Daily Archives: March 24, 2011

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Tim Berne – Insomnia (CF 215)
Recorded in the summer of 1997, the previously unreleased Insomnia offers an expanded variation of composer/saxophonist Tim Berne’s critically lauded 1990s quartet, Bloodcount. The group, which featured Berne (on alto and baritone saxophones), tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Jim Black, was widely revered for its ability to fashion dramatic opuses that seamlessly integrated abstracted mutant funk vamps with extended episodes of spectral introspection. Bolstered with a mixed quartet of notable string and brass players, the augmented ensemble extends the expressive range Berne’s flagship band was known for.

Bloodcount’s epic excursions were originally issued by JMT records and later by Berne’s own Screwgun imprint. With their legacy copiously documented by the end of the decade, Berne moved on to other projects, like Big Satan and Hard Cell. How Insomnia escaped release until now is a mystery, but its arrival presents an opportunity for the reevaluation of an admired group.

Recorded live in the studio, the date consists of two episodic long-form compositions, “The Proposal” and “Open, Coma,” each lasting approximately half an hour. Less kinetic overall than Berne’s typical releases of the day, this session embraces a languid chamber-esque sensibility, amplifying the legato melodies that typically underscore Berne’s contrapuntal themes. Segueing between divergent passages with cinematic élan, Berne’s juxtaposition of instrumental sonorities is a revelation, yielding richly hued hybrids of bristling textural detail.

Trumpeter Baikida Carroll’s brassy extemporizations and the sinewy glissandos of Dominique Pifarély’s violin and Erik Friedlander’s cello render a stark chiaroscuro of polyphonic harmonies that bolster the octet’s kaleidoscopic palette. Guitarist Marc Ducret, a regular guest of Bloodcount, limits himself to a 12 string acoustic, conveying a vaguely rustic sensibility far removed from the urban bluster of his electric work. His coiled thematic variations transcend Eastern and Western traditions, blending percussively strummed chords, spiky arpeggios and piercing harmonics into virtuosic fantasias.

In light of the prolonged duration of these pieces, ample solo space is provided for all, including extended musings from the core quartet members. Berne’s searing alto fervently ascends the mid-section climax of “The Proposal” with architectural rigor, while the dramatic finale of “Open, Coma” spotlights the impetuous brio of his baritone. The spiraling cadences and woody tone of Speed’s clarinet find concordance with the strings in this lush setting—more so than in Bloodcount’s stripped-down format. Formanek and Black’s graceful shifts between tempos, meters and dynamics provide elastic grooves that elevate the proceedings, with Black’s nuanced brush work offering sumptuous timbral detail in the company of strings.

A most welcome discovery, Insomnia presents a rarefied view of a celebrated composer and his flagship band working through previously unimagined avenues, begging the question, what else remains unreleased from this fertile era?

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Hugo Carvalhais – Nebulosa CF 201)
Michael Formanek – The Rub And Spare Change (ECM 2167)
Leadership’s loss is a sideman’s gain as these quartet sessions demonstrate. That’s because alto saxophonist Tim Berne, who hasn’t made a CD under his own name for about half a decade, instead adds his skills to these bassist-led quartet sessions. Instructively as well, while one combo is completed by Americans with whom Berne has often played in the past, the other is made up of younger Portuguese Jazzers who recently toured with the American reedist.

Nebulosa – and its five-part title suite –is designed to show off the composing and improvising skills of bassist Hugo Carvalhais, who along with pianist Gabriel Pinto, often backs singer Maria João Mendes. Carvalhais also plays electronics on this CD and Pinto synthesizer; drummer Mário Costa the fourth man.

The Rub And Spare Change on the other hand is a completely acoustic showcase for six compositions and the magisterial bass playing of Michael Formanek, whose role leading the Jazz orchestra at Baltimore`s Peabody Conservatory of Music leaves him little time for extracurricular activities. Working on-and-off with Berne since the early 1990s, after having backed everyone from saxophonist Stan Getz to trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, this is the first CD Formanek has lead since 1998. The other players aren’t exactly neophytes either. Drummer Gerald Cleaver has worked with saxophonists as different as Lotte Anker and Roscoe Mitchell, while he and pianist Craig Taborn have both been part of Berne’s and Mitchell’s regular working bands.

