Daily Archives: August 2, 2010

All About Jazz Italy review by Enrico Bettinello

Rudresh Mahanthappa / Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172) ****
Sono due tra i sax contralto più originali e significativi degli ultimi anni i titolari di questa band, Rudresh Mahanthappa e Steve Lehman, che si sono conosciuti [è forse un caso, ma piuttosto significativo] al Festival di Verona del 1999 e da allora intrecciano le rispettive carriere secondo coordinate che si distinguono per partner comuni – uno su tutti Vijay Iyer – e un approccio tagliente all’improvvisazione.

Con loro in questo concerto portoghese del 2009 troviamo la chitarra di Liberty Ellman, il contrabbasso di Matt Brewer e la batteria di Damion Reid, ottimi complici per una musica che, come si può facilmente intuire, possiede tutti i caratteri nervosi e urbani che conosciamo alle composizioni dei due sassofonisti. Sono forme angolose, ritmi dispari, iterazioni nevrotiche, scansioni post-funk [in un’ideale linea lessicale che li unisce a Steve Coleman] le componenti di questi temi, sui quali sia Lehman che Mahanthappa improvvisano con folate furenti, a volte sovrapponendosi, altre volte facendo risaltare le rispettive peculiarità.

Alla base di tutto sta una condivisa complessità architettonica – splendidamente mediata dall’intelligenza di Ellman, oltre che sorretta dalla precisione della ritmica – la cui componente di inquietudine assume a tratti toni vagamente isterizzati, ma che quando si addentra a esplorare angoli bui, come nella splendida “SMS,” rivela una felicità espressiva davvero rara.

I due sassofonisti sintetizzano nella loro musica molte intuizioni della generazione post-coltraniana, quelle di un Braxton o di un Threadgill [si ascolti “Post-Modern Pharaohs”], ma colpisce anche la capacità di far dialogare astrazione e narratività all’interno dell’articolato gioco formale delle composizioni

Tra le cose più belle certamente la danza zigzagante di “Circus” [firmata da Mahanthappa] e l’ossessiva “Rudreshm” [di Lehman], per giungere alla conclusiva “Dual Identities,” che dà il titolo al disco e che affida ai soli sassofoni un dialogo che sembra sbucare da qualche loft newyorkese degli anni Settanta.

Gemelli diversi, ma irresistibili!

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa is a liberal participant in lots of different situations gravitating around new jazz, her recognized “honorary musical godfathers” (Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Sun Ra, Coleman, Ayler, Dolphy, Kirk) constituting the primary source of inspiration for this debut as a boss, particularly in regard to the energy and the focus that those masters have transmitted to Lisa over the years. She was already involved in the “metal jazz” band Go-Go Fightmaster, whose members are a part of this recording: tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett juxtaposes paradox and hostility in a confrontational style where romanticism is the last memory before dying, guitarist John Finkbeiner is a fissure-filling achiever of impractically skewed lines of exploratory modernity, and drummer Vijay Anderson is proficiently concerned with the guardianship of the pulse, yet he shows the impatience of a percussionist for what’s square, inserting rhythmic traps and shifting accents whenever the occasion calls.

The fact that Mezzacappa produces a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” gives the idea of a broadminded approach – you won’t find Van Vliet covered by many people these days. Instead, on “The Cause & Effect Of Emotion & Distance” the whole quartet seems to rise from the ashes of a previous thematic disintegration to turn into a cloud of aromatic scents. In general, the architectures conceived by the leader are characterized by sharp steadiness rooted in contrapuntal verisimilitude. She’s a credible instrumentalist, precise and solid but also able to extract a degree of passion from the most exsiccated, skeletally linear conception. The band’s ability in reciprocally trusting their instant choices and avoiding excesses of discordance is a major plus – everything sounds intelligible (including the tense blowout heard in the title track) and the potentialities of this wise frugality are evident in the acute lucidity defining the entire record.

All About Jazz New York review by Ken Waxman

Derek Bailey – lot 74 (Incus)
Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book Two (CFG 004)

Respectively the alpha and the omega of guitar free improvisation, the late London-based Derek Bailey (1930-2005) and the very much alive New Yorker, Elliott Sharp, offer two variants on a solo program with these notable discs. Recorded in 1974, Lot 74 demonstrates Bailey’s mastery of European-style free music, which he had helped midwife into existence almost a decade earlier. The reissue is particularly notable because on two tracks he uses an unamplified 19-string instrument. In contrast, on Octal, Sharp’s axe is an eight-string electro-acoustic guitar-bass. Furthermore, the seven tracks use no electronic effects except for an e-bow and some valve compression and reverb added during mix-down. That phrase pinpoints the difference between Sharp’s 2009 improvisations and Bailey’s, recorded 35 years earlier. The British guitarist’s tracks were taped at home then transferred to LP at a plant where the cutting engineer initially played the tape upside-down. With modern technology, Sharp recorded, mixed and mastered Octal in his home studio.

