Louis Sclavis, Craig Taborn, Tom Rainey – Eldorado Trio (CF 193)
France has two great clarinet players: Jean-Marc Foltz whose latest album, “To The Moon”, still figures in the “Albums Of The Month” section.The other one is Louis Sclavis, without a doubt better known, and quite prolific. The problem with him is that he switches genres easily, between film music, straight-ahead jazz, avant classical, avant chamber jazz, over his great African trio, duets with Aki Takase, tightly composed modern jazz, to more adventurous music. Not all his initiatives are successful, and the breadth of his scope make each new album a surprise in style. That can be good, but sometimes also disappointing.
This trio is pure jazz with composed pieces and improvised tracks, but all with an adventurous streak, and that’s only possible and successful because of the superb musicianship both technically and creatively. Sclavis is of course on bass clarinet, but also on soprano sax, Craig Taborn plays piano and Tom Rainey drums, without a doubt each among the best on their instrument today.
The compositions range between the melancholy (“La Visite”) and the joyful (“Up Down Up”, “Possibilities”), or even the slightly insane (“Luccioles”), but all of them are musical delights. On “La Visite”, on which after a long and sad Taborn piano moment, Sclavis brings some of the most heart-rending bass clarinet-playing that I’ve heard in a while, slowly driving his beautiful playing to a wailing climax.
Sclavis is excellent throughout, using his full skillset on the clarinet from classical over swing to modern music, Taborn and Rainey are not only functional but they create the overall environment becoming a perfect fit for the variations in mood and styles, not just accompanying but creating the context in which the soloist must journey. Despite the variations, the music is still very coherent. One of Sclavis’ least polished albums, yet the rawness of the adventure suits him quite well.
Joe Morris & Nate Wooley – Tooth And Nail (CF 190)
I have had the chance to listen to this album many months before it was released (thanks Nate!), and even if I found it hard and harsh and raw during the first listens, with Morris’s nervous little guitar sounds cascading over each other, bouncing back and forth, with trumpeter Nate Wooley’s tones ranging from the voiced to almost soundless whispers.
Because Morris plays acoustic guitar, and because Wooley’s trumpet sound is the opposite from muscular, with notes falling out of his trumpet rather than soaring through the ceiling, the music is incredibly intimate and close, warm even, despite the atonal nature of the proceedings. It is an alien universe, but like most avant-garde work, you as the listener need to make an effort too.
And once you’ve listened to it a lot, you start discerning structure, or repeated patterns, or little echoes that are not so obvious at first hearing. And once you’re in their universe, it all is very welcoming, charming even, precious, sensitive and fragile.
Listen to Morris’s intro to the second piece “Gigantica”, on which – in contrast to the title – sounds escape from the guitar that you would not expect, almost harplike, yet each note played in singular isolation, with lots of space around them. Wooley accentuates by blowing some little puffs of air over it. But on other tracks the guitar evolves with arpeggiated chords, equally minimalist yet with a touch more density, with the trumpet adding voiced interaction, in a language that is incomprehensible though touching.
It is a strange universe, but it is coherent, appealing and sometimes even hypnotic.
Louis Sclavis, Craig Taborn and Tom Rainey – Eldorado Trio (CF 193)
Building organically out of the collective improvisational consciousness of the three musicians here, this live album has a very natural flow to it, moving between jagged freebop rooted in the great music of Eric Dolphy and a selection of lonely and moody ballads that develop like abstract art. The collective trio consists of Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Tom Rainey on drums. “Let It Drop” opens the album with a choppy melody featuring rippling fast piano and drums. Sclavis comes in with fast exciting bass clarinet, building to a high intensity peak. I heard the Dolphy influence come through especially strong on “Up Down Up” which develops a vertical improvisation, making way for a cool section where the bass clarinet bubbles underneath piano and drums. The group gets really jazzy on the bopping head-nodding “Possibilities” which is fresh and lively and very accessible. Some of the slower performances are very evocative as well. Dedicated to the late saxophonist, “Steve Lacy” has a slow and mysterious feel, sounding elegiac and melancholy. Sclavis uses honks and squeals to accentuate the swirling saxophone that was Lacy’s stock and trade. Sadness and loneliness are the emotions that inhabit “La Viste” beginning with spare and open piano and then building to an emotional clarinet solo. The music is stark and naked in its emotional resonance. The disc ends on a somber yet stoic note with “Eldorado,” an improvisation that uses slow hollow clarinet and light brushes to probe an emotional soundscape. This was a consistently interesting album, that show three talented musicians working together as one unit. There are spaces for solo expression in this album, but the most effective and impressive statements came from the group playing as a cohesive unit, making collective performances that were very impressive.
