Friday, December 30, 2011

Alex Brown, Pianist: Engaging Latin Jazz Progressive-Style

Alex Brown, young piano fire-starter, seems well on the way to a long tenure as a Latin Jazz adept, with instrumentality, leadership and conceptual-compositional flair. His first album, Alex Brown, Pianist (Paquito 4552) bears this out. It's a program of mostly Brown originals and the spark is there, from Brown and some choice sidemen.

Altoist Paquito d'Rivera, with whom Brown has had an important association, "presents" this recording and adds his alto to the brew. Warren Wolf's marimba, Ben Williams' contrabass, Eric Doob's drums, Vivek Patel's fluegel, and Pedro Martinez's Latin percussion grace the proceedings, some in and some laying out on occasion.

Danilo Perez may suggest himself for comparison. Like Perez, Brown is working on the expansion of the Latin Jazz sound to include modern jazz elements, further rhythmic sophistications and a piano style that includes some of the developments that McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Chic Corea have worked out for themselves over time. That is only to say that both pianists are of their time and have listened to what has been going on on their instrument.

But Brown is still Brown, a musician moving onward to his own turf and bringing a vibrant compositional-ensemble sound to the forefront. And in the process there is some serious burning going on!

If you like Latin Jazz you should definitely check this one out. Alex Brown is headed somewhere and we can go along for the journey.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tony Jones Trio, "Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness:" Explorations in Chamber Jazz

Tenor saxophonist Tony Jones has gathered together a singular trio and put together a vivid set on the vinyl release Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness (New Artists 1049LP). They manage to give out with a kind of synthesis between the chamber jazz of the classic Jimmy Giuffre trios and the exploratory subtleties of some of the early AACM small group excursions.

It's Tony on tenor, Charles Burnham on violin and Kenny Wollesen on percussion.

They go from Jones's "Dear Toy," which sounds like a sort of paraphrase of "Don't Explain" with reminiscences of "My Funny Valentine," to more absolute realms of evocative abstract improvisation.

The subtle play of Wollesen's gongs, cymbals and bells sets up a contemplative world that allows for some very introspective tenor and unadorned modernistic violin. There are winding written lines juxtiposed with spatially sensitive freely quiet musical utterances, purely free-form junkets and almost Eastern sounding periodicities.

It's music that does not easily translate into words because it is highly singular. And it is all the more interesting for it.

The album comes with a free access code for a download of the music, so you can have it in analog and digital forms if you wish.

This is a highly interesting, very worthwhile set. Apply your ears to it with earnestness and I believe you will agree.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TRP (The Reese Project), "Evening in Vermont"

Some music can be straight-ahead without being typical in any predictable sense. Such is the music of TRP (The Reese Project), here in their 9th CD, Evening in Vermont (Rhombus 7016). First off, the group's time together shows in the very flexible but tight ensemble feel. Everything swings with a plasticity that comes about only after mutually rewarding exploratory music-making. Second, the somewhat exotic instrumentation of Tom Reese on flutes, Laurie Haines Reese, cello, Kirk Reese, piano, Dave Young on drums, and guest Tish Haines Brown on violin and viola, gives the group a unique chamber jazz texture, slightly reminiscent of Chico Hamilton's groups of the '50s, but nevertheless singular in its development of that sound.

The band visits some traditional folk and popular melodies newly arranged, some originals of merit by Tom, and a couple of well chosen songbook and jazz classics.

The emphasis is on solid flutework and some nice piano soloing, coupled with the cello walking bass lines, a swinging rhythm section and adept string work.

TRP comes up with some winning music here. It might not be setting the pace for the new century, but it is a very pleasant excursion indeed, by some very accomplished musicians.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keith Jarrett, Rio, New Solo Piano Improvisations, 2011

Keith Jarrett has been making music in the public eye for more than 45 years. He has made countless appearances and racked up countless releases on solo piano. So when the two-CD set Rio ECM 2198/99 came out, a solo concert appearance made in Rio de Janeiro in April of 2011, I was quite eager to find out what he had done. With all these solo appearances behind him, where Keith has gone into the arena mostly without a pre-set series of compositions to work off of, would he still be fresh? Would he still have plenty of musical ideas to put across to us, as he has done so many times before? The answer is yes. And the answer is also that the Keith Jarrett solo concert of 2011 is not the same as the solo concert of 1973.

He was grown, matured, and for various reasons he is not quite the boiling-over cauldron of energy he once was. That, however, can only be expected in an artist of his stature in later years. There was a youthful fire in his past music; with maturity there is a thoughtful re-appraisal of the various sorts of Jarrettian modes. So in this concert he gives us some of the Jarrettian boogie, the gospel-like voicings, the lyrical, harmonically intricate improvisations, the tumult of improvised notes, in fact everything except some of those long trance-repetition-rituals he used to undergo, and no obvious references to standards. And his technique is not worn on his sleeve so much any longer for various reasons. He makes every note count nowadays.

And that's what makes this concert recording more than "just another" one. The introspective Jarrett comes to be the central expressive fulcrum around which everything else revolves. And it's a pure Jarrettian series of musical statements, ever more boiled down to the essence, sometimes starkly so.

The two CDs rush past the ears in a hurry because the music is so concentrated that time seems to become suspended. It's a very focused Jarrett, older in years, confident in the expression of his life in music. Rio comes off, ultimately, as a real addition to his solo work of a near half century. May there be much more to come.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Andrea Centazzo, Deep Space Adventure Soundtrack, 2011

Many readers will know Andrea Centazzo as that monumental drummer-percussionist who made so many interesting albums with Steve Lacy and a slew of European avant jazz artists for Ictus records. He has another side, however, that you may not be familiar with. He is also a composer.

It is in this latter guise as well as the percussionist of stature that we encounter him on the soundtrack to the Adler Planetarium's new extravaganza, Deep Space Adventure (Ictus 210). I'll admit I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first put this one on. Knowing the cosmic nature of planetarium shows I knew it would have some sort of space element. Beyond that I was clueless.

It turns out there is a great deal of substance going on. It's Andrea on a battery of percussion instruments, orchestral instrumentalists, and some MIDI synth and sampling production for a large-scale orchestral sound. The result is not jazz or improv, nor is it intended to be. It is a very appealing, spacey-symphonic new music excursion.

At times the percussion leads the music into minimalist-pulse directions, at times there are droning soundscapes, mysterious long notes, rich orchestral largos, spaced out gong envelopes and resonant altered tones. Sometimes the music sounds "progressive" (minus ELP or Jon Anderson). It is tonal centered for the most part, but modern sounding at the same time. And quite lyrical as well.

This is music that holds its own as music in and of itself, as composition. It is very engaging and no small feather in Maestro Centazzo's hat. Check it out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Colin Stranahan, Glenn Zaleski, Rick Rosato, "Anticipation:" A Different Sort of Piano Trio

If you think that there is nothing new under the sun you may be wrong. Even if it is the same sun, the same "under," nothing really repeats itself in the same way. You can't step into the same stream twice, really. So with the venerable institution of the jazz piano trio. It's the piano, bass, drums configuration each time, but it's not always the same thing over and again. At least not with the trio of Colin Stranahan (drums), Glenn Zaleski (piano), and Rick Rosato (contrabass). At least not with their album Anticipation (Capri 74112-2).

Well then, how is that? These are well-schooled players who are out to capture your ears with some new trists, new twists and turns in the musical roads they traverse. There are a couple of standards (like "I Should Care") a jazz classic (the Davis-Evans "Boplicity") and a series of originals, one or more by each member of the group, that stand out. They stand out as memorable and they stand out because of the care the trio has taken with the arrangements. The latter is true of the entire program. Solos, nicely put together, are set off by nicely patterned arrangement sequences. Like the classic Ahmad Jamal trio, they are a kind of "orchestra in a box," with each instrumentalist having a unique role to play in the whole matrix for any given piece.

And what else? It swings with the happy abandon of some of Corea's classic trios from earlier times, when the players feel the spirit. And it creates other ways to make a statement around the solos as well.

