Daily Archives: May 6, 2008

All About Jazz review by Marc Medwin

Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)
Elliott Sharp – Concert in Dachau
Guitarist Elliott Sharp adds two more entries to his lengthy and diverse discography with these solo discs. Both are chock full of his customary timbral innovation and rhythmic multiplicity.

Concert in Dachau is really magical, as much a process as a series of four long-form pieces. Sharp moves, ever so gradually, from earthy blues-inflected drones into less traditional territory and back again. The whole concert is in, or centered on, D minor, but the encore jumps unceremoniously into a joyful blues romp in E flat. Sharp’s use of electronics is masterly, never overly obtrusive and always birthing interesting timbres. At one point, he’s laying strange counterpoint down over some backwards chatter of his own making and the effect is mysterious and fun. Another vignette finds him manipulating overtone drones and achieving disconcerting stillness. The slide-drenched stream-of-consciousness encore is worth the price of admission, but the rest of the disc shows a master improviser at work.

Octal is, in large part, a more percussive affair, excepting the second track, which is another exercise in multivalent Ebo-driven drone. For the manic percussion that Sharp executes so well, just check out the astonishing “Antitop and Charm”; it roils and bubbles with precision and muscular grace. The pieces are fairly brief and it is as if Sharp’s imagination is in overdrive in each one… so many and disparate are the ideas that pack each moment.

The concert disc, an inventive study in long-form expression, seems to unfold more easily, somehow with a greater sense of organicism. The guitarbass Sharp plays on Octal gives him the chance to demonstrate a quite different, but equally diverse palette of sounds and techniques and there’s no shortage of timbral interest. Either disc would make a fine introduction to the work of this versatile artist.

All About Jazz review by Stuart Broomer

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

Dewey Redman Quartet – The Struggle Continues
Mark Helias Open Loose – Strange Unison

Mark Helias is a consummate bassist, a musician whose abilities as both collaborator and soloist have few peers. He’s covered terrain from the more interactive branches of structured jazz to free, with special stops along the way that include a kind of free funk. These three recent releases represent Helias early in his career, as group member and as composer/leader.

Helias was the youngest musician on hand in 1982 when tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman recorded the recently reissued The Struggle Continues with pianist Charles Eubanks and master drummer Ed Blackwell. The genre is free bop, with Redman and Blackwell touching on their long association with Ornette Coleman (and in the Coleman alumni band Old and New Dreams).

The connection is evident in the rapid bounce of “Thren” and the concluding “Dewey Square,” a loosened version of the Charlie Parker theme. Redman covers a good deal of terrain here, applying his distinctive sound—somehow at once round and hard-edged, a rare achievement in enveloping—to the deep funk of “Turn Over Baby,” the floating lyricism of “Love Is,” the very Trane-like lilt of “Joie de Vivre” and the down-right Ayler-ish swirls of”Combinations” (resemblance is the easiest mode of description, but Redman regularly shifts formal tactics while invoking fellow tenorists from Willis Jackson to Charles Lloyd). The group is an ideal place for the younger Helias, who seems to fuse perfectly with Blackwell in the playful yet surging rhythms, as well as adding fleetly inventive solos to “Thren” and “Joie de Vivre.”

Trumpeter Dennis González’ NY Quartet also includes Ellery Eskelin on tenor and Michael TA Thompson on percussion. Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue is only in part recorded “At Tonic,” tape failures at a fine live performance requiring supplementary studio recordings by the trumpeter and drummer to fill out the CD.

The core of the disc is the extended, five-part “Afrikanu Suite,” which works through permutations of the ensemble, from duos to full quartet to unaccompanied solo. It’s distinguished by its intensity and the inventiveness of its detailing, particularly in the interactions between Eskelin and Helias. Helias is especially adept at creating atmosphere, sometimes forging compound textures with simultaneous bowing and plucking. The music from Tonic is framed by González/Thompson duets that are marked by González’ intensely felt lyricism and his gorgeous, brassy sound, a resonant, elemental trumpeting that can suggest Louis Armstrong, a feat among trumpeters associated with free jazz.

Open Loose is Helias’ own group, a working unit with drummer Tom Rainey and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby that’s devoted to the bassist’s compositions. As with the best tenor-bass-drum bands, the focus is on interaction rather than showcasing a saxophonist and the results on Strange Unison are consistently inspired.

The group’s forté is a taut, slightly boppish feel, but it’s striking how far back and how far forward it can work in the tradition. The gorgeous blues of “Blue Light Down the Line” has Helias’ rock-steady line anchoring the turbulent moan of Malaby’s horn and the shuffle of Rainey’s drums. When Helias solos, that startlingly articulate low register really comes to the fore, notes bending with a guitar-like expressive clarity in a zone you don’t expect to hear it. Beginning near the opposite pole from that traditional blues, the piece “Irrational” seems at times to be a series of disconnected sounds that seek their own order, with remarkable sonic similarity between Helias and Malaby.

