Daily Archives: January 28, 2011

Wall Street Journal review by Martin Johnson

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Deluxe (CF 74)
“Deluxe,” the superb new recording by bassist Chris Lightcap and his group Bigmouth, a quintet that has played together since 2005, is emblematic of a few trends on the local jazz scene.

The album features several first-tier New York musicians— saxophonists Tony Malaby, Chris Cheek and Andrew D’Angelo, drummer Gerald Cleaver and keyboardist Craig Taborn—and is the first recording by Mr. Lightcap’s group in nearly eight years. It was done for Portugal’s Clean Feed label, which has picked up the slack as many American labels reduce their output of new jazz.

“It’s hard to get us together in one place,” said Mr. Lightcap recently at a café near his Windsor Terrace home. “We’re all so busy that we don’t get to play as much as we’d like.”

As domestic jazz recording has declined, so have the opportunities for the next wave of greats to play on the best-known stages in jazz. To get exposure, they have turned to smaller places instead. On Thursday, Bigmouth will perform at the Stone, an artist-run space in the East Village.

Mr. Lightcap, who is 39, has played with avant-garde and mainstream groups since arriving in New York in the early 1990s. His primary sideman gigs now are with violinist Regina Carter and her Reverse Thread group, which blends jazz and African music; and with such leading musicians as pianist James Carney, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Matt Wilson and Circle Down—a group led by drummer Chad Taylor.

Ms. Carter first heard Mr. Lightcap at a rehearsal with saxophonist Dave Rogers 11 years ago. “The charts were rhythmically challenging,” she said, “but Chris’s playing was assertive and motivating.” She added that she was impressed by the sound he achieved without amplification.

It is Mr. Lightcap’s sound—big and elastic—that makes “Deluxe” so appealing. Most bassists provide the musical ground for their bandmates from behind, but Mr. Lightcap’s combo features his sound out front with no loss of unity. Messrs. Malaby and Cheek’s two tenor saxophones are out front, too, creating soaring harmonies and incisive, contrasting solos.

Mr. Lightcap said the band’s structure grew out of his experiences here in the late ’90s. “I played in a lot of trios—usually bass, drums and sax—without a chordal instrument because a lot of rooms didn’t have a good piano,” he said. That led him to start thinking about a group with no piano and more saxophones on the front line; his first two recordings as a leader were in a two-sax, bass and drum quartet.

On “Deluxe,” Mr. Lightcap has added a third saxophonist, Mr. D’Angelo, on two tracks. It’s the first time they’ve recorded with Mr. Taborn, who joined the group in 2005 on Wurlitzer electric piano and acoustic piano. “I love the sound of the Wurlitzer,” the bassist said. “It takes me back to some of the music I loved growing up, like Ray Charles in the early ’70s, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Live at the Fillmore,’ Donny Hathaway’s ‘Live,’ and Yes.”

A native of Latrobe, Pa., Mr. Lightcap studied piano and violin as a child, but didn’t become passionate about playing until he took up the bass as a teenager. He attended the Governor’s School of the Arts, a Pennsylvania program for aspiring musicians. “I was the only bassist, so I got to play everything,” he said.

He wasn’t completely sold on becoming a professional musician, but after graduating from Williams College he attended a workshop with the great drummer Ed Blackwell that convinced him to come to New York and give it a shot. Here he distinguished himself by playing on both sides of a divided jazz scene. “There were a lot of cliques back then,” he said. “But now everybody plays everything.”

Mr. Lightcap met Mr. Cleaver (whose own band, Uncle June, will follow Bigmouth at the Stone on Thursday), at a session with pianist Ben Waltzer in 1998. Mr. Cleaver said in a recent email that “Chris has always had a very deep, spiritual quality in his playing; everything he plays swings hard and is funky.”

For the new project, Mr. Lightcap said that he wanted to avoid the rustic sound of most jazz recordings. “As real as that sounds, it’s artificial,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like that in the studio.” Instead, “Deluxe” has an opaque sheen that makes the sound fuller and more expansive. “I really wanted the sound to reflect that this band is so much more than the sum of its parts.”
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703555804576102020780155268.html

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

Ricardo Gallo’s Terra de Nadie – The Great Fine Line (CF 209)
Ricardo Gallo, pianista colombiano residente en Nueva York e integrante entre otros del Peter Evans Quartet, mantiene en activo desde 2007 su quinteto/sexteto neoyorkino Tierra de nadie. En él participan pesos pesados como el trombonista Ray Anderson, el contrabajista Mark Helias y el baterista Pheeroan Aklaff, además del saxofonista Dan Blake y el percusionista y baterista Satoshi Takeishi. El grupo toma su nombre de una cita de Un tal Lucas de Julio Cortázar en la que se definía a la música como una tierra de nadie. A partir de esa idea concibe este grupo como un lugar de encuentro en el que los músicos se puedan expresar con total libertad.