Most importantly all these things work well, thanks to the excellent musicianship on display. Anticipation is no longer a matter of waiting. It's a matter of listening. Good listening to you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joe McPhee's Bluette, Let Paul Robeson Sing, 2001

Joe McPhee has been coming into his own for so long, one might say that his outlook borders on continual transformation, continual variation. Good improvisation after all flourishes when players with great talent see fit to mix it up whenever they play.

Joe McPhee's Bluette serves as a good example. It did away with drums and conventional harmonic underpinning instruments in favor of a four-way double duo, so to speak. The Bluette has two dual centers if you ike, one around the "horn section" of McPhee on tenor, fluegel and alto clarinet, and Joe Giardullo on flute and bass clarinet. The second dual center brings in the two-member contrabass section of Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. The 2001 date Let Paul Robeson Sing (CIMP 257) turns the players loose on spiritual and folk themes associated with the great singer's career, original themes and motifs as well as free-form interactions that do not reference themes per se.

What's remarkable about this session and the group in general is the great wealth of possibilities it realizes: solos, duos of horns, duos of basses, trios of various combinations and of course the full quartet. In Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval one finds an ideal combination of pizz and bowed inspiration. These are two of the very best bassists playing today (and then) in an imaginative zone and they come through. Joe Giardullo has bass clarinet presence here and great flute color; Mr. McPhee of course has no shortage of ideas whatever instrument he may chose to play. His tenor work may identify him in many ways but his work on fluegel and trumpet gives him an alternate persona, and the alto clarinet provides yet another timbre to work out of. The great variety of sound combinations and permutations this ensemble comes up with in the course of the album gives one pause on occasion. It's more than a double duo or a bifurcated quartet. It's an improv kaleidoscope of color, thrust, repose and regrouping.

It is music that one should turn up a little louder than would be the case with commercially ultra-compressed recordings one finds out there. CIMP records sound best when the quietest parts are clearly audible to you in your listening space. Do that and you get the group's tremendous dynamic range, the deep resonance of the basses, the tumultuous power of the horns and the whispers of thoughtful contemplation.

This is an album that plays tribute to the powerful Robeson, his courage in the face of systemized oppression and his ultimate transcendence. The Bluette does not so much tell the story in some musical-literal sense as it uses melodic and expressive elements that capture the man and his times.

It is a marvelously invigorating musical statement. It demands long-term concentration without distraction. Listen several times in such conditions and you will begin to feel the totality of the music as it evolves and develops.

It's a set one must hear. It is a testiment to the generative creative openess and responsiveness of Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. Four exceptional musical minds caught in time, timelessly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jason Stein Quartet, "The Story This Time"

This time out bass clarinetist Jason Stein puts together a program of jazz-ahead standards by Tristano, Monk, Konitz and Marsh and leavens them with five compositions of his own.

The quartet flows over with some of Chicagoland's best in a freebop mood-mode: Keefe Jackson on tenor and contrabass clarinet, an excellent counterpart on the front line; then there's the ace rhythm section of Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly. They can swing strongly or free it up as called for.

The band has established a definite synchronous central point to gather round and they spin in and out of its orbit as the spirit and tenor of a particular piece warrants. Jason and Keith's soloing embodies that tendency with a vengeance; nicely on display throughout are their own personal stylistic traits, which do stand out from the pack. Both can play with fire and originality, and they do most definitely here.

It's one of the best Chicago dates this season. It gives notice that Jason Stein has flowered. It's a goody you should not miss.

David Arner Trio, "Porgy and Bess, Act 2," with Michael Bisio, Jay Rosen

David Arner does not easily pigeonhole. In a way he's the complete jazz-improv pianist, with his sensibility steeped in jazz history and harmony, capable of evoking references to stylistic periods far flung from ours, then embarking on an outside excursion that expresses his modern avant stance beautifully. He encompasses and transforms.

So when he decided to record his impressions of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess it turned out to make lots of sense. For this project he gathered two of the finest improvisers and most sensitive bandmate interactors to go it with him together. There's Michael Bisio, a bassist of great depth and flexibility, and bandleader in his own right. And there's Jay Rosen, best known perhaps for his drumming with Trio X, a musician's drummer who can be called upon to add his trappist drum Monking to any sort of setting with success and artistry.

We looked at the first volume of the project some time ago (see posting from December 9, 2009). Today it is time for Porgy/Bess, Act 2 (CIMP 377), which is in no way a let down from volume one, but rather just as strong.

As in the first effort the principal themes of Gershwin's standards-chockablock weave in and out of the music with free interpretation, interpolation and freely articulated tangents as commentary and expressive impressions.

It's music that can be very subtle at times, very bold and assertive, others.

There is a good deal of space for Arner's fertile imagination and creative improvs. Michael and Jay play critical roles as well, and not just as accompanying fellow-travelers. There are unaccompanied solos by all as well and two- and three-way dialogues.

It shows the artistry of Mr. Arner in full bloom, and the trio at their creative best.

David Arner is one of those must-hear pianists on the scene. This is a great place to hear him. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kevin Crabb, "Waltz for Dylan": Drummer-led Contemporary Jazz Quartet

If a band is playing contemporary mainstream jazz, swinging is still an important factor. Kevin Crabb's Waltz for Dylan (Crabbclaw) SWINGS.

Crabb plays very together time on drums and that is the backbone of the group's swing. Don Thompson on bass gets with the loosely jointed walking style that picks out choice notes in the changes-tonality and propulses them well. Pianist John Beasely has a Bill Evans harmonic richness and does his right hand improvs with excellent swing sensibility--and I hear the influences of Hancock and early Corea in there too, but with his own inventive flair. Finally, with all this as a set up Kelly Jefferson on tenor and soprano manages to sound mainstream without taking on the mannerisms of the flavor-of-the-month stylistic chic cliques. There is good facility, bright tone and imagination.

The tunes are by Mr. Crabb and they convince.

This may be a sleeper of an album. It is. Wake it up by playing it. Crabb and company have it going for this one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Travis Laplante, "Heart Protector" for Solo Tenor Saxophone

In some ways the solo saxophone set is the hardest genre for the music writer to evaluate. It is by nature a very personal statement, one man (or woman) alone with the instrument, seeking to make some sort of impactful utterance. Aside from downright incompetence, what factors does one consider when listening? Who is to say that so-and-so should have done this or that, instead of what he did?

Travis Laplante's Heart Protector (Skirl 018) brought such thoughts to mind as I listened. And it was only after I had absorbed the full impact of the entire set repeatedly that a clear picture came to mind of what I was hearing.

There is no question of incompetence here. Everything shows facility and control. It's far from bebop. Now most solo sax disks are, so that isn't something that needs to detain the listener.

There is a formal kind of progression in the five parts on the disk. Laplante goes from harmonics to rapid, two-note alternations with overblowing and underblowing changing the pitch and timbre shape; to overblowing outness a la Ayler; falsetto tones and harmonics; rapid, repeated three- and four-note figurations, again over and underblown to produce variations in harmonics and pitch, evantually modulating to other note-cell structures; and finally, a somewhat pure-toned rumination on a key-centered melodic figure.

In the course of all this Laplante has in common with numerous other modern saxophonists the extension of the sound of the instrument in a jazz vein and an expressive tumultuousness.

Is he better than others doing this? No. But in the end you feel that he has put together a kind of sonic suite that after you've heard it a few times hangs together and stands out in the mind as more than a standard blow-out might in certain hands. It all fits. And it is not fashioned of cliches. So we have something well-conceived. There are only 30 minutes of music, mind you, as a vinyl release. But there is nothing superfluous here, either. It's available as a CD too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marquis Hill, "New Gospel" Gives A New Wrinkle to the Old Idea of Funk (in The Horace Silver Sense)

OK, we are cooking today with a vibratory excre- sence-from-good-places, namely Marquis Hill's New Gospel (self released). I can't find the press sheet for this one but no matter. I don't NEED to know. Because my ears tell me all I need. And if the ears don't tell you something all the talking in the world will not be of any use.

This is an album of Mr. Hill's earthy tunes, his hardbopped concept and his classically bop-brassed trumpet stylings. Oh, and there are six other cats doing a fine job: alto, tenor, piano, guitar, acoustic bass and drums.

