Monthly Archives: July 2008

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Michael Dessen Trio –  Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
A trombonist with strong roots in the acoustic tradition and a fondness for cutting edge electronic experimentation, Michael Dessen straddles the line between the avant garde and the accessible better than most. A dauntless sonic explorer, Dessen has bolstered his extensive academic career studying with icons like Anthony Davis, Yusef Lateef and George Lewis.

In addition to numerous projects involving solo trombone performances augmented by live electronics, Dessen is a member of the West Coast quartet Cosmologic, whose recent album, Eyes in the Back of My Head (Cuneiform, 2008), documents a longstanding collective at the top of their game.

Between Shadow and Space is the premiere of Dessen’s trio with bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Tyshawn Sorey—and his first recording to prominently feature his computer programming skills. Dessen’s debut as a leader, Lineal (Circumvention, 2007), found him joined by such heavyweights as Vijay Iyer, Mark Dresser and Susie Ibarra, eschewing electronics in favor of an acoustic environment.

Dessen’s diverse approach towards composition encapsulates a range of moods and textures on Between Shadow and Space, veering from the nervy dialog of “Duo Improvisation” to the ambient introspection of “Granulorum,” an electro-acoustic tone poem of almost ritualistic severity. An expressive and virtuosic soloist with a bright, brassy timbre, Dessen regularly enhances his cleanly articulated phrases with laptop generated EFX, expanding the trio’s sound palette.

Inspired by fellow artists, Dessen coined the name of the episodic title track from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Ars Poetica,” while the dynamic excursion “Chocolate Geometry (for MSD)” was inspired by the abstract paintings of Mariangeles Soto-Diaz. The latter tune provides a riot of unpredictable sonorities, with a phantasmagoric electronic interlude bookended by plangent acoustic variations.

Dessen’s sidemen offer stalwart support throughout. Tordini’s resolute bass pulse on “Restless Years” is steadfast, refusing to yield to Sorey’s blistering waves of polyrhythmic fury. The leader coaxes long, muted tones and sputtering, digitally enhanced cadences over Tordini and Sorey’s interlocking counter-rhythms, adding rich expressivity to a mesmerizing sonic collage.

A brilliant example of long form development, Tordini opens “Anthesis” unaccompanied, with a patient, sinuous bass solo full of understated melodic variations before Sorey casually enters with a progressively intensifying attack. Dessen joins the escalating fray as the trio launches into a series of pulverizing, yet lyrically robust rhythmic contours.

Dessen reveals his finest integration of computer EFX with acoustic instrumentation on the gentle “Water Seeks,” a shimmering mosaic of kaleidoscopic radiance spun in honor of the late Alice Coltrane.

Incorporating a range of dynamics that veer from pneumatic funk to pointillist discourse, Between Shadow and Space is a compelling set that reveals additional layers with each listen.

Free Jazz review by Stef

Paulo Curado – The Bird, The Breeze And Mr. Filiano (CF 113)
This is the fourth Clean Feed release on which Paulo Curado contributes, on alto or flute, and here as the leader of a trio format, with Bruno Pedroso on drums and Mr. Filiano on bass, for what seems to be eleven improvisations. I say “seems to be”, because at times it’s hard to believe that it is improvised. Each piece has its own angle, its own logical flow, which remains present throughout the piece even if there is no clear theme or melody, although on some tracks, such as “Escondidas”, a kind of theme emerges from the improvisation. Ken Filiano is without a doubt one of the best bass players around, not only because of his technical skills (his arco playing is unbelievably precise), but because of the feeling he puts into, often bluesy, with lots of soul, and because of his creative musical approach, mixing new forms with old feelings, or old forms with new emotional experiences, and any other combination of this. Listen to his solo piece “As If”, where he has a captivating dialogue between arco and pizzi. And Paulo Curado is in the same league, which makes this a great fit. He’s a cautious, gentle player, with a warm tone, very creative in his phrasing, which is sometimes very jazzy, and at other times more easily catalogued as avant-garde. Bruno Pedroso, acting as “The Breeze” in the title, plays very open, following the music well, creating the right percussive backdrop to create depth to the music, without falling into rhythmic patterns in the “open” pieces and very dynamic on the more boppish tunes. His duet with Curado on “Pequenos Duendes” is a real delight of interplay. There is lots of variation on this CD, strong musicianship, and great music, with the long “Por Fim Assim” as my favorite.

