Monthly Archives: January 2008

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Steve Lehman Quartet – Manifold (CF 097)

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman is a familiar name among new jazz aficionados, mostly for his pedigree of studying the instrument with Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean, and composition (currently) with George Lewis. He’s worked in more commercial settings as well as – where these ears first heard him – with pianist Dave Burrell and drummer William Hooker in the Echo/Peace Continuum group. On Manifold, his second date for Clean Feed (recorded live in Coimbra, Portugal), he’s joined by trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist John Hebert on a series of compositions and ostensible group improvisations as well as Andrew Hill’s “Dusk” and Finlayson’s “Berceuse.”

So much is made of the presence of a “concept” behind Lehman’s work that the freshness of his playing and arrangements, not to mention his consistently excellent choice of sidemen (his first on Clean Feed featured drummer Pheeroan Ak Laff and bassist Mark Dresser), seem a bit scuttled. The pretense of M-base this and Braxton/Lewis that, shouldn’t get in the way of as landmark a performance as listeners here have of “Dusk.” A more recent entry in the late pianist-composer’s catalog, it was featured prominently on 2000’s Dusk (Palmetto) with then up-and-coming saxophonists Greg Tardy and Marty Ehrlich. Hill’s music is rarely covered, and much in the way Steve Lacy approached Monk, it’s interesting to hear a piano-less unit interpret his work. Hebert’s tone is impeccable, reminiscent here of Barry Guy or Dave Holland, and sketches the pensive vamp perfectly. Finlayson and Lehman, presented up to this point in darting counterpoint, catch the rays of the tune’s Latin lilt in knotty unison. Waits and Hebert set up a an insistent but fragmented outline beneath the trumpeter’s flits and contortions, hardbop phrases played as whiffs through Don Cherry’s battered pocket horn. Lehman’s got a puckery tone and bone-worries his phrases; there’s a bit of Braxton’s speed and McLean’s power, but I’m mostly reminded of John Tchicai. As Waits steps up the density of his dry whirlwind, Lehman’s resoluteness in developing a very small phrase area is rather astounding, and accounts for much of the tension driving the piece. “Dusk” is as consummate a performance of “inside-outside” jazz as one’s likely to hear. Manifold is lean, hungry creative music, and is highly recommended to both old-soul Lehman converts and new ears alike.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen


Alipio C Neto Quartet – The Perfume Comes Before The Flower (CF 093)
One of the most promising aspects of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed label is their penchant for bringing together hometown heroes and improvisers from elsewhere, notably the United States. Brazil-born tenorman Alipio C. Neto, also of the IMI Kollektief, joins forces with Downtown New Yorkers, drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, tubaist Ben Stapp and trumpeter Herb Robertson, and globetrotting bassist Ken Filiano for a set of hard-driving freebop and rangy group improvisations.

The first cut brings together what are ostensibly two different tunes, “The Perfume Comes Before” and “Early News.” The first part of that equation has Neto and Filiano providing a husky and delicate bottom figure while Robertson skates atop, his own fat sound broken into pulpit-pounding shards. There’s a brief unison rejoinder before Filiano’s furious horsehairs coax Neto into grounding his boot heels and stitching together a solo of heady contrasts. He has a soft, breathy tone and an introverted sense of pacing, mostly holding back the fireworks despite the ensemble’s tendency to splay out. One doesn’t really think of “caution” coupled with a big, fat tenor sound and meaty group improvisation, but Neto’s working of phrases in “Early News” is not unlike the delicacy out of the gate you’d hear from Marzette Watts or a young Joe McPhee. When he does stretch out, as on “The Pure Experience,” his merger of tuneful phrases and burnished yawp has an uncanny resemblance to Sam Rivers.

