed by the two longest of the bunch. Thus Astor Piazzolla's melodically vivid "Histoire du Tango" begins the recital; Evan Ziporyn's more modernistic "Clarinet Hive" caps it off. In between there are worthwhile shorter works by John Harbison, Vincent Persichetti, Thomas E. Barker and Gunther Schuller. These works contrast nicely. The performances are excellent. Much of it has a kind of whimsical feel to it.

Throughout you get the clarinet ensemble sonority and some finely crafted music. Think of it as a refreshing change of pace from the typical fare. It most certainly is good listening.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Harley Gaber Today: "Mount Fuji" Soundscape

Harley Gaber in my mind will always have the distinction of composing and recording one of the most extreme instrumental avant garde classical pieces I've ever heard. The Winds Rise in the North is a work for string group, originally released as a two-record set in the early-mid '70s. What made it rather extreme was his treatment of dissonance. The original 12-tone composers, the serialists and post-serialists dealt with dissonance generally in a pointilistic way. The bleep and bloop sort of music may have had no harmonically tonal basis or a very expanded one, but the music generally gave you dissonances as if they were tiny points of light on a screen or literally (with some of John Cage's piano music) as a representation of stars in the firmament. For audiences unaccustomed to hearing unresolved dissonance as part of their musical experience, the pointillistic presentation gave the listener some space between tones and also consonant intervals to relieve the tension, for the most part.

The Winds Rise in the North pretty much did none of that. Gaber approached the use of tone in blocks. The string group generally started softly with ever crescendoing complexes of often boldly dissonant sound. The music seems to have represented the build-up of wind currents in some rather extreme weather event, or alternately, some sort of cosmic apocalypse. When those blocks reached their various climaxes, the sheer intensity of continuous dissonant sound (albeit of much interest as sound color) was exhilarating for some, excruciating for others. I still consider it a masterpiece of the era, but perhaps one that many would find hard to sit through.

His latest recording, I Saw My Mother Ascending Mount Fuji (Innova 231) is quite another story.This hour long work, composed between 1968-2009, involves a combination of a piece for multi-track violin and one for processed flute, inserted into an electronics matrix devised by the composer.

Like the Winds Rise in the North, Mount Fuji sprawls throughout its hour-plus duration using long-toned, gradually evolving, wind-like sound-color events as its way of proceeding. Unlike the Winds piece, the music here is much less dense, much less dissonant, and makes for an entirely pleasing listening experience. It's a soundscape of some delicacy, with sustained long-form utterances of a kind of frozen beauty. As much as I appreciate his earlier masterpiece, Mt. Fuji is far more listener friendly. It is a mysterious mountainous essay that speaks as much through omission as commission. And it sounds rather stupendous coming out of the speakers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Evan Chambers, and His Moving Work "The Old Burying Ground"

Evan Chambers. Never heard his music before. The Old Burying Ground (Dorian 92113) is a major work that, once heard, makes you attach much to the name Chambers.

It's a long, ambitious piece for full orchestra, one folksinger, soprano, tenor, and a moment here and there for recitation. The work is based on the composer's experience of visiting a very old graveyard in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. It's one of those places from colonial times, the church it was a part of now gone, the graves and exotically archaic gravestones of unknown and now unknowable people all that's left to mark a world that has disappeared into time. From that experience Maestro Chambers has fashioned a kind of elegaic meditation on the lives and deaths of those who lived, died, and ended there, to be forgotten by those who came after. I'd say it reminds me of Hindemith's elegaic tribute to Lincoln/FDR based on Walt Whitman, When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloomed. But no, not precisely.

Still, the music is movingly impactful and very memorable in the way Hindemith's work is, so that's where there are parallels. And like Lilacs and, for that matter, Barber's Knoxville, it most poetically conjures time lost. What is especially eerie about the work is that much of the music evokes the sort of folk strains that early settlers in that part of New Hampshire must have lived with. The music is quite beautiful for that and intrinsically as well. Chambers is a lyrical composer, a great musical storyteller and a composer of dramatic reflection.

This most certainly in my mind is a important work of and for today, but with an archaic quality that sets it apart.