En su estreno, The Great Fine Line, el pianista no duda, como autor de las nueve composiciones, en introducir referencias folklóricas a lo largo de los temas del CD y que aportan un interesante toque de color. Sin embargo ni su papel como líder ni las referencias locales son los elementos más importantes presentes en su música.

El reparto democrático de los roles de los músicos en el grupo están presentes desde el inicio mismo del CD con “Intruders”, la pieza que lo abre. Allí cede el protagonismo a sus compañeros, y no es hasta bien entrado el tema cuando suenan las primeras notas de su piano. Una actitud que se va repitiendo a lo largo de toda la obra.

Tampoco es la inspiración folklórica el elemento prominente en la música del disco, sino sobre todo y fundamentalmente lo magníficamente engrasado que se muestra el grupo, en el que sobresalen especialmente un Ray Anderson muy inspirado y un Mark Helias que borda sus intervenciones. De esa manera todos ellos hacen suya la música -con algunos temas deliciosamente cantábiles-, llevándola a un interesante terreno de fusión multilingüe. Al contrario de lo que sucede en otros acercamientos de músicas locales a los terrenos del jazz, en esta ocasión el resultado de esta integración fluye con una magnífica naturalidad.

Como única pega a la grabación, que en realidad no es tal sino más bien una observación, aparece la cuestión de la disposición de los temas. Los seis primeros, los más extensos, son las piezas más logradas: “Three Versions Of A Lie” (con Ricardo Gallo especialmente inspirado y un magnífico intercambio entre este con sus compañeros), “Intruder’s”, “Stomp At No Man’s Land” y “Hermetismo”. Sin embargo los tres temas finales, especialmente “Improbability” y “La pina blanca”, dejan la impresión de haber sido añadidos para extender la duración hasta la hora de rigor en estos tiempos del CD. Quizás sin renunciar a ellos se les hubiera podido  haber encontrado una mejor acomodación entre el resto. A pesar de ello, son pocas las pegas que se pueden añadir al magnífico estreno discográfico de Tierra de nadie.
http://bun.tomajazz.com/2011/01/ricardo-gallos-tierra-de-nadie-great.html

All About Jazz-Italy review by Maurizio Comandini

Various Artists – I Never Meta Guitar (CFG 005)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
L’etichetta portoghese Clean Feed ha chiesto al chitarrista newyorkese Elliott Sharp di curare una antologia di brani dedicati alla chitarra contemporanea e ha raccolto il risultato in questo ottimo album: sedici brani affidati a sedici diversi interpreti. Sedici storie che si compenetrano e che riescono a raccontare le mille sfaccettature legate alle illimitate possibilità dello strumento. Tutti gli interpreti hanno scelto di muoversi in solo ad eccezione di Michael Gregory che invece ha deciso di farsi affiancare da basso e batteria nel blues stralunato “Blue Blue”.
Viaggiare da soli non necessariamente significa viaggiare con un solo strumento: infatti in alcuni casi le chitarre si sono moltiplicate a sovrapposte, alla ricerca di un irrobustimento del suono, di un ispessimento della memoria. Le manipolazioni sono il segno più costante, la dimostrazione di una flessibilità che si fa benedetta se affidata alle mani giuste.

Si parte con la giustamente celebrata Mary Halvorson per giungere al curatore Elliott Sharp, dopo un lunghissimo viaggio che tocca lande pietrificate e assolate, per poi piombare in valli oscure che si specchiano nella luce della luna. Il testimone passa di mano fra chitarristi molto noti (Jeff Parker, Henry Kaiser, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Noel Akchotè, Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Scott Fields) senza tralasciare quelli meno noti ma altrettanto bravi a dipingere bozzetti affascinanti e colmi di magia.
http://italia.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=6057

Chicago Reader review by Peter Margasak

Matt Bauder’s “Jazz” Record
Matt Bauder – Day in Pictures (CF 210)
Regular readers of the Reader probably know that I’ve been a huge fan of reedist and composer Matt Bauder since his Chicago days back at the turn of the century. He only lived here for two years—since then he’s gone to grad school at Wesleyan and spent a year at the prestigious ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, and he now lives in New York—but he made a big impact during that short time, and he’s been a regular visitor ever since.

Bauder is intensely curious, often to the detriment of his career momentum—it’s harder to get noticed if you’re always changing gears or hopping from scene to scene. But that diversity—from the revisionist doo-wop of White Blue Yellow and Clouds to the minimalist soundscapes of Memorize the Sky to the chamber music of Paper Gardens—is one of the most exciting things about his work. In an interview I did with Bauder last year for Down Beat he told me, “I want a balance, and I wouldn’t be doing all of these different things for this long if I wanted one of them to take over. I feel like I can’t take a narrow path like that.”

