Daily Archives: May 18, 2010

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Keefe Jackson Quartet – Seeing You See (CF 176)
Wide open and blustery jazz that struts across this ten track disc featuring Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Roebke on bass and Nori Tanaka on drums. “Maker” opens the disc at a medium tempo with the horns improvising together before Jackson breaks out and develops a tenor solo with hints of Albert Ayler before giving way to brash and confident trombone. Bishop takes center stage on “If You Were” playing raw and and fast with slurred accents. Elastic bass and drums make for a wide canvas for the horn players to use to their advantage. Fast, sputtering trombone and a storming free jazz saxophone solo anchor the exciting “Word Made Fresh.” Uptempo and fiery, “Eff-Time” features the band at their strongest, pushing the music to a fast, raw and electric conclusion. The musicians take the music on a more abstract journey on the tracks “Sense Then” and “Close” as the music stakes out open territory opening and building to slow soundscapes, using minimalist and spare playing, building a Zen like feel. “How-a-Low” has Jackson switching to bass clarinet and probing the slow and atmospheric end of the music, giving the music a spare and wide open feel accented by light trombone smears. This exciting and fresh album is a fine example of the creative jazz coming out of Chicago, and bodes well for the future of exploratory jazz in that city.

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Dual Identity – Dual Identity (CF 172)
Both Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman have unique conceptions of saxophone playing and improvisation that draws on linguistics, science and mathematics in addition to the more traditional blues, bop and ballads. These ideas expand the options that the group has and makes for a fresh and exciting sound. Joining them on this live recording are Liberty Ellman on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. “The General” and “Foster Brothers” lead off the album and mark something of a statement of purpose with fast paced and strong saxophones twirling like a helix, developing into a new modern jazz form of DNA. “SMS” is slow and moody improvisation with a dark toned guitar solo and ominous probing bass and drums. Pinched alto swirls are added, picking up speed to form a fast improvised performance. “Post Modern Pharaohs” is one of the highlights of the album, a fast and very dexterous improvisation with saxophones bouncing and gliding, prodded on by rapid and agile drumming. Ripe altos tear at the fabric of the music in a very exciting fashion. “Extensions of Extensions of” opens with a strong and supple drum solo, before making way for accelerated improvised alto shredding over a guitar based foundation. The music builds to dueling altos, then makes way for a guitar feature, spreading fast and sharp shards of music like broken glass winking in the light. “Katchu” slows the pace down focusing on long tones of saxophone accented by cymbals. The horns probe space and time, stretching and kneading the music at will while Ellman’s guitar prods and probes the opening. “Rudreshm” starts out slow and stately and then gradually ramps up to a potent alto led performance. “1010” has a deep and elastic bass solo before the rest of the band returns speeding up to an energetic collective improvisation. “Dual Identities” finishes up the album with a coda for two saxes swirling like aerial acrobats. This was a very exciting live album that captured a dynamic band in full flight. The music covers a wide range of territory and made for compelling listening. The co-leaders have combined their unique approaches to jazz and use this to make a conceptual leap into exploring unexpected sonic territory.

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Deluxe (CF 174)
Bassist Chris Lightcap brings together a heavy hitting modern jazz band called Bigmouth featuring Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone, Andrew D’Angelo alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on keyboards and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The band gets a really nice and unique sound with horns harmonizing together on some tracks and playing against each other on others. Taborn uses Fender Rhodes electric piano to excellent effect building different shadings and textures that add atmosphere to the music. “Platform” has a cool electric piano opening with a multi-horn melody. Graceful saxophone builds up to a raw toned tenor solo. “Silvertone” has open bass and drums and horns building a slightly melancholy feel. A saxophone builds to an aching and emotional solo before the rest of the horns join and build to an exciting finish. “Year of the Rooster” slows to a mellow mysterious feel, making the music moody and shimmering like light diffused through early morning mist. Taborn shifts to acoustic piano abetted by thick bass on “The Clutch” laying the groundwork for intricate horn soloing. Medium tempo harmonizing saxophones usher in “Two Face” bobbing and weaving through the music before building to an energetic and freer conclusion. “Deluxe Version” has an intricate improvisation featuring a subtle, shaded electric piano solo. Cool sounding saxophones riff hard and strong creating a propulsive swing feel. “Fuzz” wraps things up in a potent fashion with strong bass and drums, and the saxophones spewing notes in an energetic fashion. This was a very well done disc and is easily recommended, the band makes for a interesting sound world and the compositions and improvisations are consistently compelling.

