The Convergence Quartet – Song/Dance (CF 187)
It must have seemed like a long shot when the young British pair of pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash invited two illustrious north Americans, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Harris Eisenstadt, to join them for a series of dates back in the fall of 2006. But now after two subsequent tours under the banner of the Convergence Quartet, the foursome is forging its own distinct identity. Its second disc continues the format found on Live In Oxford (FMR, 2007). Each member brings charts to the party which ensures a variety of styles, but common ground comes from a left field take on the interstices between composition and improvisation.
Not only are all four musicians accomplished writers, they are also fearsome improvisors, and the blend makes for a heady brew. Hawkins is carving a name for himself through his own Ensemble and as part of the collective Decoy, whose collaboration with reed player Joe McPhee, Oto (Bo Weavil, 2010), garners critical plaudits. Frequent associate Lash has also lent his far-reaching bass to collectives with saxophonists John Butcher and Tony Bevan and drummer Chris Corsano. Bynum, though strongly associated with reed player Anthony Braxton and the late trumpeter Bill Dixon, has developed an increasingly influential body of work, while Eisenstadt’s leadership vehicles stretch from small group intricacy, via explorations of West African rhythms, to soaring orchestral vision.
This repertoire passed muster on tour before being distilled to the essence for the recording. That accounts for the tightness of the tricky charts, but also for the relaxed way in which the band inhabits them with strong solos and well developed arrangements, featuring some haunting melodies alongside the instrumental prowess. There is a lot happening on each cut such that it seems that someone is always improvising, no matter what else is going on.
Eisenstadt doesn’t have a conventional feature, but he stretches over the bass riff and understated cornet/piano concord at the conclusion of his own “Next Convergence.” Hawkins excels on the same track, spraying notes with his right hand as his left marches up the keyboard before both meet in crashing unison. He shines also on Bynum’s “Iris,” where his driving rhythmic display appears to have strolled in from a different number entirely, encompassing Thelonious Monk-ish dissonance, stride and two handed counterpoint, bringing proceedings to an unexpected ending. That piece opens with the composer parading the tricks of his trade with slobbering growls, emphatic farts and querulous squeals all fashioned into a marvellously musical introduction. Hawkins’ title track showcases duets, with brash cornet partnering an abstract tattoo initially, then notably later where piano and drums provide an insistent backdrop for a chorus of wide ranging arco creaks by Lash and Bynum’s whistles and slurs.
There is a staggering range of approaches explored. At one extreme is Lash’s austere “Representations 17,” which in concert relies on a laptop for some combination of cues, score or instruction, but here manifests as a sequence of disjointed overlapping sounds which come in bursts of activity, and the occasional melodic fragment which isn’t sustained, becoming more pronounced in a final off kilter coming together. While at the other is the joyful upbeat South African jazz of “Kudala (Long Ago)” complete with Bynum’s playful cornet parachuting in for a goodtime romp. Lash’s “Second” makes for a bright opener, with piano and cornet spots gradually stretching the buoyant framework of interweaving lines. Elsewhere “Albert Ayler (his life was too short)” is a gentle processional rendition of the late Leroy Jenkins tune with cornet taking the composer’s violin part, while “The Pitts” is a lyrical world weary theme by the drummer with a lilting piano solo. Although the broad sweep might disorientate some listeners, nothing smacks of pastiche, and the varied program coheres around the conviction and skill of the participants. So prolific is the Clean Feed label that some releases are easily overlooked. This shouldn’t be one of them.
Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
“If Ellington were to collaborate with science fiction author Samuel R. Delany, one might encounter a cerulean landscape.” This evocative quote from the liner notes to Cerulean Landscape, multi-reedist Jason Robinson’s long-awaited duo album with legendary pianist Anthony Davis, paints a vivid picture of their mutual admiration for the work of Duke Ellington and his colorful interpretations of the blues—in all its forms.
