Friday, March 29, 2013

Bob Gluck, Aruan Ortiz, Textures and Pulsations

Put together two very accomplished pianist-improvisers-composers, supplement their arsenal with computer and Moog extensions and turn them loose. If the two involved are Bob Gluck and Aruan Ortiz, Textures and Pulsations (Ictus 167) is the very satisfying, adventurous result.

What transpired in concert that day was a live set of collaborations, no overdubs, Bob with a Moog, Aruan a laptop, both at the piano and both with some very good ideas.

This is extended music that harnesses fertile improvisational imaginations to the end of a new music, jazz inflected, thoughtfully electrified, avant but more freely structured than purely free in some ultimate sense. That means there are seemingly spontaneous motives that emerge, then ascend to a full performative height through the use of samples, echo, electronic enhancement and synthesizer coloration.

There are cyclical ideas (the pulsations) joined by a wide-ranging harmonic-melodic creativity and a well-chosen palette of sound colors (the textures).

What especially impresses me about the duet is the natural way the ideas flow in any given piece. It doesn't feel like the two artists are working up a sweat to come up with the good-idea music, yet the meeting nonetheless provides a forum for some excellent two-peopled invention to take place. And it does. It is not easy to make difficult-to-make music seem easy. But they do. And that is quite an achievement.

Gluck and Ortiz are at the top of their game on this session. The electronics and piano playing fit together happily and in the end some fascinating music comes about. It is an advanced music that comes out of the meeting, yet it has a very communicative, accessible, listener-friendly side to it.

This is one of the most successful melds of pianistic imagination and live electronic vivacity that I've had the pleasure to hear. It manages to unify elements of jazz, rhythmic pulse and advanced spontaneous composition in ways that are wholly original. Maestros Gluck and Ortiz find each niche without fail and develop it with ear-enriching, musically satisfying intelligence. You must hear this one!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Samuel Blaser Quartet, As the Sea

Samuel Blaser is fairly young, a relative newcomer to the jazz scene. Yet his trombone playing has depth, an expressive vocabulary that reflects and makes personal the tradition--from Ory to Mangelsdorff.

This and much more can be experienced on his new CD, As the Sea (Hatology). The music is in four parts. Part one is loosely based on, as I understand it, a tuba obbligato from Wagner's Siegfried; part four makes use of the Indian musico-rhythmic concept of the tihai. Beyond that this is excellent free-wheeling acoustic-electric improvisation with a top-gear band: Blaser, Marc Ducret on electric guitar, Banz Oester on acoustic bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.

The four parts hang together as a suite. The performance was recorded live at a jazz club in Belgium and the sort of immediacy you can get in such a situation is a big factor on the date.

There are interesting written parts that smoothly segue into the improvisations. The nature of the whole is a kind of free jazz with some rock heft to it. Everybody sounds great. Gerald Cleaver gives everything a distinctive, well-drummed thrust, Banz Oester is rock solid, Marc Ducret sounds devastatingly on top with a very noteful, soulful, avantly well-connect free attack, as good as ever, and Samuel shows us he's a player that needs to be heard, someone with a future in the music, but already a treat to hear.

This is fine music, electric avantdom with a real kick. Highly recommended.

Eric Zinman, Rocks in the Sea

Eric Zinman, pianist of the wider spectrum of possibilities in improvisation, has not exactly basked in the limelight of critical and popular attention in recent years, and yet there is a concentrated consistency of intelligent expression in his music. The same could be said of flute and reedman Mario Rechtern. When the two decided to put their heads together on a somewhat lengthy tone-poem composition-improvisation, there was a compatibility of outlooks that made it a most sensible proposition.

They assembled a quartet by adding the very sympathetic and articulate players Benjamin Duboc on acoustic bass and Didier Lasserre on drums. The four set to work expressing the collaborative idea in a recording session in Paris, 2009. The results are here for us to explore and appreciate on the recently released CD Rocks in the Sea (Cadence Jazz 1225).

Very cohesive "free" playing is the order of the day, a continuous 45-or-so minute performance that brings a beautiful four-way interaction into being. The music explores avenues of introspection and energy in turn, and in the end one is left with the feeling of having traveled some personal distance, of having embarked on a journey in music that somehow captures a little of life the way it is lived today. Or at least that's how it felt for me.

