Friday, February 28, 2014

Blaise Siwula, Merida Encuentro (Merida Swings)

Blaise Siwula, reed master of free music. . . we've usually associated him with New York City in years past. He has however been spending some time down in Merida, Mexico and has hooked up with some good players there. Merida Encuentro (nfm 004) gives us a CD of free encounters of the ear-enriching kind, a rewarding result of the confluence of new and culturally diverse combinations that can happen when everybody opens up and listens.

The first several cuts feature Blaise on clarinet and alto and Armando Martin on acoustic guitar. "Para Django" starts things off with a kind of swing extension of outness, of course paying tribute to Django Reinhardt in the process. More abstracted duets follow, with "Sin Tiempo" giving us a first climax via prepared and unprepared guitar that goes from Bailey-esque flights to Latin classical to jazz chording to sung-played expressive lining while Blaise makes a cohesive statement on clarinet.

Armando switches to electric guitar for "Disenos" and drummer Edgar Caamal joins the group to make it a trio for the rest of the set. The dynamic remains free and open form. Edgar's brushed drums make us feel a little more like we are back in New York, but Armando on electric quickly turns up and gets us into a more watted avant abstraction that has an exploded free-rock feel as Edgar switches to sticks. Blaise turns up the intensity on alto and gets the max out of the two-lined simultaneous soloing.

The mood continues with Armando back on acoustic and Blaise catching alto fire. A longer, softer "Suave" brings back clarinet, brushes and acoustic for what starts out as a kind of free ballad with a lazy bluesiness in there as Blaise channels some tradition into his own world with smooth ease but pointed strength. It comes to climax, then gets quiet and moody again.

The finale, "Fuera", substitutes Alvar Canto Torres on electric guitar. He is more into a metallic, psychedelic, high-voltage sound with guitar feedback, power drones and edgy lines that give Blaise something else to work against. Blaise glides and slithers along with it while Edgar continues free drum barrages but also interjects intermittent pauses to change the texture of the momentum.

In the end we get another way free can roll. Blaise is in great form and his fellow travellers add dimensions and dynamics that keep it all interesting. This is a successful first outing with lots of modes and moods. I look forward to what else they will do in future.

Listen and you'll hear the sound of pure invention!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Aaron Parks, Arborescence

There's a new pianist on the block. Yesterday we discussed Yeawhon Shin, the Korean-born vocalist and her music. On that album was Aaron Parks. Today we have his ECM debut, Arborescence (ECM 2338), an album of improvised solos.

It was recorded recently in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Mass., with a resonant acoustic that sounds just right for a fine grand piano.

I know you all (likely) know Keith Jarrett's style of solo piano improvisations. Aaron does not sound like him. In a way, the sometimes Neo-Romantic sound of Keith is supplanted by Aaron's almost Neo-Impressionism. He is a player of filtered light, of early spring, of solitude that consoles, of brightness, yet of strength, like a mighty oak when he needs to express that.

The music sings. He is a melodist and a harmonicist of excellence, of talent, of halls of mirrors reflecting the morning sun.

It is an experience, hearing this fine young fellow create beauty out of imagination. If you like music of poetic substance that glows with listening-friendly warmth, without resorting to pap, this one is for you!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yeahwon Shin, Lua Ya

Korean singer Yeahwon Shin steps forward in her debut appearance on ECM, Lua Ya (ECM B0019045-02). The unusual yet hauntingly beautiful set pits Yeahwon's pure-toned voice with pianist Aaron Parks and accordionist Rob Curto for a program of songs with modern introspective ECM style accompaniment.

The songs are in part ones remembered from Ms. Shin's youth, some suggested by the instrumentalists, and some improvised on the spot.

In the end a rather ravishing and gently flowing set evolves before your ears. Parks and Curto do a terrific job setting up the reflective sounds and Ms. Shin produces for us a retrospective, dreamy musical world where time virtually disappears to be replaced by rubato space.

