Monthly Archives: October 2011

Spearmint Music review by Kurt Gottschalk

Harris Eisenstadt – September Trio (CF 229)
I spent the first week of September between Ostrava, the Czech Republic, New York City, then Guelph, Ontario. I carried with me a record by Harris Eisenstadt called “September Trio” with Ellery Eskelin and Angelica Sanchez (released by Clean Feed October 25). The track titles spell out the first week of the month (“September 1” through “September 7”) so it seemed natural to listen to one track a day as I kept my travel diary, beginning on the 1st, which was the 8th day of the Ostrava Days festival. The only edits from what was written out in longhand in the little notebook I bought in Chinatown were made for clarity. My personal context (mood, surroundings, geography) was allowed to influence me as much as it wanted to.

I was in the Czech Republic to cover the Ostrava Days festival for New Music Box. The review can be read here. My review of the Guelph Jazz Festival appeared in the New York City Jazz Record, a PDF of which can be downloaded here.

It was a week that caused me to question my own preferences. Is it improvised music I gravitate toward (a delineation which brings up innumerable questions)? Or is it small group music? Perhaps, but not only that. I found myself surprised, maybe even embarrassed, by the simplicity of discovering that it’s contemporary music, current, modern, post-modern, music of the now that attracts me. There’s a sense in which freely improvised music is as now as it gets. But perhaps Morton Feldman’s music was so infused with the now that it resonates even today, even … now. Or perhaps, as Keith Rowe suggested to me in an interview I did for the NYC Jazz Record shortly before leaving town, “If you pick up a composition by Shostakovich written in 1950 or 1960 and open the pages in 2011, it’s alive at that moment. The past is continually changing before us.” But then a composition by the composer Lucie Vítková, heavy with rock drumming and techno-sounding clarinet, seemed a rather dated piece of pastiche. And yet I enjoyed it quite a bit. Was it of the now, or yesteryear? Could it be that Feldman – who would be 86 if he were alive today – is more of the now than the 26-year-old Vítková? Does that even mean anything?

Traveling from a classical festival in Europe to a jazz festival in North America gave me a lot to think about – things I’m still trying to resolve.

The New York City Jazz Record review by John Sharpe

Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano (CF 233)
A solo album has become a necessary rite of passage for any improvising pianist. Kris Davis exploits the possibilities on Aeriol Piano, her solo debut. Davis has come a long way since her early sides on Fresh Sound-New Talent until now it seems a threshold has been crossed by appearances with stars like Ingrid Laubrock, Tyshawn Sorey and Tony Malaby. Over eight cuts on this well-recorded studio date, Davis moves between the written and the extemporized, with little overt melody or rhythm to distinguish between them. Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”, the one standard on the set, is given a meditative treatment as oblique as that meted out to her originals. It starts distantly, with the tune barely detectable amid the glittering glissandos, becoming more warmly proximate only at the very end. Having studied extended techniques with pianist Benoît Delbecq, unconventional touches are a particular pleasure of her oeuvre. Though usually integrated into her playing, “Saturn Return” provides a lengthy workout for prepared piano. Starting with gamelan sonorities, chiming and percussive, Davis explores the polarity between strings and percussion, contrasting varied attacks and prancing figures in a spacious exposition. That alternation of different treatments informs many of the pieces here, conjuring form even where it is not predetermined. On “Beam The Eyes”, swaggering forays into the bass register are bookended by crystalline runs and a conclusion of ringing repetition. Slow tempos predominate. “A Different Kind Of Sleep” is limpidly Satie-esque, with subtle preparations to color her phrases while measured resonance dominates “The Last Time” after the initial animated flurries. “Good Citizen” bucks the trend with a stiffly rhythmic articulation and flailing density, but she has created an intriguing and engaging performance whatever speed you take it.

Cuadernos de Jazz review by Yahvé M. de la Cavada

Angelica Sanchez – A Little House (CF 206)
Angelica Sánchez no es, ni mucho menos, una principiante. Hasta ahora podíamos considerarla una pianista interesante, con algunos discos prometedores y otras tantas colaboraciones destacables. Entre los primeros, Mirror Me, su debut, grabado en 2005 para Omnitone, Life Between, o los dos volúmenes de Alive in Brooklyn, co liderados junto a su marido Tony Malaby y al baterista Tom Rainey. En todos ellos percibimos a una pianista libre y ambiciosa que domina la interacción intuitiva y que es capaz de manejarse en diferentes contextos sin sonar a ningún referente concreto.