Familiar with each others’ technical skills the four players on The Rub And Spare Change are able to move from Funk to Impressionism and back again seemingly without breaking a sweat. This is most noticeable on the CD’s most extensive track, the 17-minute plus “Tonal Suite”. In truth as atonal as it is tonal, the piece encompasses several movements beginning with an exposition of walking bass and drum backbeats accompanying Berne’s irregularly voiced split tones as they and Taborn’s piano plucks weave around one another. While Berne keeps reed biting, the pianist’s next variant includes key clipping and hard-paced arpeggios, which while advancing chromatically also motivate the saxophonist’s intervallic lines into downward-slurring split tones. Well paced drum beats and understated bull fiddle plucks contribute their own percussive variations, so that with the backing taken care of, the saxophonist and pianist can harmonize moving lines from agitato to moderato and from staccato to legato. A final variant with a teasing false ending, features extended cadenzas from Taborn. Then a traditional recap of the head precedes a trebly piano coda.

Although he takes no extended solos, Formanek, emphasizes his compositions here. And well he should, for their range is wide. “Too Big To Fail” is another exercise in multiple, multiphonics, while the title track is a convincing Freebop piece, built around soulful tension and release. As Cleaver rhythmically locks down an elastic shuffle beat, Berne vibrates the head with chirps and side-slipping tones while Taborn’s low-frequency strummed chords expand to define the piece as a skipping etude.

As sardonically played as its title suggests, “Too Big To Fail” mixes bass string pops, drum press rolls and rasping piano cadenzas as the saxophonist elaborates the theme in the tenor register. Before the tune is conclusively redefined contrapuntally, the pianist’s contrasting dynamics and repeated chord clusters plus Berne’s alternating of altissimo squeals and moderato split tones suggest a narrative almost as harsh and dyspeptic as what the American investment industry faced a couple of years ago.

With Nebulosa serendipitously recorded in same month as the other session, Carvalhais’ core combo is given added impetus by hired gun Berne. Although the title composition is a six-part suite of sorts, the CD’s introductory track and others – most played solely by the trio– surrounding the suite. Berne however doesn’t really start experimenting with split tones until “Part III” of the suite, before that contenting himself with paced twitters and splutters plus irregularly pitched obbligatos in his solos.

For his part, Pinto distinguishes himself by splitting his exposition between atmospheric synthesizer wave forms – matched by ululating werewolf whistles and signal-processed quivers from Carvalhais’ electronics – to more studied impressionistic piano chording. From a groove-oriented beginning, the suite affiliates itself with modulated Bop-stylings in its second section, only to have Berne’s snorting split tones and altissimo runs redefine the third part.

By the time “Nebulosa Part IV” makes its appearance, Berne’s chromatic mastication is joined by hearty double bass stops, thumps and jumps from Carvalhais, plus Costa’s flams, drags and distinctive cow bell whacks. Eventually the multi-part composition is taken out by the trio alone, as airy piano arpeggios and supple floating bass lines give way to tougher, double-stopped, but definitely un-funky rhythm, squeaky wiggling electronic pulses and concluding stops from the bassist.

Other than the suite, the most noteworthy outing is Pinto’s “North”, whose syncopation meanders into “Maiden Voyage” territory. Despite this thematic suggestion the composition is still an original statement that harmonizes triple counterpoint among airy, dynamic glissandi from the piano, pinched, intense vibrato from the saxophonist and unforced, but relentless rhythms from the bassist and drummer.