It's funk in that old Horace Silver sense of plenty of gospel-soul charged natural born pounds of goodness. And when that works today, it's just fresh enough to get you there again and has the soul that transcends time and period. That's what is going on here. It's the Bluenoteyist thing going without sounding like they are just stuck in something.

There's 36 minutes of it. Just enough. You don't NEED to know who these cats are. Just that these cats ARE. "Bells, ding-dong," as Lester would have said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oscar Perez Nuevo Comienzo, "Afropean Affair:" Latin Jazz with Lift and Fire

Young pianist-composer Oscar Perez fields a hot group of young lions and gives them some very nice compositions-arrangements on a nuevo Latin Jazz outing entitled Afropean Affair (Chandra 8094). There is a Blue Note-ish classicism-cum-Latin going on much of the time here. These are in essence two horn, piano and rhythm hard-bop charts, but thoroughly Latinized.

Perez plays an occasionally Tyner-influenced and always classic jazz-informed Latin piano; Greg Glassman has the trumpet brassiness of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro through Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw; and Tenorist Stacy Dillard has eclectic roots in titans like Mobley, Shorter, Golson & early Trane. He makes something contemporary and personal out of the tradition.

The rhythm section has nice Latin jazz leverage.

It's all quite good. This is a new Latin jazz outfit that bears close watching!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geoff Vidal, "She Likes That," Contemporary Jazz From A New Tenor

There's a group of tenor saxists coming up these days that have affinities with Lovano, Brecker, Garzone, Potter and Bergonzi. It's a language and sound they have in common and a base from which they work off of. One of them, a very good one, is Geoff Vidal. He has a debut recording for us, She Likes That (Arts & Music Factory), and it's one to hear. Geoff wrote the material for the session, plays the tenor and heads the Quintet of tenor-trumpet-guitar-contrabass-drums.

These are new names to me but they are good players all. A contemporary set is what's happening, with rhythmic swing-rock-motion, good soloing all around and nicely turned compositional-harmonic-melodic vehicles to work off of. Joe Hundertmark's guitar has an electricity and a sophistication that combines a hint of rock vibrancy with the complete jazz guitarist's grasp of advanced modern jazz practice, and a little bit of Abercrombian tone on occasion. He works well off of Geoff's noteful and soulful soloing.

She Likes That is an auspicious beginning for someone who could become important to the music as time goes forward. It of course depends upon how much and how thoroughly he finds his inner voice. We'll see, but for now we have a very good listen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet, "Innen:" More Chamber Jazz From an Innovative Ensemble

The Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet have made a number of very interesting albums over the last several years. The latest is Innen (Ayler 122) and it is one of their very best. The somewhat unusual instrumentation of viola (Szilard Mezel), alto sax, bass clarient, clarinet (Bogdan Rankovic), trombone (Branislav Aksin), and tuba (Kornel Papista) gives the group an unusual sound. As in previous outings the compositions are by Mezel. Some of the earlier releases tended to have a dark sound color, partly because the instrumentation lends itself to this, partly because of the tenor of Mezel's compositions during that period. There was some excellent music but some of it was an acquired taste.

For the new album the sound palette is a bit brighter, but no less distinctive for that. All four artists interpret and phrase the pre-planned passages with a very worthy attention to ensemble blend and they can and do improvise in ways that extend and enhance the feel and mood of the composition at hand. There are seemingly totally free improvisational sections too which are handled well and offset the written sections nicely.

This is chamber jazz of a high order with inventive writing and an almost art-deco-for-today stance. The music can be ornate at times, straightforwardly plain other times, but all with a kind of modern timelessness. It is music of our era but resonates with the last 100 years and the sort of innovative ensemble writing of Milhaud and Weill without the timeworn period jazz flavor. But one would not mistake Mezel's writing for those earlier composers because it has its unique sound and very contemporary flavor. The improvisations are somewhat free-avant as well and that brings the music squarely into the new jazz camp.

This is one of those recordings that needs to be heard several times before the memory of recognition and familiarity assures the listener that there is a great deal to this music. Mezel does important work and he seems to be growing in his handling of the flow of ideas and their meaningful quality. The ensemble is one-of-a-kind as well.

I've read criticisms of critics who seem to like everything they review. Is it disingenuous? In my case at any rate I tend to review what I like. Who wants to read that a CD by someone you don't know is not that great? Well now, did you have any intention of getting it? Probably not. So I'll cover music/artists in my reviews that may not be perfect but have something or many things about them that seem worth experiencing, or they may raise issues about the music scene today and how it is evolving. Or they may simply be great.

Innen may not be quite in the "great" category. The Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet is making music that is provocative and memorable, however. And that's a great thing. This one will get you thinking and listening.

Motif, "Art Transplant:" Avant Jazz Quintet

Sometimes I am unfamiliar with a group, don't quite know what to expect, and it takes me a few listens to get acclimated. Like with Motif and their Art Transplant (Clean Feed 225).

The CD starts out with a minute or so of quiet air-through-instrument noises and then launches into the first composition, all except one of these written by contrabassist Ole Morten Vagan, who plays a forward role in the album as a bassist with style, imagination and melodic front-line aspirations. Axel Dorner handles the trumpet with some panache. Judging from the title billing ("with...") and the liner blurb he is a guest on this date. Atle Nemo does some good work on tenor sax and, for one cut, bass clarinet. Pianist Havard Wiik, who we favorably encountered several days ago on the Side A trio session with Ken Vandermark and Chad Taylor, is firmly planted at the center of the proceedings on piano in a role that has something of Andrew Hill's harmonic-melodic feel to it. Hakon Mjaset Johansen drives loosely on drums.

This is a date the sneaks up on you. The compositions are subtle and filled with some nice twists and turns. The improvisations are avant-melodic, new thing chromatics that expand the tonality to the edge and then bring it back for a moment, only to stray to the edge again. All four melody instruments do something worth hearing, and the drums are charged and give the forward momentum a kick as needed.

By the fourth listen I knew that this had something to it. If you like a freely articulated date with some interesting compositional underpinnings, with an overall thrust not unlike Andrew Hill's later Blue Notes, this one will take care of your needs and give you pleasure. It's another one of those Clean Feed sleepers. And it will wake you up. A good go of it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chris Donnelly, "Metamorphosis:" Solo Piano Excursions

Though Chris Donnelly's Meta- morphosis (Alma 32212) comes with a cover which will surely not win any graphic design awards, the music contained within has much to interest lovers of solo jazz piano. First things first: unless a pianist is coming out of the freely driving camp of players headed by the remarkable Cecil Taylor, the influence of Keith Jarrett almost invariably makes itself felt, to greater or lesser degrees. That's true in a sort of formal sense with Chris Donnelly's opus. There are turns of harmonic-melodic phrases here and there that suggest that, as there is an overall musico-dynamic arch that shows the influence of Jarrett's modern romanticism. That's the case up to a point with this recital, but then the rest is what Chris does, his originality. Part of that can be heard in the contrapuntal independence of left and right hands even as he is playing a changes-based passage. It's not the standard chords in the left hand and melody solo in the right, most of the time.

This is a pianist of stature and originality. He works himself out of the bop/postbop tradition to some new spinoffs that show creativity, imagination and a mastery of the underpinning modern jazz structures.

Piano solo aficionados, you should hear this. Most definitely.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Woody Witt, "Pots and Kettles," Fourth Album From Tenor Saxist

Woody Witt has been playing tenor in the public eye for a while. His fourth CD, Pots and Kettles (Blue Bamboo 017), reminds us how that is a very good thing. He joins a well heeled quartet of Gary Norian, piano, Mark Simmons, drums, Anthony Sapp, bass, and then as guest for around half the album, Chris Cortez on guitar. Norian has good comping smarts and solos in a modern post-bop manner, with some Jarrett/Corea lineage influences. The rhythm section brings on the finesse, and Cortez has some nice moments. The mostly originals program of Witt or Norian numbers is memorable, changes-based for the most part, and melodically rather strong.

