Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Andrew Sterman's Album "Wet Paint:" Tenor and Ensemble in A Post-Trane Present

Tenor jazzman Andrew Sterman, judging from his pleasingly melifluous album Wet Paint (Innova 771), works out of a post-Coltrane, Ornette-Coleman-via-Dewey-Redman, Jan Garbarek (more in the lower register though) inspiration to a music that is well balanced, lyrical and a leap into a place within that stylistic world. This has a sort of ECM-extroverted feel to it. The band is good: Sterman on tenor and a little alto flute plus Nick Rossi, piano, Kermit Driscoll, contrabass, and Tim Horner, drums. They are joined for around half the tracks by Richie Vitale on Wheeleresque trumpet and fluegel. Most of the rest has Todd Reynolds on violin, that Bang-On-A-Can all-encompassing singularity.

The rhythm-plus-piano team operates squarely within the style mentioned and give Sterman a great backdrop to hang his full sound onto. And Rossi's soloing is very well thought-out post-Tyner.

It's forward moving modern jazz of the best sort and so highly recommended.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Laszlo Gardony Gets Into Odd-Time Signatures and Pianistic Singularity on "Signature Time"

While you've been doing what ever you've been doing Hungarian-born pianist-composer-bandleader Laszlo Gardony has just completed his ninth album. Signature Time (Sunnyside 4011) is the name of it, which rightfully suggests that this is Laszlo's personal stylistic statement, and also that time signatures will be a factor. Both are quite true.

It's a goodly trio part of the time with Laszlo at the piano, John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel at the drums. Tenorist Stan Strickland productively cameos with the group at key points.

Those are the preliminaries. Gardony's pianistic style is eclectic and well-executed. He is most effective expanding on a theme he has devised, working off of an ostinato, getting into an odd-time signature groove and using dynamics (in a post-Jamalistic way) to heighten a swinging feel.

I've mentioned the originals, which are appropriate vehicles. Then there are some quirky versions of various standards, the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" and "Eleanor Rigby;" Duke's "Johnny Come Lately," Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" (done in four but sounding in it's own way like it's in an odd signature regardless!). So then not everything is irregular in meter. Things can and do swing or funk in regular time and that serves to contrast the various times well.

Stan Strickland sounds very good on his moments. Everyone is in the groove. Mr. Gardony does not sound like anyone's clone. And the music is quite good.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Julio Resende's Piano and Trio Shine Warmly On "You Taste Like A Song"

Portuguese pianist Julio Resende has a kind of poetic touch. His trio date You Taste Like A Song (Cleen Feed 216) waxes that way. A reflective Silencio--For the Fado opens the album with a beautifully glowing balladic-free piece that seems full of saudade longing.

The trio has alternating bassists and drummers and they all do good yeoman's service accompanying and abetting Julio's improvisations, getting space of their own as well. The original pieces have something musical to grab onto virtually all the time and Resende plays like he means it.

There's a hint of mid-period Jarrett in terms of brightness, but not enough to say that he is a disciple. It's Julio's own way that comes to the fore on the CD. The title cut is especially attractive, with a fairly up bossa-rock feel and a kind of luminescent chordal melodic progression that enchants the senses.

There are some effective acoustic funk-rock trio forays, more helpings of balladic charm, moments of Bley-like freedom and use of trio space, a little of the Guaraldi-Jarrett gospel chordings, and plenty of different feels to keep the soul in a zone that rubs on one's musical concentration like Alladin on the magic lamp. And the CD closes with Monk's "Straight No Chaser" in a very personal sort of version.

It's another good one from Cleen Feed. It's a very good one for Julio Resende. Modern piano trio nuts should find plenty to crack here.

Soft and Hard Running Bop from Pianist-Composer Faulkner Evans

Faulkner Evans write some early -mid-sixties style Blue Note hard and soft bop pieces that have a nice solidity. That is, on his CD The Point of the Moon (CAP 1024). The pieces range from a sort of Mobley meets Andrew Hill hipness, to flat-out hard bop, all arranged well for a sextet that includes Matt Wilson, drums, Belden Bullock on bass, Gary Versace on organ or accordion, Ron Horton, trumpet, Greg Tardy on tenor, and of course Evans on piano. Versace plays on two tracks only, so perhaps it's better to call this a quintet. It's a good lineup, as you can see, and there is sometimes a Kind of Blue and beyond spatiousness to it all.

