Daily Archives: September 7, 2010

All About Jazz New York review by John Sharpe

Rudi Mahall/Simon Nabatov/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger – Nicht Ohne Robert Volume 1 (JazzHaus Musik)
Sonnenschirm Heinrich Köbberling (Jazzwerkstatt)
Jason Stein – In Exchange for a Process  (Leo)
Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)

Although the bass clarinet had found favor in the past (Ellington’s baritone saxophonist Harry Carney occasionally toted one) it wasn’t until Eric Dolphy blazed the trail in 1960 that the instrument began to be more widely aired. In his seminal book Jazz German critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt writes, “unlike the conventional, clarinet, the bass clarinet can also produce colors that jazz saxophonists appreciate: vocal, rough, overblown sounds.” Not surprisingly then most of the musicians who use the larger horn also choose to double on saxophones, using the more sonorous instrument for a change of pace or tone. Even Dolphy, who allied his virtuoso approach with a wildly vocalized tone to electrifying effect, notably on Ornette’s Free Jazz but also with Coltrane on Live at the Village Vanguard, also featured alto saxophone and flute. But that’s no longer the case. These four discs, feature two reedmen who have taken bass clarinet as their sole axe and they make a convincing case for the scope it can cover and the benefits of specialization.

Rudi Mahall (veteran of various groups led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach) assumes a prominent role on Nicht Ohne Robert Volume 1, the first of a putative ongoing series documenting first-time meetings with upcoming German bassist Robert Landfermann. The young bassist has chosen his accomplices wisely to start this venture; alongside the experienced bass clarinetist are accomplished improviser and composer Simon Nabatov (piano) and Cologne regular Christian Lillinger (drums). Recorded at the renowned Loft, the four pieces are freely improvised without lead sheets, rehearsals or agreements to act as a safety net. Mahall jumps in from the off, starting in the clarinet range, Nabatov etching blocky chords in support, presaging a sequence of dense exciting interplay. The lengthy first piece sets the template for the set: shifting combinations with the focus passing round the band in unpredictable fashion. Nabatov probes and pummels with two-handed mastery. While Mahall dances elegantly on “I”, he traverses the further reaches elsewhere, signaled by the harsh blasts and vocalized whimpers of “II”, before enjoying a concluding duet with the nimble Landfermann on “IV”.

Sonnenschirm under the leadership of drummer Heinrich Köbberling contains a 65-minute program of nine originals supplemented by three short duets for Mahall and each bandmember. There is a relaxed airy feel to the date with pleasantly harmonious tunes and soloing, like sunshine sparkling on a glistening swimming pool. Mahall seems intent on echoing West Coast tenor saxophone or clarinet in preference to demonstrating the distinctive traits of the instrument. In itself that is fascinating, but also fits right in with the milieu of Köbberling’s quartet. Expatriate American bassist Paul Imm contributes melodic solos, as on “Pisces”, and understated time while Köbberling is similarly tasteful and responsive. Pianist Tino Derado also doubles on accordion, overdubbed to round out some of the ensembles, and pitches in with some bright solos as on “You Better Put It In The Tupperware” and “Bobby”. While Mahall does inevitably tend to wildness around the edges, he might easily have been on standard clarinet for this comparatively mainstream session, an avenue worth investigating for those enamored of the ECM sound but looking for a new name to pick up on.

Unlike Mahall, Chicago-based Jason Stein’s conception focuses firmly on the extremes capable of being extracted from the bass clarinet and all that lies between. It would be a fruitless task attempting to describe each track on Stein’s solo outing In Exchange for a Process. Each of the 11 cuts is an improvisation based around exploration of unconventional sound and pitch gained through a variety of advanced techniques. Stein seems to alight upon promising areas and then prospects them at greater length, like the keypad popping of “Paint By Number” or whinnying cries of “Temporary Framing of Dr. J”. However, notwithstanding Stein’s invention, ultimately the lack of differentiation afforded by charts, context or colleagues makes for a demanding listen even though spread over no more than 42 minutes. Three Less Than Between is the sophomore offering from Stein’s Locksmith Isidore. Over the course of an hour the trio delineates an intense free-form territory across 11 tracks, even though all are credited to the hornman. Stein has annexed associates who are as interested in timbre and tone as him, which manifests in a well-balanced trio of equals confident in how they will react and alert to new directions. Jason Roebke’s assertive bass veers between tough-toned bursts of rhythm, ringing harmonics and arco scrapes and blends well with drummer Mike Pride, who moves easily between clattering texture and more gradated time. Stein has some lovely moments, stretching out on “Stevenesque” with extended squeals developing organically from the theme, touching on the same sort  of areas as his solo album, but with greater success derived from the more overtly musical setting. A pleasing passage on “Augusta Gun” pitches hesitant and slurred bass clarinet against metallic percussion textures before the walking bass takes to the floor again. While the heads are no more than functional, they provide a great launching pad for involved free collective improv, from the perky opening “Protection And Provocation” to the doomy portent of the low-key “Sad Crestwood”.