Woody makes an album here that might have been made by Michael Brecker had he lived. By that I mean that there is space for solos, loosely structured soloing routines, sponaneity and form in a contemporary sense. But Witt doesn't sound like Brecker. He is strong and in a lineage that would come out the post-Trane post-Shorter players of which Brecker was most certainly an important member. Witt is a fairly new member yet he does have his own directly communicating version of the language and most certainly is a player that is adding to the conversation, so to speak.

This is quite a good listen. Promising and realized playing, nice working compositions, excellent group dynamics. Woody and you? Just add you and you have it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Daunik Lazro, "Some Other Zongs," Solo Baritone Sax Live at Europa Jazz Festival 2011

Ten years ago Daunik Lazro did a solo baritone sax recording, Zong Book. I've never heard it but I have been listening to his new one, Some Other Zongs (Ayler 123). It's a sequel solo bari session recorded live at Europa Jazz Festival, Paris, in February 2011.

Daunik utilizes the baritone's flexible and rich timbre possibilities to create poems of improvised sounds. I wont say "like David Mott," because it is not quite, but both artists have very good control over their instrument and complement it with a fertile imagination.

At 44:59 total length the CD does not overstay its welcome and that gives Daunik L. just the right amount of time to say something that is not uninteresting.

You like the sound of a free-form baritone sax? Get this. Get a David Mott solo CD too while you are at it, if you can. Then crank up your music unit a bit and dig the harmonics, overtones and grainy bite of the instrument in capable hands.

Monday, December 5, 2011

MTO Plays Sly: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra Does the Music of Sly and the Family Stone

With Sly Stone reputedly at a low ebb, living in a van, financially distressed, the time is especially ripe for a revival of his music. Along comes Steven Bernstein and his Millennial Territory Orchestra and their MTO Plays Sly (Royal Potato Family). It's a joyful tribute to the man and his music with many of his well-known songs rearranged for a kind of funk-rock mini-big band, Steven Bernstein style.

The arrangements take advantage of the girth and breadth of a five-man horn section plus violin, guitar, bass, drums, vocalists and special guests to put a somewhat jazzier spin on the music. The vocalists are sometimes very good, sometimes less so but the band is filled with good sounds and solos.

This doesn't have the kind of startling quality that, say, Gil Evans's versions of Hendrix songs did. It's pretty straightforward, but sometimes somewhat quirky at the same time, like with the bluegrass meets Barney Bigard clarinet meets funk rhythm section of "Sly Motions". Guests Reid, Worrell and Laswell make their contributions count. It has a more or less broad appeal as its objective. And it succeeds in ways that do not offend the sensibilities of the keener ears out there. And let's hope the royalties Sly gets from the songs on this recording help him get back on track.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Side A, "A New Margin": Vandermark, Wiik, Taylor Get it Going

Side A? A trio of Ken Vandermark, reeds, Havard Wiik, piano, Chad Taylor, drums. Their A New Margin (Clean Feed 235) seems like the right combination of inspired improvisation, appropriate and memorable composition, and collective spark.

The compositional assignments are equally divided among the three, which makes sense since Ken and Chad do good work, and it turns out Havard does too.

"Boxer" is a fitting and stirring beginning with a sort of modified ostinato that is in a lineage to Dolphy's "Hat and Beard". Ken sounds like he is on baritone for this (and indeed for others as well, though the album jacket credits him as playing tenor and clarinet only) and he and Chad do some lively improvising. "What Is Is" switches to another interesting ostinato, and they groove on in a free rock zone, taking it out.

"Trued Right" has a chordal-melodic line in the piano that swings along well with the addition of Chad's drums. Ken's clarinet puts forth some goodly improvs.

That's a sample of what you hear. It is not all ostinato-based. There are balladic outnesses, postboppishness and some pointilistic, whole group improv phrasings too, among other things. Chad Taylor comes through with the excellent drumming he is known for. He can swing strongly in ways that reference the tradition but do so with originality. And he can get into a freetime that spurs the group on but also has a musical language going that shows you Chad the musician, the musical drummer. Havard Wiik articulates structure often enough, playing a centering role in the trio. His solos have some of the motor outness of Cecil, and the hunt-and-peck aspect of Havard's style has a kind of discursive logic--like he is saying something from A to B, B to C, sequentially. Ken V. is as always highly articulate, fired up, a person who pays as much attention to the sound he gets as to the notes he plays.

This is measured out avantness, music that has been thought through, that uses ostinato and other repetitive compositional devices in contrast with freely firey variables and/or compositionally lengthier phrasing. It is pretty tightly sequenced episodically. That makes for some exciting listening.

It's an important outing. Chad and Ken hit it off together very well here, as is no surprise, and Havard puts his piano at the center in ways that make things click. Compositional-improvisational inspiration is in no short supply throughout. One of the best out small group excursions of the year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dave Schildkraut, Last Date, August 12, 1979

The fact that the name Dave Schildkraut doesn't always ring bells among the jazz cognoscenti constitutes one of the sad realities of jazz history. He appeared with a flourish on a Miles Davis Prestige session, Solar (on alto), in 1954. He played with some notables before and after that, and appeared as sideman on a few other records, but mostly was lost in a haze of obscurity. To me he epitomizes the "falling off the face of the earth" syndrome. What happened? There are reasons. He apparently turned down some key opportunities, to record for Norman Granz, etc. Why that was I do not know. I only know that on the basis of the Miles session I knew from the first hearing that this was a very promising, even important saxophonist. Over the years I was only able to track down one old LP, a private recording where he was playing in a pickup group for one of the sides. It was a poor recording and didn't do justice to Dave's playing.

I recently found out through the kindness of saxophonist/author Allen Lowe that there was something else. Dave recorded in a New Haven club in 1979, right before he retired. In fact Allen was the man who ran a tape recorder to capture the gig. And the CD has apparantly been out since 2000. Last Date (Endgame 005) ironically, is also the only (real) date of Schildkraut as a leader.

With the proviso that "last" is not least, I was very happy when Allen was kind enough to send me a copy. And listening to it for a number of times now, I am not disappointed in what is on there. It's a home tape recorder that captures the extended set and the balance is not entirely perfect. But Dave comes through loud and clear, on tenor and alto, sounding a bit more evolved than what he did in 1954, occasionally faltering a little in his phrasing, but also unleashing torrents of bop/post-bop phrasing that show a sound his own and a sense of timing and line weaving that fully justifies the legend that he is in some circles. It's not a perfect recording; he is not perfect on that last date; the band is OK but doesn't stand out, though pianist Bill Triglia gets some decent solo time.

It is Dave playing bop standards and songbook standards in ways that suggest he of course had internalized Bird, and had some relation in his playing to early Trane and the Tristano saxophonists (Konitz, Marsh). But really he falls from the sax tree to a place of his own. Since we don't have a lot of documentation of his playing this CD becomes an indispensible record for all who would seek to dig him. He was good. VERY good. Original? Sounds that way to me. Listen!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SFE, Positions & Descriptions: Simon H. Fell's Mid-Sized Jazz Orchestra Composition

Fifteen musicians (many of them noted for their avant improvisa- tional talents) plus conductor tackle Simon H. Fell's full-length Composition No. 75 on SFE's Positions & Descriptions (Clean Feed 230). Not unlike Anthony Braxton, Fell seeks to create from the musical languages of modern classical and avant jazz a long-formed hybrid that melds some of the traits of each camp. Fell put together nine performance sections/movements in this composition that serve as vignettes and try (successfully, I believe) to hang together as a cohesive statement.

It was commissioned by the BBC and performed after only two-days rehearsal in 2007. Composition, conduction, improvisations and pre-recorded material come in and out of focus in interesting ways. It is a music to be heard with undivided attention to have an effect.

It is of necessity a first-stab at creating a more definitive version of the work. So there are times when one might hear that more could be done with what is being done. The logistical and economic difficulties of putting together a mid-sizable ensemble such as this and have them play through each section with systematic attention to detail is nigh close to impossible in today's climate, however, so in many ways we are lucky to have this version to appreciate.

