Monday, August 21, 2017

Mind Games, Ephemera Obscura

Anything we do not know is not necessarily some profound treasure, obviously. Yet we ignore the new and unknown at our own peril, for there are ever-worthy finds to be made when we cast a wide net. I cannot begin to convey to you the utter horror I can experience when putting utter crap on my player in search of the righteous stuff. Yet there is the elation too, when I come across something really good like the group Mind Games and their album Ephemera Obscura (Clean Feed 432).

This is a quartet of excellent players opening up into avant jazz tundra with compositional structure and improvisational freedom in equal amounts. The compositions are by various members of the group. They do a great job setting things up. Plus there are a number of collective jaunts.

Who are Mind Games? Angelika Niescier is on alto, a limber exponent of lucidity that helps a great deal in speeding things up and doing it with creative smarts. Denman Maroney plays piano. I've been hearing excellent things from him for a while and his slap-dash selectivity puts him in the upper echelon of post-Paul-Bley and post-Taylor newnesses. James Ilgenfritz mans the contrabass with pluck (pardon pun), frictive elegance and musically worthwhile determination. Andrew Drury is one of those drummer that can make a date right just by his percussive musicality, with an emphasis on the latter.

Put the four together on eight pieces and you have an ever-varying, playfully brilliant outcome. There never feels like there will be inevitability, like some free dates can do (and sometimes extremely well). Surprise is the norm, and each trip takes us to an interesting destination that we do not exactly expect.

After all has sounded I am left with a satisfaction that comes when in the presence of the best kinds of spontaneous creativity. If this has the acrid, angular tuneful tonal outness of a Dolphy album to some extent, it then also carries us forward to a more widely open-form looseness that is part of today.

Great job from a great quartet lineup!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Jonah Parzen-Johnson, I Try to Remember Where I Come From

Who is Jonah Parzen-Johnson and why should we care? The short answer is that he is a musician-composer from Chicago. The "why we should care" part at the moment has to do with his album I Try to Remember Where I Come From (Clean Feed 430). It is a series of short compositions Parzen-Johnson created and then realized on baritone saxophone and synthesizer.

The electronic part is somewhere between a piano and an orchestra in depth and density. It is generally filled with motifs and harmonic content. The baritone part involves long lines with circular breathing and cascading, gritty jazz sensibilities.

What stands out in contemplating this music is its totality of expression and driving forwardness. It is contemporary in essence, jazz-laced and both open-spontaneous and prethought-composed-planned.

The two elements mingle together for a venture in musical substance that offers sonic presence and expressive thrust.

It is definitely worth checking out if you appreciate electric-acoustics synergies!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Roots Magic, Last Kind Words



Roots Magic bypasses all the BS out there and zeros in on the roots of magic, the magic of the roots and their capacity to renew us time and again. Roots Magic map it out and let their inner fires kindle on the album Last Kind Words (Clean Feed 437). Alberto Popolla on clarinet & bass clarinet, Errico de Fabritiise alto & baritone sax, Gianfranco Tedeschi on double bass, Fabrizio Sperra on drums and selected guests here and there tear it up.

The selection of songs-compositions are excellent, perfect vehicles to root it out. A number of Charlie Patton blues numbers are pivotal, around which are situated earthy classics by Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Marion Brown, Julius Hemphill, Hamiet Bluiett, Pee Wee Russell and a couple of originals. It is exactly the right springboard for an avantly soulful outing that gets the blood coursing through your body.

More could be said. It need not be said because this is a lodestone of hip heat!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker, Whisper, with Dada Villa-Lobos

The heartfelt saudade of Brazilian song means that often enough there is a level of romanticism (in both senses) to be encountered in the music. It is a beautiful sadness that does not wallow in sentiment so much as it engages in affective panoramas of melodic sublimity.

That is what we get quite nicely in Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker's Whisper (Enja 9617-2). Cristina has a lovely voice in the tender realm of an Astrud Gilberto, and an identity of her own. She is an excellent harp player as well, with a very appropriate presence throughout. She is seconded aptly on voice and guitar by Dado Villa-Lobos. The Modern Samba Quintet (trumpet, vibes, double bass, percussion and drums) brings us fine soloing and rhythm work.

The subtitle of this album gives us a hint as to what is in store."The Bossa-Nova Brandenburg Concerto" plays on the presence of the Brandenburger Symphoniker. It does NOT mean that you should expect some kind of Heitor Villa-Lobosian "Bachianas Brasileiras." Or at least, not exactly. The orchestra plays a key role in a lush sort of richly expressive romantic way. And I suppose if you look hard enough you can find traces of Villa-Lobos' presence in some of the orchestrations, which are nicely handled by several arrangers.

