Daily Archives: March 10, 2009

All About Jazz review by Wilbur MacKenzie

cf-126Braff / Blaser Duo – YaY (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
Peter Van Huffel/Sophie Tassignon – Hufflignon (CF 126) 

Trombonist Samuel Blaser has been making a name for himself for the last few years, building a reputation for inventive improvisations and inspired virtuosity. He has been in constant motion, splitting his time between New York and his adopted Germany, having found his way to the States via a Fulbright Scholarship. He has been active as a composer and bandleader, with a wonderful quartet release on the Between The Lines label and more material on the way from Clean Feed. Blaser is also active as a sideman, working with artists as disparate as Dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry and the legendary avant-big band the Vienna Art Orchestra. Blaser’s proficient and creative playing is featured on two great recent discs, one led by saxist Peter Van Huffel and the other featuring the duo of Blaser and Brazilian pianist Malcolm Braff.

One might expect a piano/trombone duo to be dominated by lyricism and melody, with perhaps little more than a passing flare for rhythmic intrigue. However, on YaY, detailed rhythmic framework takes the listener down an unexpected but assured path, full of momentum and drive, while never straying far from tonality. Braff was raised in Dakar, Senegal and the multifaceted rhythmic layering of West African music distinguishes the duo’s approach. Blaser and Braff evoke percussion traditions on pieces like Braff’s title track and “Yele,” while nodding towards American jazz and gospel music on tunes like their very buoyant take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Blaser’s soulful “Uncle Sam”. Braff’s prepared piano and Blaser’s extended trombone vocabularies expand the textural palette, while at the same time highlighting the rhythmic aspects of the duo’s interactions. At times, the sonic density and variance in texture are so striking, it sounds like there are more than two musicians. The interactions remain nuanced and intricate, with sublimely delicate moments balanced with a general penchant for pursuant momentum.

Saxophonist Peter Van Huffel and vocalist Sophie Tassignon’s new release, Hufflignon, features compositions by both musicians, brought to life by an unusual quartet of trombone, woodwinds, voice and contrabass. Huffel and Blaser are often teamed up with intricately-voiced melodies, while bassist Michael Bates alternates between foundational support, textural bowing and thoughtful melodic statements. Tassignon’s singing is quite versatile; on more structured pieces like “Thoughts And Memories” and the opener, “Dégringolade,” she exhibits horn-like melodic and rhythmic dexterity, while at other times her voice wanders through a labyrinthine maze of amorphous syllabic abstractions. Two examples of the latter approach include “Landscape (morning)” and “The Sad Imposing Tree,” both of which provide wonderfully abstract sound worlds. That isn’t to say that the music is at all dualistic; rather, the abstractions and melodies react nicely together, creating a unified sonic environment that moves freely between steady pulse and more introspective arrangements of sound. Tassignon’s piece “Nervous Breakdown” veers closer to the careening chamber improvisation of the Paul Bley/Steve Swallow-era Jimmy Giuffre 3, with a dexterous solo from Blaser. Van Huffel’s playing throughout is richly nuanced, with melody and texture seamlessly integrated to create colorful and evocative statements.

All About Jazz review by Karen Hogg

cf-118Eastern Boundary Quartet (Konnex)
Conference Call – Poetry in Motion (CF 118)
Southern Excursion Quartet – Trading Post

Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens has enjoyed a prolific musical journey but collaboration could be seen as the inspiration behind his music. Each project Stevens participates in offers a different framework to explore his compositional and improvisational ideas.

On the eponymous debut of the Eastern Boundary Quartet, the music literally crosses international boundaries as Stevens, along with bassist Joe Fonda, collaborates with Hungarian musicians Balazs Bagyi (drums) and Mihaly Borbel (sax). This live recording is a musical quilt combining the spirit of jazz with the distinctive nature of Hungarian music. The disc begins with “Song for My Mother,” a Fonda composition, that starts off plaintively, building to an insistent crescendo and ending with masterful drum work. “The End Game,” a Latin-flavored Stevens piece, features a melodic, virtuosic solo from Fonda and on “Tuzugras/Fire Jumping,” the quartet exhibits an uncanny energy and drive. Rounding out the disc is an improvisational piece and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue”. With two American and two Hungarian musicians, the Eastern Boundary Quartet is a musical melting pot of the best kind.

For Andrew by Stevens’ trio with bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel is a showcase for Stevens the composer. Though the Miles Davis/Bill Evans classic “Nardis” and the Moross-Latouch composition “Lazy Afternoon” are included, the majority of the compositions belong to Stevens. “Spirit Song” exemplifies Stevens’ lyrical playing, “Waltz” is a propulsive piece that lets Siegel demonstrate his nuanced, expressive drumming and “The Lockout” is a playful, insistent tune with a march-like feel. “The River Po,” the closing track, begins with Herbert bowing in the upper registers, creating a dark, moody tone. The compositions exhibit various influences from modern and free jazz, but each tune has Stevens’ distinct stylistic stamp.

Conference Call, on the other hand, finds Stevens as part of a composing collective. All the members—Stevens, Fonda, reedman Gebhard Ullmann and drummer George Schuller—contribute compositions to Poetry in Motion. Stevens wrote the title track and the aptly named “Quirky Waltz”. Another standout track is Fonda’s “Next Step,” a kinetic composition that highlights the rhythm section. Schuller’s “Back To School” allows Ullmann to showcase his prodigious skills. The last tune, Ullmann’s “Desert…Bleue…East,” is a shape-shifting tour-de-force demonstrating the rhythmic interplay of the ensemble.