It's a free-flowing tour de force with Eric playing his version of an all-over piano style of energy and emotional precision, with Mario unleashing a barrage of heat, especially on the baritone, and with the rhythm section giving free-thrusting propulsion.

This is music that does not compromise or back down. Avant improv aficionados will take readily to the music. It's a good way to experience the music of Eric Zinman and Mario Rechtern. It is a good addition to anyone's free improv library.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fire Music, Volume One, An Anthology of Classic ESP Avant Jazz

After Ornette Coleman sounded the clarion blast of freedom in jazz in the late '50s-early '60s, others began to enter the fray. A new music rapidly evolved, mostly out of New York. By around 1966 it was in full bloom.

ESP Records was there to record many of its important participants, from Ornette himself to many if not most of the seminal players of that decade.

For those who don't have the time or space to get all the important releases of the label in this vein, ESP has wisely put together an anthology of some of the highlights: Fire Music, Vol. 1 (ESP). To celebrate their 50th Anniversary year, ESP looks back to some of what put the label on the map in the first place and in the process covers the new thing jazz in its original, full-blown first wave. The music startled many at the time and this collection gives you the undiluted, heady version in all its glory. Or a bit of it anyway.

Since this is volume one and no doubt there will be volumes two and etc., this is not the place to quibble with the initial selection. It is a goodly assortment of firey free jazz played by well- and lesser-known denizens: Albert Ayler, of course, Frank Wright, Sunny Murray, the rather obscure Norman Howard (related to Noah?), John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Paul Bley, Don Cherry, Sonny Simmons and Sun Ra.

I've lived with the complete albums in just about every instance for many years and know them by heart, mostly. So I have no idea what someone new to this music will hear if they buy the anthology. Dedicated avant fans who have had the time to amass a collection probably will have most or all of these disks already. The new folks are in for a learning-curve experience. It's something you'll take to naturally and then grow into or you won't. I do think that the desire for the "new" is what puts you halfway there.

Those who make that effort are in for a world of historic fire, so to speak. There is lots of energy here, lots of expression, lots of iconoclastic wall tumbling.

And I say, "yeah!"

Monday, March 25, 2013

Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra, Bloom

If spring comes, or I should rather say when spring really comes, in the weather on in the mind, there is music for it. Or any other time, for that matter. I allude to Asuka Kakitani and her Jazz Orchestra, and their first, somewhat startlingly fresh inaugural album Bloom (19/8 Records 1025).

Asuka makes her own sort of jazz composition, mainstream but not Basie/Jones-Lewis derived, lyrical, tonally full and original. The band is well-suited for her music, well rehearsed and sounding beautiful. There are folks like John O'Gallagher on sax, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Sara Serpa on vocals, often a wordless part of the ensemble, and other excellent players.

The music is sometimes inclined toward full-block tutti writing but there are sectional moments as well. There are times when she shows a little of her Japanese roots. But at all times Asuka Kakitani shows a sure hand writing for a large band, a melodic knack, a dramatic sense.

Bloom is what Ms. Kakitani is doing. She is showing herself as a beautiful musical flower. And she is giving us some very lovely new big band compositions. This is a happy thing!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Barry Altschul, the 3Dom Factor

If Barry Altschul was less present in the past few decades than one might have hoped, he is most assuredly back. At age 70 he has been sounding great, gigging with important cats new and older, and now he has a new solo album, his first in many years.

The 3Dom Factor (TUM 032) pits Barry as bandleader with a lively trio of Joe Fonda on double bass and Jon Irabagon on tenor in a program of Barry's compositions, many of which are well-known from previous Altschul band recordings, some new, and one classic Carla Bley piece. All get new life on this disk.

This is a trio that works together very nicely. Joe Fonda is a presence whose playing has the sort of dynamic virtuoso, hitting-it quality Barry always responds to in a bassist. Jon Irabagon has been gigging and recording with Barry over the last few years, and quite productively so. He is also the sax presence in Mostly Other People Do the Killing and Jon Lundbom's Big Five Chord, two highly acclaimed outfits of today. Jon plays with a full grasp of the history of music, has the humor of a Sonny Rollins, and comes across freely with lots of imagination and ability. He is a tenor of today, destined one hopes for many great things to come.