With Berne the connecting factor between them, both CDs have much to offer. The Rub And Spare Change features him in the company of familiar players, while Nebulosa links him with younger players who will help shape Jazz in the future. As good as his playing his here, one would hope nonetheless that recording as the leader of a session is still part of his game plan.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

HUGO CARVALHAIS – Nebulosa (CF 201)
While the prologue to bassist/composer Carvalhais’ Nebulosa is delineated by strong rhythmic accents made less explicable by the premeditated displacement of pauses, we’re soon testimonies of the jeopardizing of that slanted solidity, especially caused by keyboardist Gabriel Pinto’s use of synthetic sounds linking the music to the “progressive” regions of the 70s (Keith Emerson would probably smile at those Moog reproductions). Guest saxophonist Tim Berne mostly acts according to the norms of polite behaviour, still ready to perforate the mix and roughen up things when the call arrives; in any case he fits in without flinching, a genuine fourth member. The record shows sophistication enhanced by noir-ish mystery, also benefitting from the large quantity of living space in which the performers explicate their inspiration. The instrumental hues are well distributed, the collective energy perceived as very balanced, no surplus of anything. When fire appears, the group controls and channels it with appreciable class. In “North” a hint of ECM mannerism does appear, luckily not of the bothersome kind. The immediately subsequent “Nebulosa Part V” is instead characterized by a sort of cosmic swing – dexterous wrists courtesy of drummer Mário Costa – defining the tasteful oddness of this project even further. And the conclusive “Redemption” is austerely superb. Keep an attentive eye on this Portuguese artist.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Jazz Gawronski – Jaruzelski’s Dream (CF 211)
A free alto-bass-drums trio come out of a Viennese studio with Jaruzelski’s Dream (Clean Feed 211). And what is the result? A long, most energetic set of improvisations with rock, swing and freetime flow. Franceso Cusa makes an impact with his energy drumming. Stefano Senni plies his bass with a sure sense of phrase and form. Piero Bittolo Bon often falls into repetitive phrases played with heat. That’s what it is about. Mr. Bon’s alto has insistency, consistency and focused variational persistency. It is his sense of structure that structures the freedom.

Now how he does that may lead some people to search for the emergency fire exit. But I suspect those sorts of people would not care for this music in any event.

It is singular, determined and overt in its overall thrust. It burns the candle at both ends and everywhere in the middle. It worries and exhausts melodic phrases and then just as willfully abandons them to move on to something new. And that’s what saves the music from itself, as it were. It harps on something and then moves on, never overstaying its welcome like an overly emphatic conversatonalist at a cocktail clatch. Bon makes his point emphatically and moves on to the next station of party goers before he makes himself a bore. That’s good.

This is music of interest. It is not typical of the free things out there right now. And it is controversial in how it goes about its freedom. Hey, why not shake things up a bit?

Sentireascoltare review by Stefano Pifferi

Jazz Gawronski – Jaruzelski’s Dream (CF 211)L’immaginario iconografico di per sé dovrebbe bastare a rimandare ad una dimensione ludica e a un approccio non serioso alla materia del jazz. Moniker, titolo dell’album e dei 12 pezzi che compongono Jazz Gawronski sono calembour linguistici tra il surreale e il pastiche disseminati dal terzetto italiano per suggerire finalità e attitudine.

Non a caso composto da membri provenienti dai poli attrattivi più interessanti del (neo)jazz italiano – El Gallo Rojo e Improvvisatore Involontario – il progetto Jaruzelski’s Dream è l’esatta somma dei singoli elementi in gioco: una vulcanica eruzione di follia strumentale, giocosa attitudine demistificatoria, irregolarità avventurose e, paradossalmente, coesione interna rese con leggerezza e (auto)ironia.

Piero Bittolo Bon (sax alto, smartphone) e Stefano Senni (contrabbasso), entrambi da El Gallo Rojo, insieme al batterista extraordinaire Francesco Cusa (colonna portante di Improvvisatore Involontario) inanellano discorsi di jazz free-form in modalità first take attraversati da un senso del groove profondo e irresistibile: ritmico e forsennato, silente e sussurrato, l’avant-jazz inteso dai tre è pari alla attitudine iconoclasta e altamente ironica che li porta a firmare pezzi con titoli come The Mastella Variations, Zibibboniek, The Amazing Kaczinski Twins, Soulidarnosc.

Vere e proprie gioie per chi ascolta e l’ennesima dimostrazione dell’effervescenza del jazz informale e atipico che gira da tempo in Italia.

