Gerry Hemingway Quintet – RIPTIDE (CF 227)
From the mid 80s through the mid 90s, Gerry Hemingway put out a series of seminal recordings, melding the collective strategies he had developed as part of Anthony Braxton’s quartet with the sense of loose-limbed free swing honed with players like Ray Anderson, Mark Helias, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, and other members of the burgeoning New Haven scene in the late 70s. Starting with the long out-of-print Outerbridge Crossing and on through a series of releases on Hat Art, Random Acoustics, and GM Recordings, Hemingway built a distinctive approach to small-group composition, making use of captivating metrical layering, snaking melodic threads, and plenty of room for collective improvisation. Core to that concept was a stable band with Michael Moore, Wolter Wierbos, Ernst Reijseger, and Mark Dresser. Since then, Hemingway’s pulled together various bands with musicians like Ellery Eskelin, Herb Robertson, Frank Gratkowski, and Mark Helias; while all have had their high-points, none have quite gelled like earlier recordings. With this newest ensemble, Hemingway has once again found that group alignment. Oscar Noriega (on alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet) is paired with Eskelin’s tenor, and Kermit Driscoll is on board playing acoustic and electric bass; but the big change is the inclusion of guitarist Terrence McManus, whose contributions move from gentle washes to spiky, overdriven skronk. The group attacks the leader’s themes, moving from lush voicings to angular counterpoint, collectively pushing an elastic approach to the pieces’ harmonic and rhythmic structures. There’s a song-like quality to Hemingway’s writing and that often comes to the fore, as on “Gitar”, which uses percolating cross-rhythms across a backbeat to support the reed players’ arcing lines, until things open up for a driving guitar solo full of cutting distortion. There’s also a marked nod to kwela groove throughout, on “At Anytime”, “Holler Up”, and “Backabacka”. The recording is meticulously paced, the pieces seguing into each other in suite-like fashion, with a perfect balance between collective improvisations and thoughtfully-wrought solos. Let’s hope Hemingway can keep this crew together for a while.
Simon H. Fell – POSITIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS(CF 230)
Since the mid 80s, bassist and composer Simon H. Fell has been developing compositional strategies for working with various combinations of improvisers, classically trained musicians, and pre-recorded electronics, producing along the way a body of incomparable recordings on his Bruce’s Fingers label (he has subtitled these “Compilations”, which, in his notes for Composition No. 62, he describes as pieces which blur “the distinction between jazz, improvised, and classical musics, between immediate and retrospective interaction, between intentional and chance relationships…”). It’s been six years since Composition No. 62, so it’s great to get a chance to hear another one of Fell’s ambitious projects. Positions and Descriptions was commissioned for the 2007 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which allowed him to assemble 15 musicians including regulars like Jim Denley, Alex Ward, Rhodri Davies, Philip Thomas, Steve Beresford and Mark Sanders, along with violinist Mifune Tsuji and Americans Tim Berne and Joe Morris (Clark Rundell conducts the ensemble). In his incisive liner notes, Fell describes the piece as combining three overlapping elements: a complex score, a “mobile” system of pre-recorded, inter-related electronic elements, and a series of solo and ensemble improvisations. The five-part structure finds room for cycling thematic kernels, real-time interaction of layered electronics and ensemble, inversions of tango and swing, extrapolations of Webern’s Variations for Orchestra Op. 30, and, of course, extended solos by members of the ensemble. The contrasting timbres and densities are always striking, the buzz and oscillations of electronics countered by tuned percussion, high trilling piccolo, skirling sax, the clarion cry of the trumpet, the clarinet’s rich chalumeau and the seismic rumble of the tubax. Fell avoids both Po-Mo pastiche and full-on assault, instead creating a genuinely impressive musical statement that never subordinates the musicians’ individuality to structural concerns. For those who have been following his ensemble music this one shouldn’t be missed; for those looking for an introduction to one of the most engaging explorers at the intersection of composition and improvisation, dive right in.
