Monthly Archives: April 2007

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CF 079 – Anthony Braxton / Joe Fonda – Duets 1995
This is a reissue of the long disappeared CD on Konnex recorded by multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton with one of his most notable pupils, Joe Fonda. “Duets 1995” is a remarkable item of the duo series from this frontline figure of avant-garde jazz. If in that series we find two other Braxton partnerships with bassists, namely Mario Pavone and the late Peter Niklas Wilson, this is far from being more of the same. Even the conservative jazz fans will find here something to deal with. The renditions of two precious standards, Cole Porter’s “All of You” and Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York,” show the obvious admiration Anthony Braxton has for Paul Desmond. Both Fonda’s and Braxton’s compositions and improvisations are angular, complex, and tricky in terms of tonality and rhythm, but it would be unfair to say that this kind of approach to the jazz idiom is “cerebral”. This music has such a human dimension and feeling that any liberty taken appears to be natural in the continuum of African-American music. “Ancient to the future” it is, and with a fine level of communicability. As Joe Fonda once put it, “we live in a time of evolution”, and nothing can be taken out of the referred continuum: “For me there’s no separation between Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor or Sun Ra and Charlie Parker.” All of them communicated in different ways, but it always was understood. This Braxton / Fonda collection is also highly likeable.


CF 080 – Joélle Leandre / Pascal Contet – Freeway
This pair of great French musicians had a previous duo recording in 1994, but it’s now difficult to find. It was such a marvellous encounter that a second session has been greatly anticipated. Here it is, 13 years after, and with a Portuguese edition. A double bass and an accordion, nothing more because they have it all in their respective fingers and minds: Joelle Léandre and Pascal Contet have serious jazz chops but they can also deal with microtonality and dissonance. They’re both fine improvisers and “genretrotters”: besides playing with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Irène Schweizer, Fred Frith and Carlos “Zíngaro”, Joelle is also an interpreter of classical contemporary composers like John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi and Morton Feldman. Pascal covers a spectrum of styles going from popular formats (“chanson française” and musette, for instance) to the avant-garde, performing compositions by Sylvano Bussotti, Vinko Globokar and Jean-Pierre Drouet or guesting with a symphony orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez. “Freeway” is the product of a duo of virtuosos, but they never indulge in mere exhibition of technique. This is “savant” mood music, jazzy and at the same time with chamber dimensions, provocative and demanding even if spontaneous and intuitive. As Fred Jung, from All About Jazz, writes in the liner notes, “this is music without borders, boundaries, or safety nets”, ambivalent, palpitating and very much alive.


CF 081 – Sonic Openings Under Pressure – Muhheankuntuk

The title of this CD by the Sonic Openings Under Pressure troupe is the term used by the Lenape tribe to name the Hudson River, and it means “river that flows two ways”. The music acts accordingly, and surely is a New York product. There are two flows here – one is freedom (as in “free jazz” and “free improvisation”), the other is form (established by structure and composition). Everything happening in these tracks has those two interactive sides; one open, the second closed in such a way that some materials are getting out, going very far away, while others are coming in, adjusting to the roots and identity of the “great black tradition,” with a conscious and determined attitude. And this intentionality means that the parameters are even more evident. Alto saxophonist Patrick Brennan is the mentor of the project, and with him we find a rhythm section once involved with Charles Gayle: bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer David Pleasant. This is sufficient indication that “Muhheakuntuk” is a recording of Fire Music, though there’s much more in the flux, because we can’t reduce these sounds to just one thing. Brennan values the nuance factor, and that’s why he inscribes himself in a lineage formed by the jazz stylists Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill. Greene has a visceral side, but he’s also a master in the art of subtilty we call “groove.” Pleasant, an expert in polyrhythm very aware of the different music families in the percussion world, from the Gullah-Geechee culture (the oldest African one in America), to hip-hop, is known for his asymmetric and complex beats. So, if your foot taps and your heart rejoices with this music, your mind will awaken.

