Monthly Archives: November 2007

All About Jazz review by Nic Jones

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.

The Wire review by Barry Witherden

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.

Free Jazz review by Stef

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”.

Cadence Magazine review by Jerome Wilson

Bernardo Sassetti – Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (CF 070)

is unusual stuff even for the growing and open-eared Clean Feed label. Composed by pianist Bernardo Sassetti, it is a concept CD with a complex storyline that is fully explained (in Portuguese) in the CD booklet with a summarized synopsis in English so I coudn’t follow every detail of the narrative. Basically, though, it’s a whimsical story about a factory manager who one day, with the help of an inventor and a witch, decides to look for a magical Domain of Music, supposedly some kind of harmonious utopia. They eventually get there but find that the place is not the hoped for paradise. The music for this story is out of the Evans-Brookmeyer-Schneider lineage of impressionistic orchestral subtlety and is performed by a seven-piece Jazz group, a woodwind quintet, a saxophone quartet and a percussion ensemble. There is a heavy reliance on percussion and suspended phrases that brings Edgard Varese to mind while Satie and Zappa also lurk somewhere in the mix. There are plenty of nice details to focus on, like the dark tympani and marimba-powered sweep of “Ernesto,” the dancing flute melody of “Dona Antonia” and the inventive combination of steel drums and piano on the melancholy “Si te contara.” Monk’s “Evidence” even turns up in the middle of all this and gets delightfully worked over by the percussionists. This is one of those records on which literally, you hear new things every time you listen to it. There is so much going on you need several listens to pick up most of it. This work is sad, funny, dramatic, odd and joyful all at different times, a huge undertaking that Clean Feed should be proud to have in this catalogue.

The Stash Dauber review

Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)

Dennis Gonzalez is a Dallas-based musician with deep connections to the history of post-Coltrane improvised music. To provide some recent examples, the rhythm section on his 2002 recording “Old Time Revival” brought together the titanic bassist Malachi Favors, best known for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and drummer Alvin Fielder, the Art Ensemble’s original drummer who also played with Sun Ra’s Arkestra during its ‘50s heyday in the Windy City. Dennis’ “Nile River Suite” from the following year marked the return to recording of bassist Henry Grimes, who did trailblazing work with Sonny Rollins, Cecil Taylor, and Albert Ayler in the ‘60s. His “Idlewild” from 2004 featured his fellow Renaissance man, Black Artists Group/World Saxophone Quartet veteran Oliver Lake. And so on.

“Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue,” just released on the Portuguese Clean Feed label, is the latest outing from a group last heard on 2003’s “NY Midnight Suite”: besides Gonzalez on trumpet, there’s Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Mark Helias on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The album’s centerpiece is a 34-minute segment from a technical issue-plagued 2003 recording concert at Tonic, a venue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that closed its doors in April 2007. The remainder of the disc is devoted to music that Gonzalez and Thompson were inspired to compose by the music from that night.

Gonzalez is a muso who’s attuned to music’s magical and spiritual dimensions, and his work often has the spacious and cerebral quality of classic ‘70s recordings on the ECM label. Like Bill Barron, who played trumpet on Cecil Taylor’s “Conquistador” album from 1966, Dennis’ musical voice is often the calm amidst the storm. That said, the live dynamic of the group on this recording (beautifully captured in spite of any mechanical problems) is stunningly raw and alive; there’s plenty of sweat and blood encoded in the sectors of this shiny silver disc. Most valuable player here is drummer Thompson, a sensitive, listening percussionist who shifts from floating free time to thunderous polyrhythmic fury like some hybrid of Sunny Murray and Elvin Jones, even dialoguing with Gonzalez’s horn to good effect on their opening duet feature, “Reaching Through the Skin.” Also noteworthy is Helias’ singing arco bass on the tour de force “Afrikanu Suite.” The live tracks and subsequently recorded studio ones blend seamlessly.

“Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue” is another worthwhile release from a consistently engaging artist.

Clean Feed Listen #1

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All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Ravish Momin’s Trio Tarana – Miren (A Longing) (CF 087)

Drummer/percussionist Ravish Momin has bragging rights to this Middle and Far Eastern style of thrusting progressive jazz. Funny, because it seems so natural and untainted, as if it was meant to be. And he doesn’t need a bassist, largely due to his booming bass drum sound and polyrhythmic articulations. This trio covers many musical vistas on Miren (A Longing). Complex, yet easily attainable, where jazz gets a makeover abetted by Sam Bardfeld’s streaming violin phrasings and Brandon Terzic’s multi-functional performances on oud.

Featuring the violinist’s ostinato-based staccato lines and his band-mates’ powerful three-way exchanges, the music crosses many genres while maintaining a scope nestled within good cheer. Ultimately, Momin is a mover and shaker as he navigates the band through North African modalities and Indo-folk themes—all executed with a cutting edge, no-looking-back mindset.

A good portion of these works are engineered with the soloists’ circular voicings and budding motifs, spawning heated improvisational dialogs amid linearly designed unison choruses. On “Miren,” Terzic’s soaring lines ride atop the drummer’s fractured backbeats, highlighting the trio’s vast expressionism, as many of the passages contain rhythmically contrasting diversions, capped-off by the group’s penchant for rendering Middle Eastern-oriented sub-themes.

Bardfeld’s spiraling solo during “Fiza” launches the band into extended thematic episodes, all kicked into high-gear by Momin’s energized drum and percussion work. At times the musicians communicate mystical undercurrents, often counterbalanced with ominously crafted shifts in strategy. Momin literally has the beat on this stuff; in simple terms, he’s in a class of his own.