Yeahwon Shin and company create some magic on this album. Be prepared to be intrigued.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Paula Santoro, Mar do Meu Mundo (The Sea In My World)

What makes Brazilian samba-pop-jazz so wonderful when it is done right? Saudade? That and everything else that makes up the heritage of the music. Paula Santoro is a new singer on the scene there, from what I understand. And her album Mar do Meu Mundo (The Sea In My World), which was out late last year, gives me that glowing warmth I get from the greats from earlier eras. There is a poetic quality, a bitter-sweet presence.

She has a beautiful voice, impeccable in almost an off-hand way. Perfect. Direct. The songs are very appealing. The arrangements have a contemporary feel but also those great Brazilian roots--nylon-stringed guitar, triangle, berimbau, carnival-style choruses sometimes, all those good things.

It's a great album. I am not just saying that because I do love it. You want Brazil today? Here it is!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Norma Winstone, Dances without Answer

If you are in a mood, and who isn't these days, you sometimes want music that goes along with it and you sometimes want music that brings a change in your mood. I try and go with the mood of any given music and try to forget whatever mood I am in, because otherwise I would listen only to certain things and that would be depriving my senses of something of what's good out there.

Norma Winstone's new album Dances Without Answer (ECM B0019863-02) has a very definite mood--introspective, looking at what was, what was meant to be and what was not, of hopes deferred, dashed, or kept inside glowing brightly in spite of it all. The British singer has become ever increasingly a story teller. Her lyrics evoke a sadness, an intelligent one, balladic. She delivers them with the nuances of the jazz singer she is. The album has some very good songs--those she co-wrote with various personages or added lyrics to, and some "covers" of songs by Tom Waits, Fred Neil, Nick Drake, etc.

The sparsely open sound is very right for the ECM treatment and the mood of the songs. There's Norma on vocals, Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet and soprano sax, and Glauco Venier on piano. They get an uncanny cantabile sound that places you squarely into the universe of the lyric and sometimes consoling tones. "Find the truth or let the secret die", she sings. And you believe you should. Even if you don't know the full story and fill it in with your own details. In that way this is music minus one--minus you the reflecting, listening being.

It's a good one. It's good company and fine sounds. Lyric and filled with content.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fabric Trio, Murmur

Groups you don't know that much about are in many ways the more challenging. If you don't have ears, you are in trouble. Because you have to hear just about solely what's going on instead of reacting to ear and reputation, legend or what have you.

Unfamiliar bands have less to live up to, in a way, but then at the same time they have to grab you all at once, so to speak. For me it's easy enough. If I don't find a more-or-less unknown band interesting I simply don't cover them.

The fact that I am covering the Fabric Trio and their album Murmur (No Business LP 66) means they struck me as good. They consist of Frank Paul Schubert on soprano and alto, Mike Majkowski on acoustic bass and Yorgos Dmitriadis on drums.

This is a band firmly in the free jazz mode, recording in Berlin circa 2010. Schubert has a flowing line, great control of harmonics and a very nice way of getting from "A" to "B". He in part gives the band cohesiveness by the connective logic of his free improvs. Mike Majkowski bows harmonics nicely, and pizzes and arcos with grace and ideas. Yorgas Dimitriadis can make pleasing junk percussion sounds or flat-out head and hit for the unknown stars with high-stakes free energy.

If you like the free mode with some quiet exotic-sound times and then also some hair-raising energy and excitement, this album is for you. No Business is only pressing 300 of these babies on vinyl so get one now or presumably lose your chance.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Elektra Kurtis, Ensemble Elektra, Cutting Through, Featuring Bob Stewart

Violinist-composer-bandleader Elektra Kurtis kindly sent me several of her recordings and I am in the process of enjoying them. First up is an Ensemble Elektra album that came out in 2010, called Cutting Through (Milo MR119). The unusual instrumentation, the musical personalities involved, and what Elektra does with it all makes for something unique.