Put the three together with these tunes and you have some damned fine music. Barry has all the fire and drive of yesterday and the ability to swing as mightily as ever while still being a primary innovative force in imaginative and creative free drumming.

The album is a joy!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brian Groder, Tonino Miano, FluiDensity

Brian Groder, trumpet, and Tonio Miano, piano, carve out an improvisational niche on FluiDensity (Latham-Impressus CD) that is a smart mix of avant jazz and new music. In a series of freely flowing but focused duets they show a mastery of a tumbling, widely harmonic, melodically rich tonal invention.

Brian Groder plays a singular trumpet. He can be dense, soulful, technically diverse and melodically pristine, all in one gulp, and that he is on these recordings. Tonio Miano makes the perfect foil for Brian on piano. He has some of the forward momentum of a Cecil Taylor but his cascades are musically distinct. He is all over the place on the instrument but at the same time has ideas in his phrasings that sound as if they could be composed, in that they have a logical, speaking component, so to say.

There are parts that do indicate either extraordinary telepathic synchronicities or pre-planned motifs. They could be either and that says much of the flow of the music here. On "Pinion" they do specifically reference musical quotations from a Frederic Rzewski piano composition. Otherwise it's a music of free thought, or so it sounds.

If you are looking for free but very meaty content in a trumpet-piano duet set, look no further. This one is a model of what two fine players can come up with in the course of a recording session.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Louisiana Red, When My Mama Was Living

If Louisiana Red (1932-2012) didn't get as much recognition as others in the blues world, it wasn't because he wasn't good. By the time Kent Cooper recorded him in the mid-'70s, he had given up and was working a day job in New Jersey. He had scored some hits in his earlier years but had not found a way to turn that into a living.

We are fortunate that Cooper made that record, released at the time as an LP but apparently not widely encountered in blues sections of record shops. When My Mama Was Living (Labor 7085) shows a mature, talented bluesman who mostly worked in the acoustic country blues style of an earlier era, but straddled into urban sounds as well.

Many of the sides contained on the CD release were not put out originally and all of it has that living ring of truth of a master bluesman.

Blues fans need to hear it. And hear it some more!

The Fat Babies, Chicago Hot

There is a difference between what has come to be called Dixieland and the jazz of the '20s as it was played in its original setting. Some Dixieland is excellent, but it is not ordinarily true to the ensemble sound of the originals. The rhythm section--drums, banjo, string bass or tuba--needs to be just so. Ensemble improvisations and group arrangements became cliched often enough in later versions of the music. There was a formula in the ordinary Dixieland bands; there was inspired post-foundational zeal in the best of them. But for the most part they weren't quite like the originals in style and intent.

There have been some excellent stylistic recreations over the years for which these reservations don't apply. And there have been some misguided attempts as well. We won't rehash them here. What matters is that there's a band of rather young guys over in Chicago that have taken pains to immerse themselves in the style as it sounds on the recordings that remain alive and accessible. And they've put together an impressive recreation of some masterworks. The Fat Babies is the name of the band. Chicago Hot (Delmark 253) is their first album.

It gives you the full fidelity versions of things that King Oliver, Bix and others made popular and famous in Chicagoland then. And it does it with great devotion to the style. The joy and love of enthusiastic recreation comes through strongly on this disk. It is a hoot!!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Ravi Shankar, Tenth Decade In Concert: Live in Escondido, DVD

Ravi Shankar is no more. That is, he is no more as a living physical entity on this earth. His music, his spiritual energy lives on, and it will as long as we have the ears and human goodness to comprehend such things.

As if to confirm that and to keep it all in motion, we have a DVD of a later concert appearance, Ravi in his '90s, from 2011--Tenth Decade in Concert: Live in Escondido (East Meets West Music 1007).

Ravi brings in a larger-than-usual group, with two tampuras, a second sitarist to reinforce lines in the compositional sections and as additional sound, flute and kanjira, tabla, and tabla tarang.

