Daily Archives: October 12, 2009

All About Jazz rewview by Troy Collins

CF 150Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet – Things Have Got To Change (CF 150)
One of the seminal artists of the New York Loft jazz scene, composer and multi-instrumentalist Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) left a diverse legacy that lives on through the tireless efforts of saxophonist Tim Berne and multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich. Hemphill’s earthy forays with cellist Abdul Wadud in the early seventies broke new stylistic ground, unapologetically drawing inspiration from funk, soul and R&B. His inventive writing for unconventional instrumental combinations was further realized as a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet and leader of his own saxophone sextet in the 1990s.
An ardent supporter, Berne featured Hemphill on his expansive 1992 JMT recording Diminutive Mysteries (Mostly Hemphill), and reissued Hemphill’s legendary 1977 solo saxophone record Blue Boyé on his own Screwgun imprint. An original member of Hemphill’s saxophone sextet, Ehrlich has continued to lead the group in the new millennium, occasionally recording Hemphill’s small combo pieces with his own groups.

Things Have Got To Change features three of Hemphill’s compositions and a number of Ehrlich’s originals inspired by Hemphill’s writing. Scored for a unique lineup, these tunes mirror Hemphill’s iconoclastic work with Wadud, augmenting primal blues cries and funky backbeats with an ethereality derived from the vivid blend of alto, trumpet, cello, and trap set. Cellist Erik Friedlander provides an effervescent air to these folksy pieces, his buoyant pizzicato and sinuous arco complimenting Ehrlich’s plangent melodies and sonorous tone. From silver-toned lyricism to plunger-muted growls, James Zollar’s expressive trumpet stylings find accord with the leader’s circuitous cadences, while Pheeroan akLaff’s elastic drumming provides the quartet with an understated foundation.

Ehrlich’s varied originals embody Hemphill’s pithy spirit, ranging from the carefree ebullience of the jaunty opener “Rites Rhythms” and the swirling contrapuntal discourse of “On The One” to the melancholy rumination of the epic tone poem “Some Kind of Prayer.” The quicksilver cantilevered rhythms and blistering collective interplay of “Song For Tomorrow” parallel the acerbic intensity and emotional conviction of “From Strength to Strength,” embodying the album’s titular theme of political action.

This date is especially notable for its inclusion of two previously unrecorded Hemphill compositions, “Dung” and “Slices Of Light.” The former is a bracing hard-bop styled vehicle, fraught with harsh angles and skewered rhythms, the later a jubilant exploration of tortuous themes. The date ends with a rousing run through Hemphill’s blues-funk masterpiece, “Dogon A.D.,” fueled by primal downbeats and cathartic horn soliloquies.

Throughout the session, Friedlander and akLaff maintain a supple grip on an array of serpentine rhythms, while Ehrlich and Zollar sing these celebratory themes with palpable urgency, lending credence to the album’s title. Things Have Got To Change is a vibrant, timely addition to Ehrlich’s oeuvre and a potent reminder of the continuing relevance of Hemphill’s visionary work.

All About Jazz review by Stuart Broomer

CF 150Marty Ehrlich – Things Have Got To Change (CF 150) 
The clarity that’s so immediately apparent in Marty Ehrlich’s alto sound permeates his work, so that there’s a quality at once naked and luminous in the music heard here. The quartet with trumpeter James Zollar, cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Pheeroan akLaff and the concept harkens back to the early Ornette Coleman Quartet, each member committed to an intense lyricism, an insistence on the emotional power of blues and hymn. There are moments in the opening “Rites Rhythm” that even suggest something as specific as Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”
The Coleman sensibility, though, is clearly filtered through the music of Julius Hemphill: three of the compositions are his and the influence is heard in the instrumentation. While Friedlander can readily substitute for bass, his cello echoes the role of Abdul Wadud in Hemphill’s band, most notably in the concluding version of Hemphill’s “Dogon AD.” Ehrlich’s own tunes share the evocative power of Hemphill’s and can touch on bop and chamber music, often in close proximity. The 11-minute “Some Kind of Prayer” is elegiac, moving at a slow tempo from a surprisingly orchestral beginning through moments of deep sorrow to an insistent resolution with the burred sound of trumpet at the conclusion. Elsewhere, there’s sudden drama in the rising figure that initiates the moody “From Strength to Strength.”

