Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Pieces of Old Sky is the odd disc out in this selection, frequently departing from the structural, rhythmic and harmonic conventions that prevail on the above discs in favour of a more conversational and spacious esthetic.
The Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Blaser and his New York-based rhythm section (guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey) basically alternate between two broad modes of playing.
The music is very often slow, patient, minor-key and mysterious, dedicated to gradual evolution and very democratic participation. That’s especially true of the title track and opener, a stunning 17-minute example of less-is-more. It strikes me as a thorough, three-dimensional exploration of a sonic environment. There’s a peak around the track’s 11-minute mark, when guitar and trombone melodies dovetail and Sorey’s drumming kicks up a notch. But otherwise, the track is one of the most deliberate and intriguing examples of music unfolding like, well, the mass of clouds depicted on the CD cover. (It might only be surpassed in terms of musical patience by the phenomenally still CD Koan by — surprise! — drummer Sorey, joined by guitarist Neufeld and bassist Morgan.)
The shorter tracks, Choral I and Choral II, revisit the same world of nuances and oozing development. On these tracks, the crucial relationship between Neufeld’s spidery guitar and Blaser’s full-bodied horn is front and centre.
The tracks Red Hook, Mystical Circle and Speed Game are more brisk and jolting, with complex melodies and counterpoints used as the points of departure for wide-open improvising. Sorey, a master of restraint on so much of the disc, explodes with authority at the end of Red Hook.
Although the pleasures of Blaser’s disc are more rarefied and enigmatic than the enjoyments afforded by the CDs by Fahie, Keberle and Davis, they are real pleasures nonetheless.
John Hebert – Spiritual Lover (CF 175)
John Hébert’s skills as a bassist have been amply apparent for several years, in projects that have called on rock-solid tone, time and pitch to imaginative free improvisation. But Byzantine Monkey (Clean Feed, 2009) demonstrated his substantial talents as a composer and bandleader, fronting a quintet/sextet dense in reeds and percussion. On Spiritual Lover he’s taken a different tack, leading a trio with French pianist Benoît Delbecq (adding clavinet and analogue synth) and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Hébert has extensive experience playing with pianists, including regular performances with the late Andrew Hill, and it’s clearly a format to which he’s given a great deal of thought. It’s a trio of genuinely equal parts and plays music of great melodic strength, whether the tunes are etched by the warm, resonant hues of Hébert’s bass or by one of Delbecq’s keyboards. The group’s independence of mind is apparent from the outset as it puts a distinct stamp on Hill’s title track, adding eerie electronics and amplifying his complex rhythms with oddly anticipatory echoes.
Delbecq has established a reputation for prepared-piano work and it’s apparent here in the thumb piano-like ostinato of his own “Ando.” But his emphasis here is usually on the keyboard, whether developing rapid abstract, guitar-like lines on synthesizer (“Guacamole” or the set’s sole standard, “Here’s that Rainy Day”) or developing a flowing lyricism with ambiguous harmonies that suggest the sublimated influence of Bill Evans. Along with polyrhythmic energy, Cleaver uses bright cymbals to animate and amplify every turn in the music and he shares a consciousness of sound with Hébert and Delbecq that makes this trio a highly varied source of sounds. Hébert’s “Cajun Christmas”—reprised from Byzantine Monkey—develops a timbral palette that consistently complements its melodic strengths.
John Hébert Trio – Spiritual Lover (CF 175)
Bassist John Hebert and his Trio Combine Acoustic and Electric Soundworlds
John Hebert seems to be the double bassist of choice on more and more projects in the modern jazz field lately. His new trio CD Spiritual Lover (Clean Feed) gives you some reasons why as it also shows a strong group conception in the fee-er yet tonally rooted zone. Pianist Benoit Delbecq shares the pre-arranged melodic roles with Hebert and also does some very nice exploratory, loosely horizontal soloing. Listen to him on “Le Reve Eveille,” a lovely sort of modern ballad with some beautiful piano and bass improvisations. Benoit adds clavinet and synthesizer to the piano work, sometimes in combination to give the trio a more broadly expansive sound, sometimes to rock out a little in a free way.