Carlos Bica + Matéria Prima (CF 180)
Musiker aus Portugal spielen in Europa keine große Rolle, schon gar nicht, wenn sich ihr Lebensmittelpunkt in Berlin befindet und sie vor allem mit deutschen Musikern arbeiten. Carlos Bica ist da wohl die Ausnahme. In den achtziger Jahren arbeitete Bassist und Komponist Bica mit Maria João zusammen und wurde 1998 in Portugal zum Jazzmusiker des Jahres gekürt. Er gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Jazzmusiker Portugals, was dazu führt, das Bica mit unterschiedlichen Formationen die Welt bereist hat.
Nun klingt die Musik von Bica nicht sehr portugiesisch, ist sie doch von Musikern wie Ry Cooder oder Marc Ribot beeinflusst. Möglicherweise ist dies der Grund dafür, dass diese Live-Aufnahmen von 2008 erst jetzt, drei Jahre nach ihrer Entstehung, regulär veröffentlicht werden.
Das liegt nicht an den zehn Titeln auf diesem, einfach “Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima” betitelten Album. Ganz im Gegenteil, Bica hat erstklassige Mitspieler und spielt wunderschönen Jazz mit südamerikanischem Flair.
SFE – Positions & Descriptions (CF 230)
Fifteen musicians (many of them noted for their avant improvisa- tional talents) plus conductor tackle Simon H. Fell’s full-length Composition No. 75 on SFE’s Positions & Descriptions (Clean Feed 230). Not unlike Anthony Braxton, Fell seeks to create from the musical languages of modern classical and avant jazz a long-formed hybrid that melds some of the traits of each camp. Fell put together nine performance sections/movements in this composition that serve as vignettes and try (successfully, I believe) to hang together as a cohesive statement.
It was commissioned by the BBC and performed after only two-days rehearsal in 2007. Composition, conduction, improvisations and pre-recorded material come in and out of focus in interesting ways. It is a music to be heard with undivided attention to have an effect.
It is of necessity a first-stab at creating a more definitive version of the work. So there are times when one might hear that more could be done with what is being done. The logistical and economic difficulties of putting together a mid-sizable ensemble such as this and have them play through each section with systematic attention to detail is nigh close to impossible in today’s climate, however, so in many ways we are lucky to have this version to appreciate.
Simon Fell is doing interesting work, this is an interesting ensemble and the piece moves the avant nexus forward several steps. It is worth your time to listen closely to this one.
Side A – A New Margin (CF 235)
O trio Side A é mais um projecto de Ken Vandermark (há muito que lhes perdi a conta), revelado em 2010 no festival de Molde e numa tournée lusa e que se estreia agora com CD gravado em Portalegre.
As 10 faixas têm autoria repartida entre Vandermark, o pianista Havard Wiik e o baterista Chad Taylor e “What Is Is” é o seu zénite: começa com agitação entrecortada de piano e bateria, até que o sax barítono assume funções de contrabaixo e gera um ímpeto rítmico imparável – o piano acaba por substitui-lo, libertando Vandermark para se lançar num solo incendiário. Apesar da toada geral enérgica, o lirismo assoma quando Vandermark toma o clarinete, como em “Trued Right” e “Arborization” – este a evocar a atmosfera do Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps de Messiaen.
Gerry Hemingway Quintet – Riptide (CF 227)
Gerry Hemingway has been deftly mixing it up on drums with some of the most accomplished new jazz artists for years. He has a new album out with his quintet, Riptide (Clean Feed 227), and it shows how he is a jazz composer and bandleader of note as well. First, the quintet itself: along with Gerry on drums are a formidable two-reed tandem of Oscar Noriega and Ellery Eskelin, the electric guitar smarts of Terrence McManus, and the acoustic and electric bass of Kermit Driscoll.
It’s a date filled with good improvisations, sometimes collective with horns and guitar taking the front line, sometimes individual. The compositions are excellent frameworks for the band, devoid of cliche. There is some space in the music for Kermit and Gerry’s good feel playing to come through as well.