This is often collective creation and Ehrlich’s clarity is a valuable quality in a musician so fond of counterpoint, alto and trumpet dovetailing together into new territory on the themes. Ultimately one is less impressed by Ehrlich’s execution than by the emotional depth that he consistently summons up, his quartet acting as a perfect extension of his sensibility. The spare simplicity of akLaff’s drumming is a special triumph here, another emotionally eloquent voice. This is significant music with a strong sense of lineage, a band that combines rare articulation with a strong sense of purpose.

The Stash Dauber review

Clean Feed Records
Like a candygram from the gods to start a three-day weekend, a package appeared in my mailbox bearing what looks like the entahr September release from Clean Feed Records, the Portuguese label that’s doing an exemplary job of becoming for the millennial decade what Blue Note, Impulse, and BYG Actuel were for the ’60s and Black Saint, India Navigation, and Arista Freedom were for the ’70s — that is to say, home to a plethora of interestingly-conceived and well-executed jazz releases of the forward-looking variety. (Also, my sweetie points out, they’re packaged in attractive and environmentally-responsible paper sleeves.) These discs are a testament not only to the music’s continuing vitality, but also to its internationalism, reminding us (if such reminders are needed) that the days of American jazz hegemony are long gone.

CF 150Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet – Things Have Got to Change (CF 150)
To begin with, Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet is led by the Minnesota-born altoist who spent his formative years in St. Louis, where he was mentored by Black Artsts Group members Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake before attending the New England Conservatory and studying under Jaki Byard. The debt to Fort Worth expat Hemphill is freely acknowledged on Things Have Got To Change, with Ehrlich and Co. essaying three of his compositions, including the monumental “Dogon A.D.,” a blues-drenched theme in 11/16. Drummer Pheeroan Aklaff has performed with Ehrlich since the ’70s. Trumpeter James Zollar is equally effective on open or muted horn, while cellist Erik Friedlander is particularly noteworthy, soloing with deft, guitar-like pizzicato lines on the opening “Rites Rhythms.” Among Ehrlich’s compositions, the lovely, elegiac “Some Kind of Prayer” particularly shines.

CF 155Zé Eduardo Unit – A Jazzar Live in Capuchos (CF 155)
Ze’ Eduardo Unit’s A Jazzar – Live in Capuchos is a concert recording by a bassist-led Portuguese trio whose previous releases include homages to Portuguese cinema, musician-activist Jose Afonso (whose “Grandola” is the subject of an extended extemporization here), and animated cartoons (the most familiar to American ears probably being their deconstruction of Danny Elfman’s theme from The Simpsons, also included here). The musicians’ approach is often playful and humorous in the same way that, say, Ornette’s music can be, and Ze’ Eduardo’s deep song on bass recalls Charlie Haden’s. At other times, he and his bandmates — tenorman Jesus Santandreu and drummer Bruno Pedroso — can be dark and intense; they’re always adventurous and engaging.

CF 151Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieves of old Sky (CF 151)
More minimalist in intent is Pieces of Old Sky by the Samuel Blaser Quartet, a New York-based crew led by a Swiss trombonist. Blaser’s an expressive instrumentalist who’s absorbed the influence of players like Albert Mangelsdorf (dig his growls and use of multiphonics on “Mandala”) but really shines as a composer; his writing is as interestingly knotty and impressionistic as Andrew Hill’s, displaying the influence of modern classical composers. His best compositions — the 17-minute title track, for instance, or the aforementioned “Mandala” — unfold slowly but deliberately, giving the players ample opportunity to interact within their structures. His accomplices here include Todd Neufeld, an Abercrombie-esque guitarist with a warm, fuzzy, and occasionally dissonant sound, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who’s probably best known for his work with pianist Vijay Iyer. Sorey’s drumming is reminiscent of early Tony Williams, when the teenage Bostonian was was still playing like a composer and hadn’t yet succumbed to being a mere virtuoso; just listen to the way Sorey shadows the leader’s line on “Mystical Circle.”

CF 157Harris Eisenstadt – Canada Day (CF 157)
Also currently based in New York, drummer Harris Eisenstadt is proud to be Canadian — so much so that he’s dubbed his new band and album Canada Day, after the Great White North’s version of the Fourth of July. Eisenstadt’s a thoughtful composer as well as a thunderous trap-kicker; his record has an Out to Lunch/Point of Departure feel, anchored by Chris Dingman’s vibes (recorded with magnificent presence and clarity by Michael Brorby at Brooklyn’s Acoustic Recording). On the opening “Don’t Gild the Lily,” trumpeter Nate Wooley’s muted smears and long tones emit enough harmonics to sound almost like an analog synth; he and big-toned tenorman Matt Bauder are agile and inventive improvisers, but the standout in the ensemble just might be bassist Eivind Opsvik. Eisenstadt’s “Kategeeper” is somewhat reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Untouchables.