The ensemble features tuba wizard Bob Stewart; then there is Stuart Popjoy, who you may also know from Iron Dog and Bassoon, on bass and synth. Elektra and Curtis Stewart make up the string section on dual violins. Lefteris Bournias plays clarinet with that uncanny tone of some of the players who come out of Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe, a sort of clarinet equivalent to the zourna, musette, wooden flute, etc., that you might hear with a rich tone like this if you sample World Music at all. Don Babatunde Eaton plays percussion, world Afro-Eurasian percussion I guess you could say, and he's good. On the drums is Kahlil Kwame Bell, who has a hip flexibility and can swing, rock or otherwise help set up the varied grooves in the music.

Elektra has incredible technique and a singing tone. She's obviously had plenty of training but she sets it loose for this music that you might call World Music Fusion--with some very Greek and Eurasian traces underneath it all which are very cool. Curtis is an excellent violinist as well. They impress with ensemble strength, loosely rubato moments and some hot improvising. Bob, Stewart and Lefteris make for a very solid ensemble as well but then can solo in ways that keep you interested. And the percussion team keeps on smoking it throughout.

There is no mistaking this ensemble for another. It has groove but then it gets such a collective sound in the compositions that you become immersed very quickly in it all. And the invention in the compositions stands out strongly. There's freedom, too, in parts.

This is a total music experience! Elektra is a marvelous player, a brightly shining music-smith and a very wise chooser of ensemble players. I am smiling!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jon Irabagon, It Takes All Kinds

Jon Irabagon plays sax like he's been through the style wars and has emerged catalysed and all the better for it. But he's too young to have been on the frontlines then. Yet somehow he's internalized the insightful lessons gained by assimilating the sounds that went before and melding them into his own very alive approach. What makes him so important today is not just that he goes in his own way where he will, but that there is more than one Irabagon. There's Irabagon the over-the-top dionysian bebop mad-hatter like on the full length version of Doxy he did a few years ago. There's the jokester that still takes it outside like on Lundbom's Big Five Chord, and there's the player of many voices who rechannels it all in Mostly Other People Do the Killing.

And today, another Irabagon, that of the serious new-new thing artist on It Takes All Kinds (Irabagast Jazzwerkstatt 139). This is a live trio date at a German festival last year. And it is excellent going. First of all Barry Altschul has been playing with Jon for a while now and it is paying off big in interactions. Barry sounds like his old self with that orchestral-but-swinging drum thing he was doing with Circle, Sam and Anthony Braxton way back. Only he has the maturity of time and growth in plain evidence. In other words he sounds as good as ever! Mark Helias has been playing off and on with Barry for years and so he too has a maturity of association added on to a tremendous sense of space and place in his playing.

This is Jon's date so they do Jon's tunes--which have a bop and after completeness-in-change feel to them. And his playing gives nods to the greats of the past but also gets very much his own multi-dimensional phrasings happening. He is part of a continuum, but a step of his own, which is of course much the way things evolve when they do.

In a way, a very healthy way, this music sums up why the style wars of the '80s and after were bullcrap. There was nothing to challenge. The music was growing, is growing and must not be stopped. So here we are today with how that growth leads to new-in-old and new-in-new classicism, whatever that means. But no, really. It's how the free movement and the past can hook up and move on. One way, anyway. Connie Crothers the other day is another. There are many ways, potentially and in actuality.

Jon's playing is definitive of that. So is Barry's. And so is Mark's. This is a trio of importance playing music that affirms that jazz lives and does so strongly, right in the present. We don't need our heads buried in the sand. Listen!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Connie Crothers Quartet, Deep Friendship

Connie Crothers has been making seminal new/avant jazz for many decades. And there is no excuse if she doesn't always get the recognition in the press she so deserves. It's all laid out in the recordings and you can catch her live in and around the city (New York).

She has a new album out that, after some quite exciting and engaging duets with some brilliant players, returns to her classic quartet. They played a set at the Jazz Room, William Paterson University in NJ, in 2010. Fortunately it was well recorded and the results are for us to appreciate in Deep Friendship (New Artists 1058).