Although Octal’s texture is more aggressive and percussive than Lot 74, Bailey proves that he can crunch notes, frail lines and snap strings on the two tracks featuring the 13 additional strings. Plus on “Together” he not only distorts and flanges guitar lines into fuzzy fortissimo, but also vocally howls high- pitched enough to give heavy metal singers competition. Bailey’s instantly identifiable style is most broadly showcased on the 22-minute title track. Contrapuntally intertwining tones while simultaneously deconstructing them, his banjo-like plucks and flattened twangs resonate. Using slurred fingering and flattened licks, he separates each tone so that it vibrates inwardly. 

If Bailey’s improvisations appear inner directed, then Sharp’s are mercurial and tough. 20 years Bailey’s junior, Sharp’s playing is informed by rock as well as jazz and notated sounds. For example, he mixes bluesrock thump with stately polyrhythms on “Fluctuations of the Horizon”, exposing a pedal-point continuum after the folksy exposition. With piezo pickups isolating each string, his waterfall of notes divides on “P-branes and D-branes” so that the agitato lines seem to come from two guitars at once – one high-pitched and the other basso – as percussive rebounds provide added weight. Finally two-handed tapping meets near-flamenco strumming. Alternately ramping waveform oscillations and vibrating fortissimo pitches animate “Inverted Fields” with feedback loops giving the piece an industrial edge. Eventually metal-slider impelled string licks narrow the theme to undulating drones.

While much has changed in improvised music during the past 25 years, the discordant guitar experiments Bailey pioneered helped create the sonic climate within which Sharp operates.

All About Jazz New York feature on Denman Maroney by Marc Medwin

There are few minds as agile and inquiring as that of pianist, composer and educator Denman Maroney. Over nearly 40 years, he has managed to rethink the piano’s vocabulary, creating a readily identifiable language on the instrument. He calls his contribution “hyperpiano”, a method of playing inside the piano that is characterized by a dizzying and diverse pallet of sonorities that make the instrument into an orchestra. He has also developed an equally unique compositional language involving combined pulses, employing the phrase “temporal harmony” to describe it. Yet, there is a directness, at times almost a simplicity, in his music. With his playing and in his compositions, Maroney combines musical genres and transforms sounds we think we understand, adding depth and color, often at great speed, while never sacrificing clarity. Maroney’s love of music began quite early. “My mother claimed that when I was five, I picked out Chopin’s ‘Minute Waltz’ by ear,” he states drily. “I don’t remember it.” Whatever his first foray into the world of piano might have been, his early exposure was to classical music. “My parents had a small record collection and I remember enjoying Bizet’s Carmen and Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony, that sort of thing. I listened to those records all the time.” He continued playing the piano and remembers improvisation as being a large component of his practicing, though his teachers were not sympathetic. It wasn’t until he was 11 that jazz entered his life after seeing Thelonious Monk’s picture on a Prestige record cover. “I’d never met anyone with a goatee, growing up in suburban New Jersey; I heard the music and I was hooked.” Maroney’s college years were spent pursuing a political science degree at Williams College while studying with Jimmy Garrison, among others, at nearby Bennington College. “Bennington was where I really started playing jazz with other people and it was a fantastic experience,” he remembers fondly. However, his studies with James Tenney at California Institute of the Arts cemented the path for his future explorations. “I was also studying piano with Tenney and we worked on ragtime and on a lot of Charles Ives, out of which my ideas of temporal harmony were born. It’s a way of bringing Ives’ complex concepts of layered pulses into improvised music.” Hyperpiano also began to take shape at about that time, when Maroney made his first released recording, right after he graduated from CalArts, a project called the Negative Band, including future collaborator and fellow CalArts alum Earl Howard. “We recorded a realization of Stockhausen’s Kurzwellen, a piece in which each player imitates shortwave radio. I borrowed a couple of glockenspiel keys and started using them as slides – thus, the birth of hyper piano.” The technique would later extend to include plastic bottles, Tibetan singing bowls, potato mashers and other tools used to stop, strike and/or scrape the strings. The sounds he elicits encompass everything from bent notes to glassy shimmers and a lot in between. The techniques owe a debt to John Cage and Henry Cowell but stake out their own territory. Unfortunately, apart from the Stockhausen projects, Maroney’s earliest hyperpiano activity remains unreleased. Even when Maroney was absent from recording during the ‘80s, working fulltime in advertising, as he would do until 2005, he was involved in sampling the sounds made inside the piano. He had stopped doing this by the time he began to make CDs in the early ‘90s. “On a sampler you can only play samples; on a piano you can play anything,” he concluded. It was then that Maroney’s recorded association with bassist Mark Dresser began. Their most recent collaboration is a stunning live document, on the Israeli Kadima Collective label, of performances from 2001 and 2008. As the new millennium entered, other long-standing relationships were formed, those with Reuben Radding, Ned Rothenberg, Michael Sarin and Dave Ballou, all of whom have been integral to the realization of his recent work. To describe the nature of Maroney’s compositional vision would require a treatise. Yet, there is a remarkable unity to his pieces, composed over the last 40 years. The trajectory from the early compositions on Gaga (Nuscope) to the much more recent Udentity (Clean Feed) demonstrates a refinement and advancements of the multiple rhythmic layers associated with temporal harmony. “In the early pieces, I might have combined two different tempos, whereas in my more recent work, I might juxtapose three or four.” Despite this, the melodic and harmonic material on which Maroney draws is remarkably simple. Often triadic and employing ample space between phrases, there is a sense of modality about his tonal language that puts the rhythmic intrigue in stark relief. Ballou, Radding, Sarin and Rothenberg have the perfect sound to realize these scores, blending precision and a certain restraint with rich full sonority. “I think Udentity is my most successful integration of hyperpiano into an ensemble work to date,” explains Maroney and indeed, the clean clear recording accentuates both piano and ensemble favorably. Udentity was composed in 2006-2007 and is one of Maroney’s most ambitious works. Since 2005, he can now dedicate himself much more fully to composition and recording and several exciting projects have emerged. His most recent recording is the translucent duo Gleam, a Porter release with glass player Miguel Frasconi. Porter is also due to release a solo concert recording from Roulette, featuring an extended hyperpiano improvisation. In addition to this flurry of activity, Maroney is teaching American history part time at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. “I incorporate what I call the music of history, where I use music as a window on the important issues in American history, such as racism.” The approach is symptomatic of Maroney’s penchant for presenting music and history, as the protean forces they are.

