Sei Miguel – Esfingico (CF 170)
Trumpeter Sei Miguel lives in a sonic world that’s all his own. Like the music of Thelonious Monk or Joe Maneri, Miguel’s style is obviously a deliberate construction that begins with the weeding out of the conventional and trite, continues with a rethinking of musical essentials, and results something utterly personal and with very little precedent. The eccentric rhythms, the very deliberate use of silence as a part of the music, and the coordination of sounds in the ensemble are totally individual.
When he improvises, Miguel tends to focus tightly on the middle range of his instrument and string together short phrases of carefully selected notes. Everything is wrapped in pregnant silences, as if he were a painter stepping back from his work, contemplating his next stroke. Sometimes he develops his motifs in linear way, as he does on “Pássaros,” sometimes he juxtaposes seemingly unrelated phrases, as he does on “Indagação.” Sometimes he plays very little. On “Amor” he remains silent except for playing a phrase of no more than five notes about two-thirds of the way through the piece.
His manipulation of his tone is just as controlled and unique as every other aspect of his music. It’s a lovely, warm sound, surrounded by a soft, frayed ruffle that gives it a rounded edge. Sometimes he swallows a note, making a phrase sound vulnerable or tonally ambiguous. But there is a quiet strength in the sound that lends his eccentric statements a powerful authority.
His group, featuring alto trombonist Fala Mariam, Rafael Toral on modulated resonance feedback circuit (what we might have called “live electronics” in simpler times), electric bassist Pedro Lourenço, and percussionist Cesár Burago, besides giving Miguel an unusual palette of sounds to work with, are clearly well schooled in his novel approach. The overall effect is art that is closely imitating nature. An irregular rhythm played on a frame drum, never repeating itself exactly, picks its way along as electric bass notes drop like water off a leaf. The electronics whistle and flutter like wind in the trees, and the alto trombone twitters away like a bird. It’s as if each sound has a purpose or life of its own and you are listening to a random confluence of noises as you walk in the woods. There is the same sense of stillness. And the timing of each sound often cannot be anticipated, as each note appears and disappears as if obeying its own law. The music is, of course, not random, but the product of artfulness, the hardest kind of all – the art that doesn’t sound like art. This is brilliant, idiosyncratic music from an independent minded composer-instrumentalist.
Will Holshouser Trio + Bernardo Sassetti – Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (CF 160)
Inspired by the sights, sounds, and people of Lisbon, Portugal, American accordionist Will Holshouser collaborates with Portuguese pianist Bernardo Sassetti on a recording that is equal parts jazz (European and American), folk (again European and American—both North and South American), and chamber music. While it may take an ethnomusicologist to sort out all the roots and influences, it can easily be described as “grinning Portuguese music.”
Holshouser’s trio consists of two fine musicians that are unheralded, trumpeter Ron Horton (Andrew Hill and New York’s Jazz Composers Collective) and bassist David Phillips (Freedance). Their previous releases Reed Song (Clean Feed, 2002) and Singing To a Bee (Clean Feed, 2006) display an eclecticism common to modern jazz.
With the addition of Sassetti, a pianist comfortable in classical and jazz who also writes film scores, Holshouser’s concept of chamber jazz is realized with true folk sensibilities both inside and out. It may be the Portuguese sailing traditions of gathering influence from distant ports and seeding ideas with commerce that is at the heart of this recording. On “Danca Palaciana,” by Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes, the band might begin at Mozart but they end with the dirty rice trumpet of Louis Armstrong at the port of New Orleans. Thus is the mingling of cultures. The romantic folk of the accordion gives way to the classical piano then Ron Horton’s gutbucket snarling trumpet. The quartet has set sail, bringing Europe to the New World. Hello, we’ve found the blues!
The remaining tracks are compositions from either Holshouser or Sassetti. Both are of the same mind, melding the tango with klezmer, folk with blues, or jazz and chamber music to create populist sounds. With musicians of such quality, it is no chore to slip from one style into the next, producing sweet, patient melodies in “The Oldest Boat,” then jagged complex runs “Irreverente,” and finally the heartbreaking ballad “The Department Of Peace.”