Chicago Reader preview on the CF Chicago Fest by Peter Margasak

Foreign Investment
The Chicago jazz scene gets a vote of confidence from Portugal’s Clean Feed Records.

Music festivals are thick on the ground in Chicago these days, from summer behemoths like Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza to niche events like the Neon Marshmallow Fest and the Umbrella Music Festival. Record labels have gotten in on the action too, celebrating milestone anniversaries by presiding over lineups drawn from their rosters past and present: Thrill Jockey, Touch and Go, Bloodshot.

This weekend a jazz label is hosting yet another festival, but oddly the presenter isn’t Delmark, Southport, Atavistic, Blujazz, or any of the other Chicago imprints that support the city’s thriving jazz scene—it’s a label from Lisbon, Portugal. Over the past few years Clean Feed Records has emerged as one of the world’s most prolific, adventurous, and consistent outlets for forward-looking jazz and improvised music—it’s established such a gold-plated reputation that fans will buy anything it releases. Ken Vandermark, Charles Rumback, Jason Stein, and Lucky 7s are among the increasing number of Chicagoans with records on Clean Feed, and many others have served as sidemen for non-Chicagoans on Clean Feed sessions.

It might seem strange for all these locals to end up on the same overseas label, but given that Chicago’s jazz scene and Clean Feed Records both have high international profiles—and that few other labels anywhere in the world put out so many top-shelf albums of this sort of music—it was actually almost inevitable. For the inaugural Clean Feed Festival in Chicago, eight bands with connections to the label—including locals Locksmith Isidore, Herculaneum, and the Keefe Jackson Trio—will play Friday and Saturday at the Cultural Center, Heaven Gallery, and the Hideout.

Pedro Costa started Clean Feed in 2001, and in the past few years his catalog has surged to nearly 200 titles. About half his roster is from the States, and predictably most of those artists are New Yorkers; the label has already presented five festivals in New York City, the most recent just last weekend. Costa first came to Chicago in September 2009, visiting with a couple musicians who’d traveled with him to the previous New York fest.

“I loved the relaxed mood of everybody compared to New York. It has somehow a much more European feel, and a much less competitive lifestyle,” he says. “Chicago tends to be more and more an important center for this kind of music, with lots of connections to northern European countries like Sweden and Norway. It has one of the stronger scenes in the world today.”

Costa started thinking early last year about setting up a festival here. For help he turned to jazz drummer and Pitchfork Music Festival organizer Mike Reed. “Pedro had the idea of doing this last September, when they were doing one in New York,” says Reed. “I told him that he’d be getting a late start and it was kind of the worst time to do it because there was already so much stuff happening already.” Reed suggested May, because it would be in advance of the busy summer season.

Reed doesn’t even have any recordings on Clean Feed. “I just can’t say no sometimes,” he says. “Chicago has its players and its scene and its own identity, but it also remains a welcoming place to other people out there.” Plus, as he sees it, helping out visitors can pay off for Chicago musicians when they travel to other countries.

Costa also owns a record shop in Lisbon called Trem Azul (“Blue Train”), which breaks even, and a distribution company that turns a modest profit. He supplements his income by producing about 40 jazz concerts annually in Portugal and across Europe, and that allows him to run Clean Feed as a labor of love—that is, in the red. The label expects to lose money on this festival, just like it does in New York: it’s helping cover the artists’ fees, so they’ll get paid more than just door charges or donations would allow.

For Costa, though, the event is a different kind of investment, and he’s happy with the returns he’s seen so far in New York. “The results have been great,” he says. “We’re trying to create this family spirit about the label and musicians. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with our people, musicians, and audiences.”

Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630 

6:30 PM Keefe Jackson Trio Despite mad skills as a soloist, local reedist Keefe Jackson has sometimes been tentative and disappointing as a bandleader—when calling the shots for the sextet Fast Citizens and the big band Project Project, he’s failed to live up to the potential suggested by his powerful, elastic improvisations. But on the new Seeing You See (Clean Feed), where he leads a quartet with trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Nori Tanaka, he finally has the compositions and the structural focus to do justice to his playing. It’s a huge leap for him. He’s written ten sturdy postbop vehicles—swinging, bluesy, elegant, and wide open—whose extended solos are stoked by rhythmic variations and terse interjections from the rest of the group, and for lengthy passages Jackson and Bishop play off each other with preternatural grace. The band will be a trio tonight; Tanaka, a former Chicagoan, has moved back to his native Japan and cut this session during a brief return visit in April 2008.