Robinson has been performing live with Davis (his former professor) since 1998, subsequently recording their first duets for his 2002 concept album Tandem (Accretions). An active member of both the East and West Coast scenes, Robinson is a gifted artist on the rise whose concurrently released debut as a bandleader, The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010) offers a compelling demonstration of his varied talents.
An esteemed member of the AACM whose reputation was established in the mid-1970s Loft Jazz scene, Davis went on to compose award winning operas like X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X and Amistad, in addition to numerous chamber, choral and symphonic works. Cerulean Landscape is a return to form for the veteran improviser, featuring some of his most capacious and unfettered soloing in years.
Setting their engaging dialogues in brilliant relief, this sumptuous session reveals the subtle nuances of their longstanding rapport, as Davis’ opulent chords and cascading right hand figures dance gingerly around Robinson’s mellifluous tenor. Alternating between sonic extremes, the duo intersperses passages of lilting lyricism with trenchant essays in discordant angularity, occasionally segueing from regal Ellingtonian splendor to fervid crescendos within the same piece.
Like Davis, Robinson’s aesthetic seamlessly combines inside and outside approaches. Structuring his narrative solos with a keen architectural logic, Robinson gracefully pivots from plangent refrains to coarse screeds, incorporating an array of extended techniques into expansive ruminations that trace their lineage from Coleman Hawkins to Albert Ayler.
Davis and Robinson’s pellucid restraint provides a sweeping, romantic undercurrent to “Shimmer,” “Someday I’ll Know” and “Cerulean Seas And Viridian Skies.” “Translucence” explores the tenuous line between the composed and the improvised, a quixotic meditation featuring Robinson’s diaphanous alto flute and Davis’ effervescent impressionism. Delving into vanguard territory, Robinson’s labyrinthine “Vicissitudes (For Mel)” and the episodic title track from Davis’ Of Blues and Dreams (Sackville, 1978) spotlight a series of terse dialogues fraught with coruscating cadences and brash arpeggios. Similarly abstruse, “Andrew” transposes a Monkish melody into an acerbic exploration of thorny variations.
Balancing mainstream and avant-garde concepts with characteristic grace, Robinson and Davis’ congenial interplay offers a consummate summation of the jazz tradition in its most conversational and fundamental form—the duet.
Joe Morris / Nate Wooley – Tooth and Nail (CF 190)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Quella del duo è un’arte sopraffina e stimolante ma anche rischiosa e implacabile. Non si può barare, non ci si può nascondere, si è “nudi alla meta” e solo spiccata sensibilità, orecchie aperte, capacità comunicativa, vera urgenza espressiva possono portare a risultati significativi. E’ quello che accade in questo Tooth and Nail dove due innovatori come il chitarrista Joe Morris e il trombettista Nate Wooley danno vita ad un incontro di notevole intensità condividendo le proprie visioni musicali che vanno oltre le regole assodate di armonia, tonalità e ritmo.
Ma non è su questo terreno che dobbiamo indirizzare la nostra attenzione quanto piuttosto su quello di una ricerca profonda sui limiti degli strumenti e sulle possibilità del musicista di sfruttarne ogni più recondita risorsa a fini comunicativi. Wooley radicalizza l’evoluzione della tromba jazz tornando agli elementi che ne costituiscono l’approccio base ossia respiro, posizione delle labbra, uso della lingua, esasperandone la funzionalità. Morris, dal canto suo, lavora sulle corde pizzicando, glissando, percuotendo, utilizzando tutto lo spazio fisico consentito dallo strumento e quando prende corpo qualcosa di simile al fraseggio questo ha l’essenzialità delle singole note e la forza espressiva di un’intera orchestra.
“Sussurri e grida” potremmo definire Tooth and Nail, parafrasando uno dei capolavori di Ingmar Bergman. Più sussurri che grida perché il clima della registrazione è intimo con i due musicisti che svelano le proprie emozioni in modo apparentemente disordinato, irregolare e nervoso. Ma una volta sintonizzati con il particolare universo sonoro creato da Morris e Wooley si apre per l’ascoltatore un mondo affascinante e prezioso.