Monthly Archives: November 2008

Free Jazz review by Stef


Townhouse Orchestra – Belleville (CF 125)
This is the kind of chemical lab environment situation : put Evan Parker on tenor saxophone in a test tube, together with Scandinavia’s power rhythm section, consisting of Sten Sandell on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, then wait and see what happens. From a chemical reaction perspective, actually the strangest thing happens : you don’t need to add energy (heat, electricity, movement, …) before something takes place. Before you know it, the four start heating up, exchanging molecules and atoms, sizzling, boiling, smoking, splashing in all directions, overflowing at times, then, after lots of heat dissipation, the whole coagulated thing starts cooling down and desintegrating again, into a sax solo, a bass solo, some plucked piano strings, the odd cymbal clash, for some odd slow intermingling of colors and lines, mixing without energy, with a flash here and there, yet cooling down into an almost absolute calm. All jokes aside, it is in this superb variation of subtle sensitive and intimate moods which evolve into powerful expansive outbursts and then back again, that this music gets its unbelievable vitality. But there is more, the way these four musicians move together into the same musical direction is at times hard to grasp, especially because they move into uncommon regions, where sensitive hesitation and assertiveness reign together, creating interesting dialogues and, well, great and very coherent music. The two lengthy pieces, each 45 minutes long, allow for the musicians to take their time to create and expand.

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.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins


Angelica Sanchez – Life Between (CF 128)
Since their relocation from Arizona in 1995, pianist Angelica Sanchez and her husband, saxophonist Tony Malaby, have made their mark on the fertile New York scene. Malaby has become omnipresent, appearing on over 50 albums in the last decade, while Sanchez has maintained a lower profile, playing often but recording sporadically, usually in a collective trio with Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey, last documented on Alive in Brooklyn, Vol. 2 (Sarama, 2005).
Life Between features Sanchez leading a stellar electro-acoustic quintet which includes regular collaborators Malaby and Rainey, stalwart bassist Drew Gress and specially invited guest, French guitarist Marc Ducret. This remarkable sophomore effort offers a summary of her impressive growth as a composer since her sublime debut as a leader, Mirror Me (Omnitone, 2001).

Alternating unadorned folksy melodies with elaborate contrapuntal lines, Sanchez’s writing modulates between harmonious accessibility and thorny involution as her pieces gracefully shift between open forms and taut written sections. “Black Helicopters” and the title track unfold with brooding atmospheric washes, while “Name Dreamer” and “Blue & Damson” introduce plangent motifs; each piece subtly surges into tumultuous meditations fraught with knotty intervallic themes, fractured rhythms and tonal extremes.

A singular stylist with a harmonically unfettered melodic sensibility, Sanchez’s effervescent lyricism takes center stage on the gentle acoustic piano ballad “Federico.” The bell-like tones of her electric Wurlitzer provide haunting ambience to the title track, colorfully penetrating linear variations on “Blue & Damson,” and a flurry of gnarled notes on the vigorous “SF 4.”

Sanchez’s incisive excursions are often the inverse of her husband’s, yet their dynamic rapport is mutually beneficial; Sanchez coaxes tenderness from Malaby, while he inspires her more aggressive inclinations. A congenial interpreter and stellar technician, Malaby’s contributions to Sanchez’s work are unswerving and emotionally compelling. His insectoid trills on “Black Helicopters” escalate with climactic urgency, while his pneumatic runs on the title track are muscular and heartfelt. He plies soulful glisses on “Federico” and spews quicksilver circuitous refrains on “514” and “Blue & Damson,” the later culminating in a miasma of fervent low tones and volcanic multiphonics.

Ducret’s dynamic versatility is legendary; combining Hendrixian electronic maelstroms with the virtuosity of Mahavishnu-era John McLaughlin, he unleashes salvos of spiky fragments on “Blue & Damson,” distorted shards and searing legato phrases on the jaunty “514,” and silky filigrees on “Federico.” His rapport with the veteran group is exemplary, sounding more like a longstanding member rather than an invited guest.

Gress and Rainey provide magnanimous support with a fluid undercurrent of rhythmic invention that negotiates sharp angles, stop-start rhythms and unconventional meters. They offer a stimulating bed of interactivity that facilitates a wide range of expression, from dulcet introspection to volatile agitation.

With inspired readings delivered by an empathetic line-up, Sanchez’s opulent compositions unveil breathtaking kaleidoscopic vistas, making Life Between one of the year’s most striking records.

Coming soon

Dusted Magazine review by Derek Taylor


Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel (CF 123)
A sequel of sorts to Jalolu (2003), Harris Eisenstadt’s latest taps another side of his African musical experience and presents another pivotal project in the percussionist’s evolution.Guewel tweaks the quintet line-up of the earlier CIMP set, trading one of the trumpet chairs for Mark Taylor’s French horn. Taylor and baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton make for easy aural marks, but the inspired pairing of brass aces Nate Wooley and Taylor Ho Bynum is a bit more difficult to parse. Even with the decision to field distinct instruments, the duo’s more texture-oriented excursions can be a welcome challenge to untangle.

The streamlined program switches source locales from Gambia to Senegal with Eisenstadt’s detailed notes delineating both process and rationale. The drummer’s arranging goals are ambitious, fusing traditional regional rhythms with transcriptions of Senegalese pop music. A third element, collective improvisation, isn’t as easy to thread and the seams between sections are often audible, sometimes awkwardly so. These moments are relatively minor and the decisive energy of the ensemble and individual statements succeeds in shoring most of the leaks.

Deployed in twos, the source tunes borrow from the songbooks of Orchestra Baobob, Star Number One and others. Each set supplies melodic grist for the horns and ample room for loose-limbed grooves from the leader. Eisenstadt regularly divides the group up into smaller parcels, dialoguing closely with Taylor on “N’daga/Coonu Aduna” or scaling back his sticking after a stretch of staccato polyphony as Wooley and Bynum trade in steely growls on “Kaolak/N’Wolof.” “Dayourabine/Thiolena” builds from a call and response march into a gorgeous chamber colloquy of horns. Stinton muscles in on “Barambiye/Djarama,” shirking off measured phrasing for a statement stamped with raw-throated split tones and circular breathing as Eisenstadt deftly fractures the rhythm around him.

As fun and focused as the band is, a shout out seems due to engineer Reuben Radding, too. Better known as composer and improvising bassist, Radding’s capture of the sounds is according, giving all the instruments – especially the leader’s kit – clarity and brightness that is often immersive. Whether you’ve made earlier legs of Eisenstadt’s journey or not, this latest travelogue will bring you swiftly up to speed.