Daily Archives: April 1, 2007

Touching Extremes Reviews by Massimo Ricci

RUSS LOSSING / MAT MANERI / MARK DRESSER – Metal Rat (CF 064) It is difficult to accept that music so deeply affecting has been recorded in a single session, which lasted less than four hours (I chuckle when I think of U2 taking years to release two arpeggios and three chords – but let’s not digress). In fact, the responsiveness between the players that characterizes “Metal rat” is on such a high level that it just sounds like it was pre-conceived or at least discussed in advance. No dominant voice here: Lossing plays in delicate, ever-conscious spurts that let us breath the rarefied air of instantaneous cleverness. Maneri’s unique microtonal phrasing makes a virtue of uncertainty, suspending every judgement or consideration about the path to follow until a moment later – but that moment is likely to bring more doubts, if not sheer sorrow. Dresser is one of the most discerning bass players in the world with a reason, his tone infusing the pieces with a touch of needed security while at the same moment seducing Lossing and Maneri’s voices with sympathetic veils of resonance. The music we receive is like an unexpected present, a virtual box containing the very things we needed in that particular moment. The language used by these artists belongs to the high spheres of improvisation, a combination of sadness, hopeful determination and clairvoyance which defines greatness, separating regular releases from rare jewels, of which “Metal rat” is certainly one.

BERNARDO SASSETTI – Unreal: sidewalk cartoon (CF 070) The roads of contemporary jazz are often impracticable, due to the mud of complexity that makes the walk between freedom and pedantic rules difficult to the point of leaving the music dictate the moment when one doesn’t want to know anymore. But an album like “Unreal: sidewalk cartoon”, which touches genres with the same levity of a butterfly fluttering amidst spring flowers, is the concrete proof of the existence of pure talent, even in the total congestion generated by releases that we’re often forced to swallow these days. What transpires from this music, first and foremost, is Sassetti’s unbelievable sensitiveness; he’s able to depict delicacy with a couple of chords crossing a marimba vamp (“Coreografia de um jogo lento”) while confirming his bravura as a composer of soundtracks – although there is no movie here – using all the colours at his disposal with parsimonious genius (bordering on the Zappaesque, if only for short glimpses). He’s helped by a wealth of splendid musicians: a percussion ensemble, a mixed brass and woodwind quintet named Cromeleque, the Saxofinia sax quartet, plus a few of the best instrumentalists on the Portuguese scene (except saxophonist Perico Sambeat who hails from Spain). Echoes of Eberhard Weber and Rainer Bruninghaus are traceable in my overall favourite moment of the disc, the melancholic “I left my heart in Algandaros de Baixo”, whose precious piano work is among the best things I’ve heard in the last few years, regardless of the genre. A touch of Kenny Wheeler here, a Thelonious Monk cover there, some spicy cross-pollinations of Oregon, Mingus and Bacharach; there’s also an ironic “parental advisory” sticker that alerts about a potential excess of polyrhythmics. But fear not intrepid listener, as “Unreal” is as much assimilable as every masterpiece – for this album is certainly one, a milestone in Bernardo Sassetti’s career and a fundamental textbook for anybody interested in the art of arrangement and orchestration. A careful listen to the leader’s digital mastery won’t do much harm, either.

WALLY SHOUP / GUST BURNS / REUBEN RADDING / GREG CAMPBELL – The levitation shuffle (CF 073)This is a scorching quartet playing music that can’t be memorized or classified: it is rather destined to remain in our memory like a vague feeling – but only after causing an overload of our senses. Saxophonist Wally Shoup is one of those voices that like to scream, whisper and suggest regardless of his colleagues’ background; he has played with Thurston Moore and Nels Cline among the others, yet the mechanisms of his phrasing fuse unaggregated sonic particles in an artistic vision that is centred around both free jazz and non-styled instantaneous composition. In this project, Shoup is flanked by three grey eminences of the Seattle scene; the most powerful voice seems to be that of bassist Reuben Radding, whose gnarling but well-rounded tone is also the cause of some momentary displacement, solved through the stabilizing presence of a “mother vibe” which sustains the quartet for the whole duration of the disc. Pianist Gust Burns – nomen omen – plays furious figurations when the going gets tough, while also acting as an element of harmonic balance between opposite forces at work. Drummer Greg Campbell is perfect for the task – one that’s virtually impossible to perform – of coordinating the unpredictable geniuses of these improvisers into some sort of next-to-derailment rhythmic train, but he himself is often happily overwhelmed by the sheer energy – at times diluted in vast spaces, but flaming nevertheless – of this magnificent ensemble.

ETHAN WINOGRAND – Tangled tango (CF 074) Drummer Ethan Winogrand comes from punk – he was a member of CBGB mainstays Joe Cool in the era of Television, Talking Heads and Ramones – but one would never guess from the linear themes and elegant progressions of “Tangled tango”, which seems him leading a sextet comprising Carlos Barretto on double bass, Gorka Benitez on saxes, Steven Bernstein on trumpet and slide trumpet, Ross Bonadonna on guitar and Eric Mingus on electric upright bass. Winogrand penned the majority of the compositions, twelve pieces exploring several angles of a warm tranquillity that lets us accept conventional forms with ease, also in consideration of the rockish influence inspiring the music, especially in the title track where Bonadonna’s saturated guitar phrases act as a perfect trait d’union between jazz tradition (the record is dedicated to Elvin Jones) and desire of howling at the moon against the excesses of intellectualization. This is not one of those feverish expressions of parapsychologic transcendence that enlightens us for one hour then fades away to remain eternally forgotten, despite the presence of several slanted interconnections in a few tracks; it’s rather a batch of funny tunes, played with imaginative if reflective drive by six souls whose different credentials allow them to fluctuate between genres quite effortlessly.