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Monthly Archives: November 2007
Raymond MacDonal / Günter Baby Sommer – Delphinius & Lyra (CF 086)
Bello, ma certo non innovativo o d’importanza ineludibile, questo CD, inciso dal vivo a Glasgow nel settembre 2005, che rientra nell’ambito della libera improvvisazione a due voci (tanto è vero che tutti i brani sono a firma congiunta). Bello per l’onesta, collaborativa impostazione del dialogo, per la fluida schiettezza comunicativa, per la varietà degli accenti e la naturalezza con cui si concatenano le idee…
Rimarchevoli soprattutto la qualità del sound, i colori delle pronunce strumentali dei due improvvisatori: pronunce che racchiudono in sé una lunga esperienza, personale ed anche collettiva, nel senso che si riaggancia al patrimonio comune della musica improvvisata di esplicita matrice jazzistica. Il drumming di Sommer si basa su metriche variate, su precisi, affascinanti disegni costruttivi, che ricordano sia molte delle basilari esperienze afroamericane (da Roach a Rashied Ali, a Thurman Barker) sia moduli più semplici, tipici di certe tradizioni popolari. MacDonald, forse preferibile al contralto che al soprano, possiede una sonorità aperta, di aggressiva comunicativa, che viene modulata in una grande varietà di increspature, strozzature, filanti progressioni o sfaldate discontinuità.
Eppure non si può fare a meno di notare che nell’arco degli otto brani non manca qualche soluzione risaputa, soprattutto nel fraseggio del sassofonista, che sembra talvolta rifugiarsi in cliché tipici di questo genere musicale. Come non manca qualche momento di prudente attesa, che se da un lato serve a stemperare la foga dell’interpretazione, variando le dinamiche della parabola narrativa del duo, dall’altro appare frutto di una momentanea indecisione nel tentativo di riorganizzare le idee.
Ravish Momin’s Trio Tarana – Miren (A Longing) (CF 087)
My tastes in jazz almost go everywhere. While I tend to move away from the smooth,I will definitely flock to the bumpy, where things aren’t conventional to deserve a golf clap. I tend to seek the creative, forward thinkers, those who want to expand on the ideas, even improv over the improv, and percussionist Ravish Momin and his Trio Tarana do this on Miren (A Longing).
The album consists of six songs throughout the 54 minute duration, allowing the musicians to explore the potential of their compositions. Momin’s name may be on the cover and thus will generally be the focus upon listening, but his trio includes Sam Bardfeld on violin and Brandon Terzic on oud. You read that right, drums and percussion, violin and oud. Even though the violin can be found in jazz’s recorded history (Stephane Grappelli, Jean Luc Ponty, and Regina Carter come to mind), it’s still foreign tamongst a territory of saxophonists, trumpeters, drummers, pianists, bassists, and singers. Upon hearing Bardfeld’s violin in songs like “What Reward?” and “Tehrah”, it sounds different and you’re not quite sure what to expect. Time signatures seem to be what they appear to be at first, but then Bardfeld and Terzik start to solo with each other as Momin retains his captin position, and it’s hard to tell if they are playing in 3/4 or taking Indian music notation and play in various different time signatures, before returning to the song’s theme.
The oud works as a bass, and mixed in with Momim’s drumming. it sounds like a music worlds away from anything anyone has ever heard. Some of the material here have the feel of Klezmer, or maybe it’s a Middle Eastern sound, and yet the core of it all is still jazz, a wordly united struggle composed with sound. This trio could have taken the easy way out and dished out another world music fusion disc, but it’s a bit left of center, almost avant-garde at times. Free but still with some sense of structure, eclectic but without going too deep into the unknown. Anyone familiar with the music of Carla Kihlstedt, Joelle Leandre, Jennifer Choi, Rashied Ali, Susie Ibarra, or Creed Taylor will find Miren (A Longing) to be an unexpected pleasure.
