Friday, October 21, 2016

Wadada Leo Smith, America's National Parks

Wadada Leo Smith embodies perfectly the adage "older and wiser." In the past decade or so his music has attained a kind of Zen perfection of balance, between the written and the improvised, between his trumpet and the band, between sound and silence, between soul and space.

The new one, America's National Parks (Cuneiform Rune 430-431), gives us two disks of thematically related pieces dedicated to the remarkable sites in the US and to celebrate Wadada's birthday number 75, which falls this December.

The integration of master improvisers and striking compositional structures is complete, directional in the most comprehensive and significant sense. Wadada on trumpet, Anthony Davis on piano, Addey Walters on cello, John Lindberg on bass and Pheeroen akLaf on drums are ideal proponents of the composed totality of this suite, but they also take on the improvisational spaces as the best Jazz ensembles have done, seemlessly yet with total personal presence. Like the Hot Five, Ellington's best units, Miles Davis's quintets there is an uncanny meld of individual and group. If Gunther Schuller's vision of Third Stream music was never quite realized in the '50s-'60s, the New Stream music of Wadada brings his own organic intersection of composed and improvised into play in ways that more than fulfill the promise of new music-avant jazz, because every note and the sum total of the music work together as one. It is Wadada music, long beyond the dual label of our past aspirations. Total and without flaw.

I cannot think of another artist today who has achieved such a level of art music without sacrificing the immediacy of improvisation. But all of this is made possible after years of AACM glories, many bright moments by the very best of the new jazz artists, and we must not and do not fail to appreciate all the greatness that precedes this wondrous phase.

But listen to this music and much of what Wadada has been doing lately. It has risen above what has been to be what is now! Like the Parks, Wadada Leo Smith has become a kind of national treasure. And America's National Parks is one of the pinnacles of his art.

No one with a serious interest in new music should miss this. The top of the peak is in site, or is already before us. It is here. Now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Benji Kaplan, Uai So

Benji Kaplan's Uai So (self released) is so unexpected that it cannot be pigeonholed. Not at all. Benji gives us an album of his songs, his vocals, his nylon-stringed guitar. They and he are Brazilian (by way of New York, but that is just a matter of space!), and there is substantial melodic content and lilt happening.

But then the music is arranged for chamber ensemble and so finely done as to fall into a new music classical camp as well as one for songstership.

And truth to tell the two aspects of this music fit together so well thanks to Benji's sensibilities that the results are absolutely uncanny.

The music flows beautifully and oscillates between Brazilian song and new classical so rapidly as to truly meld together as one unprecedented newness.

Honestly this one is so well fabricated and substantial as to get me reeling with surprise and delight.

This fellow is something else! Something else!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Matt Ulery's Loom / Large, Festival

Matt Ulery is one of those Chicago jazz presences that I welcome with virtually everything I hear of his, going back to my Cadence days. I may miss a few, but he never fails to interest me on those things I do receive.

His latest is a big band Loom/Large and the album is called Festival (Woolgathering Records 0003). Or rather, I should say that the first half of the program is a 14 piece outfit complete with strings and the second half is by his quintet.

An increasingly sure sense of "orchestration" is to be heard on the large band numbers, from the ravishing arrangement of Rowles' "The Peacock" through to the Ulery original.

Matt plays bass and tuba here in his developed, special way. The large band is especially well apportioned and there is an impressive handling of sections and good solo spots. Zach Brock is especially lucid on his violin solos.

The quintet numbers (Ulery plus Russ Johnson on trumpet, Geof Bradfield on bass clarinet and clarinet, Rob Clearfield on piano and pump organ and Jon Deitemyer on drums) show his increasing use of the small group as a sort of mini-orchestra with significant arranged passages and an overall lyrical compositional bent which reminds us where Ulery has been but also how his fluid line sense continues to grow.

Ulery gives us one of his very best here. More lyric than avant, you find yourself drawn to the endless charm of his inventive imagination.

Excellent album.

Trygve Seim, Rumi Songs

When one is on the receiving end of all the newness out there as I am in my reviewer-blogger capacity, one can never be sure what one will be exposed to next. Trygve Seim's Rumi Songs (ECM 2449) is one of those where I had no idea what to expect, and was happily shocked by the old-in-the-new, the lyrical-in-the-deep sort of music to be heard here.

Seim plays tenor and soprano sax in the way that ice on a small pond may build up over time. It is all of a piece as that sheet of ice, yet there is an ever-varying way it hangs together from section-to-section, piece-to-piece. Certainly Garbarek's imprint is upon what he does, but he transforms it all.