The full concert is I believe present on this disc, and it is a good one. Ravi sounds wonderful. Though he does not attempt the most difficult of technical feats he routinely locked into early in his career on, he shows the full wisdom of his melodic genius, with sublime play in alap and mid-tempo.

Ravi Shankar the leader and musical innovator shows itself as strongly as ever. There are compositional elements on display, innovations such as the combination of tabla and tabla tarang harmonizing in some of the tal cycles, and the example of Goonja Sitar, an unusual sound produced by dampening the strings with a cloth near the tailpiece of the sitar.

Melody was all conquering that day, as was rhythm. The rhythmic interaction of Ravi and Tanmoy Bose on the tabla is superb, as is the percussion interlude of Bose, Samir Chatterjee on tabla tarang and Ravichandra Kumir on kanjira (a kind of tambourine-like drum).

Ravi Shankar shines forth with all the brilliance of his being in this concert. Ill, near death, physically somewhat frail, he nevertheless gives you the essence of his greatness. He shows as much as ever the joy and devotion to music that made him the master--the intense concentration, the triumph of music over matter.

He changed our world. He will ever change our world. This DVD shows why. Even toward the very end of his life. The DVD depicts a moving performance, a beautiful ensemble, and the presence of inspiration and love. Get it and you will be put in a very good place.

Ernest Dawkins, Afro Straight

Ernest Dawkins has been a pivotal figure on the Chicago jazz scene for many decades now, as central member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, as leader of his New Horizons Ensemble.

He steps out today with a new ensemble devoted to straight-ahead Afro-Latin tinged jazz. There's Ernest on alto and tenor plus trumpet (Corey Wilkes), piano (Willerm Delisfort), acoustic bass (Junius Paul) and drums (Isaiah Spencer). Latin percussion in the form of conga and/or bongos liven up most of the tracks.

There are two Dawkins originals and a slew of classic jazz numbers, from "Mr. PC" and "Footprints" to "God Bless the Child" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise."

Ernest's arrangements are solid hard-bopping entities that recall the classic Blue Note-ish vein, with plenty of room for solos.

Everybody cooks and the soloing is strong. Dawkins reminds us here that he can run with whatever pack he sees fit. He is as convincing as leader-arranger-soloist in this ensemble as he has been with the more Afro-Avant excursions for which he is known.

Most importantly, it is alive and vibrant. This is not a retreat or a mannerist rehash. It is a full-out explorations of roots, with all the fire and commitment of a living art form, as brought to you by an important artist of the music today. Dig in.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Christopher Alpiar Quartet, The Jazz Expression

If you are a classic Coltrane quartet fan, and you've worn those recordings out by playing them so many times, here's a new take, a follow-through on the style by the Christopher Alpiar Quartet. The Jazz Expression (Behip) takes its cue from the loping, hard-swing modality of the mid-to-mid-late quartet and extends it in a sincere and well-played set.

The material is all-original in the Trane mode. Christopher Alpiar writes the music and plays the tenor with the old fire. Pete Rande is on piano in the McCoy-and-beyond zone. Mark Pavolka walks with some authority on bass. Bob Meyer gets an Elvin-inspired leverage on drums, swinging very well and kicking the band forward.

It's just different and creative enough that it's more than a cloning. And the band has enough personality to refresh the zone and give it new life. So cheers and good listening!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Abdelhai Bennani, Itaru Oki, Alan Silva, Makoto Sato, New Today, New Everyday

The disk before us is the product of a moment in time, yet it is forever caught as in permanent arrest. That, if you will, is the paradox, the dialectic even, of free improvisation recordings. Like a live action freeze-frame shot, we experience the recording differently, see/hear more things in it, than we might if we were experiencing the music live. And if we've heard the disk(s) repeatedly, we do know what's coming, whereas live we can never be so sure.

The freeze framing we have before us is the 2-CD set New Today, New Everyday (Improvising Beings ib13), by four free improvisers that know what they are about and work together in tight-loose formation to bring about the collective sound art of which they are so central a part.

Who are they? Abdelhai Bennani, tenor sax, from Morocco as I understand it; Itaru Oki, trumpet; Makoto Sato, drums; and the legendary Alan Silva on synthesizer.