CF 159Nobuyasu Furuya Trio – Bendowa (CF 159)
Nobuyasu Furuya Trio’s Bendowa is an anomaly — a set of explosive free improv played by a Lisbon-based Japanese reedman and his Euro (Italian?) rhythm section. On tenor, Furuya moves a big column of air to get a burry, braying tone a la Archie Shepp in his Four for Trane period. On flute, can be introspective, almost Zen-like — reflective, perhaps, of his youthful sojourn in the kitchen of a Buddhist temple — or fiery, singing through his instrument like Roland Kirk. On bass clarinet, he’s plaintive and searching, only rarely begging the inevitable Dolphy comparisons. Furuya switches between axes the way Sam Rivers used to in his ’70s small groups, but within a more concise format (the tracks here average about nine minutes). Behind him, Hernani Faustino on bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums back their leader to the hilt, whether he’s whispering or screaming. They alternately expand to fill every interstice in the music or recede to leave space that throws each sonic event into bolder relief.

CF 158
Julio Resende – Assim Falava Jazzatustra (CF 158)
Twentysomething Lisbon pianist Julio Resende’s Assim Falava Jazzatustra is an eclectic effort, propelled by the kickin’ tag team of bassist Ole Morten Vagan and drummer Joel Silva. The infectious “Sakatwala (Progressive Kuduro for My Family)” — an example of the hybrid African/Afro-Caribbean ’80s style that originated in the former Portuguese colony of Angola — is nearly as danceable as Henry Threadgill’s “Try Some Ammonia.” On “Ir e Voltar,” Manuela Azevedo sings Resende’s opaque melody over shimmering piano chords that bristle with menace. Like The Bad Plus essaying Nirvana, Resende takes on Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” as a solo showcase, then follows it with a number (“Boom!”) that utilizes heavy rock dynamics. “Caixa Registadora,” on the other hand, grooves like a classic early ’60s Blue Note funk jam, while “Jazz.Pt” (named for the local Downbeat equivalent) pays homage to the freebop side of that classic label. Resende’s is a distinctive, if developing, voice.

CF 156

Pinton / Kullhammar / Zetterberg / Nordeson – Chant (CF 156)
Speaking of internationalism, Alberto Pinton’s an Italian-born reedman who lives in Sweden. On Chant, he leads a quartet that includes two, count ’em, two baritone saxes. (One of the tunes is a fitting dedication to Hamiet Bluiett.) Pinton doubles on clarinet, his collaborator Jonas Kullhammar on tenor. The two hornmen and the rhythm section (Torbjorn Zetterberg on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums) have played together in various combinations and contexts; here, they lay down a set of nasty freeblow that’s equal parts composition and invention. Of course, what sounds like a blast from a mid-’70s Lower Manhattan loft is really a natural outgrowth of the Euro free jazz scene that’s thrived since the mid-’60s. (But thank Ayler, Cecil, and Ornette for visiting Scandinavia back then, yo.) These guys have a nicely self-aware sensahumour, too; one tune’s entitled “How Much Can You Take In One Evening?” The somber tone poem “Let Ring” features Nordeson on vibes is a surprising dynamic shift that grabs the listener’s attention.

CF 154
Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)

Weightless is a cooperative group that brings together a pair of Britons (saxophonist John Butcher and bassist John Edwards) and a couple of Italians (pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera). All four are veterans of the Euro free music scene: Butcher has played with Derek Bailey and in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Edwards with Evan Parker; they first performed with Spera and then added Braida to make a quartet. Their collective improvisations on A Brush With Dignity teem with inspiration and energy and are not for the faint-hearted. In “Centri,” for example, different episodes feature the pure organic sounds of strings, skins, and reeds, as well as surreal space sounds that seem electronically generated but are actually produced by using extended techniques on the same instruments. “Vista” ventures even further outside the realm of tonality. The most challenging listen of the discs reviewed here, A Brush With Dignity is also among the most rewarding.

CF 152Charles Rumback – Two Kinds Of Art Thieves (CF 152)
Finally, Two Kinds of Art Thieves is the debut as leader of Charles Rumback, a Chicago drummer with strong avant-jazz, alt-rock, and electronica credentials. Rumback’s quartet boasts a two-sax front line that includes altoist Greg Ward, whose work I recently dug on About Us by Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things (on 482 Music, another label that’s doing yeoman work in documenting contemporary creative music). Ward and tenorman Joshua Sclar play the same kind of intertwining contrapuntal lines that he and Tim Haldeman did on the Reed disc, although here it’s in a more ruminative context. Rumback’s often on mallets, providing punctuation or percussive undertones more than pulse for his compositions. The cover art of a gaggle of business-suited Asians facing the sea is appropriate; the music on Two Kinds of Art Thieves evokes the oceanic feeling one gets regarding an overcast sky that native Chicagoans must get to experience often.