Herb Robertson NY Allstars – Real Aberration (CF 096)
I am not a fan of Herb Robertson. Despite the many good reviews some of his previews albums received, I never really got “into” it, finding his music to tight, too cold, too experimental, too abstract, not all of this qualifiers necessarily at the same time, but I almost always found something lacking, regardless of the excellent musicianship, and the great musicians who accompany him. Not so, however, with this album. This is the second release with the NY Allstars, consisting of Herb Robertson on trumpet, Mark Dresser on bass, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Tim Berne on sax, and Tom Rainey on drums. The first one “Elaboration” offered one long piece which had its good moments. But on this one “Real Aberration” (a pun on Re-Elaboration), they push the concept further but in a more gentle, calmer, more restrained way. The music is intense throughout, as on the previous albums, but the music is less dense, less crowded, more spacious, allowing for more room for the individual musicians to explore and hence to add color, shades, emotional and improvizational changes, and for the music to expand, to become more free and lighter. It is indeed rare to have all musicians play at the same time, even though the two disc set just consists of two lenghty suites, more often than not there are one, two or three musicians playing, one dropping off, another joining in, and in doing so creating interesting shifts and an effect of waves of music succeeding each other. The idea to have a two disc set was indeed a good one, because it allows for some brilliant moments, as for instance on Mark Dresser’s bass solo on the opening track, on which he poignantly demonstrates the variety of moods and sounds his instrument can produce, lightly supported by Rainey, pushing his arco into an endless tone, the perfect door through which the piano and the horns can make their entry for the next piece, where Rainey is leading the dance, on the third piece, the trumpet, sax and piano engage into some excited trialogue, and it is only on “Part 4″ that the whole band seriously starts its group improv. The two suites are not totally free improvizations, some structural elements and themes have clearly been prepared in advance, and those anchor the overall freedom in limited but welcome moments of reference. It seems to me that Robertson’s concept of opening up the structure of his music, unleashes its emotional power better and allows for the music to really shine, and suprise … The title “Real Liberation” would have been closer to the truth.
(PS – the hideous dog on the cover should not deter you : it’s by far the ugliest part of the whole album).
(PS 2 – another great album from Clean Feed : they become a true reference for quality modern music)
Joëlle Léandre/Pascal Contet – Freeway (CF 080)
Joëlle Léandre/Masahiko Satoh – Voyages (BJSP 0001)
Dissimilar keyboards and keyboardists provide the counterweight to French improviser Joëlle Léandre’s double bass on these duo CDs. Yet the most fascinating part of the performances is how Paris-based Léandre manages to subtly steer the playing of these veterans away from their regular comfort zone into a realm of Free Music, which is her raison d’être.
Voyages, for instance, is the second CD featuring the bassist plus Japanese pianist, composer and arranger Masahiko Satoh, who she first recorded with five years previously. Satoh, who has worked with musicians as different as fusion drummer Steve Gadd and experimental saxophonist Ned Rothenberg, is an accomplished professional who most commonly plays mainstream jazz, writes soundtracks and provides backing for pop/jazz singers.
Another reunion occurs on Freeway, recorded less than three weeks after the other CD. This set reunites French accordionist Pascal Contet with Léandre after a hiatus of more than a decade. Contet, who usually plays theatre and so-called serious music with conductors such as Pierre Boulez, adapts his chamber music ethos to improvised music. Léandre, whose initial notoriety came from interpreting the scores of composers such as John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi is comfortable with both notated and completely improvised sounds. She’s also an old hand at the duet format, having over the years partnered everyone from veterans such as British guitarist Derek Bailey and American saxophonist Steve Lacy to tyro improvisers. On these discs, she easily gets both keyboardists to pull their own weight when it comes to contributing to the overall sound picture.
Sharing eight “Voyages” with Satoh, for instance, her up-and-down string rappelling and multi-stopping often coaxes low-frequency pedaling and rondo-like arpeggios from the pianist. Should her sawing, sul ponticello lines turn even more abstract, then Satoh introduces delayed string patterns, percussive vibrations and hand knocks on the instrument’s external wood frame.
Elsewhere Satoh asserts himself with cross-handed, high-frequency chording and floating expansive lines, as well as crashing kinetic chords with bursting waterfalls of agitated notes. Thick, tremolo bowing from Léandre appears to bring out the classicist in Satoh and his legato attack includes sprightly andante cadences and single note romps.
Distinct duple patterns arise when the bassist not only thumps and slaps her strings, but also foot taps and harmonizes in verbal nonsense syllables along with her string manipulation. Expressive, these soprano-pitched mouth movements can be heard despite her dense bow strokes.
