Thursday, February 23, 2017

Satoko Fujii, Invisible Hand, Solo Piano

By now anyone who listens to contemporary avant jazz knows and doubtless appreciates pianist-composer-arranger-bandleader Satoko Fujii and her music. We may sometimes become so captivated with her composing-bandleading acumen that we do not listen as carefully as we might to her piano playing per se. To remind us what an important stylist-improviser she is there is the new release of two CDs of her solo piano with Invisible Hand (Cortez Sound 2-CD 0001/0002).

If we divide the avant jazz piano universe roughly into the Paul Bley harmonic extensions of advanced soloing and the Cecil Taylor percussive-textural abstract approach, Satoko perhaps fits more into the Bley side than the Taylor one. Such is an oversimplification however, since Satoko spans both worlds and gives her pianistic view a spin that moves away in the end from either. She has a lyrical composer's piano side, an exploratory chromatic-diatonic mix all her own, and an important extended technique side, applying inside-the-piano hands when she feels the need.

Hearing two complete CDs of Ms. Fujii alone with the piano gives us an inner look at her fertile musical mind, her complete avoidance of cliche and well-worn phrases in the vernacular while evoking jazz strengths in the feel and manner of expression.

Invisible Hand broadens our appreciation of Ms. Fujii's original stance. Her solo piano musings expose a more intimate side of her mastery. It is a pleasure to hear and a must-listen to all who want to get a full view of the art of the solo piano in jazz today. It's a revelatory volume and beautiful to experience!

CP Unit (Chris Pitsiokos Unit), Before the Heat Death

My ongoing adventures in musical blogdom are not just about recommending good new music for my readers; it is equally about my personal growth as a lifelong listener and musical being. Music that makes me grow in terms of what I know to be possible I especially appreciate--and so my recommendations also come with the idea that you, too, may find in a particular CD an experience of personal musical growth.

Certainly listening to the new album by the CP (Chris Pitsiokos) Unit, Before the Heat Death (Clean Feed 408) has been such a growth experience for me. The appearance of Weasel Walter on drums is no mere serendipity, as his presence in ensembles with Ken Vandermark and others as the Flying Luttenbachers in the '90s and beyond established a punkish electric avant jazz attitude that most surely influences the music to be heard here.

Alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos heads up the ensemble with his scorching heat and uncompromising frenetics. Brandon Seabrook, who first came to my attention and made the scene as a banjo player of great fire and technical chops, shows us that his guitar work here is no less important. Tim Dahl gives us on electric bass a rock steady presence that can let loose with torrents of notes along with the others or alternately providing bass bedrock to hold it all together. And Weasel is as always a great catalyst and creative force who goes far beyond playing time into participating with the ensemble in making rhythmic-melodic confluences and contrasts as much drum-oriented as bass-, sax- or guitar-centered.

The seven track EP gives us plenty of composed and improvised electric-organic anarchy that flirts with the most avant of rock ensembles while keeping in the end to the avant jazz path. The categories in the end are but rough indicators of what you might expect to hear. There are composed riffs and frenetic ensemble passages and there are solos of definite note.

What impresses especially is the rigor of concept and its all-fired application.

A bit of a monumental blow-out, this.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Noah Preminger, Meditations on Freedom

Noah Preminger and his excellent quartet follow in the footsteps of some of jazz's most luminary masters and their fearless endeavors to express in music the social protests they felt deeply in the troubled times they dwelt within. Nowadays the trouble has not only returned but for those that look carefully at recent trends threatened en masse our very freedoms and put our democratic institutions at great risk. We heard, those who were following jazz decades ago, beautifully expressed protest jazz from Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.

Now of all times we need this again. The advent of new levels of racism,  populist demagoguery, a disregard for facts and jeopardization of free speech and basic human rights, not to mention the constitution itself, all have been seriously brought or bought off. An unprecedented sense of danger permeates our world thanks to the rise and elective victories of the far right, expressed in shocking speech and policy making, and sometimes disguised as its opposite.  Perhaps never has our country faced a greater threat to its existence.