If you want some idea what the music sounds like. . . it has the long in-and-out group oriented development of DeJohnette’s classic New Direction days and some of Tim Berne’s ensembles at their best. The 13 minute “Gitar” and its segue into “At Aytime” is a good place to hear the fully stretched and limber group going at it for a long loose straight-time midtempo feel that turns to swingtime towards the end. This is just an example of the ensemble’s strengths: they listen to one another and compliment what is going on while articulating the compositional elements along the way. There’s a spacey balland and by the time you get to “Meddle Music” things are into a free rock groove that has some nicely out McManus guitar work. “Backabacka” combines free ska with minimalistic repetition in quite interesting ways.
Well that’s enough of the highlights to give you an idea. Strong music in the in-and-out zone, fully contemporary, that’s Riptide for you. There’s enough electricity from McManus’ guitar and Kermit’s bass guitar in some segments to break up the acoustic qualities that predominate and set them off.
It is a fascinating and fun ride. Gerry Hemingway comes through as a bandleader and the band comes through as a band. What more? Hear this one, most definitely.
Harris Eisenstadt – September Trio (CF 229)
With Paul Motian passing away recently, he is on my mind. As I listen again to Harris Eisenstadt’s latest, September Trio (Clean Feed 229), I am reminded of Paul’s drumming and the sort of music the first Jarrett Quartet and Motian’s own groups made. Not that Harris is copying. But his drumming, his composing, his group sound here is in a lineage that in some ways has evolved out of those milestones of our more or less recent past.
But September Trio stands on its own in an excellent way. The compositions are strong, Ellery Eskelin sounds great (with a hint of Dewey Redman here) and Angelica Sanchez comes through with a rubato creativity that does have some relation to early Jarrett, but expands outward with some beautiful voicings and note poems.
Three accomplished players, three strong concepts, carefully thought-out Eisenstadtian music. This has a cantabile quality and a thoroughgoingly modern lyricism. Beautiful music! Harris comes up with another winner on this one!
Tony Malaby’s Novela (CF 232)
You can usually trust a Tony Malaby CD to deliver a fountain of creative and energized improvising. That force remains, even expands here, but the nonet called Novela – four reeds, trumpet, trombone and tuba, piano and drums – marks a significant departure for Malaby, transforming compositions previously heard as blowing vehicles for trios and quartets into full-fledged orchestral works. Pianist Kris Davis is an essential partner, orchestrating and conducting compositions from the arc of Malaby’s career. The earliest work here, “Cosas”, first appeared on an eponymous 1993 CD that Malaby co-led with trombonist Joey Sellers and it’s been turning up at regular intervals in small groups ever since. Malaby’s pieces transfer handily to the new settings, but the result is as collaborative as any trio. Davis emerges as an orchestrator of tremendous creativity, amplifying the harmonic nuances of Malaby’s pieces, enriching their textures at every turn and multiplying their rhythmic possibilities.Working in the traditions of Ellington, Mingus, Sun Ra and Carla Bley, Malaby and Davis seem acutely aware of the quality of individual voices in the ensemble, using the distinctive timbres of trumpeter Ralph Alessi and altoist Michael Attias (who gets the theme of “Cosas”, in effect changing the character of Malaby’s attachment to it) to develop the melodic content further. “Mother’s Love” (one of three compositions from 2007’s Tamarindo) is a work of continuous orchestral evolution, seamlessly weaving composition, improvisation and, likely, conduction as the methodological lines keep blurring. Ultimately, the music sounds like it was conceived for this large ensemble, a group with a breadth of resource that can suggest early incarnations of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra or Sun Ra’s Arkestra, readily bridging a high modernist lyricism and an explosive, collectivist spontaneity. Whether they’re reading or making it up as they go along, this is a major musical event, the orchestral debut of the year.
Klippe Thomas Heberer’s Clarino (CF 226)
Arbr’-En-Ciel Christian Mendoza Group (W.E.R.F.)
Donkere Golven International Trio (W.E.R.F.)
