Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hufflignon concert review on 20 Minutes

057_27032009_peter_van_huffel-sophie_tassignon_groupamrgenevajc_hernandezLe Sud-des-Alpes balayé par des airs de légèreté Venu tout droit de Berlin, le Peter Van Huffel & Sophie Tassignon Group a présenté son CD vendredi soir. Le Peter Van Huffel & Sophie Tassignon Group. (Photo: J.-C. Hernandez)Judicieusement appelé «Hufflignon», il a laissé muette d’admiration une assistance composée en majorité de musiciens. Pas étonnant au vu de la qualité musicale offerte par ce quartet composé du facétieux tromboniste suisse Samuel Blaser, du fameux contrebassiste new-yorkais Michael Bates et de ses deux talentueux piliers que sont le saxophoniste canadien Peter Van Huffel et la vocaliste belge Sophie Tassignon. Les compositions des leaders étaient souvent inspirées par le thème de la nature. Telle un ruisseau limpide, la voix printanière et pénétrante de Sophie Tassignon menait les splendides mélodies et improvisations des instrumentistes dans un style jazz baroque. Le point culminant a été une version magistrale du «Cum Dederit», d’Antonio Vivaldi. Grâce à cette formation très complice et originale, un vent de légèreté et de liberté a soufflé sur le Sud-des-Alpes de l’AMR.

cf-138Paul Dunmall’s Sun Quartet – Ancient And Future Airs (CF 138)
Usually I read the liner notes only after listening to the music, just to avoid influence. The imagery that came to mind when listening to this album was one of quietly floating water, something untangible, elusive and ever changing without actually losing its form. It floats quietly onwards and onwards, taking turns, going through some rapids occasionally, and ending in the most quiet possible context, when it reaches the ocean, all beatiful and peaceful. Now I read (also in the title, you stupid!), that it’s about air, and that fits even better. The band consists of Paul Dunmall and Tony Malaby on sax, Mark Helias on bass and Kevin Norton on drums and vibes. And oh, I almost forgot, Dunmall also plays bagpipes in the middle of the long first piece. But don’t run away. It doesn’t sound like Mull Of Kintyre, not by a long stretch. It sounds like overblown tenor.

Both saxophonists are easily recognizable on the album: Malaby is an emotional lyricist and Dunmall a raw spiritualist, and their tone is totally different, but even when both are playing on tenor, their match is perfect, intense and warm. And their improvisation brilliant. It is extremely difficult to remain coherent for close to 50 minutes, but these guys manage this well, even if there is not much focus in the piece, but that’s clearly not the purpose and it would have destroyed the effect too. Now, you’re taken along on a trip (air or water) through varying moods, levels of intensity, but always with the greatest of attention to the interaction. Helias and Norton too add greatly to the overall sound. The interaction between Malaby and Norton after about 30 minutes is of the same high level as Dunmall’s duet with Helias some five minutes later, and here is an ear-opener for drummers too: listen to Norton’s drum solo, light as a feather, subtle as the wind. And he has the same approach when playing his vibes, with the softest touch, adding color and depth, without creating a real presence. Together they create a vision of wide expanse, in the best Coltrane sense, but lighter even, broader. With no sense of melody, no rhythm despite the variations in intensity, yet so lyrical, so fluent, so sensitive, this music is totally free.

The second short track, sounds as an encore for the enthusiastic audience at the 2008 Vision Festival, and also as a kind of lullaby for the fearless, all sweet and eery.

Highly recommended.

All About Jazz Interview by Sean Patrick Fitzell

herb-robertson2006-139Herb Robertson: Abandon in the Moment

Amid a whorl of scraped cello, tenor sax squawks, and bass clarinet blats, trumpeter Herb Robertson paused, his eyes closed in concentration. With NSA-like hearing ability, he pierced the action with a bracing note that crystallized the unfurling improvisation. The intent listening and bold responses displayed during saxophonist Lotte Anker’s January show at The Stone typify Robertson’s commitment to playing in the moment.

“Once I start improvising I just can’t think about other things,” Robertson says. “Improvisation, to me, that’s what exists: when I’m improvising, it’s music.” Forging a distinct sound, he combines the chops and projection of a big band lead trumpet with the imagination and fearlessness of an improviser, extending his textural range with ambitious use of multiple mutes, vocalizations, megaphones, and whistles.