“The Will/Nissarama” starts with a pizzicato bass recital before the front line enters with a multipart nursery rhyme, turned dark with Robertson’s nasty chortle and snide growls. Neto’s choice of frontline partner is interesting, for Robertson’s brashness and frequent extroverted smears are in direct contrast to the pensive ferocity of the leader’s tenor. Goaded into calculated yelps and false-fingered buzz, one feels like he’s just barely keeping his exuberance corked. Neto’s writing isn’t merely of blowing vehicles; approaching territory explored by Dewey Redman, “The Flower” is texturally diverse (Robertson doubles here on a musette-like instrument). Stapp fleshes out the low end, marching in tandem with Filiano as pinched reed exhortations bubble up from the depths. The trumpeter is at his most stately here, his bravura in neat opposition to the dusky landscape Neto has formed. “Aboio” grows naturally out of “Flower,” delineated by brighter colors and a more pronounced rhythm – yet still indebted to its free seed. It’ll be interesting to see how Neto grows as a composer and soloist; a power-trio and its unfettered view of the helm is my vote for the latter.

The Wire review by Andy Hamilton

Joe Fiedler Trio – The Crab (CF 092)
Trombonist Joe Fiedler staked his claim as disciple of Albert Mangelsdorff with his previous Clean Feed release, Plays the Music Of Albert Mangelsdorff. That he’s no mere epigone is reinforced by his latest trio release, The Crab, featuring bassist John Hebert and drummer Michael Sarin. Born in 1965 and based in New York since 1993, Fiedler has worked in an eclectic range of settings including pop, Afro-Caribbean (Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri) and jazz (Andrew Hill, Konitz, Braxton, Cecil Taylor), and he’s a member of Fast And Bulbous and the big bands of Satoko Fujii and Charles Tolliver.

Fiedler is a leading practitioner of the multiphonic techniques pioneered by Albert Mangelsdorff and Paul Rutherford, and this album is replete with growling Multiphonics—especially and unsurprisingly on “For Albert”—and bold intervallic leaps. The tightly meshed and muscular trio features Hebert’s funk-infused vamps, for instance on “Don’t Impede the Stream.” “Trout Stream” features Fiedler’s supremely strong mute work. Like Mangelsdorff, he aims to ally a sense of drama and humour with his use of extended techniques. The problem is not with them, but with a slight sense of metrical over-complexity and fussiness to the arrangements. Fiedler has a range of tonal variation, which means he can’t be accused of the un-trombone-like dryness of the bebop instrumentalists, but somehow that seems to be the underlying feel—though the recording could be a factor here. On some listens I haven’t liked this album, but I’m enjoying it right now.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

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

Trumpeter and composer Dennis González’ latest release on Clean Feed comes from what’s probably a rather sizeable archive of tapes in his closet. A little over half of Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue captures a gig recorded at Tonic four years ago with tenorman Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson. The remainder of the disc was recorded in a New York studio in 2004 with the same quartet. It’s sort of a requiem for the club, which closed its doors last year in the face of rising rents and business problems we’ll never quite understand; though its jazz policy had long been curtailed, the venue was still one of the few options for independent and creative music in Downtown Manhattan.

González always has a knack for bringing together interesting groups, and this latest release is no exception. Helias is, of course, a stalwart of vanguard New York jazz, and Thompson has long cut his teeth working with Sabir Matteen, Steve Swell, and other free improvisation heavies. Eskelin might be the outlier here – his trio with accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black has cut a unique chunk out of jazz’s history and served it up on a darkly irreverent platter, but it’s rare to see him working as a sideman. Here, his mastery of postbop tenor and his strong rhythmic guise are welcomed.

The leader starts the set unaccompanied with a repeating and almost calypso-like figure; he’s quickly joined in duo by Thompson’s tumbling polyrhythmics, as González varies the length and charge of his brittle brass bits. The pair enters into a slinky rhumba, long, thick and sure lines recalling some of Don Ellis’ Moorish figures. González, like Ellis and Ted Curson, is an expert at fattening up in the absence of a front-line partner, and his duet with Thompson is a fantastic example of this. “The Matter At Hand” is a stately unison line over limber accompaniment, and is the first “live” track of the disc. The piano-less arrangement echoes the robustness of a post-Mingus language rather than Ornette and Don Cherry. Helias’ solo is an aberration of slapping pizzicato into dense, percussive filigree, a fullness of notes that contrasts the leader’s fullness of tone.

