Daily Archives: March 11, 2008

Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)
Intentional or not, the title of Elliott Sharp’s latest Clean Feed entry shares striking similarity to that of a Mick Barr disc released last year on Tzadik. The common ground turns out more than just titular as the two guitarists, though quite different in mien, also share highly stylized, almost mathematical approaches to composition. In Sharp’s case, the name nods to the specific nature of his axe. He’s rarely contented himself with playing pedestrian sets of frets. This time out the custom-designed musical vehicle is a Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass. Sharp describes a voluminous set of gear particulars in his notes and while most improvisers reveal too little about their preparations and intent, he nearly ends up revealing too much. The disc’s eight tracks move well beyond the shop talk and reveal their secrets solely through sound.

Sharp’s musical personality has long been resistant to reduction. His interests are wide-ranging, but like peers Henry Kaiser and Marc Ribot he also harbors a healthy preoccupation with the blues. That elemental reservoir offers ample inspiration here as well. “Through the Wormhole” references Fahey with its fast picking and knotted loping lines that falter a little through relentless repetition. “Symmetree” brings the drones, Sharp’s strings abuzz with a translucent coating of amplification and sustain. A sharply arpeggiated motif at the piece’s center curiously reminds me of Angus Young’s immortal preamble to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. The folksy “Modulant” is even more arpeggio-infested as his fingers race across strings to create a tangle of divergently pitched tones orbited by slowly decaying harmonics. On “Intrinsic Spin” the patterns are so brittle and tightly wound that it sounds as if he’s playing a banjo.

The e-bow, one of Sharp’s signature tools, makes an appearance on “Strange Attractor” turning his hollow body instrument into a resonating chamber of overlapping drones. Again, the blues feeling is heavy amidst the ferrous fret buzz. He makes brilliant use of the bass strings on “Antitop and Charm”, generating a repeating helix of slapped and picked structures that reminds me of Cooper-Moore on diddley-bow. The piece chugs along a bit too long, but it’s still an impressive display of digital dexterity and rhythmic directness. “Quaternion” unsheathes the e-bow again in a bifurcated slide drone that sounds like a 21st century answer to Eddie “One String” Jones. Sharp may share certain superficial similarities to Barr, but there’s no danger of plagiarism here.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – A Calculus of Loss (CF 104)

There aren’t too many bass clarinetists in jazz who concentrate solely on this instrument – it’s usually part of an arsenal of axes whose language may or may not immediately translate to one another. Adding his name to a very short list of such technicians (Denis Colin, Michel Pilz) is Jason Stein, a Chicagoan by way of New York and Montana who recently came to notoriety through his work in Bridge 61 with Ken Vandermark, drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Nate McBride. On his debut outing leading an ensemble, he’s joined by cellist/sound artist Kevin Davis (who’s worked with avant-garde banjoist Uncle Woody Sullender) and drummer Mike Pride on six varied originals.

Though like many stylists who’ve approached the bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a formative influence (it inspired Stein to drop the guitar), what immediately attracted this writer to his work in Bridge 61 was that he really didn’t just string together Dolphy-isms. Rather, Stein is clearly occupying his own sound-world, more approximating a field of isolated blips and worried phrases than a linear thematic extrapolation. His improvisations are clearly less about the power of statements than a personal sonic investigation.

The gritty vamp of “Miss Izzy” might seem like a good place to stretch one’s R&B chops a la Julius Hemphill. However, Stein’s inner dialogue ranges from buzzing, raspy held tones to soft harmonics and burbling squawks out of the most abstract bags of Lacy or Giuffre, before harping on bent, metallic scrapes. The logic of such a construction is clearly an inner one, certainly not beholden to a tune or an obvious exploration of a single idea – Stein is investigating what the instrument can do and the possible areas he can inhabit. That’s not to say Stein shies completely away from themes or phrases – “That’s Not a Closet” is a fast waltz with a short, repetitive figure at its outset. Stein’s woody work is at its most Dolphy-like here, but there is softness to his phrasing, a delicate picking apart of his materials that seems almost “West Coast” in its pensive, concentrated facility.

Davis and Pride are certainly more than able companions, able to outline a rhythm section as well as provide grounding and engagement for the breathiness of a sound-and-space poem like the Town & Country-esque “Caroline and Sam,” on which Pride’s vibes are featured. On the basis of A Calculus of Loss and his work in Bridge 61, Jason Stein is clearly an improviser and composer to watch.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary year of Ornette Coleman’s breaking onto the recording scene – albeit with pianist Walter Norris in tow on Something Else!!! (Contemporary, 1958). Though he wasn’t the first jazzman to proffer a music liberated from chordal constraints and make the pianoless quartet de rigeur, he was certainly the most notable for it, in a group with trumpeter Don Cherry and a number of bass/drum teams until his first exit from the scene in 1962. By now, however, it’s fair to say that the pianoless quartet can be relatively free from Ornette baggage. From the Ted Curson-Bill Barron unit of the mid-60s to Jeff Arnal’s Transit, there are innumerable ways to approach this format. Los Angeles’ Empty Cage Quartet (formerly known as MTKJ) is yet another variation on the instrumental theme.

