DANIEL LEVIN TRIO – Fuhuffah (CF 119)
An atypical format – cello, double bass and drums – for an album that mixes improvisation, melodic lyricism of the slanted kind and a well perceptible vocal quality in the conversations between two stringed essences. Cellist and nominal leader Levin exalts the singing features of his instruments through a systematic implantation of presentiments and harassments in the evolvement of a three-way trade, a garrulous law-breaker always happy to verify how the decline of jazz can be counterbalanced by an instrumental approach that sounds both materialistically paint-stripped and utterly freehearted, all regulated by an extraordinary technical literature that steals remnants from the mummy of Anton Webern to burgeon – with succulent fruits – in the paradise of dissonant-loving peasantry. Bassist Ingebrigt Häker-Flaten – owner of a superb timbral expressiveness besides a fabulous taste – is able to occupy interstices, tune to the deepest regions of subcutaneous vibration and tread the most impervious paths of resonant winsomeness while keeping eyes wide open when the partners decide to abandon themselves to unconsciousness in the lap of that giant wooden fellow. Gerald Cleaver’s drumming is ideal for this context, hyperactive yet often subdued swinging alternated with wise silences and instillations of moonstruck hobnobbing, the proverbial accompaniment nebulized into a myriad of rhythmic cells, a truly steadfast-in-adversity companion for one hour of exceptional legitimization of instantaneous indispensability. This is a splendid recording, a veritable breath of fresh air also representing the perfect showcase for a triplet of bright talents.
The specialist skills of the members of this quartet – together with a perceivable enthusiasm in the approach to the music – are relevant elements in this particularly elegant recording, which gathers musicians who – one way or another – have been working jointly for many years (especially pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda, whose artistic connection dates back to 1984). Saxophonist Gebhard Ullman performs on soprano and tenor, plus bass clarinet; both he and drummer/percussionist George Schuller are also frequent partners of Stevens. Each of the accomplices contributes with his own compositions, thus applying an iridescent lacquer to the record that is all the more conspicuous given the high standards of the instrumental level. The foursome are able to unchain themselves from straight behaviour when they wish to do so, pushing the boundaries of attitude well ahead of the canons of mainstream; it’s clearly observable, though, that their strongest asset is the ability of cuddling the listener across relatively placid seas, a rigorous pursuit of the graceful and the tasteful the fundamental objective through passages where delicacy and fervour find a point of compromise, leaving a door open to comprehensibility in the most elaborate fragments as well. The single voices shine throughout but, overall, this is a truly collective effort, the only actual deviations from the canon being a moaning-and-panting bass solo by Fonda where he seems to make love to the instrument (“Next Step”) and Schuller’s suggestive hammer whistle call ending the disc in “Desert… Bleue… East”. Fluently communicative and sophisticatedly instinctive, Stevens and Ullmann complete a superb combination, their coolness being the proof that jazz can still reach significant altitudes even when not furiously screaming and flaming from the nostrils.
CONFERENCE CALL – Poetry in Motion (CF 118)
Mark Dresser/Ed Harkins/Steven Schick – House of Mirrors (CF 117)
House of Mirrors is a remarkable project in collaborative music making. It began in 1999 when bassist Mark Dresser expressed interest in supplying tones to complex rhythmic materials developed experimentally by the composer and trumpeter Ed Harkins. Eventually what began long-distance between the Brooklyn-based Dresser and the Californian Harkins became a regular interaction in 2004 when Dresser joined Harkins on the faculty of University of California at San Diego. A year later percussionist Steven Schick, who has recorded the complete solo percussion music of Iannis Xenakis, made the group a trio. The work is some distance from Dresser’s more improvisatory projects, closer to contemporary chamber music, with much of the music through-composed by Harkins and Dresser with spontaneously formed connective tissue.
The interest arises in the stunning complexity of Harkins’ rhythmic language, from its sudden accelerations to the endlessly unraveling meters and shifting accents, creating a relationship between rhythmic forms of serialism and certain aspects of African polyrhythms. The results are highly unpredictable, pitch and time fused into new, yet seemingly absolute, relationships.