This is not music that is in any way casual. They are here to play, to make serious, advanced avant improvisational music, and they do. The first disk finds Bennani, Oki and Sato holding forth. Silva joins the three for the second disk.

Bennani and Oki form an excellent free front-line, Silva becomes both a front line member and an orchestrator of tone as well when he enters. Sato makes significant percussive utterances. He is central to the overall wash of sound. Bennani is a new name for me. He is a kind of instinctual player that does the right thing at the right time. The others do that as well, each in his own special way. You might say that Oki is a bit more schooled on his instrument--and the Sato/Silva contribution is all of that and deeply concentrated as well in the best moments. It becomes one four-headed musical being as the music comes at us. This is group music in the collective, unified manner than works to create a tradition-free zone, which by now is a tradition of its own.

It's freely unfolding music in the classic sense, "new thing" going strong, having something to say and saying it. There is much in the way of dynamic interplay at all times, more than there is soloist and "rhythm." That of course fits the stylistic realm of overall, allover sound canvasing that they do so well.

There is much to be heard on this set. The second disk satisfies me the most but the trio side builds up so that when the quartet comes into play, you are very ready for what follows.

The avant improv mold is one that creates a magic of the moment in the right hands. These are the hands, and there follows magic. The fact that we can examine it repeatedly with this set, in "freeze-frame," means that we can get inside the improvisational minds of the artists more so than in a totally live situation. The fact that it keeps sounding better the more you listen means you are understanding what happened that day, more and more so, and what happened was good indeed.

So listen and climb into the zone.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stefano Battaglia Trio, Songways

Those who like a piano trio that has both free-flowing post-Trane, post-Tyner/Alice Coltrane tremulous modal suspensions and the sort of poetic lyricism of Keith Jarrett, his precursors and those that have followed in his wake will find Stefano Battaglia's second album Songways (ECM B0017998-02) a good listen and an extension of those stylistic avenues.

As Stefano himself puts it, he was seeking in the new album a "harmonic balance between archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture." The mix he achieves is a source of his originality as an artist. It is beyond the improvisational roots he shows by rooting itself in the roots of musical prototypes from romantic and pre-romantic, pre-formalist musics.

That is to say also that it is music that shows little trace of post- pre- and bop-inflected improvisation.

His trio mates support him freely and effectively in what is primarily a piano-driven sound. Salvatore Maiore has a full and harmonically pivotal role to play in the group and he does it well. Roberto Dani takes the sensuous sound producing property of his drum kit and non-pulsatingly activates accompanying gestures that flesh out the music appropriately.

It's balladic music that in some ways extends the quasi-impressionist aspects of Bill Evans and Paul Bley and their work in this vein. But in so working in this area Battaglia comes to a personal lyrical center in himself that grows the music and shows much artistry.

A new balladry, then.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sunny Kim, Painter's Eye

Captivated by the Korean nature poet-painter Sun Doo Kim, vocalist Sunny Kim set about making an album inspired by his work. She translated half the poems into English, the rest she left in their original Korean. These formed the lyrics for the set of pieces. Then she composed and arranged music for the lyrics and gathered together an auspicious group for the album. It's called Painter's Eye (Sunnyside 1333).

Sunny handles the vocals in a very lyrical, musical way. Then there is Chris Speed on clarinet and alto, Ben Monder on guitar, Angelica Sanchez on piano, Sean Conly on acoustic bass and either Richie Barshay or Pheeroan Aklaff on drums.

It's not something ordinary. It's rhapsodic, folkish, post-ECM-ish and at times very much a songbird with some beautiful accompaniment thing. There are improvisational moments, including some very ravishing Angelica Sanchez piano, and very nice Chris Speed clarinet and alto, but it is Sunny's presentation first and foremost.

And it is not exactly like anything out there. It's at times spacey (thanks to some nicely worked out guitar and key effects) and vitally unexpected.

Perfect for the spring season? Yes. Or otherwise too.

Hardcoretet, Do It Live, EP

From the adventuresome Pacific Northwest Coast label Table and Chairs comes the interesting fused quartet Hardcoretet and their EP Do It Live (T&C 016). They come together on this offering with some lively well-composed, well played music.

