Dennis recorded some images of him playing with João Paulo in Torres Vedras, Portugal.
This is the warm up for their new project.
Dennis recorded some images of him playing with João Paulo in Torres Vedras, Portugal.
This is the warm up for their new project.
We are going to the Vision Festival this week.
Rob Brown Trio – Sounds (CF 077)
Rob Brown is one of those New York sax players who have always been able to combine free jazz blowing fests with melody, rhythm and emotion, but on this album he seems to have reached a state of mental peace and relaxation that is absent on his other albums. He is accompanied by Daniel Levin on cello and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. His other recent albums are also worth looking for (Radiant Pools and The Big Picture), as are his collaborations with William Parker and Matthew Shipp. Admittedly, his alto does still howl and screech and wail at times, but then above a rhythmic and harmonic basis, with more often than not a recognizable melodic structure. The choice of the cello is a good one, because the instrument can play a more prominent second voice than a bass ever could, both arco and pizzicato, and on top of that Takeishi is a percussionist who manages to give depth to the music by giving the right accents rather than feeling forced to give an explicit rhythmic foundation. The opening track, “Sounds, Part 1, Archeology” immediately offers the musical vision of this band : a subdued unisono melody on a slow tempo, as an introduction to a tearing and heart-rending solo by Brown, followed by some open and equally soft improvizing by the whole band, just to end in joined harmony. This music is characterized by spaciousness and openness. The second piece “Sounds, Part 2, Antics” offers a more abstract feel, with a Mysterioso-like tonal build-up. The third piece starts with a slow cello introduction and Brown’s following long solo fits like magic on this. “Stutter Step” is more in the free-bop idiom that we know from his previous albums such as “The Big Picture”. “Tibetan Folk Song” starts with a long cello-percussion intro, and Brown again brings a more than credible improvization on this traditional source material. The CD ends in peaceful beauty. Who could have expected that much internal peace and musical quietness from a player like Brown? But the approach appears to be the right one, offering a strong musical unity without loosing any of the free creativity.
Russ Lossing / Mat Maneri / Mark Dresser – Metal Rat (CF 064)
A focused session of collective free improvisation conceived by pianist Russ Lossing, Metal Rat features the spontaneous interplay of three sympathetic musicians. Joined by violist Mat Maneri and bassist Mark Dresser, Lossing booked a recording studio for a mere four hours to instill a “real sense of urgency” to the proceedings. The ensuing session benefits from this pre-imposed constraint by lending an air of palpable tension to the work. Full of simmering intensity and dramatic flair, this is dark, intuitive chamber jazz at its finest.
The album is composed of four trio excursions, four duets and two distinctive originals written by Lossing, the blistering “Turn” and the introspective “Is Thick With.” The majority of the pieces are brief sketches, from two to four minutes in duration, with “Ch’ien” the only exception. At fourteen minutes, it is the album’s tour-de-force, an epic suite of turbulent emotional transformation, circumnavigating jittery agitation, hopeful optimism and bittersweet resignation.
Throughout the record, Lossing reveals a shadowy, modernist sensibility; melancholy pointillism, spectral glisses, pulverizing clusters, and searing embers erupt from his keys. Maneri’s microtonal viola technique is singularly expressive, a hollow, crying tone that glides from mournful to caustic. Dresser’s resonant bass playing is typically magnificent; his sinewy arco work is especially plangent.
The trio stretches formal concepts of accompaniment, call-and-response and counterpoint with clairvoyant elasticity. No one player dominates as each responds in turn with confirmation or confrontation. Their intuitive declarations spur on new avenues for exploration. The session unfolds gradually with chamber-like restraint, punctuated by sudden interjections of taut dissonance.
Employing a monochromatic palette of deep chiaroscuro, the album alternates between unsettling agitation and somber melancholy. Metal Rat is a subtle, rewarding document of free improvisation from three acknowledged masters of the form.
Billy Fox – The Uncle Wiggly Suite (CF 068)
In the notes to The Uncle Wiggly Suite, composer Billy Fox tells the story of the genesis of the thematic kernel that makes up the connecting thread that runs through the pieces in this suite. This fine music lives in cracks between many things: composition vs. improvisation, accessibility vs. pure expression, mainstream vs. avant-garde, consciousness vs. the unconscious and the rational vs. the irrational.