Eskelin follows with an amazing extrapolation, working from the velvety bowels of phrase up to a polished, straight-arrow keen and back down into Ike Quebec’s candle-lit grave. Thompson works backwards into the bassist’s hyperactive plucks, slaps and jabs, segueing into the arid rhythms of the title track with the leader’s wide-vibrato bray in full view. Well-placed is Thompson’s solo feature “Soundrhythium,” a streetwise minimalism of bells, rimshots, thunder-sheet and kalimba that updates Amadeo Roldán and Cage for the new-jazz set.

Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue is yet another fascinating entry in Dennis Gonzalez’ catalog and proof that he and his cohorts find ways to express something you’ve never heard, even in a timeworn context.

Cadence Magazine review by David Dupont



The continual evolution and refinement of Free Jazz is a little told story, I think, in the Jazz press. Aficionados tend to take it for granted, and the mainstream fans ignore it as best they can. These releases do not in any way represent a spectrum of the music. Rather
they all come from a similar stylistic stance, and yet each is a distinct offering, far more distinct than a similar sampling of contemporary Bop. Each shows the tug of strong musical personalities within freely improvised setting. Each musician speaks his personal piece while feeding into the collective vibe.
(1) A Glancing Blow, with free pioneer Evan Parker joined by veteran bassist John Edwards and up-and-coming percussionist Chris Corsano for a live concert, would seem to be a classic free-form blowout. And certainly it has its moments of saxophone wailing over free time. On the opening title track, Parker, on tenor—the horn he features most on
this disc—twists out lines that ring out the upper extensions of unstated harmonies. Underneath Corsano rolls out wave after wave of ametric time while Edwards grounds the musical melee with a few deeply planted notes. Later in the track, with Parker on soprano issuing tumbling, anxious lines, the band leaps forward over Corsano’s barline-melting ride
patterns. Here Edwards plants a two-beat figure that leans back against the rhythmic current. But the most arresting moment comes midway through the half-hour long first track when Corsano and Edwards both take up bows and creating an eerie spectral curtain of sound that’s electric without being plugged in. The even longer second selection is all Parker tenor with interludes for solo bass and drums. Parker builds three solos, starting with the first two with ballad statements that grow increasingly gnarled as they progress.
On the last he worries a fragment that sounds cribbed from Wayne Shorter. Each time Parker seems to be approaching a climatic explosion, he backs off, with the track drifting to the end with some more textural play.
(2) Rebus also features a couple fixtures in the Free Jazz firmament, guitarist and bassist Joe Morris and Ken Vandermark, joined by drummer Luther Gray. The basic sound of the trio is Vandermark’s throaty tenor over Morris’ spindly atonal guitar musings with Gray adding sprinkles of percussive color. That’s just the basic sound. On each track the trio
takes a different tack. On the opener Morris dodges atonally under Vandermark’s folk Blues shouting. On “Rebus 2” the saxophonist swings out over Gray’s driving ride with occasional guitar comments ringing out in the background. “Rebus 3” is a declarative song with Gray fashioning what sounds like an oblique Latin groove underneath. “Rebus 4” puts a Bebop-like phrase through the grinder of Vandermark’s tenor. After the fury of “4,” the trio settles back on “Rebus 5” with Morris taking center stage for some scraping guitar work and a solo that comes off as quite bass-like. The trio concludes the set with another evocation of Bop before Vandermark wanders off the mark into freedom land.
(3) Shapes and Shadows rounds out this trio of trio releases from Clean Feed. Here the push and pull among the players caught my attention. Speicher opens on his lusty alto, issuing a darting figure that calls to mind a birdcall. The trio proceeds in multi-directional fashion. The alto teasing out melodic fragments, the bass meandering underneath and
the drums stuttering. Each player stays in their own rhythmic dimension, even as Speicher tightens and intensifies his lines. But no sooner does he approach a full scream then he backs off, and the band falls into a rapid clip. On “Le Star” Speicher plays a ballad, answered by Wolf and Grassi who wind their bass figures together. These kinds of rhythmic ensemble shifts persist throughout the session. The title track closes the session
with a showcase for Speicher’s warm woody clarinet tone. Wolf plumbs deep into the nether harmonic regions while Grassi rattles and rolls and splashes bits of sound underneath.
©Cadence Magazine 2008

