Daily Archives: September 13, 2011

Downbeat review by Bill Meyer

Michael Dessen trio – Forget the Pixel (CF 222)
Trombonists were jazz’s original electronicists. While they’ve shared the responsibility for creating sound effects with trumpeters—the Duke Ellington Orchestra had Bubber Miley as well as Tricky Sam Nanton—what acoustic instrument better provides volume, brightness, malleability and purely sensual sound? George Lewis has played slide trombone and electronics with equal facility, and his former student Michael Dessen makes the two instruments work as one on Forget The Pixel. Dessen switches between voluptuous lyricism and digitally distorted splatter, and his shifts between those poles never feel forced or arbitrary. This is the trio’s second album, and it sounds like the work of a gigging band. How much of this work took place with all three men in the same room is open to conjecture. Dessen lives and teaches in Irvine, Calif., a continent away from his New York-based confederates, but he is a pioneer in telematics, the practice of long-distance, real-time collaboration. But whether their chemistry was forged with the assistance of bandwidth or frequent flyer miles, it’s real. You can hear it in the way Christopher Tordini’s figures sway and give under the influence of Dan Weiss’s martial snare beats on “Licensed Unoperators (For Lisle).” It’s also evident on “Herdiphany,” where they supply stop-start responses to the pitch-shifted squiggles that Dessen pokes their way like some cartoon rabbit sticking out his impossibly elongated tongue at hunters who are both his dogged nemeses and closest associates. These guys don’t just play together—they’re playing. This playfulness, as much as their fluid negotiations of Dessen’s jagged rhythms and elaborate melodies, is the spoonful of sugar that make these rigorous improvisations go down easy.


All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

Michael Dessen Trio – Forget the Pixel (CF 222)
Valutazione: 3.5 stelle

I brani sono sette ma l’ora di musica contenuta in Forget the Pixel (bel titolo preso dalla prima riga del poema di Phillis Levin “Open Field”) può essere vista come un’unica suite, concepita già all’origine per una esibizione senza interruzioni del trio. Il trio, per l’appunto, ma dovremmo parlare di quartetto perché l’elettronica utilizzata dal leader, il trombonista Michael Dessen, è a tutti gli effetti il quarto strumento utilizzato per la registrazione.
Già da diversi anni studioso degli sviluppi nell’uso di computer, live processing e sampling come pratica improvvisativa e soprattutto di sue possibili formalizzazioni in modelli, Dessen utilizza l’elettronica non in senso coloristico ma come paritario interlocutore delle libere improvvisazioni. Così che, anche la sua assenza o i momenti di minimo utilizzo, incidono profondamente sulla registrazione che è una sorta di manuale non scritto sull’interazione tra scrittura e improvvisazione.

Vi è inoltre un lavoro sulle scomposizioni ritmiche, sullo sviluppo di cellule melodiche e su di una concezione avventurosa della fluidità espressiva che risulta notevole anche grazie all’apporto di due grandi musicisti come il percussionista Dan Weiss (assai noto anche dalle nostre parti) e il contrabbassista Chris Tordini (meno noto ma altrettanto rimarchevole). L’approccio strumentale e improvvisativo di Dessen è molto personale, ricorda alcune cose sperimentali di George Lewis con una maggior propensione ad inglobare elementi di musica colta europea e contemporanea.

Complessivamente Forget the Pixel, nonostante qualche momento un po’ dispersivo, è un ottimo esempio di musica avventurosa e pienamente accessibile.

JazzWrap review by Vern

Michael Dessen
Michael Dessen has an uncanny ability to craft pieces that are delicately structured but also uncharacteristic of his contemporaries.

Similar in vein to Ray Anderson, Dessen also has the ability to move between genres with ease. While he has recorded in many different settings, it has been his recent trio work that has really caught my ear.

Formed only a few years ago, Dessen uses the trio format to explore a number conceptual rhythmic structures. This makes for intensive listening but also a high degree of discovery.

On their first album, Between Shadow And Space (Clean Feed; 2008) along with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) create a dense, evocative and fluid mixture of acoustic and subtle electronic instrumentation that is really mind-blowing on first and repeated spins.

The title track deploys a rich counterpoint and improvisation. Tordini and Sorey are the perfect counter for Dessen’s compositions. This trio challenges and explores each other’s strengths. Patterns are structures are slowly built up and quietly torn down over the course seven minutes on the opener and the listener gets a full understanding of what Between Shadow And Space will be for them–A journey through space, sound and thought.

“Chocolate Geometry” moves along in multi-layered fashion. It’s like meditative suite. Gentle introspective passages delivered by simultaneously by Sorey’s complex brushes and some dense strokes from Tordini. Dessen’s trombone turns into a manipulated trumpet augmented by just the right amount of electronics to mix things up and send the piece soaring.

“Water Seeks” comes flying in to the close out the session. A beautiful and searching piece dedicated to Alice Coltrane with all the harmonics and resonance that would be associated with great composer/harpist/keyboard player. It’s loaded with rich texture, sharp hues and rising atmospherics that quietly fades leaving the listener some traces of a long beautiful journey.

Dessen reassembled his trio for the even more rugged Forget The Pixel (Clean Feed; 2011). This time with Dan Weiss on drums and Tordini remaining. The results are the same but Weiss does pack a aggressive punch to Sorey’s more insular and thought-provoking approach. Both drummers are perfect in this setting though.

“Fossils And Flows” rips through the speakers introducing the lineup and direction. The trio never let up. Its sound quickly becomes an avalanche and Dessen’s use of electronics feels like a thousand aliens sending a message that things will be different this time as his group visits your stereo. “Fossils And Flows” is actually an observation on the BP oil spill in the U.S. and and when listening, you get the feeling how things quickly got out of hand in the Gulf is similar to how unique the sound of this trio moves shapes and patterns.