Since the early ’80s, he’s been a fixture of the Downtown scene as a sideman to saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Mark Helias and as a leader. Internationally, he’s held tenures in bassist Barry Guy’s New Orchestra, pianist Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra West, and guitarist Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra and maintains associations with saxophonists Evan Parker and Frank Gratkowski.

“I don’t like to repeat myself, ever,” Robertson says. “I always try to come up with something new.” In March, 2009 he showcased his range in Gerry Hemingway’s Quartet, the Fonda-Stevens Group, and a rare duo with longtime collaborator Berne. Later this year he’ll appear at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

Raised in New Jersey, Robertson began playing in the fifth grade and was about 16 when he decided to pursue jazz, “the ultimate expression of trumpet.”

Particularly attracted to Freddie Hubbard’s sound, Robertson spent hours absorbing and playing music, often bringing dinner to the practice room. “It was like one of my favorite things of the day, was to practice the trumpet,” he recalls. He still keeps a disciplined daily practice schedule to maintain his dexterity, range, and stamina and to work on chromatic and intervallic exercises.

Robertson attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music as a performance major, and played up to 30 hours a week in small combos and big bands, with visions of being lead trumpet in Buddy Rich’s band. But he soon realized the regimentation of big bands was not for him. After graduating in ’73, he went on the road with an amplified Canadian jazz-rock band. Not exactly a shrinking violet, Robertson struggled to hear himself in the group and strained to get louder. The months of exertion took a toll and he completely blew out his chops.

Unsure whether he’d play trumpet again, Robertson was frustrated and spent roughly three years rebuilding. During this time he discovered modern classical and electronic music, feeling a connection to its atonality. This led toward freer music and exploring ways to cloak the trumpet’s sound. Experimenting with warbling mutes and whispered and shouted vocalizations, he tried to blend in with groups instead of blaring above. In New York near the end of the ’70s, he met like-minded musicians searching for new sounds and strategies to improvise.

“What attracted me to the music was the selflessness about it and the idea that it’s a democratic process where everybody is equal in participation,” he says. “I think that was the main change of the music in the early ’80s: it wasn’t the individual, it was more of the collective that really evolved.”

Throughout the ’80s, he garnered a reputation as an adventurous, uncompromising improviser sparring in Berne’s groups, leading his own, and playing with a slew of others. With a string of recordings for JMT, including X-Cerpts (Live at Willisau) (1987) and Shades of Bud (1988), his brass and drums tribute to pianist Bud Powell, Robertson exhibited a breadth of stylistic influences and, like his cohorts, sought to blur the line between composition and improvisation.

“When you hit the high moments it’s the real thing and you’re really surprised by it, and that’s what makes it interesting,” Berne says. “And Herb just epitomizes that as far as I’m concerned.” Though they don’t play together as often anymore, the two converge every few years to reestablish their rapport and advance the music by incorporating new influences and experiences.

Throughout the ’90s, Robertson performed on a series of recordings for the Cadence and CIMP labels, including co-led groups with drummer Phil Haynes, sessions with Lou Grassi’s Po’Band, and various meetings with bassist Dominic Duval. “There’s a purity to Herb and his approach to music that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you play with him,” says drummer Jay Rosen, who played in Robertson’s trio with Duval and matched him with trumpeter Paul Smoker for his own Drums ‘n Bugles (CIMP, 2001).

Robertson frequently works in Europe with European musicians, and even moved to Berlin for about three years to close the millennium. Playing with and learning the sounds of different musicians pushed Robertson’s composing and performing in a free direction. “Now I’m more into the horn and I’m not writing as much: it’s not written composition, it’s more playing composition,” he says.

Robertson’s “Sick(s) Fragments” is six short sketches written to provoke the improvisation of his NY Downtown Allstars on Real Aberration (Clean Feed, 2007). On “Parallelisms” (Rubyflower, 2007), he termed the pieces “realizations,” again using brief outlines to guide his partners—Evan Parker and pianist Agusti Fernandez—who had all worked together in Guy’s orchestra.

The CD was the fourth release on Rubyflower, a label that Robertson co-founded with creative music impresario Dr. Ana Isabel Ordonez to document his music. Its mission has expanded to include other creative musicians, and six CDs have been released to date. The most recent, Each Part A Whole (2008), documents a fully improvised show at The Stone by his MacroQuarktet with trumpeter Dave Ballou, drummer Tom Rainey, and bassist Drew Gress. The pieces decisively unfold through dynamic peaks and subdued ebbs, imparting structure and momentum without excess. The two trumpeters met in Fujii’s band—their styles are different but complementary, and each prods the improv in new directions. Nearing 60 years old, Robertson is meeting younger trumpeters that he’s influenced, like Ballou and Jean-Luc Cappozzo, with whom he recorded the duet CD Passing the Torch (Rubyflower, 2008).