JazzWise review by Kevin Le Gendre

Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)
From Gerry Mulligan and Ornette Coleman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julius Hemphill and latterly Byron Wallen, the piano-less small group has produced some of the most beautiful sounds in jazz history and the body of work that the Dallas trumpeter has amassed in the last decade or so has decisively enriched the canon.
Captured here at the sadly defunct New York venue Tonic, González and the group are in finely poetic form. In short, the leader has found a way of taking the at times resoundingly folk-like sensibilities of previous recordings such as Namesake and Stefan to greater heights, using space, a very economic approach to harmony and the dramatically dry, stark textures of the ensemble minus a keyboard with tremendous focus. Both the compositions and group interplay are strong enough to make the music shift through many tonalities and levels of emotional pitch with great coherence.
Minor mode dirges dovetail with upbeat major key dances time and time again, slow tense themes topple into punchy, energised motifs in the space of one or two bars. This structural fluidity creates a series of bold, tricky segues that reach a climax on the “Afrikanu Suite” where a series of lengthy, funereal ambient-like passages perambulate into an off-centre 7/8 clave pulse. It’s a lopsidedly joyous release. While drummer Thompson is outstanding in his creation of esoteric sound canvas as well as rhythmic invention, it is González, though his board, rich tone and ringing melodic statements – short snappy lines with a real skipping quality – who stands tall in a band of very good musicians. A powerful document of a player and composer who, upholding the legacy of Cherry and Bowie among others, is an essential name in the pantheon of contemporary jazz trumpet.

DMG review by Bruce Lee Gallanter

This superb disc was recorded right here at Downtown Music Gallery exactly one year ago last week (January 14th, 2007). Although I was in attendance, this disc sounds even better than I remember and is captured closely and cleanly. I’ve always been a fan of the two bass thing, from Coltrane albums in the early sixties to Soft Machine ‘Four’ in 1971. Here, we again fine two master acoustic bassists playing with the strong toned tenor of Mr. Gauci and the ever-inventive trumpet of the ubiquitous Nate Wooley. Right from the opening note, both bassists are plucking deep notes together. Soon, Steve’s exceptional, haunting and unique tone emerges. Wow, what a sound he has! Both bassists spin and blur their layers of notes. Nate Wooley soon enters and sounds marvelous on his quick, calm muted trumpet. The balance of Steve’s thick, immense tone with Nate’s thinner, yet equally diverse array of notes is somehow perfect. There is a constant stream of ideas by both horns and both bassists that are inter-connected and blend into a flurry of riveting activity. What amazes me is that there is an ongoing story and communion between all four players as each contributes to the flow or directs the stream into another area. There is an incredible duo section that takes place about 9-minutes into the first piece between the trumpet and one bassist, slowly the other bassist takes over pushes the thread in another (connected) direction. Soon after the trumpet lays out, Gauci’s tenor comes in and slowly builds to a powerful solo. I soon notice that Nate never really stopped, he switches to breath-like, radiator-steam flutters, that add shades and shadows almost imperceptibly. When the bassist on the left starts bowing, it is as if the heavens have parted and the sun is shining down on us. Holy sh*t! This entire nearly hour disc is filled with grand moments like this, so why wait to make your life even richer?!?