Some good jazz records, mostly on Clean Feed
I said I wasn’t going to write a lot this month, but then in the middle of a John Fahey binge (Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites and Womblife), an envelope arrived from Lisbon bearing the latest from Clean Feed, the Portuguese label that’s established itself as the Blue Note of the ‘teens, including a couple that I just had to hear right away.
Live in L.A. (CF 241) documents a performance from a trio consisting of trumpeter Bobby Bradford, bassist Mark Dresser, and trombonist Glenn Ferris. Bradford’s a Mississippi-born, Texas-bred Californian and familiar of Fort Worth eminences Ornette Coleman (he’s all over Science Fiction) and John Carter who’s led his own Mo’tet since the early ’90s. Dresser’s worked with Anthony Braxton, among others, while Ferris is an Angeleno who’s lived and taught in France since the ’80s. Together they play a cerebral brand of chamber jazz, with Bradford — heard here on cornet — and Ferris intertwining contrapuntal lines and Dresser moving seamlessly between arco and pizzicato attacks. On “Bamboo Shoots,” all three instruments play vocally-inflected lines, to which one of the musicians adds a sung response. An intimately alive and organic set.
So Soft Yet (CF 243) is the latest encounter between redoubtable Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and Portuguese pianist Joao Paulo Esteves da Silva, with whom he shared a previous Clean Feed release, 2009’s Scapegrace. On this 2010 reunion, Gonzalez employs the electronics (mainly an octave splitter) that he eschewed on their first meeting, and Joao Paulo divides his time between acoustic and electric pianos and accordion. On the electric instrument, he sometimes plays percussive and modal figures that give the music the feel of a two-man Bitches Brew. His accordion gives the sound a lyrical lilt. On “El Destierro,” both men play unusually sparsely, using silence and space to heighten the impact of the notes that are played. Impressive artistry, beautifully registered.
Frog Leg Logic (CF 242) is the latest outing from reedman Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet. The ebullient title track explodes out of the gate, showcasing the group’s orchestral heft — impressive for such a small unit — and improvisational aplomb. Cellist Hank Roberts can function as a timekeeper or a third melodic voice, as needed. “Ballade” is a lovely lament that breaks down into a blues following the initial thematic statement. Trumpeter James Zollar plays a solo that shifts seamlessly between muted growls and post-bop angularity. When the theme returns in a wash of lyrical beauty, it gives the track a nicely complete feel. “You Can Beat the Slanted Cards” features a seductively circuitous melody, with nicely spare trap-kicking from drummer Michael Sarin. Ehrlich’s an ace improviser on alto, soprano, and flute, but his true strength is as a composer and bandleader.
In that regard, he’s a direct descendent of his mentor, Fort Worth native Julius Hemphill, who made his initial impact in St. Louis in the early ’70s before heading to New York to found and lead the World Saxophone Quartet, as well as his own sextet and big band. Hemphill’s masterwork, Dogon A.D. — which he originally self-released in 1972 and Arista Freedom subsequently reissued in 1977 — made its first appearance on CD this year via International Phonograph, Inc., in a beautifully-packaged edition (heavy cardboard gatefold sleeve) that includes all four tracks from the original session (“The Hard Blues” wouldn’t fit on the original LP and so had to wait for 1975’s Coon Bid’ness to see the light of day). There are many elements and aspects of Dogon A.D. — the complex themes, Abdul Wadud’s cello, drummer Philip Wilson’s minimalist backbeat — that are echoed on Frog Leg Logic, but that’s no slight to Ehrlich. The Hemphill album’s influence on the last 30 years of creative jazz has been as inescapable as, say, Out To Lunch’s, making its reappearance the most welcome jazz reissue of 2011.