Julian Arguelles – Ground Rush (CF 191)
Tenor saxophonist Julian Arguelles leads a tight modern trio, playing state of the art in post-bop jazz on this very well done album also featuring Michael Formanek on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. The trio embarks from the area that Sonny Rollins explored in his great trio albums Live at the Village Vanguard, Way Out West and Freedom Suite. They take this vibe and push it further into the realm where post-bop and avant-garde meet and mingle, yet the music remains quite accessible and exciting throughout. “Mr. MC” opens with a nod to the Coltrane classic “Mr. P.C.” playing fast and well integrated free-bop, collectivism at work as the band plays very well together. Thick bass and a medium tempo usher in “Fife” before Argulles saxophone picks up the pace in a strong yet controlled manner. He uses some well placed honks and squeals to accentuate “Filthy Rich” building a raw saxophone solo over complex drumming. A touch of funk and blues enlivens “Blood Eagle” which is a medium tempoed spacious performance, featuring nice teamwork in its collective improvisation. They slow down to a spare and haunted ballad tempo for “From One JC to Another” which has a yearning and emotional feel with long low sax tones and probing bass. “Buleria” is one of the highlights of the album building nicely from a slow opening to a section of growling saxophone over loping bass and drums. The subtle dynamics that are built by Formanek and Rainey keep the music continually fresh and playful, they build to a fast paced collective improvisation and then out. “Redman” wraps up the album nicely with strong deep saxophone and drums, free and exciting with a deft bass and drums section. This well integrated trio sounds like the have been playing for a long time, but I think they just came together for this session. Hopefully they can become a regular unit since the empathy they have for each other and the music is very impressive.
SKM (Stephen Gauci/ Kris Davis/ Michael Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Operating under the ostensible leadership of saxophonist Stephen Gauci, but still very much an ensemble affair, versatility factors prominently on this straightforward trio set. Gauci and bassist Michael Bisio are well-established colleagues, their associations formed in the last decade on a number of projects for CIMP. Canadian pianist Kris Davis moves in similar circles having worked with New York notables like Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. Their rapport manifests right away, stressing spontaneity rather than any predictable path with their instrumentation. It’s a “down to brass tacks” approach echoed in a simple initials-as-album title summary.
All but one of the program’s eight pieces is collectively composed. Only “Now” sources from Bisio’s pen, a solo feature for his signature emery board arco bass. Gauci sits out the opening minutes of “The End Must Always Come” setting a precedent that shapes the other tracks in the set. Sharply drawn duos and solos thread through various pieces with Davis and Bisio frequently pairing off for tightly braided interplay. The bassist is no stranger to pared down settings in the company of a piano and that familiarity serves him well here.
Davis responds in kind though repetitive aspects of her playing grate on occasion. In the closing minutes of the aforementioned opener she locks on an ostinato pattern wears it down to a nub as Gauci flutters in circles around her. It’s an action wrought with intent, but one that ends up sounding overwrought. “Something From Nothing” takes the tactic to an even greater extreme, barely equating with its title as the three musicians built a constrictive repeating weave from the barest of rhythmic materials. It’s an initially interesting exercise in self-imposed group parameters that ultimately feels overly hermetic.
Other pieces like the comparatively aerated Gauci/Davis duo “Groovin’ for the Hell of It” fare better in speaking to the trio’s strengths. Davis’ dusky and staggered chords have a Bley-like luster to them and Gauci’s fastidious feather-duster tone plies in the service of suitably diagonal phrasing. Those comparisons bring immediately to mind the classic Giuffre trio, but it’s really just a surface point of comparison. Balancing liberating extemporaneousness within the context of carefully considered structures these three players arrive at a music that both invites and largely withstands close scrutiny.
