Monthly Archives: September 2010

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa Steps Out with First Recording as Leader

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Baith & Switch – What is Known (CF 192)
Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa had a good idea when she thought of what she would do for her first album as leader: she took some musical fragments played by artists she had especially admired, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dolphy, Ayer, Ornette, Kirk, Sun Ra, and built performance pieces out of them. There are also good cover versions of Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off, Baby,” (it stays in the mind) and Steve McCall’s “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting.” Then she chose to work with musicians she had long associated with: Aaron Bennett, tenor, John Finkbeiner, electric guitar, and Vijay Anderson on the drums.

Into the studio and now out comes What is Known (Clean Feed 192) by Lisa Mezzacappa and Bait & Switch.

The pieces hang together well. The band does too, via better living through (musical) chemistry and because in part they know each other musically from long association.

Bennett’s tenor is raucous and energized, Finkbeiner plays some abstract and electric lines worth your ears’ attention, Lisa M. has a forcefully strong tone and convinces with what she does. Vijay plays as a group member. What he does is right and it’s thought through.

Now perhaps one could say that about alot of bands but in this case the material Lisa has put together moulds the end result to be smart, varied and quite stimulating.

This is a really nice first album and it plays repeatedly in my musical listening cycle right now. Definitely recommended for some worthwhile and very modern jazz improv!

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Various Artists – I Never Met A Guitar (solo guitars for the XXI Century) (CFG 005)
The album consists of sixteen pieces, by the following musicians : Brandon Ross, Elliott Sharp, Gunnar Geisse, Henry Kaiser, Janet Feder, Jean-François Pauvros, Jeff Parker, Kazuhisa Uchihashi, Mary Halvorson, Michael Gregory, Mick Barr, Mike Cooper, Nels Cline, Noel Akchote, Raoul Björkenheim, Scott Fields.

The great thing about the album is the breadth of material that Sharp put together, and the quality and variety of the pieces.

There are some real discoveries here for me : Jean-François Pauvros is absolutely brilliant, demonstrating the beauty of slowness and emotional depth of his extended techniques; Mike Cooper playing on acoustic guitar, very bluesy and sensitive,

And my favorite guitar players of the moment are excellent too on the album : Noël Akchoté playing a crisp and sweet ballad, so does Nels Cline with possibly the most jazzy piece on the album, Raoul Björkenheim showing how subtlety and rawness can be combined, Brandon Ross on his six-string banjo.

Then there are of course the guys who have barely anything to tell, or at least they play stuff that we’ve heard so often before, and that leave me quite indifferent : either the blues (Michael Gregory), avant-garde emptiness (Kazuhisa Uchihashi), high speed emptiness (Mick Barr).

For the guitar freaks, some technical detail is given too about the mics and amps and guitar-builders, but it’s all within the boundaries of acceptability.

That being said, most of the tunes are not jazz at all. Lots of new ideas and insights into modern guitar playing. Not everything works though, and that’s possibly as well.

The Stash Dauber review

Various Artists – “I Never Metaguitar – Solo Guitars for the 21st Century” (CFG 005)
Lately, I’ve been falling in love again with the sound of the guitar. It’s a little orchestra you can carry on your back; plug it in, and you can use it to generate an electronic apocalypse of sci-fi proportions. So I found the arrival of this anthology of forward-looking solo guitar performers, curated for Portuguese li’l-label-that-could Clean Feed by the innovative axe-slinger/composer Elliott Sharp, to be particularly fortuitous. After a couple of spins, I can already tell I’m going to be spending as much time with it as I have with Nels Cline’s Coward and Jeff Beck’s Emotion and Commotion.

Sucker starts off with Mary Halvorson’s “In Two Parts Missing.” Opening with crystalline-toned, two-hand-tapped fret math, Halverson electronically warps and alters her pitch to create a sense of head-spinning discombobulation, then essays some distorted flamenco chords, sounding like a cross between the Sonny Sharrock of Guitar and the Zoot Horn Rollo of “Peon” and “One Red Rose That I Mean.” I guess what I’m saying is, she covers a hell of a lot of sonic turf in just 5:29.

On “Act As If Nothing Ever Happened,” Chicagoan Jeff Parker, whose work with Tortoise I need to investigate, layers searching lines over a shifting backdrop of organ-like chords and pulsing looped scraping noises. Bay Area experimentalist and Beefheart acolyte Henry Kaiser pays a spaciously multi-tracked electro-acoustic tribute to Nels Cline. Jean-Francois Pauvros takes bowed guitar to places Jimmy Page never imagined, making it sound for all the world like a weeping cello. (Electronics are an indispensible element of these solo performances, allowing the players to sample and loop themselves to create architectonic orchestral structures.)