“It’s good to know that it’s part of a legacy now…it’s developed and it’s continuing, it’s evolving,” Robertson reflects. “It’s a survivor’s music; it keeps going because people keep playing it.”

Selected Discography

The Macro Quarktet, Each Part of a Whole: Live at The Stone NYC (Rubyflower, 2007)
Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars, Elaboration (Clean Feed, 2004)
Herb Robertson, The Legend of the Missing Link (Splasc(h), 2001)
Herb Robertson/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen, Falling in Flat Space (Cadence Jazz, 1996)
Herb Robertson Brass Ensemble, Shades of Bud Powell (JMT-Winter & Winter, 1988)
Tim Berne, Mutant Variations (Soul Note, 1983)

Photo by Hernani Faustino

Temporary Fault review by Massimo Ricci

ta-004Bernardo Sassetti – Um Amor de Perdição (TA 004)
A New Soundtrack By Bernardo Sassetti
Published by Trem Azul, the newest release by Bernardo Sassetti (a personal hero of late) is a soundtrack to Mário Barroso’s Um Amor De Perdição. I can’t tell you anything about the movie – I just managed to find the time to watch the hard-to-get DVD of Marco Martins’ Alice, whose commentary constitutes one of Bernardo’s absolute masterpieces together with the film itself – but the music reflects, as usual, that kind of indefinable spirit which aliments the most poignant orchestral works, an unpolluted poetry comparable to the imagery of a world discovered by perceptive children, their eyes wide open, their soul ready to be affected by an unexpected turn of events or, if you will, a harmonic passage which sounds regal and touching at once.

A knowledgeable use of the instrumental capabilities of the Sinfonietta De Lisboa, the non-invasive presence of reciting female voices (including Sassetti’s partner Beatriz Batarda) and the emblematic awareness demonstrated by the Portuguese composer throughout the course of his career do the rest, once again achieving the aim of sticking the listener to the seat in attentive response to an unremitting progression of scenarios: dramatic to delicate, surprising to obvious, and even the “obvious” appears magnificently delivered. This artist’s name might be relatively unfamiliar in proportion to an undeniable talent yet one wonders if sometimes it’s better that way, similarly to those well-kept secrets we don’t want to share, afraid of ordinary people not understanding the real value of something perceived as essential.

Time Out Lisbon review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

cf-1232Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel (CF 123)
Houve incontáveis jazzmen, sobretudo negros e sobretudo durante a explosão do free, a proclamar orgulhosamente as raízes africanas do jazz, mas poucos se deram ao trabalho de passar da reivindicação e do manifesto programático ao amor genuíno e ao estudo aprofundado dessas raízes. O baterista Harris Eisenstadt é branco, nasceu em Toronto e vive em Brooklyn, mas o seu coração é senegalês. Ou pelo menos, bate em ritmos senegaleses, assimilados ao longo de aturados estudos na África Ocidental e em Nova Iorque com master drummers africanos – isto após ter tido no jazz professores do gabarito de Barry Altschul e Gerry Hemingway.
Neste disco o jazz conflui com os ritmos tradicionais senegaleses (Sabar) e a moderna música pop senegalesa (Mbalax), representada por temas da Orchestra Baobab ou Star Number One.
A formação – com corneta, trompete, trompa, sax barítono e bateria – é pouco habitual, senão mesmo inédita, e conta com dois grandes nomes do jazz moderno – Taylor Ho Bynum e Nate Wooley. O quinteto soa como uma pequena fanfarra cómica que transita (nem sempre com naturalidade, reconheça-se) entre uma algaraviada caótica e melodias expansivas de sabor africano, umas vezes de tom jubilatório, outras solene. “Dayourabine/Thiolena” começa em toada cartoonesca e trocista e prossegue numa marcha desalinhada e risível, “Kaolak/N’Wolof” e “Barambiye/Djarama” desdobram-se em mil cores. Eisenstadt sabe tirar partido do seu heterodoxo quinteto de forma a obter combinações tímbricas inauditas e, sem reclamar protagonismo em solos nem fazer estardalhaço, providencia um original fervilhar percussivo que vai empurrando a música em frente.
Um exemplo raro e feliz de um reencontro do jazz com os seus primos de África.