Given the level of mathematical complexity of this music, there’s a surprising range of moods, from the manic playfulness of “Floxy” to the odd hurry-up-and-wait of the delays and flurries of “Moa.” The 15-minute “Oscula” is particularly notable for the complexity of relationships that arise among the various instruments and the sometimes structuring roles of timbre and dynamics, the piece eventually evolving into near silence. Schick has commented that his first entry into the music was timbral rather than rhythmic and there’s plenty of that here, his percussion seemingly rubbing the resonance of trumpet and bass as much as it participates rhythmically. “Rebus,” with its whistles of cymbal and bass, contains wind sonorities that testify to Harkins’ own powers of invention. Investigating a new rhythmic language, the trio also expands its own sonic palette.
Memorize the Sky – In Former Times (CF 122)
Le definizioni rilegano un’opera dentro uno spazio limitato, è vero, ma spesso fungono da bussola al potenziale pubblico. Fatta questa doverosa premessa, questo disco rientra nella discografia post Free; come ci rientri e con quali risultati è motivo di analisi. Il trio, che viene dal Michigan, dalla provincia americana lontana dalle capitali del jazz moderno e d’avanguardia, non sceglie infatti la via del rito orgiastico-liberatorio, che suona come espressione di un disagio generazionale, o di una musica che esploda in mille rivoli di suono. Tutt’altro.
In Former Times è un disco che esprime una vitalità sotterranea, sempre sul punto di esplodere. Si coglie la condivisione di una stessa poetica sul tempo e sull’uso del silenzio, uno spazio di percezione rivisitato insieme, che passa dal silenzio al movimento (leggero) attraverso l’improvvisazione. Un musica sul punto di esplodere dicevamo prima. Il problema però è che si ferma “sul punto di”… Insomma, tende a prendersi troppo sul serio, senza mai cedere all’ironia, al gioco e alla chiarezza di idee legata come pare a certe immagini claustrofobiche che ammantano l’ascoltatore.
L’effetto e i registri di certe tonalità scure delle ance, benché squarciate da impercettibili pennellate di colori-contrasto della ritmica, rafforzano la sensazione di un disco monotono, che non si fa riascoltare. A ben vedere, mai titolo fu più esplicativo: Memorizza il cielo, come a dire “guardalo adesso perché con questa musica si scende nei bassifondi notturni e fumosi”.
RIDD Quartet – Fiction Avalanche (CF 121)
Fiction Avalanche is the debut recording of a formidable young collective, the RIDD Quartet. Pianist Kris Davis, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis are bandleaders at the forefront of a new Brooklyn scene, one which subtly incorporates the vagaries of myriad genres and styles into new avenues for exploration.
Consisting of ten collectively composed tunes, these stylistically cohesive works veer between dulcet sentimentality and unfettered aggression, modulating from one emotional extreme to the other—often in the same piece. The quartet understands the value of restraint however; keen listening and an empathetic rapport embolden their dynamic transitions with a poised focus that many collectives lack.
A singular artist on the rise, Kris Davis’s neo-classical aesthetic blurs the line between restless impressionism and aleatoric invention. While turbulent salvoes are unleashed in climactic passages, it is her ability to summon disquieting lyrical fragments that reveals her true talent. Her euphonious refrains on “Paoli” are sublime, but it is the tortuous filigrees on “Sky Circles” and “Blue Cry,” alternating between atonal patterning and poetic introspection, that are most striking.
As a key member of bassist Moppa Elliott’s Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Jon Irabagon embraces every aspect of the tradition, from featherweight balladry to coruscating skronk. A sonic extremist, his capacity for transposing dissonant multiphonics and undulating overtones into tuneful phrases is demonstrated on “Sky Circles” and the vociferous “Monkey Catcher.” His keening cries yield strangely appealing harmonies when combined with Davis’ tinkling, harpsichord-like note clusters on pieces like “The Five Ways.”
Reuben Radding’s robust tone and nimble phrasing makes a complementary pair with Jeff Davis, whose colorful accents and vigorous rhythms gracefully negotiate fluctuating dynamics and rubato rhythms of indeterminate meter and tempo. A true collective, the conventional roles of soloist and accompanist are in continuous flux, allowing Radding and Davis greater freedom. Periodically repeated thematic motifs act as harmonic anchors; knotty piano arpeggios and circuitous saxophone cadences provide fleeting melodies as pliable bass and drums generate propulsive forward momentum.
Resounding with fragments of bittersweet melancholy and mellifluous lyricism, punctuated by escalating thickets of caterwauling noise, Fiction Avalanche is an emotionally intense and dynamically varied document from the next generation.