Vocalization is kept to a minimum however on Freeway. That is until “Freeway 10”, when a combination of Léandre’s verbal mumbles and sul tasto low-pitches from her bass help subvert the accordionist’s oceanic harmonic waves. Most of the time parlando is reserved for the 12 selections’ instrumental textures. Content’s squeeze box, with its history in chanson française and musette lists towards legato harmonies, so it’s Léandre staccato and tremolo manipulations that keep sentimentality from overwhelming the tunes. Despite this, Content’s preference for chamber music unveils many gentling, near pastoral themes. Then the bassist’s pedal point underpinning must guide him to break up those gentling harmonics with jagged keyboard trills.
On the eighth track for instance, trembling accordion timbres glance off widely spaced vibrating bass string partials, resulting is two broken octave melodies. This interface works most credibly here and elsewhere, when unhurried polyphony allows the striated lines to undulate and intersect, but never really catch one another. It leaves the abrasive contrast between the bellows and catgut as the defining notion.
With Léandre’s taut, sharp improvisations in fine fettle whether harsh and spiccato, or moderato and harmonic, and the duo partners manfully filling in the remaining spaces, both sessions are satisfying. Perhaps an inclination towards bellows rather than soundboards will draw the listener one way or the other.
Raymond MacDonald/Gunter Sommer – Delphinius & Lyra (CF 086)
The great Gunter “Baby” Sommer isn’t heard often enough for my taste, so it’s a treat to listen to his duet with the fine Scottish saxophonist MacDonald on “Delphinius & Lyra”. Make what you will of the title’s reference to constellations. What immediately leaps out to me is the wealth of shared history in this one—Sommer had performed with GIO, of which MacDonald is a member—and also the way this disc is one of those familiar but still exciting hallmarks of the cross-cutting paths of European free improvisation. I’d actually been listening to this one for a while by the time I got this review copy, and I’m happy to be able to write some positive words about this boisterous session. Sommer has always been unique in his ability to combine a serious percussive momentum—indebted to Rashied Ali and Sunny Murray, but with rolling repetitive patterns all his own—with pointillism and texture (primarily in his use of his cymbals). That makes him a great foil for the intense MacDonald, whose emotional playing is sometimes a bit harsh and hard-bitten (“Socialist Hip Shit” or the screaming altissimo of the last two tracks) and elsewhere quite plaintive (“I’m OK”). It’s not overly dour or long-suffering—and the guys have some good fun, occasionally breaking out in vocals and harmonica
playing—but has its own weight, achieved simply through focus and fellowship.
©Cadence Magazine 2007 www.cadencebuilding.com
Mário Laginha Trio – Espaço (CF 090)
Espaco is a fine mainstream session that sounds indebted not only to the usual suspects—Keith Jarrett and Corea circa A.R.C.— but also to some more contemporary masters like Fred Hersch. It’s also got something of the antsy rhythmic sensibility heard from someone like Vijay Iyer. If this suggests a winning combination of vibrant improvisation and melody, that’s about right. From the excellent, bustling stuff heard on the opener—Laginha’s technique is pretty dazzling, but there’s nothing particularly show off-y about it—the disc charms. Part of this is because of the range of materials heard here. On the lovely ballad “Natural Bridge,” for example, the strong Corea vibe is still present but the most memorable aspect of the tune is the leader’s very subtle interplay with Moreira. “Paredes” is an extremely peppy piece, with a whip-crack groove equal parts Roy Haynes and Lenny White, and some Tristano-like improvisations spooling out from the funky core. “Baixo continuo”provides another great example of this group’s language, a complex rolling bass figure (shared by Monteira and Laginha) that is pried open and reassembled creatively. Nothing particularly radical about this disc, but it’s damn enjoyable.
©Cadence Magazine 2007 www.cadencebuilding.com
Patrick Brennan’s SOUP – Muhheankuntuk (CF 081)
For all of its commitment to a different aesthetic this could be a trio that takes its cues from the Ornette Coleman trio from some forty odd years ago with David Izenzon on bass and drummer Charles Moffett. As is so often the case, however, the comparison is as much hindrance as it is help in assessing the music they produce.
The bass-drums cartel of Hilliard Greene and David Pleasant is coherent and propulsive enough in its own right to prompt thoughts of a duo album. The fact that they lend such force to alto saxophonist Patrick Brennan’s flights makes for the kind of listening that’s both stimulating and deeply satisfying, lending substance to the idea that time spent in the company of this music is time well spent.
“Abundant’” is both an apt title and a case in point. Brennan’s work here has something in common with Marion Brown in the sense that his lines seem similarly pared down, stripped of excess. Pleasant comes on either like a perpetual motion machine or a kind of post-modern Elvin Jones, lending the music a momentum it would otherwise have lacked.
