Daily Archives: November 20, 2008

All About Jazz review by Greg Camphire


Michael Dessen Trio – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
Between Shadow and Space is an aptly named release from trombonist and computer manipulator Michael Dessen’s trio, which creates oblique and evasive soundscapes that can’t be easily categorized. As Dessen writes in the album’s liner notes, “the past half century has produced a staggering array of improvisational music…my music draws energy from overlapping musical communities and histories.”

Over the course of this record’s duration, the music has points of reference such as European musique concrete as well as languages heard among the AACM and M-Base movements; not to mention the unique Warp Records brand of electronica represented by artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre. These are just several strategies that the Dessen Trio employs as they move outside the traditional jazz lineage, while retaining a sense of rhythmic momentum that may well fit under a more expansive definition of swing.
With bassist Christopher Tordini and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey on board, the band is capable of switching it up from skittering, broken-up densities of notes (“Duo Improvisation”) to their own brand of prickly funk (“Anthesis”). Perhaps inspired by George Lewis’ pioneering interface of trombone and electronics to frame improvisation as a method of intellectual inquiry, the group utilizes synthesized textures and squiggly percussion to create moody, mysterious sound collages like “Chocolate Geometry” and “Granulorum.”
There seems to be a minimal amount of melodic content strewn across the album, but the slack is picked up by extraneous computer-generated effects and bursts of athletic, brainy virtuosity. Among the more accessible tracks is “Restless Years,” established by Tordini’s groove-heavy yet angular bass ostinato, from which Sorey extrapolates a wealth of fractured ideas.
Overall, this is gestural music, with its own obscured inner logic and drama. The closing “Water Seeks,” dedicated to the passing of Alice Coltrane, is a sort of space-age tone poem; a shimmering, insect-like swarm of cymbals, bowed bass, muted trombone and the metallic drone of electronics. It leaves a ghostly of question marks as the album ends.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins


Daniel Levin Trio – Fuhuffah (CF 129)
Fuhuffah is a departure of sorts for cellist Daniel Levin. His fourth recording as a leader dispenses with the chamber oriented instrumentation of his regular quartet (with bass, trumpet and vibraphone), in favor of a more conventional line-up. Accompanied by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Levin leads his trio through six original and one traditional tune that ebb and flow with previously untapped vigor.

Encapsulating a broad range of dynamics, this session occasionally veers into the somber atmospheres of Levin’s quartet albums while pushing further into vivacious rhythmic territory. The propulsive bass patterns of Flaten and the lively percussive interjections of Cleaver provide ample forward momentum, yet there is no shortage of tonal subtlety. Levin and Flaten utilize every string technique available to them, plucking and bowing with unfettered resolve, while Cleaver demonstrates sublime nuance, using both sticks and brushes with dexterous finesse.

Like a warning shot, Levin opens the album’s title track with a harsh descending motif that plummets into a thicket of dissonant intervals and jagged angles constructed from fervid double stops, bright pizzicato and strident harmonics, while Flaten’s hyperkinetic bass chases Cleaver’s restless trap set through a labyrinthine maze.

“Shape” is an exceptional study in rhythm; a slinky swinger driven by a cool, grooving bass line and a funky, insistent hi-hat that fuels a slew of sonorous cadences from the leader, as well as a lyrical closing statement from Flaten. “Metaphor” finds Levin embarking on a series of plangent excursions supported by Cleaver’s discerning cymbal accents and Flaten’s hypnotic bass ostinato.

Brimming with emotional catharsis, the traditional tune “Hangman” is delivered as a haunting dirge. Levin’s strident bowing invokes the tune’s mordant lyrics with heartrending intensity. “Woods” is equally fervent; Levin and Flaten weave sinuous arco phrases into resonant overtones.

Delving into free territory, “Open” showcases the trio in a texturally rich pointillist improvisation, while “Wiggle” closes the album with a passionate tribute to saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. Negotiating harsh angles at a breakneck tempo, Levin bows with manic virtuosity while Flaten and Cleaver push relentlessly forward, each taking individual solo statements in turn.

A vibrant and assertive detour from his usual chamber oriented quartet offerings, Fuhuffah offers another facet of Levin’s growing abilities as an improviser and writer of note.

Free Jazz review by Stef


Sean Conly – Re-Action (CF 124)
It takes guts to invite reputed musicians such as Pheeroan akLaff (drums) and Tony Malaby (sax) for a debut album, because they have created their own approach to music over the years. Add the second tenor of Michaël Attias to that, and you can only admire bassist Sean Conly to make this musical project really his own. He has a composing style which is very coherent : very rhythmic and often angular themes with stops and starts for dramatic effect. Yet on the other hand, he gives his band members sufficient space to work around the compositions, and it is in listening to the improvisations that you start to understand why he selected them. Not only because they are good, but because they understand Conly’s musical approach without relinquishing their own style, especially Attias and Malaby fit well together, both free and sensitive players, stylists who know how to express emotions, with akLaff using his incredible wealth of ideas and experience to provide the necessary depth and contrast. The compositions are accessible without being mainstream, with long unison themes, and relatively controlled improvisations. On “Concrete Garden”, ambient sounds are used, with some post-production, and it is the most overt sign of rock influences on the album, but they are present throughout the pieces, giving a powerful drive to the music, as on “Ulterior Motives”, an uptempo rocker with a great theme and some wild soloing. The same approach is to be heard on the dramatic “Saitta”, a real tension-builder, as is “Suburban Angst”. Yet the music is as good on the slower pieces, as on “Luminiferous Ether”, an duo improvisation between Conly and Attias, or “Refutable”, allowing the saxes their full sensitive expressivity. This latter track is a beauty of restrained emotional power, with the two saxes circling around each other, tentatively, sensitively, played over a repetitive bass vamp and some subtle accentuating on the drums. And that’s possibly Conly’s strongest achievement : to make the whole band perform great music, with lots of variations, but it’s primarily on the slowest pieces that the best results are achieved, possibly because of none of these pieces have clear melodic themes, and hence free-er in their concept. But again, it’s without a doubt the variation that makes this album a great piece of music. And apart from being a good composer and band-leader, Conly is a great bass player too. We want more.