Sei Miguel – ESFÍNGO – SUITE FOR A JAZZ COMBO (CF 170)
There seem to be damn few well-kept secrets in the improv world anymore, but Portuguese trumpet phenom Sei Miguel seems to be one. After three decades of tenaciously pursing a personal vision blending jazz sonorities and phrasing, electroacoustics, and compositional forms for improvisation (parallels can be drawn between his work and Leo Smith’s in this area), he’s still relatively unknown. It doesn’t help that most of his back catalog is on tiny-run Portuguese labels and pretty much impossible to find. The 2006 release Tone Gardens on Creative Sources ought to have provided a bit more visibility – that spectacular live quartet outing from 2004 with Miguel, partner Fala Mariam on trombone, Rafael Toral on electronics, and Cesár Burago on percussion presented a singular intersection of floating, lyrical line, subtle electronics, and textural abstraction – but for some reason never quite got the attention it should have.
For Esfíngo, recorded live in 2006, Miguel has assembled the same quartet, with the addition of bass guitarist Pedro Lourenço, for another set of scored improvisational inventions. The trumpeter is unabashed about his allegiance to jazz, and while the sub-title of this release ( “Suite for a Jazz Combo”) may not leap out as an obvious choice, it provides the conceptual underpinnings for both how he approaches structure and how the group itself approaches improvisation. Miguel has transposed the small jazz ensemble, placing his clarion tone and the warm musings of Mariam’s trombone against the coloristic scribbles and sound blocks of Toral’s modulated resonance feedback circuit, while the simmering patterns and pointillistic plucked daubs of bottom end from Lourenço are nicely paired with the spatters of texture from Burago’s timbales and small percussion. This is music guided by cooperative interchange, with each line placed thoughtfully against the ensemble, each piece paced around the balance between density and silence, texture and lyricism, and the tactical placement of lead voices against the collective flow. Esfíngo has been on high rotation since it arrived and has egged me on to try and dig up more of Sei Miguel’s earlier work.
Fight the Big Bull – ALL IS GLADNESS IN THE KINGDOM (CF 169)
Swagger isn’t a term often used with respect to contemporary improvised music, and especially large ensembles. One more often comes across it in connection with archival territory band recordings, Mingus or the funkier moments of the Clarke-Boland Big Band. Creative large ensembles are frequently praised instead for either attention to detail or fire-breathing. Both of these certainly occur in the twelve-tet Fight the Big Bull, but neither is necessarily a given. Active in the Richmond, Virginia area since 2005, FTBB centers around guitarist and composer Matt White, and All Is Gladness in the Kingdom is the group’s second disc to date. Most of the names here will be unfamiliar to even the most keyed-in modern jazzheads, though trombonist Bryan Hooten, drummer Brian Jones and bassist Cameron Ralston are also three fourths of the oddly groovy Ombak. For All Is Gladness, FTBB are joined on nine compositions by trumpeter and New York impresario Steven Bernstein, who contributes two pieces and one arrangement.
The disc begins with White’s “Mobile Tigers,” whose breathy reed and trombone textures are punctuated by Jones’ vibes (shades of Charles Moffett) and in-the-red wahs and whinnies from Bernstein’s trumpet. Those dirty blats engender a sweaty slink that remains consistently on the verge of exploding until tenor and dueling trombones punch through in nasty albeit fleet tailgate, a bar walk on hot coals. There’s an intricacy as well that’s wholly modern, as ricocheting rim shots support a clean muted trumpet, clarinet and tenor lines. Some of the reed bluster is reminiscent of a husky Vandermark tune, but that’s not a slight and the rhythms have an intricacy and metallic tautness derived more from minimalism. Borne on pillowy looped guitar and stuttering saxophones, Bernstein’s “Mothra” evolves into a strange merger of crime jazz, Basie hustle and gritty electric bass vamp. A smidgen of Southern indie-rock lineage must have gotten into the arrangement, though, because that vamp does a fuzzy about-face into something straight out of a Polvo song, before White stretches out into wicked metallic skronk over a syrupy horn section.
It seems like Gato Barbieri’s Chapter One has collided with Rhys Chatham’s guitar army on “Jemima Surrender,” but the tune unfolds into wry Canterbury-like horns with snatches copped from Morphine and Klezmokum. Calling FTBB postmodern would be easy, but hardly does them justice – their assemblage hangs together extraordinarily well and is the result of weekly open rehearsals and serious chops. But it’s hard to think about anything other than collisions when Hooten’s trombone multiphonics evolve into pitch-divided trumpet and swamp riffs somewhere out of Beefheart and Dr. John. Rarely has stylistic dissonance seemed so singular and swaggered with such conviction.