The several works that do not center directly on bossa classics have a harp and orchestra element that may recall Gil Evans and Villa-Lobos both. The rest of the music is full throated bossa with vocals by Cristina and Dado, jazz solos by Cristina (I would love to hear MORE of what she does in a harp jazz lining realm here) and the Quintet, and the richness of an orchestral carpeting.

That may not be for everybody, but it is most certainly for those who appreciate a first-rate harpist and vocalist doing Brazilian classics in a large ensemble setting. If you are in that category this is something you will appreciate! Recommended.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rob Mazurek, Rome

Rob Mazurek, cornetist, electronician, composer and bandleader, has in the last several decades made some monumentally important recordings in the realm of avant new jazz. I have been happy to cover many of them in these blogs, and I again put fingers to keyboard in order to give my take on his newest, a solo album entitled Rome (Clean Feed 435).

In this case it is Rob going it alone, playing in and contemplating the eternal city of Rome, what it means in musical terms and how it feels to be doing a spontaneous multi-instrument foray with a particular set of creative actions frozen in time via the recorded medium.

As always it is about Rob's distinctive cornet artistry and also about a great deal more. We get the piano/prepared piano/electronic immediacy that goes into making Rob's singular musical vision what it is. Only in the bare bones solo context we get it unvarnished, expressionist yet not as multiple-lined as his larger and sometimes very much larger bands.

This is a more introspective Mazurek, with boldly underscored cornet, yes, but also his new music piano inventions a very central part of it all, along with an acute sense of sound color that comes out most contrastingly in his electronic spontaneous "orchestrations."

It is an album that does not overpower so much as it opens up a wide space within which some rather profound musical events take place.

It is a slightly different, more intimate Mazurek at hand on this set. Yet with a few concentrated listenings you experience once again some breathtaking possibilities unfold, like pastels on paper as compared with the oversized multiply-worked "canvases" of some of his larger group projects.

Outstanding! Give this your ears, whether you are friends, Romans and/or countrymen!


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra, Dreaming Big

I am hard pressed to imagine what the economics are of keeping a big band jazz outfit together these days. It is no doubt difficult enough, even daunting to keep a stable and working quartet going. And what about an 18-member unit? I cannot imagine. Nevertheless we have happy evidence that such an outfit can at least rehearse thoroughly and hit the studios to wax an excellent set. I speak of the Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra and their album Dreaming Big (Gold Fox Records GFR 1701).

It is a nicely tight outfit performing the unabashedly modern compositions of Brett Gold. You may hear in his work a distinct Gil Evansesque attention to well orchestrated sonics and well realized through compositions that maintain a high level of musicality throughout. There is a Gold originality that stands forward however, despite his lineal antecedents

There are good soloists to be heard generously, and a very solid ensemble sound that swings and finesses its way through the program seamlessly, and masters the compositional forms with a sure jazz modernity.

There is a consistency and continual fluency to this program. Any admirer of the modern jazz big band will find the New York Jazz Orchestra and Brett Gold's compositions and arrangements a fine thing indeed. Here is breakthrough big band music for today. May they continue indefinitely!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Art Fristoe Trio, DoubleDown

In the course of my sometimes meandering existence as music writer, musician, poetic inventor and liver of life, I sometimes realize how lucky I am. Somewhat broke, maybe, but never bent by the wheel of harsh necessity. Or at least not now after a long struggle to realize my own self-actualization. I stand before you proud to represent the best of the music of today. Not all of it, but a vital corner of it.

An example springs forward for our consideration right now. It is a double CD by pianist Art Fristoe and his trio. Double Down  (Merry Lane Records 2-CDs) is the album by name. It pits the very inventive pianistic and electric pianistic stylistics of Art Fristoe with the totally appropriate accompaniment of electric bassist Tim Ruiz and drummer Daleton Lee or Richard Cholakian. Ilya Janos joins the three on percussion for several cuts as well.

There is strength and interpretive, inventive poetry to be heard in the judicious and appealing mix of Fristoe originals and standards from a wide spectrum of possibilities old and newer. So we get "Alone Together" and "Caravan" but also "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Blackbird."

What is a constant is the rightness and creativity of the arrangements, with sometimes a jazz-rock tinge, other times a central swingingness,  the cohesiveness of the trio and Art Fristoe's piano strengths. He can solo in a neo-bop post-early Corea zone, do some very interesting block and semi-block interpretations and combine a vertical harmonic development and convincingness with a line and melody-interpretive zoning that marks him as very musical in the best jazz-sensible ways. And Art can sing nicely, too. Listen to "Blackbird!"

The music comes across as something accessible to many, yet a fully pleasurable outing for even the most discerning among us. Good going!