Drummer Gerald Cleaver sounds terrific on this one, whether he’s adding delicate Asian sounding percussive flourishes, using his brushes sensuously or madly swinging, freely accenting or bursting forward on some of the free-rock numbers. And John Hebert gets a beautiful sound, which is often tied to the ensemble context of the songs in a way that gives the music a fullness and drive that only a master of the art can manage. All in all, though, it is the compositions-concepts that distinguish this one as fully of our time, thoughtful but also forcefully climactic at the right moments.
This is a record that covers a good expanse of stylistic territory yet manages to sound distinctive and cohesive at all points. It combines the acoustic and the electric in a kind of organic unity. Good music is the aim, and that’s what you get. I’ll bet this band can be exciting to hear live. They are on this CD anyway!
Luís Lopes, Adam Lane, Igal Foni – What is When (CF 146)
O guitarrista lisboeta Luis Lopes iniciou a sua formação musical no Hot Clube de Portugal, mas foi do rock que partiu. Em “What is When” faz-se acompanhar de Adam Lane e Igal Foni, o primeiro um contrabaixista e compositor de excelência que vê em Duke Ellington, Karlheinz Stockhausen e Melt Banana as suas maiores influências e o outro um menos conhecido baterista de Israel que lidera os Genious Goalkeeper.
A primeira faixa do álbum, “Evolution Motive”, funciona quase como um manifesto, com uma dupla dedicatória a Darwin, o teórico do evolucionismo, e a Sonny Sharrock, praticamente o único guitarrista do período áureo do free jazz. É como se nos fosse dado um plano de identificação formal, normativo e simbólico. As referências estéticas são muitas, na perspectiva do avant-jazz, mas buscando contactos com os blues eléctricos, o punk e até a música contemporânea. No tema de abertura, a guitarra entra com um ostinato que vai sendo explorado e desconstruído continuamente. Em “Spontaneus Combustion”, Lopes Trabalha com Texturas de carácter pontilhístico, com o contrabaixo a assumir, num tradicional registo em pizzicato, a predominância a nível do discurso musical, a bateria surgindo apenas com pequenos apontamentos. A estrutura é mais próxima da estandardizada e tem um registo de free jazz, com secções de exposição do tema intercaladas com desconstruções do mesmo. A coesão entre os três elementos é evidente e o modo como funciona a nível de interactividade entre os instrumentistas confere um carácter único à música. “Cerejeiras” arranca com um solo percussivo de métrica livre e quebrada, num jeito quase “ad libitum”, entrando a guitarra de seguida, com motivos de carácter essencialmente tonal-modal, para depois Lane tocar harmónicos com o arco segundo técnicas sul ponticello, pouco frequentes no jazz. O contrabaixo caminha para bordões cada vez mais dissonantes, explorando os recursos do instrumento. “The Siege” faz-nos lembrar algo próximo da música de grupos como Melt Banana, ou mesmo Zu. O nível de sofisticação sobe e se neste tema as conotações são mistas de punk e free, em “Street Clown Girl” as influências da música erudita contemporânea tornam-se óbvias. Regra geral, os músicos dirigem-se progressivamente para um clímax, ao qual sucedem situações mais calmas. Em “Melodic 8” começa o contrabaixo, com Adam Lane a recorrer a “loops”, depois entra Foni e finalmente Lopes, que ganha predominância solística num registo de monodia acompanhada. A nível de tensão e de forma, há um certo carácter de simetria. Em “Chichi Rides The Tiger”, já quase um cartão de visita do contrabaixista americano, essa tensão é cumulativa. Até estilisticamente, indo de um jazz “old school e “straight” para algo no cruzamento com o rock. O final é um dos pontos altos do CD, com um discurso tenso, profundo e arrojado.