The poetic texts, the excellent vocalists, and the University of Michigan Orchestra under the direction of Kenneth Kiesler make for a definitive performance. I only hope other orchestras take this work up. I believe it would have great appeal to audiences.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kireyev and Javors Make Mainstream Appealing

Oleg Kireyev is a Russian-born tenor exponent. He teams with pianist Keith Javors in a new CD, the first by the co-leaders, Rhyme and Reason (Inarhyme 1003). They are rounded out by some nice bass from Boris Kozlov and the drumming of the increasingly present E. J. Strickland.

This is a vehicle for plenty of blowing and the blowing is good. Kireyev has a fairly big sound. I hear some Benny Golson in there. The promo sheet mentions Joe Henderson. I would not disagree. Javors plays a together contemporary piano style. He has a nice way of picking out a melody contour and hitting on some worthy voicings. The program is of an all-originals sort. It is not uninteresting.

They play rather inside much of the time, but with strength and some smouldering heat. They can take it out a little, like on the beginning of "Springtime," where, yes, there's a Henderson influence that's somewhat pronounced.

Now I suppose I should note, especially in contradistinction to some critics, that talking about influences is not a copout for the jazz writer. Like in classical Indian music with its garanas, jazz has evolved to a point where there are fairly well-established schools of playing. Again, as with Indian music, players can come up as loosely confederated with a style, then as they go on they may innovate, build themselves a ladder into their own personal style. It's important to recognize that this is happening in jazz, that it is not illegitimate and that everybody cannot be expected to start out as wholly original, though that's a good thing when it happens. So if I recognize a bit of Henderson and Golson in Kireyev, I am just pointing out where he comes from in style. I would be dishonest if I pretended that all players coming up are uniquely endowed with a super-individual musical way of being. And if I hear influences, I must report so. It gives you, the reader, an idea of what to expect. If someone doesn't have the ears to follow the lineage of the music as it is evolving today, I hope they would understand that it is nonetheless there, and refrain from seeing aural acuity as a threat. That doesn't mean everybody will always agree on where a player is coming from. But it's a good thing to proceed with some sort of analytical frame.

Long digression. Back to the point. This is quite attractive contemporary jazz. Are these players the next big thing? I don't imagine. You can either wait for that big thing to come, or just appreciate what is here on the scene. Or both. I like both. And I like Rhyme and Reason.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Michael Nyman's Music for Three Accordions

If you read my review of two of Michael Nyman's later operas (see December 15th posting from last year), you'll perhaps recall that I discussed what seemed to be new, deliberately banal elements injected into his music. In the operatic context, the music fit the dramatic action: music hall sorts of things, 1940's popular dance music allusions. . . . All that fit in with the period and plot.

Turning today to some of Nyman's chamber music, viz his recording with the Motion accordion trio from Poland (MNR 117) some of that banality again reappears. To be honest it put me off at first. There are what sound like polka-march references, doo wop rhythm section accompaniments and other "found" referential elements.

To backtrack, what we have on this disk is ten relatively short pieces, all but one including the Motion Trio, many with Nigel Barr added on trombone or euphonium, and Michael Nyman on the piano (with himself alone on one piece).

The music has been arranged by Motion Trio member Janusz Wojtarowicz.

Much of the music has a rock-steady sort of insistence rhythmically, which the accordions accentuate. But there's always an irregular, sometimes quirky element in the music that steers it away from the sort of bludgeoning hammer stroke sound that some heavy metal favors, for example.

After several listens, I came to like this music. It's not minimalism that others have done. It's Nyman's own brand. Now as long as one realizes that Nyman's more overtly insistent sorts of compositions do not negate or take anything away from his other work or, indeed, the other various approaches to minimalism that have flourished in the past 40 years now, then one should be free to enjoy the music on its own terms.

The Motion Trio are an impressive lot. If you love the accordion, this will give you plenty to love. It's so quirky to hear accordions doing this kind of music that I found myself pleased with it after a time. It sure beats Lawrence Welk!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chris Lightcap's "Deluxe" and the Difference Between Fusion and Jazz-Rock

Chris Lightcap and his 1956 (?) Oldsmobile can travel on into my neighborhood and play any time they like. He, his ensemble Bigmouth, and his new record Deluxe (Clean Feed 174) are welcome! Why? Because his acoustic bass, his compositions and arrangements, and his choice of players for me epitomise how jazz-rock is vitally alive. In the right hands, it speaks, it moves.

