Monthly Archives: May 2011

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer – HNH (CF 205)
Taylor Ho Bynum/John Hébert/Gerald Cleaver – Book of Three (RogueArt)
Unusual in composition, an improvising trio made up of double bass, drums and a brass instrument usually has a harder time balancing its sonics than when the third instrument is piano, say, or saxophone. It’s a tribute to each of these formations that the end results are of such high-quality, although the Book of Three CD is low-key and atmospheric, while HNH is bright and lively.

While both bands are New York-based, HNH is 100 per cent German, while Bynum, Hébert and Cleaver are Americans. In fact, while veteran trumpeter Thomas Heberer, who regularly works with the Berlin Contemporary Jazz and the ICP orchestras, was a member of the Köln-based James Chance Orchestra with drummer Joe Hertenstein, the triple-initial combo didn’t jell until the two hooked up again in Manhattan and added a third expat, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, who plays in another band with drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Almost all the compositions are from one or the other H however.

Meanwhile Taylor Ho Bynum – who plays cornet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet and trumpbone here – bassist John Hébert and drummer Gerald Cleaver are some of the busiest musicians on the New York scene, working with the likes of reedman Anthony Braxton and bassist William Parker as well as leading their own bands. This trio configuration apparently impressed them for particular reasons. Judging from the voicing, it appears that an opportunity to avoid the stentorian was one attraction. The drummer does manage to get in some backbeat whacks and the bassist does his share of walking, but pulsing ruffs and echoes from Clever plus Hébert’s string stretching and fondling predominate.

The wild card here, Bynum maintains the understated chromatic interface, but breaks up his lyrical runs and muted grace notes with a variety of extended techniques. At one point he matches the bassist’s double-stopping emphasis with affiliated plunger tones and half-swallowed tongue fluttering. On the other hand, on “How Low” the cornetist’s part evolves to repeated whiny slurs, buzzes and tremolo back-of-throat cries, as Hébert alternates col legno and sul tasto strokes and the drummer spends more time dabbing, stroking and shaking parts of his kit than whacking any of them.

Most tunes are group (instant) compositions, with a couple sporting punning titles mockingly converse to the members’ actual playing efforts – “Digging for Clams”, for instance or “Meat Cleaver”. “Air Bear”, another group effort, is more illustrative of the trio’s inside/outside conceptions however. Indolently paced, with Cleaver’s cymbal smacks and time-keeping ruffs and rattles, the form is subverted by the bassist’s discordant low-pitched scrubs and Bynum’s extended mouthpiece oscillations that suggest dog whistles. The ending is equal parts shuffles and hand bounces from the drummer; higher-pitched bass string plucks and brass tones that are simultaneously rough and rococo.

If the measured pacing of Book of Three sometimes threatens to tumble from languid to lethargic, then there’s no trace of listlessness on the other CD. Straight-ahead aggression and swing are evident throughout. This is apparent whether the composition is “Tolliver Toll”, Heberer’s rhythmically appropriate tune honoring Freebop trumpeter Charles Tolliver, or craftily expressive like the moderato lows from Heberer’s quarter-tone trumpet on Hertenstein’s suggestive “Screw the Pendulum”.

On the latter tune, the brass man’s specially constructed instrument allows him to smear slippery textures as if he was playing a reed instrument. He asserts the horn’s brassiness when he buzzes and razzes in the piece’s final variant, while throughout the drummer rolls and shuffles and the bassist strokes his strings with powerful motions. On the Tolliver salute, the trumpeter’s braying and speech-inflected tones are appropriately agitated, while Hertenstein showcases a stick-popping solo filled with press rolls, and Niggenkemper’s distended pulse is reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison playing “A Love Supreme”. A winnowing descending tongue slur that completes “Paul’s Age”, which Hertenstein based on the fragment of a Hindemith melody, follows the trumpeter’s reconstitution of the theme. With Heberer’s interpretation encompassing peaks and valleys that go from shrill and staccato to this side of mellow, the narrative fits tongue-and-groove alongside the bassist’s arpeggios and the drummer’s rolls, pops and clatters.

More generic to the trio’s narrative is Heberer’s “Doin’ the Do”. Both tonic and discordant the piece allows the trumpeter to run through strategies that alternately reflect either approach. Raucous triplets following pressurized air forced through the horn’s body tube is one variant, linked to plucked guitar-like chords and sul tasto slides from Niggenkemper. Elsewhere, half-valve effects slurring to multiphonics precedes a return to the main, smoothly paced theme, with equivalent steadying pulses arriving from the bassist, matched with the drummer’s drags, bounces and rebounds.

