Daily Archives: October 20, 2011

Time Out Lisboa review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

Carlos Bica & Azul – Things About (CF 239)
O trio Azul está mais azul do que nunca – entenda-se “azul” na conotação melancólica de “blue”. Após uma progressão, ao longo de quatro discos, em direcção a uma música mais angulosa, densa e áspera, o trio inflectiu o rumo: “Deixa Pra Lá”, de implacável batida rock, “Flow”, um original solo de Black, e “Since Feeling Is First”, uma improvisação colectiva, são perturbações passageiras num disco que voga serenamente muitos quilómetros acima da superfície da Terra.

Bica já  mostrara ser um dos mais inspirados melodistas do jazz moderno, mas aqui dá-se ao luxo de produzir pérolas em cadeia, Möbus deixa de lado a densidade conseguida à custa de loops e pedais e dá primado ao cinzelar da melodia e Black, que pode ser um diabo-da-Tasmânia, mostra o seu génio como colorista delicado.

O CD fecha com “Sonho de uma Manhã de Outono”, mas apetece carregar em repeat e não ouvir mais nada pelo Inverno dentro.

Point of Departure review by Brian Morton

Daniel Levin – Inner Landscape (CF 224)
Don’t Go It Alone exhorted Daniel Levin’s debut CD, but now he’s done just that. The main challenge in making a set of solo cello improvisations is to avoid channeling J.S. Bach, or that celebrated Irish composer K. O’Daly. This Levin does with the absolute confidence that comes from certitude in technique and from having enough experience in the studio – this must be the eighth or ninth disc under his name – to know that making records isn’t, or isn’t any longer, about strewing the landscape with monoliths but rather with documenting a particular moment in creative and personal evolution.

Levin’s previous recordings are dotted across a variety of labels: Joe Morris’s Riti put out the splendid debut; there’s a good duo with Rob Brown on the Polish Not Two; but the bulk of recording has been in a quartet setting, with the unusual combination of cello, trumpet, vibraphone and bass. That’s the format on two excellent hatOLOGY recordings and on Bacalhau for Clean Feed. It’s quite a big and particular sound to leave behind, but this time Levin has eschewed composition and musical companionship in favor of a more exploratory and what might appear to be a more personal approach.

The qualifier in the title reinforces a received notion that solo improvisation, and particularly on the strings, is definitively introspective. The qualifier is dropped for the six separate pieces here and that makes better sense of the music, for there is nothing musing or self-absorbed about it. It moves, sometimes confidently, sometimes more tentatively. It inhabits different areas of sound and shade. Sometimes it hesitates and stares, or listens. But throughout one has a sense of an artist in motion, engaging with an environment or simply passing through it.

In a short sleeve note, Ed Hazell states that Levin likened the process of making the album to his childhood passion for playing with Lego bricks, the sheer ludic delight of putting shapes and colors together with no insistence on utility or form. It’s an interesting analogy and because it is personal, it has an undeniable validity, but for me listening to this music was far more like watching a youngster negotiate a bigger physical environment, as my son does on our bit of hillside, seeing him get into trouble, but because he was unaware that he was in trouble getting out of it again with a kind of insouciant grace; or simply stopping and staring hard at something the remote watcher couldn’t see. There are moments on Inner Landscape when Levin seems to have lost his line but because there was no set line in the first place, the music simply continues and with utter logic. He resists temptation to indulge every aspect of his technique: heavy bow-weight here, a little pizz. there, perhaps some col legno a little down the way. This isn’t a test piece. It is genuine improvisation, intelligent, physical, ambulatory. Money down, I’d still prefer to listen to the quartet records, where trumpeter/cornetists Dave Ballou or Nate Wooley and vibist Matt Moran provide shinier, more metallic tones, and bassists Joe Morris or Peter Bitenc reinforce the string element with bottom-weight and pulse, but Inner Landscape does earn its title in the end in that it delivers an important and still-emerging artist at his most direct, not soliloquizing but simply living and playing in three dimensions, and creating the fourth as he goes along.