The disc closes as it opened, at the intersection of classical and folk with “Drunkard’s Hymn,” a church located next door to a tavern. The patrons rush between the two, imbibing the tonic of the preacher and the pitcher. The band plays the proper hymn before Horton’s slurred tones open the bar, and the band gives way to a sort of Americana, a folk music surely with roots in the Old World.
Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage – Drunk Butterfly (CF 116)
The bassist gets top billing due to his knack for setting up grooves that turn free-oriented saxophonists on rather than off. He did that with Vinny Golia in Zero Degree Music; here, he gets the most accessible work ever out of Whitecage. In her liner notes, Slim calls this “avant swinging bebop.” That’s right. A MINUS
Kirk Knuffke – Amnesia Brown (CF 167)
Kirk Knuffke, Amnesia Brown (Clean Feed). Knuffke’s trumpet tone is notable for softness, fullness and evenness. The audacity of risk in his improvisational concept would be the envy of the Flying Wallendas. The contrast between his sound and the content of his work is a source of fascination throughout this collection of miniatures. Even though his collaborators number only two, Knuffke has plenty of company in 16 little art songs without words, all his compositions. Drummer Kenny Wollesen is a three-decades veteran of adventures with musicians as various as John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Jessica Williams, Tom Waits, Sean Lennon and the Crash Test Dummies. Doug Wieselman’s track record includes work with Zorn, Jenny Scheinman, Wayne Horvitz and other prominent artists who typically populate the edge of New York’s downtown jazz community. From track to track, he alternates between clarinet (generally calm) and guitar (tending toward mania).
The three develop their solos and interactions from themes built on folk simplicity in “Leadbelly” and “Totem,” instrumental chanting in “Practical Sampling” and serene trumpet layered over guitar distortions and raucous drum and cymbal patterns in “Please Help, Please Give.” The album’s opening “How it Goes” begins with trumpet/clarinet counterpoint that could be Knuffke reflecting on Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre circa 1954, however unlikely that may seem. It ends with lyricism, Knuffke and Wieselman giving sotto voce unison farewell to the delicate melody of “Anne.” The unusual name of the album’s title tune? It memorializes one of Knuffke’s great-grandfathers, who claimed that he forgot he had a wife and family after he established a second set in another town and changed his name. The piece has a nostalgic, even old-timey, quality and a certain goofiness in the solos that is underlain with a Wollesen percussive effect like rapid water over loose stones.
In a development that may be an indication of growing maturity in free jazz, the longest track runs less than five minutes. Perhaps, after all, full expression doesn’t require extraordinary length. One thinks of Miles Davis’s celebrated advice to John Coltrane when Coltrane explained that he had trouble stopping his solos; “You might try taking the horn out of your mouth.” These guys do, and it works.
Hear Fight the Big Bull for Exciting Big Band Outness, 2010 Style
Fight the Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Guitarist Matt White and trumpet extraordinaire Steven Bernstein put together some provocative charts for the avant-contemporary big band Fight the Big Bull and their new album Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed). White and Bernstein are joined by ten other game musicians in a powerful, rough-and-ready set of pieces that utilize both free timelessness and hard riffing, almost rock intense lines for a very exciting romp through musical thickets overflowing with ideas.
Like some of Steven Bernstein’s large ensemble music and Carla Bley’s band at its best, there is a healthy unity of the written and the improvised, the free and the rooted pulse music of the modern vernacular. And it’s an extroverted, brash, boldly emblazoned sound they get.
Bernstein’s raucous trumpet and White’s effects drenched psyche-soundscape guitar find good company in the other soloists featured on the various tracks. All are lucid. The ensemble sonority and the many twists and turns in the charts make for an excellently conceived, heartily executed, exciting CD.
THIS is what a modern big band sounds like. Fight the Big Bull doesn’t try to recreate successful, hoary old bop charts or swing era niceties. It’s music of today. It’s excellent music of today.
Posted in CD's, reviews
Tagged Pinson Chanselle, Cameron Ralston, Brian Jones, Bob Miller, Reggie Pace, Bryan Hooten, J.C. Kuhl, Matt White, Fight the Big Bull, Steven Bernstein, Eddie Prendergast, Jason Scott, John Lilley