Monthly Archives: July 2010

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Tom Rainey with Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock

Tom Rainey Trio – Pool School (CF 185)
Tom Rainey’s trio opus Pool School (Clean Feed 185) puts a different spin on small group free improvisation. Mr. Rainey’s drums, Ms. Halvorson’s electric guitar and Ms. Laubrock’s tenor and soprano leave plenty of space for each other. The density of the music is not especially low but it is accommodating. Each voice operates within a space that does not overlap with the others so much as simultaneously creates complementary sound events.

It’s not a blow-out, in other words, but it also is not a quasi-new music pointilistic hot potato game.

What that means is you get something of the unexpected. Rainey’s drums are considered, not torrential. Mary Halvorson plays lines and chords that sound like they’ve been chosen with some attention to the total matrix. And Ingrid Laubrook does not solo so much as she bon mots in dialogical conversation shared by the three.

This is pretty subtle and totally engaging music. I like how everyone’s roles mesh. It gives you some idea why Mary Halvorson’s guitar work has been the subject of some attention. All three players, however, are making equally important contributions. It may take a few listens to absorb the totally of soundings and the thrust of the approach, but one’s efforts are rewarded by immersion in a rather rarely encountered world of free improvisation that eschews showmanship for sustained sonic adventure.

That’s a nice thing. Put this one on and go someplace away from your “here.”

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Stephen Gauci, Kris Davis, Michael Bisio – Three (CF 189)
In the past years, I praised saxophonist Stephen Gauci’s to the stars, I praised pianist Kris Davis for her innovative musical creativity, and I praised bassist Michael Bisio for his inventive and emotional playing. Then you get them as a trio, and it’s a guarantee that sparks will fly.

The playing is unconventional, so is the structure of the compositions, and so are the order of the pieces, starting with “The End Must Always Come”, starting heads-on with heavy piano chords and a frantic right hand, with Bisio’s bass trying to keep up with Davis’s stream of consciousness. Gauci joins with short staccato bursts, then starting with wild phrases with the piano circling around the same tonal center, gradually increasing the wild intensity, yet gradually the piano limits itself to repetitive phrasing over a single note bass, and beautiful soloing by the sax, full of resignation for the inevitable, giving up all struggle, leaving the floor to the polyrhythmic repetitive piano.In short, a kind of strangely evolving piece, yet full of depth, introducing the listener into a real wonderland.

“Like A Dream, A Phantom” starts with solo sax, with a piano response in an almost post-boppish way – I almost expected Davis to start grunting along like Jarrett, shifting from slow romanticism to more intensity, with Gauci organically joining in with repetitions of the same note, the piano dropping away, and Gauci’s heartrending playing tenderly supported by the warmth of the bass, mirroring the growth of intensity by the piano earlier in the piece.

The most expressive piece is without a doubt “Something From Nothing”, with the piano, sax and bass playing muted percussive sounds, like a mad and relentless rhythm section, with the occasional voiced note arising out of the agitation, now a piano key, then a single sax tone, or a string plucked. The piece’s magnificent restraint creates an equal level of tension, that is gradually, ever so slowly released, not in a tune, but in a rhythmic playing with the same notes, around which the three instruments start adding tiny expansions, maintaining all the while the relentless tempo they set from the start.

I will not review each track. You get the picture: each piece is a carefully and inventively structured piece, capturing the soul of music, changing the familiar upside-down without changing it completely, offering new perspectives on interaction, making the unexpected essential in each piece, treating the listener to fantastic ear-candy and to some fun too: on “Groovin’ For The Hell Of It”, a quite free development suddenly hits the wall of a halted piano rhythm, going totally against the established groove, sounding like the sax is taken by surprise, but smoothing things out as they proceed. The same playfulness in the interaction can also be heard on the last track.

And despite all the wide explorations of the possibilities of the instruments, it stays relatively accessible, even Bisio’s fantastic “Now”, a bass solo beyond the conventional, with a few piano strings plucked in the middle part.

