Daily Archives: October 30, 2009

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 154Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless, A Free Quartet in a New Recording
Of all the instruments to play, the piano is one that poses particular challenges. You sit down to it and all the notes are available to you simultaneously. You only have ten fingers, plus your arms for clusters if you play like Don Pullen (or Henry Cowell), so choice becomes critical. The moment you push down the keys the piano immediately gives out with a sound, one group of sounds really, that has to do with that particular piano and its characteristics. To get “your” sound takes many years, if you ever get there.

A child when first fooling around with the instrument can immediately and un-selfconsciously pull off a bad Cecil Taylor imitation. Tinkle-slam-chop-blur. Again to get any good at going at it in this way takes considerable time and practice. To go beyond that second level, to be a truly individual stylist in this mode is even more difficult.

This brings me to the CD at hand today. It’s by a group called Weightless and the CD is entitled A Brush with Dignity (Clean Feed). Weightless consists of Alberto Braida on piano, John Butcher on tenor and soprano, John Edwards on double bass and Fabrizio Spera on drums.

Weightless engages in carefully executed sorts of free improvisations that owe something to new concert music though there is a strong foundation in the “jazz” orientation, whatever that means anymore.

Braida’s playing reminds us of what it takes to get a personal sound and a kind of free playing that goes leagues beyond the “kid-slamming-at-the-piano” fundamentals. He picks his way painstakingly through the possibilities. . . a cluster here, a phrase there, an overall attempt not to be automatic or banal and an avoidance of any overt key center. He has tangible success in the “what” category; the “how” category (the personal sound) is not fully present, at least on this recording according to my own take on it. That is not a problem to the music in any sense. Because also to consider is that Braida succeeds in interjecting himself into a set of collective ensemble improvisations, and in that context he is not supposed to stand out but to meld together with the others.

The four players as an organic whole succeed in creating group structures that are not uninteresting. Butcher’s tenor steps out alone on occasion, not to blaze with incandescent speakings of the tongues, but with more considered note making. That is true of the group at large as well.

I would not go so far as to say that Weightless has achieved total individuality as yet. That may come. What they have done here is created an hour of interesting free music. This is not a high-energy, high density slam-dunk sort of freakout. It’s a bit more thoughtful. Those who like the quieter areas of free music and sensitive group interplay will find it pleasing. http://gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com/

Lucid Culture review

CF 151The Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
This is what free jazz ought to sound like. While there’s definitely plenty of composition here, there’s also an extraordinary amount of listening and the smart, thoughtful playing that good musicians do when they’re all tuned into each other. Trombonist Samuel Blaser leads the crew and gets extra props for putting this particular unit together. This is one of those albums that the drummer absolutely owns: Tyshawn Sorey rumbles underneath, methodically like a subway (by turns a steady local train, a work train inching by or an occasional express roaring along) as guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Thomas Morgan add shade and color in a stunning display of minimalist precision. No wasted notes here!

Blaser gets the over seventeen-minute title track to work off a stately, thoughtful five-note riff punctuated by stillness and deftly placed accents by Neufeld and Morgan. As with the rest of the tracks here, there’s more following and echoing than there is actual interplay, the musicians taking turns building off a minute, intricate phrase, almost a contest where the winner is he who can say the most with the least. Which with generally quiet music is an admirable goal. On this song, guitar and then bass maintain suspense two steps behind the beat, which at a lento crawl is a lot harder than it sounds. Blaser’s unexpectedly triumphant windup to the song actually adds an undercurrent of unease (that device will recur later to rousing effect).

The second cut, Red Hook scurries without actually scurrying – Blaser’s trombone runs it alone as the rhythm section stays terse and deliberate with vivid washes of sound from Neufeld’s guitar. They follow it with the pensive, plaintive Choral I (which they return to as a concluding theme), and then the aptly titled Mystical Circle, Blaser remaining defiantly casual, even out-of-focus throughout a series of methodical descending progressions. The dark, murky, minor-key Mandala is nothing short of phantasmagorical; by contrast, Speed Game is tongue-in-cheek, more a series of relays than any kind of sprint. This quiet, deft display of talent is nothing short of a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of 2009. http://lucidculture.wordpress.com

Free Jazz review by Stef

CF 156Pinton / Kullhammar / Zetterberg / Nordeson – Chant (CF 156)
Recorded live in Coimbra, Portugal, this Swedish quartet and the enthusiastic audience do exactly what you would expect: play music and have fun. The four musicians have played together before in one or the other constellation. Alberto Pinton plays baritone saxophone, Jonas Kullhammar tenor, Torbjörn Zetterberg bass and Kjell Nordeson drums and vibes. As Zetterberg writes in the liner notes “This band is half of my own octet, half of Jonas’s quartet, half of Kjell and Jonas’s quartet “Nacka Forum” and more than half of Alberto’s quintet”, so there is no big surprise that there is a perfect fit, even if Clean Feed boss Pedro Costa asked them to perform together. The band does not break any new ground. Even if the music is largely improvised, themes and rhythms are part of the agreed musical concepts. But they play well, and what is more, with lots of intensity, interaction and enthusiasm, really enjoying themselves … and the audience, whether they play uptempo or downtempo, jazzy or bluesy, 60s or 00s, dark or light-footed. Fun.