The Wire review by Nate Dorward

cf-106Michael Dessen – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
It’s nice to see West Coast trombonist Michael Dessen getting a little higher profile lately, what with this new trio effort on the insanely prolific Clean Feed label and a new release on Cuneiform by Cosmologic, the crack freebop quartet of which he’s a member. Between Shadow and Space represents a different facet of his work from Cosmologic or his excellent debut Lineal (Circumvention 2007) since Dessen makes substantial use of laptop electronics throughout. The results are fantastically subtle, imaginative extensions of his trombone’s sound – feathery rufflings, pixelized halos, teasing curlicues and rasps – and he mercifully avoids the bleep-bloop cliches that sink a lot of similar projects. The title track is one of the CD’s few purely acoustic pieces, and it’s a killer: a funky elongated groove sliced-through with silences and repetitions, the effect being a kind of mournful stillness-in-movement. “Restless Years” and “Anthesis” similarly touch on the kind of metrical intricacy that Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa have made their own in recent years, and the presence of their frequent companion Tyshawn Sorey on drums cements the connection. Dessen’s music, though, has a more ambiguous flavor, the players drawing back from the groove as often as they seize on it, even if both tracks end with triumphant intensity. Another side of Dessen’s aesthetic is represented by the enigmatic multisectioned pieces “Chocolate Geometry” and “Granulorum,” whose dreamy structures are full of irrational climaxes and moments of secretive self-communion. The disc is completed by a stealthy Dessen/Sorey free improv and a memorial for Alice Coltrane, whose drizzling, swarming electronics suggest a light streaming out of a stained-glass window. Aside from the fine work by Sorey and the leader, bassist Christopher Tordini brings fine rhythmic flair and emotional undertow to the music – listen, in particular, to the way “Anthesis” unfurls note by note out of his rich double-stopped introduction.

All About Jazz review by Vincenzo Roggero

cf-1231Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel (CF 123)

Un po’ di Art Ensemble of Chicago per l’africanità recuperata e fatta esplodere attraverso il free, un poco di World Saxophone Quartet per la sapienza nella armonizzazione dei fiati, un pizzico di Brotherhood of Breath per l’abilità nel dar risalto alla gioiosità melodica dei brani. Ma riassumere Guewel in questo modo sarebbe riduttivo e ingiusto nei confronti di Harris Eisenstadt, batterista e compositore di Toronto che riunisce in questo album alcune delle voci più interessanti della scena creativa nordamericana.
Perché l’impasto tra i tre ottoni e il sax baritono risulta davvero inconsueto e dà origine a tessiture che escono dai soliti canoni del genere. Perché Eisenstadt, nonostante la presenza di grandi solisti, mette in campo tutta la propria abilità di leader e cura gli incastri sonori e le preziosità timbriche piuttosto che le esibizioni muscolari e fini a se stesse. Perché le geometrie degli arrangiamenti sono essenziali, sobrie, con un’attenta valorizzazione di pause e silenzi che esalta la genuinità tribale delle composizioni.

Riflessione in musica su due distinti viaggi in Gambia e in Senegal con relativa immersione nella cultura e nelle tradizioni locali, Guewel è il tentativo riuscito da parte di Eisenstadt di fissare su pentagramma appunti di un viaggio verso le radici africane della musica improvvisata, interpretate e rielaborate da musicisti dalla mente aperta.

Message from Dennis Gonzalez about Alvin Fielder’s health condition

Alvin Fielder is very ill…

My long-time playing partner and drumming legend, Alvin Fielder, who lives in Jackson, Mississippi, is suffering from acute heart problems, and has been bedridden for a month and a half or so. He was scheduled to play Vision Fest last June with Kidd Jordan and declined due to failing health.

He is too weak to undergo the necessary open-heart surgery, but hopefully he will regain his strength soon…we need him back playing again.

Alvin turned 73 in November of this past year and is known for his excellent drumming with the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet (just before it became the Art Ensemble and they all left for Paris without him), Braxton, John Cage, Sun Ra, Leroy Jenkins, and thousand of other musicians.

Send up your prayers and meditations for his return to health, please!

