Daily Archives: September 2, 2008

All About Jazz Italy review by Enrico Bettinello

Sten Sandell – Mattias Ståhl – Grann Musik (Neighbour Music)
Il rapporto tra pianoforte e vibrafono è sempre vissuto su traiettorie di empatia istintiva: entrambi strumenti di natura percussivo/melodica [sebbene la versatilità del primo non sia comparabile con quella dell’altro], si sono spesso rincorsi nella storia del jazz, andando a braccetto con eleganza [pensiamo a Teddy Wilson e Lionel Hampton, ma ovviamente anche alla coppia John Lewis – Milt Jackson all’interno del Modern Jazz Quartet] oppure avventurandosi su terreni più esplorativi, come nel caso di Andrew Hill e Bobby Hutcherson, ma anche della ‘strana coppia’ Sun Ra – Walt Dickerson.
Quello tra Sten Sandell [pianista tra i più originali della scena svedese, spesso a fianco di Mats Gustafsson] e Mattias Ståhl, che al vibrafono affianca glockenspiel e marimba, è un dialogo che si muove secondo altri canoni, spingendosi talvolta dalle parti di un linguaggio più classico contemporaneo che jazzistico.

Questa annotazione non sia però fuorviante: si tratta di un vocabolario improvvisativo che nulla ha dell’eccessiva astrattezza di molte pagine di “nuova musica” e che anzi, specialmente grazie all’ampiezza di risorse di Sandell risulta sempre vivacissimo e curioso: otto le composizioni istantanee di questo Grann Musik [musica tra “vicini”, a sottolineare ulteriormente la necessaria intimità che sta alla base di un duo di questo tipo], tutte di lunghezza piuttosto contenuta, giocate con un gusto coloristico davvero superlativo e una capacità di bilanciare le differenti “nature” dei due improvvisatori.

Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Sten Sandell / Mattias Stahl – GRANN MUSIK (NEIGHBOUR MUSIC) (CF 109)
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, in addition to his own trio, has become known through working in Mats Gustafsson’s electro-acoustic ensemble Gush. Classically trained and with an arsenal of extended techniques (in addition to preparation and electronics, Sandell uses his voice), he’s able to coax a huge array of sounds from his instrument, though often his choice of co-conspirators can make for an overly deliberate approach to “free” music. Mallet percussionist Mattias Ståhl, on the other hand, has explored the musical language of Ornette, Carla Bley and Jan Johansson in his freebop quartet Ståls Blå. The result of this linguistic pairing—cascading, bop-inflected runs and extended architecture—is somewhere between the sparser forays of Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the fluid poise of the Khan Jamal-Bill Lewis duets (The River, Philly Jazz 2, 1977).
The tension between severity and playfulness is apparent from the get-go, on “Lundburgs”, where Ståhl flits about in the vibraphone’s upper register as Sandell roils in the lower depths of his instrument, his sustained blocks of sound like bricks underneath the glassy rolls and filigree. The pair initially seem to be hurling their bags at one another in a wary gesture before a communicative dance is reached. Cascades of piano and marimba pelt alongside Sandell’s right hand to close the piece in a delicate upward arc. Ståhl marks time and space in the marimba’s middle registers on “Gröndals Deli”, though the pianist makes jagged and deep inroads at the outset, before lightening his touch and letting the music spread out a bit. The improvisations are all rather short (the longest just over seven minutes and most around five), and it’s illuminating to hear how, over the course of a few minutes, Sandell and Ståhl are able to reconcile their approaches into a music balanced between organic, circular rondos and slinky, charcoaled lines.

Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris – 4 Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (CF 100)
For its one hundredth release, Portugal’s Clean Feed has brought together two of the world’s finest improvising composers in a four-disc set, reedman Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris. Each disc contains one hour-long unrehearsed improvisation. Boxed sets are nothing new for the Braxton-phile, and when I recently talked to him, Morris commented astutely on the reasons for this: Braxton’s ideas require continuous restatement in order for people to catch up with them, and that goes for some of the things he’s been saying over the past three decades as well as why four CDs might be required to make a series of simple improvisational points. Morris relates that one of the things that attracted him to Braxton is the latter’s very clear rhetorical logic that can be approached through both un-premeditated and fully notated constructs.
On the surface, Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 might seem to be an unlikely pairing. Yet Braxton and Morris met years ago while separately on tour in Europe. Both are connected with academia, Braxton at Wesleyan and Morris at the nearby New England Conservatory, and Morris has long taught Braxton’s music to his students. Mary Halvorson, a student of Morris’s who works in Braxton’s ensembles, gave her graduate recital partly in duo with Morris, and this was the first time Braxton heard him play. Liking very much what he heard, he suggested collaborating. Though they discussed the idea of a recording in conversation, it wasn’t until Morris got a call from engineer Jon Rosenberg, who had booked time in Wesleyan’s Crowell Hall, that he realized the sessions were actually going to happen.
For the sessions, Braxton used an hourglass to mark time and when the sand had run to the bottom, the pair would break for lunch and then flip the hourglass and play again. This process went on for two days and yielded some of the most startling improvised music in recent memory. Braxton is heard strictly on saxophones – sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass – while Morris plays an arch-top acoustic (with a broken finger!). One of the reasons this duet functions so well is that Morris approached the situation knowing Braxton’s interests and influences – players like Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh and Paul Desmond. While Braxton doesn’t play like Konitz or Marsh, he has an understanding of what they were doing and how that can be assimilated into his context. Similarly, playing in ways that recall Jimmy Raney, Billy Bauer or a West African kora without direct imitation gives Morris a tremendous amount of stylistic fluidity.
This is entirely egalitarian music, a very large space in which no voice dominates the whole. Each piece is sprawling, the ebb and flow creating distinct areas even though the music isn’t divided into sections – thus, Braxton and Morris occupy both an entire canvas and a needle-droplet of paint at the same time. The fourth disc finds Braxton in the alto’s lower registers at the outset in a wide-vibrato post-Ayler ballad, its bluesy contours offering some of his most pathos-laden playing since the contrabass clarinet solo on trumpeter Jacques Coursil’s Black Suite (America, 1969). Morris’s lower-register strums bring out worried alto phrases, a wave that’s continually cresting. Braxton stretches out into liquid long tones which Morris’s chords and curled lines ride, then works his way into a hard-bitten space. The music brightens as Braxton turns to the soprano, a delicate cloud of lilting breath and pluck, though it becomes surprisingly tensile. Morris chooses closely spaced phrases in a limited tonal range here, and Braxton’s lines are concentrated and sparse. Buoyed by contrabass saxophone and its lurch and swagger, Morris’s lines become busier, stretching out from a single down-stroke. Braxton hits a jog and there’s a brief romp before they return to an amble.
Even when they appear to be “finding” each other, there’s an obvious rapport. The first day’s first improvisation finds both tiptoeing around each other at the start, but a few minutes in Morris spikes and scumbles, drawing Braxton’s soprano out into quick whinnies and circular runs. Early on, the saxophonist finds ways to comp and support Morris’s flights, matching his phrases with easy, toe-tapping swing, clean tones and torqued squawks. As Braxton hits a bowel-churning scream on his lowest horn, Morris comps with the sound of busted lamellae and later scrapes and whittles alongside bumblebee alto. After this meeting, Morris characterized Braxton as an “easy” person to play with, and that’s clearly coming from a developed mutual understanding of what a duo exploration is. Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 is a set for the ages.

Signal to Noise review by Stuart Broomer

Alipio C Neto – The Perfume Comes Before the Flower (CF 093)

Tony Malaby – Tamarindo (CF 099)

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuum – Nididhyasana (CF 101)

A record label can have a special impact on a style, witness the Lisbon-based Clean Feed’s developing relationship to free jazz. It’s the label’s specialty, largely as practiced in New York and environs, though with special attention to Portuguese musicians, sometimes in trans-Atlantic collaboration. The people at Clean Feed seem to be practicing an exalted selectivity about musicians and groupings that’s resulting in some excellent recordings. These three recent CDs by tenor saxophonists present high levels of organization and committed invention, along with a rich humanity of sound and a shared capacity to surprise.

Alipio C Neto is a Brazilian, resident in Portugal. He has recorded in a couple of groups (IMI Kollektief and Wishful Thinking), but this is his debut as leader. Supported by trumpeter Herb Robertson (whose darting, varied lines act as a foil to Neto’s substantial centrality), bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Michael T.A. Thompson and, on three of five tracks, tubaist Ben Stapp, Neto distinguishes himself as both player and composer, with an elegiac nobility of vision that is his defining characteristic. Track one first juxtaposes rapid drumming and improvised trumpet splatters against low tenor blasts; a later theme pitches rapid bass bowing against the horns’ held tones. When Neto finally solos, he’s a radical melodist, creating a continuum of abrasions and graces, building from great low blasts through sudden upper-range skitters and hollow-voiced mid-range lines. Like the first, each of Neto`s compositions contain multiple themes that are welded together by the ensemble, often creating a feeling suspended between through-composition and collective improvisation. Clearly every player here is engaged by Neto’s intensity of purpose, and the results sound like a working band.

Tony Malaby is a very fine saxophonist, a consistently adventurous and intense player who adds to any situation. He’s been particularly good at assuming the foreground in groups led by “background” players, like Mark Helias and Paul Motian. Part of what makes his work compelling is his interest in sonority, and it comes to the fore in this bare-bones trio with Malaby beginning very quietly, restrained muttering and whispering down amidst William Parker’s bass and Nasheet Waits’ drums. It’s that sense of a fully integrated trio that thrives here, as in the tangle of “Floral and Herbacious,” with Parker’s bowed bass and Waits’ sudden punctuations leading the dialogue as much as Malaby. Among the many voices lurking in Malaby’s soprano and tenor, there are oboes and flutes and a human chorus that includes choked, gargling, and shouting voices.

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuum is a refreshing group concept, matching the leader’s tenor saxophone with Nate Wooley’s trumpet and the basses of Mike Bisio and Ingebrict Haaker-Flaten in a series of collective improvisations. Gauci possesses a distinctive restraint, his volume and density perfectly matched to Wooley’s trumpet in the extended conversations that occur here. The approach of the two basses is genuinely inspired, with Bisio and Haaker-Flaten create dense, pulsing dialogues, sometimes using the wood of the bow (spizzicato)  to mimic drumming. The band is a thoughtful variant on the usual piano-less quartet, leading to long stretches of quietly intense, collective creativity, often with more happening rhythmically than you might expect with a drummer. Gauci’s opening solo on “Ghitta Vilasa (Play of Mind)” gives an immediate indication of his quality of musical thought, ranging from rapid invention to warm, reflective bleat, while Wooley follows using a whistling air-flow of sub-articulated notes to duet brilliantly with bowed bass. It’s a technique from the far shores of improvised music, but it’s the kind of thing that consistently enlivens this exceptional performance.