Daily Archives: October 21, 2011

Jazzreview review by Glenn Astarita

Side A – A New Margin (CF 235)
Rating: Four Stars
Woodwind specialist Ken Vandermark is a prominent voice in modern jazz and improvisation, emanating from the Chicago scene, and currently a major force in the global community. Here, the artist aligns with fellow Chicagoan, drummer Chad Taylor and Scandinavian pianist Havard Wilk for a bass-less trio session, spawning tightly melodic structures within the progressive-jazz schema and the contrasting improvisational domain. Essentially, the trio seeds a distinct sense of well-being into the project to complement a few movements that project angst or turbulence. It’s an engagement centered on equality, as Vandermark and Wilk alternate solos and unite for numerous theme-building episodes.

“Trued Right,” is as a piece that offers a prime example of the band’s cunning ability to translucently merge the outside component into a quaintly endearing primary theme. Therefore, the musicians use a wide lane to fuse free-expressionism with airy soundscapes, where Vandermark’s clarinet work suggests flotation-like qualities embedded within a relatively simplistic but memorable ostinato melody rendered by Wilk. But the calming effects give way to a passage highlighted by Vandermark’s soaring, rough-hewn choruses, followed by Taylor’s polyrhythmic onslaught towards the closeout. Here, tenderness and brute strength formulate a synchronous balance of disparate mood-eliciting panoramas. Hence, the trio sets the gears in motion with a novel game-plan, as group-focused interactions translate into a level playing field that sustains a spiritual power of sorts, evident from start to finish.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

Hugo Antunes – Roll Call (CF 197)
Portuguese bassist Hugo Antunes wrote all the tunes on this album, his debut for the Clean Feed label, and it’s ferocious. It swings hard, it’s produced beautifully, and the ensemble is empathetic and aggressive at once. It’s a concise statement—six tracks in 44 minutes, including two takes of “Anfra.” The band is interesting; a two-reed front line (Daniele Martini and Toine Thys, the former on tenor saxophone, the latter on tenor and soprano saxes and bass clarinet), Antunes on bass and two drummers, João Lobo and Marek Patrman. (The liner notes don’t indicate which drummer is in the left channel and which the right.)

The music is largely post-Ornette post-bop; Antunes is a powerful bassist, as he’s gotta be if he’s gonna be the only chordal instrument in the whole ensemble. He pulls the strings like a young Charles Mingus; there are multiple passages during which echoes of “Haitian Fight Song” or “II B.S.” seem to drift through. At other times, he strums the bass like a huge guitar, the way Jimmy Garrison used to behind John Coltrane. Meanwhile, the two saxophonists play not just simultaneously, but together, working their way through intricate melody lines and conversing on the fly. The music occasionally drifts into ultra-free improv that sounds like it should have a capital I, but things always wind up back where they belong, in the realm of muscular, swinging jazz. Lobo and Patrman hit hard when that’s what’s called for, and play off each other very well at all times. Their rhythmic dance is easily the most interesting part of many moments here.

There’s not a whole lot to say about an album like this. Strong compositions, well played by a sympathetic and talented ensemble that, despite being assembled for the date (from multiple countries), comes together with a surety and a sense of common purpose that’s just wildly enjoyable to hear. It would be a very good thing indeed if this ensemble continued to work together in the future, both live and in the studio.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

Motif – Art Transplant (CF 225)
Motif is a Norwegian quartet (saxophonist Atle Nymo, pianist Håvard Wiik, bassist Ole Morten Vågan, drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen) that used to be a quintet. Trumpeter Eivind Lønning left in 2010, so for this record, their Clean Feed debut, they brought in a ringer: German experimental trumpeter Axel Dörner. They have four prior releases – 2004′s self-titled debut, 2006′s Expansion, 2008′s Apo Calypso, and last year, they put out a three-CD box, Facienda. I haven’t heard any of those records.

