Daily Archives: November 17, 2008

Downbeat review by Bill Shoemaker


Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Rudresh Mahanthappa has a plangent, hardedged alto saxophone sound, one that is made more searing by hard-hitting, knotty themes that have been his stock in trade on his own recordings and those with his most empathetic collaborator, Vijay Iyer. If there is any criticism that could be levelled at the saxophonist’s recordings to date, it is their emphasis on complexity, albeit in the service of an incisive cultural critique. These two recordings (Mahanthappa’s “Kinsmen” review doesn’t appear below) flesh out crucial aspects of Mahanthappa’s sensibility, leaving one with a fuller picture of a musician on a threshold of major artist status.

Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway write demanding pieces, but they also pen tunes conducive to expansive, convivial blowing like the four they include on “The Beautiful Enabler”. With more than thirty years experience playing together in a multitude of settings, they are one of the most telepathic bass-drums tandems active today. But, far from being the odd man out, Mahanthappa plays like he spent years in the shed with them. His “I’ll See You When I Get There” benefits greatly from Dresser’s furious arco and Hemingway’s shadowing phrases  and abrupt groundswells, while the plaint of “Intone” is constantly pulled by their undercurrents. Throughout the album, Mahanthappa sounds like he has at least a decade more experience than he actually does, a great measure of the energy and mutual support created on Mauger’s sterling debut.

All About Jazz review by Martin Longley


Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Bigwig (CF 107)
Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke has been living in Brooklyn for three years, originally hailing from Denver. Once arriving, he set about forming a trio, but then met up with trombonist Brian Drye and wisely decided to expand into quartet form. The combo’s lineup is completed by bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. As a debut disc (or as any kind of album) Big Wig is a crucial work. Knuffke wrote all of its tunes, daggering into just the right juncture between hurtling-together themes and broken-up chaos. His chief compositional influence must surely be Steve Lacy, with a marked predilection for perambulatory bouts of optimism, cheerfully rolling, but always gripped with a nervy tension.

On the opening “Enough,” Knuffke is curt and impatient against Radding’s grimy bowing. The group sound is akin to a smoked-out apiary, and in the track’s 3mins 52secs plays host to a remarkable amount of curves and jagged switches. On “The Same,” they’re barreling and bluff, the brass rounded with a military band swagger, constantly squirming into new shapes as the leader flutter-mutes at speed.

Some of these pieces (“Page 1 # 1,” “Charp,” “Truck”) achieve perfection (though that’s never smoothed-out or regimented: this is perfection as organized chaos). The first of these three tracks becomes progressively more fragmented, leading into an oleaginous trombone solo, creaming with grace. Then the combo comes together again, followed by a climaxing drum solo of controlled flailing. The rhythm team set up a tough thrum on “Charp,” helping out the cast-off freedom of the horns. A good-humored belligerence prevails throughout “Truck,” barging then blowsy, then back to barging, before closing with a brawl.

The album’s remaining nine numbers are almost up to this phenomenal level and there’s a real fear that the quartet’s November, 2008 gig at New York’s Park Slope’s Tea Lounge will push it’s intensity up to an uncontrollable level.

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero


Conference Call – Poetry In Motion (CF 118)
Il tessuto connettivo che riveste Conference Call è di quelli forti ed elastici allo stesso tempo, grazie ad una fitta trama di relazioni che caratterizzano i percorsi dei quattro musicisti coinvolti. Il formidabile sassofonista e clarinettista tedesco Gebhard Ullmann vanta un sodalizio decennale con il pianista Michael Jefry Stevens, a sua volta co-leader con il bassista Joe Fonda di un ensemble stabile che da più di vent’anni esplora con successo i territori del freebop. Il batterista George Schuller è l’ultimo arrivato ma ha comunque alle spalle ben sette anni di sodalizio con questo quartetto.

Tutti questi numeri non potevano non riversarsi in Poetry in Motion, un CD pertanto fortemente coeso e compatto, senza sbavature, intenso, dagli incastri perfetti e dallo sviluppo armonioso. I quattro musicisti hanno attraversato a vario titolo le vicende della musica improvvisata negli ultimi vent’anni e in questo disco sembrano tirare le somme, impegnati in una sorta di pausa di riflessione sui suoi possibili sviluppi. Vi è una grande senso di calma e di tranquillità lungo le sette tracce del disco nonostante la musica sia spesso attraversata da fremiti violenti o da improvvise deflagrazioni.

Il clima complessivo della registrazione è quasi di stampo cameristico, nel senso di una precisione esecutiva e di una pulizia di suono non sempre facili da trovare in musicisti abituati a scorribande sonore tutt’altro che meditate. Ma pulsa forte il battito dell’improvvisazione, che sia quella di stampo dolphyano del clarone di Ullmann o quella dai forti accenti accademici del piano di Jefry Stevens il quartetto è in perenne movimento grazie anche alle invenzioni e alle sollecitazioni dei due ritmi.

Le composizioni sono tutte meritevoli di attenzione anche se non possiamo non segnalare “Back to School“, dal tema ornettiano che esplode grazie al sax tenore di Ullmann , “Quirky Waltz“ dall’incedere guardingo e misterioso e il conclusivo “Desert … Bleu … East“, una ninna nana che si trasforma progressivamente in visione allucinata prima di chiudersi come un blues notturno.

Un altro gran disco da casa Clean Feed.