All About Jazz New York review by Wilbur MacKenzie

Bit Heads Daniel Blacksberg Trio (NoBusiness)
Bendowa Nobuyasu Furuya Trio (CF 159)
Intuitivo Fernando Benadon (Innova)

While there is in increasing flood of new releases by both new and established musicians, the sheer capacity to transfer information to some degree levels the playing field and provides opportunities for those blessed with ingenuity to find support for their work. These releases are all excellent examples of new voices in the creative music world, each finding a unique channel for sharing their ideas.

Philadelphia-based trombonist Daniel Blacksberg has been active throughout the northeast in recent years, premiering works by Anthony Braxton, Gunther Schuller, Danilo Pérez and the late Steve Lacy, as well as working with many top improvisers. Lithuania’s No Business Records recently released Bit Heads, the vinyl debut of Blacksberg’s trio with fellow Philadelphiabased artists Jon Barrios (bass) and Mike Szekely (drums). A virtuosic technician with abundant creativity and a drive to engage disparate and unlikely scenarios, Blacksberg presents a strong statement as an improviser and thoughtful bandleader. Barrios and Szekely form a solid foundation, but often the trio interacts in the three-equal-parts approach reminiscent of the innovative Threadgill-McCall-Hopkins band Air. “Fanfare for a Scrambled Race” starts off, offering one of the few standard head-three solos-head forms on the record and is followed with “Just Shy of Hope”, an introspective mix of texture and melodic information. “Deforestation” presents a very lithe theme expounded upon with bowed bass and muted trombone, with Szekely accompanying gracefully. “The Closer” follows to take the group immediately on an exuberant excursion through a dense, high-velocity theme. The record closes with the extended improvisational forms of “Shot to the End”, the ensemble constantly shifting between solo-duotrio combinations, with fragmented melodic ideas and jagged rhythmic shifts, essentially summarizing the various sonic terrains explored throughout the preceding seven tracks.

Woodwinds and culinary delicacies are the twin areas of expertise of saxophonist/flutist Nobuyasu Furuya. Born in Japan and currently residing in Lisbon, Furuya employs the skill of a master chef in how he carefully combines colorful ingredients in his music. Bendowa features the rhythm section of the excellent Portuguese RED Trio and the group is unabashed in their affinity for the early practitioners of the avant garde (Archie Shepp and Peter Brötzmann are named specifically). The disc’s five improvisations cover many areas, often employing a zen-like sense of grace even in the most intense scenarios. There are plenty moments of great subtlety as well, a palpable sense of mindfulness in the sparse textures found in the second and third pieces. Drummer Gabriel Ferrandini mixes extremes of space, density, momentum and gesture in his thoughtful dialogues with his bandmates, always displaying impeccable taste and timing. The interactions between Furuya and bassist Hernâni Faustino are quite emphatic and the common language the two share sets the stage for a constant parade of fascinating musical conversations.

A very unusual process was used for the recording of Fernando Benadon’s Intuitivo: the music heard is the result of Benadon’s process of recording each of the seven performers individually and then cutting and pasting different sections together to make a composition using the actual recordings as the source material. Such a process calls attention to the idea of ownership as it relates to the collaborative dialogue between composer and improviser: As with Bob Ostertag’s innovative Verbatim and Say No More sampling project, the composer steps back from part of the process and all the notes are the creation of the musicians, who received no instruction prior to recording their improvisations. The composer’s work resides in the conception of the project and in the actual reconfiguration of the material into something completely new. The end result comes off remarkably cohesive – tonality is often quite distinct, tempi and dynamics are well matched and different factions of the septet sound as if they were listening to each other quite closely, rather than playing unaccompanied with no idea of what anyone else had contributed. Bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Nasar Abedey make some strong grooves happen despite working completely independently of each other and violinists Courtney Orlando and Evan Price sound perfect together. Benadon has thought a great deal about texture, painstakingly assembling different combinations of players to create variety and nuance.

All About Jazz New York review by Stuart Broomer

Originally from Germany, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has spent a good deal of her career in England working in idioms ranging from Brazilian jazz to postbop. Since relocating to Brooklyn, she’s established a reputation as a free improviser. She released the notable Sleepthief (Intakt, 2008) to some substantial acclaim. Her individuality and thoughtfulness are much in evidence on these discs, from moments of quietly energized lyricism to visceral multiphonics. As different as the conceptions are, Laubrock keeps her distinctive personality intact.