CF 082 – Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher – Strokes

Listen and you’ll hear electronics and traditional instruments not traditionally played. For example, there’s a saxophone, but the controlled feedbacks originated aren’t specific of the tube with holes and keys on it invented by Adolph Sax – it’s really a saxomicrophone. The mic is part of the instrument, and without it those sounds wouldn’t be possible. While everybody was saying that saxophonist John Butcher, the guest musician on “Strokes”, was a disciple of Evan Parker, the man was already exploring new forms of blowing with a reed, inspired in electronic music (after all, the microphone is the most important tool of any electronica). This is something else indeed. Sten Sandell, the leader of this session, plays piano (listen to those cascades of notes, people!), sings biphonically (more Tibet than Tuva, by the way) and adds more electronics. Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love play acoustic, but both of them know very well how to interact with the “non-natural” sounds. We couldn’t expect anything else from them, knowing that the first is a member of the electro-acoustic experimental pop band Tape and the other duels frequently with a laptoper extraordinaire of the noise field, Lasse Marhaug. So, this is not your conventional jazz disc, but jazz it is, with a European perspective and a futuristic commitment. The four musicians here play other music idioms besides jazz, beginning with Sandell, also known for his dedications to contemporary composition and performance (Cage, Xenakis, Feldman.) and to a revised form of prog rock, but all those extra activities are reflected in what they do here. Music of our times. Or more precisely: good music of our times.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Ethan Winogrand – Tangled Tango (CF 074)

This program by drummer Ethan Winogrand covers a variety of post bop grooves and ideas, ranging from the one-chord vamp of “Tangled Tango” to more melodic pieces, usually including bits of humor and the catchy “Time To Kill.” Most of the selections are performed by a pianoless quartet with the talented saxophonist Gorka Benitez, the versatile guitarist Ross Bonadonna (who rocks out on “Tangled Tango”) and bassist Carlos Barretto. Trumpeter Steven Bernstein is an asset on five numbers while Eric Mingus plas electric bass on two songs. Tangled Tango is full of intriguing and generally colorful music, more notable for the group interplay than for individual heroics.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser – Metal Rat (CF 064)

Some free improvisations sound so coherent and logical that one would guess that much of the music was planned out beforehand. Metal Rat has two pieces written by pianist Russ Lossing, four trio improvisations and four duets. But although the format changes now and then, the music overall is rather dull. The lack of melody, the emphasis on out-of-tempo ruminations and the sameness of the mood make the final results rather tedious to sit through despite the obvious high musicianship of the players. The abstract interaction between the players lacks fire and excitement, making this both a mildly disturbing and a sleepy affair.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Lisbon Improvisation Players feat. Dennis González – Spiritualized (CF 062)
When one thinks of free improvisations, it is often of high-energy barrages of sound or esoteric sound explorations. The Lisbon Improvisation Players, a quartet/quintet (cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff is on the final two of the six selections) whose best-known member is trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez, plays a different type of free jazz. Not shying away from melodies, tonality and rhythms, the group develops all three as the music progresses. The results are consistently fascinating as the musicians literally create music out of thin air. The players are all very familiar with other styles of jazz and they draw their ideas from all eras while looking ahead. “Time-Rising Spirits,” a free bop piece that sounds like a rollicking blues in one chord, is a highlight. The constant and quick reactions of the musicians to each other’s ideas makes this chance-taking program a complete success. Altoist-baritonist Rodrigo Amado, bassist Pedro Gonçalves, drummer Bruno Pedroso and cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff, and Gonzalez himself deserve to be much better known.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Quintet feat. Mats Gustafsson – ONJQ Live in Lisbon (CF 069)
Guitarist Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Quintet is a study in contrasts. Long stretches of free-form sound and noise explorations give way to surprising melodic moments or sparser improvisations. On “Serene,” after a lengthy bit of feedback, the group plays a fairly straightforward reading of Eric Dolphy’s theme before returning to their rather intense mood. The powerful ensembles of “Flutter” suddenly becomes an alto bass duet before the other musicians rejoin and the intensity level builds and builds. “Eureka” uses a mournful theme which contrasts with its title and builds in intensity to an almost-frightening level before finding a sort of inner peace. Although certainly not for all listeners, this live set is quite stimulating and should satisfy listeners with extremely open ears.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Shoup/Burns/Radding/Campbell – Levitation Shuffle (CF 073)