Faulkner plays a "composer's piano," meaning that he does not technically overwhelm, but plays appropriate strings of fairly short lines that fit with the changes and swing pretty well. The rest of the band puts out the kind of performances you'd expect of them. There's a nicely arranged version of one of my favorite Alec Wilder songs, "While We're Young," which like many of the others has some nicely put together voicings for the horns.

The title track to my mind is the most interesting piece, with a swing-quasi-tango feel heightened by Versace's accordion, a pointed bass line doubled in the piano, and a long winding head line. It also shows Ron Horton in a very lyrically productive solo mode.

It all is quite good--perhaps not indispensable, but good.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ernie Krivda Stokes the Flames with "Blues for Pekar"

Tenorist Ernie Krivda has unassumingly been at it for decades, building up a rather voluminous discography of hard swinging jazz with roots in the hard bop of the mid-late '50s through early sixties. Many of those disks are quite fine; many were made for the Cadence-CIMP label complex Bob Rusch heads.

And herewith, a new offering [Blues for Pekar (Capri 74110-2)] (dedicated to jazz writer/critic Harvey Pekar) for his quartet-quintet (tenor, piano, bass, drums and an added trumpet/fluegel on four of the seven numbers). It's a solid band of Detroit-associated veterans. Sean Jones or Dominic Farinacci bring additional excitement to the mix and very good interplay with Krivda on the pieces where they are present.

Mr. Krivda embodies a jazz tradition without enslaving himself by copying one or more of the past master-playing styles. Like Scott Hamilton does for late swing/early bop, Krivda does for middle-hard bop. He plays himself and he plays with great authority and swinging imagination, set solidly square into the style he quite obvious favors.

This is a good one if you want to hear what he is up to. He runs down some effective blowing vehicles and a few classics-standards in a very engaging set. A favorite of mine is his balladic treatment of "More Than You'll Know," which packs a wealth of musical ideas into the hard-yet-wide, penetrating sound that is a Krivda trademark. But there is much else to enjoy as well. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Bebop Trio Takes A Tradition and Makes it Personal

You hear a name like the Bebop Trio and you think, "Oh, OK, I think I know what this one is going to sound like." In the case at hand, you'd probably be wrong. The trio's self-titled debut (Creative Nation Music 018) is not at all the business-as-usual rehashed bebop bag. It has an unusual instrumentation: Lefteris Kordis on piano, Alec Spiegelman, clarinet, and Thor Thorvaldsson on the drums. They alternate spontaneous improvisations with unusual treatment of some terrific and mostly neglected classics: Powell's "Celia," Shearing's "Conception," Hope's "Boa," Ellington's "Zurzday," Nichols's "Change of Season," and Tristano's "317 East 32nd."

Comparisons are inevitable with clarinetist Don Byron's Ivey Divey, an album that featured Byron, Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette in a program of Lester Young associated music. There IS some relation between the two. But the Bebop Trio hold their own because they are saying something of their own.

What is so interesting about this group is how they combine freely articulated improvisations with bop styles and even swing. They do it very creatively. Some of the early-mid Giuffre trios come to mind, for the obvious presence of Spiegelman's limpid clarinet, the open spacious sort of approach, and also Kordis's sometimes apparent similarity to Paul Bley in his freely rubato reworking of bop. But again, there is enough different that you only recognize the lineage.

Thorvaldsson's drumming is open, creative and both rhythmically and coloristically distinct. He plays an important role in getting an uninhibited rhythmic asymmetry into the mix. Then there's the interplay between the three, which is fabulous. Both Kordis and Spiegelman have something definite to say on their instruments and they benefit greatly from the open-ended format.

The treatment of the classic bop pieces works seamlessly into the free improvisations that frame them.