New York-based Belgian reed player Joachim Badenhorst has had a busy year. He’s a presence on Tony Malaby’s nonet recording Novela, made are cording with the Icelandic group Mogil and recorded several small group sessions in addition to the three releases featured here. He’s a versatile musician and his work on clarinet is particularly strong. On Klippe, ICP Orchestra trumpeter Thomas Heberer uses Badenhorst, along with German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, for his Clarino trio. It’s a good combination with a wide sonic range. For this group, Heberer uses a style of composition he calls “cookbook notation”. Notation is shaped to a specific set of rules, memorized, and then improvised on the fly. This gives the players wide latitude of interpretation, which hopefully makes the music continually fresh. Badenhorst and Niggenkemper seem inspired by this approach and what emerges is true trio music. During“Kleiner Bruder”, what starts with a somber introduction evolves into a section of hyperactivity before Heberer plays a sustained, shaded drone, bass bubbling underneath and bass clarinet weaving around both figures. On “Torn” the music is spacious with notes dropping slowly and deliberately into the playing field. Badenhorst’s role is equal to the other two players and Klippe is a good place to hear him at length.On pianist Christian Mendoza’s quintet album Arbr’-En-Ciel, Badenhorst is the second reed in the frontline. He shares his position with Ben Sluijs (alto sax and flute). Filling out the group is bassist Brice Soniano (Badenhorst’s duo partner in Rawfishboys)and drummer Teun Verbruggen. While the music hereis more overtly structured than the disc above, it still has passages of free interaction. Mendoza’scompositions are intricate (changing tempos, unusual melodies and improvisational strategies, etc.) and Verbruggen’s clattering drums help push these ideas along with finesse while his textural electronic work on “November Snow” adds a further dimension. Badenhorst’s clarinet and tenor sax work is prominent and his naturalness in a setting so circumscribed demonstrates another facet to his playing. Mendoza presents a set of engaging compositions that keep the players on their toes. A few are thematically connected, which gives the entire proceeding a suite-like flavor. The International Trio (Badenhorst with Steve Swell on trombone and drummer Ziv Ravitz) appears to be Badenhorst’s project. Although the bulk of Donkere Golven consists of free improvisations, there are also two Badenhorst compositions. Swell is a goodfoil for Badenhorst and his big burry sound wraps nicely around Badenhorst’s clarinet and jousts deftly with his bass clarinet. Both handle the outer ranges of their respective instruments with skill. Ravitz’ drumming is spacious, frequently opting for subtle commentary and decoration around the two horns. The two compositions are nicely placed in the programand genuinely stand out, giving the listener unexpected focal points. Badenhorst has organized a strong group and hopefully these musicians take this project further.
Tony Malaby – Novela (CF 232)
Novela by Tony Malaby is a real treat. It tantalizes the senses with its complex yet accessible horn arrangements, burns with a restrained energy that propels the soloists and builds so imperceptibly that by time we are half way into the first piece, “Floating Head,” and the piano’s slightly disjointed but flowing phrases come to the fore, we are ready for a slight breather. The bass clarinet phrases with the horn and drum hits below the soloing trumpet is fantastic — it is easy to be happily lost in the melodies, counter melodies, individual and ensemble improvisations.
The arrangement of the second tune, “Floral and Herbaceous,” with its slow moving melody is a fraught affair, collapsing in the middle into just a solitary voice. Then, slowly, evocatively, the tune rises again from its own ashes. The playing and the arangements are inspired and inspiring, covering the range from bouts of frenetic dissonance to soaring climaxes.
The material comes from Malaby’s discography, recorded in different group settings over the years. This arrangements on Novela were done by pianist Kris Davis and she is co-credited as such on the album. The group is an octet, with Malaby on soprano and tenor saxophones, Michael Attias on alto, Andrew Hadro on baritone, Joachim Badenhorst playing bass clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ben Gerstein playing trombone, Kris Davis on piano and John Hollenbeck playing drums.
The extensive wind and brass section gives a lot of textures and colors to paint with and the result is a fascinating album. The ideas are big, the details are never lost, and the arrangements never overwhelm the tunes, leaving much space for group and individual improvisation.