Simon Fell is doing interesting work, this is an interesting ensemble and the piece moves the avant nexus forward several steps. It is worth your time to listen closely to this one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gerry Hemingway Quintet, Riptide

Gerry Hemingway has been deftly mixing it up on drums with some of the most accomplished new jazz artists for years. He has a new album out with his quintet, Riptide (Clean Feed 227), and it shows how he is a jazz composer and bandleader of note as well. First, the quintet itself: along with Gerry on drums are a formidable two-reed tandem of Oscar Noriega and Ellery Eskelin, the electric guitar smarts of Terrence McManus, and the acoustic and electric bass of Kermit Driscoll.

It's a date filled with good improvisations, sometimes collective with horns and guitar taking the front line, sometimes individual. The compositions are excellent frameworks for the band, devoid of cliche. There is some space in the music for Kermit and Gerry's good feel playing to come through as well.

If you want some idea what the music sounds like. . . it has the long in-and-out group oriented development of DeJohnette's classic New Direction days and some of Tim Berne's ensembles at their best. The 13 minute "Gitar" and its segue into "At Anytime" is a good place to hear the fully stretched and limber group going at it for a long loose straight-time midtempo feel that turns to swingtime towards the end. This is just an example of the ensemble's strengths: they listen to one another and compliment what is going on while articulating the compositional elements along the way. There's a spacey balland and by the time you get to "Meddle Music" things are into a free rock groove that has some nicely out McManus guitar work. "Backabacka" combines free ska with minimalistic repetition in quite interesting ways.

Well that's enough of the highlights to give you an idea. Strong music in the in-and-out zone, fully contemporary, that's Riptide for you. There's enough electricity from McManus' guitar and Kermit's bass guitar in some segments to break up the acoustic qualities that predominate and set them off.

It is a fascinating and fun ride. Gerry Hemingway comes through as a bandleader and the band comes through as a band. What more? Hear this one, most definitely.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Upcoming Film on Pianist Matt Shipp: Funding Needed, How You Can Help

Pianist Matt Shipp, as many of you know, is one of the important voices on the improvisational scene today. Visual artist Barbara Januszkiewicz is in the midst of making a film on Matt and his music. In her words, "There is no conversation. It is all sound, movement, experienced in real time, the composer coming to the piano and working out a musical dialogue." It will be all about communication through Matt's music and Barbara's visual camera angles, an art of the melding of two creative mediums in a breakthrough expressive tandem.

But they need your help. Funding will make or break the project and they are seeking donations from folks out there. Anything you might be able to give will bring the project closer to reality. For more information and to find out how to donate go to

Harris Eisenstadt, September Trio

With Paul Motian passing away recently, he is on my mind. As I listen again to Harris Eisenstadt's latest, September Trio (Clean Feed 229), I am reminded of Paul's drumming and the sort of music the first Jarrett Quartet and Motian's own groups made. Not that Harris is copying. But his drumming, his composing, his group sound here is in a lineage that in some ways has evolved out of those milestones of our more or less recent past.

But September Trio stands on its own in an excellent way. The compositions are strong, Ellery Eskelin sounds great (with a hint of Dewey Redman here) and Angelica Sanchez comes through with a rubato creativity that does have some relation to early Jarrett, but expands outward with some beautiful voicings and note poems.

Three accomplished players, three strong concepts, carefully thought-out Eisenstadtian music. This has a cantabile quality and a thoroughgoingly modern lyricism. Beautiful music! Harris comes up with another winner on this one!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Fusk": Kasper Tom, Rudi Mahall, Philipp Gropper, Andreas Lang

Fusk (Why Play Jazz RS005), the self-titled first release by the Berlin-based avant jazz outfit, gives you some sharply defined compositional material by Danish drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen, who heads up the unit. He's joined by some of Europe's finest improvisers: Philipp Gropper (saxophone), Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet), and Andrew Lang (bass).

The Kasper-Andrew rhythm team is limber, loose and swinging in and out of time while Mahall and Gropper play some vividly angular written lines and well conceived solos.

What impresses me about this one is the total leverage of the unit. They kick the music with some torque and have well-poised forward movement. It's the kind of new jazz that takes the impetus of Ornette's early ensembles and the emerging masters of that era, like Simmons, Dolphy, the NY Contemporary Five, early Don Cherry and the Dixon-Shepp unit, and goes someplace new with that.

They do a very good job at it. If you like the propulsed freedom of the giants that came before, you will find something new to like with Fusk. Recommended.

Go to for more information.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Secret Handshake, A New Quintet On Engine Records

Into the ranks of new outfits out there playing a modern sort of jazz comes Secret Handshake (Engine 041). It's Brian Settles, saxes, Neil Podgurski, piano, Corcoran Holt, bass, Jeremy Carlestedt, drums and Jean Marie Collatin-Faye on percussion.

They run through eight originals, around half with a strongly compositional approach, the other half more "free". Podgurski shows some rooted piano in a bop and beyond camp but just as often takes it out a bit; Settles has a strong avant side but can evoke some history as well. The rhythm team can go into the symmetrical pocket or veer out of time with confidence.

Brian and Neal have their own way and they are presumably still in the process of gelling in their interactions. They sound like they are on the move as artists. The songwriting/compositional element is well in hand already.

This shows a band with promise. It's a great start. This may not be an indispensable release but it is also not at all the same old formulas. They remind me a little of some of the early AACM and ESP units in their gamely experimental, anything-goes approach. It leads to some good results over around half the album, and some interesting refigurations in flux for the rest. That's what we need right now--to forge ahead without fear. Don't you think?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Larry Vuckovich, Somethin' Special: Hard Bop, NuOldBeBop and Old Thing Done Right

Here in the waning days of 2011 it strikes me that one of the hardest things to do right is what many jazz musicians are attempting today, to play in an older, more traditional style in a way that not only rings true, but also rings good, that's worth hearing.

Larry Vuckovich's Somethin' Special (Tetrachord Music 686) does that, all of that. He picked the right guys for this: tenor reconstructionist Scott Hamilton, a man who recrafts classic styles like no one else and so consistently so; Noel Jewkes on soprano and tenor, a player I'll admit I have not heard since Jerry Hahn's old Arhoolie album from the '60s, still sounding great; rhythm teammates Paul Keller on bass and Chuck McPherson, drums, with the right notes, the right sound, the right leverage. Then of course Larry himself, playing a fully ten-digit piano with the harmonic flourish and the soulful right hand. Mix nine jazz and songbook standards with a couple of Vuckovich originals and...presto, an album that sounds good coming out of the gate, at the finish line and on the hairpin turns in between.

Why is it so is hard to pinpoint exactly? Maybe it isn't in the end. Learning the right notes to play does not mean that you can do a credible job working in this style. The masters of hard and be did more than string notes together, of course. They cultivated a sound, something you cannot notate with any precision. And they played (swung) in a style that also involved infinitely gradatable points of attack, again which cannot be set down with any easily read accuracy onto music paper. It's something you feel, intuit, bring out in your playing. And they are doing it here.

Scott Hamilton makes a great example because he channels a tenor sound steeped in the nuances of past masters and has impeccable timing. By now it's hard to say, like a Romper Room session with the Magic Mirror, "I hear Hawk, and I hear Lester, oh, and there's Arnette Cobb and Lockjaw Davis, Ben Webster..." and so on. Because he's internalized it all and made it his own. Larry V. is his own man too, incorporating all the nuances and subtleties of the style without copping licks.

Hey, this is a good one. It is. Listen to it a couple times and you'll see!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Mingus On Mingus" Documentary Seeking Your Support

Kevin Ellington Mingus, the grandson of Charles Mingus, is making a documentary about his grandfather's life and the journey to knowledge and understanding that Kevin has taken in search of his family roots. The film needs funding and has turned to Kickstarter for public support. They must raise $40,000 in the next days or receive no funding. Go to their site at for more information. Go to to watch the Kickstarter video devoted to the project.