Taking a compositional technique suggestion to the extreme, Fox recorded himself noodling at the keyboard as he drifted in and out of the edges of sleep. As he relates, most of it was “totally worthless…except for the series of notes that became the title track of this suite.”
This “melody” is played out of time (as it was recorded) in the first track with the instruments not even trying to play together, making their entrances ragged. Played over very sharp cymbal work by John O’Brien and driving bass by Mark Dresser, this theme sticks in the mind, and has a spooky resemblance to a track from David Borgo’s Reverence For Uncertainty.
It is no surprise that “Uncle Wiggly” is placed first, because it is almost fourteen minutes of non-stop playing that manages to be very tight post-bop while constantly threatening to break down into the atonality of the theme, as very good solos strain against the confines of the bass and drums. It’s a killer track, well played, and quite exciting.
The subsequent tracks have more or less clear links to the original melodic fragment that tie together the suite. In the notes, Fox details some these relationships, saying further that he found harmonic and melodic patterns he never intended, concluding that creation can come from conscious decisions or semi-conscious ramblings.
The origin of the music is very interesting, as is the theory of creativity, but in the end, the only thing that matters is whether the music engages the listener, which The Uncle Wiggly Suite most certainly does.
It is hard to tell where the line between composition/arrangement and improvisation lies, which is always a good sign, and the musicians (a main sextet augmented by six others on different tracks) really dig in and seem to be having a very good time.
Many different musical influences are apparent including a New Orleans feel on “Do the Wiggle,” the quasi straight-ahead “Uncle Wiggly,” the light Latin feel of “The Ghost of Col. Cobb,” the pretty waltz ballad “Eyeball Eyeball” and a lot of humor. The pacing of the album is also very good.
Fox’s music is a very enticing mix of the accessible and the quirky, making the formal elements an extra bonus. The feel of the familiar combined with constant surprises is very enticing and enables Uncle Wiggly to give listening pleasure many times.
Ethan Winogrand – Tangled Tango (CF 074)
Drummer Ethan Winogrand’s early days were spent in the punk band Joe Cool, playing alongside such innovative acts as Television, The Talking Heads, Blondie and the Ramones at New York’s CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. An early interest in jazz led to a variety of side-man gigs and four years living in Copenhagen. Moving from Brooklyn to the north of Spain in 2000, Winogrand assembled an international cast for Tangled Tango. Drawing on his varied past, Winogrand’s swinging post-bop writing is bolstered by subtle rock smarts and an edgy Downtown sensibility.
Tangled Tango features a similar line-up to Winogrand’s previous album, Made In Brooklyn (Clean Feed, 2003). Brooklyn-based guitarist Ross Bonadonna returns, with Spanish saxophonist Gorka Benitez replacing Donny McCaslin, while Eric Mingus’ slot is now filled by Portuguese bassist Carlos Barretto. Mingus briefly returns for a cameo appearance on two cuts and trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob, Lounge Lizards) sits in on five tracks.
A pastiche of styles and genres, Winogrand’s aesthetic is eclectic, but not jarring. Drawing inspiration from the noir-ish atmospherics of the early Lounge Lizards and Jazz Passengers, his writing is colorful, cinematic and evocative.
The title track struts along a one chord vamp, featuring a knotty electric guitar line from Bonadonna that complements Bernstein’s expressive plunger muted solo. Pieces like “Broadway Jitters,” “Transmissions” and “Time To Kill” are definitive. Accessible and spry boppish tunes, they swing with an appealing lilt, barely concealing their muscular drive. Demonstrating the core groups’ empathetic sensibility, “Crocodilian Wag” and “Wrapping Paper” are collectively composed improvisations that are exploratory yet cohesive. Integrating understated rock and funk riffs and rhythms, “Pickup Sticks” and “She’s Flying Gumbo Low” add a genial sensibility to the session.
An agreeable and solid effort, Tangled Tango is a reminder that jazz need not be overly stuffy or cerebral to deliver the goods.