Posted in CD's, reviews, Uncategorized
Tagged Bob Miller, Brian Jones, Bryan Hooten, Cameron Ralston, Eddie Prendergast, Fight the Big Bull, J.C. Kuhl, Jason Scott, John Lilley, Matt White, Pinson Chanselle, Reggie Pace, Steven Bernstein
Jorrit Dijkstra – Pillow Circles (CF 166)
Pillow Circles features nine compositions from the leader’s “Pillow Circle” series, vividly recorded in Amsterdam by a vibrant group of Chicagoans and Europeans, and one New Yorker: Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth, crackle box), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano), trombonist Jeb Bishop, violist Oene Van Geel, guitarist Raphael Vanoli, Paul Pallesen (guitar, banjo), Jason Roebke (bass, crackle box), and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion, crackle box). They have an absolutely fantastic group sound, riotous, joyful, and tight as hell. Resourceful and imaginative, they bring to life Dijkstra’s ambitious, complex charts with tons of character and energy. Something about the taut rhythms and urgent chord changes on the opening “Pillow Circle 34” recall Marty Ehrlich’s or Tom Varner’s writing: there are graceful unisons and counterpoint from the horns, some gruff funk (chank-chank guitars and all) and delicious breakdowns. It’s a rousing start, but from there the group moves onto the tiny squiggles and round-the-circle statements of “Pillow Circle 41,” which vividly recalls Braxton’s early Creative Orchestra pieces. One of the things I really love about Dijkstra’s approach to pieces like this is his ear for the deft arrangement or sub-grouping, musical details that completely enliven things: here, as the music verges on a groove, Bishop comes up with low weeping noises as Pallesen’s banjo fusses. Dijkstra gets deeper into the sound of the strings – both woody plucks and electric swells – on “Pillow Circle 18,” which after a fanfare comes to settle into a gently rippling country lament. “Pillow Circle 65” has a lovely circuitous theme for high horns and guitars, with a more chugging riff for lower register instruments wending its way underneath, all clearing the way for a really gorgeous Malaby solo. There’s an interesting dedication to Robert Ashley on “Pillow Circle 88,” which is filled with percolations, repetitions, and beeping or crashing guitars. “Pillow Circle 10” withdraws even more intensely into abstraction, with groans, creaks, and whooshes of air. As impressive as these pieces are, I found myself stirred by the gorgeous anthem “Pillow Circle 19” and “Pillow Circle 23,” a dedication to Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, which is shot through with deep Mingus sensibilities. Top shelf!
Keefe Jackson Quartet – Seeing You See (CF 176)
The vibrant Chicago jazz scene has been home to many impressive young artists, most of whom collaborate in a rotating roster of collective ensembles. This communal approach has yielded a deep pool of talented individuals intimately familiar with each other’s working methods, providing them with a sort of regional shorthand. Multi-reedist Keefe Jackson is one such up and coming Windy City resident, whose striking quartet debut, Seeing You See is every bit as compelling as his work with his large ensemble Project Project and the cooperative Fast Citizens.
Former Vandermark 5 trombonist Jeb Bishop (The Engines, Lucky 7’s), ubiquitous bassist Jason Roebke (Jason Adasiewicz, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Mike Reed, Jason Stein) and Japanese drummer Nori Tanaka (Jason Ajemian, Jeff Parker) are all regulars in the fertile Chicago scene. Their stylistic familiarity with Jackson’s writing lends this date a thematic cohesiveness common to the current Chicago sound. A traditionalist at heart, Jackson’s compositions offer subtle alterations to classic jazz conventions rather than radical re-contextualization.
From the pneumatic hard bop swagger of “Eff-Time” and “Turns To Everything” to the aleatoric meditations “Since Then” and “Close,” Jackson and company instill each of these varied pieces with a sense of congenial interplay and cohesive logic. “Maker” and “Word Made Fresh” demonstrate Jackson’s debt to past masters; the former tune rides aloft a languid Ornette Coleman-esque melody, while the later burns with a frenzy reminiscent of Albert Ayler’s ESP-Disk sides. Delving deeper into tradition, “If You Were” abstracts the blues, while “How-A-Low” and the title track wax poetic as supple ballads.
Jackson’s vociferous tenor saxophone and pliant bass clarinet are ably complemented by Bishop’s garrulous slide work. Together they make a dynamic front-line, their understated ruminations on “How-A-Low” the inverse of the coruscating sheets of sound that dominate “Word Made Fresh.” Their muted statements on “Since Then” drift across the threshold of audibility, while “Maker” finds them trading vociferous ideas at the speed of thought.
Roebke and Tanaka are a superlative pair, providing insistent forward momentum to the rubato title track as efficiently as they keep the boppish “Put My Finger On It” in the pocket. Their elastic timing is omnipresent throughout the date, with Roebke’s pensive behind the beat phrasing on “If You Were” and Tanaka’s vacillating tempo displacements on “Turns To Everything” notable examples of their prowess.
An excellent debut on par with his efforts in Project Project and Fast Citizens, Seeing You See is another magnificent example of the current Chicago jazz scene—traditionally aware, but conceptually forward thinking.