Daily Archives: February 9, 2009

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

cf-1321John O’Gallagher – Dirty Hands (CF 132)
Saxophonist John O’Gallagher, a veteran New York player, has been heard in Joe Henderson and Bob Belden’s big bands as well as with the much under appreciated players Pete McCann and Ron Horton. He has made some ambitious recordings, including Abacus (Arabesque, 2003), with Ben Monder, and Line of Sight (FSNT, 2005), with Tony Malaby, as well as previous trio sessions on CIMP.

On Dirty Hands, O’Gallagher presents the jazz equivalent to rock’s power trio. Stripping his compositions down to sax, bass and drums bares all. Fortunately, both his designs and playing hold up extraordinarily well in this open environment.

O’Gallagher toured as a trio with longtime bassist Masa Kamaguchi and veteran drummer Jeff Williams before recording this session in Portugal. The music is a fine mix of composed and improvised music. As O’Gallagher has a passion for tight compositions, the penned works are determined and crafty pieces.

From the gun he slams the ears with the high octane “Bed Bugs,” which is part Jackie McLean, part Steve Coleman. His “any questions?”‘ attitude is carried through to the waltz-like “Borderline,” reminiscent of early Ornette Coleman. Even though O’Gallagher is capable of carrying the entire affair, this is a working group, and Kamaguchi and Williams shine throughout.

Three of the tracks are purely improvised, yet they are not without structure. The bassist opens “Orientations,” and the interplay sculpts a coherent chamber piece that maintains momentum. Conversely the longest piece, “Lessons Of History,” is a nearly 16-minute improvisation that meanders, picking up momentum as it advances. The composed pieces are complex on “F Line,” muscular on “Borderline” and soulful on “Time Finds Its Way.”

O’Gallagher, Williams and Kamaguchi have made a power trio statement as strong as any working trio in jazz today.

Point of Departure review by Art Lange

cf-132John O’Gallagher Trio – Dirty Hands (CF 132)
Dirty Hands isn’t a revelatory album, but it is a remarkable one. By taking a middle path between the buoyantly rhythm-induced free phrasing of Ornette Coleman and the casually intense linear labyrinths of Lee Konitz, alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher achieves a personal approach to loose-limbed, lyrical improvisation that derives from both but sounds like neither. Setting aside his previous interest in extended compositional maneuvers (with influences ranging from Shorter to Schönberg), he and his partners (bassist Masa Kamaguchi, drummer Jeff Williams) shrewdly balance individual spontaneity and ensemble empathy; they respect each other’s space, negotiate an instinctive course of action, and subtly complement the prevailing direction – whether it involves surprising twists of melody (“Swelter”), surging rhythmic impulses (“F Line”), or sparsely etched, nearly transparent details (the first half of “Lessons of History”). The group sound is colored by Kamaguchi’s fragile, spider-web patterns and Williams’ chiaroscuric brushwork. As the primary instigator, though, O’Gallagher keeps things moving by continually adjusting the nature of the melodic line. He may begin by linking together a few angular intervals, toss in a couple of asides that comment upon but don’t develop the melody, then quicken the pace and thicken the line with embellished notes and heightened dynamics. As it gradually takes shape, he may drift into wistfulness, or stretch it taut and sinewy like a clenched muscle. He has a poet’s ear for phrasing in free verse, and alters his tone at will – biting and brittle with a cry at the top of his range (“Bed Bugs”), tart and piping (“”Borderline”), or rounded and fruity, like a ripe zinfandel (“F Line”). But it’s not a music of extremes; compact gestures and alert circumspection provide character enough.

Point of Departure review by Stuart Broomer

cf-133Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forest (CF 133)
Darren Johnston is a Bay-area trumpeter who has studied at Mills College and has worked and recorded with some distinguished company, including Adam Lane and OrchestRova. He has previously recorded a single CD as leader, Reasons for Moving (NotTwo) with a quintet that included Fred Frith and Larry Ochs. While that recording placed an emphasis on improvisation, there’s a greater concentration on Johnston’s compositions here, executed here by his regular quintet – Ben Goldberg, clarinet; Sheldon Brown, bass clarinet and tenor; Devin Hoff, bass; and Smith Dobson V, drums.

As both composer and trumpeter Johnston seems to come from some of the best places, Don Cherry and Booker Little, though the latter influence may be transmuted through Kenny Wheeler and Dave Douglas. Perhaps because of the quality of those forebears, Johnston already has his own sound and sense of form. The sound is tart, at times to the point of acidic, and it contributes to the intensity and focus of his lines, which are consistently probing, always reaching towards form. He can use mutes to touch on the timbres of early jazz as well as using extended techniques to stretch momentarily towards multiphonics. There’s a certain Klezmer-like quality to his compositions, often rooted in minor keys and emphasized by the sound of Goldberg’s dry clarinet. Added to that there’s a certain spikiness and jerkiness, a mix of the pensive and kinetic that can suggest both post-bop and the music of Hanns Eisler. There are frequent collisions in Johnston’s conflicting rhythms and figures, but that too is relieved by moments of lightly consonant swing.

Given the amount of thought that Johnston is clearly putting into his work, it’s a relief that it rarely sounds studied. The compositions act as triggers for consistently taut improvisation, from the rhythmic dance between horn and rhythm to improvised solo against composed ensembles to some stunning collective improvisations that—aided by Goldberg’s slithering clarinet–are joyous enough to suggest a free jazz take on New Orleans polyphony. Few musicians could get as much out of a small ensemble: the opening “Be the Frog” is filled with timbral contrasts, including the unison figures that rise to meet Johnston’s trumpet solo; “Foggy,” with the addition of Rob Reich’s accordion, effectively alternates lead voices against ensemble punctuations in a way that’s genuinely orchestral. Micro-groupings also figure in Johnson’s strategies, from an unaccompanied segment of clarinet and tenor to a pensive interlude of bass clarinet and string bass. Johnston even takes the unusual step of having the final “Sippin’ with Lou” end with the ensemble fading into silence until Brown’s wistful tenor is left starkly alone. It’s as beautiful as it is unlikely.