Cadence Magazine review by Phillip McNally

CF 135WHO Trio – Less is More (CF 135)
The name of the Who Trio, while it clearly is made up of the band members’ initials, also seems to imply the group sound. This is not the Gerry Hemingway trio, or the Michel Wintsch trio. So even though this little collective might appear to be just another piano trio, The Who Trio is actually an extremely sensitive threesome playing mostly group improvisations. They are hearing one another and responding, intuiting directions and evolving the group’s music together. Wintsch has a very light hand on the piano, favoring few notes and slowly appregiated chords, but he has a strong single note melodic sense. What an impressive range of technique and color bassist Banz Oester brings to the trio, and always in the service of the music and the group sound. And of course Hemingway’s ability to “lift the bandstand” is well known. So “Less is More” is a sensitive recording by an amazing trio, and it leaves me wishing all collective improvisation could be this rich and coherent.
©Cadence Magazine 2009 www.cadencebuilding.com

Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins

CF 138
Paul Dunmall Sun Quartet – Ancient and Future Airs (CF 138 )

CF 137
Denman Maroney Quintet – Udentity (CF 137)

Dunmall’s visit to New York’s The Living Theater (1) finds him in a slightly unfamiliar setting given his recent work on Slam. With a trio of longtime associates, this Vision Festival set finds him in a more reflective mood alongside Malaby, whose blend of melancholy and fire has become ever more singular of late (not least in his work in Helias’ Open Loose trio). Norton’s vibes are absolutely central to the textural range of these long pieces. While “Ancient Airs” opens rather slowly, the race is on after a while, with contrapuntalism firing up the engine. Dunmall and Malaby make for a wonderfully contrastive tenor tandem, fierce in the right measure without resorting to mere burning. I reckon it’s hard not to wail once Norton hits the traps and gets things churning with Helias, but this music never loses its focus and there’s always something lyrical happening. As ever, I find it quite an exhilarating experience when Dunmall rocks the pipes, but he does so quite judiciously. After the piece plateaus, it sounds as if the band is cycling through some refracted version of Coltrane’s “One Up One Down,” audible especially with Malaby’s vertiginous solo at about the 35-minute mark. Helias’ sweet bass solo is pleasantly modal after the fury preceding it, and it cues up a somewhat (yes) airy ending. The second improvisation, at a mere 10 minutes, is a tad bitty and doesn’t really get going anywhere. But this one’s a keeper nonetheless.

Having long been a fan of Denman Maroney’s unique sound world—his “hyperpiano” is the most radically prepared innenklavier imaginable—I confess that it’s really only with this recording (2) that I realized how rhythmically acute a musician he is. His bowls, and buzzing devices, and blocks have created a richly tex-tured idiomatic extension of the piano, but these nuanced, percolating compositions are bouncing inventions that recall some fusion of Rothenberg’s Double Band, John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, and Mark Dresser’s Force Green band from the 1990s (of which Maroney was a key member). This high praise is emphatically deserved. Beyond this general appraisal (and really, just go get this one), I have to give it up for the engine room specifically. Radding and the superb Sarin are so good, with power and grace combining almost imperceptibly, that you could risk overlooking everything else as you simply concentrate on their playing. But then there’s the exceptional contrast between the clarion lines Ballou reels out, and
Rothenberg’s intense playing, with horns as rhythmic generators fueled by circular breathing, overblowing, and more. And the tunes are pretty fabulous too, with the post Bop line on “II” sounding almost like a late 1960s Ornette tune. The loping pulse of “III” is a perfect context ready to be agitated by the heady sound of scraped metal, a continual staggering which eventuates in a stunningly inventive “piano trio” improvisation. Absolutely killer alien tones! There are soft percussive thwacks and layered tempi from the horns on “IV” and a post-Dave Burrell mutated stride thing that opens up “V.” The disc eventually loops back to the feel of beautifully fractured post Bop on “VII,” with a brilliant piano trio section again. A fantastic disc, and a strong candidate to show up on my year-end list.
©Cadence Magazine 2009 www.cadencebuilding.com