Monthly Archives: March 2011

JazzMag review by François-René Simon


Jazzreview review by Glenn Astarita

Tim Berne – InSOMNIA (CF 215)
A pivotal jazz luminary in New York City’s progressive downtown scene, alto saxophonist Tim Berne has notched his name into the record books as an innovator and stylist.  His discography and collaborations are well-documented.  However, Berne’s a global artiste who recurrently investigates nouveau spins on jazz and improvisation.  This release extends metrics and concepts previously exercised with longtime affiliates performing here.  Essentially, jazz as a whole reinvents itself as Berne looms as one of its primary motivating forces.  He enlivens his famed Bloodcount band, including musicians he’s teamed with in past aggregations on this diagonally executed venture, spanning avant chamber, jazz improvisation and highly-emotive spin-offs.

The musicians broaden their wares on two lengthy works that comprise the album.  On the opener “The Proposal,” they project an interesting concept featuring asymmetrical parts avant-garde, progressive jazz, chamber and improvisation.  Berne and associates project a fluent transformation between various interludes and segments, teeming with articulately-placed dynamics and intricately rendered unison choruses. With extended passages highlighted by mind-bending dialogues between strings and horns, the artists touch upon minimalist terrain amid garrulous exchanges and colorific contrasts.  They merge mini-symphonic movements into the mix as well.

Berne, clarinetist Chris Speed and trumpeter Baikida Carroll generate fervent episodes as a source of counterpoint and collaboration with violinist Dominique Pifarely and cellist Erik Friedlander.  Moreover, Marc Ducret performs solely on 12-string acoustic guitar.  Throughout, he offers a bridge between horns, strings and rhythmic extrapolations via his slicing and dicing frameworks, off-kilter jazz and cunning improvisational metrics.  On the second and final piece “oPEN, cOMA,” we are treated to swirling strings nestled between ominous horns voicings.  Marked by swerves, dashes and Carroll’s drifting solo, it is easy to discern that the album boasts numerous flowing mechanisms under the hood. 

Insomnia is an outing that plays tricks with your neural network and while not overly-aggressive, there are an abundance of interwoven movements that offer gobs of interest and delight.  Berne’s latest project with his longtime band-mates intimates a snapshot of ultra-modernism.  The ensemble architects a multihued portraiture that demands repeated listens which is a process that yields various impressions on a continual basis.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Stuart Broomer

Dual Identity – Dual Identity (CF 172)Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman formed Dual Identity as an alto saxophone duo in 2004, relatively early in their careers and before they had emerged as two of the most important musicians of their generation.There’s a special playfulness in any band fronted by two improvisers playing the same instrument, prodding one another further. This concert recording presents Dual Identity in its quintet form, with guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid. It’s a highly cohesive group with astrongly defined collection of compositions crafted by the two leaders. The complex rhythms of “Foster Brothers” or the sudden lyrical bursts of “Resonance Ballad” hinge on both an experimental approach to form and a conversational give and take, a specific focus on the alto saxophone line as it has come down through Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean. The value of the individual voice is apparent in the very contrast between Lehman’s drier sound and the rounder warmer voice of Mahanthappa. The group language is a key factor here, most highly developed in the cleverly titled “Extensions of Extension of”, with Ellman, Brewer and Reid creating a minefield of conflicting directions beneath the horns. The performance concludes with the title piece and the way the group began, a sustained unaccompanied dialogue between the two altoists, answering one another’s phrases or running spiral lingscales, matching fluting harmonics with circular breathing to multiphonics, a dialogue rooted at once in the potential of the saxophone and the mutability of pitch and time.

The New York City Jazz Record’s review by Clifford Allen

Mostly Other People Do the Killing – The Coimbra Concert (CF 214)
Mostly Other People Do the Killing (MOPDtK) is a quartet that’s endemic of the delicate balance between technique, experience and knowledge that is continually at play in this music. Fed by the unwavering pulse of chief composer Moppa Elliott’s usually pizzicato bass and the crisp, roiling flash of Kevin Shea’s drums (not as much random caterwaul as one might assume), the frontline is split between saxist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans, two players who push the limits of traditional tonality in their instruments but who nevertheless maintain a steely reserve throughout. The real irony beyond their choice of artwork/image, punning titles (on four albums prior to The Coimbra Concert) and so forth is that behind all that MOPDtK are a focused and often coolly adept quartet powering through traditional reference and contemporary, immediate exploration at an often breakneck pace. Evans works in areas that pit fat, golden swagger, harrier flurries and muscular jounce against an equally intense, micro-sonic conception and in some ways could be seen as the quartet’s Lester Bowie figure considering how his runs trigger evocations from early small-group swing to stratospheric freedom. Irabagon’s tenor playing is measured, tensile post-Sam Rivers work while his sopranino on “Blue Ball”/“A Night in Tunisia” is a tour de force of circular breathing. MOPDtK are somewhat reminiscent of the Clusone Trio without being as historically strict; suite-like improvisations encapsulate action/motion and reference, albeit with a surgically exacting sensibility.

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.