7:30 PM Ingrid Laubrock, Kris Davis, and Tyshawn Sorey The lineup of this New York trio is mighty intriguing, but its first album, Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed), is so new I wasn’t able to hear it by press time. On recordings under his own name, versatile and open-eared drummer Tyshawn Sorey merges minimalist rock with Morton Feldman-style pointillistic abstraction, and he wields immense power whether he’s swinging madly or tumbling free of tempo or pulse. Pianist Kris Davis has made a series of excellent albums for Fresh Sound New Talent—the latest is the 2008 quartet outing Rye Eclipse, with saxophonist Tony Malaby—where she likewise connects driving mainstream jazz with idiosyncratic and tempestuous improvisation. And terrific saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, a German who’s been based in New York for the past few years, has no trouble navigating between cosmopolitan postbop and the brainy, turbulent free jazz she kicked up on the excellent 2008 trio album Sleepthief (Intakt); this is her Chicago debut.

Hideout 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12

9:30 PM Herculaneum No Chicago outfit embodies the connections between the city’s jazz and rock scenes like Herculaneum, led by drummer Dylan Ryan—whose other projects include Icy Demons, Bronze, and Michael Columbia. Saxophonist Dave McDonnell, Ryan’s bandmate in Michael Columbia, also cofounded Bablicon; flutist and reedist Nate Lepine has played for Cursive, Manishevitz, and Head of Femur, among others. But they’re not just farting around with jazz when they don’t have rock shows to play, and they prove it with their latest album, the superb Herculaneum III (Clean Feed). Ryan’s tunes have never been more elegant, and his resourceful arrangements make the band sound much larger than it is—which is saying something, since the current lineup is a sextet, rounded out by trombonist Nick Broste, trumpeter Patrick Newbery, and bassist Greg Danek. The four frontline players all make excellent use of their solo space—particularly the hot-blowing McDonnell, who’s something of a wild card, and Broste, who’s got a fat tone, a lyrical style, and a broad knowledge of the instrument’s history in jazz. But just as rewarding (and more impressive) is the dense ensemble writing, which not only helps propel the soloists but gives each piece a multifaceted richness, with different sections in the same tune drawing on traditions as disparate as postbop and contemporary classical. Herculaneum also plays Thu 5/13 at Quenchers and Fri 5/14 at Reckless Records on Milwaukee.

10:30 PM Luis Lopes, Jeb Bishop, and Josh Abrams On last year’s What Is When (Clean Feed), Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes pushes his sound into overdrive—his tone is taut and saturated, almost psychedelic, even when it’s not distorted—but as on his 2008 debut, he doles out notes in measured, thoughtful doses, whether his style is clean and lyrical or dirty and choppy. I’ve only heard Lopes leading two very different groups—on What Is When he’s joined by American bassist Adam Lane and Israeli drummer Igal Foni—so I can’t predict what he’ll do in this trio with trombonist Jeb Bishop and bassist Josh Abrams.

Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630 

6:30 PM Memorize the Sky As the excellent trio Memorize the Sky, reedist Matt Bauder, bassist Zach Wallace, and percussionist Aaron Siegel emphasize ensemble interplay: despite their hovering, hypnotizing sound, there’s way too much forward movement and shifting sonic detail on their 2008 album In Former Times (Clean Feed) for it to qualify as drone music. Sometimes the skittery sounds Siegel creates by running objects across the heads of his snare and bass drums—he lays the latter flat like a tabletop instead of using a standard kit setup—are so frenetic they feel almost static, hanging in the air alongside Bauder’s beautifully striated long tones. At other times Siegel plays cymbals and other pieces of metal with a bow, creating keening, resonant shimmers, while Bauder carefully places a series of disconnected notes. The forthcoming Creeks (due on Broken Research late this summer) leans heavily on fluttering reeds and chirping analog synth, and the instruments are electronically processed so that they echo, loop, dilate, and accelerate; the two long pieces that result are the band’s most intricate and entrancing yet. This is Memorize the Sky’s first performance in more than a year.