If you want stimulation obvious and in-your-face than the pulsating swing of HNH is the preferred disc. If you’ll settle for an enervated approach which may mask more musical profundity, then Book of Three investigation may be in order. Both trios appear to have efficiently overcome the perceived weaknesses supposedly associated with brass-bass-drum trio sessions.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Ken Waxman

Lawnmower – West (CF 178 )
Architecturally organized into sound blocks, the seven tracks on this quartet’s debut CD bleed one into another to create a distinct aural picture. Mostly midtempo and somewhat monochromatic, the pieces seem to take as much from shoe-gazer rock and poignant country music as jazz improvisation. That’s not surprising considering that two of players – guitarists Dan Littleton and Geoff Farina – are part of indie-rock bands such as Ida, Karate and Secret Stars. Drummer Luther Gray is a former punk rocker who now plays with improv stylists such as saxophonist Ken Vandermark and guitarist Joe Morris. Leader of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, alto saxophonist JimHobbs is the jazz spark here. On ballads such as “Prayer of Death” and “Love”, the guitarists churn out Appalachian-styled twang sand tremolo slides as the saxophonist’s melismatic whines and choked slurs approximate the lonesome timbres of primitivist singers. When his tone isn’t reminiscent of Dock Boggs’ vocals, Hobbs channels Ornette Coleman. On a piece such as “Giant Squid” Hobbs creates jaunty, linear solos whose child-like intonation contrast with the guitarists’ crunching reverb and discordant fuzz tones. Littleton and Farina only fleetingly differentiate themselves throughout when one vibrates steel-guitar-like licks and the other gashes his strings, producing abrasive rebounds. Meanwhile Gray’s presence is strictly supportive, sticking to bare-bone paradiddles and uncomplicated clatters and rolls. Even on “Two”, the lengthiest track at almost 15 minutes, the pause between sections is no drum break, but an opportunity for methodical clunks and rustling raps from Gray. Half-lullaby and half-lament, resonating guitar drones at the top develop into fortissimo string shakes and blurry note sprays by the end, with Hobbs’ pinched reed bites and split tones providing the contrast. Gray says the band name came from his youth, mowing lawns while listening to music through a walkman. As imposing as some of the tracks are, the album’s underlying melancholy may discourage an identical strategy here: a severed toe may result.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Jeff Stockton

Jason Adasiewicz  – Sun Rooms (Delmark)
KLANG – Other Doors  (Allos Documents)
Aram Shelton’s Arrive  – There Was… (Clean Feed)
Giving up the drums to take up the vibraphone is like quitting basketball to try out for the volleyball team. It seems to be a choice that limits one’s options. But this is just what Jason Adasiewicz did, purposely taking up a fringe instrument and mastering it in a fringe musical category, helping restore the vibes to its former glory.

Sun Rooms is the self-titled CD of a trio completed by Chicago luminaries Nate McBride (bass) and Mike Reed (drums). While each instrument has its individual moments, the strength of the music is found in the interplay, Reed zipping brisk rolls off his snare, McBride bowing feverishly or walking his bass with aggressive intent and Adasiewicz striking the vibes to create resonating harmonies. You can hear the physicality in his playing in the way he holds back his mallets until the final second and in the ringing overtones that move through the air after he strikes. The tunes are relatively compact yet tightly composed, the band’s sound harkening back to economical BlueNote classics like Out to Lunch or, better still, Point of Departure. Sun Rooms offers similar disjointed harmonies, unconventional melodies and layered rhythms that together generate a cohesive blend.

The backstory to Klang’s Other Doors tells how clarinetist James Falzone was approached to interpret the music of Benny Goodman for a Chicago jazzfestival. The young musician had his misgivings about reliving elements of the clarinet’s past. It’s hard to tell if Falzone continues to distance himself from Goodman’s legacy but it’s a pity if he does because the contemporary takes on some classic Goodman small group sides are the best thing about Other Doors. Divided equally between new arrangements and new pieces, Falzone and his group of Chicago allstars (Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Daisy, augmented here and there by Josh Berman, Jeb Bishop, Keefe Jackson and Fred Lonberg-Holm), the players are melodic and joyful on the Goodman tunes and relatively abstract and improvisatory on the originals. Simultaneously reverent and progressive, Other Doors is an impressive combination of practiced virtuosity and spontaneous creativity.