Boulder-based prepared guitar specialist Janet Feder creates an elegiac mood on “Heater.” Raoul Bjorkenheim somehow manages to make his axe sound like a bowed bass, a saxophone, and a flute, sometimes simultaneously. Frenchman Noel Akchote plays a conventional chord progression with a shimmering, tremelo tone, while godfather Nels Cline — who’s poised to become the SRV of experimental guitar, and I mean that in the best way — is uncharacteristically muted and Jim Hall-like. Brandon Ross plays a somber lament on banjo, with wide intervallic leaps, while Mike Cooper plays an Ornette tune on resophonic guitar with slide.

Michael Gregory, a veteran of the ’70s NYC loft scene (when he was known as Michael Gregory Jackson), contributes a mutated Steely Dan blues shuffle. It’s noteworthy that Chicago expat Scott Fields, whose previously Clean Feed release Fugu I reported on earlier this year, recorded the dense and busy improvisation “Buzkashi” totally sans F/X. The sounds on Kazuhisa Uchihashi’s “Little Creatures” are scarcely identifiable as guitar, but not in the same way as Hendrix on Are You Experienced? — rather, the randomized electronic tones recall musique concrete and Stockhausen.

Mick Barr’s “Coiled Malescence” lives up to its name; I found its knife-in-the-ear ECU single-string acrobatics tough going. Luckily, Gunnar Geisse’s “The Day Rauschenberg Met De Kooning” provides some relief with its ringing, although still un-“guitar-like” harmonics. Curator Sharp shuts things down with “Telemetry,” a complex and fast-moving piece that’s more than just an interesting diversion. Those with an ear for this kind of thing should also check out his Octal: Book Two from earlier this year.

All About Jazz Italy review by Luca Canini

Peter Evans – Live in Lisbon (CF 173)
In gergo jazzistico vengono definite “contrafacts”. Si tratta di composizioni ricavate da materiale preesistente, il più delle volte sovrapponendo una nuova linea melodica alla struttura armonica di un brano celebre. La pratica è antica come il jazz, anche se è legata a doppio filo alla rivoluzione bebop e al nome di Charlie Parker (al quale va attribuito il merito di averla elevata al rango di arte). Numerosi e celeberrimi gli esempi di “contrafacts” usciti dalla penna del sassofonista di Kansas City: “Ornithology,” ricavata da “How High the Moon,” “Ko Ko,” ottenuta rimodellando “Cherokee,” “Chasin’ the Bird,” una delle decine di brani derivati da “I Got Rhythm” di Gershwin. Altrettanto famosi i “contrafacts” firmati Monk: “Bright Mississippi” da “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “In Walked Bud” da “Blue Skies,” “Evidence” da “Just You, Just Me”. Per non parlare di “Impressions” di John Coltrane, mutazione genetica della “So What” davisiana. E la lista potrebbe proseguire più o meno all’infinito, tirando in ballo Tristano e tutti i “tristaniani,” Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Jim Hall, John Scofield.

Ma se gli esempi di “contrafacts” potrebbero essere snocciolati a centinaia, fino a oggi mancava un intero disco scientificamente dedicato all’argomento. Ci hanno pensato Peter Evans e la Clean Feed a colmare il vuoto, dando alle stampe la registrazione di un live risalente all’agosto del 2009. Oltre al trombettista newyorchese, sul palco del mitico “Jazz em Agosto,” c’erano il contrabbasso di Tom Blancharte, il pianoforte di Ricardo Gallo e la batteria di Kevin Shea.

Un intero disco dedicato scientificamente all’argomento, si diceva. Già, e la parola chiave è scientificamente. È lo stesso Evans nelle note di copertina a raccontare come il fil rouge sia il confronto cercato e voluto con materiale preesistente. “All,” ad esempio, è un ripensamento cubista di “All the Things You Are,” mentre “Latticework” nasce dalla sovrapposizione di due brani: “Lush Life” di Billy Strayhorn e “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” di Mingus. E se “What” è prevedibilmente basata su “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “For ICP” è una sorta di collage ispirato alle musiche dell’orchestra di Mengelberg e Bennink.

L’operazione, ovviamente, non ha nulla a che fare con il citazionismo gratuito e nemmeno con la rimasticazione sterile di polverosi standard. Live in Lisbon, pur non riuscendo a smarcarsi da una certa vena cervellotica, è intrigante e godibile dal primo all’ultimo minuto. Forse un tantino labirintico, ma senza dubbio pensato con estrema lucidità. Evans, poi, è un musicista magnifico e un fenomenale improvvisatore (come già testimoniato dal recente Nature/Culture, doppio per solo tromba pubblicato dalla Psi di Evan Parker).