This is the band best known for its freebop demeanor. That means that the music is outside the mainstream but has deep bop roots. Long-time Crothers associate Richard Tabnik blazes on alto sax. Even longer-time band member Roger Mancuso plays a loosely swinging set of drums. And Ken Filiano, a bassist known and appreciated for his work with Connie and others as well, is a key part as he has been for a while.

So why is this something to hear? It's some intricately hip after-bop numbers--three by Connie and two by Richard. They have been done before on earlier albums, but that in jazz just means they are serving as the springboard for a fresh improvisatory outlook, which is as true of this group as it is of any.

Richard blazes as a relative of Bird who has built his own nest--in other words, post-Bird. Ken walks beautifully and plays some excellent solos, too. Roger kicks out the jams both in time and in solo.

But I find myself on this album especially listening to what Connie is doing. When she comps the harmonies are thickened, sometimes to the point that they are flat-out clusters of dissonance and then, no, you get your bearings with some very rootsy chordal voicings and all in a flow that shows the deep, deep roots she has in the tradition but how much she pushes that tradition to the edge. That is what good freebop should do but often doesn't quite. With Ms. Crothers and the band they do so without fail. And Connie's solos show that too only perhaps even more so.

No one plays like this out there except Connie. Others may get in that zone but she is way ahead of them all when it comes to extensions and transformations of what has gone before.

Everything clicks on Deep Friendship. Connie shows us that she is at the top of the game. So do yourself a favor and dig in to this one! My highest recommendation for this one--and Matthew Shipp's from the other day. For the piano these are two sides to a brilliant coin. Years from now people are going to be kicking themselves saying, "why didn't I get with this music sooner?" Now is the time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

John Lurie National Orchestra, The Invention of Animals

John Lurie and his Lounge Lizard group made some of the most innovative group jazz of the '80s and '90s. If you never heard the music you should. At some point John began experiencing complications from late-stage Lyme Disease (which needs to be better understood and recognized for the severe debilitation it often can be) and could no longer play. He's been doing wonderful paintings, though, in a style as uniquely his as his music.

But before all this, sometime between the Lizards' heights and now, he did some trio work with Calvin Weston, drums, and Billy Martin, percussion. They dubbed themselves the John Lurie National Orchestra and fortunately put some of their excursions onto tape.

The Invention of Animals (Amulet Records) gives you 40 minutes of it. It's John on soprano giving out with his intricate kind of Mbuti Afro-solo and outer realms improvisations while Calvin and Billy lay down some good rocking Afro drums.

It's pared down Lurie but no less interesting. That's why you should get it. I am not telling you what to do, but no kidding, this is good music!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Matthew Shipp Trio, Root of Things

If you want to know what's going on, what's really critical in the piano trio zone for the very modern, so-called free jazz, avant garde jazz, whatever name you want to give it, seek no further. Or at least stop for a bit and get your ears into the new one by the Matthew Shipp Trio, Root of Things (Relative Pitch 1022).

What makes me say all that? Matthew Shipp occupies a place at the top of the piano artists of the past decade and he sounds better than ever right now. His compositions and his way of soloing are not an attempt to blow you away with sixteenth-note runs, though he has plenty of technique and he can let loose with torrents. Maestro Shipp focuses on the music, on saying in his very own way what the music can only say. This is pianism of elegance, eloquence and soul. It has tradition but it's channeled to the Shipp vision. Neither static nor automatic-pilot rocketing helter-skelter out to the stratosphere, it is music that builds inside itself and can rocket out and does, but as a product of the ground-laying and years of playing and thinking about it that Matt exemplifies. And the set on this album shows that in a beautiful way. This is a laying down, a laying back and a laying forward, all in the course of the set.