Musically, this disc is kind of bipolar. Dörner starts things off with nearly three minutes of scrowling, hissing and plosive bursts of air through the trumpet, without lowering himself to anything so vulgar as playing notes, but this is a mere (anti-)fanfare, as the band soon launches itself into relatively conventional, even swinging jazz territory on the first proper composition, “Moccasino,” and the trumpeter joins right in. After the head, though, the solos are squiggly and unadorned, the rhythm players dropping away entirely as Dörner and Nymo squawk and squabble. After a moment or two, Wiik rejoins, picking out a cautious melody before the full band resumes, trumpet and sax blowing long, long tones as the rhythm lurches around like an insect trying to flip itself off its back after being upended. Eventually, it all comes together again.

There’s a lot of code-switching like that throughout; the pieces (two of which, “Krakatau” and “Korean Barbeque Smokeout,” appeared in live versions on Facienda) are half-abstruse, half-gutbucket, and the result is weirdly exhilarating, not at all what one might come in expecting. In some ways, the group reminds me of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, minus the overt sense of pastiche. There’s humor here, but it’s not self-mocking; it’s just a kind of exuberance that’ll make you laugh in a childish-joy sort of way.

The group plays with great force, particularly bassist/bandleader Vågan; he slaps and yanks the strings with a brutal efficiency, and he leads the group through some ferocious grooves, particularly on “Lines for Swines,” which has an almost Charles Mingus-esque energy to it. On “Something for the Ladies,” Nymo switches from tenor sax to bass clarinet—I don’t know that I’ve ever considered the bass clarinet an instrument of seduction, and even if I had, his valve-flapping solo on this piece would leave me thoroughly unconvinced. It’s only at about the halfway point, when it begins to swing (like a corpse on a rope), that the group really puts their strengths on display, particularly drummer Johansen, who tosses in lots of little filigrees. But when it gets going, it really goes, and the same is true of pretty much every track on Art Transplant.

This CD arrived unexpectedly, I put it in the player on a whim, and was very pleasantly surprised by what I heard. Dörner’s opening solo piece, which I’m unlikely to ever play again, is the sole exception; it’s just too reminiscent of the sounds in horror movies about evil locations, like Session 9 or Yellowbrickroad, for my taste. Motif have just enough hard bop and swing at the core of their lurching free jazz to keep my melodic “sweet tooth” satisfied, while displaying all the “extended technique” any fan of Euro improv could ask for.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

SFE – Positions & Descriptions (CF 230) 
The free jazz orchestra has a long and raucous history. (I analyzed some notable recordings for Perfect Sound Forever in 2003.) This group, organized by and performing a piece by bassist Simon H. Fell (I’m gonna go ahead and guess that SFE stands for Simon Fell Ensemble), isn’t as wall-blasting as the Globe Unity Orchestra or some of Cecil Taylor‘s large groups can be; in fact, there are many sections that are soft and quite beautiful. At the same time, there are sections of this vast (15 musicians plus a conductor, 79 minutes) work that swing and churn like a mixture of Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa circa Uncle Meat, and Pierre Boulez.

The piece, which was recorded live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the UK in 2007, goes through five movements, each of which is divided into subsections labeled “Positions.” These are bridged by interludes known as “Descriptions”; there are five of those, too. The first four positions are atmospheric and vaguely orchestral, full of hums and zings and lots of space between sounds. This mode, strongly reminiscent of Euro improv but also of horror or sci-fi movie scores, continues all the way through descriptions 2 and 3, entitled “FZ pour PB” and “Commentaire de ‘Fz pour PB.’” Then things take off a little bit, as the lurching Movement III (positions 6-9) begins with much more activity from the horns and a sort of off-kilter swing. There’s also an extraordinarily beautiful, mournful violin solo by Mifune Tsuji. But soon enough, things drop down to an ominous simmer again, with reeds offering slow-burning solos that are as much about the flapping of valves as the production of notes. In the back, guitar and piano make very soft sounds, as though not wanting to disturb anyone.