File under impossible mainstream.

The Stash Dauber review

Jason Robinson /Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198 )
In the fullness of time, the ’70s have come to seem (to your humble chronicler o’ events, at least) like a golden age of jazz, possibly because that was when I was discovering the music. The thrill of the new sticks with you. Back in the ’70s, some of my favorite recordings were duos — a format that, besides being inexpensive to record and a reflection of the influence of the AACM, also tended to throw the performers’ individual contributions and interaction between them into brilliant relief.

Bassist Charlie Haden was responsible for some of the ones I loved best: Closeness and The Golden Number with revolving casts of partners, and As Long As There’s Music with pianist Hampton Hawes. (If you’re lucky enough to live in Fort Worth, Doc’s Records had the first two of those the last time I looked.)

Another recording from the period I recall today with some fondness was pianist Anthony Davis’ Of Blues and Dreams, which, atypically for the time, was largely through-composed, a finely wrought set of chamber jazz. Davis went on to compose operas and teach at universities, but the latest batch of Clean Feed releases includes this 2008 date that pairs him with multi-reed man Jason Robinson, with whom he’s been duetting since 1998.

For the most part, the pieces that Robinson and Davis prepared for this set are almost Ellingtonian in their lapidary elegance and beauty, highlighting the richness of Davis’ chordal voicings and Robinson’s big, brawny, Ben Webster-ish tone on tenor. On Robinson’s “Vicissitudes (For Mel)” and the impressionistic title tune from Of Blues and Dreams, which they revisit here, the two men evoke the spirits of Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons. The theme to “Andrew” (which could be a dedication to Mr. Hill, I suppose) has a Monkian angularity. A nice surprise.

Jazzreview review by Glenn Astarita

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Deluxe (CF 174)
Deluxe marks bassist Chris Lightcap’s third album as a leader.  He’s well-travelled and looms as a significant session bassist for a wide scope of progressive-jazz veterans, including drummer Matt Wilson and other luminaries.  The artist morphs the title of his 2003 release for the Fresh Sound, New Talent label into the band name, featuring a top-flight sax section, here on this craftily arranged production.

Craig Taborn instills a sense of antiquity into the session via his Wurlitzer piano work.  He generates a cunning edge to complement the saxophonists’ appeasing fusion of tranquility, warmth and boisterous improvisational segments.  Moreover, Lightcap and estimable drummer Gerald Cleaver lay down the firm grooves, while projecting fluidity during pumped-up backbeats and when supporting the high impact sax choruses.

The band generates blood, sweat, and tears on pieces formed by yearning lines, bluesy phrasings and hardcore progressive-jazz frameworks.  Among other positives, the rhythm section provides the underpinning for an explosive sax attack amid rolling and tumbling sequences.  On “The Clutch,” Lightcap and Cleaver dish out a samba-jazz pulse, accentuated by Taborn’s airy and sparse notes.  It’s a calm before the storm approach, topped off with the soloists streaming extended notes within a cyclical groove.  They segue into a piece titled “Two-Face,” where the saxophonists delve into a free-form extravaganza, spiced with rifling lines and intersecting mini-themes.

Lightcap successfully combines a new wine in old bottles tactic, highlighted by strong material and subliminally stated overtones.  His compositions combine rugged aspects with sinuous patterns and an in-the-pocket component that contrasts intermittent and somewhat understated nods to other genres.   It all coalesces rather efficiently in concert with a highly-entertaining form factor.

All About Jazz New York review by Clifford Allen

The cello is, like the bass clarinet, now something of a regular axe in the arsenal of creative music. Players like Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ernst Reijseger, Okkyung Lee, Glynis Lomon and Erik Friedlander’s extraordinary differences fill the palette. One can add New York-based cellist Daniel Levin to that mix.