Broo / Adam Lane / Nilssen-Love / Vandermark – 4 Corners (CF 076)
When I first saw the fight card for this one, my pupils immediately dilated with anticipatory pleasure, a fanciful emcee announcing: “In this corner, weighing in at a wiry 160 pounds, the San Francisco contrabass cyclone, Adam Lane…” through an imaginary ring mic in my head. A Sweet Science metaphor may seem trite, but these four are more than capable of clocking K.O.’s in the context of a freebop bout. Vandermark is probably the most disadvantaged in terms of bare-knuckle chops, but his composerly composure helps him keep his cool when his colleagues are punching from a superior weight class. Of course, it’s also an asset having the muscle of baritone and bass clarinet behind your swing. Lane’s been catalytic force on every one of the dozen-plus albums I’ve heard him on, rescuing some from potential mediocrity and keeping fast company on others. Nilssen-Love and Broo represent the Euro purse, their most famous common ground as coming as the engine room and nuclear brass punch behind the Scandinavian ensemble Atomic. The Thing, for which N-L also supplies strongman sticks, is another kindred energy ensemble to this ad hoc crew.
Lane and Vandermark divide the compositional spoils for this bar gig; the latter’s pieces carrying their customary dedicatory tags, this time to Cubist painter George Braque and trumpeters Lester Bowie and Bobby Bradford. The emphasis is rightfully on aggressive blowing, but Vandermark’s opening vehicle sets a vexing precedent, relegating an amplified Lane to a pummeling hard rock ostinato. For a player of Lane’s harmonic prowess and nuance it’s a needlessly confining role, one that he mines to better effect on his own metal jazz opus “Ashcan Rantings” later in the program. Nilssen-Love is also ill served by some of the more regimented structures, his mutable rhythms and pulse play better suited to more capacious surroundings of the ballad “Lucia”. Broo establishes himself early as the frontrunner soloist in the frontline, firing off brazen volleys of notes and shaping solos that recall Dennis Gonzalez in terms of melodic acuity. Each man brings his A-game from his respective corner and despite a few minor hiccups in content and fidelity, the results make good on the promise of the heavyweight match-up.
Rob Brown Trio – Sounds (CF 077)
The challenge to say something new with one’s instrument dogs an improvising musician with daily consistency. Altoist Rob Brown attacks the problem directly on the elementally titled Sounds by varying his surrounding context. Gone is the conventional bass and drums backing of so many of his previous sessions, replaced by the chamberish combination of Daniel Levin’s cello and the percussion of Satoshi Takeishi. The album’s first half center’s on the three-part title suite, a loose assemblage of melodic pointers and variegated rhythms that finds Brown fishing familiar waters. The first part includes oblique slivers from Gershwin’s “Summertime” while the second interpolates thematic material from Monk’s “Misterioso.” Other tracks explore other forms and Brown’s hummingbird progressions are just as incisive and expressive as ever, jumping from the taught freebop of “Stutter Step” to the Aylerish effusiveness of “Tibetan Folk Song” and the piquant ballad strains of “Moment of Pause”, his strikingly personalized vernacular exuding a tart acidity.
As Brown’s eager foils, Levin and Takeishi take a bit of getting used to. The percussionist’s scuttling Kabuki-colored patterns open up new rhythms and textures, but they also cede something in the way of propulsive potency. As such, there are moments where it’s hard not to pine for a harder touch, the pilot light on Brown’s fire-spitting side sometimes failing to ignite. Levin’s lighter, lither pizzicato style offers a similar give and take, freeing up the leader for some beautifully intricate flights of melodic and rhythmic fancy, but generally lacking the presence and weight of thicker strings. Also a bit odd is the complete absence of Brown’s flute, an implement that would seem ideal for the more nuanced environments created by the trio. Whether the exchange is worth it is obviously a subjective call, but I found that with some acclimatizing time spent my ears opened to the benefits of the differences. Brown notes in the self-penned liners that he’s been longing to realize this instrumentation for years and the benefits of that long gestation come through loud and clear in the music. Is it new? Not exactly, but it is indication of his renewed dedication placing himself in situations outside the norm and shooting for fresh forms of expression.