The band lurches back into life for the final, nearly 24-minute Movement V. A sort of chamber jazz for large ensemble, it sways along for a minute or two, before Mark Sanders‘ drums and Joe Morris‘ stinging (but ultra-clean) electric guitar take over. They’re succeeded by what I think is a baritone sax (there are a lot of low-end instruments in the reed section), then piano and some whooshing “extended technique” trumpet work…the piece goes on like this, a variety of instrumentalists taking spotlight turns that last just long enough to be exciting, without ever letting anyone wear out his or her welcome.

The liner notes indicate that this recording is a combination of live performance and pre-recorded electronic elements, with some sections scored and others improvised. The whole thing is utterly seamless, though, with no awkward moments, and any listener with an ear for this kind of thing will almost certainly be held rapt from beginning to end.

With a group of this size, it’s probably reasonable to list personnel, so here we go: Alex Ward and Andrew Sparling on clarinets, Jim Denley on flutes, Chris Batchelor on trumpet, Tim Berne and Damien Royannais on saxophones, Rhodri Davies on harp, Philip Thomas on piano and celesta, Joe Morris on guitar, Steve Beresford on electronics, Mifune Tsuji on violin, Philip Joseph on theremin, Simon Fell on bass and electronics, Joby Burgess on percussion, Mark Sanders on drums, and Clark Rundell conducting.

You’re not likely to hear another record that sounds anything like this anytime soon. Highly recommended.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

Two CDs Featuring Ellery Eskelin
Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin‘s been around forever and has made about six thousand albums, many as part of a trio with keyboardist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black, though he’s worked with lots of other Downtown New York folks (Joey Baron, Marc Ribot, Bobby Previte) and tons of other people—too many to list here, frankly. These two albums are very different from each other, yet his voice cuts through at all times, recognizable and welcome. He’s got some fuzziness around the edges of his notes, allowing him to get romantic when he wants to, but he can blow up a post-Ayler storm when he feels like it, too.

Gerry Hemingway Quintet – Riptide (CF 227)
The Gerry Hemingway Quintet features a two-horn front line (Eskelin on tenor, and Oscar Noriega on alto sax, clarinet, and/or bass clarinet), electric guitarist Terrence McManus, and bassist Kermit Driscoll switching between upright and electric, plus Hemingway in the back, hammering away. He’s a forceful drummer, opening Riptide‘s title track with a slowly building avalanche that would make most grindcore players flex their wrists in wincing sympathy, and caroming the band off the walls throughout the rest of the track with a clattering barrage of snare and stomping kick, as Eskelin blats and skronks his way through a solo that would have had ‘em pounding the bar at the old Knitting Factory. On “Gitar,” Hemingway plays fuzzy harmonica, and the reed players join him, letting notes slowly ooze from the bells of their instruments as Driscoll bows ominous, cello-like lines. It’s a nicely atmospheric piece, a break from some of the more active music being played throughout the majority of Riptide. Overall, this is a Downtown-friendly album – it doesn’t swing particularly hard, and some of the melodies tootle along in a klezmer-ish fashion, but there’s groove, too, and Hemingway and Driscoll are a rhythm team, not just two dudes who happen to be playing in the same room at the same time. Best of all, it’s got an emphatic insistence that’s more than welcome in the current era of horn players whose solos never seem to resolve – they just drift to a halt.

Harris Eisenstadt – September Trio (CF 229)
Eskelin shows his romantic side on another drummer-led disc, Harris Eisenstadt‘s September Trio, where the two men are joined by pianist Angelica Sanchez. It’s a moody disc of slow-burning ballads, titled “September 1″ through “September 7.” There are a few eruptions—on the fourth and sixth tracks, the band begins to fragment the music into jagged abstraction, and they get quite loud on the two-minute “September 7″—but generally speaking, it’s a subdued session, befitting the month it’s named after. Eisenstadt is a much less assertive player than Hemingway, working with brushes a lot, and Sanchez never tries to drive the music in one direction or another, preferring to ornament and filigree rather than going all in with the left hand.

