Monthly Archives: September 2011

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.

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

Gerry Hemingway Quintet – Riptide (CF 227)
From his seminal efforts in the late ‘70s, through his tenure with Anthony Braxton’s revered ‘80s Quartet, Gerry Hemingway has grown from a virtuosic percussionist into a well-rounded artist whose writing is as elaborate as his adroit improvisations. Interweaving multiple layers of pre-written material and unstructured interludes into episodic narratives, his compositions exude the sophisticated aura of chamber music buoyed by the primal immediacy of indigenous folk forms. No stranger to multi-culturalism, Hemingway has long drawn on musical traditions outside of Western hegemony; in addition to myriad ethnic rhythms, his abiding interest in the joyous grooves of South African kwela make their strongest appearance yet on Riptide, the studio debut of Hemingway’s new Quintet.

Maintaining consistency for the sake of his songbook, Hemingway has employed a two-horn front-line and a stringed instrument (usually cello) supported by bass and drums in his various quintets ever since 1985’s Outerbridge Crossing (Sound Aspects). However, it was his much admired ‘90s Quintet with multi-reedist Michael Moore, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, cellist Ernst Reijseger and bassist Mark Dresser that defined this aesthetic. Mirroring the tonal and textural range of that line-up, the newest incarnation features relative newcomers Oscar Noriega (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet) and Terrence McManus (guitars) alongside veterans Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Kermit Driscoll (acoustic bass and electric bass guitar). Hemingway’s talent for framing each member’s voice within unique settings yields an array of kaleidoscopic detail, ranging from introspective impressionism to impetuous intensity.

While Hemingway’s writing is engaging in smaller configurations (like his various quartets), it is the inclusion of a fifth voice that best facilitates his flair for intricate counterpoint and contrary motion. Embracing this role, McManus fills Reijseger’s former position as the primary chord-based instrumentalist, adding an electrified patina to Hemingway’s primarily acoustic Quintet oeuvre with his heavily amplified fretwork. McManus’ capacity for wringing novel variations from overdriven pick-ups is revealed on the aptly titled “Gitar” and “Meddle Music,” where he conjures a compelling series of minimalist motifs from peals of feedback shaped by brusque, siren-like punctuations. He spearheads the inverted structural dynamic of the epic title track with scorching arpeggios, as the horns unleash staccato accents in opposition to the rhythm section’s languid countermelody, creating a labyrinthine setting for Noriega’s serpentine alto. McManus also contributes understated support on pieces like the impressionistic tone poem “Asamine” and the countrified Afro-pop hybrid “At Anytime,” which inspires a series of euphonious ruminations from Eskelin and Noriega. Eskelin’s longstanding familiarity with the intricacies of Hemingway’s concepts comes to the fore in the hypnotic funk of “Gitar,” which features one of the tenor saxophonist’s more lyrical performances. Another veteran sideman of Hemingway’s, Driscoll brings a diverse mix of austere acoustic support and jubilant electric bounce to the proceedings.

Other than a brief unaccompanied excursion on the title track, Hemingway largely eschews drum solos, preferring to imaginatively work embellishments and variations into the Quintet’s congenial interplay. His effortless modulations between time signatures and timbral dynamics prove endlessly fascinating, yet his surprisingly unorthodox arrangements and idiosyncratic reinterpretations of conventional forms are equally impressive. Time-honored genre tenets are transposed into adventurous yet accessible motifs; the rubato swing underlying the effervescent theme to “Holler Up” and the abstract blues extemporizations of “Meddle Music” subtly deconstruct hallowed traditions, while the stirring kwela rhythms of “Backabacka” evoke festive South African customs. Most of Hemingway’s quartet and quintet records since 1996’s Perfect World (Random Acoustics) end with a celebratory kwela tune. While the ebullient “Backabacka” sets the stage for such a finale, after a minute of silence between cuts the thorny syncopated funk of “Chicken Blood” materializes, with its multiple phrase lengths and polyphonic harmonies serving as the final coda; a reminder that though Hemingway’s opulent compositions cover a broad stylistic spectrum, their subtle differences are always sublimated into his singular language.

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

BassDrumBone – The Other Parade (CF 223)
Featuring nine new compositions commissioned by Chamber Music America’s “New Works” program, The Other Parade was recorded in August 2009 in honor of BassDrumBone’s 30th anniversary. Since 1977, trombonist Ray Anderson, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Gerry Hemingway have constituted the longstanding trio, whose 1979 debut recording Oahspe (Auricle) was recommended by Cadence founder Bob Rusch as “Exceptionally good music, fearlessly played and tightly coordinated.” To their credit, the same could be said of their most recent effort, more than three decades hence.

Though the group has weathered dormant periods, their virtually clairvoyant rapport has continued to grow, lending a timeless air to an approach that draws from every facet of jazz lineage for inspiration – from Dixieland to free. Balancing inside and outside aesthetics with seamless transitions between composed and improvised passages, they upend hallowed customs with cagey arrangements that invert prescribed instrumental roles. Despite being the sole horn, Anderson makes ample use of space and silence, occasionally sublimating his bright, cheerful tone and mercurial phrasing in support of Helias’ buoyant pizzicato excursions and Hemingway’s sanguine percussion ruminations; in effect, all three musicians are responsible for providing melody and rhythm.

As composers, each member contributes equally to the session; yet despite the subtle stylistic variety of their writing – which veers from expressive blues and mid-tempo swingers to greasy funk grooves and rousing second-line struts – these lyrical pieces all exude a cohesive sensibility redolent of their authors’ stylistic accord. Endlessly shifting dynamics within each tune, they vary rhythm, tempo and tone with their carefree, synergistic rapport.

The strutting opener, “Show Tuck,” demonstrates their effortless integration of avant-garde elements into structured improvisation. Taking the lead after a funky opening theme, Anderson’s solo modulates from harmonious to discordant, intensifying into blistering chromatic runs that culminate in rip-snorting bellows and gutbucket slurs. The further out Anderson ventures, the more abstract Helias and Hemingway’s interplay becomes, devolving into a pithy three-way conversation. Hemingway’s nimble drum solo follows, emulating the harmonic implications of the core melody with a graceful transition back to form. Similarly, Anderson’s madcap muted lyricism provides consistency to the deconstructed blues “The Blue Light Down The Line,” as Helias and Hemingway weave a spare underpinning that nudges the piece forward with laconic pacing. Rooted in convention, tunes like “King Louisian,” “Soft Shoe Mingle” and “Lips and Grits” work progressive variations on foundational tropes, hearkening back to Dixieland and Ragtime.

Anderson, Helias and Hemingway have each matured into venerable solo artists over the past thirty years, together as BassDrumBone they persevere as an increasingly rare entity – a touring collective that incorporates new material into their oeuvre that is as fresh and exciting as their formative efforts.