The group comprises Tarik Abouzied on drums, Art Brown, alto sax, Tim Carey on electric bass and Aaron Otheim on keyboards. Each contributes a composition, Tarik two.

It's spirited, rhythmically shifting, rock underpinned ensemble music that falls nicely into the torque and substance contemporary mindset and gives you plenty to appreciate.

It's not as much about improvisation (although it has some very respectable moments in this zone) as it is about ensemble complexity. But it gets at it so well that you don't feel a lack. Tarik's drumming sets the ball rolling and can be listened to profitably in its own right. He's good.

In fact it's pretty darned kicking in a sophisticated way. If you like the idea of a kind of Zappa-meets-Tim Berne-meets Soft Machine approach, this will get to you. Even if you don't.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask, Howl!

Rock influence, folk-like simplicity in the heads and free-flowing trio avantness is part of what distinguishes Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask trio. Their Howl! (Between the Lines 71232) provides a good hour of this sort of thing. Peter wails forward on alto, Roland Fidezius plays upright bass and gives out with some noise as well, Rudi Fischerlehner is on drums.

Now the point is that they sound pretty kicking in their own way. Peter's alto has a growl and can sear you with some heat. The rhythm team varies what it does, sometimes getting into pre-planned routines to set off a sax solo, sometimes just charging into the fray with abandon, sometimes diving into a metal riff.

I found it all worth hearing. Nicely done. More!

Felipe Salles, Departure, with Randy Brecker

In the land of contemporary jazz the composer-instrumentalist is king. If you can play and you have good compositional ideas, you have a jump on others as a bandleader, it seems. We leave out the avant zone here, where that may not apply. (Composing in a formal sense, that is. Avant players of course have to play well too and they may improvise compositionally without necessarily composing per se.)

Brazilian saxophonist Felipe Salles has both. You can hear that to good end on his album Departure (Tapestry 76020-2). It's a sextet with Randy Brecker showing his good self on trumpet. With occasional part overdub the "head" sections have a fullness that augments the experience in ways that enhance the totality.

Felipe plays a modern tenor (plus soprano, flute and bass clarinet) in a sort of post Michael Brecker way, fluid and ornate in a post-Shorter-Trane mode.

It's a modern hard bop and beyond, prog-eight straight and swing sort of territory. There are progressive elements and harmonic movement to keep things interesting. The compositions have weight and the band digs in well. Kudos are in order for pianist Nando Michelin, who takes some nice solos.

The more I listened, the more I liked, until I just plain liked much. By the way this is Felipe's fifth, so it has definite seasoning. A very good kickoff, here in the second quarter!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ches Smith and These Arches, Hammered

The world of improvised music does not guarantee a predictability. That is what can generate excitement, especially if you are "in on the ground floor," at the gig or otherwise bearing witness to new sounds, in person or captured in a recording. Ches Smith and These Arches have that "ground floor" feel these days, especially on their new, second release Hammered (Clean Feed 270).

The album features compositions by the leader and the band is of the all-star avant sort: Ches on drums of course, then Tim Berne on alto, Tony Malaby on tenor, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics. Andrea may be a lesser-known member, but her accordion goes a long way to distinguishing this group's sound.

So what is that sound? It's avant and very lucid, solid-rock inflected but stratospherically bound. Given the world-class caliber of these improvisers, it is all-over inspired. The compositions and Ches' forward moving and forward looking drumming give direction and the band follows suit. Sometimes (maybe because of the sound of the accordion but also the compositional spin) it has an almost village folkiness to it, though it gets very outside. If Stravinsky, Hendrix and Dolphy lived in that village, their children might sound like this!!

Everybody has encountered recordings that featured a interesting, even great lineup of players that brought on expectations of great music, then found some disappointment when listening. This is NOT one of those recordings.

There are so many stylistic strains that go into the final makeup of the music, the piecing-together is so well conceived and skillfully executed, yet so unexpected, you need to ear-hear this one a couple of times before you get smitten. And hey, I am smitten with this one.

Ches shows us that he is a bandleader and composer of much talent. I hope this exceptionally supercharged combination of players can keep going as a unit. It is some exceptional sound they conjure before our ears!

