Daily Archives: September 8, 2008

All About Jazz review by Carla Cornejo

Fight the Big Bull – Dying will be Easy (CF 108)

Fight the Big Bull describes itself on MySpace as “champions of curiosity”. This candid qualifier is doubly introspective because it denotes both the whimsy and the intellectual maturity of their latest recording Dying Will Be Easy. The Richmond-based nonet, who played at Issue Project Room Aug. 6th, is led by guitarist Matt White, who also composed the album’s four tracks, which span a little more than half an hour. It is a wholly remarkable feat that an album with so few tracks can be so captivating. “November 25th” is meat-and-potatoes jazz, smoky and thick in sonic bands with slinky bass bursts that make up its resonating backbone. “Grizzly Bear” shows off the glittery appeal of old-time showmanship, with an aggressive inter-band sonic throwdown. It begins with a celebratory ferociousness and tempers down to a clever, if long, connector until the next climax. This connector, marked by a maniacal tippity-tap of the drums, teases listeners into anticipation. Notes run into each other in a playful collision that results in a tiny explosion that is smoothed, but encouraged, by the bass line. “In Jarama Valley” is dignified and heartbreaking, a mellifluous treat that, reflecting an admirable sense of self-awareness and good judgment, is almost twice as long as the preceding two tracks. It quickly gives way to a conversation among instruments resulting in a purely synchronic fusing of notes. But once the listener has settled in, accepting every note as organic and inevitable, a violent surge of fury penetrates the track and infects the song, threatening any notion about its supposed mood and tempo being mournful. It sprints to a finish, suddenly but triumphantly. There are no attention-grabbing gimmicks here. Nothing is irrational, abstract to the point of being confusing or egalitarian to the point of being archaic. In the pursuit of being provocative, many musicians obsess about the art and forget about the matter. Not so with Fight the Big Bull. White is obviously a skilled guitarist, but it is his vision as a composer and orchestrator that makes the record refreshingly original and, at many points, breathtaking.

Jazzreview review by Dave Wayne

Joe Fiedler Trio – The Crab (CF 092)
You see a lot of jazz trio recordings with either piano, guitar, or saxophone accompanied by bass and drums. A trombone-led trio recording really stands out, simply by virtue of the relatively unusual lead instrument. The Joe Fiedler Trio proves that, in the right hands (and on the right set of lips), the trombone is an extremely expressive, supremely malleable instrument that is capable of conveying every bit as much emotion and virtuosity as a saxophone, guitar or piano. The Crab is this trio’s second recording – the first being a collection of tunes written by the late great German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. To be a trombonist and to do an all-Mangelsdorff tribute CD is akin to a tenor saxophonist doing an all-Coltrane tribute CD. Joe Fiedler is one of only a few trombonists I know of who could successfully pull off such a venture – he has the chops, the knowledge, the understanding, and the sheer audacity needed to do it. The Crab, a collection of Fiedler originals, is no less audacious and ambitious.

The mega-talented rhythm duo of drummer Michael Sarin and bassist John Hebert bring each of Fiedler’s sharp, witty compositions to life. Sarin – whom I know from his work with the late Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone, Dave Douglas, Drew Gress, and many others – is simply masterful throughout The Crab. He deftly manages the extreme tempo changes in ‘Don’t Impede The Stream,’ lays down some supremely quirky funk on ‘Trout Stream,’ and plays a Second Line-inspired rhythm like a New Orleans native on ‘Jessie’s Little Freakout.’ I especially admired his super-dexterous, extremely tasty brush work on ‘Split Tone.’ Hebert is right there with Sarin throughout, all the while providing intelligent and fascinating tonal counterpoint to the leader’s trombone. He solos, at least briefly, on nearly every tune and proves that he is one of those rare bassists – like John Lindberg, Dave Friesen, and Fred Hopkins – who can groove a rhythm section and really shine in the lead role.

Fiedler’s tunes are a varied lot – most of his pieces are multi-sectioned, with multiple themes stated over restlessly shifting rhythms, but they have an irrepressible humor, warmth, and looseness about them as well. The title track starts out with Fiedler blowing a choppy ostinato that Hebert picks up in time for Fiedler to play the brief multiphonic-rich head. The tempo slows down somewhat for a reflective, almost free-ish improv section that gradually picks up steam as the rhythm section intensifies underneath Fiedler’s spiraling, climbing solo. Fiedler’s trombone multiphonics also figure prominently in ‘For Albert’ – an elegaic, almost skeletal ballad dedicated to Albert Mangelsdorff, the man who pioneered the use of multiphonics for low brass instruments. Here, Fiedler solos sweetly, almost resignedly, over Sarin’s near-magical drumming – seamlessly moving from brushes to mallets to sticks and back. ‘A Frankfurter in Caracas,’ possibly another Mangelsdorff tribute, is a mostly uptempo romp that refers to Latin rhythms without being a ‘Latin jazz’ tune. At the same time – upon hearing this tune, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Fiedler also plays in a Captain Beefheart tribute band!