Such well-conceived and well-executed musical presence would not completely succeed without an equally inspired trio unit that understands and pulls together with ultra-sensitive, unity-in-difference interplay. This is a trio whose time is now, right now. They've never sounded better. Listen to how contrabassist Michael Bisio interacts with it all. He adds so much in a monsterously good way. The deeply flushed tone, the unexpected or reconfirming note choices, the way he can walk or be that "second horn", the impeccable touch and in-the-moment thrust, all that is here in a fantastic way.

Then Whit Dickey, who has been in the trio for a long time. The drummer's role in today's piano trio is ever more important and Whit fills the role with more than just what is needed. He cauterizes the momentum, colors the sound brilliantly and implies a swing that for the trio is lurking underneath it all and rises to the top continually if you listen closely. Whit Dickey has an awful lot to do with how it all lays out from piece-to-piece.

All this talk of three separate beings is important because it dissects the whole and helps you understand what to expect. The listening experience puts it all together of course and there has never been a more together trio--though of course there have been those that equal it in different ways.

On every level this is what "jazz" is about today. Many years of preparation from all three separately and in togetherness makes such a high level of inspiration possible. Don't take it for granted--this is a set that comes out of the highest art by three that have worked themselves hard to get into the space they now occupy with confidence and ultimate artistry.

The CD comes out next month, March 18th, to be exact. Do not miss this one if you want to know what's going on today. The Matt Shipp Trio are an indispensable part of that what. They are at their very best right now, so you'll want to be there for this!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kasper Tom 5, Ost Bingo Skruer

Kasper Tom? That's Kasper Tom Christiansen, talented Danish drummer and composer. The Kasper Tom 5 and their Ost Bingo Skruer (Barefoot Records) is the first album to enjoy major distribution. It is a good one. It is a formidable lineup with Rudi Mahall, bass clarinet, Tomasz Dabrowski, trumpet, Petter Hängsel, trombone, Jens Mikkel Madsen, bass, and of course Kasper Tom.

You may know Rudi Mahall via his fine work with pianist Aki Takahashi. The others you may not know so well. They put together, thanks in part to Tom's arrangements/compositions, a tightly knit horn section with bass and drums of a well-healed but hard-edged sort.

Everyone can solo with imagination and does. But the collective interplay between the horns and the horns versus the rhythm has pronounced excitement going for it. If you remember some of the massed horn improvs in Ornette Coleman's landmark Free Jazz album, this may sometimes remind you of that--partially because Rudi's bass clarinet with the brass has that sound, but of course these are the notes of the present, so it's something for the now we are in.

The compositions/arrangements catapult this one to a high ranking in my mind. They are the extra push that make repeated listens to the album pay off.

The Kasper Tom 5 are up there as one of my favorite new Euro-avant outfits these days. This album is one place where you will hear why.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Deepti Navaratna, The Carnatic Voice Goes Contemporary: Ka

Deepti Navaratna is a very good Carnatic (South) Indian vocalist, an All-India Radio artist since 2000. She does a nice job combining East and West as well as Carnatic and Hindustani on her new album Ka (self released).

Her voice is magical, very nuanced in the classical tradition, and quite memorable. On this album she begins in a traditional vein with voice, tamboura and violin, then goes on to combine traditional with contemporary--arrangements of substance with a touch of polyphony, ensemble performances that sound like they may have been derived from Vedic chant, plus other imaginative touches for some groundbreaking, form creating music.

After the thirty-minute EP ends you will want more, if you are like me. This is most fascinating music by a true artist and stylistic innovator.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Howard Riley, Live with Repertoire

It's great to hear a player like Howard Riley, pianist-artist of real stature, in the course of doing these reviews. Here's somebody I knew little of before his CD (No Business NBCD 58) Live with Repertoire. I am very glad to hear him in depth, inspired as he was on this release. It was recorded live before an audience. As Howard explains, his gigs he approaches in one of three ways, with spontaneous freedom, with that and some compositional guideposts, or "with repertoire," that is, centered around songs and compositions.