Paradoxical Frog, with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and pianist Kris Davis, emphasizes minimalist and structuralist tendencies. Sorey and Davis contribute three pieces each and Laubrock two and for the most part they’re definitely compositions. Though notes may be chosen at will, their inner workings are often structured. Davis’ “Feldman” – undoubtedly dedicated to composer Morton – begins with isolated gestures from every instrument. Sudden random splashes from the keyboard, muffled drum strokes and airy saxophone phrases gradually coalesce into dense group play only to cede suddenly to a quiet theme from piano and saxophone that gradually creates a feeling of suspended animation and quiet beauty. The Feldman impulse is apparent, too, in Sorey’s composition “Homograph”, a tense alternation of piano and tenor notes that gradually increase in duration and is so insistently composed that the composer doesn’t play on the track. While this sparse methodology can build extraordinary degrees of tension or grace, there are also turbulent moments of real energy, as in Laubrock’s title piece, made all the more memorable by the CD’s striking contrasts.

Drummer Tom Rainey has been a mainstay of many bands, working extensively with Tim Berne and Mark Helias. Pool School is his debut as a bandleader, but what it demonstrates most strongly is his sense of the collective spirit of the music, engaging two forceful younger musicians in continuous intense interplay. While there seem to be some themes here (everything is collectively composed, usually the mark of free improvisation), they’re handled in the loosest way. Laubrock’s beautifully deliberated wanderings on “Home Opener” maintain their independence against guitarist Mary Halvorson’s insistent, spiking counter-lines and Rainey’s random punctuations while “Semi-Bozo” begins with light, high-speed figuration that suddenly intensifies and explodes. Rainey’s developed sense of dynamics generates many of the session’s most compelling moments, for example matching quietly urgent tom-toms against Laubrock’s light, high-speed runs on the title track. Laubrock is a player of real resource, pulling new material out at will here (there’s some madly chirping soprano on “Coney” and duck-quack on “Crinkles”) and she’s a fine match for Halvorson, who finds new things to do on every session, and Rainey, a drummer so intuitive he can sound locked-in on patterns that are still coalescing.

All About Jazz New York review by Matthew Miller

Convergence Quartet – Song/Dance (CF 187)
Harris Eisenstadt – Woodblock Prints (NoBusiness)
It’s rare that a group’s name speaks volumes about its sound and philosophy, but mark The Convergence Quartet down as an exception. The name sounds unremarkable until you hear the striking chemistry drummer Harris Eisenstadt, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash achieve on Song/Dance, the group’s second release. Its members hail from three different countries, but it is the convergence of four distinct artists and the uncommonly compelling results achieved that make the name truly resonate. Bynum and Eisenstadt will be familiar to NYC jazz fans and have played together in a number of configurations. Hawkins and Lash hail from and are still based in the UK, performing with John Butcher, Evan Parker and Joe McPhee. As fierce as Bynum, Eisenstadt, Lash and Hawkins are capable of playing, Song/Dance starts with a piano phrase that sounds like a lilting children’s song. “Second” quickly develops into a rousing group improvisation, but it never loses its singsong quality. As varied as the nine selections are, that same clarity and effortless focus pervade the album. “Iris” begins
with whistling split tones and breathy, melodramatic low notes from Bynum. At the height of the solo improvisation, Hawkins enters with an insistent chord pattern that introduces a jaunty theme that forms the basis for another free-associative performance by the quartet. The South African traditional song “Kudala” (Long Ago) is a fitting conclusion to this wonderfully assured album. Hawkins states the joyous theme before Bynum and the other members enter with wild abandon, abstracting melody and harmony, but never straying from the piece’s profound simplicity. Since arriving in New York in the early ‘00s, Eisenstadt has established himself equally as a composer and drummer. Like a number of his peers – Tyshawn Sorey comes to mind – he is committed to his composing to the point that he can remove himself for extended portions of an album or play an entirely supportive role, content to melt into his own sinewy composed lines. He does both on Woodblock Prints, his latest release for NoBusiness Records. Available only as a limited edition LP, Woodblock Prints is that rare album that seems entirely free from commercial concerns. The record sleeve itself features a beautiful impressionistic print of a budding tree branch and subtle but eye-catching text. Everything about it harkens to a time when an album was an experience – a work of art in itself.  Of course, the music is what makes an album and the six Eisenstadt compositions don’t disappoint. Side A and B begin with wind instrument trios that feature French hornist Mark Taylor and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck among others, as well as Eisenstadt’s ability as a composer and arranger. Despite the nearly thru-composed nature of many of the pieces, Eisenstadt leaves room for improvisation and injects jazz-inflected chords throughout, especially on his inspired tribute to pianist Andrew Hill. This ability to mix composed and improvised materials is what makes Eisenstadt such a compelling composer and Woodblock Prints such a memorable album.

