Elliot Sharp Trio – Aggregat (CF 250)
The trio configuration of Elliot Sharp with Brad Jones on bass and Ches Smith, drums, works well. Their album Aggregat (Clean Feed 250) shows that. Ches is a create free-pulsating drummer who uses the whole kit in creative ways; Brad Jones gets some good free, forward-driving things happening on bass. The big surprise of this disk is Elliot’s presence on tenor and soprano as well as electric guitar. I’ve heard him on reeds for some of his larger ensemble compositions and he always sounded right. But in a small group setting like this one he gets a chance to stretch out. He has a sound, he has ideas, and he’s his own man. On guitar of course Elliot is a bonafide original and he lets go here with some psyche-out electric cranking in a free improv trio context for some more excellent work. His sense of form and compositional bent come through in his soloing here as elsewhere. His is a structured, form-creating freedom and he shows you how that works on this album. Another good one from Maestro Sharp!
Joe McPhee / Ingebrigt Haker Flaten – BROOKLYN DNA (CF 244)
The superb multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee – who is this year receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Vision Festival – teams up on Brooklyn DNA with ace contrabassist Haker Flaten for a terse, tart series of duets that exude energy but are grounded in a undeniably engaging melodic sensibility. The riff-based “Crossing the Bridge” gets things started off in exuberant fashion, with hot, ragged, tone-bending alto teasing out an Ornette-ish refrain. “Spirit Cry” finds McPhee on soprano, exploring another simple, cell-like phraseology while Haker Flaten works out some chromatic shapes to create the effect of a staggered counter-phrase here, a pinwheeling harmonic center there. The focus and abecedarian structure of some of these tunes certainly recall Lacy, but in some sense I’m also reminded – perhaps especially with the restless lyricism of “Putnam Central,” with brassy sputter from pocket trumpet – of Julius Hemphill’s duets with Abdul Wadud. There’s more information in this brief album than in a dozen meandering duets, and the music is with each moment committed, emotional, and imaginative. Just listen to “Blue Coronet’s” groaning, gravity-sucked double-stops and that intensely forlorn McPhee melodic sense as the sound becomes aroused, with the bassist moaning and pizzing so vigorously that the tune ascends into buzzing joint pointillism. After a blast of heat and density on “214 Martense,” the squeaking circular breathing of pocket trumpet and bowed metal sounds of “Enoragt Maeckt Haght” make for a nice changeup. And for the concluding “Here and Now,” McPhee patiently blows soprano to create beautiful layered rhythms and contrasting articulations between the pair. This is the real shit.
Elliott Sharp Trio – AGGREGAT (CF 250)
Aggregat is an hour from the latest iteration of E#’s trio, this time featuring the leader / guitarist bringing his tenor and soprano (but no clarinet) along for the ride, in the company of bassist Brad Jones and the increasingly ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Ches Smith on drums. It’s an inconsistent set to my ears. The loping, slightly sour “Nucular” opens the album, its slow clattery groove a nice platform for Sharp’s little bursts and curlicues. We hear a similarly rangy mid-tempo stroll on “Hard Landing,” but it starts out with spindly guitar that revs up into crazed distorted shred, almost as if Sharp has been cross-breeding No Wave with Orthrealm. Back and forth the pieces go between flinty guitar trio tracks and often uncertain horn pieces like the stuttering soprano piece “Mal Du Droit” or the uninvolving “Estuary.” I’ve never been able to warm to Sharp’s horn work, though I know he’s got technique. Even on his main axe, he often seems to want to do too many different things too much of the time. Even on skronky tunes like “The Grip” I don’t feel it unless I concentrate heavily on the rhythm section. There are moments on the guitar to be sure, and it sounds as if Sharp has slightly reconfigured his guitar style so that it juts midway between early Sharrock and 1990s Cline. But aside from some lusty tenor shrieks on “Allelia,” a pleasing bounce knit throughout “Gegenschein,” and some fractal guitar madness on “Refractory,” I find this disc largely unmemorable.