WJO (Westchester Jazz Orchestra), Maiden Voyage Suite

The WJO (Westchester Jazz Orchestra) is a Westchester County, NY, based 16-member big band under the direction of Mike Holober. He and three other arrangers (two also band members) have penned some nice big band re-arrangements of Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, the famous Blue Note album of the mid-'60s. Their CD Maiden Voyage Suite (self-released) gives us the result, a well put together rethinking of the classic, with sophisticated, idiomatic, straight-ahead big band writing and some quite decent soloing. There are notable artists in the band, namely Ralph Lalama, Jason Rigby, Marvin Stamm, Jim Rotundi, Ted Rosenthal, and Harvie S, but everybody pulls together for some very tight, well-executed performances.

This is arranging that does justice to the striking melodic and harmonic style of Herbie's "mid"-period while never sounding the least like a mere transcription/blow-up of what the original smaller group was doing.

This is their second album and it is solid, very solid indeed. Certainly those who love the original Maiden Voyage album will have plenty to dig into here, as will those who like a modern Jones-Lewis style big band.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble, Black Man's Blues/New York Collage

The late violinist/
new jazz luminary Billy Bang had a lengthy and fruitful career creatively, with a discography of seminal recordings that are ripe for re-evaluation. As if to extend that legacy, No Business Records recently issued a 2-CD set (NBCD 30-31) covering two very solid and moving sessions, one previously unavailable, the other out-of-print. It's Maestro Bang with his Survival Ensemble, 1977, and it's entitled Black Man's Blues/New York Collage. The first session is a live appearance in Harlem in support of Solidarity with Soweto, May 1977. There are effective head melodies, recitation of some free-thinking poetry, and heated collective and individual soloing from Billy on violin, Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor, William Parker, bass, and Rashid Bakr, drums. The second disk gives us "New York Collage," an extended WKCR NYC studio session from a few weeks earlier, which adds Henry Warner on alto and Khuwana Fuller on congas.

This is a group with a recognizable sound, in part due to the distinctive styles of Bang, Rahman and Parker, in part because of the overall group dynamic and the thrust of the rhythm section as a whole. It captures the sound of a great band during a less self-conscious phase of the music. And it gives you some prime Bang violin and Parker bass.

It provides me with a much greater appreciation for what Billy was doing in this period and seems to me one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of his development. It is essential Billy Bang, I think.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jimmy Halperin, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen, "Joy & Gravitas", 2004

Jimmy Halperin has made some wonderful records in the last few years, especially when doing the music of Monk and Coltrane. Today we backtrack to an earlier goodie, an album of classic numbers, Joy and Gravitas (CIMP 301). It's Halperin on soprano and tenor, Dominic Duval on bass, and Jay Rosen on drums. This is a great combination. Halperin is a very lucid improviser on both horns and has plenty to say on these numbers; Jay Rosen gives his usual impeccably subtle but driving loosely free drum accompaniment and Mr. Duval sounds as always earthy and bursting with ideas. They tackle chestnuts like "Night in Tunisia" but also less traveled gems too like the Billie Holiday torcher "Don't Explain" and Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic."

This one may not quite reach the heights of some of the more recent Halperin sojourns, but it also has a wide-ranging inside-outside diversity that will make it an appealing listen to those who are less likely to seek flat-out energy drives for their listening pleasure.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Agusti Fernandez, "El laberint de la memoria": Solo Piano Improvisations

Pianist Agusti Fernandez was commissioned by Mbari Records to do a series of piano improvisations based on Spanish classical piano pieces. Over a period of two years he played around with motifs from those pieces, gradually fleshing out his impressions of the music until he was satisfied with the results. El laberint de la memoria (Mbari 04) is the resultant release, a widely exploratory plunge into the well of Spanish tonality and pianism.

Agusti does not often quote long passages from the source works. He rather lets the music inspire him to construct a set of free improvisations that present largo-esque balladry of deep ponderousness, notey, restless expeditions into freeform expression, quiet reminiscences on the musical forms evoked, droning minor-keyed flamboyance, dampened noted atmospherics, Cecilian cluster-bursts of piano utterance, and ringing cascades of sound blocks.

It conveys the imaginative depth of feeling Maestro Fernandez evokes in response to a musical tradition. It gives you a front row seat for an impressively, eclectically inventive piano recital.

Agusti impresses with poetic pianism and big musical ideas, intimately and thoughtfully realized. It's some rather engaging free improvisational music. It shows that Agusti Fernandez is a pianist of real stature. Do give it a hearing!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marc Ducret, Tower, Vol. 2: Vladimir Nabokov's "Ada" as Avant Jazz Continues

Guitarist Marc Ducret returns with his second volume of Tower (Ayler 119), a musical commentary on Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada. I reviewed the first volume on my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Site (www. several months ago. I review volume two here to ensure that the news of this project reaches the bulk of my readers.

This time out, Marc's well conceived guitar abstractions are joined by the alto of Tim Berne, the violin of Dominique Pifarely, and the drums of Tom Rainey. The music has a fair amount of through-composed passages and free interplay as well. The overall level of abstraction is a bit more present this time out. All four work extremely well together, with sax and violin affording dynamic-stylistic contrast, the drums often joining the front line as a voice with melodic implications not always heard from that instrument, and Ducret's guitar forming a part of the ensemble in the articulation of composed lines at times, and breaking off with independent chordal and textural elements at others. There are also some marvelous four-way collective improvisations to be experienced.

This is ambitious composed music that transcends category. It has modern concert elements, free-sounding elements and elements that fall somewhere in between.

Ducret's guitar work is highly original and very expressive here, though there is not as much of it in a solo context as one might expect. All come up with marvelous performances that turn what might have had an air of arid abstraction into a fully living, breathing vibrancy.

This is something you should hear. It is excellent.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Triptet, "Imaginary Perspective": A Visionary Trio Performs Nine Conceptually Advanced Free Improvisations

Triptet does something rather rigorously avant on Imaginary Perspective (Engine 040). Each of the members (Michael Monhart, sax, percussion, Tibetan horn; Greg Campbell, drums, percussion, French horn, Tibetan horn; Tom Baker, fretless guitar, electronics) for any particular piece chooses a particular playing parameter and sticks with it, so that each piece has a kind of three-fold structure of togetherness-in-separation. If that sounds opaque, an example I hope will clarify. For the opener, "Autumn Sonar," Monhart plays long-toned multiphonics centered around a particular pitch, Tom Baker plays long tones in the lower register, and Greg Campbell plays a rapid series of drum-percussion patterns that contrast against the long-toned mode.

There are variations and there is movement, there are some numbers that have a more open free-form feel like more conventional free jazz, but for the most part this is a group that thrives on a sort of "triptet" of tri-patterned sound making. It's as if each player is an independently functioning body part that coordinates with the other two in ways that lead to a result that is more than the sum of its parts. This is not freebop. It's abstract sound weaving of a provocative sort.

In that way the music is a bit akin to the classic formalist sublimities of AMM and MEV. There aren't many ensembles out there today pursuing the extension of what those pioneering groups conceptualized. Triptet is one. The music is a good example of why it all still rings true, of why there remains much more to be expressed along these lines. Triptet have found their own way to go about it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cheryl Pyle and Trio, "Soul Dust"

Cheryl Pyle, flautist, can be increasingly found around New York wherever free-form music is being made. Her flute has been gracing a number of sessions I have heard about. She often plays in fleet bursts and has a vibrant tone. Today we look at a recent self-released album of hers, Soul Dust. It's a trio with Cheryl on flute, doubling on electric bass, Max Ridgway playing some nice flowing guitar lines and overdubbing an interesting acoustic bass part much of the time, and Randall Colbourne on a slinky, free-form, swinging set of drums.

There are some nice jams and a few more composed sequences. What is striking is the way Cheryl will sometimes worry and do variations on a short motive or related set of them. In those cases she is more spontaneously composing than freebopping.

From first to last this is a group that sounds well together and takes full advantage of the contrasts between Cheryl's ravishing tone, long lines and phrasing bursts, Max's single-line pointillism and chordal thrusts, and Randall's effectively busy, quietly churning drums.

It is a vivid picture of three promising musicians frozen in a point of time. It is music that is "free", tonal and mellow. I think even people who don't ordinarily go for the free-er echelons of improvisatory music will appreciate this one. Cheryl does not emerge fully formed (as from the head of Medusa) but is a work in progress. Very promising. And very interesting music.

