Daily Archives: June 27, 2011

JazzWord 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 mid-tempo and somewhat monochromic, 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 stylist such as saxophonist Ken Vandermark and guitarist Joe Morris. Leader of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, having worked with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum among others, is the jazz spark here.

On ballads such as “Prayer of Death” and “Love”, the guitarists churn out Appalachian-styled twangs and 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”, West’s lengthiest track at almost 14¾ 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 CD’s underlying melancholy may discourage an identical strategy here: a severed toe may result.

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Sclavis/Taborn/Rainey – Eldorado Trio (CF 193)
New Old Luten Trio – White Power Blues (EUPH 025)
Taking as a starting point the trio instrumentation used superbly by piano experimenters such as Cecil Taylor and Alexander von Schippenbach, these CDs demonstrate improvisational concepts plus a balance between older and younger players. Skillful improvisations, the results produced are completely divergent, if equally significant.

Both recorded live, each session differs from the get-go. A Leipzig meeting, White Power Blues – an apt if somewhat politically incorrect title – celebrates a meeting between 75-year-old reedist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and two improvisers at least 40 years his junior: pianist Elan Pauer and percussionist Christian Lillinger. Petrowsky, along with trombonist Conrad Bauer, pianist Ulrich Gumpert and percussionist Günter Baby Sommer created noteworthy advanced Jazz in the former East Germany. A Sommer- protégé, Berlin-based Lillinger with his own Hyperactive Kid trio and backing players such as saxophonist Henrik Walsdorf, has become a lively, energetic drummer. Meanwhile Pauer ranges over the keyboard while touching on a multiplicity of sonic impulses. In short, the two extended tracks are no-holds-barred Free Jazz.

Twenty years’ Petrowsky’s junior, French soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Louis Sclavis was formally trained and over the years has flirted with melodic sounds related to folk music, both real and imaginary. His partners here, both Americans – keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey – are long-time associates of innovative players including saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist William Parker. Although the alchemist gold references in the trio’s name may be a fantasy, the musical balance among the three is a certainty. Overall the CD’s eight tracks are mid-length, more formalist and poised than those created with sometimes over-exuberant playing of the New Old Luten Trio.

Superficially the main difference between the German trio’s improvisations is length, with the second almost twice as long as the first. Equally high-powered, agitato and staccato, the shorter “Vitalistic Hymn” is both a prelude to the title track and a mantra for self-determinism. Petrowsky for one doesn’t let the strictures applied by politics, geography or aging shape his playing. Moving among alto saxophone, clarinet, flute and quarter-flute, his flutter-tonguing, a capella twittering, sturdy split tones and whistles migrate with him. Of course there are more pressurized spits and tongue bubbles from the clarinet, reed-biting and circular-breathed squeaks from the sax, and fog-horn-like vibrations and basso-like breaths from the flute. Rattling and clipping the keys, stroking and stopping the piano’s inner strings and occasionally pummeling its woody frame, Pauer demonstrates his skills here. For his part, Lillinger’s strategy encompasses rugged whacks, steady clip-clop and tinting his beats with quivering gongs and clattering cymbals.

Rigid drum top smacks and cymbal skimming with drumsticks keeps the more-than 36½ minute “White Power Blues” percolating. With thematic shifts from the exposition, variants and the finale also reflecting the reedist’s horn-switching, glottal punctuation in the form of side-slipping lines and split tones share space with duck-like quacks and continuous screeches. Unexpected legato patches show up as well.

At one juncture Petrowsky sounds as if he’s improvising on “Perdido”, other times snatches of Bebop heads pop up, then as quickly are swallowed by the swirling and layered Klangfarbenmelodie. Dynamic feints and an assembly line-like collection of percussive tones come from Pauer; who marks tune transitions with aleatory keyboard pumps. Additionally Pauer’s surging glissandi sometimes alternate with the prodding and strumming of the piano’s internal strings. By the final variations, the saxophonist lets loose with a reed-shredding fortissimo cry. The pianist plays what could be termed Zombie boogie-woogie, with multiple note piling, but without walking-bass rhythms; while the drummer smacks and pounds kinetically.

It’s worth noting that in person, with his hair-flying and body moving every which way, Lillinger is an energetic and almost overwhelming player. Such is the cumulative vitality of this trio nonetheless, that at times his playing is almost submerged by the sheer staccato muscle of the three improvising together.