Eric Boeren – Song for Tracy the Turtle (CF 186)
Ornette Coleman è sempre stata la fonte di ispirazione dichiarata per Eric Boeren e per la sua cornetta. In particolar modo lo è l’Ornette degli inizi o, per meglio dire, del periodo reso immortale dai dischi pubblicati dall’Atlantic.
Anche questo album, ricavato dalla registrazione radiofonica di un concerto che si era tenuto a Bruges alla fine di maggio del 2004, si trova ad essere a cavallo fra la musica di Ornette e il buon free europeo che si è sviluppato nel Vecchio Continente sin dagli anni sessanta. In realtà questo concerto era andato a finire nel dimenticatoio ma è stato poi riscoperto, un po’ per caso, grazie ad un vecchio compagno di scuola che incrociò Eric ad Anversa a fine settembre del 2008. Il tutto è raccontato in maniera divertente dallo stesso Boeren nelle note di copertina.
Il repertorio mischia sapientemente brani originali di Boeren (comunque ispirati ad Ornette e a Don Cherry), brani di Ornette Coleman e uno standard immarcescibile e romantico come “Memories of You” del pianista Eubie Blake. Al fianco di Boeren troviamo l’ottimo Michael Moore col suo sax alto e il suo clarinetto decisamente poco ornettiani, ma allo stesso tempo perfettamente inseriti nel contesto, il bravo bassista Wilbert de Joode e il veterano batterista Paul Lovens, sempre pronto a fornire il suo geniale apporto ritmico alle situazioni free europee più interessanti.
La presa di suono è decisamente buona e il quartetto si esprime con il giusto mix fra abbandono e lucidità che caratterizza i concerti più riusciti. C’è una sorta di straniamento di prospettiva dovuta probabilmente al fatto che Eric Boeren è un cornettista alla testa di un gruppo che si rifa ad un quartetto storico guidato invece da un saxofonista dalla forte personalità. Ma questo è solo un dettaglio che non provoca alcun decadimento nella qualità complessiva.
SKM (Stephen Gauci, Kris Davis, Michael Bisio – Three (CF 189)
The drumless jazz-improv trio (in this case tenor, piano and bass) offers up different possibilities. Without the drums there is a transparency to the musical texture, the bass is exposed in its direct manifestations unmediated by the wash of the ride cymbal and snare-bass-drum punctuations. The bass becomes a third “horn,” so to speak. The trio SKM (Stephen Gauci, tenor, Kris Davis, piano, Michael Bisio, acoustic bass) takes advantage of the opportunity in a densely creative self-titled CD just out on Clean Feed (189).
It’s modern avant chamber jazz that gives equal weight to all three artists. All the various solo, duo and trio configurations are made good use of. This is serious music. Seriously advanced music.
Michael Bisio is his usual inventive self, using all manner of standard and augmented techniques to create a distinctive aural universe. He is a master. (Any reader of this blog has come across my various accolades on his artistry, so I wont repeat them here.) He is shown in especially good light in this project.
Kris Davis plays a piano that combines a Cecil Taylor motility with some Cagean prepared piano sounds on occasion. She has a finessed earthiness that comes out of her own sensibility. The end result is a player of distinction. She engages in wide-ranging flights of fancy. She is impressive and mixes her attack with the others in a sensitive and eloquent manner. (See my review of Paradoxical Frog at my Gapplegate Music Review Blog for more on Ms. Davis.)
Steve Gauci sounds terrific on tenor, as he always does, though for this outing he is especially inspired with rapid jabs and asymmetrical phrasing that give the three-way musical dialog a special quality (that Kris and Michael pick up on and give back in equal measure. OK, so the causal arrow can go three ways, but it is natural to hear the tenor as the lead instrumentalist if you listen frequently to this kind of music. Here it is a three-way affair, so suffice to say that his fragments of phrases are a mirroring of, and are mirrored by Kris and Michael’s phrasings.) Steve also strings together some long, complicated-interesting lines when the music goes that way.
What is especially ear-grabbing to me is the judicious use of repetition here and there to intensify the particular emphasis at any given point. More than that SKM is improv at its best. The artists make a definitive statement. The CD should be heard by all those wanting to dig the latest in the improvisatory firmament. It makes for exhilarating, absorbing listening.