And these are the right hands.

Why jazz-rock? Why not call it fusion? Because to me there's a difference. Without casting aspersions on either genre, I would say that jazz-rock (beginning from the time of Gary Burton's first pioneering forays in this area), uses a rock beat and rock stylistic aspects but moulds them into a jazz context. That is to say, the style of soloing generally is more on the jazz side of the equation than the rock. Fusion often veers more in the direction of a complex funk than rock, though that isn't always so. The written music is technically complex, not necessarily out of the jazz vocabulary, and draws upon other world musics. Solos are sometimes more rock driven, and sometimes world driven. So that's the difference essentially for me.

Either genre has plenty of life left in it. Chris Lightcap and his ensemble show that most clearly for the jazz-rock side. This is an impressive band. Cheek and Malaby do the reeds, with an apparently healthy Andrew D'Angelo adding his say for three of the eight numbers. The rhythm section of Taborn, Lightcap and Cleaver blow into our ears with confidence, a sense of purpose and a combination of subtlety and drive.

Needless to say, Chris Lightcap can just be appreciated for his bass solo and ensemble work alone. But his musical vehicles are not shopworn either. They give direction and form. They give some very formidable players a springboard for their prowess and vitality. And there's just a hint of retro here, with the electric piano especially a part of that.

Sometimes music writing is like listing the ingredients of a soup. One hopes it will give the reader an idea of what has gone into the music. But as a recipe is not the soup itself, music writing is not the music. It's all in the tasting. I recommend you try a bowl.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aldo Romano's "Origine" for Some Beautiful Tunes

There are albums you get for review where you just don't know what to expect. That's how I felt when I took Aldo Romano's album Origine (Dreyfus Jazz 46050 369472) out of its mailer. OK of course Aldo Romano has been a hugely important drummer on the European scene for a very long time. But what has he been up to? Well, Origine gives you an encouraging answer. The CD is a grouping of thirteen Romano compositions arranged for the thirteen piece ensemble Hymne au Soleil (which at least for this date includes Romano on drums, guitar, and one vocal).

This is intrinsically beautiful music. The arrangements of Stephane Belmondo make it that much more so. The voicings are quite nice; the soloists are thoroughly into the harmonically-based bag and play with elan. I didn't know what to expect, but even then it was not what I expected. It's just ravishingly constructed and executed new mainstream jazz. I think Gil Evans would have liked hearing it. I think you will also.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Karayorgis, McBride and Vandermark in a Freely Lucid Setting

Like with yesterday's post, I am catching up today with some music that is a few years old but too good to be ignored. No Such Thing (Boxholder 018, 1999) is precisely that. Of course one never knows until the CD hits the player and the music tumbles out. But this turns out to be an auspicious meeting between Boston based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, and two of Chicago's finest: Nate McBride on bass (who played on the CD reviewed yesterday) and Ken Vandermark on reeds. This is freewheeling but structured music. There are tunes by each band member and group improvisations as well.

It gives you plenty of out-and-in improvisation and some very good chemistry between the three. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jeb Bishop, Dave Rempis and The Engines, 2006

If I wake up early on the morning of July 4th to get some additional reviews done, it stands to reason that I am here right now to praise the music, not to bury it. Otherwise, why would I bother?

And so today I get in a review of some great music that, since I bought a copy of the CD when I had money to spend and then somehow never got it into the review pile until now, gets covered a little late. The Engines already have a second album. The self-titled first (Okkadisk 12057) is not the kind of record that needs complete currency to justify a discussion. This is music that, one assumes with good reason, will have relevancy for many years to come. At least that's how it grabs me.

You've probably noticed, if you follow what's been happening in Chicago, that there is a loosely interrelated group of jazz player-composers that tend to seek each other out. They are known for being avant but also greatly concerned with compositional and arranged ensemble music that gives equal weight to individual solos, collective improvisations, and challenging group routines that do not end with the conventional "head," if there is one.