Charles Lloyd, Jason Moran, Hagar's Song

Charles Lloyd sounds as good as ever, maybe even better. Jason Moran always seems to sound good. He is a pianist's pianist. Jason has worked with Lloyd's band in recent years but to my knowledge never recorded with him as a twosome. Put them both together for a series of duets and you have Hagar's Song (ECM B0018001-02), a good thing indeed.

The tenor-piano team tackle of wide variety of material, from Earl Hines's "Rosetta" to Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," and from Duke's "Mood Indigo" to a tribute to Levon Helm, with a version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

Lloyd's "Hagar Suite" forms the core of this set. It comes to terms with the life of his great-great grandmother, who was sold into slavery at the age of ten. It is a moving tribute.

This is music with a timelessness. It is neither new nor old, but both. It is a Lloyd-Moran representation of a wide musical tradition, of historic tragedy, of being alive today within tradition and aware of history. Hagar's Song is highly personal and often sublime.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jacqui Sutton, Notes from the Frontier: A Musical Journey, with the Frontier Jazz Orchestra

The latest one by Jacqui Sutton, vocalist extraordinaire, is a kind of giant leap forward into a realm of creative Americana. Notes from the Frontier (Toy Blue Typewriter 002) brings together Jacqui's very fully enacted vocals with the unusual instrumentation and sonic mix of her Frontier Jazz Orchestra--including cello, banjo, electric bass, trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano, and so forth.

There are some Americana standards like Gershwin's "Summertime," and Ahbez's "Nature Boy," and unexpected things like a version of Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" paired with "Hummingbird," and neglected obscurities that have definitive voicings--"Lady of the Harbor" very much comes to and stays in the mind. It's a generally excellent selection of surprises that straddle jazz, roots, country and all kinds of American elements juxtaposed with rather extraordinary arrangements. And a vocal performance by Jacqui that does the same with the vocals that the arrangements do to the instrumental backdrop--she combines ways of singing that extend our heritage and make it very new.

It's the opposite of a ho-hum standards "jazz vocalist" release. It's vivid, exciting and very innovative in ways that may well get her some airplay and positive attention.

I am an enthusiast, anyway!

Daniel Barbiero, Not One Nor

Daniel Barbiero is a contrabassist who has a great sensitivity toward, and a talent to realize a poetry in the sometimes latent richness of timbres available on his instrument. Not One Nor (Zeromoon 137) is a net-only EP release that contains two mid-length performances that feature Daniel's adventurous journeys and exploration of the instrument "in its role as a resonating chamber," as the netsite's liners describe it.

The form taken is of discrete sound events, for example an arco sustain of one doublestop bowed to bring out the overtones.

This is music that straddles the grey area between avant improvisation and new music classical. It does so by creating bass resonances as a new musical syntax, as richly textured as electronically enhanced sounds yet produced without alteration. There are some very striking moments.

It is a kind of avant tour de force of sound poetry, with a Zen-Cagean tranquility and focused mindfulness that does not provide the teleological goals and guideposts of a more "western" sort of musical unfolding. It is sensuous yet focused.

Go to (paste the URL in your browser window and hit enter) to find out more about the music and to order.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Scott Walker, Bish Bosch

Good heavens! Wikipedia tells me that Bisch Bosh (4AD) is singer-conceptual musician Scott Walker's 14th studio album. Really? I must have been in a pod-freezer someplace because I've missed them! It does help explain the full-blown maturity and well-developed personal originality that you hear on this album.

He is creating an avant sort of electric soundscape rock that has no clear predecessors, except perhaps Beefheart, the father-son Buckleys (Tim and Jeff) at times. . . who else?

It has a lyrical content that is poetic art. The music is very creative and rather outside, mostly. His vocals are inimitable, slightly hysterionic but to a specific end. There is an almost chant-like quality in the vocals the way they lay out across the musical backdrop/foredrop.

I can't say there's anything like it going on out there today. Not everybody is going to find this to their taste--especially if they are not avant inclined. Those who are will probably take to this like I did.

Tabula rasa time in an age where the pages are disappearing to be replaced by pixels. Tabula pixata? Either way this one is something to hear!