FONT interview by Douglas Detrick

Nate Wooley, recipient of the FONT commission in 2007, is among the most unique, creative and powerful trumpeters in the world today. He is a busy musician, with a full touring schedule, a steady stream of gigs in New York and a long list of albums in his discography. His newest, (Put Your) Hands Together, features a set of new compositions for his quintet, and is out now on Clean Feed Records. Hands Together is essentially a jazz album. If you are familiar with Nate’s music, you know this isn’t normally what he does, but what could have sounded like a musical shotgun wedding instead sounds natural and compelling.

All of Nate’s work has a very personal feeling to it, but Hands Together sees this approach turned in different direction. All of the pieces are dedicated to all of the important women in Nate’s life who have raised him, influenced him and supported him.  Nate mentions how the album is an answer to his roots in jazz and big band music with his father when he was growing up. The band is made up of musicians with whom Nate has known and worked with for many years: Josh Sinton on Bari Saxophone and Bass Clarinet; Matt Moran on Vibraphone; Eivind Opsvik on Bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. So, the album has layers of personal significance, and his words about this in the interview reveal some charged personal feelings. His ideas about the album are an important look at his musical personality, and tell a great deal about him as an artist.

We also talked about Nate’s ideas about playing the trumpet and how he feels that his music came into its own. The key, for the Nate, was to stop trying to play in a way that he felt he was supposed to, and instead to play what he was interested in hearing. The idea is simple, but given the way that music is transmitted from player to another, can be hard to put into practice. We don’t merely collect a set of techniques and stand in front of the audience to put them back together again and call this music. We are emotionally and intellectually connected to the ideas behind the music, and for some musicians, finding a personal foundation for the music, a reason for playing, can be the most challenging obstacle of all. Nate is a musician who has struggled with this issue, and continues to struggle with it. His music is a fruit of this labor.

One other memorable part of the interview was Nate’s relationship to what he considers the tradition of the trumpet and how defines this tradition in his life. We talk about the idea of the “trumpet revolution”, as I have with Brian McWhorter and Jeff Kaiser, where we have to confront the idea of tradition. For a trumpet player deeply involved with the playing of the instrument on the fringe of the field, Nate’s has often been challenged by the idea of tradition. Many players reference the traditions of their artistic practice to prove the legitimacy of what they do, to give it context and added weight, but this an approach that Nate has intentionally avoided.

Nate is wary of trying to fit his influences, and himself, into any kind of lineage and he is wary of trying to define a music that defies categorization. He is very conscious of the players who have come before him and is very earnest in his praise of their music, but at the same time is hesitant to put any of these players into a “lineage”. For Nate, his music is the result of the path of individual experiences that he’s had over his life. These times spent listening intently to recordings, attending concerts and conversations with musicians are what could be called a “tradition” for Nate. They have provided a personal frame of reference, unique to Nate, that gives a foundation to the music that he plays.

But, even with all that said, it’s not that simple. Nate is also very clear in pointing out that his music is also intrinsically linked to his personality. He talks about asking audience members at his performances to right next to him. At the last performance of Nate’s that I saw in New York, with Paul Lytton and Ikue Mori at the Stone, Nate sat in a chair right next to the front row, as if his was just another chair in the row. This is further evidence of his commitment to “letting in” the audience, as he puts it, to an experience that is unique to Nate. To Nate, this is the most valuable thing he can offer, and it is his goal as a performer.

Enjoy the interview, Nate is an articulate and thoughtful person, and this interview, done just after the release of Hands Together, catches him at an interesting time. I won’t call it a new chapter in his career, but certainly a step in a new direction that broadens his previous work through its contrasting approach.

Read more here

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquet

Keefe Jackson – Seeing you See (CF 176)Toujours chez Keefe Jackson ces petits appels-apports ayleriens qui ne sont pas pour rien dans la réussite de cet enregistrement. Certes, des petites choses, pas nécessairement audibles pour un non-initié, mais démontrant l’implication d’un musicien en recherche d’un ailleurs à (re)conquérir. A cet égard, Seeing You See ne me fera pas mentir.

