Daily Archives: June 3, 2008

All About Jazz review by Martin Longley


Anthony Braxton / Joe Morris – 4 Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (CF 100)

Braxton band members Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum urged their leader to collaborate with guitarist Joe Morris and, following a booking at the Crowe Auditorium, Wesleyan University, the twosome proceeded to immerse themselves completely. Braxton was impressed by the results and decided that only a four-disc box set would suffice.
Fortunately, Clean Feed is a heroic releaser of such ambitious projects, hence this substantial offering. Each of the four discs contains a single improvisation, around an hour in length. It’s unusual for Braxton to improvise with complete freedom. Ordinarily, he’ll fly off within some preordained structure. This was the first time that Braxton and Morris had played together and they were both marveling at their instant rapport. This is not to say that these pieces waft around in a perpetual state of abstraction. Before too long, both players are naturally forming rhythmic progressions and even constructing instant melodies, sometimes within a vaguely jazz-chording line, but often following a more serpentine pathway. Braxton can’t help but seek out structure, while Morris consciously sets out to avoid any tendency towards preplanning, or even instantaneous planning. This makes the guitarist’s almost constant chording activities quite remarkable, even though these are not chords normally known to jazz. Morris plays like Derek Bailey would have, if he’d kept closer to his original dance band rules. It’s as though Morris sees himself as an avant Wes Montgomery or Charlie Christian. Braxton too solos in the jazz manner and this makes their duo development a descendant of a traditional coupling, even though it frequently sounds extreme in its guttural death throes. Braxton is usually the extremist.
At first, they tentatively probe each other’s methods, Morris carefully padding, Braxton threading tiny filaments on alto. Where Morris has a single guitar, Braxton has arrived with his complete truck of saxophones, from midget sopranino down to monster contrabass. He’s soon growling on bass saxophone, but the alto allows greater smoothness, a more lyrical liquidity. Morris scrapes dryly and it sounds like Braxton’s standing in front of his most powerful horn, the contrabass, while Morris picks fast speckles. Around 13 minutes into the second improvisation, Braxton makes a brief pause and it’s pleasing to hear
Morris on his own, although this solitude doesn’t last for long. They enter a tuneful phase, with Braxton spontaneously creating a melody line. The guitar’s spidery deftness contrasts with Braxton’s hippo snortings, but Morris is nowhere near as sonically varied as the reedman. He seems content to provide rhythmic patterns for most of the course, leaving Braxton to guide a tour through his wonderfully diverse array of horns, textures, speeds, tones and tunes. When Braxton climaxes and withdraws, Morris often appears uncertain when suddenly placed under the spotlight, but it’s never too long before the saxophonist returns. About 20 minutes into Disc 3, Morris sets up a repeat phrase that sounds like something from Fred Frith’s prepared table guitar. He’s definitely interested in the art of structureestablishment, as Braxton rages off into another extensive growling session. This is ironic, given that each player’s actual results sound like the end product of each other’s avowed improvising intentions. A day’s pause between airing each disc is advised, but this fine set is well suited for dipping-in at leisure.