The performance at hand is almost entirely of the latter sort. This is a date where Howard digs into the music by and/or associated with the evergreen Thelonious Monk. So we get "Well You Needn't" but also "Darn that Dream" and a bunch of others, as well as Howard getting in some improvisatory and compositional moments of his own where he comments on it all.

What's so nice to hear is the way Riley channels the Monk sensibility, the wonderful percussiveness, the adventures in harmony, the forward moving lines, all that went into Monk's playing. Howard, most importantly, makes something of it that is Howard Riley. It's more, then, than channeling. It's a remaking.

And it gives you an idea of how much Howard Riley appreciates, loves and has grown through the Monk way, but also how much Howard does it all by being Howard. There is originality in there. It's very much a beautiful experience digging on this album.

Monk! Howard Riley! Put yourself inside the piano and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chucho Valdes, Border-Free

Chucho Valdes and his Afro-Cuban Messengers blaze through one hell of a Latin Jazz set on their album Border-Free (Jazz Village). He won a Grammy last time out and this one does not flag. The Cuban piano giant comes through with some originals and in tandem with his rhythm section they burn with brilliance.

Listening, you hear the jazz roots and feel the Cuban rhythm down to your toes. His website mentions that he has been influenced by Moroccan Gnawa music and, yes, that comes through in some of the heated riffing. Flamenco also has influenced him, the site says, and, yes, there is a certain flair in phrasing that has a similar thrust. As for the rest this is Afro-Cuban jazz as a tour de force. Branford Marsalis guests on three cuts with excellent outcome.

Beyond that Chucho shows you what he is made of here. And that is thrilling!

Red Trio, Rebento

For avant modern jazz piano trio music at its free best, you can't go wrong with RED Trio. And their LP on No Business (NBLP 67) is as good a place as any to start. They give us three supercharged cuts.

Hernani Faustino's double bass cavorts, rumbles and brings in a storm from the lower depths throughout. I love his pizzicato and his arco equally and he sets up the churning excitement the band generates.

Gabriel Ferrandini has the drum dynamics covered--senses the sound colors and thrust needed at any given point and gives you the complementing sounds with subtle excitement.

Rodrigo Pinheiro plies an original and moving blend of avant garde piano that includes some bracing inside-the-piano colors and an ever-flowing note cascade that does not contain a single cliche. He and the others sense the overall mood and dynamic and follow each other collectively with near telepathic powers.

This is simply one of the best out trio dates I've heard in a long while. Don't hesitate--only 400 have been pressed. The RED Trio comes through!

Monday, February 3, 2014

John Tchicai, Tribal Ghost

The fact that the world lost saxophonist John Tchicai well over a year ago (October 2012) hadn't quite hit me until I heard the new posthumously released album Tribal Ghost (New Business LP65). It's not that I did not miss him as much as I hadn't internalized the loss.

Now that I've been living with this newly issued 2007 recording I feel it more keenly. He was to me an epitomization of the creative artists, the avant jazzman who could and did explore all kinds of territory, from the early pioneering new thing music of Shepp's NY Contemporary Five and the NY Art Quartet, to Ascension, to the post-thing Afro-exuberance of Pierre Dorge and New Jungle Orchestra, to his own varied later groups. He was not just an excellent alto-tenorist; he was a force in music.

Tribal Ghost reemphasizes that to me. It is also an excellent album. John plays tenor and a bit of bass clarinet (and chimes in with one composition), Garrison Fewell plays electric guitar and percussion (and contributes three of four compositions), Charlie Kohlhase is on alto, tenor and baritone, Cecil McBee is the bassist and Billy Hart is on drums. Now that is a group! The compositions center it all and give structure--and so this is not precisely a "free" date as it is an avant date.

The compositions and the mix of smart playing put this one in excellent territory. There is dramatic interplay, collectively, good individual performances, and a pacing and momentum that keep your ears open and attentive.

This is not the last word on John Tchicai or anybody else here. The fact that it isn't is in part why John was important. He encompassed so much. And so does everyone else on this date.

Definitely get this one if you can. It is a delight.