The program is a series of songs Seim composed out of the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi in the English translations of Coleman Banks and Kabir Helminski. Now this is deep imagination at work to begin with. Seim sets them to music--his own saxophones, the accordion of Frode Haltli, the cello of Svante Henryson, and the stunning vibratoless mezzo-soprano voice of Tora Augestad.

There are tightly composed lieder where the sequence and arrangement give musical life to the poetry; and there are others where there is a looser structure that allows for improvisation. As a listener one suspends expectations and lets music and meaning wash over one's senses.

The unique ensemble sound in the hands of Seim, his appropriation of Indian, Arabic and perhaps Euro folk elements give depth and musical voice to the imagery of the poems.

I find the music haunting, not easily forgotten, ever opening like the paper-flower sculptures as a kid I mused over. There is more. And then more. And unlike the paper structures you can unfold the aural world repeatedly.

It is music that puts you somewhere you do not expect to be but are glad of it. This is the new ECM I suppose you could say, or a part of it, expanding the open and ambiant creativity the label has always espoused but giving us things with a further sense of depth, a sonance that transcends categorization.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Guy Klucevsek, Teetering on the Verge of Normalcy

Don't believe it when composer-accordionist Guy Klucevsek titles his new album Teetering on the Verge of Normalcy (Starkland 225). This is music that is nicely accessible but nonetheless extraordinary and delightfully subversive of categories. This album showcases especially the compositional side of Klucevsek, though there is marvelous accordion playing, too.

Violin down-townist Todd Reynolds is a beautiful presence on a fair amount of this, but then there are other contributors too, and all sound just right for the parts they handle.

Guy gives us a terrific mix of folk- and folk-dance-influenced pieces, but then there is a new music-new tonality side too, with a bit of jazz feeling surely. It is the vertical mix of influence in each work and the horizontal trajectory of the entire program that is a wonder to apprehend. Everything tends to stay in your head. The more you listen, the more the pieces seem like old friends you are visiting with again.

The impetus for the album is partly elegiac, remembering good people now gone from us, but it is celebratory of their lives perhaps more than a strictly mourning sort of thing. Heartfelt, certainly.

I will not try to tack on influence labels for each piece. It is something you must listen to to appreciate, after all. And the way Guy puts it together is a model of how personal musical lifeways can be put into play for something very contemporary and original yet rooted and earthy.

Normal? Only if a beautifully arranged and constructed patch quilt of the classic sort is in any way ordinary. If it is, it is HOW it all fits, but that is not usual but extraordinary, especially in music.

This is music that makes of diversity a happy thing, a creative and vital living thing.

Don't miss this. Thanks, Guy! Encore!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Four Pillars of Destiny

I find in general that free jazz vocalists have a hard road. What to do? It is not easy. Your being is out there, exposed, on the line.

Four Pillars of Destiny (Improvising Beings ib51) is a quartet date in the avant free jazz zone that features vocalist Maki Hachiya in congress with Shota Koyama on drums, Yuta Yokoyama on trumpet and Hugues Vincent on cello. We've encountered Hugues on these pages with many good things. The others I have heard-written about much less. But all four get something happening very interesting collectively on this album.

Maki uses her voice as an instrument and comes out with things uniquely hers. It took me a listen or two to get into the zone, but then I did. Vincent does what one expects from him, which is really worthwhile playing. Yuta plays a lot of trumpet and makes some excellent note-timbre choices. Shota drums with schooled freedom and energy. And together they make something truly worth hearing.

So I find myself transported after hearing this a few times.

How much free jazz do you need to own? My rule of  thumb is that if you want to hear something repeatedly then it belongs in your collection. That's me. You may not need 200 Evan Parker albums, but you need a full spectrum of that and alternatives, because each different set of players and lineups ideally gives you something different.

And I recommend Four Pillars of Destiny for that reason. It's different and it grows on you. But it is not something to play once and file away. Partly because once is not going to do it. Buy it to hear it! That I recommend! Happy autumn. 

Cortex, Live in New York

Some albums hit from the moment you hit "play" and never let off. I found that happily true of Cortex and their Live in New York (Clean Feed 381). These are not players I know well. At least not until now.

It's Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxes, Ola Hoyer on double bass, and Gard Nilssen on drums. Not New Yorkers per se but recorded live here at IBeam in Brooklyn last year. And they were most surely "on it!"

They have an irresistible swing going on and a pronounced old-new thing influence as they burn their way through two short and one longer Johansson tune. "Burn" is the watchword because they really do. Both Johansson and Alberts get a froth of energy and soul freedom going which is backed up by the flaming rhythm section that riffs and swingingly charges forth. Classic Ornette, the NY Contemporary Five and early Sonny Simmons come to mind as precursors to this music--in the best indirect sort of way because Cortex takes it all to their own present-day place.

This is a scorcher! It clocks in as an LP in length but that feels just right. Big recommendation!