Shoup / Burns / Radding / Campbell – Levitation Shuffle (CF 073)
Half a century into its development, free improvisation is still a risky scenario for the creative musician. Virtuosity and attentive listening skills are merely basic foundations; a willingness to subvert ego to the group is essential in any true collective. It takes musicians with sympathetic sensibilities to produce a free jazz album of truly exceptional quality. The Levitation Shuffle is such an album.
Alto saxophonist Wally Shoup, bassist Reuben Radding, drummer Greg Campbell and pianist Gust Burns all have longstanding ties to Seattle’s avant-garde scene, where this session was recorded. The unofficial leader, Shoup is well known in the underground for his scorching histrionics alongside electric guitarists Nels Cline and Thurston Moore. An adherent of non-idiomatic improvisation, Shoup plays with a riotous textural sensibility that stretches beyond blues-based idioms and into worlds of pure sound. Taking advantage of the acoustic environment, he varies his palette, blurring his attack from swirls of melancholy chiaroscuro to searing embers of blustery fervor.
A regular member of one of Shoup’s many trios, ubiquitous bassist Reuben Radding demonstrates a far-reaching facility, alternating lithe figures with a sinewy arco technique that hemorrhages raw emotion. Whether throttling gnarled motifs, or eliciting spectral harmonics, his resonant tone and agile phrasing is captivating. A dominant force, he nearly steals the show.
Another trio-mate of Shoup’s, drummer Greg Campbell, mixes his frenetic trap set palpitations with kaleidoscopic percussion and scintillating cymbal work, lending an expansive array to the session’s timbral range. Pianist Gust Burns is the group’s newcomer. With a modernist touch inspired by Contemporary Classical forms, he dabbles in delicate filigrees as well as pounding tone clusters, accentuating and deconstructing forms with élan.
Segueing from the cathartic to the introspective, the album encapsulates an array of aural soundscapes, from somber, melancholy reflection to roiling, unhinged fury. The quartet’s empathetic dexterity is palpable, their intuitive coordination tangible. The Levitation Shuffle is a rewarding document of free improvisation from the Pacific Northwest, enabling listeners to discover a fertile, creative scene beyond the usual metropolitan centers.
Carlos Barretto Trio + Louis Sclavis – Radio Song (CF 072)
Portuguese bassist Carlos Barretto’s 2002 recording Radio Song was originally released on the obscure CBTM label. Reissued by Clean Feed, this edition complements his 2004 album Lokomotiv (Clean Feed) with a session of highly charged, free-wheeling post-bop, spiced with traditional Portuguese folk melodies.
Barretto’s resume is filled with stints accompanying Mal Waldron, Barry Altschul, Don Moye, Karl Berger and Steve Lacy, among others. A stalwart bassist and a magnanimous leader, he contributes selflessly to the trio, providing ample space for his band members’ solo excursions. His phrasing is subtly prudent, never prone to flashy excess, even during his own lyrically focused solos. Joined by guitarist Mario Delgado and drummer Jose Salguero, the trio makes a joyful noise, shifting gears from propulsive to introspective in a heartbeat.
Guitarist Mario Delgado is a wonder; from delicately picked arpeggios to fret-shredding blasts of distortion, he reveals an encyclopedic knowledge of guitar history. Driven by Barretto and Salquero’s rollicking vamps, Delgado often launches into aggressive volleys augmented by various EFX units. Coaxing formidable sheets of sound from his instrument, he conjures a hybrid of raw, jazz-rock fusion and impetuous, electric free jazz.
Salguero provides a solid percussive foundation, gingerly accenting grace notes during serene passages and railing with pugilist fervor during climactic moments. Casually negotiating unusual time signatures and sudden rhythmic shifts, Salquero handles Barretto’s thorny writing with finesse.
Joined on three cuts by French woodwind multi-instrumentalist Louis Sclavis, the augmented trio navigates sprightly folk forms that careen with joyous abandon. Caterwauling fervently through “Distresser,” oscillating wildly on the Klezmer-tinged “Asa Celta” and contributing abstruse commentary to the spare meditation “On Verra Bien;” Sclavis shines. Interweaving serpentine melodies with nimble, malleable rhythms, the quartet blends inside and outside approaches seamlessly.
A unique blend of Portuguese folk music and adventurous contemporary jazz simmering with vigorous interplay, Radio Song is a stellar example of international jazz, and highly recommended.