Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson – Cylinder (CF 219)
Cylinder is a collective quartet based in San Francisco, with an ensemble dynamic that echoes Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet without foregoing each individual’s unique voice as an instrumentalist and composer. The four musicians each come from disparate locations in the US and Sweden and each brings to the ensemble an eclectic background of musical vocabularies. The challenge with a record by four leaders who all compose for the band is to create a sound that both represents the distinct characters of the composer/performers, but also puts forth a general consensus of creative direction. Saxophonist/clarinetist Aram Shelton’s history with Chicago inevitably leads a listener to draw comparisons between the Associationfor the Advancement of Creative Musicians and Shelton’s colorful and spacious composition style, with “Four Thoughts” and “Skipped Rocks” both offering an enchanting blend of abstraction, freedom and lyricism. Drummer Kjell Nordeson sounds amazing on the latter and the Swede’s own compositions are beautiful, “Shells” brimming with energy and drive and “Sung By Dogs” mixing melodic intrigue with some great extended techniques from trumpeter Darren Johnston. Johnston’s compositions probably most directly call to mind Ornette Coleman’s unlikely melodic structures, with the themes of “The Ear That Was Sold To a Fish” and “Sink Town” floating over a propulsive rhythm. Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa’s prodigious technique lends the ensemble firm footing and a flexible poise that enables fluidity of motion. Both her arco and pizzicato playing are buoyant, assured and consistently engaging. Her “The Deep Disciplines” sets up a variety of ensemble shapes in the composed sections, with sharp unisons, wobbling trills and driving rhythms all careening up against each other. The variety of compositional structures on display across this disc are impressive and the energy with which the musicians bring these works to life is ear-grabbing. Having each found their way to the Bay Area from disparate locales, they have created a cohesive band with a sense of team work and a love of innovation and tradition, both shared and personal. The band functions so well as a unit because it is made up of individuals enjoying each other’s ideas and discoveries.
Ralph Alessi And This Against That – Wiry Strong (CF 220)
There’s a good deal of continuity between Wiry Strong, the latest release from trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s This Against That and previous efforts such as Look, a 2007 outing with the same personnel. A key difference, however: tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, a “special guest” on four tracks from Look, is now billed as a full-fledged quintet member. Between the two front linehorns, Andy Milne’s spacious piano and the rugged, textural rhythm of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber, Alessi gives himself an enticing range of options. He goes the route of tight orchestration, spiky melodies, darkly suggestive harmony and flowing improvised dialogue, hard-edged but not without a certain tenderness on numbers such as “Halves and Wholes” and “Mira”. Of the 15 tracks, all are Alessi’s originals save forfour collectively-composed pieces: “Pudgy”, “Racy Banter”, “Celebrity Golf Classic” and the opening “Clown Painting”. Curiously, these brief abstract sketches, marked by odd timbres and repeating rhythmic patterns, are recorded a bit louder than the main body of the album, giving the disc a slightly uneven aural effect (perhaps the intention of co-producers Alessi and Tim Berne). Elsewhere, subtle overdubbed trumpet backgrounds on “Station Wagon Trip”, “Halves and Wholes” and the closing title track enhance the chamber-jazz aspects of Alessi’s writing. The playing is sonorous and vibrant, although at 72 minutes the program drags in spots. Drummers are key to Alessi’s springy, funk-inflected rhythmic language, as Nasheet Waits proved on the trumpeter’s laser-focused 2010 quartet outing Cognitive Dissonance. On Wiry Strong it is Ferber who lends momentum and wide-ranging percussive colors: martial snare patterns on “Bizarro-World Moment”; rolling toms on “20% of the 80%”; skittering motion on“A Dollar in Your Shoe” and rubato musings leading toa bright, surging tempo on “Medieval Genius”. But repeat listens drive home how every bandmember -not least of all Alessi with his soaring and allusive horn – brings this complex contrapuntal world into relief.
Daniel Levin – Inner Landscape Daniel Levin (CF 224)
It wasn’t until he broke his arm in 1949 that bassist Oscar Pettiford became a jazz pioneer on the cello. He experimented with its smaller cousin, which he could play even with his arm in a sling and performed and recorded on it for the rest of his career. But not until the ‘60s New Thing did the cello properly find its place. Today the cello plays second fiddle to no one, especially on the disc at hand.
On Inner Landscapes we are left with the cello alone. On his first solo record, Daniel Levin allows his imagination to run riot over the course of six improvisations from a brace of live dates captured during 2009. In the liners Levin describes his intention that the music be “casual but very determined” and he fulfills that wish through an impressive focus on weight, line, dynamics and overall direction. On the way he invokes all manner of musics with prodigious skill: jazz, classical, improv, noise, vocal chorus. But nowhere are the references sustained as he restlessly pursues an unceasing inner flow, which makes blow-by-blow description thankless. Contrasts and jump-cuts a bound, with ideas picked up, examined and discarded in favor of newer routes all within the space of a few minutes. Some moments stand out in relief: a passage of plaintive cries pitched against dark grainy slashes; a litany of multi-layered abrasions; a sequence of descending chuckles in contrasting registers. But in practice the six tracks are all of a piece. His technique is unquestioned and he revels in the physicality of the instrument. Those with an adventurous streak or interest in the outer reaches of the cello universe will find much to savor.