Recommended Listening:
• Mark Dresser – The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (Music for the Silent Film) (Knitting Factory, 1994)
• Denman Maroney – Hyperpiano (Monsey, 1998)
• Mark Dresser – Aquifer (Cryptogramophone, 2001)
• Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney – Live in Concert (Kadima Collective, 2001/2008)
• Denman Maroney – Gaga (Nuscope, 2006)
• Denman Maroney Quintet – Udentity (Clean Feed, 2008)

All About Jazz-New York review by Stuart Broomer

Michaël Attias – Twines of Colesion (CF 188 )
This is the second Clean Feed release by alto saxophonist Michäel Attias from a three-day stand in 2008 at the Jazz ao Centro festival in Coimbra, Portugal. A previous studio session featured his trio, with bassist John Hébert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, called Renku after a collaborative form of Japanese poetry. If the band name wasn’t already in use, Attias could apply it here. The group heard in performance recordings here is a quintet with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Russ Lossing as well as Hébert and Takeishi, a collection of musicians that appear regularly in various permutations and settings. One of the most notable is Hébert’s Byzantine Monkey, a band including Attias, Malaby and Takeishi. The musicians share a positive and open affiliation and what may be most remarkable is the very different feel of this band from Hébert’s, with genuine contrasts in compositional styles. While the bassist is more of a melodicist, Attias creates complex, multi-part themes that are tonally elusive and develop shifting layers of harmony and rhythm. The group takes these themes and turns them into fluid, intense music, evanescent works that seem to weave in and out of form and focus with an unusual organic unity. The long opening “(New) Loom” moves through rubato ruminations to angular freebop, feeding the central stylistic contrast between Attias’ clear, linear, singing alto and Malaby’s gruffly vocalic, omni-directional tenor with its sudden multiphonics and barnyard squawks. Another notable composition is “Lisbon”, which develops tremendous internal tension with an extended theme statement that’s at once dirge-like and abstract. A sense of individual voice and collective dialogue appears throughout the band, whether it’s Hébert’s subtle glissandos in his introduction to “Lisbon” or Takeishi’s control of pitch bends on small cymbals on “Le Puis Noir”. Lossing adds a rich orchestral dimension as well as some explosive solos. While Attias is clearly an inspired improviser, Twines of Colesion also emphasizes his significant talents as a bandleader and composer.