This is exceptional music, a true breath of new life. These are players that need to be heard. You can help that along by listening. I think you'll be very glad you did.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Claudio Scolari Defies Expectations with "Colors of Red Island"

Colors of Red Island (Principal MISV04) has what you might not expect to find. It's a disk by two drummers (Scolari and Daniele Cavalca) plus a trumpet (Scolari Simone). OK fine, you think, I can imagine what this will sound like. Well it does not, to my ears. First off, the drummers play other instruments as well (Scolari on flute, piano and synths; Cavalca on vibes and bass; both on percussion). So you get a chamber jazz-rock sort of ambient music.

It's a well sequenced and contrasting series of miniature sound worlds of a post-ECM sort. There is a minimalist shimmer without a lot of repetition; there are occasions where there is something vaguely African about it; there is some fine drumming (and you WOULD expect that) often in a pulsating quasi-rock context. And there is a balance between improvisation and a compositional-conceptual attention to structured eventfulness.

It's wide-ranging and consistently attention-getting, in spite of its 79-minute length. And with the various instruments unleashed in the course of a particular segment, it never sounds thin. It's almost orchestral.

Recommended if you are looking for a different spin.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Aram Shelton and Arrive Present an Interesting Program of Quartet Music on "There Was"

For those of you like me who are digging some of the interesting ensembles loosely based in Chicago and taking a post-Dolphy trip through composi- tional-improvisational in & out territory, the new CD by Arrive should appeal. Altoist Aram Shelton has a wry sort of pluck to his solo work. He now resides in California where he is a part of the group Cylinder (see review on these pages), but he reunited with some of the Chicago luminaries for There Was (Clean Feed 217). Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz has real presence on the contemporary scene. As a sideman with a group such as this there is a Bobby Hutcherson spatial looseness to his comping that does a great deal to open the music up and he soloes with good taste and intelligence. (His solo recordings, also reviewed on these pages, put him in a more chimingly extroverted zone, but that is another story). Bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Daisy are mainstays. They combine the ability to get inside the structure of a composition with a playful freedom that suits the context well.

The compositions are rich and complex, yet bring a modern jazz rootedness that pulls it together in the best tradition of the outside Blue Notes of the classic period.

This is an excellent ensemble outing. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trumpet Ace Melvin Jones Hits Straight to the Core on his "Pivot" Album

I am not going to mess with a lot of words today. That's because a lot of words are not needed to capture what Melvin Jones's Pivot (Turnaround 1004) is all about. Mr. Jones plays trumpet with a brash and bold extroversion that puts him in the Lee Morgan-Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw bracket. Hook him up with a very hot band (like the one here), let him get his own tunes in there, and let loose. This is music with that push, that heat that does the soul good. No kidding this is the modern day Hard that hard bop was and is suppose to be, only this is the present-day equivalent.

The band scorches and Melvin shows what he is made of. It's something good, absolutely.

If you like the full-body assault of trumpet pyrotechnics, fondly remember the best Blue Notes of the later middle period, Melvin's album will set you to going. He can play!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Steve Swell's "Nation of We" Large Ensemble Needs Your Support

I don't usually involve my blogs with Kickstarter projects. But I am making an exception. Trombonist-jazz composer Steve Swell is a leading light of modern jazz on the New York scene. His Nation of We comprises some of the Big Apple's finest improvisers playing the music of Steve Swell. The economic logistics of getting advanced big band music out is complicated. There is a new Nation of We album slated for release shortly, but the economic reality is that the label cannot afford to pay the musicians for their work. Steve has turned to Kickstarter to raise the money for this. The deadline is August 28th. They need to raise at least $3,000 by then or they will not get anything at all. Click on the image on this page to get the full details. Chip in one dollar, chip in more. All of it will help!

Be a part of the creative jazz scene by helping fund its existence. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ken Vandermark Solo "Furniture Music"

If you think it's easy to make a solo woodwind improvisation album and keep it interesting, then you have an optimistic outlook on just about everything, I would think. It's you, your instrument and a microphone or two and that's it.