So enter Noah Preminger and his heartfelt cry of dissent, Meditations on Freedom (Dry Bridge Records 005). He is a tenor sax jazzman who has truly come into his own in recent times, and a bandleader with the current quartet having at us nicely with a third album after two excellent ones (type his name in index box above for recent reviews). This is a quartet with lots of fire and finesse, Noah leading it with a respect for the history of the music from the blues through Ornette and beyond, featuring the excellent trumpet acrobatics of Jason Palmer, along with a terrific rhythm section in the presence of bassist Kim Cass and drummer Ian Froman.

Five Preminger originals alternately reflect upon and cry out against our presnt condition. Some classic protest songs adorn the program--from Dylan's "Only A Pawn in Their Game," Sam Cook's iconic "A Change is Gonna Come," Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)," etc.

The pianoless instrumentation and the approach owes something to the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet, and that foundation serves to give the quartet a springboard to their own original take on the ultramodern free-directed jazz of today. Everyone comes across superbly as individuals and as a collective.

This is heartening, bracing jazz, another wonderful set from this extraordinarily important foursome.

You should not miss it!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Iro Harla, Ante Lucem for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet

The world of jazz today, even when subtracting the smooth commercial element, is wonderfully full and varied. We are as of now about 100 years into the recorded documentation of the music, and as a mostly untranscribed, improvisational form we of course have to subtract all the live music never recorded, but even then there is so much wonderful music that every so often I am astonished.

The form of jazz that combines a small jazz group with a symphony orchestra remains somewhat extraordinary, somewhat rare. The expense of successfully putting together a good performance and recording of this sort of jazz is partly responsible for the rarity of it. Jazz has mostly existed without the sort of charitable or grant oriented support that, for example, opera demands these days to continue.

But in spite of such obstacles we do get some good examples of jazz plus symphony now and again. I wont rehearse the pertinent totality here. Instead I would like to recommend a recent venture by Iro Haarla, Ante Lucem for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet (ECM 2457).

It is the sort of project that  ECM excels in producing--resonant lyrically haunting post-romantic orchestral sprawls (courtesy of Norrland Operans Symfoniorkester under Jukka Lisakkila) and a jazz quintet of largely Northern European artists: Iro herself on piano and harp,  Hayden Powell on trumpet, Trygve Seim on soprano and tenor sax, Ulf Krokfors on double bass, and Mike Kallio on drums and percussion. Fine players, all.

The accent is on a luxuriant, penetrating depiction of winter and the time before dawn, an overcoming of darkness by light, combined with a reflection on the Passion and a remembrance of the composer's opera singing mother, who passed away sometime before this music was completed.

All is certainly not pastoral. There is darkness, struggle, cosmic disturbance as well as peace and transcendence.

It unwinds in sonically memorable ways, the quintet and its soloists expressing concerted-like helmsmanship along with chamber togetherness, all of which contrasts with the full breadth of the symphony orchestra.

It is not outgoingly modernistic as a whole but more a lyrical mode that contrasts with a basically modern viewpoint. It is music that alernatingly challenges and transports. It is neither jazz in the most obvious sense (so much as ECM jazz in the evocative mode) nor is it strictly symphonic (of course). Yet the orchestra plays a key role in the sonic result, just as the jazz combo has a critical role to play.

To appreciate this recording to the max you may need to take down your guard and relax, to let go of the set of expectations you might have about this kind of hybrid. Just let yourself go and let the music speak to you. Then I expect like me you will become increasingly enchanted with this singular totality.

Well done! Different! Unexpected!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Francois Carrier, Freedom is Space for the Spirit, with Michel Lambert, Alexey Lapin

Over the years I have greeted each new Francois Carrier album with an increasing sense of expectation. I have never been disappointed. And so it was when his Freedom is Space for the Spirit (FMR 425) arrived in my mailbox recently. Once again I am intrigued.

