Monthly Archives: August 2008

All About Jazz review by Elliott Simon


Scott Fields Ensemble – Beckett (CF 069)

Henning Sieverts – Symmetry (Pirouet 2007)
Both of these releases have prose as their muse and include drummer John Hollenbeck as a sideman. This is not surprising as Hollenbeck is a meticulous musician who has a proclivity for precision and a propensity for delicate phrasing. Electric guitarist Scott Fields fronts a quartet that employs free improvisation to depict more the form and feel than the storyline of five plays by Samuel Beckett while German bassist Henning Sieverts and his quintet cleverly construct a program of palindromic playfulness with 14 cuts based upon both literary and musical symmetry.

Beckett is best known as a minimalist who highlighted the conundrum of humanity’s despair in conjunction with the will to go on; Fields however has given him a surprisingly upbeat interpretation. Cellist Scott Roller and saxophonist Matthias Schubert are the two additional performers who round out this interesting quartet and they fit very well into what alternates between engaging dialogue and freeform soliloquy. Hollenbeck propels more with staccato jabs than by laying down a discernible rhythm track to set the overall prosody, setting the stage for creative interpretations. “Breath” maintains the original brevity of the stage-work but restages birth-cry to whimper while riffing off of the “birth-life-death” theme. The extended compositions pick up on bits and pieces of the originals: a pause, a single structure, the gestalt to develop a lively musical discussion of the dramatic material.

Sieverts has chosen to title each of his compositions on Symmetry with single phrases that can be read the same forward as backward. As such, “Top Spot” turns into a cool take on the hackneyed exercise used to warm up school concert bands and choirs, whereas “Sun is in Us” is a warm forum for stretching out. Tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed imparts his beautiful tone and interesting improv to these word games. Trombonist Johannes Lauer and pianist Achim Kaufmann blend with Speed for full-throated voicings on compositions like the swinging “Deep Speed.” Sieverts, in addition to maintaining the bottom and displaying some lovely arco work, has cleverly imbedded his own musical palindromes into each piece. This allows the more theoretically inclined to uncover the symmetrical A-B-A-B-A form of the gentle “We Few” or the symmetrical augmented triads in the free-formish “Emit Time.” Hollenbeck is his usual perfectionist self, adding the ideal coloration through a multitude of sounds that include bells, pops, dings and taps or providing spot-on rhythm for the more traditional swingers.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=28062

Free Jazz review by Stef


Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)

****½ 
Mauger is a new trio of three musicians who no longer need any introduction: Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Mark Dresser on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums. Mahanthappa is known for his collaborations with fellow Indian Vijay Iyer, in which complex rhythmic and melodic structures define the often thundering nature of his music. In this trio he shows another side of his playing, more minimalistic, more subdued, calmer and it suits him well. This is of course also the result of the fact that the music is truly a collective creation, with Dresser and Hemingway playing an equally important role, also in the time they get the frontline, which leads to very open music, with lots of space that is not filled in, a big contrast with Mahanthappa’s and Iyer’s music, which can be quite dense. Each musician composed two tracks and one is a collective effort, yet the focus is clearly on the improvisation itself and the interaction between the musicians, who manage to find each other brilliantly in the music. It is relatively accessible, in the sense that there isn’t much dissonance or overblowing, yet the music is adventurous. The title song, “Beautiful Enabler”, for instance is typical: a beautiful melody, almost classical in its concept, gets confronted with moments of real musical distress, where arco bass and a crying sax shift moods and then come back in the same effortless movement back to the core theme. “I’ll See You When I Get There” is a typical Mahanthappa composition, a little more dark and menacing, with sudden tempo changes and great intensity. “Meddle Music” is the most avant piece, starting with just sounds created by the three instruments, reacting to one another like wild life at the break of day in the jungle, and out of these sounds, about half-way through the piece, grows a hesitating melody, that generates some great polyrhythmic drums support and powerful bursts on the bowed bass. Again a wonderfully rich album, with lots of musical ideas, mood changes, and powerful expressiveness. Highly recommended.
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Adam Lane / Lou Grassi / Mark Whitecage – Drunk Butterfly (CF 116)
Connotations of a Drunk Butterfly might sound like a humorous proposition, especially when depicted in a cartoon. But art doesn’t necessarily imitate art within this 2008 trio release. Sure, the trio embarks upon a few off-kilter flight patterns. However, the musical aspects present numerous examples steeped within the bop, or free-bop scheme of things. And with three highly revered New York area artists spinning a web of excitement, the music and overall effect convey a democratic engagement that occasionally projects a spiraling trajectory.

Rising-star bassist/composer Adam Lane and veteran drummer Lou Grassi establish a fluent musical bed for alto saxophonist/clarinetist Mark Whitecage, where the trio transparently merges modern mainstream with free expression. In effect, everyone gets his or her day in the sun throughout this irrefutably buoyant jamboree. Listen to Whitecage’s bopping and bouncy clarinet lines on the medium-tempo cooker titled “Chichi Rides the Tiger,” which is a theme that sports a sublime, underlying melody. Yet Lane tosses a surprise into this vibrant piece by turning the tide via his frantic, bowed-bass passages that elicit gobs of tension and an air of uncertainty. To that end, the musicians convey more than just a few, aggressively initiated deviations.

