Daily Archives: August 1, 2011

The New York City Jazz Record review by Ken Waxman

Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
Back to the future for pianist Anthony Davis, this CD is a reminder that the improvising skill he first exhibited in the ‘70s still lurks within the composer now best-known for his chamber, choral and symphonic work. Co-leader of the band Cosmologic, multi-reedist Jason Robinson renews the on-again-off-again relationship he has had with Davis since 1998 for a series of duo numbers, most composed by either man. Nevertheless, “Someday I’ll Know”, written by musical theater composer Jason Sherbundy, is the tune closest to a standard and both so-called avant-gardists handle it exquisitely. Robinson’s moderato flutter tonguing quivers comfortably alongside low-frequency keyboard tinkles from Davis. Delicately emphasizing the tune’s contours as it unspools, the pianist turns to comping when the saxophonist reenters with a conclusive andante cadenza. Not that the experimental fire has been smothered. Harsher interface on “Of Blues and Dreams” finds the pianist nearly upsetting the balanced tension of the piece when his metronomic strums and soundboard resonations turn to harder syncopation in contrast with reed-biting and screechy triple-tonguing from the saxophonist. Finally, underlying chords are exposed from both sides for melodic intertwining. Earlier modal jazz-era tremolos from Davis and Robinson, proving that his attack on flute can be as rough and staccato as it is on saxophone(s), produces the duo’s ultimate definition on the title track. Davis’deliberately paced, pseudo-classical lines turn to key-ringing in order to match the smears and finger vibrations from Robinson’s tenor. Initially unaccompanied, the reedist’s glide to legato classicism from overblowing variations on distinct sets of reed tones ingeniously connects with the piano work.

Squid’s Ear review by Kurt Gottschalk

Matt Bauder – Day in Pictures  (CF 210)
Matt Bauder is one smart saxophonist. He has reliably brought himself to projects led by Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon and Rob Mazurek, among others, and works regularly with Taylor Ho Bynum, Harris Eisenstadt and Aaron Siegel. And bringing oneself means more than just showing up. Bauder has a warm, round tone on the tenor and even softens the clarinet’s edges. He’s maybe even a little romantic for some of the conceptualists he hangs out with (he’s closer to Bynum in that regard), but he consistently finds a place for himself, neither fitting too much in or too much out.

Bauder has flirted with doo-wop and minimalism in the past, but Day in Pictures is squarely jazz. Not even that mad-free-scream-at-the-sun-and-then-howl-at-the-moon improv stuff. This is jazz jazz. Some Sonny Rollins here, some Oliver Nelson there. Yeah, Bauder’s a smart cookie.

On board for the effort are trumpeter Nate Wooley, pianist Angelica Sanchez and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, representing Bauder’s current NYC stead, and bassist Jason Ajemian from Bauder’s former Chicago grounds. They pull it off with aplomb, intuitively playing the more involved arrangements, ably slinking into the hushed ballads.

In the circles of some of the conceptualists he’s hung out with (or at least among their audiences), there are concerns and questions about pushing the music forward versus repeating the past. There’s nothing particularly forward-looking about Day in Pictures. And that can be a problem — when the music isn’t this good, anyway.

Squid’s Ear review by David Madden

Tim Berne – Insomnia (CF 215)
Tim Berne’s choice of title stems from his inability to sleep the night before this 1997 gig (this record is the first physical proof of that day). As such, he claims that this altered state pierced his interaction with the music and his octet (culled from cohorts in his 1990’s crew, Bloodcount) with an odd clarity, Berne using the words “kaleidoscope” and “another perspective” and “make everything look sharper” to describe the event. You know, shimmering stars within Berne’s already otherworldly music.

Taking on two of Berne’s classic works, “The Proposal” and “oPEN, cOMA”, the group does advance like a waking dream, repeatedly crossing back and forth between the fence of straight-forward — multi-metered compositions, but adherence to time signatures, nevertheless — and woozy genre-bending free-form. In other words, the crew glances at Berne’s script then individually dance around the notes like tracers. On “The Proposal”, they slowly awaken with high-pitched wiggles and mouthpiece kissing sounds; eventually, strings (Dominique Pifarely on violin, cellist Erik Friedlander, upright bassist Michael Fermanek and Marc Ducret on twelve-string guitar) and reeds (Chris Speed on clarinet, Berne on alto and baritone sax) unite while trumpeter Baikida Carroll and drummer Jim Black tarry with a gurgling wah-wah and skittering flurry, respectively. Avalanche-like, everyone gathers speed with the rhythm section working hard under Carroll’s solo (Ducret’s unique instrument choice provides a sonically interesting choice for the chord-carrying comp). Of course, the band tears this apart: Pifarely and Friedlander jaunt through a quick Bartók-esque duet, stop to scrape and twist their strings, then frantically bow, rising, and the rest slowly join the harmony. Elision. Done. Change of scene, and we’re barely ten minutes into the thirty-five minute work.