The Crab is certainly one of the best jazz trio CDs I’ve heard this year – a must-buy for anyone interested in the state-of-the-art in jazz trombone. Fiedler’s stylistic breadth, attractive tunes, great playing, and super-talented backing are sure to please any fan of modern jazz.

Dusted Magazine review by Jason Bivins

Anthony Braxton / Joe Morris – Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (CF 100)
Portugal’s Clean Feed has rapidly become one of the finest labels documenting jazz and improvised music at the intersection of what once was called NY Downtown music, the lineage of 1970s loft jazz, and European free improvisation. For its 100th release, they’ve dropped a real dilly: a four-disc summit meeting between Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris.

How to unpack a review like this? How to find a way into four hour-long improvisations (Braxton’s favored format currently, for which he actually uses a good old hourglass)? Duo improvs are some of the hardest, the most naked, the most challenging in which to sustain ideas without avoiding mere chattiness. It depends not only on compelling instrumental languages, but also on contrast, meaningful discourse, and provocation.

Braxton has recorded a vast number of duos over the years, from the little known (with pianist Giorgio Gaslini) to the widely celebrated (his stellar performances with Max Roach). Whether these sessions have involved improvisations exclusively or have feasted on Braxton’s compositions (or even standards), it’s long struck me that the best of them (with Roach, with Derek Bailey, with Richard Teitelbaum) have succeeded to the extent that they aren’t simply Braxton music. Those players who are strong enough, distinctive enough to shake the great man from his singularly obsessive musical focus are the ones capable of turning in great duos.

The quick judgment here is that Morris is up to that level, on each of these counts. In fact, it’s amazing how resourceful he is. Whereas Braxton can change mood and tone simply by pulling out one of his dozens of horns, one of the things I’ve always loved about Morris – and he remains one of my favorite guitarists – is how gifted he is with touch, attack, articulation and so forth. The concentration it takes to play in this way, and to sculpt such careful, harmonically interesting lines over such lengths is exceedingly impressive.

In some sense, it’s a shame not to hear Morris tackle some of Braxton’s charts, but that’s a small knock since their interactions are so tart, so fresh, and filled with surprise. The guitarist’s clean style is perfectly matched with Braxton’s reeds (for those keep score at home, he brought the following to this music: sopranino, soprano, alto, C-melody, baritone, bass, and contrabass). With such resourceful musical personalities and such wide imaginations, each hour ends up being packed to the gills with good moments (and of course some inevitable dull spots). The best moments are when the two are either shaken out of their comfort zone (the wisps of smoke that open the first piece or the final disc’s lovely, dark-hued ballad) or when they thoroughly own their more customary styles and approaches (spiky intervallic work from both players throughout, high gear chromatic passages, the honking elephantine grooves that issue forth regularly). But this isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of other excellent moments that fall outside this scheme. Indeed, the two seem particularly well suited to long passages for rhythmic variations.

Braxton and Morris really do play well together, with tough and meaningful contrast where others might coast on tedious mimesis. They leave just enough space for individual statements, and they cool things out just often enough with some reflective balladeering. Of course with so much music, in this particular format, things get desultory at times. After all, a mini-box with four hour-long improvisations is not the kind of thing even an ardent Braxophile like me will pull from the shelf too often. And again, I can’t help wishing that they’d varied the release by including two discs with shorter pieces. But this is the release we’ve got. And despite some longeurs, this is a bracing document of two superb improvisers.

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

Every Woman Is A Tree – Angles (CF 112)
Good can triumph over evil. It’s just that evil is just so well organized by the political parties, oil corporations, and media conglomerates that the voice of dissent is often overshadowed. Like Woody Guthrie or Charles Mingus utilizing music to protest the sins of their time, today, bubbling in between the cracks of popular culture is the requisite dissent to war, racism, nazism, and imperialistic hate. Enter the Scandinavian sextet Angles with a true gem of a live recording.