It is some more music from the set of live appearances Francois, drummer Michel Lambert, and pianist Alexey Lapin made in Russia in 2014. This one captures the trio at the Experimental Sound Gallery in St. Petersburg on May 29th.

There are five sequences in all, each a completely improvised collective composition by the trio. There is a good deal of density to be had at times on this session. All three have much to say, and say it they do, mostly in a simultaneous fashion.

Francois is in his usual excellent form, spinning long and inventive lines with that special alto tone, covering ground that pushes the envelop on the key center and its expansion, its polysemic-polytonal presence that gives pianist Alexey Lapin something substantial and ever flowering to push back against. The push-pull harmo-melodic vicissitudes are heightened by a three-way wash of timbral mixes that makes of the drums in Lambert's hands a part of the sound spectrum of the whole, something that is much more than the sum of his sound-silent rhythmic choices, though of course that too is a key to the three-way outcome. In other words Michel creates endless permutations of plus-minus possibilities that in turn are dialogued and contrasted by Francois and Alexey.

This is state-of-the-art free trio music. And though there are new music vocabulary influences, it nevertheless remains firmly and expressively within the evolved avant jazz orbit as feeling-nuanced open musical speech.

If that makes sense to you then depend on this set to present its all in inspired form. If you do not get me think of the flow of Trane-Alice-Ali in the later period and imagine an original string of note chord rhythmic and timbral innovations that comes out of the dialogic possibilities as they developed in the mid-to-late sixties. In other words, this is superior Carrier-Lambert-Lapin music that owes a debt to the history of free jazz yet creates highly original sets of total substitutions, inspired variations on near infinite possibility itself.

Or forget the words and just listen. It's some more of the important and beautiful expressions of this potent trio and another welcome feather in the Carrier cap.

All kudos for this one!


Friday, February 10, 2017

Andrew Downing, Otterville

Canadian cellist Andrew Downing scores with a euphonious 2-CD set of his compositions and arrangements for octet, Otterville (self-released AD00105). It features some very well put-together charts for cello (Andrew), alto saxophone (Tara Davidson), vibes (Michael Davidson), lap steel guitar (Christine Bougie), bass guitar (Paul Mathew), drums (Nick Fraser), trumpet (Rebecca Hennessy) and trombone (William Carn).

Start with his treatment of Duke's "Take the 'A' Train" to hear what new breadth he brings to the familiar classic, adding interesting harmonic touches and stretching out the melody in striking ways. And altogether he gives us a very contemporary modern take on the jazz of today, with the scoring at times really ravishing.

He is a musical mind that has chosen his instrumentation with a clear idea of the roles he wishes to assign each instrument and a singularity of multiple lining inventions that work exceptionally well together.

This is jazz that has an accessible naturalness yet satisfies critical ears as well. Excellent job!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sergio Krakowski, Passaros, The Foundation of the Island

Today's offering is a bit unusual, an ethnic-flavored jazz trio headed by pandeiro (tambourine) virtuoso Sergio Krakowski, on a CD entitled Passaros, The Foundation of the Island (Ruhweh 002). It unites Krakowski with electric guitarist Todd Neufeld and pianist Vitor Goncalves for a continuous take, 45 minute program of mostly Krakowski originals.

The music is tonal, free-flowing with a melodic base and often a group collective improv approach. Krakowski plays pulsating, intricate figures that remind somewhat of South Indian carnatic drumming for the refined complexities involved.

Todd Neufeld has a knack to inject rhythmic and flowing lines in interlocking tandem with Vitor Goncalves' biting rhythmic piano statements.

If you recall some of the middle period ECM ethnic jazz releases by Codona and the like, this may seem reminiscent though an original take on such things.

It may be a sleeper but with concentrated, repeated listens it is impressive and committed, authentic and moving.

Definitely recommended.