Ever the accelerant and agitator, Grassi generates a fervent backbone on the predominance of these up-tempo works. While Lane leverages this rhythmic component with élan and fervor. In various regions of this album, Whitecage integrates North African modalities and staggered swing vamps to contrast his lithely engineered solo spots. Hence, the band covers a lot of musical ground by tempering the various flows and using depth as an asset.

It’s partly about controlled firepower coupled with the artists shrewd injections of dynamics that helps keep this train rolling. Each track provides a distinct flavor amid several thought-provoking musical propositions, as the trio astutely balances highly complex improvisational exercises with many conventional implications.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=30306

Free Jazz review by Stef

Adam Lane, Lou Grassi , Mark Whitecage,- Drunk Butterfly (CF 116)
****½
I’ve just come back from a festival where I saw performances by Charles Lloyd with Jason Moran, Dré Pallemaerts with Bill Carrothers, Pharoah Sanders quartet (actually four musicians playing consecutively, tune after tune!), and I also saw Han Bennink doing an entertaining solo performance for the kids at the festival. Bennink was the most entertaining of all, the rest was mediocre to poor, so in order to get rid of my musical frustration, when I came home I put on this record, which I already heard several times in the past week and which was certain to warm my heart and my bones after the disappointing (and chilly) concert. This is a new trio of three musicians who got lots of releases on the CIMP label and now they play together for the first time on Clean Feed: Lane on bass, Grassi on drums, Whitecage on sax. And it is a winner: warm, melodic and rhythmic. Every tune is composed with a clear theme, but the improvisations can be quite free, and the three Adam Lane tunes are very bluesy. His “Sanctum” is an example in case, with a beautiful tune, vaguely reminiscent of French bass player Henri Texier’s take at composition. Mark Whitecage adds three compositions, starting with “Like Nothing Else” and again it is typical for the release, half of his tune consists of arco bass and drums, the sax only joining for the last part. Typical because these musicians play for one another, and for the music in the first place. The album is a delight for its variation and coherence. Variation because the tunes can evoke heartbreaking agony, intense menace, or bring some joyful lightly dancing tunes, even within the same piece, as on “Chichi Rides The Tiger”, on which the whole middle piece consists of dark free form, with the main theme lightly touched upon, and then it arises out of the chaos like a beautiful flower. The Grassi compositions are the more boppish, the Lane compositions more bluesy or with world influences, the Whitecage compositions the most abstract, but each track is more than worth listening to, if only for the strong collective performance, the coherence and the emotional expressiveness. Heart-warming and bone-warming music. The jazz of today is often better than the jazz of yesterday. I wish all concert organizers would start understanding that. For those of you living in New York, this band opens the Clean Feed festival starting on September 19. Don’t miss it. It will certainly be better than the one I just came from.
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins


Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)

The Beautiful Enabler is the debut recording of the collective trio Mauger, which features the enviable talents of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway. According to Hemingway, “the group gets its name from a letter scramble of the first two letters of each of our names and is a preposition defined, “in opposition to, notwithstanding” which seems appropriate to creating art in our time.”

Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway share a working relationship that dates back to 1975, with a stint together in the early eighties as members of composer Anthony Braxton’s classic quartet. Their finely tuned rapport borders on the telepathic on these loosely structured tunes, as they hone in on the other’s next move with the skill of seasoned chess players.

New to this veteran partnership is Rudresh Mahanthappa, widely known for his longstanding association with progressive pianist Vijay Iyer. While Dresser and Hemingway are adept interpreters of the most esoteric compositional concepts (Braxton’s, for example), Mahanthappa and Iyer have made such intricate methodology their calling card, as demonstrated on the recent Tragicomic (Sunnyside, 2008). Hearing the saxophonist let loose in this unfettered setting is surprising and poignant; it is easily his most exploratory playing on record.

Consisting of two tunes from each member and one collectively composed improvisation, the album’s seven skeletal frameworks inspire selfless interaction from the trio, who demonstrate careful listening skills and a magnanimous approach to soloing.

Dresser’s contrabass is notoriously resonant. His kaleidoscopic arco work offers breathtaking harmonies that invoke the sonic density of a small string section, generously supported by Hemingway’s nuanced cymbal work and subtle accents. Hemingway uses well-placed silences for dramatic effect, contrasting them with rousing polyrhythms and churning free-form interludes.

Mahanthappa’s tart alto careens through this percussive mosaic with circuitous glee. Inspired by his cohorts’ advanced techniques, he draws from an expansive sonic palette of false fingerings, oscillating multiphonics and acerbic overblown notes that he seamlessly incorporates into oblique, intervallic cadences.

Lyrically accessible, Dresser’s tunes, “Flac” and the title track, recall the plangent euphony of fellow associate Marty Ehrlich with their bittersweet melodies. Hemingway’s opener “Acuppa” is equally vibrant, setting the stage for a vigorous solo from Mahanthappa, whose own tunes veer from the mournful ballad “Intone” to the escalating turbulence of “I’ll See You When I Get There.” “Bearings” and “Meddle Music” reveal the trio at their most adventurous, uncoiling splintery shards in carefully delegated collective improvisations.

