DENMAN MARONEY QUINTET – Udentity (CF 137)
Pianist (or “hyperpianist”? Hold on, please) Denman Maroney is clearly trustful in the abilities of an average mind. Trying to explain the polyrhythmic concepts that underscore the large part of this music, he says that “there are at least two and more often three tempos going; the listener is free to choose which one(s) to relate to”. Perhaps this musician is not aware of the fact that the majority of a typical audience is not even able to stay anchored to a rudimentary 4/4 with a couple of shifted accents, let alone a superimposition of composed metres. Many pathetic characters come out with various kinds of bullshit about complex mathematic “mysteries” underlying the perfection of the universe, yet they could not name an interval or an elementary beat if threatened at gunpoint. Such sorts of involuntary victims of artistic diversity are not likely to be grateful for the labyrinthine qualities of this excellent album. Hell, this group doesn’t swing, if not for an allowed minimum.
Right, the hyperpiano. Besides numerous interlocking figurations executed with concentrated investigational attitude, Maroney – who appears positively gifted with a scintillating musicality coming from the insides of his brain – frequently plays the “regular” keyboard with a hand while enjoying the pleasures of extended techniques with another, the whole enhanced by the exploitation of several objects on the strings which generate “complementary overtones that move in contrary motion, one down toward the fundamental and the other up toward infinity”. Already fantasizing in regard to enhancement of awareness and realization? Wrong: the record’s title is the contraption of “undertone identity”, a concept introduced by Harry Partch which is too complicated to tackle in a sheer review. You can still learn the definition and use it in your intellectual conversations: nobody – except a few brighter individuals – go actually checking for the truthful core of these things, otherwise a lot of sapient icons would be swallowed by the very blob of their appalling ignorance.
Let’s not digress, though: the quintet performs fabulously throughout Udentity. Ned Rothenberg (alto sax, clarinets) employs a toothsome transitoriness in the methods applied, alternating altruistic repetition bathed in cutting dissonance and interchangeable anti-patterns which dignify the entire timbral tissue. He’s perfectly corresponding to the trumpet of Dave Ballou, who on a different side of the blowing spectrum avoids any kind of hypertrophic irresponsibleness, privileging lines that – although extremely respectful of the composer’s original plan – shine for intelligent restraint. If Michael Sarin’s drumming is entirely perfect for the overall design of these creations, his sober delivery a true injunction against the smell of moth-eaten “flexibility” characterizing the bulk of jazz drummers, bassist Reuben Radding is to be admired both as a solid donor of corpulent foundations for the general structure and an extemporaneous originator of bedazzling melodic sketches in places where an arcoed elegy is probably going to lead a sensitive receiver to deeper perceptions than an innocuous “pulse”.
Just to give a vague idea of how this stuff sounds, let me tell you that those whose ear-training includes Stravinsky and Zappa should greet this CD pretty warmly. Maroney has managed to tickle our interest with complications that sound good, lively, natural, without a hint of agony. Discomposure and angst are to be found somewhere else; here, we only appreciate an outstanding collective control over a series of well-developed strategies.
SAMUEL BLASER QUARTET – Pieces Of Old Sky (CF 151)
A combination of rare events in this circumstance. A trombone-led ensemble, not exactly a common happening, and my complete, possibly indefensible lack of knowledge in regard to the four musicians who form the quartet: leader Samuel Blaser, guitarist Todd Neufeld, double bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. One never ends learning, indeed.
The music in Pieces Of Old Sky is sombre, brooding, rarely moving out of a shadowy zone where the attempts of eliciting a faint smile get frustrated by heavy pensiveness and crawling dejection. Blaser’s acoustic personality results quite preponderant; perhaps not really him as a soloist but the trombone itself, especially given a not overly extensive palette. The focal melodies are at times near-memorisable (“Mandala” peculiarly recalling “It Ain’t Necessarily So”), somewhere else they zigzag a little, unfolding in reasonably complicated fashion according to an acceptable degree of atonality.
There is room for further excursion, though: Morgan’s bass, directly related to the main instrument in terms of frequency adjacency, is a reassuring presence whose affirmations are defined by the paucity of notes played rather than their geometric disposition. Both Neufeld and Sorey prefer instead to remain at the edges of interventionism, spreading a barely visible powder over the instrumental tissue through emaciated figurations and merely hinted patterns that fade away almost instantly, typically encouraging Blaser’s return to a thematic home of sorts.
Although it’s difficult to talk about “enthusiasm” after having listened to this album, the mood it creates is, if you pardon the oxymoron, uniquely familiar. Essentially, what emerges is the strength of a well-behaved group, a collective aptitude tinted by the authoritative, immediately identifiable timbre of its mild-mannered boss. A finely regulated democracy where everybody knows who is in command, and is all the more happy for that.
Herculaneum – Herculaneum III (CF 140)
In some respects what we have here is music that’s a step on from Jimmy Giuffre’s work in the 1950s, but if it’s the chamber music notion that unites the two bodies of work across the intervening half-century, it’s clear that this band marches to a rhythmically more vigorous aesthetic. The music is at times alive with a kind of tensile energy that similarly invalidates the Giuffre comparison, but what unites the two is a sense of exploration, of goals ill-defined and thus made all the more worthy of pursuit.
As much as anywhere else, this comes across on “Prosecco/mcv,” where looseness of rhythmic input is perhaps more compelling than the solo voices, especially when an off-kilter unison passage has the effect of forewarding David McDonnell’s alto sax solo. He’s clearly fired by what’s going on around him, though not to the extent that he resorts to screaming through his horn. The resulting collective fire is a refreshing one.
“Mahogany” has trace elements of the quartet Paul Desmond had with Jim Hall; the lyricism that was always a hallmark of that group is here in shades, but in his solo, guitarist John Beard favors a harder, less harmonically oblique approach than Hall.
Echoes of time-honored West Coast tropes are rife on “Egyptian Femme,” although in this case it’s the more abstract work of some of Shelly Manne’s groups that hold sway. This doesn’t matter anyway as such is the nature of the music these days that perhaps that represents one of the many avenues less explored.
The ensemble’s balance is best exemplified by “Red Dawn,” where the underlying anxiety of the line is offset by the deft handling of material. The chorale of the horns serves as a jump-off point for improvisation on the part of both McDonnell again on alto sax and trumpeter Patrick Newbery, whose sometimes quasi-militaristic phrasing conjures up the parade ground at some even more dystopian point in the future.
“Eyeball” is the piece least accommodating with the past. Meter is largely abandoned at first, in favor of vaguely ominous washes of sound, before things settle down in a less abstract vein. Again the horns serve a kind of choral purpose which sets them at odds with the rhythmic momentum, but the resulting tension, never resolved as it is, affords the soloists the greater freedom. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=34763