Bacalhau (CF 195) is the second live recording of Levin’s quartet to be released on Clean Feed and finds the leader in conversation with trumpeter Nate Wooley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and bassist Peter Bitenc on nine pieces recorded at the 2009 Jazz ao Centro Festival in Coimbra, Portugal. Though the quartet might seem to operate on the side of ‘chamber improvisation’, such a judgment is quite far from the group’s reality, supported as it is by Bitenc’s meaty, solid pizzicato. Importantly, the quartet is an extraordinarily cooperative group – a band – and as a result, the leader is absent on one track. Though brief, this duo between Wooley and Moran (“Duo Nate and Matt”) serves to assert this unified singularity, presenting circularbreathed swaths and dashes of bowed lamella in a commingling of tones that both echo and result from electronic manipulation.  Following is a quartet piece, “Bronx #3”, that sets Levin in an internal call-and-response supported by the bassist’s walk, soon joined by the crisp, sputtering fragment/mass of Wooley’s trumpet in a detailed,  blustery fracas. Moran and Bitenc are cool counterpoint, measured motion and accent in relief to shouted and strung volleys. A slight holler enters into Levin’s unaccompanied opening to “Dock”, a bluesy stretch and gentle pluck anchoring this fragment before the lilting, simple theme enters and is followed by a river of mobiles from Moran’s vibes. A chunky repeating bass figure opens “P’s Jammes”, leading into postbop brass pirouettes and elongated arco snap. Metal, wood and string fold into one another and just as quickly disperse in recanted comments.

Soulstorm (CF 184) brings Levin together with tenorman Ivo Perelman and bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg on a two-disc set of trio improvisations. While the presence of heavy-hitting tenor might signal thoughts of a typical power trio, this threesome is decidedly different. The presence of Levin also speaks to Perelman’s history, for he’s also recorded doubling on cello. The set is divided into a studio and a live disc, with all pieces collectively improvised. What’s paramount in this set is the way in which Perelman and Levin work together. Rather than crisp exercises in contrast, they draw from a similar palette, long lines of burnished vocal tenor dovetailing with a fine, meaty drone and liquid crags. Perelman plays the tenor soft and thick, spry and swirling with material hue. Levin’s arms and bow match fingers and keys complementarily, his jousts a hum of declamatory gestures. Though it’s clearly a show for reed and cello, Zetterberg adds a constant foundational undercurrent; rather than matching wits with Perelman and Levin’s fluttering buzzsaws, he’s a quietly creative motor. With surges of raw emotion and humanist abstraction, Soulstorm presents a heady brew even in the sparsest moments.

All About Jazz New York review by Clifford Allen

Joe Morris / Nate Wooley – Tooth and Nail (CF 190)
Because trumpeter Nate Wooley has worked in methods that straddle a number of areas – including noise music, as well as free improvisation and jazz – one might expect this duo with Joe Morris (heard here on guitar) to lean heavily on the pillars of extremity. Morris, too, often embraces net-less abstraction as well as wry straightahead contexts. However, Tooth and Nail sticks very true to its character, however uniquethat is, of an acoustic guitar and trumpet duo.

The eight improvisations here are about as naked as one could hope for and yet still proffer a futuristvision of breathy dives, spittle-demarked kisses and taut cycles of metal and wood. In addition to voicings and intervals, Morris uses horizontal scrapes along the strings in condensed clusters. Alternately muted and bright flecks at either end of the instrument or detuned thwack all enter the picture. But the sounds’ origin remains clear and immediate, specifically connected to and drawn from guitar and trumpet. “Metronorth” finds Wooley, in a few short bars, moving from inverted pucker to stately cadenza, to leaps and flutters as Morris’ progressions seem to turn inward, condensing as much as they spur.

One can hear the history of the modern trumpet in Wooley’s playing – Miles, Freddie Hubbard, Wadada Leo Smith and the pure-sound circular breathing of Axel Dörner – but that’s not to say his playing is a pastiche, rather a beautifully interconnected statement in brass. The pair trade foreground and background, clambering folksy concentration supported by descending muted guffaws on “Steelhead” or violinlike free scrabble opposite thick, muscular clouds and churning multiphonics on “Forrest Grove”. Tooth and Nail sets up its own tradition while also looking to the past and contemporaries.

All About Jazz New York review by Ken Waxman

SKM (Gauci / Davis / Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Stretching herself musically by playing with a variety of local bands, including her own, pianist Kris Davis reaches a pinnacle of sorts with this almost completely improvised outing, as part of a co-op trio, whose other members are as busy as she. Luckily bassist Michael Bisio and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci have developed similarly simpatico interactions, often working as sidemen in each other’s groups. Still Three is different. Lacking the dominant beats a drummer would bring to the session, the trio take turns assaying the rhythm function, with the saxophonist’s harsh vibrations and unexpected chord substitutions as crucial as the bassist’s string slapping and pumping or the pianist’s jagged percussive patterns. Similarly, bravura technical skills mixed with fearless invention take the place of any expected chord progressions they would rely on in other situations. If weaknesses are exposed, it’s because at times the ad hoc structure prevents at least one of the trio from outputting more than token comping or obbligatos. This is apparent on a tune like the otherwise stellar “Groovin’ for the Hell of It”. Slyly subverting the title’s promise, rhythmic impetus is expressed through foot pedal weight and key banging that bring the piano’s lowest quadrant into play, plus tremolo vibrations and pressurized saxophone reed bites. Bisio appears MIA. However he makes up for this elsewhere, when contrasting dynamics are expressed through his step-by-step walking that often shadows jagged saxophone slurs or when his muscular bass slaps complement almost outrageously syncopated piano lines.