The group uses this “jazz” template throughout both tracks, allowing everyone to solo alone, or over the others, or be soloed over. But due to timbre shifts, stratified ideas and counterpoint, the disc is anything but homogenous. “oPEN, cOMA” commences in the similarly delicate fashion as the previous piece, Ducret tinkering behind his bridge and setting up a percussive platform of muted pangs before launching into a bombastic rattle that prog-rock pioneers should envy; when Speed begins his fantastic run, the band shifts with the mood, then to the side, grabs the motifs, creates branches off those, then returns before it ends. This virtuosic aesthetic should be par for the course in this musical universe, but Berne and Company’s penchant for clever metamorphosis is overwhelming — “overwhelming” in the way you felt the first few times you listened to Le sacre du printemps.

In Stephen King’s Insomnia, the sleep-deprived protagonist begins to notice oddities in his waking life: some people have multi-colored auras, creepy ethereal doctors from another plane manifest and tinker with unsuspecting victims. But, like Berne’s work here, this isn’t the character’s hallucination: it’s actual. A cloudy, skewed reality that takes some time to comprehend (though Berne’s Insomnia is a celebration, not a funeral).

Squid’s Ear review by David Madden

Daniel Levin Quartet – Organic Modernism (CF 212)
For a moment, recall your mentality circa age nine through fifteen: what is the phrase the rebellious you had to endure at least five times per day? “Stay away from there”, or just, “Stop it!” Specifically, this was applied to scenarios where you stood, say, near a rapidly flowing irrigation canal, dipping your toe in the water — you just had to test it out. Or maybe engaged in the “I’m not touching you” game with your hands an inch in front of someone’s face. In other words, you needed to be as close as possible without actually doing something.

It’s this sort of turbulence that makes Organic Modernism so successful and fascinating. The quartet of Daniel Levin (cello), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Moran (vibraphone) and Peter Bitenc (upright bass) draw a line on the floor, mark it “Bebop” and playfully move near, almost on, briefly on, then away (not too far) from this guidepost, making judicious detours and extensions to forge something anomalous.

Bitenc begins “Action Painting” with an insistent walking line, taking on the role of loose metronome for the remaining trio to coalesce. Levin powers in with slurs and glissandi, soon twisting in tandem with Wooley’s woozy dips and staccato pops and Moran’s lower register brume; when Bitenc and Moran join at the first “jazz as we think of it” spot, it’s a nostalgic dance that you could, in a blind test, mistake for a Ron Carter / Milt Jackson duet. But of course, as the album title implies, the focus here is on The New, and the mix soon shatters into fragments with each member now absorbed in anti-solo (i.e. Moran messes around with his tremolo speed, Levin scrapes and scratches, Wooley recapitulates the aforementioned glissando motif); they resume this approach with “Zero Gravity” where the group chafes in a stew of drones (via Wooley’s breathy tones and Moran’s crescendo ostinatos), occasional dotting bursts and a motorized radio-like buzz. On “Lattice”, Levin and Bitenc freely battle and embrace, battle and embrace in a graceful fit of pizzicato, bowing, sprints to the highest pitch and string-snapping; “Expert Set” is a similar setting with Wooley nimbly adapting, leading and blasting Levin until both men fade into groggy shadows. Forgoing the far-out side of the quartet’s aesthetic, “Audacity” is a remarkable experiment in agreement-into-polyrhythm and sudden tempo shifts, first swaggering with long unison lines, then bashing the air with the sonic equivalent of scribbling, soon sinking into long passages of Bluesy head-nodding, faster, tonal interlopers, a blend of these, etc.

From the liner notes (written by the great Art Lange): “These are concepts of the 20th century modernism extended into a new century still in need of its radical adjustment — that is, a rejection of the failed conventions of realism in favor of a new, open, freer perspective…” True, but that shouldn’t be confused with pastiche. Because this crew spent the time learning the language, internalizing it, their innocent “who me?” mischief sounds poignant and masterful, not sloppy or forced different-just-to-be-different — yes, 500 words later I’m trying to tell you it’s organic.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Bruno Chevillon – Old And Unwise (CF 221)
The weight of a gesture is enhanced by conciseness in relation to the muscular strength of who makes it. In that sense the material comprised by Old And Unwise – a full hour of duos for double bass and alto saxophone – frequently seems to relate to the substantial aspect of artistry rather than eliciting the idea of Pindaric flights and schismatic tendencies. Not that Chevillon and Berne are not able to act as sympathetic visionaries when they choose to; on the contrary, their ability of mingling skill and lyricism in a piece like “Quelque Chose Vacille” is inspiring, and in the following “Back Up The Truck” the art of manly defence is completely repudiated in favour of a visit to the melodic vaults. Yet the physical definition of the respective timbres is always what emerges as paramount over consecutive listens. Perspicacious dichotomies and self-imposed constraints characterize Berne’s phrasing in every circumstance; however, when he lets the sax yelp and howl it never comes as unexpected, more a logical development of previously explored options. Chevillon is a terrific instant composer, capable of altering the unchangeable features of an instrument with sharp decisions, significant technical grounding and the unaffectedness of a pluck-and-throb shrewdness which is typical of few master bassists, those who are equally good at sustaining a conversation and let individuality shine during solitary moments of exposure. There’s no finding a weak point throughout, time literally flying thanks to copious doses of outstanding music.