As different as the methodologies of individual tracks are, there’s a consistent dynamic throughout, Helias’ bass a central, structural presence that seems to register both empathy and order in the midst of Malaby’s tumult and turmoil and Rainey’s vibrant beat and explosive dismantling of expected patterns. Open Loose is one of the most consistent bands currently active, reflecting Helias’ adroit balancing of order and spontaneity.

All About Jazz Italy review by Luca Vitali

MI3 – Free Advice (CF 098)
MI3 è una formazione nata a Boston, costituita da due dei componenti del “Boston trio” di Ken Vandermark (contrabbasso e batteria) e dal pianista Karayorgis (di origini greche).
Free Advice, loro secondo album, esce come il precedente per l’etichetta portoghese Clean Feed, e già dal titolo denuncia l’ambito nel quale si muove: “free” o “New Thing”.
Se nel precedente We Will Make a Home for You, registrato dal vivo, Karayorgis si cimentava al Fender Rodes dando vita a sonorità funk e “groove”, qui suona rigorosamente il piano acustico e lo scenario è quello tipico del piano trio.
Un trio che funziona e tesse le proprie trame su più livelli, con evidenti influenze che vanno da Cecil Taylor a Thelonious Monk, ma senza raggiungere le pulsioni, l’energia e la voracità del primo né la magica essenzialità del secondo.

Il pianista Karayorgis è abile e mette in mostra un fresco virtuosismo mai debordante, si esibisce in parti dalla metrica composta dove si muove con grande libertà rispetto alla sezione ritmica. McBride si conferma contrabbassista notevole, dal bel timbro e con una forte propensione all’improvvisazione, ma soprattutto costituisce una coppia perfetta col batterista Newton e il suo drumming frammentato.

Belle e interessanti alcune riletture di Ellington e Sun Ra in chiave free jazz, dove però le spigolosità risultano sempre attenuate, arrotondate, “levigate”.
Il disco è gradevole e di buona qualità, ma vede i suoi maggiori limiti nella forte prevedibilità e nei pochi elementi di novità messi in campo.
Il trio mostra un bell’interplay, doti tecniche notevoli e un background degno di nota (le collaborazioni con il chitarrista Joe Morris e il sassofonista Ken Vandermark la dicono lunga), ma questo Free Advice indugia e non riesce a dare nuova luce e prospettiva a un genere che ha visto il suo apice in anni passati.

Per gli estimatori del genere un buon risultato fatto con gusto e mestiere…

Time Out Lisbon review by José Carlos Fernandes

Luís Lopes Humanization Quartet (CF 105)

Até 31 de Dezembro ainda pode acontecer muita coisa, mas nada impedirá a estreia do Humanization 4tet de ser um dos discos do ano, no que ao jazz português diz respeito. Ainda que o mérito não seja exclusivamente português, já que a guitarra de Luís Lopes e o saxofone tenor de Rodrigo Amado têm a companhia do contrabaixo de Aaron Gonzalez e da bateria de Stefan Gonzalez, ambos americanos. Os dois Gonzalez são filhos do ilustre trompetista Dennis Gonzalez, cuja carreira recente tem vindo a ser amplamente documentada pela Clean Feed, e possuem uma experiência musical eclética, que inclui passagem pelo punk. As suas múltiplas influências fundem-se numa secção rítmica que alia o músculo do rock à flexibilidade do jazz. A abertura de horizontes é também característica de Rodrigo Amado e Luís Lopes. O primeiro tanto navega sem mapa na improvisação livre – nomeadamente com os Lisbon Improvisation Players – como se aventura no hip-hop mutante dos Rocky Marsiano. Quanto ao líder, não é guitarrista para jurar apenas por Wes Montgomery e é admirador confesso de Jimi Hendrix e Jimmy Page, dos Led Zeppelin.
Da confluência destas quatro mentes nasceu uma música tensa. Angustiada e de cores sombrias, que evoca, nos trechos de groove regular, o mundo sonoro dessa obra-prima negligenciada que é pariah’s Pariah, de Gary Thomas. Embora seja autor de todos os temas, Luís Lopes reserva para si mesmo um papel discreto, deixando o primeiro plano aos seus parceiros, sobretudo a Rodrigo Amado, que surge em grande forma.
O tema de abertura, “Cristadingo”, possui um ímpeto avassalador e poucos terão coragem de interromper o fluxo sonoro antes do final de “4 Small Steps”, o tema que encerra este CD. E muitos anotarão o nome de Luís Lopes na lista dos nomes a vigiar de perto.