7:30 PM MI3 Founded in Boston, this veteran trio—pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Curt Newton—hasn’t played too often since McBride moved to Chicago in late 2004. Their repertoire mixes material by the likes of Lennie Tristano, Andrew Hill, and Thelonious Monk with Karayorgis’s own knotty tunes, which bear the influence of those original thinkers; no matter what the song, MI3 approach it with clarity of purpose, a deep rapport, and a fierce streak of unpredictable individuality. On Free Advice (Clean Feed, 2007) their alert interplay rolls along atop jagged rhythms that occasionally manage to swing, and Karayorgis’s idea-packed but spacious improvisations bristle with geometric abstraction and melodic zigzags. Betwixt (Hatology, 2008) changed direction slightly, with Karayorgis switching to Fender Rhodes and the repertoire leaning more heavily on covers, this time by Monk, Sun Ra, Misha Mengelberg, Wayne Shorter, and others. I’m eager to hear what’s next.

Heaven Gallery 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested

9:30 PM RED Trio Pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino, and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, aka Lisbon’s RED Trio, forego tunes entirely to improvise freely, sometimes without any fixed pulse at all and never with anything more than an implied meter. Their recent self-titled debut for Clean Feed is a febrile mix of nubby textures, terse melodic utterances, and pinballing multilinear improvisation. Pinheiro frequently alters the tone of his piano by placing objects inside it or damping strings by hand, turning it into more of a percussion instrument, and his bandmates focus on atomized particles of music rather than slow-growing lines—their rigorously tactile sounds and gnarled phrases vanish as quickly as they emerge. This is the group’s Chicago debut.

10:30 PM Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore This trio led by local bass clarinetist Jason Stein—one of the few improvisers who sticks exclusively to that instrument—pushes against the boundary between composition and improvisation. The aim doesn’t seem to be to erase the border, though, but rather to sneak across it: they improvise as through they’re trying to sound like they’re playing a tune, and they play a tune such that you could mistake it for an improvisation. Stein, Chicago bassist Jason Roebke, and New York drummer Mike Pride are better than ever on their forthcoming third album, Three Kinds of Happiness (Not Two), aiming for a more swinging jazz feel. No one’s going to confuse Locksmith Isidore with a Benny Goodman trio, but compared to the squeaky, aggressive abstraction of their first two records, which were both for Clean Feed, the new one is warm, tender, and fluid. Though Pride is known as a wild extrovert, here his playing is gentle and buoyant; Roebke is his usual reliable, flexible self.  

All About Jazz review by David Adler

Samuel Blaser: Pieces of Old Sky & Vol à Voile

Samuel Blaser – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Pierre Favre/Samuel Blaser – Vol à Voile

There’s a wonderfully eerie quality to Pieces of Old Sky, trombonist Samuel Blaser’s recording with guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Opening with the 17-minute title track, Blaser conjures a mood of dark, open expanse and gradual development. Neufeld lets his gently clanging chords and lines hang in the air, setting their quasi-metallic sound against Blaser’s horn, which is sleek and legato but not without an edge of its own. Apparently, Blaser has a thing for guitarists of the slightly grungier type: he recruited Marc Ducret for a recent tour and his 2008 debut 7th Heaven featured the underrated Scott DuBois.

With “Red Hook” and later with “Mystical Circle” and “Speed Game,” Blaser introduces fast, corkscrewing unison lines and tight orchestration, departing radically from the drawn-out minimalism of the first piece. There are several spots where Blaser falls quiet and allows Neufeld, Morgan and Sorey to stretch, much like they did as a trio on Sorey’s recent album Koan. But Blaser adds a deeper mournful mystery to their sound, evoking the blues (and perhaps a hint of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) on “Mandala” and sketching in fine melodic fashion with Neufeld on “Choral I” and “Choral II”—the first as a duo, the second as a trio with Morgan and no drums.

Along with his highly developed quartet language, Blaser has made a mark with the unaccompanied disc Solo Bone and a duo with pianist Malcolm Braff titled YaY. To this we can add Vol à Voile (“gliding”), Blaser in duo with veteran Swiss drummer and improviser Pierre Favre. Here we get a much fuller view of the growling, groaning multiphonic techniques Blaser hints at during “Mandala” from Pieces of Old Sky. On “Quai des Brumes” he even achieves a contrapuntal effect, moving vocal pitches up and down against a low drone.

Favre brings an endless richness of timbre to the music, including bell-like tones on the closing title track, beautifully hollow and high-pitched toms on “Inextricable” and a huge yet softly blanketing kick drum sound on “Franchement!” (“honestly!”) and “Babel I.” The nine tracks slink in and out of tempo and Blaser plays a largely melodic improvising role, although the tables are turned on “We Tried” when the horn almost becomes a rhythm section, riffing steadily on two notes while Favre assumes the role of soloist. There’s nothing else like it on the record or for that matter on Pieces of Old Sky. But such is Blaser’s ability to cover all bases and continually adapt.