The rhythmic vitality of Greene and Pleasant is not, by any means, merely compensatory for the lack of harmonic input, however. Instead, this is music exhibiting a different kind of intimacy, giving rise in places to the notion that the listener is somehow eavesdropping. This is perhaps most evident on the lengthy ‘The Terrible 3s,” where Greene’s solo bass is commented upon by Brennan and Pleasant in turn, as if the three musicians are, in the best sense, in thrall to their collective musical endeavor.
The aptly titled “Flash Of The Spirit” features the trio of alto sax, harmonica and bass in sympathetic fashion, making for music paradoxically both warm and desolate; evocative, perhaps, of some blasted landscape made non-alien only by the human presence. This is especially evident when Brennan momentarily drops out to let harmonica and bass check each other out in some approximation of the move to understanding.
Placed half way through the program, “’The Hardships” speaks of fundamental truths through Pleasant’s rapping. On first listen it sounds anomalous, but repeated listening reveals it to be something else entirely, namely a kind of call-to-arms in the midst of music that speaks, if not of higher consciousness, then at least of how the interaction implicit in making music is and can be some kind of social panacea.
Scott Fields Ensemble – Denouement (CF 088)
This session, featuring two trios of guitar, bass and drums, was cut in December 1997. Chicago based guitarist Scott Fields hawked the recording around for two years, and the labels that bit either backed out or went broke. In desperation he pressed some copies and issued them through his own short-lived label, called Geode.
It would have been easy for the members of the twin trios to get locked into some kind of contest, but Fields chose colleagues aware and willing enough to co-operate rather than compete, and the two winds of the ensemble dovetail superbly into an integrated unit. Fields’s co-guitarist is Jeff Parker, the bassists are Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm, the drummers Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake: it would be hard to distinguish them in a blindfold test, as the players echo, interweave (and listen to) each other with considerable subtlety.
For the session, Fields devised related but dissimilar pitch sets for the two trios, and specified time signatures equal in length but divided differently. If this suggests the music is dry, it isn’t though it is often contemplative and a little opaque. Those, and there seem to be many, who hated Jeff Parker’s sometime gig in Tortoise and the 2005 Fields/Parker collaboration Song Songs Song (Delmark) are perhaps unlikely to connect with Denouement, but for my ten cents it’s inventive and consistently engaging.
Dennis Gonzalez – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)
The reason why I like Dennis Gonzalez’s music, is the combination of emotional expressiveness, open musical form, warmth of tone, his sense of free melody, and the absolute priority he gives to the music as the outcome of the whole band’s performance, rather than using the band to demonstrate his own skills. Every Gonzalez album is a “band” album. And all the above together is not a minor feat. Add to that, that this band is not just a band, it consists of Ellery Eskelin on sax, Mark Helias on bass and Mike Thompson on drums, three stellar musicians who no longer need introduction. Because of all these excellent ingredients and characteristics, the music is immediately identifiable as his. Starting with “Reaching Through The Skin”, Gonzalez kicks it off with solo trumpet, melodic, rhythmic emotional, to be joined by high energy complex drumming by Thompson, a duo format with which the album will also end. Thompson’s drumming is one of the most typical features of this album, and at moments it gives the impression that he’s leading and driving the music forward, of course in the central track “Soundrhythmium”, wich is solo percussion, but also on the title track, and on the long “Afrikanu Suite” his role is decisive in creating the tension, accents and depth to the music, offering a perfect counterpart for Helias’ sad or menacing bowing and Gonzalez melancholy lines. “The Afrikanu Suite” brings some counterweight to the trumpet/drums of the other tracks, by starting with a great sax and bass duet, with Helias and Eskelin opening their bag of technical skills to create one soundsculpture after the other, varying incessantly, while remaining coherent in their approach, leading towards a fragile sensitivity, preparing the ground for Gonzalez’ sad trumpet, which evolves into a more free bop mode, dropping the rhythm somewhere in the middle for some tentative collective free improv, and when the rhythm comes back with a Latin twist, the audience applauds enthusiastically. I wish I had been at Tonic that night to watch this live performance. Needless to say that Gonzalez is one of my favorite artists of the moment. I like his musical vision, and the rare joint strengths of accessibility and creativity. This is without a doubt his best album since his “Nile River Suite”.