Alors que Jeb Bishop semblait avoir pris le dessus sur son compagnon, Jackson se fend d’un solo électrique, évitant tout appui, tant rythmique qu’harmonique. Prise de risque que s’autorise un saxophoniste (clarinettiste crépusculaire sur Eff-Time, Since Then & Close) soucieux de ne plus jamais reproduire les phrasés d’école.

Il peut, ici, dans ce strict cadre (bop ouvert, free extensible), compter sur la maîtrise absolue de ses partenaires (Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Noritaka Tanaka) de la windy city. Le pourra-t-il si l’aventure se précise plus périphérique, plus éclatée comme le suggère l’inaccompli Since Then ? A suivre donc…

Free Jazz reviews by Stef

Nate Wooley
The number of creative and free improv musicians who really have good promotion of their music is limited. Take Nate Wooley for instance, without a doubt one of the best trumpeters around, about whom information on his discography or performances is extremely hard to find. You can check Allmusic  and you will find no information, just three albums, labeled as “prog rock”, or  Artistdirect  mentions just one album with no information.Wooley had a website that advertises three albums, without any new information for the last six years! He now has a blog with very fragmented and infrequent information, to say the least.

Maybe that’s a good sign. It shows he’s busy working on his music rather than promoting himself, rightly thinking that his music is his best ambassador. But for fans like myself it makes it difficult to find what is available, because once you like his music, you want to hear more of it. Wooley has not only incredible trumpet technique and background (he was a student of Ron Miles), he is also very creative and audacious, while being a great team player too. With those qualities, it is no surprise that he is widely asked to perform and record. His recent output is nothing but prolific. Hence the three succinct reviews below, plus what I think is his most relevant discography, ranging from his most straight-forward first album to his very adventurous music with Mêlée.

Daniel Levin Quartet – Organic Modernism (CF 212)
In my previous review of the band’s “Live At Roulette”, I wrote ” The music flows organically, growing as it moves along, with instruments coming and going, like birds or bees passing by, coming and going, yet all taking part in the same unpredictable yet not unfamiliar scenery. Despite the apparent freedom, it all sounds very focused and coherent and it was possibly discussed before playing, or maybe not, and these four stellar musicians are just so good and so used to playing together, that this symbiosis of fragile and raw sounds might have been created spontaneously”.

I am not quite sure how to say it differently for this album : the music is moving without being sentimental. It has nothing of traditional music, yet it is drenched in familiar sounds that are organised differently, not around structure but around each other, growing organically, with subtle pulse. It can be sweet and bluesy (“My Kind Of Poetry”, “Old School”), it can also be adventurous and full of expressive outbursts (“Zero Gravity”, “Expert Set”) … and excellent throughout. The band is Daniel Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Peter Bitenc on bass.

Nate Wooley Quintet- (Put Your) Hands Together (CF 218 )
For the first time in many years, Nate Wooley releases an album with composed music, with an actual band, and with music that is more accessible than any of the records made under his leadership. The band is Josh Stinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums …. indeed the musicians who play regularly together in each other’s bands and with equal success.

In stark contrast of some of his previous albums, Wooley’s trumpet tone is voiced, deeply sensitive but within the same phrase he can switch it into screeching whispers. The compositions integrate jazz history, but then in a reverend and playful way, gently giving new dynamics and dimensions to the familiar forms, lifting them up, dusting them off, refreshing them with new power and creative angles.

The end result is a carefully crafted, fun album, with moments of playfulness (“Elsa”), deep sentiments (“Hazel”), compositional complexity (“Ethyl”) or all in one (“Hands Together”). The most beautiful piece is “Shanda Lea” (Wooley’s wife?), opening the album with solo trumpet, repeated halfway the record in duet with Stinton, then again as solo trumpet to end the album. On tracks like “Erna” you can hear the warm voice of Ron Miles seep through, but unlike Miles, Wooley adds some odd raw edges and in doing so also more depth in the delivery.

In short, a heart-warming and inventive album, show-casing a fantastic musician and an artist in full development. No need to praise the rest of the band: you know them already: they’re among the best you can get these days, and to Wooley’s credit, he leaves them lots of space.