The album’s highlight is “No Reason To Or Not To”, a slow minimalist yet wonderfully lyrical piece, on which the trio sets down a mood and atmosphere with sparse sounds, not built around solos, but around a few cautious phrases.

An absolute delight, this album. You can keep listening to it: joy and new pleasures guaranteed with each listen. Without a doubt, these three musicians understand music in a very profound way and manage to create music that is also utterly creative and deep. Don’t miss it.

Pitchfork review by Joe Tangari

Dual Identity – Dual Identity (CF 172)
Exploring jazz is contagious. You hear one record, and it leads to your listening to five others because of who’s on them. There are entry points and major landmarks that everyone ought to hear. A lot of curious listeners who start out in rock do this– it’s fun and relatively easy. Finding your way into modern jazz is much tougher. For one thing, there are dozens of strains, and a lot of the good stuff in the progressive vein isn’t built around familiar, singable tunes like “Autumn Leaves” or “My Favorite Things”. Jazz has had its cerebral qualities since the 1920s, but super-heady composition and playing have become central to forward-looking jazz, partly as a reaction to its becoming less a mainstream music and more of a world populated by enthusiasts. So where do you start? How about right here? Dual Identity is the result of a quintet session led by saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman, and it embodies a lot of the exciting, bracing playing and ideas coursing through progressive jazz circles.

Mahanthappa and Lehman are, to put it bluntly, two of the finest saxophonists going. They’ve each built styles from a patchwork of inspirational sources, including each other. Mahanthappa, an American, has blended his Indian heritage into his unique style through his studies with Kadri Gopalnath, a player who managed to adapt the sax into the Carnatic tradition of Indian classical music. Lehman played in Anthony Braxton’s band at 22 and studied with Jackie McLean, and his style broadly bridges bop and free-jazz sensibilities. Together on this record, they are a force to be reckoned with, leading a dual attack that’s often jaw-dropping, as their rhythm section of guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Damion Reid sympathetically bends itself to their will.

The two eschew unison playing and straight harmonizing in favor of a double lead style that lets their distinct voices on the instrument sing at once– it’s amazing that they never clash. “Circus” opens with a quiet but jagged groove, and both saxophonists launch in at once, playing an intricate, rhythmically varied counterpoint that gradually unspools into an improvised duet. It’s like a conversation in a Woody Allen movie, where everyone has the perfect rejoinder or seems to know the next word out of someone else’s mouth. But it’s not just a two-way conversation. Reid and Brewer talk their way through beats that alternately swing and flay, while Ellman is an accomplished and idiosyncratic soloist in his own right, and he gets his chances to shine here as well. His solo on “SMS” is brilliantly weird, as the rest of the band drops out and he takes a circuitous route through the various tonalities represented in the composition.

So yes, Dual Identity is a great entry into progressive jazz. It’s not an easy listen, but its intensity and invention go some distance to open the record up to listeners who aren’t up on the genre. Fans of progressive jazz will find a trove of riches to dive into here as well. We won’t get a history of contemporary jazz for some time, and the era of jazz stars known outside the jazz world is mostly over, but Mahanthappa and Lehman seem likely to find themselves well-ensconced in that future history, and this record shows why.

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Lawnmower – WEST (CF 178 )
Drummer Luther Gray knows exactly the sound he’s going for: the sound of summer swelter, evoked by the swollen strumming of guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, heat-haze and heavy air drenched in their reverb and vibrato, while Jim Hobbs’ celebrated alto quaver is all insects in shimmering air, punctuated by the occasional sweat-soaked complaint – “damn, it’s hot!” He’s great at bending tart notes around like balloon sculptures, as one guitarist does the Ribot twang alongside the other’s metallic sawing. The long lines and big thunderheads of pure tone are stretched elastically over Gray’s skittering pulse, with the guitars occasionally swerving outward to meet up with the drummer in a choppy second line rhythm (Gray is a model of restrained invention throughout). On the first few spins, I thought it was a bit uneventful, but then, as the temperature approached 100 down here, I started to get it. As the saxophone claws its way through the thickening, oscillating textures of “One,” as “Dan” cavorts with night birds and insects, and as “Glass” nods obliquely to one of those old Codona songs with kalimba (specifically “Mumakata”), I began to look forward to new listens, new immersions into this bath of sound. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all just texture: “Prayer of Death” could be a 19th century funeral air played by a surf band, and the nicely noisy “Giant Squid” unfurls long saxophone lines, descending and ascending inside the bowels of a machine. But ultimately it all drifts back to the sound on the daydreaming “I Love” and the sweet, wistful “Two” that ends the disc. Lovely. Somebody reach into the cooler and toss me a cold one.

