Daily Archives: March 26, 2012

Squid´s Ear review by Florence Wetzel

Tony Malaby – Novela (CF 232)
For his new CD Novela, saxophonist Tony Malaby made an interesting choice: he decided to cull six of his compositions from previous releases and present them afresh. This time he’s working with a new set of musicians and has greater intimacy with the tunes, but the biggest difference is that each piece has been given a fresh arrangement by pianist Kris Davis, who has channeled her inner Gil Evans in order to create exciting configurations that make the songs shine anew.

Malaby has plenty of experience playing with larger groups, including Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra and Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, and this knowledge has clearly informed his facility as a bandleader. He elicits excellent performances from Novela’s mega-powerful nonet, a group composed of Malaby on soprano and tenor sax, the excellent Michael Attias on alto sax, Andrew Hadro on baritone sax, Joachim Badenhorst on bass clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Davis on piano and conducting, and John Hollenbeck on drums and percussion.

The first song, “Floating Head,” exemplifies the virtues of this CD. The music is fast, bold, and powerful, the arrangement full of delicious swoops of impeccably synchronized instruments. There are many delightful layers of sounds and textures in this song, many unexpected accents and shifts, but although the music is positively thick with ideas, everything is still tastefully executed. One of the pleasures of this piece is hearing Dan Peck’s tuba, an instrument that eminent arrangers such as Evans and Claude Thornhill used with great inventiveness; the tuba creates a rich bottom for the entire piece, stretching both the song and the listener’s ear. Davis is fabulous on piano: her angular, agile approach keeps the music on its toes and ignites the entire tune.

Mention must also be made of the excellent “Warblepeck.” It’s a playful, lilting song with funky sax work by Malaby and fabulous percussion by Hollenbeck. The arrangement incorporates a marvelous polyrhythmic drive, and includes some wild slippy-slidey horn work that creates a positively joyful cacophony.

At the first public performance of his Birth of the Cool nonet, Miles Davis broke tradition (as usual) by insisting that the sign in front of the club read: “Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis.” Likewise, it’s impossible to extol the virtues of Novela without noting: “Arrangements by Kris Davis.” It’s heartening to see that the art of arranging is still going strong in the jazz tradition, and Malaby’s excellent CD shines a light for others to follow.

The Squid´s Ear review by Brian Olewnick

The Ames Room – Bird Dies (CF 231)
How do they do it? How does the Ames Room continue to wring substantial blood from that ancient stone? The stone in question being the moldering carcass of no-holds-barred free jazz, a lamented beast that has regularly suffered indignities these past couple of decades by well-meaning folk who insist on CPR maneuvers long after the entity has flat-lined. At least part of the answer has to do with discerning musicians who have wide experience in other genres honing in on the seriously vital sources of the music and dealing with the essences found there, not the superficialities. I recall talking with drummer Will Guthrie several years ago, exchanging our deep enthusiasm and love for the music of Roscoe Mitchell and this is certainly one of the foundation points in the music of the Ames Room.

This single track (46 minute) live performance from March, 2010 owes a good portion of its success to Guthrie, who creates waves of relentless rhythm, sounding liked an updated version of Ed Blackwell (perhaps with a trace of Ronald Shannon Jackson as well), never randomly thrashing always dead on point, not just prodding his band mates but thwacking them. His compatriots, Jean-Luc Guionnet on alto and Clayton Thomas on bass, are superb as well. Guionnet has also investigated that nexus between contemporary noise and free jazz (when he’s not conjuring unearthly sounds from old organs) and here just lays into the music in a manner reminiscent of Mitchell at his most ferocious (“Tkhke”, anyone?). The trio rages virtually non-stop, rarely flagging, seldom reiterating ideas, winging from one notion to another. Well, there are a few minutes about halfway in when one suspects they’re about to collapse from exhaustion but they soon enough pick things up and return with renewed vigor.

As fine a free jazz album as I can imagine being produced this second decade of the 21st century.

The Squid´s Ear review by Brian Olewnick

Boris Hauf Sextet – Next Delusion (CF 238)
There’s been an interesting mini-trend in recent years, not often successful, wherein musicians active in the electro-acoustic improvisation scene seek to come to terms with avant jazz, usually an oil and water proposition. Saxophonist Boris Hauf, who has been active in the eai world for quite a while, has been experimenting in this vein over the past few years and manages, often, to negotiate this territory with an unusual nimbleness, probably derived from a clear great respect for certain rich traditions.

For Next Delusion, he assembles a sextet consisting of three reeds (himself, Keefe Jackson and Jason Stein) and three percussionists (Frank Rosaly, Michael Hartman and Steven Hess, the latter also contributing electronics). Hess, in fact, is also a member of Haptic, another group that, more obliquely, nods in the jazz direction. The massed reeds automatically summon memories of the World Saxophone Quartet and, indeed, one picks up traces of that seminal ensemble but to me, the guiding spirit from the jazz pantheon is Julius Hemphill specifically. Echoes of the sonorities found in Hemphill’s magnificent pair of recordings, Dogon A.D. and ‘Coon Bid’ness can be gleaned here as well as the overt use of staccato passages for punctuation.

“Gregory Grant Machine” really luxuriates in those rich strains, a dark, moody brew with the creamy reeds atop a broiling roast of percussion. Most of this music really lies more in a jazz milieu than otherwise, but the ambiance is informed by eai so that one pays more attention to the textures, the small sounds, the variations amongst the musicians on like instruments than one would have with Hemphill, where the overall effect and surge was the salient ingredient. Hauf pulls off the imposing trick of imparting something new to a genre long gone stale. He’s not always so successful; here and there the music meanders and the saxophonists fall back on busyness and over-saturation rather than restraint, resulting in more clutter than cohesiveness. But even at these points, there’s a lot to say for the sheer deliciousness of the reeds/percussion melding — it’s never less than sensuous and scrumptious.