“Forget The Pixel” is a more organic and improvised piece with each member exploring different aspects of Dessen’s composition. It’s a number that moves, and moves with light but an effective pace. Dessen and Tordini’s exchanges are tight and beautiful well placed. Weiss’ drums come in first like a military band and quickly turn impressionistic. Tones and utilization of space is one of the reasons why I have been so captivated by Michael Dessen’s trio work. “Three Sepals” is another exemplary mark of his unique writing skill. It’s a subtle ballad that stretches from note to note. It also has just the right amount of hard tones to keep the listener engaged, waiting for the next unknown marker. A real treat for the ears.

I have to admit, I’ve only just discovered Michael Dessen’s work in the last year so I have a lot of catching up to do. But from his trio work and a couple of other albums I’ve gotten over the last few months I am completely absorbed and excited by his material and direction. His playing and writing are superb. He doesn’t use the electronics as a gimmick. The sounds are more a subtle aid moving in and out time. They never overtake the rhythm or the meaning of a tune. And that’s pretty hard to do. Michael Dessen has proven he is a gifted artist with the trombone, electronics and in composition. An artist who is continually thinking and rising above.

Jazz Magazine review by François-Rene Simon

Jazz Magazine review by Peter Cato

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

Ralph Alessi & This Against That – Wiry Strong (CF 220)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Musicista atipico, Ralph Alessi. Fuoriuscito dalla fucina M-Base negli anni novanta e coinvolto in diversi tra i gruppi più innovativi del downtown newyorchese nel decennio successivo (Uri Caine, Don Byron, Jason Moran, etc), Alessi difficilmente viene etichettato come musicista d’avanguardia.
Perché nella sua continua ricerca di una musica che vada oltre i confini di etichette e catalogazioni il trombettista di San Francisco non dimentica mai la lezione del bebop e di tutte le sue successive declinazioni così come interpreta in maniera personale gli insegnamenti sulle scomposizioni metriche che hanno fatto le fortune dell’M-Base e del suo guru Steve Coleman.

Se a ciò aggiungiamo la formazione accademica e i suoi numerosi coinvolgimenti in ensemble di musica da camera comprese alcune apparizioni nella San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, possiamo avere un’idea della ricchezza musicale dispensata nei lavori di Alessi. Che, a dispetto delle numerosissime collaborazioni, si contano sulle dita delle mani, e allora ben venga questo Wiry Strong, pubblicato dalla sempre più benemerita Clean Feed Records.

Oltre settanta minuti di musica densa, ricca, aperta a diversi livelli di lettura ma nello stesso tempo pienamente godibile nella sua immediata manifestazione. Quattro brevi libere improvvisazioni intervallano i quindici brani del disco, aprendo varchi di decompressione nei quali l’ascoltatore prende fiato per poi immergersi nuovamente nella trama avvincente che Alessi sviluppa con grande senso narrativo e altrettanto gusto per la sorpresa.

Perché se la matrice di fondo sembra arrivare direttamente dalla lezione del bop e dalla sua urgenza espressiva il materiale subisce continue rielaborazioni. Per esempio attraverso un inusuale interpretazione degli spazi e delle pause che portano la musica verso un’eleganza e una compostezza di stampo cameristico. O nell’alternarsi delle scomposizioni metriche, di sequenze minimaliste, di procedimenti iterativi, di maestose architetture.

Formazione compatta questa denominata This Against That dove, insieme alla padronanza strumentale e alla rigorosità stilistica del leader, e alla avvincente solidità della sezione ritmica composta da Drew Gress e Mark Ferber, sorprendono le prestazioni di altri due fuoriusciti dal laboratorio M-Base. Ravi Coltrane mostra notevoli doti interpretative anche in un terreno poco frequentato come quello di una sperimentazione rarefatta e di atmosfera, mentre Andy Milne con un pianismo parco ed essenziale, a tratti asimmetrico, conferisce la giusta dose di leggerezza ed eleganza alla registrazione.

All About Jazz review by Mark F. Turner

Angelica Sanchez – A Little House (CF 206)
More than any other instrument, the solo piano seems to reveal a deeper glimpse into the musician’s insight. This has proven true in recent works like Geri Allen’s Flying Toward the Sound (Motema, 2010), Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angels (ECM, 2011), and here, with Angelica Sanchez’s equally absorbing A Little House .

Sanchez’s voice has gained notoriety in working with a coterie of like-minded individuals—saxophonist Tony Malaby (also her husband), drummer Paul Motian, and Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic ensemble, as well as with her own band on 2008’s superb Life In Between (Clean Feed). While she thrives in these abstract waters, this solo project displays an even broader view of the pianist’s musicality.

Dissonant chords intermingle with skittering runs in “Chantico,” while popular tunes are completely reimaged, whether in the Brazilian folk song “A Casinha Pequenina” or singer Hank Thompson’s country music hit, “I’ll Sign My Heart Away,” which undergoes a facelift fitted with an old timey “picture show” quality via toy piano. In Sanchez’s world these compositions breathe with imagination.

Things grow even more interesting as the album progresses. The pieces switch from vociferous flights (“City Living”) to quietly spaced notes (“Glow”). The toy piano’s childlike sweetness is transformed into an ominous and eerie personality in “Crawl Space,” with a mood that could be taken directly from the 1973 horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This dichotomy presents itself throughout Sanchez’s varied pieces, with moods and tones that move between the shadows of bold inventiveness and gentle empathy. A captivating solo release, from an intriguing pianist.