A snapshot of three masterful improvisers at the top of their game, Dresser, Hemingway and Mahanthappa demonstrate true clarity of expression on The Beautiful Enabler. Competent jazz albums are commonplace, but a session this good should not be overlooked.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=30256

Jazzword review by Ken Waxman

Joe Fielder Trio – The Crab (CF 092)
Slippery and slurpy, the nine tracks on this CD show that trombonist Joe Fielder has the chops to carry off a session backed by only bass and drums. The Crab is so memorable because it’s also no show-off’s technical exercise. The New York-based bone man invests each one of his bustling original compositions with emotion, humor and excitement.

A veteran of Latin as well as straight jazz bands, Fielder even brings Hispanic tinges to lines such as the title track and “A Frankfurter in Caracas”, which also pays homage to his mentor, German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. At the same time, like the older brass man, his solos on these and the other tunes while lyrical, encompass bitten-off notes, double tonguing, low-pitched growls and snorts. Using a collection of mutes and multiphonics his solo on “The Crab” is particularly outstanding, since he doubles entire passages with both mouthpiece and his own mouth, while elsewhere articulating staccato runs as effortlessly as J J. Johnson.

Not to be outdone, bassist John Hebert and drummer Michael Sarin sympathetically stride alongside. Tower of strength, the bassist, who on “New Rugs” gets an opportunity to scurrying up and down his strings, elsewhere exhibits weightlifter strength walking, slapping and reverberating. Sarin, who has backed other individualistic improvisers like bassist Mark Helias, is so subtle in his flowing accompaniment that he frequency beats time on drum tops with his palms or provides rhythm with just drum sticks.

Whether chromatically tonguing notes as if playing a valve instrument or sounding as if reverberating tones appear are being be squeezing through a grater, the trombonist is always in control. Concluding the recital diminuendo, backed by drum pitter patter and bass thumps, he cycles through guttural slurs and ripples from an a capella intro that combines “Reveille” and rubato pumping.
http://www.jazzword.com/review/126575

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Conference Call – Poetry in Motion (CF 118)
Poetry in Motion is the fifth album from the collective, Conference Call, and their first studio recording since their debut, Final Answer (Soul Note, 2002). The longstanding quartet, together since 1998, features German multi-reedist Gebhard Ullmann, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and recent drummer George Schuller (former drummers include Han Bennink and Matt Wilson).

Throughout the last decade, Conference Call has straddled the tenuous line between free jazz and post bop, drawing on the distinctive writing styles of its members to chart unexplored paths. Each composer’s singular voice is identifiable within the confines of the group’s sound, yet each tune is subtly transformed by the quartet, yielding a thematically cohesive session.

The group’s longevity enriches their highly intuitive rapport. A ten year working relationship between the principal members, Stevens and Fonda share an additional partnership that dates back to 1993, when they formed the ever evolving Fonda/Stevens group.

Ullmann, the group’s sole horn player, is a vivacious and dynamic stylist who invests serene ballads with the same heartfelt conviction as tempestuous free-form workouts. His sinuous soprano cadences, brawny tenor testimonials, and intervallic bass clarinet leaps offer a range of emotion.

Over the course of seven distinctive tunes, the quartet’s inside/outside approach invokes the halcyon days of the ’60s New Thing. Fonda’s inclusions demonstrate the quartet’s dynamic range; “The Path” is a restrained ballad of mellifluous tenderness, while “Next Step” is the inverse. Born in darkness, the tune gains brisk momentum with Fonda and Schuller’s roiling palpitations, which fuel a swirling vortex of sound courtesy of Ullmann’s caterwauling bass clarinet and Stevens’ spiky piano clusters.

Much of the quartet’s brio can be attributed to Ullmann, whose tunes open and close the album, each offering a rugged lyrical quality. “The Shining Star” sets the stage with an air of fervent expressionism, as Ullmann and Stevens invoke the seminal collaborations of Archie Shepp and Dave Burrell. The closing “Desert… Bleue… East” was prominently featured on Ullmann’s recent New Basement Research (Soul Note, 2007). An episodic deconstructed blues, the sublime polyphony of the aforementioned three-horn version is recast as a cinematic tone poem.

The title track and “Quirky Waltz” are Stevens’ contributions—harmonically astute explorations bolstered by unorthodox structures and edgy lyricism—the latter being a showcase for his effervescent pianism. Culled from Schuller’s recent Keith Jarrett tribute, Like Before, Somewhat After (Playscape, 2008), the drummer’s sole offering is the sonorous “Back to School,” a deceptively simple folk melody that blossoms into a plangent feature for Ullmann’s expressive tenor.

Marking the tenth anniversary of this venerable ensemble, this session offers a marked departure from their usual live sets with brilliant studio sound that captures every nuance of their expansive abilities. A remarkably varied and rewarding listen, Poetry in Motion is one of Conference Call’s finest offerings.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=30255