Bauder considers jazz his musical core, though, and relates everything else he does to it. Late last year he finally released his first indisputably “jazz” record, the self-titled debut of his quintet Day in Pictures (Clean Feed). On its seven great original tunes, his gorgeous tenor saxophone and his agile, full-bodied clarinet blossom in their full glory, swinging and stomping. This won’t be a surprise if you’re familiar with Bauder, because he plays knockout solos all the time—it’s just that he usually does it in someone else’s band, from Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra to Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day to Taylor Ho Bynum’s old sextet.

“I’m a product of what the jazz tradition has become,” Bauder said in our Down Beat interview. “I do see myself as a jazz musician because I’ve studied it a lot and I started out playing in jam sessions as a teenager. When I go to make a record I think openly because of how much is out there, but I think it’s all influenced by jazz.” There’s no audible connection between Day in Pictures and, say, Memorize the Sky, aside from a commitment to improvisation, but for Bauder they’re related at a foundational conceptual level.

Below you can listen to a track from the new album, “Reborn Not Gone,” and pick out the jazz-nerd references—its rhythms obviously rhyme with the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of “Gone” from Porgy and Bess, and the tune’s melody nicks ideas from Charles Mingus’s “Reincarnation of a Lovebird.” The whole record is Bauder’s love letter to 50s and 60s jazz, but his band—trumpeter Nate Wooley, pianist Angelica Sanchez, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara—is so strong and idiosyncratic that the music never sounds like a throwback. Bauder also slyly acknowledges his Chicago ties in several song titles: “Parks After Darks” is a wink to guitarist Jeff Parker, “Bill and Maza” is a tribute to Bill Dixon, whom he met and worked with under the leadership of Rob Mazurek (the “Maza” of the title), and “Two Lucks” is a pun on the name of bassist Matt Lux.

Unfortunately, the record arrived in my mailbox in December, as I nailed down my year-end lists, and I didn’t have a chance to consider it. But Day in Pictures is certainly one 2010’s best jazz recordings. Here’s a recent interview and in-studio performance Bauder did for Soundcheck, a program on New York’s WNYC. He leads a trio with Fujiwara and bassist Eivind Opsvik. Below you can watch some great-sounding video footage of the session—as one astute observer has pointed out, Bauder is rocking a mid-70s Bill Evans look.
 http://www.chicagoreader.com/TheBlog/archives/2011/01/25/matt-bauders-jazz-record

Free Jazz review by Paul Acquaro

Afterfall (CF 208)
By We are waking up slowly, somewhere unexpected. Small sounds are creeping into our consciousness, clicks, moans — slightly spooky — suggesting a less than desirable near future. We begin to focus and clicks become tones, sounds begin to connect, we realize that we are being spoken to, but in a strange dialect. Soon we realize that this language, that while somewhat familiar, is actually comprised of those clicks and sudden accents — a wail or moan is not unintended. It’s all a part of the drama unfolding around us. The pacing quickens and the harmonies thicken.

Afterfall is an international collaboration on Clean Feed records with Luís Lopes on electric guitar, Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, Joe Giardullo on soprano and tenor saxophones, Benjamin Duboc on double bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Lopes, from Portugal, is the group leader, but you may not know it, as he takes a back seat to his other Portuguese, American and French colleagues. In fact, it’s Giardullo whose voice seems to be most prominent.

At first, there is a feeling restraint, like the musicians have colluded in not revealing exactly what they mean. However, things begin to loosen up slowly towards the middle of the album. ‘Cancoa Branco’ builds slowly over eight and a half minutes and only in the last minute of the tune does Lopes’ distorted guitar rise out of the mix along with Giardullo’s sax. But then the communication barrier has been broken open and the music pours forth on ‘American Open Road with a Frog.’ Then it starts making sense, this album is a suite, each piece building up into longer sonic segments and becoming increasingly melodic. Giardullo takes a full throttled free blowing solo, finally saying everything that was being held back for so long. ‘Open Road’ has broken free and how good it feels — it’s almost swinging!

The last two songs find us retreating back into a murkier atmosphere. ‘Triptych’ begins with upright bass bowing a dark chord and plucking choice notes white Lopes’ guitar sprinkles tiny melodies atop. It laboriously builds, adding trumpet, then percussion and finally sax, leading to a fierce collective improv. The last tune, ‘Return of the Shut Up Goddess’ brings us full circle (the first tune is called ‘The Shut Up Goddess’), with small snippets of melody and scratching rhythms. However, this time we are fully awake and ready.