Confirming SKM’s roles as quasi-percussionists is the sardonic “Something from Nothing”. With Bisio’s rubato maneuvers making it appear as if he’s creating tabla-like echoes with his bass, Davis’ rough-edged chording involves the soundboard plus the keyboard, with the resulting kinetic tones sounding more metallic than acoustic. Add Gauci’s discursive and staccato reed bites and the end result here – and on most other tunes – is both multi-faceted and magisterial.

Kuadratuur review by Koen Van Meel

Peter Evans Quartet – Live in Lisbon (CF 173)
Voor diegenen die alles tot in de details willen uitvlooien, legt Peter Evans de muziek uit in de inlay: op welke standards de nummers gebaseerd zijn, hoe ze vervormd of in elkaar gedraaid worden, hoe een ostinaat ter plekke uitgebeend kan worden of hoe de puzzel van de muziek in elkaar past. Belangrijker – zeker voor wie de technische gegevens aan zich voorbij laat gaan – is het muzikale resultaat van al deze flexibiliteit en beheersing.

Zelden klonk complexiteit zo spontaan en energiek. De luisteraar wordt onderworpen aan een spervuur van ideeën door vier muzikanten die buitengewoon gretig klinken en elkaar constant bestoken. Deze muzikale weelde is het gevolg van het treffen van muzikanten die vrij en op akkoordenschema’s kunnen spelen, vaardigheden die in combinatie met technisch meesterschap voor quasi onbeperkte mogelijkheden zorgen.

De dominantie van Peter Evans is sprekend. De natuurlijke kracht in zijn toon, zijn melodische flair zonder in cliché’s te vervallen en zijn wil om in verschillende uiteenlopende bezettingen te opereren, maken hem tot een waardige erfgenaam van Dave Douglas. Daarbij komen zijn beheersing en trefzekerheid in alle registers van het instrument en zijn oor voor detail (zoals de subtiele toonverbuigingen in ‘What’ – los gebaseerd op ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’), waardoor hij de onbetwiste leider van de groep wordt. Niet dat hij geen weerwerk krijgt. Pianist Riccardo Gallo stuurt de muziek immers vaak in het gevaarlijke vaarwater: nu eens met McCoy Tyner-achtige flarden melodieën tussen grootse akkoorden, dan weer met hamerende clusters die naar Cecil Taylor lijken te verwijzen.

Onder Evans en Gallo dendert en dondert het ritmeduo van bassist Tim Blancarte en drummer Kevin Shea. De laatste is zijn ongedurige zelve: hij weigert zich zoals steeds vast te zetten in grooves en rammelt zijn collega’s van hot naar her. Het geluid Blancarte is dan weer opvallend omwille van de “volledigheid”. Het mooiste bewijs hiervan levert hij in ‘Interlude 3’ waar hij in zijn eentje het hele klankspectrum weet op te vullen, tot in het overvloedige toe. Magistraal zijn de tempoveranderingen waaraan Blancarte en Shea de muziek en hun collega’s onderwerpen: wie hier niet mee is, is gezien.

Het meest indrukwekkende aspect van het album is echter de manier waarop het kwartet als een geheel te werk gaat. Het krimpt en zet uit, schijnbaar zonder afspraak of teken. Het gezamenlijk uitdunnen en stilvallen in ‘All’ (een verbastering van ‘All the Things You Are’) of de delicate, zachte en dampachtige sound van ‘Interlude 1’ verraden een stevige samenhang. In ‘Latticework’ verschijnt die op een heel andere manier: de hoekige coördinatie en de schijnbaar onmogelijke (maar toch hoorbare) samenspraak maken de muziek heel organisch, maar ook hopeloos om volgen voor de buitenstaander.

‘Live in Lisbon’ is een plaat waar bebop en freejazz, tonaliteit en atonaliteit, polyfonie en alleenheerschappij over en door elkaar heen razen in een rotvaart die de luisteraar genadeloos in de touwen smijt. Een plaat waarop alleen de interludes al interessanter zijn dan de volwaardige stukken van vele andere groepen.