Go to Cheryl Pyle's My Space page to hear some samples of the music; go to her site for more info and/or to order the album.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Matt Nowlin Jazz Orchestra, "The Good News!"

Two-beat big band jazz a la Sy Oliver and Jimmie Lunceford lives! It lives in the lovingly produced vinyl debut of the Matt Nowlin Jazz Orchestra, The Good News! (self-released MIN-001LP). The subtitle, tellingly, is "An all-analog record in the swing style of 1938." And that says it. Nowlin and his producer-engineer colleagues set up the session to closely approximate the sound you would hear listening to an analog stereo recording from the later '50s: three ribbon mikes live, recorded onto a 1/4 inch tape machine matching those used in the era.

So the sound is vintage and lively. The music centers on original charts in the grand old style. They are good. Soloists are decent. The band swings. Those who love this era will certainly get a good feeling listening to this, as I did. It's good music.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Curtis Fuller, "The Story of Cathy and Me," 2011

Mr. Curtis Fuller, a giant of the trombone, the hard-bopping master on countless sessions from the '50s on... He is still doing it, though not as energetically and not as consistently as in his prime. Hey, he is not a young man. And with age comes a kind of reflective wisdom that you can dig for yourself on his new disk, The Story of Cathy and Me (Challenge 73309).

It's a heart-felt tribute to his late wife and how much she meant/means to him, in music and brief snippets of dialog. He brings in a group of solid musicians and everybody does a good job. There are standards and originals, some boppin' and some balladin', a little bit of vocals and a lot of instrumentals.

Mostly it is Curtis expressing his love for his wife. Now that's touching and it sure touched me. It's good to hear Mr. Fuller hitting it and it's as much a tribute to HIM for that as it is to his wife. Yeah, Curtis.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tarfala Trio, "Syzygy": Live in Belgium, 2009

The Tarfala Trio is a hot avant trio commodity. It's Mats Gustafsson, tenor and alto fluteophone (?), Barry Guy, acoustic bass, and Raymond Strid on drums. You might well know Matt via his association with Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet. He is a blazing gamer and has big ears to shout or whisper as needed. Barry Guy is one of the premier new jazz bassists, of course, and can solo or play ensemble with his very own sound and inventive genius. Raymond Strid plays a damned fine set of drums and adds a great deal to the trio's dynamic.

They were fortunately caught live in Belgium for a date in 2009 when they were particularly inspired. The set has come out on two vinyl LPs and a bonus six-inch disk as Syzygy (New Business NBLP 35/36).

Far be it for me to tell you what to do or think. I do suggest however that you check this one out if you can. It's a limited edition of 600 records. And it's to me one of the more creative and satisfying reed-bass-drum avant trio recordings of the year. Gustaffson flames and finesses; Guy throttles, tumbles and bows through the session with energy and musical reflexivity. Strid gives the sound leverage and drama with some well placed period-punctuating, thrashing and slapdashing.

This is one for the record-books (collection)! They are hot and give it all they've got. Trust me, it's a goodie!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tim Hagans, The Moon is Waiting

The riff and space electric music of Miles in the late '60s to later '70s has shown a resiliency and resurgence in the jazz improv of today. Tim Hagans' The Moon is Waiting (Palmetto) gives a particularly lucid example of how creative players can continue to develop and expand within and out of the forms Miles devised back then.

It's a convincing ensemble of Tim going a post-Milesian out-and-in route, Vic Juris bringing out the more outer rock melodic-harmonic aspects of his playing, Rufus Reid anchoring the proceedings on acoustic bass with subtlety and style, and Jukkis Uotila providing fire and magnetic traction on drums.

The solos, collectively and individually, are saying something, the compositional vehicles have depth, and Mr. Hagans sounds great.

Give it a good listen and I think you'll go for this one.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The David Arner Trio: Out/In the Open, 2007

Pianist David Arner is a musical voice that does not fit easily into the various schools of improvisation that are widely influential among the free school of players. He's managed to forge a path that does not cross directly the Cecil Taylors, the Paul Bleys, the Keith Jarretts, or the Bill Evans influenced players. Not that he has ignored these stylistic landmarks. Clearly not. But he chooses to go his own way.

You can hear that quite readily in the 2007 recording Out/In the Open (Not Two 812-2). It's a trio date with the formidable alliance of Arner with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Jay Rosen, all key institutional-foundational figures in the creative improvisational music of the present era. The album's hour-long program features four collective improvisations, an Arner composition ("Intensities") and a standard ("My Romance").

There is remarkable piano trio interplay throughout. Rosen listens creatively to what Maestros Bisio and Arner are doing and gives out with the coloristic energy washes that he does so well; Bisio is alive with noteful counter improvisations to Arner's forward-pressing expressions; and David unleashes the full spectrum of the music he hears, which engages the jazz tradition, the expressive intensities of the avant, the expanded harmonic, melodic and textural potentialities of the piano and the musical ideas he has in abundance.

It's a documentary testament to what these three imaginative players can achieve in the space of a single session. And it's a sterling example of Arner pianism at its best.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Darren Johnston's Gone to Chicago, "The Big Lift"

Yesterday, Darren Johnston with the Nice Guy Trio.... Today, Darren Johnston with Chicago guys. Darren Johnston's The Big Lift (PFR Porto Franco 031) came out late this past summer (2011) and it's worth tracking down. A great lineup doing some very good music....It's Darren on trumpet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Adasiewicz, vibes, Nate McBride, bass, and Frank Rosaly, drums. In other words, a kind of all-star Chicago lineup.

The group goes through its paces with Ornette's "Love Call", Duke's "Black and Tan Fantasy" and six Johnston originals, all of which make for fine semi-expanded springboards for these masterful improvisers. Needless to say Darren holds his own and each is an original voice. Jeb and Darren make for a wildly creative front line and Jason is his usual stimulating self with extended harmonic comps as needed and well chosen lines. The rhythm team socks the monkey in ways that make them a hell of a good choice for a freely propulsive set such as this.

Most definitely this is one you should not miss. It's a real feather in Mr. Johnston's cap and the Chicago crew is right there on it!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Nice Guy Trio, Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music

The Nice Guy Trio may well be populated by nice guys. I don't know them personally. But I do know that the Nice Guy Trio makes nice music. Trumpeter Darren Johnston founded the Nice Guy Trio in 2008 with Bob Reich on accordion and Daniel Fabricant on bass. On what I believe is their second album, Sidewalks and Alleys/Waking Music (PFR Porto Franco 032), the trio plays two suite-like compositions: Reich's "Sidewalks and Alleys" and Johnston's "Waking Music" (which of course explains the title of the CD). They are joined by a string quartet in a very appealing set of music. Sometimes I am reminded of the Turtle Island String Quartet in how the music lays out. Not surprising given that Mark Summer is the cellist here, who is member of that quartet. But this is the trio's concept, and it plays out for the duration of the album. They have natural affinities with Turtle Island in how they look at musical structure. There are forms, structures that come into play during solos, there are compositional aspects and there are solos per se. The affinities are found in how these elements come to bear on the total matrix of sound.

This might have been called Third Stream Music a few years ago. It combines strong compositional elements with space for solos; the string quartet shapes the overall sound in ways that suggest classical elements. It is a Baltic-Mediterranean-and-beyond flavor that is prominent to varying degrees throughout. Johnston as a trumpet improviser has his very own way and gets space to do that during the course of the two very interesting compositions. But Reich and Fabricant get their spots as well, as do the string players. The three-way interaction, the trio with the quartet and everybody together make for lively music.