This arching song cycle is illuminating. Lopes’ use of the guitar as a colorist and percussionist (at times) is as non-conventional as you can get. All the sounds and dynamics of the sax and trumpet are explored. The album has some darker undertones, but they function by making us work harder to understand, and I’m fairly certain that we are, by this point, starting to get it.
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

Jazz Prospecting reviews by Tom Hull

Jaruzelski’s Dream: Jazz Gawronski (CF 211)Italian sax trio, with Piero Bittolo Bon on alto (and smartphone), Stefano Senni on bass, and Francesco Cusa on drums. Don’t know where they came from, what they’ve done in the past, or why they’re obsessed with all things Polish. I can begin to unravel such jokes as “Soulidarnosc” and “Mori Mari Curi” (the discoverer of radioactive elements like “Polonium” that killed her) but not “Swiatoslaw” or “Zibibboniek” or “Maria Goretti Contro Tutti.” Presumably the group name honors (if that’s the word) the last Communist dictator of Poland, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. Gawronski, however, appears to be an Italian politician, prominent in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, first name Jas, easy enough to play off. Gruff, garulous free sax, with enough beat to keep it steady. For a while I thought “Sei Forte Papa” was “New York, New York.” I wouldn’t put anything past them. B+(***)

Billy Fox’s Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (CF 204)
Percussionist, credited only with maracas here, has two previous albums, The Kaidan Suite and Uncle Wiggly Suite, and a couple of side credits — e.g., worked with Bobby Sanabria. So how does a maracas player sustain interest? He recruits players I’ve barely (or never) heard of, spread out among two saxes, trumpet, keybs, a one-track violin guest, and gives them each a few minutes to stand up and out. Also does a superb job of working out horn charts for transition. B+(***)
http://www.tomhull.com/blog/archives/1567-Jazz-Prospecting-CG-26,-Part-3.html?PHPSESSID=6c92a8fbe0e7d78232edb35b59c888e8

About.com review by Douglas Detrick

Hertenstein/Niggenkemper/Heberer – HNH (CF 205)
The album HNH by drummer and composer Joe Hertenstein’s trio, with Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Thomas Heberer on trumpet, delves deeply into the jazz and European improvised music traditions.
All New York-based German musicians, the European jazz influence is very clear. The album features a range of compositions from very free pieces that seem to be almost completely improvised, to more traditional jazz tunes with a cohesive melody and accompaniment, a swing feel, and a walking bass line. The ensemble blends the two styles together, often with improvised introductions moving into composed pieces, or free solos after a written melody.
HNH aims for a transparent ensemble approach in which each sound is important, and can be heard distinctly. The trio’s lean instrumentation of trumpet, drums and bass helps make this possible, but the individual players’ personalities are ultimately most important in the group’s sound. Joe Hertenstein’s playing is generally understated. He focuses on the pure palette of sounds available from his drum kit alone. For a drummer-led album, drum solos on HNH are conspicuously – and refreshingly – absent but for a few moments where Hertenstein’s playing comes to the fore, like on his active and colorful solo on “Prelude and Tomorrow’s Problem.”
Hertenstein’s trio mates bring to bear equally expressive musical personalities. Heberer’s trumpet playing unifies traditional and extended trumpet sounds by moving effortlessly from growling, tortured sounds to a warm and round trumpet tone capable of poignant melodic statements. Niggenkemper’s bass playing, similar to Hertenstein’s drumming, generally plays the accompanist’s role with his resonant and clear sound contrasting with Heberer’s more mysterious approach. Niggenkemper’s improvised introduction to “Prelude and Tomorrow’s Problems” is a wide-ranging and rapid succession of timbres for a few beautiful moments as the group comes together again.
A drawback to the album is that it has a uniformity of pulse that isn’t broken until the last piece, “The Tolliver Toll,” the album’s only up-tempo tune. The piece is memorable; perhaps the most compelling on the collection. HNH is certainly focused, but perhaps edges a bit toward being constrained in the way of tempos and moods. To have included repertoire with a more wide-ranging sensibility would have made a good album even better.
The strength of the HNH is its loose texture as well as the free-spiritedness and expressivity each of the musicians brings to the group improvisations. The trio focuses on a raw and sparse sonority that captures the joy of exploration of the unknown. The delicate, impromptu moments on this recording, when the sounds seem ready to collapse at any moment, are clearly musical goals and not merely unfortunate side effects. The trio trusts in its ability to invent freshly at every moment. Overall, HNH is recommended for fans of freely improvised music and for those looking for an adventurous approach to jazz without the heavy handedness of many free jazz groups.
http://jazz.about.com/od/2010releases/fr/Album-Review-Hnh-By-The-Hertenstein-Niggenkemper-Heberer-Trio.htm