Pero todo eso era hasta ahora. A Little House posiciona a Sanchez como una improvisadora original y atrevida que toca libre, sin atolondrarse, ni adscribirse a una corriente u otra. Puede comenzar un tema como una especie de Jarrett de primera época impregnado de Monk y acabarlo como una alumna de Paul Bley o evocar al maestro Nino Rota en la siguiente pieza. En A Little House, el silencio adquiere importancia y se cuela entre frases y pasajes para empujarlos. La música respira, calmada, y se enarbola cuando tiene que hacerlo.

Como con todo gran disco a piano solo, es conveniente escucharlo con atención, dejándose invadir por cada inflexión de la música de Sanchez. Así que ya lo saben, no sólo debemos tenerla como a una joven de talento, o como la flamante sustituta de Vijay Iyer en el Golden Quartet de Wadada Leo Smith. Angelica Sánchez ya es una gran pianista, por derecho propio.

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano (CF 233)
The profile of pianist and composer Kris Davis has been rapidly rising in the jazz world. Recently the recipient of a glowing write-up in the New York Times and the leader or co-leader of several renowned groups, this is her first solo piano album. Davis has a fascinating and unique piano style which incorporates the entire keyboard and even the interior of the piano, making the most of her available possibilites. This album begins with a fascinating reconstruction of the standard “All the Things You Are” where she barely uses the melody and develops her own very unique take on a well-worn song. “Saturn” features depth charge like low bombs of notes, akin to a technique used by Matthew Shipp, and then plucking inside the piano, making it sound like an African stringed instrument. Alternating playing inside and outside the instrument, making for an extremely interesting and original concept. Going in the other direction, “A Different Kind of Sleep” is made up of spare probing at the keyboard contrasted by a lot of open space. “Good Citizen” and “Stone” have an open rolling feel with the music gaining momentum and freedom as it blossoms, moving gently with accents and touches. “Beam in the Eyes” hits hard with a complex musical Morse code of rattling shifting low notes and figures that is consistently interesting. It is easy to understand why Davis has garnered such attention by listening to this album. She has her own unique piano style and plays with a great sense of adventure and mystery. The colors and textures of her music suggest unlimited possibility.

JazzWrap review by Stephan Moore

Side A – A New Margin (CF 235)
A Ken Vandermark record is always a welcomed addition in the JazzWrap office. And Vandermark’s newest project, Side A is a massive inclusion to the catalog.

The trio formed last year but somehow it feels like they’ve played together for much longer; Vandermark and Wiik have been together in various projects (Vandermark 5, Atomic/School Days, and Free Fall). A New Margin (Clean Feed), the trio’s debut, is a document of their collaborative efforts over the last year.

Side A kicks the proceedings off with the slow moving and haunting “Boxer.” It’s like a mystery ride that never seems to end and you’re constantly turned on to some new element in the piece. Whether it’s the plodding downward keys of Wiik, the sky-rocketing velocity of Vandermark on sax, or Taylor’s free-wheeling movement on the kit–this is a journey that’s going to take many different shapes before its done.

“Arborizaltion” flows peacefully with each member improvising in between the space. It’s not wild movements; more a steady pattern of ideas that all fold together in one harmonic gesture.

When “The Kreuzberg Variations” first came on I was startled by the spacial depth of the piece. It’s a classical movement as the title would suggest but with more owed to the Steve Reich motif than Brandenberg. The piece builds and builds until its boisterous conclusion where musician and sound collide in what is quite a beautiful noise.

“Giacometti” is a blustery but euphoric number that sees the trio bouncing sound off each other. Taylor adds a delicate touch in the beginning, while Vandermark and Wiik create some vivid colour spectrums. This comes to a rousing denouement that nicely bookends the possession filled opening of the “Boxer.”

Side A is yet another in long list of progressive outings from Ken Vandermark and company that challenges the way we think of jazz and how it will expand. A New Margin is by far one Vandermark’s best projects (outside of Vandermark 5) of the last 12 months. Great stuff.

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Side A – A New Margin (CF 235)
In one of Ken Vandermark’s many projects, he plays in “Free Fall”, a trio format with Norwegian pianist Havard Wiik and Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten, as a tribute band to the music of Jimmy Giuffre.