A cooperative made up of four of Los Angeles’ busiest young improvisers, reedman Jason Mears, trumpeter Kris Tiner, drummer Paul Kikuchi and bassist Ivan Johnson, their earlier recordings on Nine Winds as MTKJ belied an influence, perhaps regional, of the John Carter-Bobby Bradford Quartet, one of the earliest aesthetically post-Ornette units but made up of two of Ornette’s contemporaries. With 2006’s double-disc release on pfMentum, Hello the Damage!, they were reintroduced as Empty Cage.

Perhaps the name change signified a moving away from earlier influences; “Again a Gun” finds Tiner and Mears stating the onomatopoeic theme over the sharp rat-a-tat of arco bass and percussion. Tiner’s trumpet is hot and brittle, and his phrasing combines fleet, boppish runs with fat smears and Don Ayler-esque multiphonics. Mears enters with his alto in tart keening cries as they collectively declaim – sonically, the horns might be most invigorating in tandem, their unison and collective lines a shattering affinity. They dart and jab in trio with Kikuchi’s towel-dampened chatter, as Johnson’s fingers pluck and shade an essence of forward motion. At other times, their head statements ache with pathos. A simple scalar theme characterizes the tense place-holder of “Feerdom is on the March,” their poise in the face of explosiveness palpable.

In fact, though three of the eleven tracks on Stratostrophic are over the ten minute mark, most of the cuts are rather short, almost programmatic statements of mood that wouldn’t sound out of place in a free-improvisation version of Gelber’s The Connection. Stitched together, rousing freebop and subtonal explorations would surely form an interesting suite. Though much can be made of Tiner and Mears’ brilliantly-paced lines (brassy bravura paired with bent, dervish-like clarinet work), Kikuchi straddles an interesting line between Philly Joe licks and Paul Lovens kitchen-sink, while Johnson’s concentrated propulsion is as much investigative as it is kinetic. Stratostrophic is a powerful statement from what’s clearly one of the West Coast’s foremost ensembles.

All About Jazz review by Sean Patrick Fitzell

Tony Malaby – Tamarindo (CF 099)
Saxophonist Tony Malaby is a relentless musical seeker, not content to bask in his growing renown. He constantly works in diverse groups, as both a leader and sideman, often favoring trios because their copious space accommodates his expansive ideas. His approach is contemporary; he seeks partners that are fully active in shaping and interpreting the music, not just a rhythm section to keep time for his solos. On Tamarindo he’s found ideal foils in venerable bassist William Parker and nimble drummer Nasheet Waits.

Malaby’s six compositions necessitate input, serving as seeds to provoke improvisation as the subtle themes emerge and recede. Malaby’s probing tenor opens “Buried Head,” with Waits’ cymbal rubs and drum ruffs adding color and texture while Parker nearly strums along. He settles into a line that propels the action, though Malaby sustains tones even as the tempo quickens, ultimately switching to soprano sax to unfurl fleet phrases.

He wields the straight horn for tender effect on “La Mariposa,” lingering over its subdued rhythm and airiness, poignantly holding the final note. Malaby explores his tenor’s range to introduce the title piece and usher in the rhythm section’s strolling. The intensity builds with his growling and emotionally pitched phrases, before Parker’s bowed solo interjects an ethereal run that eventually returns to the buoyant melody. On “Mother’s Love” his upper-register arco is nearly cello-like, before Waits pushes the pace and a rapid three-way dialogue erupts. Staccato strings and dancing drums sway “Floral and Herbacious” after the introductory burbling crescendo reaches its apex with Malaby’s trilling.

Tamarindo spotlights Malaby’s inclusive approach to group improvisation. Parker and Waits respond to his challenge with engaging performances that avoid cliché, consistently pushing their creativity within the music’s loose parameters—as does the leader.

All About Jazz Italy review by Paolo Peviani

Júlio Resende Quarteto – Da Alma (CF 095)
*** 1/2
Arriva dal Portogallo questo giovane quartetto del pianista Júlio Resende, qui al suo primo album da leader. Come molti musicisti della sua generazione, Resende ha una formazione classica, che ha poi arricchito con il jazz quando si è accorto che l’improvvisazione gli dava maggiori gratificazioni.

Degli anni classici rimane qualche eco (l’incipit della terza traccia, la delicatezza della quarta), ma l’ambientazione generale dell’album è più radicata nella tradizione jazzistica. In un linguaggio che trae origine dal bop e che viene affrontato con un approccio contemporaneo.

I brani sono molto ben scritti, e mostrano un forte gusto melodico, con una lieve inclinazione alla malinconia. Complessivamente, un buon disco d’esordio. Non fa gridare al miracolo, ma si ascolta molto volentieri e riteniamo che Resende sia un musicista da seguire con attenzione.