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquet

RED Trio – RED Trio (CF 168 )
Rodrigo Pinheiro est pianiste, Hernani Faustini est contrebassiste, Gabriel Ferrandini est batteur-percussionniste. Voici le RED Trio.

Leur terrain de jeu est celui du ricochet, du fourmillant. Grappes de sons et de notes cherchant sortie et ne l’obtenant qu’après avoir longuement fouillé dans la vase sonique pourraient conclure certains esprits faciles. On se gardera de toute facilité ici et on plongera à bras le corps dans les dix-sept minutes de Quick Sand. Dix-sept minutes qui disent tout de cet éclairage du souterrain recherché par le trio. Ici, le flou n’est qu’illusion et les lamelles qu’ils effilochent font de la périphérie un centre grouillant, craquelé en permanence et argumentant la résonnance d’un crescendo à tiroirs.

Ainsi, l’impression d’étouffement qui semble parfois se dégager de cette musique est assez fausse pour peu que l’on fasse le choix de plusieurs écoutes. Car oui, la musique du RED Trio bouge et étend son chant sur plusieurs niveaux. Elle ruisselle, attend, contemple et amplifie un territoire sonique, qui, si déjà exploré par nombre d’improvisateur(rice)s, n’en délivre pas moins, ici, quelques essentiels émois.

Público review by Rodrigo Amado

Os ritmatistas

Dois dos mais talentosos e complexos saxofonistas alto da nova geração gravam, ao vivo, um dos seus melhores trabalhos.

Rudresh Mahanthappa / Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
4,5 estrelas

Rudresh Mahanthappa, músico de origem indiana que há muito reside nos Estados unidos, e Steve Lehman, possuem ambos um invulgar talento como saxofonistas, tendo-se afirmado há muito como virtuosos absolutos e inovadores na abordagem altamente pessoal que fazem ao jazz. Embora tenham já ambos, particularmente Mahanthappa, uma discografia de referência que passa por álbuns obrigatórios como “Travail, Transformation and Flow” (Lehman), “Reimagining” (Mahanthappa com Vijay Iyer) e Codebook” (Mahanthappa), faltava-lhes ultrapassar uma barreira emocional que levava muitos a rotular a sua música como fria ou cerebral. A extrema angularidade do seu fraseado e a complexidade da teia rítmica que envolve as composições de ambos não desapareceram, mas há uma orgânica presente neste “Dual Identity”, gravado ao vivo no Festival de Jazz de Braga, que se torna determinante para que seja este, talvez, o disco mais caloroso de sempre de ambos os saxofonistas. Para isso concorre uma excelente secção rítmica, formada por Matt Brewer (contrabaixo) e Damion Reid (bateria), e um fabuloso guitarrista, Liberty Ellman, responsável por alguns dos momentos mais fortes do álbum, particularmente em “Circus”, caleidoscópio rítmico da autoria de Mahanthappa recuperado de “Mother Tongue”. Destaque também para o groove poderoso de “1010”, com uma excelente introdução do contrabaixo de Brewer. Numa música feita de contrapontos rítmicos de alto impacto, Mahanthappa e Lehman tocam com uma entrega total e uma enorme empatia entre os dois, construindo uma entidade musical abstracta que se apresenta como o paradigma do jazz moderno; composições originais fortíssimas, arranjos fluentes e precisos, músicos com uma capacidade técnica fora do vulgar e improvisações vibrantes e criativas…desta vez com muita emoção.