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet, Wislawa

At age 70 Polish trumpet-master, composer, bandleader Tomasz Stanko has been on the scene for so many years, one sometimes forgets how long it's been. Before he was signed to ECM I came across some of his gems from the '60s on the national Polish label which happily brought him to my attention. That was the early '70s. They were rather hard to find and did not get a great deal of attention over here, but showed him in excellent light. Once he was on ECM, a wider audience came to appreciate him in the States and he kept up his output with various phases, virtually always very fine music, including the introduction of electronic instruments and so forth.

Now we stand nearly a decade and a half into the millennium and he continues to thrive. He celebrates that in a way with his latest, Wislawa (ECM) a double album with his New York Quartet (with David Virelles piano / Thomas Morgan double bass / Gerald Cleaver drums). In some ways he is coming full circle.

It's vibrant acoustic jazz with a compositional side and of course as you would expect plenty of space for the Stanko trumpet. Both aspects of his music put him in a category of one and that still is true.

There is a great deal of music on this set and it takes some time to digest. This music often has a laid-back quality that could make you forget to listen carefully and just bask in the mellow light. But a few listens into it and the music comes forward in full relief. It's seminal Stanko and the band sets the music off well.

Stanko is a treasure. You'll find some of the reasons why on the new album. Excellent listening.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ibrahim Maalouf, Wind

Imitation in jazz is not something recent. It goes back. And it's true of all musical pathways. Some imitation tries to disguise itself as innovation, and that's where things get sticky. Other imitations openly acknowledge the debt and manage to say something very new with something less new as a springboard.

Music moves forward when this happens. Take Ibrahim Maalouf, jazz composer, trumpet wielder, arranger. He makes no bones about what he is doing on the album Wind (Harmonia Mundi Distribution). It's music written for the silent film "The Prey of the Wind." Maalouf set out explicitly to create the music as a homage to, and extension of Miles Davis's late '50s soundtrack to Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows." At the same time Ibrahim wanted to utilize his quarter-tone trumpet to get further extensions to the sound he heard.

He assembled a quartet that included Mark Turner on tenor, a group that could not only get with that spacious, moody late-'50s Miles thing--and especially with that soundtrack, VERY spacious and moody--but at the same time feel comfortable with the Mid-Eastern, North-African elements of Ibrahim's music.

Wind is the album that came out of the project. It is dedicated to Miles, understandably. By starting out with a homage, Maalouf has created something that doesn't just extend or imitate the Miles of that point in time, it becomes strikingly its own music. Maalouf's trumpet playing is something to hear, and the compositions-arrangements feel like a complete contemporary statement, the real thing. And a very good thing at that. It's striking!

Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Slippery Rock!

No other group out there can match Mostly Other People Do the Killing for over-the-top, madcap ensemble jazz that manages to convey strongly a sense of good-natured snideness. Not since the classic days of the Art Ensemble of Chicago has there been a band that makes excellent, advanced jazz and nevertheless has a humorous side that takes a loving jab at the music as it happens to exist right now.

Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup 123) is their latest, a send up of smooth jazz that is just so good that it does not scream "parody" as much as uses it as a stepping stone to some beautiful playing.

In its two-horn front line of Peter Evans, trumpet, and Jon Irabagon on saxes and flute, it has some of the very best of the younger players, really astounding cats who absorb tradition and make it something very much their own, and funny too when they choose to be so. The rhythm section of Moppa Elliott, bass, and Kevin Shea, drums, has tremendous vitality and thrust, great ideas, and the ability to go in and out on the turn of a dime, so to say.

Moppa writes all the music and it's excellent. It gets some corking good jabs in there at the same time, taking the standard, sometimes rather weak hard bop derived funkiness of the smooth crowd and transforming it, giving it lots of balls and a big horse laugh in there somewhere too. The band plays it all with such exuberance, it's as if either you or they will soon explode, with joy, with irreverance, with glee, and it's not clear if you or the band will be spontaneously combusting first!

That's probably all I need to say about this album. Mostly Other People Do the Killing are central. They are important. And they can smoke you like nobody out there, almost nobody anyway. This new one will get you into the ozone and all with some great good-humor-man bells and popsicles!