Old and Unwise – Bruno Chevillon/Tim Berne (CF 221)
For this live-in-studio date, Tim Berne engages crafty veteran Bruno Chevillon for a series of improvised duets. Flinty alto contrasts the bass’ resonant warmth- but it’s less the instruments than the personalities behind them that propel the music. “Crossed Minds” erupts in an introductory blast of darting alto runs matched by fleet retorts from Chevillon. Immediate contrast emerges with the spacious suspended tones of “High/Low”, as Berne patiently builds a concluding repeated theme. Chevillon hammers the strings to begin “L’etat D’incertitude” while Berne’s dissonant overblowing gradually recedes and he unfurls fluid lines in response to the bassist’s thrumming. “Au Centre du Corps” similarly opens with alto howls and fluttering percussive bowed bass, featuring extended techniques before rapidly spinning more traditional lines. The pair consistently asserts acute listening. Developed from a buzz of prepared strings and crisply peppered sax, they join in an uneasy consonance of wavering alto cries and bowed bass on “Quelque Chose Vacille”. On “Dissimulable”, they converge so quickly on an ascending-then-descending run that it sounds composed. Berne uses recurring thematic phrases to construct new patterns on “Cornered”, as Chevillon matches rhythmically with scraped strings, before settling into a groove. He raps the bass for percussive resonance, adding texture to Berne’s high-wire theme on the concluding “Single Entendre”. Though perhaps Old in chronology, the startling clarity and responsiveness of Chevillon and Berne’s collaboration belies any notion of Unwise.
CYLINDER / Cylinder (CF 219)
Plus créatif, plus pompé, plus intéressant est cet autre quatuor avec Aram Shelton, quatuor qu’il ne dirige pas cette fois. Cylinder est un projet collectif entre Shelton, le trompettiste Darren Johnston, la bassiste Lisa Mezzacappa et le batteur Kjell Nordeson. Les quatre membres composent pour le groupe. Superbes échanges entre trompette et saxo, une section rythmique qui a du cran, une écriture sautillante et qui sait frapper là où ça fait mal (ou du bien, c’est selon). J’aime.
More creative, pumped up and interesting than Arrive is this other quartet featuring Aram Shelton, although he is not the leader this time. Cylinder is a collective project between Shelton, trumpeter Darren Johnston, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, and drummer Kjell Nordeson. All four compose for the group. Gorgeous exchanges between trumpet and sax, a gutsy rhythm section, and spirited writing that hits where it hurts (and it feels good). I like.
ARRIVE / There Was… (CF 217)
Un deuxième (ou je m’abuse?) album pour ce quatuor du saxophoniste Aram Shelton, avec Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Jason Roebke (contrebasse) et Tim Daisy (batterie). Plus constant que le premier. Très jazz, assez puissant, le jeu coulant d’Adasiewicz adoucissant les aspérités du saxo alto. Un disque studio honnête.
A second album (or am I mistaken?) for this quartet led by saxman Aram Shelton, with Kason Adasiewicz (vibes), Jason Roebke (doublebass) and Tim Daisy (drums). More consistent than the first CD. Very jazzy, quite powerful, Adasiewicz’s flowing playing smoothing out the alto sax’s asperities. A honest studio album.
Arrive – There Was (CF 217)
Listening still ranks as one of the most important aspects of performing. Ask Pauline Oliveros, she agrees. Aram Shelton, a onetime local who now resides in the Bay with his alto sax but makes frequent pilgrimages back to Chicago, is well acquainted with the necessity to bleat out incomprehensible melodic progressions, but then rein it in and allow enough room for his cohort to expound related musical ideas. Affiliated with everyone from Weasel Walter, another East Bay transplant, to the Functional Blackouts, Shelton’s dates as a leader aren’t as varied as his other recording concerns, but hint at the ability to augment his tone and style on demand. Working with the Portuguese imprint Clean Feed, Shelton’s brought out “There Was…” with his group Arrive. The band, a quartet including Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, Jason Roebke with his bass and sometime-Vandermark associate Tim Daisy on drums, turned in six tunes for its latest release. Strikingly broad for an offering hemmed up in avant-jazz terms, the quartet works in airy tones as much as frenetic improvised passages and even tosses in a few drum solos. “Frosted” finds Daisy being featured for a romp over his toms, somehow avoiding overt African references, exemplifying Shelton and his group’s ability to adroitly assimilate influence without sacrificing the personal. Marshall Allen and John Gilmore, from Sun Ra’s groups, don’t function as the center to Shelton’s sound. It’s lighter, even sidestepping Art Ensemble ties. The band leader’s new(ish) digs out west, though, might serve as a better point of reference—Mills College is out there. But even Anthony Braxton doesn’t hold sway over Shelton’s approach to music. He’s a rare contemporary player capable of adding in some Euro-styled experimentalism with rhythmic ideas, no doubt, gleaned from his work in the Windy City.