Yet another release to spring from the incredibly fertile and cross-pollinating jazz scene of Chicago, Arrive is a band comprised of Klang’s rhythm section supporting alto saxist Aram Shelton. On There Was… the tunes may be Shelton’s, but it’s Adasiewicz as often as not taking the lead. Whether it’s with Daisy’s brushes on “Frosted”, Jason Roebke’s bass on “Golden” or producing the hazy nightclub-of-the-imagination atmospherics of “Lost”, Adasiewicz’ hits his vibes hard and lets the metallic soundwaves reverberate in your ears. The action shot of the band on the inside cover tells the tale of this group’s barely contained fierceness: Daisy locked in, Roebke swinging, Shelton’s horn rising ever so slightly upward and Adasiewicz in a defensive stance, about to pounce on the vibes with both hands.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Andrey Henkin

Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio – Bauhaus Dessau (Intakt)
Uwe Oberg/Evan Parker – Full Bloom (Jazzwerkstatt)
Evan Parker/Sten Sandell – Psalms (psi)
Evan Parker/Urs Leimgruber – Twine (Clean Feed)
Evan Parker  – Whitstable Solos (psi)
British saxophonist Evan Parker is just a few years away from his Jubilee Celebration as his country’s most celebrated jazz export. What has contributed to such remarkable longevity – particularly consideringhe inhabits the punishing avant garde sphere – is that he has been international in scope and omnivorous instyle since almost the very beginning. He’s a founding father or elder statesman in theory; in practice, he plays with the same curiosity as he did at the outset. His most stable outlet has been in a trio led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach with drummer Paul Lovens. Bauhaus Dessau, named for the German art center where this 2009 concert took place, is the latest in a mini-flurry of releases since 2003 by the group, which has existed for over 40 years, making itone of the longest-standing free-improvising ensembles in history. Few marriages last as long. And like a successful marriage, there is a delicate balance between knowing someone more than intimately and still being surprised by them. The three tracks, in descending lengths of 41, 12 and 9 minutes, featuring Parker solely on hefty tenor, both capture a particularly fine moment and represent a blip in their trajectory, a strange tension between history and ephemerality percolating with each moment. Three duos represent how Parker works in small groups of lesser pedigree than the Schlippenbach Trio. He maintains his personality but becomes magnanimous in how he applies himself. German pianist Uwe Oberg, 18 years Parker’s junior, firmly inhabits the world of European and international improvising Parker helped create. He is a far different player than Schlippenbach, often solemn and pastor also Parker’s tenor on Full Bloom sets aside some of its stridency for exultant beauty. Younger players looking for a sax tone to emulate should listen to this wonderfully recorded disc as a paragon. And since Oberg works in spacious, delicate movement, a kinder, gentler Parker emerges and details in his approach that might go unnoticed elsewhere are clearly audible.

Another pianist with whom Parker has worked with some frequency within the past decade is Swede Sten Sandell. He’s joined Parker’s trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton and both appear in drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Townhouse Orchestra. For the aptly-titled Psalms, recorded in the North Sea-side town of Whitstable, Sandell is behind the St. Peter’s organ matched against Parker’s tenor. Sandell is to becommended for even being able to improvise on such an unwieldy instrument. The combination of floating organ and rich saxophone is an unusual one, often sounding alien or fit for piping into a Surrealist art exhibition. One would require a very progressive congregation to hear the piety in these searching, slow-moving pieces.

Twine is an odd entry into Parker’s discography. Not because it is a saxophone duo, a format he has visited intermittently, but because his partner is Swiss tenor and soprano saxist Urs Leimgruber. To the untrained ear and perhaps even the trained one, Parker and Leimgruber’s approach to their shared instrumentsis very similar: overtones, circular breathing, plangents quawks. Leimgruber’s career started about a decade after Parker’s and one imagines the older player was a great influence. As such, we have a very different interaction than Parker’s previous meetings with, say, Steve Lacy or Joe McPhee. Instead of two distinct voices or sharp color contrast, the pair explore almost 67 minutes of grey, tones and breaths floating by, over, under, through each other, less a conversation than a series of oblique echoes.

Parker is back in Whitstable for his 13th solo saxophone disc since he began exploring the format inthe late ‘70s. It has been remarked that Parker’s solo playing, especially on soprano as is found here, is one long improvisation across the decades. Certainly it is a connecting thread as Parker moves from blustery trio to large ensemble to duos to recent interest in electronics. His solo playing is like a chef’s signature dish, minutely altered and transmogrified over the years, a dash more spice here, a longer broil there. What makes this particular serving special is the acoustic profile Parker gets from the rural church, the partner with which he duets. Whitstable Solos is not adefining statement but another footprint in Parker’s long and fascinating journey.