Stevens is also a part of the Southern Excursion Quartet, a collective of musicians living in the southeastern part of the United States (with saxist Don Aliquo, bassist Jonathan Wires and drummer Tom Giampietro.) True to its moniker, Trading Post has a distinctly southern feel. The Andrew Hill composition “Ashes” is languid, like a humid Tennessee summer afternoon. It builds in intensity, but never loses the relaxed feel. Giampietro’s “A Long and Lonely Nights Work” sounds like it could be heard drifting out of a jazz club on Beale Street. Stevens, who moved to Memphis after years in the New York City area, contributed two pieces to this CD, “For Wheeler” (dedicated to trumpeter Kenny) and “Spiritual,” the soulful closing track.

Sound + Vision review by João Lopes

cf-135Who Trio – Less is More (CF 135)

Who Trio: cerimónia solene
Eles são [da esquerda para a direita]: Bänz Oester (baixo), Gerry Hemingway (bateria) e Michel Wintsch (piano) — suíços, o primeiro e o terceiro, americano o do meio —, e formam o Who Trio. Embora com muitas actividades repartidas pelos mais variados agrupa-mentos, o certo é que desde 1995 construíram uma intimidade musical que lhes permite lançar, agora, um prodigioso álbum que, certamente não por acaso, possui o título esclarecedor de Less Is More.
É certo que a estrutura mais clássica do trio de jazz poderia apelar a texturas mais ou menos formatadas, porventura comandadas pelo piano. Mas não: o Who Trio funciona a partir de uma democracia tonal, sempre em aberto, sempre à procura das suas próprias fronteiras, num jogo de ecos, cumplicidades e narrativas que confere a Less Is More a dimensão de uma cerimónia de minimalista solenidade. E a palavra cerimónia deverá ser entendidade nas suas significações mais radicais, incluindo a que nos remete para a contenção do sagrado.

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

cf-108Fight the Big Bull – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108)
Valutazione: 4.5 stelle

Nelle interessanti note di copertina, Steve Bernstein, leader dei Sex Mob, associa ciascuno dei quattro brani di Dying Will Be Easy ad altrettanti capolavori della musica orchestrale, citando Black Saint and the Sinner Lady di Mingus, New Orleans Suite di Ellington, Communications ed Escalator Over the Hill di Mike Mantler oltre che Art Ensemble of Chicago, Archie Shepp ed altri, per il particolare tipo di formazione orchestrale utilizzato.
Verissimo, e l’ascoltatore più attento e preparato riconoscerà pezzi di storia del jazz in ogni anfratto delle quattro tracce presenti sul CD. Ma quello che impressiona veramente in Dying Will Be Easy è l’impatto che il nonetto in questione riesce a creare dalle prime note, coinvolgendo immediatamente l’ascoltatore in un percorso che associa una fruibilità epidermica, tattile, ad un fantastico lavoro di destrutturazione e ricomposizione del materiale sonoro a disposizione.

L’ensemble respira come un unico organismo ma mai come in questa occasione si avverte chiaro e distinto il pulsare di ogni suo singolo componente. Ottoni e ance creano fantastiche trame timbriche che possiedono il nitore delle più frizzanti giornate di montagna nelle quali si percepiscono distintamente profumi e aromi ma dove è l’insieme che solletica i sensi e ottenebra la mente.

Sarebbe un delitto soffermarci su di un brano piuttosto che un altro, ma non possiamo non segnalare l’apertura della title track, con il trombone distorto che fa da apripista ad una sezione jungle dai toni sgangherati che si trasforma a sua volta in un ruspante beat campagnolo per l’incendiario intervento del sax tenore.

Dying Will Be Easy ha la struttura di un EP (poco più di trenta minuti) e la portata di un enciclopedia del jazz. Ma, soprattutto, è la geniale dimostrazione di come si possa attingere alla tradizione per produrre musica fresca, intelligente, curiosa e proiettata nel futuro. In un piccolo-grande disco pressoché perfetto c’è spazio solo per un appunto: per dirla ancora con Bernstein, “a little more guitar, Matt!”.

Free Jazz review by Stef

cf-136Michael Blake & Kresten Osgood – Control This (CF 136)
This album has all the qualities that you would expect from a fully improvised sax & drums duo: open dialogues, no constraints, the search for intimacy and relevant expressiveness. Michael Blake is a wonderful musician, who – like fellow saxman David Binney – has too many faces to have a very distinct profile, and yet he is truly good in many styles, as an instrumentalist, but especially as a musician, with a great sense for melody and emotional warmth, which makes most of his albums quite accessible, even in the less common format of a duo session, here with Danish drummer Kresten Osgood. Osgood is the perfect match for Blake, because he has the same versatility and sense of lyricism that makes the interaction interesting and enjoyable throughout. One track, “Creole Love Call” has been dubbed afterwards, and although at first listens I found the contrast with the other tracks a little disturbing, but the piece’s theme is so beautiful and the fully improvised middle section of the track is so good that I now look forward to listening to it. The improvised pieces have this inviting quality, centered around themes, with an uncannily focused approach, whether it’s the nice, almost traditional melody of “Top Hat”, or the exquisitely fun, almost visual interaction on “Elephants Are Afraid Of Mice”, or the almost telepathic tempo changes on “Cotton Mouth”, a rhythmic delight. The long last track ends in some in-the-moment fun between the two musicians, including loud bursts of laughter. Great fun indeed.