All About Jazz review by Stuart Broomer


Steve Lehman Quartet – Manifold (CF 097)
In just a few years, Steve Lehman has established a remarkable track record as a saxophonist, bandleader and composer. This quartet recording is drawn from performances recorded in 2007 in Coimbra, a small city in central Portugal. Contemporaneous with the recent quintet recording on Pi, On Meaning, Manifold is a slightly looser ensemble, with more emphasis on free interaction than the group textures of the quintet. It’s a consistently brilliant band, from the subtle, offside pointillism of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson to the springy, resonant fundamentals and almost pianistic upper register of bassist John Hebert. If one musician contributes most to the character of the ensemble play, it’s Nasheet Waits; while sometimes sounding like he has extra limbs, it’s the spectacular musical intelligence that’s most significant. He creates a dense, polyrhythmic backdrop that seems to be simultaneously interactive with every other part of the music. It’s particularly evident in the extended performance of Andrew Hill’s “Dusk”, the late pianist’s bittersweet pastoral enriched at every turn by Waits’ intense animation. He’s particularly adroit at a kind of dynamic suspension that he and Hebert construct behind Lehman, who in turn builds a solo of extraordinary tension with repeated fragments. While it’s convenient to comment on Lehman’s background as a student of both Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, he’s heir to much of the lineage of the free jazz saxophone, seemingly touching on vintage players as dissimilar as Marshall Allen and John Tchicai. Finlayson contributes the only other non-Lehman composition, “Berceuse”, an evocative, almost dirge-like theme that seems to touch on some of the characteristic voicings of Booker Little’s ompositions. The concert ends on an exploratory note, a sopranino saxophone solo exploring circular breathing and multiphonics, aptly entitled “For Evan Parker”.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci


HERB ROBERTSON NY DOWNTOWN ALLSTARS – Real aberration (CF 096)
Difficult proposition: an all-star group, and a double album. Are we going back to the “Tales From Topographic Oceans” era? Kidding aside, this is a serious endeavour, featuring instrumental talents that on paper it’s natural to define “stellar”. Yet these people walk the walk after having talked the talk (or did they?), which results in a complex construction where jazz and chamber music – not to mention free improvisation – are eviscerated, remodelled and deployed in ways that sound fresh and traditional at once. Soloists get their due prominence in wide open spaces, investigating the feasibilities of unguarded exploitation of timbre, wail and intelligence fusing in well-balanced amalgams. One can relax (sort of) by listening to Sylvie Courvoisier’s romantic quadratures and incidental adjustments, knowing for sure that she won’t abandon her own inner logic. Mark Dresser is the one who pulls the strings – no pun intended – of genial forethoughts transformed into rational-scented odes to freedom, a fabulously, lyrically muscled bass voice. Tim Berne’s sax represents the perfect balance of overwhelming creativity and thoughtful restraint, which is not easy to reach for a man so full of vital energy. As far as Tom Rainey is concerned, suffice to say that his solo spots are my personal favourites of the whole project. What an anti-egotistic, ahead-looking drummer, using skins and cymbals like a master painter. And what a contrapuntal interconnection, the comrades all but seconding the lucid recusant in improbable rhythmic decisions. Herb Robertson – the host comes last – zigzags through diplomatic insertions amidst smudged intellectualism (of the sincere kind) and belligerent democracy. A tone that reveals years and years of experiences while positively maintaining a distaste for the obvious. Preponderantly lucid, this is music that requires a total decentralization of the senses to be fully treasured. But treasure you will – without a doubt.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci


STEVE LEHMAN QUARTET – Manifold (CF 097)

An “em vivo” recording of saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman – here on alto and sopranino – is enough to kindle the fire of interest, as what I had heard by him until now elicited a positive response from my neural systems, not easy to satisfy despite this writer’s infinite goodness (just kidding, but hey – one can build an unpaid career upon writing reviews that sound like press releases). In this set, recorded in Coimbra at “Jazz ao Centro” festival, Lehman’s cutting-edge scores are seriously interpreted by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, John Hebert on double bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The group sounds compact, but the music grows instant branches by the minute, alternating furious reed assaults – the leader exercising pulmonary devastation in obstinate whirlwinds (“Interface A”) – and spots featuring Finlayson affirming a striking fantasy spiced with a promiscuous evilness that renders the solos a cross of torturing virtuosity and orgasmic frenzy. Hebert and Waits, besides enjoying consistent solo exposures – it happens in every respectable live album – work splendidly within the pieces, both functioning as a classic rhythm section and mirroring themselves in the lake of timbral knowledgeableness, without throwing Narcissus down from the sofa. In a word, they sound great independently from their companions’ omnivorous approach. Lehman closes the show with four minutes of solitary exploration of his instrument’s squealing properties, the definitive stamp on an excellent disc.
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