JazzWord review by Glenn Astarita

John Hebert Trio – Spiritual Lover (CF 175)
Bassist John Hebert and his venerable band-mates generally reside within the core progressive-jazz and free-jazz realms.  And many of these genres or stylizations are represented here, although there is a twist.  Featuring Benoit Delbecq’s s wily clavinet and synth performances, Hebert leads the trio into an unorthodox string of musical events, starkly evident on the opener “Spiritual Lover.”  Here, the keyboardist’s sparse, single note clavinet notes and electronics treatments cast a mood that is akin to an ethereal lullaby.  However, diversity is part of the musicians’ key to success.

Delbecq also uses an acoustic piano as the band delves into free-spirited world-music patterns and other movements that are designed with delicacy or quietly rumbling undercurrents.  The musicians’ intersperse playfully haunting motifs with quaint melodies and sinewy lines.  Hebert’s broad and fluent bass phrasings offer a bit of counterpoint, other than solidifying the rhythms with drummer Gerald Cleaver.  Moreover, the artists pronounce wit and a semi-strenuous approach.

The band renders a misty-eyed ballad, abetted by Delbecq’s light touch on “La Rêve Eveillé.”  Yet Delbecq executes a gravelly and echo-laden synth groove atop the rhythm section’s swarming pulse during “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Consequently, Delbecq projects a nouveau spin on the clavinet, looming as a facet that tenders a fresh outlook, or a new wine in old bottles type game-plan. Simply stated Hebert and associates inject lucid imagery and a deeply-personalized set of characterizations, spiced with enticing panoramas throughout this intriguing session.

All About Jazz review by Chris May

Tom Rainey Trio – Pool School (CF 185)
Though there are more substantial things to observe about Brooklyn-based drummer Tom Rainey’s Pool School, let’s start by saying that the disc’s hand-tinted, faux 1930s cover art is among the more stylish to have emerged so far in 2010. And even if the imagery is most immediately resonant of summer in Portugal, the Clean Feed label’s home turf, intentionally or not, there is a connection to the music on the metal (yes, it does have something to do with deep ends).

Remarkably, the album is the first to be released under his own name by ninja of nuance Rainey, from the early 1990s a prominent figure on New York’s Downtown scene. In a 2004 interview with All About Jazz, he declared himself creatively fulfilled by his role as sideman/collaborator, “playing with friends who trust me,” and revealed no plans to form his own band. Whatever it may be that has caused him to change his mind, ears laugh at their good fortune.

The two friends who collaborate with Rainey here are guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, each a major new voice on her instrument. Both can create intensely visceral music yet are equally at home on more cerebral, long-form material, be it pre-composed or improvised. Both are sonic adventurers significantly extending the lexicons of their instruments. Stir in Rainey’s yin/yang rhythmatism and fascination follows.

The album has echoes of Laubrock’s wholly in-the-moment, collective improv suite, Sleepthief (Intakt, 2009), on which Rainey made up a trio with pianist Liam Noble; though not completely improvised, Pool School has a high ratio of sustained, unscripted, collective invention. But variety of atmosphere and form is a hallmark of the set. The 12 tracks move adroitly between the composed and the improvised, the inside and the outside, the sun lounger and the deep end. It’s often impossible to tell where the one starts and the other begins.

Is the wonderfully synchronous coming together of all three players which happens on “Pool School” itself 2:38 minutes in, for instance, the result of experience and empathy or pre-planning? Similar moments occur throughout the disc—some, such as “Home Opener”‘s halfway transition from the voluptuous to the spiky and “Coney”‘s reverse direction shift, sounding as though they were deliberated in advance by the musicians.

Well, anyway. In the end, the precise route taken doesn’t matter. This playful, empathetic trio hits the spot, and Pool School reveals new pleasures with each repeated spin.

BBC Music review by Martin Longley

The four-piece’s new album delivers a sustained sense of open-mouthed surprise.