Rafael Toral / Davu Seru – LIVE IN MINNEAPOLIS (CF 248)
Live in Minneapolis, from a March 2011 summit at Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis, finds the talented drummer Seru (best known for his long association with Milo Fine) proving a challenging, provocative accompanist to the increasingly enigmatic Toral, who has given up his guitar for an assortment of electronic sound generators including short-circuiting amplifier, oscillator, and feedback modifier). The incisive percussion moves Toral away from the looped tones and high resonance that has sometimes preoccupied him in recent years, inviting him into a more active, lively, not to say conversational approach to improvising, and to my ears it’s quite fresh. For all that, it’s spacious and the fine recording focuses on the tone-blending of Seru’s low toms (membranes adjusted just so) and the deftly controlled flatulence of Toral’s overdriven effects. On the second part of this three-part improvisation, there’s a ton of fine timbral and registral contrast from the drums and Toral responds by toying around with vocal effects, sometimes a bit desultory but mostly quite effective. And in the closing segment, there’s even a phase where the pair find themselves in a glorious space midway between morning birdsong and evening crickets.
Steve Lacy Quintet – ESTILHACOS (CF 247)
Not only is it always a wonderful thing to hear a new recording or reissue unearthed from the still sorely-missed Lacy, but to have a document from an under-represented period and a slightly different lineup is a special treat. From a 1972 Lisbon recording, Lacy’s quintet on Estilhacos (Irene Aebi on cello, harmonica, and radio, altoist Steve Potts, bassist Kent Carter, and drummer Noel McGhie) was a raw, at times militant art-improv band (and indeed, the band’s knowing decision to dial into Radio Renescenca tapped into the revolutionary mood brewing in Portugal in the early 1970s). With noisy radio signals and a martial sound, the quintet barrels its way through the opening “Stations,” with muted melismatic cello from Aebi and gruff staccato horn polyphony. The band follows this up with a blistering, churning medley of (again) lesser known tunes: “Chips” (where Aebi honks away on harmonica), “Moon,” and “Dreams.” On the latter piece, Potts is positively incendiary atop a groaning bed of sound. A transformed, raucous “No Baby” is miles away from most available versions of this tune. And the closing “The High Way,” finds Lacy revisiting territory similar to “Stations,” a rumbling, droning bed and repeating staccato phrases for the saxophones (almost conjuring the opening of “Wickets”). Top notch.
Boris Hauf Sextet – NEXT DELUSION (CF 238)
The bewildering pace and high batting average of Clean Feed continues, and this latest batch brings together a range of improvisational approaches, scenes, and meetings. Boris Hauf is probably still best known as a participant in the Vienna improvising scene of the turn of the millennium, a saxophonist as comfortable in electronically rich environments (like Efzeg) as in micro-improvising. This new sextet music – with Hauf on tenor and soprano, Keefe Jackson on tenor and contrabass clarinet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Frank Rosaly, Steven Hess, and Michael Hartman on drums (Hess also adds electronics) – is a rich amalgam of the two approaches. Next Delusion often sounds as if something of the woody intensity of Gebhard Ullman’s clarinet trio (at least their methodology if not their instrumentation) meets with a percussion sound midway between the spare beats of Martin Brandlmayr and a kind of Paul Lovens bustle. The opening “Gregory Grant Machine” is terrific, moving between sections of Polwechsel’s flinty sparseness and solemn moving chords from low woodwinds, continually dipping in and out of silence. It’s an approach that Hauf favors for this instrumentation, and he uses it even more effectively on “Eighteen Ghost Roads,” whose slow sectional chords rise patiently and deliberately to a stately, ROVA-esque feel before erupting in a threeway percussive rumble that sets up a different context for the same horn movement. There’s plenty of variation on the record, lest you think there are simply different settings for this general approach. Each tune features great attention to tonal / timbral contrast, often pitting high whining feedback against eructations from the lower horns. A burble of reed popping sets the course on “Fame & Riches,” which morphs via woven tones and the gentlest, deftest cymbal work into a sustained hum of an atmosphere. And the closing “Wayward Lanes” races along with a skirling series of bass clarinet patterns wending through a thicket of rimshots. It’s a compelling record, a consistent study of contain tension and contrasts.