Moving from White Power to Eldorado, Rainey doesn’t overpower Taborn or Sclavis with his equipment either. His motivation is seamless adherence to what the others are creating, and to help the results without drawing attention to himself. From the very beginning Rainey’s rim shots, press rolls and other movements are perfectly timed, and as spectacular in their execution as Lillinger’s are in theirs. But the American’s playing is more in-the-pocket, easily connecting with, but also muting, Taborn’s frequently staccato chording and Sclavis’ timbres which run from squeaks to snorts.

Eldorado Trio also exposes a wider variety of moods than those on the other CD. “To Steve Lacy”, for instance, with Sclavis appropriately playing soprano sax, is a lament built on a moderato line stretched to near breaking-point, until succeeded by reed bites. Taborn’s comping brings in languid urbanity while Rainey’s drags and rolls are suitably unforced. Similarly, “Lucioles” is a chamber-like fantasia with Taborn creating dancing pianissimo lines so consonant, that the outcome is nearly equal temperament. The clarinetist’s continuously breathed tongue flutters are similarly crepuscule, as the drummer equals the stylized playing of his partners with hand pumps and brushes on drum tops. Although contrasting dynamics, splintered cross tones and protracted glissandi show up on the CD, no matter how atonal and contrapuntal the construction appears, the linear nature of the tune is never sacrificed.

To stretch a metaphor perhaps, it’s true that love making can be either hard and fast or slow and sensual, without either being correct. So too is the interaction of a double-bass-less trio. As with intimacy, some may prefer the aggressive style of the German band, others the more mannered style of the Franco-American aggregation. Adventurous types may be inclined to try both.http://www.jazzword.com/review/127465

Paris Transatlantic review by Stuart Broomer

Nate Wooley Quintet – (PUT YOUR) HANDS TOGETHER (CF 218 )
Nate Wooley has a compound identity as a trumpeter. On one hand, he’s created a body of work in free improvisation (as a soloist and in duos with Paul Lytton, Chris Forsyth and Peter Evans) preoccupied with exploring the trumpet’s sonic possibilities and issues of space, duration and free interaction. Conversely, he’s also a sideman in some highly creative but more traditional jazz groups, like the Daniel Levin Quartet and Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day. Wooley’s own quintet dates from 2008, and it clearly represents a coming-together of those interests, an attentiveness to both the minutiae of sound and the exploration of group relations within loose forms, the combination creating profoundly nuanced work.

The Levin and Eisenstadt groups are mentioned here for more than a casual CV: the Wooley quintet has a closely related instrumentation to both and with them articulates a very specific tradition. The trumpeter shares the front-line with Josh Sinton, here a dedicated bass clarinettist, there’s a rhythm section of bassist Eivind Opsvik on bass and Eisenstadt on drums and vibraphonist Mat Moran covers the middle ground (chordal, comping) usually reserved for a piano. Moran is a member of the Levin group and the quintet-with-vibraphone format is similar to Eisenstadt’s own band. It establishes a common parallel to several bands that recorded for Blue Note in the 60s, led by Jackie McLean, Don Cherry and most notably Eric Dolphy, and it reflects an historical sense of a group language that all of those bands participated in—funk and freedom, the etched and the resonant, the lingering electric haze of the vibraphone—right down to the slinky, soulful figure that introduces the Wooley quintet on the shifting “Hands Together.” While Sinton’s bass clarinet—often in his hands a vocalic explosion—might seem like special homage to Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, it also emphasizes a particular layering of overtone patterns with the trumpet and vibraphone that contributes to the band’s sonic character.
Before “Come Together,” you’ve already had an introductory unaccompanied trumpet solo on the first of three versions of a piece called “Shanda Lea.” As that repeating theme suggests, Wooley’s interests in reflection and recirculation are often at the fore: the CD’s bracketing solos can evoke shakuhachi meditations and the chattering muted trumpets of New Orleans, like a Joe Oliver discourse on the dharma. That sense of return is so strong that the last group piece, “Hazel,” is a round with bass and bass clarinet picking up the trumpet melody. While there are relatively brief, chamber music-like reveries, like the stately “Erna” and the brief and evanescent “Pearl,” which emphasize composition and texture, the most engaging music here is also the most sustained: longer group explorations like “Cecelia,” a piece that superimposes a rapid pointillist line atop hovering vibes and bass. In its development, it doesn’t just present a string of soloists but a continuous dialogue in which each new lead voice emerges organically from both composition and collective, highlighting the individual contributions of Moran, Opsvik and Eisenstadt.
There’s a special grace in Nate Wooley’s lines throughout, a sense of order and sequence that will link the warmest melodic extrusion, interpolated quarter-tone run, sudden Bronx cheer and spear-like blast of pure brass. This is music of the first order, attentiveness to sonic detail informing its every gesture.

