Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

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.
www.cadencebuilding.com ©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.
www.cadencebuilding.com ©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.
http://www.cadencebuilding.com ©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.
www.cadencebuilding.com ©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.

All About Jazz Italy review by Gigi Sabelli

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs (CF 102)

“Sì, certo. Possiamo rimanere amici in ogni caso”; “Ti andavo bene finchè i tuoi amici non si sono impicciati”; “Il mio amore è amore, il tuo amore è odio”.
Parte dai titoli, ma anche dalle impietose e stringatissime note di copertina la tremenda autoironia di questo disco, in cui Fields sembra voler riflettere con cadenze tragicomiche sull’amarezza e sul fatalismo degli incontri sbagliati della vita. Come quello con un musicista che “sembra apprezzare la tua musica ma poi, appena trova un ingaggio migliore, se ne va dal tuo gruppo”.

Il fil rouge di una drammatica e nuda concretezza sembra proseguire con perfetta continuità in una musica suonata da una chitarra elettrica privata di ogni orpello effettistico, da un contrabbasso e da una batteria.

Quindi un trio non certo insolito nel jazz moderno, ma abbastanza raro da incontrare nella discografia free.
Un tratto originale accentuato da un’improvvisazione incasellata tra temi molto spigolosi ma rigorosi e da un’improvvisazione continua alle cui spalle lavora un bassista capace di porsi in linea quasi telepatica con gli altri due e la percussività del giovanissimo portoghese Lobo.
Il primo è il quarantaduenne Gramss, anche lui come Fields vive a Colonia e ha collaborato tra gli altri con Fred Frith, Rudi Mahall e Tom Cora. Lobo si è già ascoltato in Italia con musicisti decisamente lontani da qui: Enrico Rava, Giovanni Guidi e Mauro Negri. In questo disco si rivela in grado di conferire proprietà espressiva anche quando si toccano vertici di radicalismo improvvisativo.

Apparentemente è lui il regista di tempi spezzati e multiformi che sostengono una sorta di insistenza armonica in cui un’immensa gamma di soluzioni passa attraverso arpeggi chitarristici, linee atonali velocissime o un’informalità grattuggiata.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs (CF 102)

While the sardonic album title alludes to a session fraught with rancorous despair, guitarist Scott Fields’ Bitter Love Songs is, perhaps ironically, one of his most accessible efforts. Born in Chicago, but now based in Cologne, Germany, Fields recorded this date in his new home town with German bassist Sebastian Gramss and Portuguese drummer Joao Lobo. An iconoclast who favors unusual instrumental combinations, this is his first guitar trio recording since Mamet (Delmark, 2001), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang.

In the scathing liner notes Fields explains that the unsettled themes, fitful rhythms and grating dissonances elicited by the trio are intended to invoke the nerve-wracking nausea that accompanies the impending dissolution of romance. While all of these traits are present, they are often fairly subtle; in contrast to his exotic conceptual projects, this loose trio session is actually somewhat conventional.

With Fields as the principle soloist, Gramss and Lobo follow the guitarist’s lead, providing stirring rhythmic accompaniment that vacillates in tempo from casual to frantic. The majority of the tunes saunter at a buoyant mid-tempo clip with periods of intermittent turbulence. Occasionally reaching a fevered pitch, but never boiling over, the trio generates a more agreeable mood than one would expect from such song titles as “My Love Is Love, Your Love Is Hate” and “Your Parents Must Be Just Ecstatic Now.” Only “I Was Good Enough for You Until Your Friends Butted In” breaks form with a languorous abstract blues.

A proponent of structured improvisation based on tone row manipulation, Fields conveys his enigmatic statements with focused intensity. He fires rapid salvoes of knotty linear cadences at regular staccato intervals from his clean-toned hollow body. At his most feverish, he conjures blistering chromatic note clusters as he scuttles across his fretboard. Together, Gramss’ elastic walking bass patterns, Lobo’s shuffling trap set ruminations and Fields’ thorny commentary coil into a kaleidoscopic mosaic of expressionistic interplay.

Despite the derisive title, Bitter Love Songs is a compelling example of modern jazz guitar improvisation supported by an empathetic rhythm section. For aficionados of unfettered guitar traditions, this is essential listening.