All six tracks were written by saxophonist Martin Küchen, who also penned the liner notes which explain the wordless compositions. Küchen, a member of Exploding Customer with Kjell Nordeson, plays with a such a searing power, there is no need for lyrics to explain his protest music. This post-bop approach is born from the spirit of Mingus. The players, trumpeter Magnus Broo and drummer Kjell Nordeson (AALY Trio), are certainly familiar to listeners and fans of Chicagoan Ken Vandermark’s projects and both can be heard on the Atomic/School Days session Distil (Okka).

The disc opens with the processional “Peace Is Not For Us” with Nordeson rolling thunder beneath the marching lines of Berthling’s bass. Run! The troops are coming! is the ominous feel as Mats Äleklint’s trombone covers the battleground. “My World of Mines” marches also with a funky groove, matched by some tight horn arrangements. When the piece breaks into solos, it’s Mattias Ståhl’s vibraphone that tears through a powerful statement, enough so, to quiet his playing partners. The Eastern feel of “The Indispensable Warlords” is a great vehicle for Küchen’s muscular saxophone to be heard. Part wail and part siren, he rivets your ears to his call. The title track doubles the intensity, not only with a relentless African groove, but with more scorching solos.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

TRIO VIRIDITAS – Live at Vision Festival VI (CF 115)
Recorded on June 2, 2001 (a couple of months before Alfred Harth’s departure to the Korean shores, which prevented him to be a New York resident exactly from the most disastrous month of man’s history) this superb concert gives an idea of the potential – sadly unfulfilled due to bassist Wilber Morris’ death in 2002 – of Trio Viriditas, the third member as always the tremendously articulate, ever imaginative Kevin Norton on drums and vibes. In this particular occasion, the music generated by these artists suggests a veritable inviolability, three distinctive personalities – each endowed with inimitable qualities – delivering themselves from any hypothetic artistic puffiness in order to disclose to the lucky spectators both their barest soul and a strong purpose to accomplish the mission through deep, intense paths of conscious agony and just a pinch of fun. Let’s also make perfectly clear that this is a hell of a “must” if one isn’t acquainted with Harth’s reed omniscience and would love to figure out at least a smidgen of what the man is capable of doing (on pocket trumpet too, if saxes and bass clarinet weren’t enough). In a track like “Melancholy”, A23H evidently illustrates why he should be ranked as the ultimate poignant soloist, the phrasing starting with the predisposition to a soft kind of ballad (with hints of melody that even quote – involuntarily? – the “all my troubles seemed so far away” segment of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”!) then, out of the blue, exploding in vicious yelps, the upper partials splitting in a thousand fragments, the whole underlined by vocal growling ‘n’ shouting, old bluesman-style. Then again, dissonant popping corks and splintered lines materialize, only to reformat into unrepeatable splendour. Ah, the frustration of not being able to convey the words for those incomparable, literally huge solos. And what a gas, listening to Harth cackle via clarinet in certain sections, or blowing the empire away with well-informed usage of space and time during short yet effective trumpet-based interventions. And the solo in “Viriditas Waltz”, shall we talk about that, too? Stuff that – no kidding here, folks – might elicit the urge of hiding the instruments in the cases and go to sleep for many pretenders, unless they’re open to listening and learning something for once in a lifetime. You should also hear what Norton does, as it’s all substance. The remarkable contrapuntal skill in “Braggadocio” is a noticeable evidence of how talented this percussionist is, a man too humble to be seriously renowned. Not a problem for the cognoscenti, who will instantly identify his “guerrilla smartness”: finesse and concentration amalgamated by one of the brightest architectural minds around. Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith and Joëlle Léandre must have good reasons for having been willing to exchange ideas with this grown-up kid. Knowing that Wilber Morris is not among us anymore is, somehow, akin to urging ourselves to welcome first-rate human beings and outstanding musicians earlier than fate, which comes and modifies what’s erroneously meant as certitude. This man’s bass recalls integralist jazz and chamber music at one and the same time, an emblem in that sense a medley of “Fuer die Katz’s deli(ght)” and “Starbucks”, Morris reciting his intentional extraneousness from any plausible pattern or lick to concentrate on a warm tone, attributing muscle to particularly spacious designs where Norton and Harth seem to come in with utmost ease, sounding as ghosts skating on ice. A bad loss for the world of improvisation, and this CD is just perfect for ringing a bell of memory. There goes the wish of hearing more of this special trio, possibly from Mr.23’s archives: another studio recording, realized in the same period to support tours that – alas – never occurred, definitely exists. If that’s half as powerful as the moving force of this live set, we’re riding high already. Play “Peace”, last selection of the album, louder and louder; open your windows and let everybody rejoice, for this a new jazz masterpiece – no ifs and buts.