Jazzreview review by Glenn Astarita

cf-123Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel (CF 123)
Harris Eisenstadt is perhaps one of the more musical drummers within the big picture of modern jazz, free-jazz improvisation and what many cite as, new music. This album signifies the output of the artist’s second trip to West Africa, due to a Meet The Composers Global Connection grant. In the liners, he iterates that Wolof is the primary ethnic group and language of Senegal, and Sabar represents the traditional dance and drumming while serving as a foundation to denote life-cycle events. Eisenstadt asserts “Guewel,” is the Wolof word for griots, or hereditary musicians. Hence, the program spawns an uncannily coherent blend of the drummer’s highly rhythmic compositions, wondrously fused with West African cadences and progressive jazz arrangements. It’s a striking balance, enamored with the ensemble’s labyrinthian charts and odd-metered movements.

The drummer’s works cover a broad tract, where he intertwines off-kilter parade or ritual-like rhythms with group-based unison phrasings and asymmetrical patterns, largely topped-off with memorable melodies. And while Eisenstadt’s music is structured, he affords his band-mates plenty of room to expand and harmonize against a given theme. For example, French hornist Mark Taylor breaks out into a torrid improv jaunt during the opener, “N’daga/Coonu Aduna.”

Awash with highs and lows, a portion of these works are designed with maze-like horns parts amid free-form dialogues. Eisenstadt frames these West African-jazz pieces with tender spots, although he renders a multidimensional aura sans any chordal instrument or bass. The lack of keys or guitar pronounces a streamlined makeup, evidenced on “Rice and Fish/Liiti Liiti,” where the quintet executes an oscillating groove, nicely counterbalanced by Nate Wooley’s rather skittish muted trumpet lines.

Eisenstadt is at the pinnacle of his artistry here. In sum, he drives home the fact, that in the proper hands or minds, music is a border-less frontier. It’s a marvelous integration of stylistic components, equating to an irrefutably unique sum of the interwoven parts. (Essential…)

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

cf-137Denman Maroney – Udentity (CF 137)
Denman Maroney, the sole practitioner of “hyperpiano,” has a singular technique that is a natural extension of the pioneering efforts of such visionary composers as John Cage, Henry Cowell and George Crumb. Expanding on the well-established practice of augmenting the interior strings of the piano with found objects, Maroney bows, plucks and scrapes the strings with brass bowls, copper bars, plastic cases, rubber blocks and other objects with one hand, while playing the keys with his free hand. Transforming the concept of prepared piano into an interactive activity, he yields an infinite range of harmonic overtones, exotic tone clusters and indefinite pitches.

Mirroring his advanced approach towards improvisation, Maroney uses an array of complex structural devices to build his intricate compositions, such as multiple syncopated rhythms, hocketing melodies and preset undertone series. In spite of the preponderance of such esoteric devices, Maroney’s writing exudes a subtle accessibility, employing catchy melodic fragments that occasionally hark back to the early jazz age.

Embellishing these labyrinthine pieces is a veteran quintet, all members of Maroney’s previous ensembles. Fluxations (New World, 2003) featured multi-instrumentalist Ned Rothenberg and trumpeter Dave Ballou, while Rothenberg, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Michael Sarin form the core of Maroney’s recent quartet effort Gaga (NuScope, 2008).

Consisting of seven distinct movements, each section of Udentity highlights a different aspect of Maroney’s multifaceted capabilities. The punchy opener entwines a cantilevered series of staccato refrains over a percolating funk vamp while the following piece unfolds with an effervescent melody bolstered by timeless unison harmonies.

Invoking past traditions, Ballou unleashes pungent smears from his plunger-muted trumpet across the pensive “Udentity V,” as Rothenberg’s clarion clarinet cadences careen through the abstruse avenues of “Udentity III.” All the while, Radding and Sarin navigate Maroney’s contrapuntal meters and interlocking rhythms with deliberate pacing and spontaneous invention.

Despite the quintet’s sterling contributions, it’s Maroney’s efforts that are the most striking, with excursions that often border on the surreal—such as the pirouetting vortex of scintillating metallic glissandos and oscillating harmonics that conclude “Udentity II.” His oblique phrasing on “Udentity V” is complemented by the rhythm section’s languorous groove, like bluesy Dixieland refracted through a cubist lens. The dynamic vacillations of “Udentity III” encompass a wealth of moods, alternating between austere pointillism and kaleidoscopic chromaticism.

Another exceptional release in a growing discography, Udentity is a stirring example of the adventurous yet accessible possibilities of jazz in the new millennium.