Either one of these CDs would make an excellent “blind” listen—you don’t have to be a devotee of Eskelin, Hemingway, Eisenstadt, or anyone else featured to enjoy this music. I’m certainly not; I was totally ignorant of most of these players when I popped each disc in the player, and I came away extremely impressed. You also don’t have to be a fan of unremitting abstraction—there’s plenty of hard, swinging jazz here, stuff that’ll be immediately recognizable as such even to a listener whose idea of jazz is half-formed, mostly by 1960s TV themes. And each album works on its own; the presence of Eskelin is the only thing that links them. So check out one, or both. They’re both really good.

Cadence Magazine review by Michael Coyle

This is MOPDTK’s first live album—and it’s a doozy. Two CDs recorded over two days. The recording quality is excellent; were it not for applause at the end of track I wouldn’t know I was hearing a live date. More importantly, the music is vibrant. The music is intense. The music is endlessly inventive and playful—as one might anticipate from the band-written liner notes, reproduced here in full:“Each track listed here is titled after the composition by Moppa with which it opens. Many other songs and musical ele-ments, by Moppa and otherwise, appear and disappear over the course of each performance. In the interest of space and convenience, they are not listed. In fact, every note and sound in this recording is a reference to some other recording or per-formance, real or imaginary.”Listeners who have followed MOPDTK for any part of the past eight years will recognize this parody of Jazz commentary. It’s there too in the cover photo—a send-up of ’s The Köln Concert—the famous black and white photo framed by a white border. There is of course no piano in MOPDTK; neither is there any corollary for Jarrett’s tasteful lyricism or controlled crescendos. It’s a joke—but it’s all in earnest. I’m not clever enough to catch all the allusions mentioned above (except maybe the imaginary ones), but even casual listeners will notice how “A Night in Tunisia” develops within “Blue Ball,” or “Burning Well” contains “Love Is Here To Stay,” or “Night Train” shows up in the course of “Factoryville.” This album is quite simply just great fun. The musicians sound like they’re having as good a time as anyone could possibly have and still con-tinue playing their instruments. All four of them sound at the top of their games. All four of them seem to have the whole history of Jazz at their fingertips, and in the passage of just a couple minutes you might hear swing, bop, something from the shape of Jazz to come—and yet the music always feels organic and never freezes into mere pastiche. These guys can wail without stumbling into sonic assault. It’s gonna be awhile before this killer album leaves my CD player.
©Cadence Magazine 2011, www.cadencebuilding.com

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Trumpetman Ralph Alessi Fields Powerful Quintet for “Wiry Strong”

Ralph Alessi This Against That – Wiry Strong (CF 220)
In the struggle to stay ahead and/or catch up in these difficult economic times, the distractions and out-and-out traumas of survival can take us away from the good things that come by us in spite of all. That in part happened to me in the last week or so. Ralph Alessi and This Against That’s Wiry Strong (Clean Feed 220) played numerous times on my system, yet it failed to register with me. I was elsewhere in my head. Then the last time out and right now as I listened one more time as I write this, I am realizing that this is some very good music.

It’s Mr. Alessi on the trumpet, a very facilitated cat, filled with great tone and good note ideas, and his compositions, which give you modernistic, pulsated things to experience in the best sense. Ravi Coltrane takes up the saxophone, and Ravi is not flagging in any way! The two make for important carriers of two-part compositional leads, and work deftly for and against each other with a dynamic friction that frissons its way into cool places. Andy Milne has large harmonic ears and good line-drawing abilities. The rhythm section of Drew Gress (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) turns in very effective performances. There’s sometimes that sort of subtle depth of a Filles de Kilimanjaro on a compositional and improvisational level.

There are a series of collective improvisations and then the aforementioned compositions. The music weaves in and out of free and motored modal territories, with Ralph channeling the best of the modern trumpet heaters from Freddie Hubbard to Miles and Dave Douglas, in ways that suggest he is going to good places and becoming an original in his horizontal and vertical musical stances.

This one will get you listening. It’s a great little disk–and not that little because you get 71-plus minutes of Alessi’s approach. Great to hear and rewarding to listen to on deep or multi-tasked levels. The deep reveals very creative musical minds at work, the multi-task level gives you a broad swath of very interesting in and out jazz of today. Don’t take this one for granted. Hear it!!