Ken Vandermark made such an album a few years ago. He perhaps ironically titled it Furniture Music (Okka Disk 12046). For those that don't know, "Furniture Music" was the name of a set of pieces Eric Satie composed for social situations where the music was to be a background to the convivial gathering of folks, their chatter, the tinkling of ice in cocktail glasses and the like. He was ironically adament that the music be ignored. The music was purposely banal and repetitious, but since it was Satie doing it it turned out that the music was really quite fascinating and a prophetic forerunner to what was later known as minimalism.

For Ken to call his solo reed recording by that title, he was applying a bit of modest irony to his own music. Like Satie's piece, this is not really background music at all, and in a way it was a comment on how difficult it could be to improvise on a single-line solo instrument for any length of time while retaining audience interest.

Vandermark's Furniture Music succeeds because he is a very creative cat. The bulk of the recording was made in the studio, but the final numbers are from a live date. Ken's strategy was to keep each segment relatively short, to vary the instrumentation, and to limit the tone production and sound qualities of each improvisation to certain parameters. So you get explosive pops as a sound event on the baritone sax, legato clarinet, boppish bari phrases, squealing shrieks on the clarinet, subtones on the bass clarinet, and so on.

Needless to say perhaps, but this is not a disk where one expects Ken to break out into a version of "Body and Soul." And he doesn't. It IS a varied and adventurous trip through the colors of sound and tone poetry Vandermark creates in the course of the 65-minute program.

This may not be an album that changes the universe and its ordering. It may not even change your idea of music if you already have sampled "free" improv. But with a Zen sort of concentration on the part of the listener this is music that is far from boring.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nicole Mitchell's "Awakening": Flautist On Top

In case we need proof, Nicole Mitchell's Awakening (Delmark 599) shows us that Ms. Mitchell has become one of the premier flute players today. It's a swinging quartet date with well-chosen players, some of Chicago's very best. And it's about as close to straight-ahead as you are likely to hear from Nicole. Now don't make the mistake of thinking that straight-ahead is necessarily synonymous with playing it safe, with endless repetitions of licks and cliches from earlier musical styles. That may be the unfortunate case for some players, but not these folks. NO! Ms. Mitchell does NOT play it safe. And her playing is Nicole right now, not somebody else rehashed.

The compositional elements remain a key part of Ms. Mitchell's way but this time they are primarily springboards to extended band improvisations. Along the way Nicole shows big bright tone, great agility, strong creative control over tone color and an imaginative choice of lines that put her straight-up on top. Jeff Parker on guitar never sounded better. If he sometimes brings to mind Ted Dunbar on this date, it is only in the sense of the restless searching, probing quality of his lines. Harrison Bankhead, as anyone who has listened knows, is one big powerful mother of a bass player and he puts it all out there for us to hear. Drummer Avreeayl Ra is a name less familiar to me. But he gets in the pocket of whatever they are doing: swing, rock-funk, freetime, and STAYS there.

This isn't tame music. It is not music that holds back. It is not music that treads lightly for fear of bending a branch or snapping a twig. It goes where it will with no fear, with great spirit, heartful soul, and a wildly exciting ride to get us all there. This is one f=terrific group and Nicole is life affirming and breathtaking at the same time. Dig this one deeply and you'll get to another place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Daniel Bennett's "Peace and Stability Among Bears:" Small-Group Musical Tapestry

Daniel Bennett writes music that winds out in long, permutat- ing phrases. His Peace and Stability Among Bears (Bennett Alliance 009) is a CD-length sample of that music in all its originality. The Daniel Bennett Group (Bennett, alto, flute, clarinet; Chris Hersch, electric guitar; Jason Davis, acoustic bass; and Rick Landwehr, drums) takes over your music system for 39 minutes with a kind of jazz that builds from the ground up with a different concept. Imagine the sort of guitar sound and structure you might here in classic African highlife, a kind of arpeggiated contrapuntal ostinato thing. Now think of the odd-metered cadences of some of the folk music of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Put them together, add some kind of Bennettian "X Factor," then shake thoroughly and serve.

This is music less about soloing, though there is some of that in the context of the melodic-rhythmic ongoingness. It is about asymmetrical variations and repetitions on long phrase-forms.