El Intruso interview by Sergio Piccirilli

Check the great Lisa Mezzacappa interview and get to know more about this incredible talent !

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

Arrive: There Was… (CF 217)
It is astonishing to consider just how many differing ensembles in which a modern jazz musician might participate. Take, for instance, the players heard in alto saxophonist Aram Shelton’s Arrive. Besides his own band Rolldown, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz can be heard in seven other bands, including those of Rob Mazurek, Mike Reed, and Nicole Mitchell. Likewise, Tim Daisy (Ken Vandermark’s favorite drummer) lists thirteen active bands, and bassist Jason Roebke, a half dozen. For his part, Shelton (who splits his time between Oakland and Chicago) lists another dozen bands, include the West coast groups Cylinder, Ton Trio, and Marches, and, from Chicago, the Fast Citizens, Rolldown, his Quartet, and the band heard here.

Formed in 2001, Arrive builds upon the band Dragons 1976, a piano-less trio Shelton and Daisy created with bassist Jason Ajemian. Where Dragons 1976 mined the message of Ornette Coleman, Arrive plies a post-Coleman world, with Bobby Hutcherson’s Dialogue (Blue Note, 1965) offering a reference point.

The inclusion of Adasiewicz’s vibraphone adds both a second percussionist and a chordal instrument. His literally striking performance elevates Shelton’s compositions, focusing the music on both melody and physicality. The pulse applied by bass and drums can sometimes be ignored, but Adasiewicz’s vibraphone on the title track pushes Roebke and Daisy to the forefront, emphasizing that pulse. As a working band, Arrive maintains a tight rein on the compositions. “Cradle” begins as an odd-timed waltz that evolves into a delicious 4/4 groove; the Same goes for “Frosted,” Shelton introducing this restrained and quiet piece, before giving way to some interplay between Adasiewicz and Daisy. Elsewhere, Roebke’s bass fuels “Lost,” before stepping into a gnarled solo and silence, the band bringing him back into the intricately woven song.

Where this disc shines is not in the soloing but the melodies and orchestrated group interplay. Shelton’s composing, and his sense of space in choosing musicians who play well together is a gift. This combination might be the best coalition of Chicago artists working today.

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Nate Wooley Quintet – (Put Your) Hands Together (CF 218 )
(Put Your) Hands Together’s cover art features a photo of trumpeter Nate Wooley putting his hands together, perhaps as a token of appreciation for his quintet’s exemplary performance. Praise is in order because of the program’s captivating synchronicity, artfully scaling between structure and improvisation to complement an abundance of polytonal facets. With penetrating compositions and thoughtful improvisational metrics, Wooley’s bronze-toned lines and prophetic choruses loom as a commanding force.

“Ethyl” features an idiomatic tenor that differs from several other pieces on the album. Commencing with vibraphonist Matt Moran and bass clarinetist Josh Sinton’s throbbing ostinato, sparkling contrasts set forth by Wooley’s slurry-like wah-wah notes cast an affable outlook that generates a liquescent tonality. But the quintet breezily launches into a crisp free-bop vamp led by Sinton’s torrid soloing, spiced with gravelly nuances. Energetic, linear, and sublime, “Ethyl,” is designed with variances in pitch and buoyant theme-building exercises.

Wooley and associates offer brain food for the psyche’s insatiable appetite. His solicitous and largely mesmeric arrangements reaffirm his mounting prominence in the boundless realm of jazz improvisation.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Angelica Sanchez – A Little House (CF 206)
Every solo piano album by an improvising artist does not have to be the same as the ones by the rest of the bunch. I’ve found that some are more the same than others. I’ve found that Angelica Sanchez’s debut in this realm, A little House (Clean Feed 206), is not only not the same, it’s charmingly, substantially different. First off she is geared up to play music, not to show her jazz pedigree by playing old standards, bop chestnuts and generally putting on the jazz dog.

But first you want to know who she is? Angelica Sanchez. Well OK, you’ve gathered that. She is an up and coming artist who’s been playing with Wadada Leo Smith, Phillip Greenlief, Paul Motian, Brian Groder, and others. She’s a New-York based key specialist who is rapidly gaining credibility and good exposure in a town where that is by no means an easy thing.

The reason why that is seems fairly clear from the solo album. She plays freely improvised music with a heart and soul. There is whimsy in her pieces that add the toy piano; there is mystery in her inside-the-piano evocations; there is pure melodism in her searching pianistic essays. Well, no, not pure exactly, since harmony is there too, understandably. It’s an honestly direct kind of improvising. Angelica pursues musical ideas and develops them. Those ideas are not at all in the realm of cliche.