This is a trio with an original sound. The string quartet's presence and the "Sidewalks" and "Waking" compositions put them even more into their own league. It's stunning music, very well played and rather ravishing in impact. Yes!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bruno Chevillon & Tim Berne, "Old and Unwise": Open Contrabass-Alto Sax Duets

Freedom. Free-dom. What is it? And how do you get it? In music the word denotes something specific. At least in jazz. It means in part starting out a musical performance with the idea that what is going to happen will happen because the players spontaneously put their improvised parts together without a great deal of overt deliberation. They also, to whatever extent. play what they please, without someone dictating to them in some concrete sense. So it could be anything. And when the ensemble has a small number of people, then constraints on the improvisers are even less, at least in some purely "free" situation. So freedom in jazz relies on the maximum of creative input on the part of the players. Such freedom is a part of all jazz to some extent. But so-called free jazz accentuates that. Now of course each player has ways of playing that have something to do with his or her originality and way of musical thinking-feeling. And each responds to the other players. So of course it is not some cosmic random freedom, but a human one that involves intention and will on the part of each musician.

And now we turn to an excellent example of this kind of freedom. Bassist Bruno Chevillon, a name not overly familiar to me, and alto saxophologist Tim Berne, well-known and well-liked for his originality, join forces for the hour-plus session Old and Unwise (Clean Feed 221). It's a series of 11 free duets. It shows Mr. Chevillon a very game player, a very good improvising artist and able partner of the lucid and singular Tim Berne.

Each improvisation is distinguished by a way to go about things. One for example consists of trading short phrases, one more staccato, one legato, one with longer tones, one with rapid exchanges, etc. It is a mark of their rapport as a duo and their individual free imagination that the mood and sound of each duet varies. It also makes what could get tedious just the opposite.

This is high-level music making. It is a testament to Bruno's bass playing prowess and fertile inventive skills that he is a full partner in the exchange with Tim, who has well established his credentials in this arena. Berne is in top form throughout, spurred onward by some very capable bass wielding. The music is more about the notes than about sound color. Improvised jazz line melody is the top priority and they come through the hoop of fire flying freely and gracefully, so to speak.

This one will appeal to all fans of Tim Berne, free contrabass and the creative improvised music scene. Most definitely recommended!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mitch Marcus Quintet, "Countdown 2 Meltdown," 2010

The West Coast is alive for music. It's not a West Coast jazz in a cool sense for the most part these days. It's something else. San Franciscan (but also New Yorkian) Mitch Marcus and his quintet show us some of that in the riotcap avant romp Countdown 2 Meltdown (Porto Franco 009). It's notable for the presence of the very nimble electric guitarist Mike Abraham, the two-reed threat of Mitch (tenor) and Sylvian Carton (alto), and the very lively rhythm section of George Ban-Weiss on acoustic bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums.

The music has the Lounge Lizards-Zappa anything-goes quality with the hard-swinging sensibility of Mingus. The band has good soloists all around and they finesse some fine arrangements and play as hard as they need to to get the fire stoked.

If you like the adventurous kind of new jazz that hits it but gives you plenty of super-eclectic composition-arrangements, I have no doubt this will catch your ear as it caught mine. Very much recommended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Connie Crothers, Band of Fire: Live at the Stone with Roy Campbell

This is the third of a trilogy of recordings Connie Crothers made during her tenure at the famed NYC club The Stone in 2010. We've discussed the other two in earlier posts (see below). For this set Connie engages her long-lived regular group of Richard Tabnick on alto, Roger Mancuso on drums, and Ken Filiano on the bass, plus the addition of trumpet firebrand Roy Campbell.

The Band of Fire (New Artists 1050) title well describes what was happening that night. They play three longish numbers, Connie's post-Lenniesque "Ontology" and two collective improvisations.

And what happens is the band most definitely takes fire. Roy Campbell sounds beautiful, filled with a blazing kinetic energy that soars. Richard Tabnik, too, is hard hitting in his attack, sounding as good as I've heard him. Connie is a marvel as always, inspired here to let loose with barrages of notes, clusters, runs and glisses, in ways that make her one of the seminal pianistic forces active today. The rhythm section charges ahead and does much to keep it a four-way dialog with plenty of power and noted significance.

This is what Connie's group can do so well. They turn up the heat more than usual though. It's another exemplary album for Connie. Great for showing the fire-y side of her artistry, great for showing the band in full flight, great for giving Roy Campbell a platform to launch to an outer place.

It's great ultra-modern jazz improvisation, free and focused, musically dense but pivotally pointed forward. Music to quicken the pulse, enliven the spirit, energize the senses! So here's another one from Ms. Crothers that you really should not miss.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Trumpetman Ralph Alessi Fields Powerful Quintet for "Wiry Strong"

In the struggle to stay ahead and/or catch up in these difficult economic times, the distractions and out-and-out traumas of survival can take us away from the good things that come by us in spite of all. That in part happened to me in the last week or so. Ralph Alessi and This Against That's Wiry Strong (Clean Feed 220) played numerous times on my system, yet it failed to register with me. I was elsewhere in my head. Then the last time out and right now as I listened one more time as I write this, I am realizing that this is some very good music.

It's Mr. Alessi on the trumpet, a very facilitated cat, filled with great tone and good note ideas, and his compositions, which give you modernistic, pulsated things to experience in the best sense. Ravi Coltrane takes up the saxophone, and Ravi is not flagging in any way! The two make for important carriers of two-part compositional leads, and work deftly for and against each other with a dynamic friction that frissons its way into cool places. Andy Milne has large harmonic ears and good line-drawing abilities. The rhythm section of Drew Gress (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) turns in very effective performances. There's sometimes that sort of subtle depth of a Filles de Kilimanjaro on a compositional and improvisational level.

There are a series of collective improvisations and then the aforementioned compositions. The music weaves in and out of free and motored modal territories, with Ralph channeling the best of the modern trumpet heaters from Freddie Hubbard to Miles and Dave Douglas, in ways that suggest he is going to good places and becoming an original in his horizontal and vertical musical stances.

This one will get you listening. It's a great little disk--and not that little because you get 71-plus minutes of Alessi's approach. Great to hear and rewarding to listen to on deep or multi-tasked levels. The deep reveals very creative musical minds at work, the multi-task level gives you a broad swath of very interesting in and out jazz of today. Don't take this one for granted. Hear it!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Red Trio Back For Their Second Album: "Empire" with Guest John Butcher

When it's a matter of new, outside free-jazz ensembles, not all that many can afford to stay together for a second go-round. The Red Trio have. Their first came out in 2010 on Clean Feed (see review from April 5, 2010). It was quite lively and showed much promise.

They return with the vinyl-only release Empire (No Business NBLP 37) in a limited edition of 400. That is a good thing because this is some very well-executed outness. Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano), Hernani Faustino (bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums and percussion) are joined this time out by tenor-soprano man John Butcher.

The addition of Butcher adds another significant voice to the dialog. The three pieces find the augmented trio (quartet) in total control over the exuberant chaos they conjure up. Each player contributes his eloquent avant voice to an ever-shifting, pulsating mass of sensuous, energetic collage. This sort of free music is quite difficult to play well (in spite of what you might have heard). The four of them DO it well. They get the coloristic punctuations just right with a kind of total synchronism that can be thrilling to behold. This music does not swing in the conventional sense. But the ins and outs, the entrances and exits of each player when done right (as it is here) is its own sort of out-of-time swing. And they have that quality without exception.

The Red Trio (and John Butcher) outdo themselves on this one. Immerse yourself in it and you will come away with a big smile on your face! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Frank Carlberg's Piano and Compositions Come to the Forefront in "Uncivilized Ruminations"

Frank Carlberg is not just a new jazz sort of fellow. He's doing something actually rather new. If you start with the sort of angular abstractions Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi used to do, you get a stepping off point for where the music on Uncivilized Ruminations (RPR Red Piano Records) begins. Unfortunately the graphic design of the CD jacket makes whatever is on it unreadable, a too common result when there is no art director around to tell you that white and light yellow type cannot be read when knocked out of a light grey screen. Luckily the press release gives me the info I need.

It's Frank pian-izing in very interesting ways; Christine Correa handling the vocals with confidence. Then there's a well chosen mix of excellent instrumentalists in Chris Cheek (reeds), John O'Gallagher (reeds), John Hebert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). Everybody brings out the implications of Frank's compositions with attention to the musical structure and improvisatory inspiration.

And these are compositions to spend time with, substantial post-Lacyisms with enough well-arranged complexity that you get more the more you hear them.

Frank Carlberg has dome something very worthy here. Hear!