All About Jazz review by Andrey Henkin

Trumpet & Piano: Dennis González/João Paulo & Enrico Rava/Ran Blake
Dennis González / João Paulo – ScapeGrace (CF 144)
Enrico Rava / Ran Blake – Duo En Noir (Between the Lines)

Different instruments paired in duet with piano bring out unique facets. With drums, its percussive nature becomes remarkably apparent while matched with an upright bass, it becomes more harmonic and moody. Though done with less frequency than those formats, the trumpet-piano duet is an appealing scenario, one that draws out the piano’s higher range and a certain brash classicism. Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines perhaps did it first; Oscar Peterson recorded a handful of duet albums in the ’70s with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and others and today we have the lengthy partnership of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, to provide a very scant timeline of the genre.

The encounter between Latino-American trumpeter/cornetist Dennis Gonzalez and Portuguese pianist João Paulo documented on ScapeGrace is an unusual one. It is certainly one of the former’s more introspective albums, a wonderful opportunity to hear his lush melodic thinking in perfect clarity, only the slightest indication of moving air audible. Paulo’s background is a classical one, with an accomplished technique to match so there too we get absolutely faultless articulation. The nine tracks on the album are originals, three by González and the remainder by Paulo. Most tend to move slowly and deliberately but still maintaining a sprightly lightness. Not that there is much culture shared between Dallas (from where González hails and still makes his home) and Lisbon but different pieces on ScapeGrace might make a listener consider other analogous partnerships such as Canadians Kenny Wheeler and Paul Bley (which did happen) and South Africans Abdullah Ibrahim and Mongezi Feza (which sadly never did). The album is long at 72 minutes but unlike many other similarly extended sessions, it is the unfolding beauty of ScapeGrace that keeps it compelling.

Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava is no stranger to this format, having recorded with countrymen Enrico Pieranunzi and more recently with the dynamic Stefano Bollani. Duo En Noir, with American pianist Ran Blake, comes inbetween those efforts, recorded live in Frankfurt in 1999. The pair’s emphasis on space and lyricism make them ideal partners. Apart from playing one of Rava’s favorite originals, “Certi Angoli Segreti” (done solo), the rest of this program is an interesting mix of selections. There are jazz standards like “Nature Boy,” “There’s No You,” “I Should Care,” “Tea For Two” and “There’s a Small Hotel” but interspersed is film music by Bernard Hermann and David Raksin (a “Vertigo/Laura” medley) and Roy Webb (“The Spiral Staircase) as well as Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” (solo piano). At less than 40 minutes, this set is quite zippy, the longest tune a whopping five-plus minutes and the shortest just under two (a solo Blake rendition of Kelly Donohue’s “Shake the Cage”). Duo En Noir actually ends long before you were expecting, or wishing, it would.

All Music Guide review by Michael G. Nastos

Dual Identity – Dual Identity (CF 172)
Birds of a feather who never think twice about what they do, alto saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman play together with a religious fervor and shared values that few musicians on similar instruments have ever possessed. Recorded at the Braga Jazz Festival, these two blow as if their lives depended on it with every phrase, accent, and extended counterpoint line, the essence of conjoined compatible styles, using so many notes in so little time. These whirling dervishes base their rhythmic contours via power-pointed accents and ethno-funk at times during “The General,” and spiky fatback counter-melodies on a bed of lean beats from drummer Damion Reid during “Foster Brothers.” There are spatial moments as constructed by guitarist Liberty Ellman, ballads, blues from bassist Matt Brewer, and fluttery separates from the principals. But mostly it’s Mahanthappa and Lehman pushing the limits of their instruments as they duel away nonstop, feeding off each other and building huge pyramids of sound. The insistent “Circus” and more joined, less kinetic “Post-Modern Pharaohs” might be tracks that are something of a departure, but reveling in the mastery of how they both uniquely approach what has been a bebop vehicle for most post-Charlie Parker saxophonists is nothing short of a modern miracle. As ultra-concentrated a creative jazz outing as you will ever hear, the Mahanthappa-Lehman combine is heretofore unrivaled, challenged by no similar current tandem, and deserves high merit for its energy level alone. Yes, wailers still roam the Earth!