Now we find him again in the company of Wiik, but accompanied by Chicagoan Chad Taylor on drums. Like with Free Fall, this trio is also strongly rooted in jazz tradition, with fixed (?) rhythms, elaborated compositions and harmonic development. The musical skills demonstrated by all three musicians are staggering, both on their instruments as in the phenomenal interplay, yet as so often with great albums, the quality of the music itself is what really counts and it also receives their full attention.

Wiik is a stylist, someone with a gentle touch, and strong sense of lyricism, and his combination with Vandermark’s incredible skills of shifting from patterns to breaking them and back again in one seamless motion work well with Taylor’s rhythmic complexities. Actually, all three excell in the key ingredients : lyricism, powerplay and tradition-pushing.

The tunes range from sweet, as in “Trued Right”, or abstract bluesy, as on “Arborization”, to clever rhythm-shifting in the phantastic and genre-crossing “The Kreuzberg Variations” to powerplay on “Comeling”. There is madness to be heard, yet controlled or contained, and joined with some more universal feelings as melancholy and tenderness. The variation is great, as are the compositions, almost equally divided among the members of the trio.

The line-up is unusual too (check on the “Sax Piano Drums Trio” in the right column to get to know more of them), yet one that works extremely well because it offers harmonic, rhythmic and a wealth of solo opportunities, while keeping the improvisational freedom of a small ensemble.

In any case, great stuff, and not to be missed.

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Michael Dessen Trio – Forget the Pixel (CF 222)
Joe Fiedler Trio – Sacred Chrome Orb (Yellow Sound Music)
Perhaps there’s more than a kernel of truth in those clichés about energetic New Yorkers and laid-back Californians. How else could one explain the massive variance between performances on these discs, each featuring a bassist, a drummer and a trombonist-leader playing original compositions by the brass man? In a way it’s a difference between lively and listless.

It’s not that Forget the Pixel is that enervated. It’s just that a certain sameness seems to permeate the seven compositions by trombonist Michael Dessen. Dessen, an academic with an interest in new technologies as well as telematic performances in multiple locations, adds computer wave forms to this disc in order to enhance the low-key proceedings. The results curve and undulate nicely, but not enough to alter the air of lethargic moderation that permeates the disc. Besides some rapid capillary movements from Dessen in the JJ Johnson lineage however, the most affecting overall performance is the title track. Here at least brushes-directed ruffs and bounces, spelled with an occasional martial beat, from drummer Dan Weiss, coupled with speedy stops as well as sul ponticello slides from bassist Christopher Tordini provide back-up for the trombonist’s slurs, puffs and squeezes.

Weiss, who has worked with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, and the bassist, who has played with saxophonist Greg Osby, have established their dependability in the past. Meanwhile Dessen, who has been part of the West Coast-based Cosmological band with saxophonist Jason Robinson and others, has similarly demonstrated his musical skills elsewhere. Maybe a concentration on performances over the internet with players in different locations has dulled his live presentation.

Moving eastward, there’s certainly no hesitation on Sacred Chrome Orb as the trio handles 15 compositions by trombonist Joe Fiedler. An adaptor of the multiphonics pioneered by German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, Fiedler has worked in the bands of multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, pianist Satoko Fujii and even pop star Jennifer Lopez. The third CD by this trio, the band is filled out by bassist John Hébert, who has worked with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum; and drummer Michael Sarin, first call percussionist for bands ranging from those led by bassist Mark Helias’ to saxophonist Tim Berne.

Throughout Sarin’s percussion smarts allow him to vary his beat so that at points it sounds as if he’s whopping a conga drum and elsewhere as if he playing patterns on a dumbek. The later is especially apparent on “Ethiopia”, influenced by pop singer from that African country, which is also enlivened with the drummer’s tick-tock rim shot and cymbal colors, as the trombonist blasts out tremolo grace notes and blurry cross tones.

Hébert shows out his guitar-like facility on “Next Phase” accompanying a guttural, double-tongued line from Fiedler. Meanwhile “Two Kooks” demonstrates how extended brass techniques including splintered and splayed slide positions and decorated grace notes can swing alongside a heavy backbeat. The thematic line is extended still further by Fiedler on “Chicken”, with rubato slurs and triple-tongued fluttering shading the lively performance. As Sarin clip-clops and rebounds, and Hébert holds down the rhythmic bottom, the trombonist elongates and shortens his breaths for melodic invention.

One would figure in different circumstances – was there a jet-lag drawback in this Lisbon-recorded disc for instance? – that Dessen’s three would put in a less time-marking performance. As these CDs stack up though, the session from the Easterners is definitely more appealing than the one from the West Coasters.