Daily Archives: May 11, 2009

All About Jazz review by Marc Medwin

CF 137
Inside the Piano: Germinal; Gold; The Ill-Tempered Piano; Udentity 
Agusti Fernandez & Ingar Zach – Germinal (Plastic Strip)
Magda Mayas & Tony Buck – Gold (Creative Sources)
Nicola Cipani – The Ill-Tempered Piano (Long Song)
Denman Maroney – Udentity (CF 137)

Four very different approaches to the piano breed startling and fresh results and prove that there are still many avenues of inquiry and research available to those interested in the beloved 88.

In fact, use of the actual 88 keys is in relatively short supply on these albums. They become features of accent, just one of many ways to access the piano’s complex inner workings. They are used in the opening moments of pianist Agusti Fernandez’ chilling “Volutas” from Germinal, for example, but are then rapidly replaced by long-toned bowings. Throughout this astonishingly diverse disc, it is difficult to tell whether it is piano or Ingar Zach’s percussion that is responsible for individual timbres. The beautifully haunting “Arcano” swims by as glacial tones abound, the performers becoming a single entity.

Of similar interest but not nearly as sparse is Gold, the collaborative effort of pianist Magda Mayas and drummer Tony Buck. To say that the disc is more ‘traditional’ is only to affirm that the atomistic approach of ’60s ‘free’ jazz is in effect here, which has become a tradition in its own right. Maya’s instrument moans, sighs and whispers, in contrast to Buck’s more and more explosive percussives, making “Mercury”‘s epic unfolding a study in long-range dynamic and sonic contrast even as it changes dramatically from moment to moment. Despite references to established modes of expression, there’s nothing sterile about this venture into duo improv.

Nicola Cipani’s exploration of broken-down New York pianos, The Ill-Tempered Piano, results in a fascinating collection of improvisations where necessity is truly the mother of invention. The impression, from a track such as “Scemophonia,” is that each piano is capable of little else and the disc’s success is a credit to Cipani’s creativity. Transgeographical gestalts are sometimes invoked purely as a symptom of a piano’s condition, as on the microtonally mesmerizing “Outsourced Music”. No matter how ‘out’ the tunings, many rhythmic constructions are fairly simple, evoking swing or funk.

The same can be said of Denman Maroney’s quintet session Udentity, yet the references don’t stop there. Is that “Blue Train” audible in the second track? Given the veteran status of all those involved—Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet), Dave Ballou (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums)—it wouldn’t be surprising. Be that as it may, Maroney’s trademark hyperpiano is complemented by the pointilistic jabs, thrusts and sinews of the other musicians, some old-fashioned keyboard work dominating the latter half of this typically diverse and endlessly fascinating album.

Downbeat review by Bill Meyer

CF 127The Flatlands Collective – Maatjes (CF 127)
The word “maatjes” has a double meaning in Dutch, referring to mates and a raw herring dish that is a delicacy in Holland. The title captures the spirit of this ensemble, both its camaraderie and essential Dutchness.
The Flatlands Collective is a quintet of Chicagoans convened by Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra. In the album’s liner notes, Dijkstra explains that while American music has impacted his own since he was a kid, that influence has been filtered through the Netherlands’ peculiar take on jazz.  The sidemen he’s selected are sufficiently attuned to improvisational developments on both sides of the Atlantic that they aren’t thrown by his everything on a plate compositional approach. Whether it’s reimagining Terry Riley-style minimalism as march music on “In D Flat Minor”, laying down soulful Sun Ra worship on “Scirocco Song” or negotiating the abrupt shifts between disciplined, downbeat swing passages and episodes of agitated improvisation on “Druil”, they render his often challenging material with vivid clarity.
The American Flatlanders don’t just play Dijkstra’s tunes; they inhabit them, bearing down on a burner like “Phil’s Tesora” with the all-for-one enthusiasm of real mates. Dijkstra capitalizes on the band’s spirit by playing a splendidly gnarled alto on that track, and elsewhere his grainy, retro-futuristic electronics contrast strikingly with the cleanly executed horn charts. It adds up to a rewarding record by a band with a singular identity.