The band SOUNDS good. Hersch's guitar rings out nicely; Bennett has a cooler limpid tone that nevertheless forcefully articulates the shifting rhythmic permutations at hand. Davis and Landwehr get with what's happening and help put it all together.

As MUSIC, this one is great. As "JAZZ" perhaps more soloing could be built into the pieces. But this is a quibble, because it is a delightful listen. And dig those bear cartoons!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

John Blum Astrogeny Quartet and Farewell Denis Charles

John Blum played piano on several cuts of Sunny Murray's excellent Perles Noires Eremite two-CD set. Beyond that his Astrogeny Quartet (Eremite 049) is my first exposure to his playing in depth.

The album has a classic free-new thing ring to it, thanks to all involved. William Parker centers the music with his usual very strong and personal approach. Denis Charles. a drummer who has not been given the recognition he deserves, fleshes out the freetime barrage with shifts in emphasis and a sonic control over his set that marks him one of the very best free drummers of his generation. (Not to mention, of course, the beautifully brittle staccato swinging he lent to early sessions by Cecil Taylor and the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd first edition group.)

Antonio Grippi positions well in the group as altoist (and alto clarinetist) in the firey tradition of others before him. He brings a vital life force to the ensemble's energy level. And as a clarinetist he stands out as someone with a bit of post-Redman originality. And then there's John Blum. He works out of the Cecil Taylor tradition to formulate his own dynamically turbulent piano. It's inventive and consistently stratus-seeking. The head compositions are a product of Grippi and Blum and certainly set things up well.

This was the band's only recording and comes out of the single gig they had (in 1998) before going their separate ways, seemingly temporarily. Unfortunately this was to be Denis Charles last New York recording, and he died unexpectedly not long after. So in a way this is a Denis Charles memorial as well as a rare look at an extremely short-lived line-up.

Ultimately it has some excellent spontaneously free playing in the best tradition. William Parker and Denis Charles form and extraordinarily driving rhythm team and the Grippi-Blum front line head out to a high place and stay there for the duration.

This is a recording that wears well on the ears. In fact the more you listen, the better it comes together in your head. The level of intensity is not perhaps for everybody, but those who respond to a whirlwind energy session will most definitely dig what happened on that gig.

And so long Denis. We miss you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fred Ho Gets Very Serious on "Big Red!"

Fred Ho is a composer-instrumentalist-bandleader with a complex attitude toward his Chinese-Asian ancestry, the homeland and its contemporary historical stance, the Afro-American culture from which his music in part derives, and commercial culture in general and of America in particular. I won't begin to try and describe that attitude, except to say that his music reflects the multiplicity of factors that go into who he is today. Big Red! (Innova 794), the latest in a series of albums by his various big band appellations, in this case the Afro Asian Music Ensemble, has less of the very personal versions of iconic pop-rock American material (see the reviews of some his other recent albums in this blog for that), but much in the way of incorporating traditional Chinese and other Asian musical elements, the jazz tradition in general and the Afro-African heritage anyone playing this music taps into, whether in a fully aware way or no.

What's especially good about that is not the sheer fact that he does it. It's how he pulls off the synthesis in very original musical ways. For this is music of much originality and sophistication--and the kind of power that goes far to making Big Red! an album of considerable interest.

I will not go into a lot of detail today. I will only say that Fred Ho's big band music is essential to this decade. Big Red! is one of the very best of his recent work. So go ahead and get it without any trepidation or hesitation, if you are so inclined. It's a good one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trumpeter Thomas Heberer's Trio on "Klippe," Solo Trumpet on "One" for "Clarino," a 2-LP Set

Trumpet stalwart Thomas Heberer is doing in his own way what a guy like Peter Evans is doing in the States. Making it new.

Heberer's double LP Clarino (No Business LP 31/32) gives you two aspects of his music: "Klippe," a chamber trio offering, and "One," a solo trumpet record. Joachim Badenhorst brings his post-Giuffre clarinet and bass-clarinet into the mix; Pascal Niggenkemper holds forth on contrabass. It's a program of free music that can be relatively placid or energetic alternatively, but in a pretty quiet way. It has the kind of modern dialogic interactions that have a modern classical ring to them. Yet the personalities of Heberer and Badenhorst especially give the sound the expressivity of "free jazz." It's very nice to hear and wears well after a bunch of listens.