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Michael Dessen Trio: Forget The Pixel (CF 222)
This jazz trio, manned by Southern California-based slide trombonist Michael Dessen, sports a full-sized sound and abides by a rather springy group-centric mode of attack. Dessen’s solo work, co-leader outings, and stints with major progressive-jazz artists complement his educational duties at the University of California, Irvine.
The trombonist parlays a worldly and comprehensive stance on Forget The Pixel, where the musicians share equal footing amid rousing passages, bustling rhythms, and the leader’s bizarre, yet sagacious electronics overlays. The trio adds a multidimensional outlook via ethereal and penetrating segments, in concert with a few spacey interludes that prompt semblances of an intergalactic abyss.

Dessen’s expansive improvisational angles are woven into the structured mechanisms. On “Three Sepals,” the artists fuse subliminal aspects with introspective dialogues, honed down by bassist Christopher Tordini’s entrancing solo. Here, and in other regions of sound, the trio either ups the ante or delves into free-form microtonal episodes, underscored by edgy minimalism.

Dessen’s use of electronics offers a bizarre perspective and acts as the lead voice on the asymmetrical piece “Herdiphany.” But the group often roughs it up and embarks on offbeat treks, seeded with depth and effective use of space. The musicians travel to a numbing dreamscape, and catapult into a brazen succession of exchanges.

Michael Dessen Trio spawns a polytonal and radiant architecture, enraptured by a sense of fractured realism. The leader’s laudable technical faculties and keen imaginative powers are attributes that contribute to the persuasiveness of this multi-tiered program.

All About Jazz review by Robert Bush

Michael Dessen Trio: Forget The Pixel (CF 222)
Trombonist Michael Dessen once studied with George Lewis, hung with Ray Anderson, and has ascended to their level on the creative improvising scene. Dessen has his own distinct style, one that values nuanced gestures as highly as it does exuberance; therefore his music creates a micro world of detail and organically developed themes.
The music for this album was actualized over the course of a year of experimentation. Dessen’s trio-mates live in NYC, and he would visit from his home in Irvine, California to explore and record ideas, forms and cells, then return home to expand and extrapolate those ideas until the seven pieces that comprise this suite were fully formed. There is a surprising amount of written material at hand and it is seamlessly integrated into the improvisational content—forming new aural pathways.

The trio could hardly be more simpatico: Christopher Tordini is a virtuoso bassist who often shares melodic responsibility with the leader. He tempers his considerable chops into a less-is-more aesthetic that always favors the music. Drummer Dan Weiss is likewise an astonishing percussionist who seems to operate on multiple degrees of quiet intensity. When Weiss gets agitated, it propels the music into uncharted territory, and something as seemingly simple as using the brushes becomes a defiance of expectation in his hands.

It’s hard to find a precedent for trio music this balanced and dynamic. One that does seem appropriate is the sublime saxophonist Henry Threadgill’s three-way cooperative Air which explored and codified myriad examples of new music expression in the 1980s and beyond. There is a similar feeling of give and take going on here—as well as an adventurous imagination about structure and form.

The disc begins with the energetic and occasionally violent group exchange of “Fossils and Flows” which carries a strong asymmetrical pulse that drives the music with a loping gait. Dessen pulls and stretches the melody like saltwater taffy—then suddenly, his live laptop electronics enter—acting as a fourth voice in the trio, and setting off some chaotic interplay.

Weiss’ off-centered cymbal washes begin “And We Steal From The Silkworm” before Tordini’s slow, soliloquy of one-note-at-a-time leads Dessen into the melody, measured and probing, before morphing into “Forget The Pixel,” a clarion call of wide vibrato, animal calls and electronic manipulations.

“Licensed Unoperators” explores some architectural improvising methods inspired by the Canadian free jazz bassist Lisle Ellis that utilize written instructions and blocks of sonic activity of indeterminate length. Finally, “The Utopian Tense Of Green” begins as a sensual dance between trombone and bass that quiets down for some exquisite micro-percussive gestures and then veers off into an ethereal trombone choir fading into a quiet reverie that ends the album.

Dessen, Tordini and Weiss have created something very unique and quite beautiful with Forget The Pixel. which both demands and rewards repeated listening.