The Engines are an excellent example of this new Chicago school. As of this first recording they consisted of four Chicagoland heavyweights: Jeb Bishop, trombone, Dave Rempis, alto-tenor-baritone, Nate McBride, bass, and Tim Daisy, drums. Each writes interesting charts, for this album as well as in general, and are notably important sorts of players.

And all of that is amply in evidence on this first recording. It strikes a beautiful balance between freedom and pre-thought, spontaneity and structure, expression and deliberation. And they do it all in a stylistically singular way. They come out of some heavy, OUT Chicago traditions (like Hal Russell, Art Ensemble, others) and extend and transform them to suit their musical personalities. And they do it well. Very very well.

A great record!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rosario Giuliani: Tristano School or No?

Is there a Lennie Tristano school of music making out there today? If so, who belongs? Sol Mosca, Warne Marsh and a number of others that might well qualify are no longer on this earth. Lee Konitz keeps playing beautiful music but perhaps he is so much in his own right that he is a school of his own. The same applies to Connie Crothers. She is a tabula rasa artist of exceptional creativity and ability.

Is the question a little ham-headed? A parallel might indicate that it is. Jackie McLean was thought to be a Parker protege in his first years. But in time he became so much his own stylistic influence that the remaining thread back to Bird seemed unimportant. Similarly, there is some relation between Bird and Ornette, but to place Ornette in a Charlie Parker school is clearly playing fast and cheap with categories.

So. Listening to alto saxophonist Rosario Giuliani's Lennie's Pennies (Dreyfus 46050 369522) the first thought is, "Hmm...Lennie School?" Of course there's the title cut. Giuliani's tone is rather Konitz-like in its bittersweet singing quality. And his interaction with pianist Pierre de Bethmann is a little contrapuntal in ways that suggest some of Lennie's preferences. The ever stimulating Joe LaBarbara plays more drums than some of Lennie's sidemen. (And Darryl Hall plays some fine bass too.) They do a few standards that Lennie would have liked. But in the end, this is a contemporary straight-ahead date with finesse and fire and the Tristano comparison doesn't really explain or illuminate much.

The fact is, this is a nifty band playing thoroughly in-the-pocket. Giuliani and de Bethman solo strongly. It's just very good music. And to hell with the idea that these guys belong to some school. It's music that will satisfy you quite nicely if you want a contemporary wrinkle on brainy harmonically based improvisation. That's simple, but it involves some real pleasurable listening.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trichotomy's "Variations:" Progressive Jazz?

Trichotomy. Tri-what-amy? OK you might not know of these guys. They are from Australia. A piano trio. Sean Foran on piano. John Parker, drums. Patrick Marchisella, drums. Unlike their piano trio compatriots, The Necks, they aren't into the purple haze of trance minimalism. But like The Necks, they seek to extend what a contemporary "jazz" piano-bass-drums unit might attempt. Now I don't suppose you'd be surprised if you found out that what that means is that you are not going to hear much in the way of blue notes, bop phrases, or for that matter, top-spinning labyrinths of free expression. Not a lot of it, anyway. All that is neutral. Neither good nor bad.

So is there something good going on here, or what? Well, yes, there is. What we have is a compositionally motivated chamber sort of music. That doesn't mean Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett, though there is some Evans in there, surely. It means though that there are some impressionist sorts of rarified harmonic clouds, some quiet and thoughtful phrasings. (Why is quiet music so often thoughtful? Is it because it makes you think about what you are hearing in between the spaces of sounds? No matter.) And so you get some pretty nice trio moments where Sean Foran draws on the classic touch, the harmonic and melodic sophistication-route.The quiet swing of a John Lewis, but not John Lewis. And bassist Marchisella obviously has gained something from absorbing the subtleties of cats like Gomez, Peacock, Lafaro. There are a few extra musical guest on a few cuts. They add to the sound, extending and reinforcing it. But the emphasis is always on the trio itself.

But again, there is a compositional element here that is nicely wrought and has a slight classical tinge to it. I have no doubt that many will respond to this, their third album, Variations (Naim Jazz 131). I did. It's another worthy trio. With it's own sound. Almost like a jazz equivalent of good progressive rock. So does that mean that this is a new kind of Brubeckism? Do we care? Remember Lester Bowie. Like he said, it still "depends on what you know." Seriously.