It’s avant piano with a human face, a human heart. It’s piano music that exudes personality, a human being behind it all.

You end up after a few listens knowing that Ms. Sanchez has direction. She may not have totally arrived at her destination, which is only proper, but she is going someplace.

And while she is going there she has left behind an excellent example of solo piano musings. Very much recommended.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Arrive – There Was… (CF 217)
A longtime fixture of the fertile Chicago jazz scene, Aram Shelton’s relocation to Oakland, California has not diminished the alto saxophonist’s presence among his peers in the Windy City. Courtesy of a rigorous touring schedule, Shelton maintains memberships in numerous ensembles, including Jason Adasiewicz’s Rolldown, the collective ensemble Fast Citizens, and Arrive, his quartet with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Daisy—three of Chicago’s finest improvisers.

Recorded in 2008 after a two week tour of the East coast, There Was… is the quartet’s third album, following Live at Elastic (Single Speed Music, 2008) and their 2005 self-titled debut on 482 Music. Originally founded in 2001, the group’s practiced rapport is manifest in fluid interchanges and seamless transitions that lend the intricate structures underlying Shelton’s complex writing a casual sense of clarity. Although Shelton’s tuneful post-bop readily evokes the adventurous 1960s-era Blue Note recordings of such luminaries as Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill and Bobby Hutcherson, Shelton and company transcend stylistic preconceptions with a modernistic spin on the tradition. A judicious use of melodic counterpoint, intervallic themes and shifting time signatures provide these compositions with an expansive dynamic range and bracing vitality unique to their time.

Shelton’s nimble cadences reveal a pliant tone that veers from plangent to strident. His serpentine phrasing enhances the soulful ardor of lyrical motifs while instilling a commanding fluency to his more abstract excursions, which include bristling chromatic trills and vocalized ululations. From supple kaleidoscopic shadings to ringing metallic cascades, Adasiewicz’s versatility has made him omnipresent in the Chicago jazz scene; his harmonic audacity makes him a perfect foil for Shelton’s unfettered explorations. The rhythm section gracefully negotiates fractured rhythms and vacillating tempos with swinging aplomb, while making strong individual statements themselves—such as Roebke’s expansive rumination at the center of “Golden,” or Daisy’s rousing drum-line inspired coda on “Frosted.”

The quartet’s commitment to organic development and narrative detail is exemplified by the episodic “Lost” and the closer, “Golden,” which slowly build from balladic musings to ardent finales. The former tune modulates from pointillist call-and-response to a bracing 6/8 vamp as Roebke and Daisy underscore the billowy sustain of Adasiewicz’s double-mallet attack, providing a locomotive undercurrent for the leader’s architecturally concise solo. Ascending to a fevered pitch, Shelton unleashes a compounding array of coiled variations, driven by Daisy’s rigorous downbeats and Roebke’s elastic ostinato, that culminates in a thrilling climax of rock-like intensity. “Golden” follows a similar arc, trading pneumatic precision for a nebulous maelstrom of expressionistic drama.

Alternating angular bop melodies and lilting swing motifs with languid noir blues impressionism and aleatoric introspection, Arrive navigates a multi-hued panorama of sound. Drawing inspiration from past masters while moving headlong into the future, There Was… offers an adventurous yet accessible variation on the jazz tradition, demonstrating Shelton’s subtly innovative take on historical antecedents.

NPR Music review

Angelica Sanchez – A Little House (CF 206)
The sound of a toy piano may conjure the magic and innocence of childhood: You see toy pianos in playrooms, not concert halls.

But John Cage wrote a suite for toy pianos in 1948. In 2001, a toy piano was a central part of the soundtrack for the French romantic comedy Amelie. Pop and rock musicians including Radiohead, Tom Waits and Lenny Kravitz have used toy pianos to accent their songs.

Weekend Edition Saturday asked Angelica Sanchez for a little lesson on the small keyboard. Sanchez is a jazz pianist and composer by trade; she usually dwells in New York’s downtown music scene. Her most recent album is titled A Little House, and it features original pieces written for toy piano.

Sanchez tells host Scott Simon that she came to the instrument by accident — she originally bought her own toy piano for her young son. But there was a duality to its special sound that she connected with.

“I was a big horror-movie fan growing up. The scariest part always had a toy piano or a glockenspiel in it,” she says. “But then there’s also this really gentle sound to it that makes you want to play lullabies.”