Daily Archives: March 24, 2010

Dusted review by Jason Bivins

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
It’s hard to think of two forward-thinking, outward-leaning alto players who have received more attention in the last few years than the co-leaders of this hot festival set. Back in the day, this kind of thing might have been classified as “Alto Madness” or something silly like that. Mahanthappa’s and Lehman’s Dual Identity combo has contained many players since its 2004 inception, and currently features stellar guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Damion Reid.

The group sound is urgent and intoxicating. And while it’s certainly rooted in the simpatico of the co-leaders — with their intensity and controlled abandon — the quintet plays as a whole from a shared commitment to rhythmic complexity that contains energy and immediacy enough to prevent things from sounding arch or self-satisfied. The saxophonists open up the varied and exuberant set just as they close it, with a nice duo feature that spotlights their similarities (angular and rhythmically pronounced phrasing) and their differences (Mahanthappa more given to melodic exposition, while Lehman sounds tauter and more elliptical). At times they sound like Braxton and Rothenberg, elsewhere like Jackie Mac and Dolphy.

But as soon as things gear up, it’s obvious how crucial Ellman’s presence is to this music, not just his comping or color but those strange little shapes or lines he serves up, adding all kinds of tension, dissonance. His soloing is defined by its own oblique logic that cuts right across the pulse, even as it never loses its relationship to it, coming back with jabs and emphases that keep you on your toes. To point this out is no knock on Brewer (inventive as hell throughout, especially in his solo feature to open “1010”) and the outrageously good Reid, who is crisp and fluid as he holds together these tricky tunes, playing wide open or nailing the backbeats and press rolls.

It helps that the writing is so damn good, never hitting you over the head with the shifting rhythms but instead allowing them to unfold subtly, organically. And there’s a great sense of dynamics throughout, with unpredictable Threadgill-ian changes, flourishes, and rugs pulled out from under. I just love the stuttering punch of “Foster Brothers,” which sounds like the ritual dance of aquatic birds, pulsing with a unique funk that shares bloodlines with Mahavishnu, Five Elements, and John Hollenbeck. But I’m equally impressed with their more spacious, even brooding tunes like “SMS,” with drones, double-stops, and melismatic sax lines that burrow and breathe through slow rising modulations that create an intense vibration somewhere between ROVA and Five Elements’ “Beyond All We Know” (and they collectively push the tempo until a kind of frenzy bursts through the patterns and lattices as Ellman goes Jimmy Nolen with several emphatic “chanks”). They’re one of those bands that doesn’t clobber you over the head with their widespread influences and stylistic asides; they’re simply there, integrated and absorbed so fully that you feel like this group could really play anything.

To wit, “Circus” centers around a beautiful collision between a calliope and an Albert Ayler repertory band playing klezmer, filled with pauses and rising rests amid its froth. And just before the gloriously overlapping pulses of “Rudreshm,” the opening to “Resonance Ballad” has some sax cries that sound uncannily like the guitar feedback at the beginning of Velvet Underground’s “Train Goin’ Round the Bend.” Maybe I’m just imagining that, but what a delight to revel in an album that can heat up the brain so fervently.

Tom Hull reviews on his blog

Sei Miguel – Esfingico (CF 170)
Trumpet player, b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil, based in Portugal since 1980s, lists 9 records (not counting this) on his website, going back to 1988 (AMG has one, not this). Plays pocket trumpet here, a nice contrast to Fala Mariam’s alto trombone. The other credits are Pedro Lourenço (bass guitar), Cesár Burago (timbales, small percussion), and Rafael Toral (some kind of electronics: “modulated resonance feedback circuit”). Rather schematic, and a bit on the short side (39:56), but he’s onto something that might be worth exploring. B+(**)
Jorrit Dijkstra: Pillow Circles (CF 166)
Dutch saxophonist, plays alto and lyricon, has 10 or so albums since 1994, based in Boston. This is an octet with a few American names I recognize — Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly — and a few Europeans I don’t. With viola and guitar/banjo, plus three users of Crackle Box (“a small low-fi noisemaker invented by Dutch electronic musician Michel Waisvisz”). Only instrument that registers much for me is Bishop’s trombone. Otherwise I find it vaguely symphonic, swooning in swirls of slick harmony, but somehow it grows on you. B+(*)

Fight the Big Bull: All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Virginia big band, was 9 pieces last time, now 11-12, with Steven Bernstein the big name pick up. Erstwhile leader is guitarist Matt White, who wrote most of the pieces, save two from Bernstein and an old Band song (“Jemina Surrender”) that Bernstein arranged. Sometimes it seems like their main trick is to kick up the volume; sometimes it works really well. B+(***)

RED Trio – RED Trio (CF 168)
Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, with Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. First album, I think. Based in Portugal, although Ferrandini was born in California, his father a Portugese from Mozambique, his mother an Italian-Brazilian he picked up along the way. Pinheiro plays prepared piano, making the instrument more percussive than melodic. Faustino’s bass sounds like he’s monkeying around too. The result is more avant noise than piano trio. I find it refreshing and exhilarating. A-
Kirk Knuffke – Amnesia Brown (CF 167)
Trumpet player — website announces he plays cornet now, but credit here is trumpet; originally from Denver, based in New York since 2005; has a bunch of new/recent records, including a duo with Jesse Stacken on Steeplechase, plus several trio records with various lineups. This trio includes Doug Wieselman on clarinet and guitar and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Wieselman’s guitar is surprisingly effective. His clarinet provides a contrasting tone which sometimes slows things down, but they mostly mix well. Nice artwork, although the back is impossible to decipher. B+(***)

Scott Fields Ensemble – Fugu (CF 171)
Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. B+(**)

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Fight The Big Bull – All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (CF 169)
I am not a fan of big bands, even small big bands, yet there are some exceptions. Some of Charlie Haden’s albums for instance, or Carla Bley’s. And this one : Fight The Big Bull. The Band started with an excellent, but all too short “Dying Will Be Easy”, also on Clean Feed, two years ago. For their second album, Fight The Big Bull, led by guitarist Matt White, is a little more expanded. The band consists of Jason Scott, JC Kuhl and John Lilley on reeds, Bob Millier on trumpet, Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten on trombone, Cameron Ralston on bass, Brian Jones and Pinson Chanselle on percussion. Eddie Prendergast joins on electric bass on one track. The featured guest star, composer and arranger is trumpeter Steven Bernstein, known from his work on Tzadik, the Sex Mob, MOT.

On the upside, Bernstein is a great slide trumpeter and arranger.

On the downside, it gives the album the same distant veneer of all Bernstein’s work : great exercises in style and genre, with lots of attention to the entertainment factor and a demonstration of prowess that basically drowns feeling and authenticity.

The first album lacked some of the complexity of this one, but it was so heart-rending, authentic and majestic, full of dark drama, tragedy and deep-felt anger, whereas here, the element of distant playfulness is introduced, and it reduces the listening experience to something more middle-of-the-road. The band is still great, the playing good, but the end result is less compelling. I wish they had continued their original concept.