Altoist Wally Shoup leads an adventurous quartet through seven group free improvisations on The Leviation Shuffle. The music is consistently passionate and intense yet each piece seems to have a point and avoids meandering or overstaying its welcome. The interplay between the musicians, particularly of bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Greg Campbell, is impressive. There is enough mood variation and shifting of dominant ideas to keep this CD of strong interest throughout. Suffice it to say that the very spontaneous music is as colorful as the songtitles and the four players bring out the best in each other.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Bernardo Sassetti – Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (CF 070)

The music on Unreal forms a mysterious soundtrack. After reading the part of the liner notes that were translated into English, the general story is still very unclear to me (a lot gets lost in translation) but fortunately the music mostly stands well by itself. Pianist-composer Bernard Sassetti used many musicians on this project although not all at one time. Two pieces utilize a percussion section filled with marimbas, vibes, xylophones and percussive instruments, and four woodwinds and a French horn are used on seven other numbers with two of those pieces also adding four saxophonists. Along the way altoist Perico Sambeat gets a little bit of solo space and Sergio Carolino’s tuba is important in some of the ensembles. Many moods (some of them quite dark) are explored and the ensembles range from very dense to Sassetti’s thoughtful solo piano. Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” is included almost as comic relief before the mood switches again. This music seems inscrutable at first but becomes more accessible with each listen and the overall results are worthwhile and worth exploring.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Scott Fields Ensemble – Beckett (CF 069)

Although guitarist Scott Fields is the composer for each of the five lengthy compositions on Beckett, the music sounds very much like episodic free improvisations. The guitar-tenor-cello-percussion quartet has an unusual sound. The use of wit in places, along with occasional melodic passages, serves as a contrast to some rather noisy sound explorations. The musicians listen closely to each other although quite often they follow completely independent paths. The final results will certainly keep listeners guessing for just when one is ready to sum it all up as a freeform screamfest, the mood shifts and the band plays a spacey ballad. Listeners who are open to rockish sounds and avant-garde ideas will find this music of strong interest.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Alvin Fielder Trio – A Measure of Vision (CF 071)

Although not quite a household name in the jazz world, Alvin Fielder has quite a resume in jazz history. He was a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra during the second half of the 1950s, played drums on Roscoe Mitchell’s groundbreaking Sound Lp, was one of the founders of the AACM, and has played with creative musicians for decades. The music on A Measure Of Vision, even at its freest, is somewhat mellow and lyrical. Dennis Gonzalez displays a thoughtful style and a warm sound on trumpet (he is in top form) while pianist Chris Parker gives a modal feel to some of the songs. Most of the set features a trumpet-piano-drums trio. Bassist Aaron Gonzalez is on two numbers, playing so well that one wishes he were present much more. Stefan Gonzalez is on second drums and vibes on two songs, one of which includes Aaron Gonzalez. Overall the music is at times a bit of a throwback to the late 1960s (“Max-well” quotes “A Love Supreme”) while not merely copying the past and looking ahead. This CD points out how aspects of the so-called avant-garde of that era are now the jazz mainstream. This set contains plenty of surprises along the way and rewards repeated listenings. Recommended.

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Billy Fox – Uncle Wiggly Suite (CF 068)

Billy Fox’s ten originals included on The Uncle Wiggly Suite all have something to do with sleep, which is only right since the main theme was composed by Fox when he was nearly asleep. However the music is not sleepy at all and it covers a variety of moods and adventurous styles. New Orleans parade rhythms are utilized on one piece, another sounds as if it is Indian music and other numbers include melancholy mood pieces, brief sketches and selections featuring more involved improvising. The unusual ensemble features four reeds, one trumpet, a rhythm section, a percussionist and a string trio. While bassist Mark Dresser and altoist John Savage are often the standouts, each musician makes important contributions to the offbeat and successful music.