Time Out Lisboa review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

TGB – Evil Things (CF 181)

A tuba, o metal mais pesado do instrumentário, tem tido, vá lá perceber-se porquê, pouca aplicação no heavy metal e correntes similares, dominadas por guitarras em forma de V ou tridente. O segundo disco dos TGB corrige este desacerto – resta esperar que sirva de exemplo e que os Slipknot e os Metallica admitam o corpulento aerofone nas suas fileiras.

O amor dos TGB pelo rock pesado já se percebera no seu disco de estreia, que inclui “Black Dog”, dos Led Zeppelin. Em Evil Things revisitam-se, em registo irónico, outros decanos do género: Black Sabbath (o psicadélico e ronceiro “Planet Caravan”) e Deep Purple (“The Mule”). Mas não se ficam por aqui as incursões metálicas: “Nameloc” inclui uma paródia ao circo testosterónico do metal e “Aleister Crowley” incorpora os urros guturais de Paulo Ramos – e aqui a piada torna-se desnecessariamente explícita e longa. Além do grande virtuosismo (ninguém sabe do que uma tuba é capaz enquanto não ouvir Sérgio Carolino) e sentido de humor, outra das qualidades dos TGB é o ecletismo – e assim os momentos de sangue & tripas e as inquietações de filme de terror (“The Weird Clown”) convivem com o plácido “Interplay”, de Bill Evans, com planícies ondulantes de folk-country ambiental (com Delgado em guitarra acústica e dobro) e até com chocarreiras danças sul-americanas, a evocar Tom Waits e Marc Ribot (“Close Your Eyes”).

Não há, pois, razão para chamar um exorcista: os TGB estão possuídos, sim, mas pelo espírito da irreverência e da irrisão.

Time Out Lisboa review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

Keefe Jackson – Seeing You See (CF 176)
Keefe Jackson, saxofonista de Chicago que milita nos Lucky 7 (cujo Pluto Junkyard foi aqui distinguido como um dos discos de 2009), juntou-se ao trombonista Jeb Bishop (seu parceiro nos Lucky 7 e, durante anos, um esteio do Vandermark 5), ao contrabaixista Jason Roebke e ao baterista Noritaka Tanaka, para cultivar um free bop azougado. Seeing You See vai do hard bop clássico, com walking bass e swing (“Put My Finger On It”) à resmunguice doméstica em tarde de chuva miúda (“Since Then”), mas faltam faixas memoráveis, pese embora o virtuosismo dos intervenientes (sobretudo Bishop).

Não sendo destituído de interesse, corre o risco de não ter marca distintiva – um problema que afligia muito hard bop dos 50s/60s e que paira sobre a moderna variante.

Time Out review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

Fight The Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)

Os aficionados da festa brava têm motivos para exultar: estão de regresso os Fight The Big Bull. Que não se inquietem os defensores dos nossos irmãos de quatro patas, que aqui não há picadores, matadores ou bandarilheiros e nenhum animal foi maltratado na feitura do disco. O mesmo não se pode afiançar em relação aos instrumentos, dados os uivos lancinantes e estertores inquietantes que se fazem ouvir.

O grupo tem sede não em Málaga, mas em Richmond, Virgínia, a metade espanhola do site bilingue da banda é hilariante (apresentam-se como “Luche La Bull Grande”) e as suas referências são, não Manolete e El Cordobés, mas Charles Mingus e Duke Ellington.

O anterior Dying Will be Easy foi um dos cinco discos de jazz de 2008 da Time Out Lisboa e só dois detalhes o separavam da perfeição: a gravação ao vivo nem sempre tinha a limpidez ideal e a duração ficava-se pela meia hora. O novo CD tem um som pujante e claro, dura 76 minutos e, como se isso não bastasse, Steve Bernstein, que em Dying Will Be Easy apenas redigia as notas de capa, salta para a arena como trompetista e compositor.

O guitarrista Matt White, o líder deste formidável undecateto, partilha com Bernstein a composição, assina um solo demoníaco em “Mothra” e faz de sirene de nevoeiro em “Eddie and Cameron Strike Back” – antes de o tema tomar o freio nos dentes e se lançar à desfilada.

Num tempo em que muito jazz cultiva a abstracção glacial ou o neo-classicismo sorumbático, é revigorante ouvir uma banda que, sendo resolutamente moderna, recupera a alegria, exuberância e visceralidade dos primórdios do género, com riffs contagiantes, ritmos avassaladores e solos apoplécticos. Quem é que faz o favor de trazer esta gente ao Campo Pequeno?