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen

Michael Dessen Trio – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)

Somehow it’s not at all surprising to read in Michael Dessen’s bio that he studied with trombonist George Lewis and pianist Anthony Davis, two of this music’s most well known academes. Dessen is a trombonist, composer-improviser and scholar who explores new media arts, the internet and cross-cultural migration through sound. Improvised music has a hard time fitting in with the academy, and can often feel bereft of something once it does enter even the most wide-open of academic contexts. However, attaching Dessen’s resume as a writer and teacher to a pair of projects that are quite simply about “doing” rectifies much of that.  

Between Shadow and Space is the debut of Dessen’s trio with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Chris Tordini—a format he’s explored since 2005, though this is the trio’s first recording. If one is expecting bravura a la Roswell Rudd or BassDrumBone, the shuffle here is at a low boil, pensive tone and a limber hush in the opening bars of the title track as the rhythm section sets up a fractured gallop. Dessen states in the notes that the trio is an exploration of the push-pull between groove and texture, an idea that seems like an afterthought to the very fact that his playing is based on this approach.

Dessen’s improvisations are unhurried but very exacting, seemingly behind the beat and teasing the tempo—a plastic pair like Sorey and Tordini is quite essential. The sparse “Chocolate Geometry” introduces laptop-generated sounds alongside mallets, bass harmonics and brass gurgle, tracking like a fuzzy needle through its long tones. Bends, waves, plucks and pings fill in the spaces between group flurry, canvassing the ground before Dessen’s trombone re-enters.

The introduction of electronics does attune one’s ears differently, towards hearing more than may actually be there. Tordini’s introduction to “Anthesis,” with its plucked glisses and slippery finger-work, seems fleshed out by phantom digital blurts, Dessen’s near-swagger hitting a puckered phrase that’s altered and Sorey’s cymbal wash taking on the blur of samples. It’s a quality of orchestration, but not by means one traditionally thinks about—altering one’s way of hearing the instruments themselves, so that one almost pre-hears them. Suffice it to say Michael Dessen is doing a lot with a little.

Gaz-Eta review by Tom Sekowski

Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (Live at Tonic) (CF 094)
Trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez tends to blow me away. Literally. With each release, his playing gets tighter. While enrapturing himself with some of the best musicians on the scene, his writing gets stronger. On “Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue”, his all-over-the-map trumpet playing draws out a carefully knitted map for the other members of the quartet to unravel. Tenor guru Ellery Eskelin shapes the landscape with muscular playing that juxtaposes the leader’s rhythmic analogies quite well. Rhythm section – bassist Mark Helias and percussionist Michael T.A. Thompson – propel matters forward, while Thompson is even allotted a ten minute solo take in the form of “Soundrhythium”. Five part “Afrikanu Suite” is one of the highlights. With its ever-changing rhythmic tempo, the landscape is one of a ton of little nooks and crannies for the listeners to explore. Another great addition to Gonzalez’s already solid body of work.

Free Jazz review by Stef

Angles – Every Woman Is A Tree (CF 112)
Magic from Sweden, published in Portugal. This Swedish band consists of Johan Berthling on double bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Martin Kuchen on alto sax, Mats Aleklint on trombone and Mattias Stahl on vibraphone. The band brings a strong anti-war album here, and an ode to women in war-time, the “trees” that hold the families together. The music has this unbelievable combination of energy, melodic beauty and emotional sensitivity. Some of the tracks are wonderful, and possibly among the best I’ve heard this year. The opening track starts with arco bass, followed by dramatic and sad alto sax, with the vibes offering the right supportive touches, then the rhythm instruments move into a unison theme, opening the floor for the rest of the band to join in the sad melody. The bass also has a long intro for the second track, now on pizzi, for another wailing and tearful theme by the rest of the band. The title track is brilliant, with a strong and sweeping melody, very moving and heartfelt, offering lots of possibilities for expansion, and played in a wonderful African call-and-response mode, including percussive polyrhythmics and a staggering trumpet solo by Broo. And the next piece is great too, starting with a gut-wrenching sax solo by Küchen over a slow and bluesy rhythm, which offers the right background for the ensuing vibe and trombone solos. Those who know Küchen and Nordeson from their work with Exploding Customer will find similarities in the music, albeit less joyful here of course, and richer because of the additional instruments. The music is rhythmic, melodic, with a clear structural approach of theme, improvisations and back to theme, although a little more sophisticated. But compositional power is one thing, the major achievement is in the performance itself, which is warm, sad and wonderful. A great album.