All in all, then, a worthy stack of discs from a label whose output is notable for its consistent quality, and further proof (if more is needed) that rumors of the “death of jazz” have been greatly exaggerated.

Signal to Noise 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 Italy review by Maurizio Comandini

CF 131Steve Adams – Surface Tension (CF 131)
La lunga permanenza in un gruppo di grande spessore come il Rova Saxophone Quartet ha certamente impedito a Steve Adams di svolgere una attività come leader che, alla luce dei risultati conseguiti con questo ottimo Surface Tension, avrebbe potuto certamente produrre numerose e preziose testimonianze che auspichiamo possano comunque arrivare in futuro.
Per l’occasione Adams chiama al suo fianco due eccellenti musicisti della West Coast americana come Ken Filiano e Scott Amendola e li coinvolge completamente, dando loro un ruolo di grande importanza nell’economia di questo trio. L’interplay fra questi tre artisti è di primissimo livello e la musica scorre con grande senso della forma senza mai sembrare ingessata o indulgente.

Filiano in particolare sa utilizzare il suo contrabbasso anche per escursioni con l’archetto e sezioni di pizzicato che ampliano le possibilità timbriche e rafforzano gli intrecci ritmici dell’ensemble. Le doti percussive di Scott Amendola sono ben note e si confermano in pieno in questa occasione dove la sua sensibilità dinamica ha la giusta opportunità per essere sempre in grande evidenza.

Il leader utilizza con grande sapienza tutta la famiglia dei sax passando senza alcun sforzo dal sopranino al baritono e aggiunge la timbrica carica di suggestioni e misteri del flauto basso, uno strumento col quale sa esprimersi in maniera formidabile.

Questa musica sembra navigare in una sorta di aura meditativa ma proattiva allo stesso tempo, sospesa fra l’efficienza occidentale e la saggezza orientale. Non mancano sezioni dove il groove si fa intenso per poi lasciare spazio a misteriosi episodi astratti che sembrano illuminati dalla luce della Luna. O forse è quella di Marte.

Ejazznews review by Glenn Astarita

CF 152Charles Rumback – Two Kinds of Art Thieves (CF 152)
On his debut solo effort, drummer Charles Rumback and fellow proponents of Chicago’s fertile progressive-jazz and improvisational scene bypass conventional norms throughout this curiously interesting endeavor. Somewhat animated in scope, the music iterated here features the dual sax attack of Joshua Sclar (tenor) and Greg Ward (alto), all firmed up by bassist Jason Ajemian’s loose and pliant bottom-end. 

The quartet varies the overall pitch with either riotous free-form interplay or when engaged in probing choruses, enamored by the saxophonists’ yearning lines and soulful exchanges. However, it’s not just a knockdown, drag-out, free-jazz blowing session by any stretch. In effect, the musicians think more about artistic expression, as opposed to embarking upon a relentless pursuit of technical bravado.

During many of these climactically engineered passages, Rumback executes lightly rolling tom patterns to present an expansive backdrop for the soloists’ lyrically rich phrasings, often coated with vocal attributes. They dive into cavernous lows, and sonorous theme-building exercises, while traversing through hidden valleys and occasionally into movements that spark notions of a self-healing process. But they up the ante with a keen sense of the dynamic. And they finalize the set with a buoyant jazz dirge motif on “We Left Green Briar Park.” Loaded with gusto and verve, Rumback also layers a transcendental aura within these pieces. It’s music with a distinct persona, unlike many other offerings of this ilk.