For "One" Heberer goes it alone. He lays back more so than what Peter Evans does in this sort of context. Thomas gets a sound that reminds me of a weed wacker--something to do with a shift in the embouchure--and he uses that timbre along with a more clarion (yet soft) tone to good effect. It has a more tranquil approach than one usually expects, and that is not at all off-putting once one gets with the program.

An interesting free session, well played.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

William Hooker Duets with Thomas Chapin! "Crossing Points" Documents the Convergence.

I have a friend who is dedicated to the music. He prides himself on NOT being a collector, of not making a fetish out of owning thousands upon thousands of recordings to line up in long rows and nod knowingly about the music when guests arrive. "Yes, you see I own all this music, so you know that I know all about it." He doesn't imply that. He rejects it. He is in the music for the music. Yet his likes and dislikes are a matter of importance to him. Great importance. One day he told me, "You know, I've had enough of William Hooker." And that was that. I never got a bead on exactly why he'd had enough. And that's his business. Fact is, William Hooker is a drummer who does not hang back. He is a mainstay in the school of bash and burn. He lets fly and he does it in ways that are very free, varied, and if you don't respond to the style, very in-your-face.

I happen to be someone who's liked out-front drummers all throughout my experience of the music. They bring energy to the gig, they bring fire, they cajole soloists onward to things they might not do otherwise. Sure, there are other ways of playing. But for those dates where I detect a kind of suppression of the drummer and his dynamic, I feel uneasy. Anyway I bring my friend up as someone who may not always go in for the bashing sort of drumming. And that's fine.

And so we segue to the music today, a two-LP or one-CD offering featuring the late Thomas Chapin (mostly on alto) intersecting with William Hooker on a long duet. Crossing Points (No Business NBCD 28) shows a side of the late master Thomas Chapin that you saw less of in his own group's recordings: the possessed, supercharged, fire-breathing energy man.

This is a very free session and shows that plenty of synergy was going on on the bandstand that night in 1992. It's a tour de force honk out. You can get it for how it looks lined up with all your other CDs. Or you can get it for the music. Either way, it will be a good addition. I would recommend this as MUSIC more than room furnishings. But music like this needs your support whether you are listening to it or just collecting it. You are a great help to the small labels and avant artists trying to survive today if you BUY this. So get with that if you will.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sir Roland Hanna Piano Solo: Colors From a Giant's Kit

Like Jaki Byard, Roland Hanna was a pianist who had absorbed the entire jazz tradition and his playing reflected that. His posthumously released solo session, Colors from A Giant's Kit (IPO), finds him in the mood to cover a lot of ground. There are some quite fetching originals and well-chosen standards, from Duke through Trane. All of it shows us a more intimate side of Hanna that what you'd get, say, in his work with the Jones-Lewis band.

His more reflective pieces show a bit of a classical-romantic rhapsodic influence. But then he'll turn around and whip off "20th Century Rag," a kind of post-rag rag that gives us a little of the musical flavors of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington in their early modern zone.

It matters little where you begin this album. Every track is filled with the Hanna sound and approach.

Here's a player that was taken a little too much for granted during his lifetime. Colors From A Giant's Kit shows us some of the pre-post-bop Hanna many of us missed while he was here. It's something we can be thankful was captured on the digital channels of this new CD. Listen and learn.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: "Year of the Tiger" A Reason to Celebrate

Fred Ho's Green Monster Big Band is something else, no doubt about it. Take some of the hottest players around (Bobby Zankel, Salim Washington, Stanton Davis, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, and on from there), put together wacky but convincing big band charts covering everything from "The Johnny Quest Theme," Michael Jackson, Hendrix, interesting original charts, what sounds like Chinese social realism, all with a seriousness that at the same time has a kind of irony that typically is part of Mr. Ho's way of proceeding.

It stands up as original big band sounds and as Fred Ho sounding very much like Fred Ho. That is Year of the Tiger (Innova 789). It's hot, it's nutty and it's very much of today.