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.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

ZÉ EDUARDO UNIT – A Jazzar: Live In Capuchos (CF 155)
Zé Eduardo is a lone wolf of sorts in the Portuguese music scene – it happens to everybody in the world who does not obey to the establishment’s rules, of course – and A Jazzar is a good representation of his non-compliant sense of humour and overall artistic cleverness. The enterprise’s chief, also a gifted double bassist, is aided by saxophonist Jesus Santandreu and drummer Bruno Pedroso, both partners endowed with adroitness and stylistic preparation perfect for all uses. On a first attempt, one feels like trapped within the spires of some conservative jazz station: everything sounds precise and articulated, soft-spoken tunes executed with an apparent lack of commitment. But it takes a minute to really pay attention, thus unearthing the refined irony underlying the leader’s intentions. What appears as mere formality is indeed just that, though spiced with dozens of twists and turns rendering the interplay less predictable and, consequently, more absorbing. The trio works its way through scientific modifications of diverse covers (folk songs, various soundtracks and the Simpsons theme, the latter signifying the lone item this writer was acquainted with) with the same type of perplexing detachment, a mood that perhaps hides a killer instinct which remains confined in the realm of our intuition.

Jazznyt Magazine review by Bjarne Søltoft

RALPH ALESSI – Wiry Strong (CF 220)
CDen er innspilt tre måneder før kvintetten besøkte Oslo Jazz Festival i 2008. Da opptrådte de med Ravi Coltranes repertoar på Victoria, og med Ralph Alessis repertoar på Herr Nilsen. Det er sistnevnte materiale platen gjenspeiler. Alessi kaller sin kvintett «This Against That», hvilket evt. beskriver de to hovedlinjer, som musikken synes å følge. En stram post-bop modus med tette figurlinjer i intervallspring som fremhever harmonienes ytterområder overfor mer luftige, ostinatbaserte låter, som åpner for fri og klangrik utfoldelse. Eller en slags intellektualisme kontra sensualisme. I begge felt spilles med intelligent omhu og perfekt instrumentell teknikk. Alessi fra tørr trompetklang og kjølig tilbakeholdenhet – for eksempel i «Bizarro – …» til et fulltonet, offensivt nærvær, som i den frie duo-improvisasjon med bassist Drew Gress i «A Dollar in Your
Shoe». Ravi Coltrane på tenorsaksofon spiller egalt og sensitivt fabulerende
hele veien med utsøkt tonedannelse og formspråk i slektskap med Wayne Shorter og Mark Turner. Og pianist Andy Milne, bassistveteran
Drew Gress samt trommespiller trommespiller Mark Ferber er alle av
beste kaliber så vel i samspillet som i solospillet. Et usedvanlig sterkt
komp, som da også har vært faste medspillere til Alessi i en årrekke.
Bortsett fra fire kollektive lydskisser er alle stykkene skrevet av Alessi, og
de står som karakterfulle temaer og ofte med originalt preg. Foruten de
to nevnte eksempelvis også slowmarsjen «Medieval Genius», den
litt funky «Sock Puppeteer» og den lyriske «Cobbs Hill».
I alt 72 minutters rikholdig og variert musikk i spennende utførelser,
og med så få sporadisk innlagte blåserdubleringer at det nesten ikke
burde irritere en garvet anmelder.

So Jazz review by Kalcha

So Jazz review by Peter Cato

So Jazz review by Jean-Stéphane Brosse

The Wire review by Sturat Broomer

Daniel Levin Quartet – Organic Modernism (CF 212)
Daniel Levin first organized his quartet a decade ago and since then there have been very few changes: Nate Wooley and Peter Bitenc succeeding Dave Ballou and Joe Morris on trumpet and bass respectively. What remains the same, though, is Levin’s commitment to that distinctive instrumentation, matching trumpet and bass with his own cello and Matt Moran’s vibraphone, eschewing reeds and percussion for both a special clarity and an unusual mix of overtone patterns. The combination contributes to the spaciousness that the group possesses and also serves Levin’s particular sense of construction. Five of the 12 pieces here are Levin compositions, the others are attributed to the Levin quartet. There are significant overlaps in tonal language and methodology, but generally the compositions are more linear, “My Kind of Poetry” touching on the textures of early Third-Stream and “Audacity” suggesting the compositions of Eric Dolphy. The group “compositions” cover an inevitably broader palette, with particular interests in sound (e.g., Wooley’s eerie assemblage of noises on “Zero Gravity”) and more diverse modes of response. The music invites multiple modes of listening, ultimately echoing all the modes of listening and production going on in the quartet, whether it’s rooted in jazz, European modernism, or free improvisation; whether it’s linear, contrapuntal, or harmonic; whether emphasizing traditional tonal relations or exploring the distinctive overtone grain of the ensemble and its sub-groupings. This is consistently thought-provoking music, another arresting chapter in the Levin quartet’s distinctive body of work.