Cadence Magazine review by Jay Collins

With the more or less collapse of the major label system over the past five years or so, independent music labels have continued doing what they’ve been doing since the dawn of musical history; namely, presenting the best talent around. Labels like Portugal’s Clean Feed, New York’s Pi Recordings, and the Cadence/CIMP family of labels are but a few of the fiercely important and vital sources of creative music, particularly when it comes to Jazz and improvised music. Two such relatively recent new artists appearing on all of the aforementioned documenters have been saxophonists Stephen Gauci and Steve Lehman.

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana (CF 101)
Gauci has certainly become more active both in terms of gigging and his discography since his release, Long Night Waiting (Cadence Jazz Records). Several recordings later, Gauci has seen his star rise, so much so that he is now releasing music on a frequent basis. One of his recent projects is his two bass conglomeration, Basso Continuo, heard here on its debut, Nididhyasana. Leaving the drums out of the picture, bassists Michael Bisio and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten are called upon for percussive and harmonic duties, with the picture rounded out by excellent trumpeter Nate Wooley, who spars with the basses and Gauci. Four lengthy improvised excursions with a decidedly Indian tinge make up the program that places the low-toned backbone front and center, though Gauci and Wooley’s intertwining, spirited lines are also used to add melodic thrills, heightened drama, or shade the boisterous outing. Over the course of its almost twenty-five minutes, the opening piece, “Nididhyasana,” sets the stage for this lively and packed session with interactiveness on high order, the sky-scraping arcs being Gauci and Wooley’s spiritualized commentaries before the bassists have their own—strings flying and their bodies getting into the action, simmering down at the end for some arco and concluding horn flutters. The other long-formed piece of the record, “Chitta Vilasa,” unfolds as a Gauci/Haker-Flaten duet with a Swing sensibility, though, at its conclusion, Wooley takes his own jump into duet territory, with sputtering, pinched lines that inspire a bass/bass match. Haker-Flaten’s rubbery arco flies as the horns bubble aggressively while Haker-Flaten sets a groove that inspires the final moments. As for the shorter pieces, “Dhriti” is all muscle, ten minutes of fluttering winds and buoyant bass thunders, while the final jaunt, “Turyaga,” takes Bisio’s blistering walk and makes a meal of it, with the full quartet riding focused energy. After seemingly coming out of nowhere, Gauci offers more evidence of his continuing evolution into a major artist, with an unconventional ensemble that is creatively rewarding and emotive.

Steve Lehman Quartet – Manifold (CF 097)
Saxophonist Steve Lehman is another increasingly well-known name, with a busload of different projects and who is currently thriving on independent labels. “Manifold” presents Lehman at the helm of a quartet that includes trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Nasheet Waits. Recorded in a club setting as part of Coimbra, Portugal’s “Jazz ao Centro” festival, these nine performances further expand on Lehman’s past musical offerings that have focused on heightened creative forces and tricky compositions that are both demanding of listeners and its participants. At the core of the stripped-down outing are the four variations on Lehman’s “Interlace” series, with “Interface D” commencing in a sprightly fashion, basing its jagged rhythmic stew on Waits’ inspired kitwork, soon picked up by Finlayson and Lehman, with Hebert adding a weighty counterpoint. In contrast, “Interlace F” meets its focal point with Hebert’s pointed entries and swelling winds, while Waits again takes the center of “Interlace C” that rolls mightily with a rush of the environs. Finally, “Interlace A” concludes the series with Waits’ propulsive groove that coaxes the horns incisive interactions and Hebert’s elasticity.As for the other pieces, “Is This Rhythm?” is a brief jaunt that emphasizes the attuned relationship between Lehman and Finlayson, as they echo each other’s lines in a breakneck fashion. These simultaneous conversations endure on the wonderfully inspired uptempo movement of “Cloak and Dagger” and the record’s concluding piece, “For Evan Parker,” with Lehman taking the dedicatee’s mindset to heart, with a flurry of windtones in honor of the master. While Lehman’s compositions are the focus here, the quartet also looks at two other sources, including Finlayson’s undulating “Berceuse,” a hint of the group’s sensitivity, as well as Andrew Hill’s splendid “Dusk,” with the group stretching out Hill’s contours over Hill’s one-time rhythm team’s bubbling stew. ©Cadence Magazine 2008

Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins

Júlio Resende – Da Alma (CF 095)

“Da Alma” puts the spotlight on a fascinating Portuguese musician we might not otherwise have heard, were it not for the efforts of this label. Not a demonstrative player by any means, Resende loves to write and play long lines that jab, feint, and twist in on themselves. After the cracking opener, filled with tart expressions from the horns, the leader gets into some deep emotional grooves on “Deep Blue,” with close harmonies, bunched phrases, and tight intervallic work. “Move It!” has a mid-60s Herbie Hancock bounce, and is also shot through with racing Bud Powell lines (it’s also got a nice open-ended drum and tenor excursus in the middle). The simple cadences of Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” seem to suit Resende’s slightly moody style, resulting in what sounds like a Metheny Band chart played by mid-70s Keith Jarrett. And the loose, funky “Um Dia de Ferias” is pleasing but not wholly substantial (despite some lusty tenor). A nice sleeper album. ©Cadence Magazine 2008

Cadence Magazine review by David Dupont

Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars – Real Aberration (CF 096)

Herb Robertson is a musical instigator of the first order. That’s demonstrated on this session, recorded in Europe, featuring New York-based musicians. Robertson as a bandleader and instrumentalist concocts musical structures that blossom as the disparate ensembles work off and with each other. And he doesn’t use his leadership as a pretext for showcasing his own horn. Though he has some wonderful solo spots here—I particularly fancy his ballad statements such as the plaintive episode on disc two. But everyone has a hand in guiding the piece using the map drafted by Robertson. On Real Aberration Dresser steers the action on the disc-long “Re-Elaboration,” giving the band its marching orders with deep, arco lines as the other four members of the quintet scamper along with flurries of notes. As Courvoisier plucks inside the piano, the horn players blows anxious, unsettled notes, Rainey clatters about his set, Dresser harrumphs below them. These help to guide the ensemble to the head that he and Berne play at first, then joined by Robertson in canon. At every turn Dresser is middle setting the tone, slowly shifting the mood. He guides the ensemble TO the piece’s conclusion with a bowed arco dirge. What makes Robertson’s music difficult to summarize in words is exactly what makes it a joy to experience as it unfolds. It’d be easy to define the music as a series of stylistic blocks but that would not do justice to the fluid way the music develops. While Dresser plays a central role, each member of the quintet has a hand in it. “Sick(s) Fragments,” which fills the first disc, grows out of a tone row figure. On the beginning of the third movement Robertson and Tim Berne work out the implications of this thread in an intricate duet. But as that strain threads its way through 40 minutes, moments of musical ecstasy occur. Courvoisier thunders and roars. Rainey steps up at the beginning of the second section adding thunder of his own. Yet this is not about individual statements but about individual voices contributing to the ever-shifting soundscape.

Robertson’s knack for shifting multi-dimensional work is evident. I like the sprawling work on Real Aberration kept on track by Dresser. ©Cadence Magazine

Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins

Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (094)
In recent years, Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis González has really been on a roll. After several triumphant recordings in the 1980s, González left the Jazz/Improvised Music worlds for a self-imposed exile which, in hindsight, has seemingly inspired all of his work since. González has assembled a host of exciting groups presenting a wide variety of musicians, whether a collective with his sons, Yells at Eels, New Southern Qquintet, Dallas-London Sextet or the group heard here, González’ NY Qquartet. Said Qquartet, consisting of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, released the marvelous New York Midnight Suite in 2004, a contemporaneous cousin to Dance of The Soothsayer’s Tongue. As the story goes for this release, the group recorded a marvelous set at the late, lamented NYC club, Tonic, of which only 34 minutes survived. Inspired by the results, González and co. recorded additional music that appears here.While this may be a band record and one cannot discount the marvelous group interplay that occurs when the entire group is hitting on all fours, González and Thompson are the central figures here. And while González is certainly a virtuoso player, he eschews flights of fancy or technical chopsmeistering and instead favors a sublime creativity that might remind of the forces of Don Cherry. As for the duo themselves, they are harmonious on the first and last pieces which bookend this cohesive experience. Up first is a duet between González and Thompson “Reaching Through Skin,” with the sheer force of Thompson’s drumplay carrying the day over which González punctuates with sparse noteplay of which a motif forms the basis of his melodicism. Likewise, “Archipelago of Days”  proves to be a comforting farewell, a smoldering reverie where the rhythms undulate slowly and deliberately through Thompson’s sound sculpting. Speaking of percussives, Thompson, who is credited not as the drummer of this session, but as the “Soundrhythium Percussionist” goes it alone on “Soundrhythium,” convincing evidence that percussion solos can be truly musical and meaningful.Compositionally, González’ group sketches are just that, blueprints that provide space and benchmarks for the ensemble to let their creative juices flow. While “The Matter At Hand” makes the most of its spaciousness, the highlight of this midtempo buoyancy is Helias’ solo statements. The crux of the record, however, is the twenty-five minute, five part “Afrikanu Suite” that matches open expanses, spiritual wonderment, haughty improv (particularly during
an Eskelin/Helias breakdown), or killer grooves in the piece’s final sections. Not only does the time fly by, it is the kind of track that one wants to hear repeatedly. Could 2008 be the year for another NY Qquartet record? Here’s hoping. ©Cadence Magazine 2008

Dusted Magazine review by Bill Meyer

Michael Dessen Trio – Between Shadow And Space (CF 106)
In a little over a decade, computers have gone from being a novelty to a ubiquitous musical tool. Their uses range from strictly adjunctive – my favorite example is seeing Michael Morley on stage with Two Foot Flame referring to a document on his laptop screen that contained the settings he needed to enter into his old Moog synthesizer before each song — to a deep engagement with the thing’s abilities to shape and originate sound. Given that computers still can’t match the reaction speed of a guitar, saxophone or drum kit as an instrument, it’s ironic that so many improvisers embrace then. This CD, the debut by trombonist Michael Dessen’s trio, shows how well the computer can fit into a jazz context when it’s in able hands.

Dessen, like a lot of jazz musicians in recent years, has split his time and tutelage between academia and real-world endeavors, so while he brings strong chops and a clear sense of purpose to his music, he also recognizes that sometimes audiences want the music to come to them. He’s selected his fellow musicians well. Bassist Christopher Tordini brings versatility. He introduces “Restless Years” with a big, bold pulse, anchoring Dessen’s muted melodic explorations. But on “Granulonum,” he plucks out intricate figures that occupy their own space and constantly negotiate with the boundaries of the other two instruments’ sound zones; they overlap in flux, like a three-circle Venn diagram that is in constant revision as new data comes in. And when Dessen opts for long tones later in the same track, Tordini compliments them with satisfyingly grainy bowing. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey is similarly flexible, and he shows a real flair for contributing small but strategic details, like his alternation of rests and stuttering cymbal forays in “Antithesis,” as well as carrying the whole load, as he does in a slow and intricate solo on “Chocolate Geometry.”

On the title track, which opens the record, Dessen shows his skill at wringing a voluptuous and mournful tune from his trombone; he’s clearly capable of playing some fine music with the power out. But on five out of seven tracks, he doubles on computer, mostly using it to broaden his tonal and textural palette. It surfaces from the midst of an improvisation on “Chocolate Geometry” like a breaching whale, emitting warped brass tones that first swamp the proceedings, then find their place within a vigorous three-way conversation. On “Restless Years,” the computer’s squiggly voice doubles the trombone’s earthy line like a flashy monorail hugging the curb of a gravel road. And on “Water Seeks,” the gorgeous dedication to Alice Coltrane that closes the record, it magnifies the horn’s cry into a bobbing sea of sound. Records like this show how jazz can grow in the 21st century without losing its essential interactive and rhythmic characters.