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Mostly Other People Do The Killing – THE COIMBRA CONCERT (CF 214)
First things first: the piss-taking cover reference this time around is to Jarrett’s Köln Concert, and each member of MOPDTK is captured in ECM black and white, hilariously skewering the solo solemnity. You couldn’t imagine a musical exemplar more opposed to this group’s swagger. For their first disc away from the Hot Cup label, the quartet specializing in serious play (bassist and leader Moppa Elliott, trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and drummer Kevin Shea) delivers up a two-disc live helping from Coimbra. It’s nice to finally have a live document for those curious about their splice-and-dice methodology (recently articulated in a Signal to Noise feature). They’re in fine fettle throughout, with a playful sensibility that allows them – even urges them – to romp through variegated terrains, from free heat to lovingly rendered bop, swing, and pranks all mashed up into a singular sound. There are nine tracks in all, each taking off from a Moppa Elliott tune but moving from this compositional base into who knows where? The method is one of free association, collage and interpolation, where each member can pick up the thread of veto it as he sees or hears fit.
It’s a tough thing to do without sounding dilettantish or unfocused, depending on the group. But MOPDTK pulls it off gloriously (even including some uncredited work on electronics here and there). Evans and Irabagon are outrageous as ever, but it’s really the group sound – with its riotous shifts in tempo, wrench-in-the-works affinity, and keen responsiveness/playfulness – that compels. They wend their way, unpredictably and dizzyingly, between tunes in splenetic, densely packed minutes, from “Drainlick” to “Shamokin,” taking basic, often fairly simple materials (such as the sassy “Pen Argyll”) and filling them with a bestiary of details, making a deranged rococo of their performances, and stuffing them with slivers and references that go by so quickly they never tire, only delight (look, there’s “Airegin,” and “Nutty,” and “Night in Tunisia,” a faint echo of a Giuffre tune, and – wait – was that really just a nod to Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express”?). Or they take serious complexity, as with the total tempo madness of “Round Bottom, Square Top,” and make it sound so easy and elegant. Even when they break down into free passages, they pursue independent motion and multiple tempos rather than simply sawing away at extended techniques. In this, “Burning Well” and “St. Mary’s Proctor” create the greatest frisson, like some jazz naked singularity, where everything ever played is heard at once.
Does humor belong in music? That’s a question that often gets put to this band of mischief-makers, just as it was put to Rahsaan and Zappa and the Kollektief. But really, how churlish is it to single out one element of such a rich, fully alive band? It’s just seriously good shit.http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2011/06jun_text.html

Paris Transatlantic review by Michael Rosenstein

Tim Berne – INSOMNIA (CF 215)
For over three decades, saxophonist Tim Berne has proved himself to be one of the more consistently intriguing ensemble leaders in free jazz. With Berne, it’s always about the group: how the voices fit together, how they extend the vocabulary of free jazz, and how they develop a collective sound that is more than just a string of torrid solos. While he’s always assembled killer small groups, he’s rarely had the opportunity to front a larger ensemble, so it’s hard to believe this session sat unissued for well over a decade, particularly with such an all-star cast: Bloodcount, Berne’s core working group at the time with clarinettist Chris Speed, bassist Michael Formanek and percussionist Jim Black, was augmented with long-time musical partner Marc Ducret on 12-string guitar, Erik Friedlander on cello, Dominique Pifarély on violin and Baikida Carroll on trumpet. The music sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1997 when it was recorded.

Berne’s open-ended compositional forms provide the structures for the eight improvisers as they make their way across 30-minute readings of “The Proposal” and “oPEN, cOMA”, traversing quirky sonorities and shifting rhythmic cells and massing together for collective passages which break open for trenchant solos by each of the musicians. Speed’s clarinet plays off Berne’s strident alto and dark baritone to great effect, Ducret’s steely 12-string guitar makes for an intriguing break from his skronky electric playing, and Friedlander and Pifarély switch easily from cutting solo work to lush arco and bristling counterpoint. As free as things get, there’s always an underpinning of open groove reminiscent of Berne’s mentor Julius Hemphill, and considering how integral Baikida Carroll was to Hemphill’s music, it’s astonishing that this is the only time he and Berne have recorded together. The trumpeter’s rich tone and penetrating melodicism are prominent throughout, particularly in an awe-inspiring duo with Friedlander half way through “oPEN, cOMA.” Of course, Formanek and Black are the indefatigable backbone to the session, propelling the music with a pliant sense of time while adding their distinctive individual voices to the mix. There are times when the music sprawls a bit, but Berne and his musicians know just how to turn things around and pull the improvisations back in to focus.

Ricardo Gallo’s intervie on Tomajazz by Pachi Tapiz