Improvijazzation Nation by Dick Metcalf

CF 151Samuel Blaser Quartet – PIECES OF OLD SKY (CF 151)
The opener and title track, “Pieces Of Old Sky”, threw me for a loop, since the liners indicated it was music “between hard bop and free jazz”… as you listen to this 17:04 epic, you’ll know that it’s more inclined in the direction of “free”… there’s a great little vid at YOUTUBE, and I’m definitely recommending that you check that out. Thomas Morgan’s double bass sets the mood, but even when Samuel slides in, the pace stays at a moderate level, with crisp drums/cymbals from Tyshawn Sorey & great guitar from Todd Neufeld… lots of room for listeners to “fill in the holes” with their own interpretations of what “pieces” are in their sky… a wonderful piece of music. If you want something with a slightly more energetic pace, you’ll really dig “Red Hook” – it’s my favorite cut on the CD… superb arrangements and changes that will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire 8 minutes the track lasts! I’m used to trombone players that sort of “take over” the music, but Blaser is a master at making sure that everyone gets in the mix – and that makes the jazz come ever more alive for me… great balance between the players here. What’s most impressive about the musical experience this great quartet creates for you is that it’s “out”, but very accessible… when they move into the ether zone, their changes are gentle enough for you to stay with, and each of the players seem to be very sensitive to the idea that launching off (too quickly) into massive sound attacks isn’t the sum total of what “free” means… don’t get me wrong – they get there, but they know you’re listening & they make every last one of their transitions something pleasurable for your ears. I am very highly impressed & give this CD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

See! Hear! review by Richard Kamins

CF 151Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Pieces of Old Sky – Samuel Blaser Quartet (Clean Feed) – The Swiss-born trombonist/composer Samuel Blaser aims to seduce the avid listener on this recording, his 2nd CD, with his quartet. Utilizing the rhythm section of Thomas Morgan (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and the additional voice of guitarist Todd Neufeld, Blaser has created an atmospheric collection of tunes that range from the classically inspired title tracks to the harder-edge of “Red Hook” the soft balladic “Choral I” and “Choral II.” One has to pay close attention to Blaser’s music. It’s not about solo fire and great technique but melodic interplay and dynamic variations. His trombone style reminds this listener of the late Albert Mangelsdorff (an admitted influence), not for his technical prowess but for the rich tones and subtle use of multiphonics. “Mandala” has a bluesy feel, with a melody line that references George Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – the piece moves quite deliberately, allowing each player to paint a delicate picture. “Speed Game” does not much move much quicker but has a harder edge, thanks to Sorey’s active drumming. The percussionist can really drive a non-rhythmical piece (sounds contradictory but on this cut, he leads the way from the drum chair.) Morgan’s work is quite delicate; at times, he’s like a second guitar line alongside Neufeld (“Choral II” being a good example.)

In this time when consumers are used to fast-talking pitchmen and agitated political talk-show hosts, Samuel Blaser has created a program that often whispers and does not scream. Pay attention and you’ll discover that this music goes in very interesting directions.

All About Jazz review by Kurt Gottschalk

CF 135WHO Trio – Less is More (CF 135)
Gerry Hemingway Quintet – Demon Chaser
Much seems to have gone down in the decade since Michel Wintsch, Gerry Hemingway and Banz Oester released Identity on Leo. That was a solid piano jazz record with hints of the quietude that was, apparently, to come. For their new release, they succeed in finding a new parcel in that melodic minimalism that has Miles Davis, Philip Glass and The Necks as its borders. The title Less is More may be a bit of a clich�, but in this case it couldn’t be truer.

The pieces (most group compositions, with two credited to Oester) work in repetition and momentum to build their dynamic, leaving enough space that every accent becomes dramatic. Oester’s bass is, necessarily and wonderfully, a solid foundation. Wintsch endlessly recreates melodies, managing quick ideas within slow progressions. Such an expanse gives Hemingway an enormous field in which to play. He is always inventive, but here he sounds as if he’s been instructed to play a solo as slow as he could. The elements come together in an odd, enormously pleasing way, with a sort of placid restlessness.

Hemingway has long been a welcome accomplice in the Amsterdam scene. The concert rendered to record on the recently reissued Demon Chaser dates back to 1993, Hemingway employing names familiar within that city’s Instant Composer’s Pool (American ex-pat saxophonist Michael Moore, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and cellist Ernst Reijseger) for the outing, bringing in bassist Mark Dresser for the other side of the rhythm section. Five of the pieces were penned by Hemingway and are played with a celebratory energy by the band. The sixth, a broad sweep of a take on “Night in Tunisia,” perhaps gives indication of the scope and assuredness with which the group plays. The theme is barely hinted at for the first half of the piece’s 12 minutes, the horns circling without striking. For the second half, they only get a little closer to the original and yet it’s always there. That feeling of collective certainty is felt just as strongly on Hemingway’s pieces, even if the themes aren’t known ahead of time to the listener. Perhaps that is something that always makes the New Dutch Swing work: as long as all the players are thinking of the same song, they don’t really have to play it. Hemingway clearly knows how to use that strength to his advantage.

Harris Eisenstadt interview for AAJ (Clifford Allen)