Convergence Quartet – Song/Dance (CF 187)

The Convergence band name is particularly appropriate, as this group’s members are drawn from England, Canada and the USA. There is also a cross-pollination of styles and influences, as well as geographic backgrounds.

Taylor Ho Bynum blows cornet and flügelhorn, and made his name as a latter-day sideman to Anthony Braxton. In recent years, Bynum has been expanding his own presence as a bandleader and composer. Drummer Harris Eisenstadt has recently made a mark with his Canada Day combo, and is now dwelling in New York City.

Over here in the UK, bassist Dominic Lash is a semi-obscure force amongst the hardcore improv community, with one leg in the rockin’ free-form camp. Pianist Alexander Hawkins is the least familiar member of this unlikely transatlantic foursome, though he’s fast becoming an important presence on the improv scene.

All of the Convergers are concerned with improvisation, composition, and the unpredictable trajectories that lie between these two territories. The composite style of this band is made up from some very diverse elements, but they perform the magical sleight-of-hand that allows the retention of individuality, at the same time as developing a highly structured set of group themes that are blessed with a melodic openness.

Complete equality is the mission. All four players contribute pieces, and when they solo, these spot-lit passages are invariably pointed and brief, standing aside for the next volley, or awaiting an incoming ensemble theme. The tunes are tightly arranged, but this doesn’t inhibit their spontaneous fire. The album is crisply recorded, with Bynum’s horns being particularly close-mic’d, his ornately muted parps worming deep into the listener’s ears. Simultaneous soloing abounds. The next move is rarely predictable. A moderate-length piece will pass through many sections with great rapidity.

Frequently, a solo stretch might be completely unaccompanied. A swift spell before the band jumps back into the fray. On Next Convergence, Hawkins is scattering aggressive piano shards, climaxing with some full elbow-ramming (or so it sounds). He’s chased by a completely lonesome running bass solo, and a theme comes together. But no! We’re immediately off into a capsule drum solo, upended across the melody.

Opening his own Iris, Bynum alternates between sharp pricks and blubbery expulsions, then a duet of clipped drum-scatter and ravaged bow-bass suddenly calms for a soft floatation theme as the cornet re-enters. This can only be followed by a free-barrelhouse piano solo, and this is exactly what Hawkins delivers.

Besides the deep substance of the band’s own compositions, they also include a South African traditional tune and an old classic penned by the violinist Leroy Jenkins. Whatever the material, the Convergers operate a subverted organisational approach that results in a sustained sense of open-mouthed surprise.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Elliott Sharp: Solo Electric Guitar, Played His Way

Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book Two(CFG 004)
Elliott Sharp, guitar pioneer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, has always seemed to go his own way, in the process becoming a major presence in the now globally recognized downtown music enclave. He’s successfully created Sharpesque interpretations of the blues, composed and performed exciting works for both small and large ensembles, hosted a web radio show of great diversity and discernment for MOMA’s PS1 web site, among other things. He’s also recorded a series of improvisations for solo guitar.

Octal Book Two (Clean Feed CFG 004) finds Mr. Sharp on his Koll 8-string electro-acoustic guitar, which has both conventional and bass guitar strings. Without overdubs he creates a kind of suite of guitar events, each concentrating on various avant and conventional techniques that Sharp uses. Some he has developed in his own way; others, like harmonics, feedback sustain, and hammerings, he adapts to his own purposes.

What distinguishes Sharp’s music from some other unaccompanied solo avant guitar efforts is that each event to a lesser or greater degree concentrates on a melodic cell, scalular passage or quasi-riff. The music is freely articulated but not free in the stream-of consciousness manner. It is Elliott’s strong sense of structure that gives the listener clear musical sign-posts through the avant sound thicket (at least that is so for me). Each is a semi-miniature impro-compositional gem. He does not eschew repetition, and much of the music features dynamically invigorating cascades of rapidly articulated repeated lines. This of course is a feature of Elliott Sharp’s style and it is paired down to a single solo voice for this outing.

It shows that Elliott Sharp’s motor-sensory brilliance has in no sense abated. He is vital still.