Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lucid Culture review by Alan Young

Ran Blake / Sara Serpa – Aurora (CF 264)
For a singer, recording a live album with Ran Blake is a potential minefield. The iconic noir pianist is no mere accompanist: he’s a bandmate. To say that he’s hard to follow is an understatement to the extreme. What is there about Blake that hasn’t been said already? That he is to improvisation what Schoenberg was to composition, maybe? Other pianists would kill to be able to command the kind of otherworldly menace that Blake goes up onstage and pulls out of thin air. And while there’s more often than not a rigorous logic to his melodic sensibility, there’s no telling where he might go with it.

This past May, Sara Serpa took fate in her hands and recorded a live piano-and-vocal album with Blake, titled Aurora and just released on Clean Feed. Adventurous as this may seem at face value, Serpa and Blake have the advantage of being old friends: she’s been a protegee of his since their days together at the New England Conservatory. Which comes as no surprise: they’re peas in a pod, rugged individualists and formidable intellects who share a fondness for third-stream eclecticism and a fear of absolutely nothing. This new album builds on the often shattering camaraderie they shared on their initial duo recording, 2010′s Camera Obscura.

What’s not news is that this is Blake being Blake, chilling, unpredictable yet at the same time giving the songs here plenty of wit, sometimes cruel, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes surprisingly droll. What’s news is how much Serpa, already a distinctive singer, has grown. The disarming quality of her completely unadorned, crystalline, reflecting-pool mezzo-soprano pairs off memorably and not a little hauntingly with Blake’s broodingly opaque, occasionally savage tonalities. Although her approach to a song has every bit as much rigorous precision as Blake’s, she’s back at her old Lisbon stomping ground here (at the sonically superb Auditorio da Culturgest, recorded both in concert and live in the hall the following day) and is clearly feeding off a triumphant homecoming of sorts.

The first song is Saturday, a ballad recorded by Sarah Vaughn early in her career. From its defiantly icy intro, “Saturday…just a doesn’t matter day” becomes a coolly poignant lament. When Autumn Sings, the first of two R.B. Lynch/Abbey Lincoln compositions, finds Blake doing an offhandedly creepy waltz up against Serpa’s surprisingly bluesy melismatics. And yet, by the end, he’s lured her deep into the shadows.

The duo veer between phantasmagorical ragtime and various shades of macabre on a piano-and-vocalese improvisation on Konrad Elfers’ Dr. Mabuse, from the film soundtrack – it’s one of the album’s high points. From there they segue into Cansaco, a 1958 hit for fado icon Amalia Rodriguez. It opens with a moonlit mournfulness, Blake and Serpa exchanging motifs, always understating the song’s lovelorn drama

They follow that with a jauntily carnivalesque take on the bizarre 1950s space-travel relic Moonride, inspired by the Chris Connor version. Serpa sings Strange Fruit a-cappella with a chilling nonchalance, only digging into the melody when the imagery becomes grisly. Blake’s solo spot, titled Mahler Noir, defamiliaizes a couple of late Romantic theme with a tersely crystallized, crepuscular menace that wouldn’t be out of place in peak-era Pink Floyd. Then they romp twistedly through The Band Played On, chosen since the song appears on the soundtrack to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

Love Lament, another Lynch/Lincoln song, gets a broodingly spacious understatement, Serpa matching Blake ellipsis for loaded ellipsis. They keep the snowswept angst going with Wende: the way Serpa sings “pressing so deep into my soul” will rip your face off. By contrast, Fine and Dandy juxtaposes wry Van Morrison allusions with Serpa’s utterly trad, completely deadpan acrobatics. They close the show with a ballad Serpa selected, Last Night When We Were Young, underscoring this ode to defeat with an absinthe hush that’s as quietly powerful as anything these two artists can conjure. Like their previous collaboration, this album makes a mockery of any attempt to rank it against others from this year or for that matter any year. This is music for eternity, a bleak yet sometimes unexpectedly amusing antidote to the shadows encroaching around us.

Irish Times review by Cormac Larkin

Ran Blake/Sara Serpa – Aurora (CF 264)
The combination of adventurous Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa and legendary “Third Stream” pianist Ran Blake is an inspired summer-winter pairing. The two met first as student and teacher at Boston’s New England Conservatory, but since their first duo recording (2001’s excellent Camera Obscura) the relationship has matured into something quite unique and original.

Blake’s darkly enigmatic harmonies, delicately poised between form and freedom, throw Serpa’s unaffected but affecting vocals into sharp relief; the results stand alongside the very best of the piano-vocal tradition. their latest offering, recorded live in Lisbon earlier this year, is a fascinating collection of lesser spotted standards, including a riveting version of Billie Holiday’s politically charged Strange Fruit and quirky takes on old Tin Pan Alley chestnuts The Band Played On and Last Night When We Were Young.

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Angelica Sanchez Quintet: Wires & Moss (CF 259)
Perceptive composer and cunning improviser, educator/keyboardist Angelica Sanchez has risen to the A-list of modern stylists and innovators. As history dictates, she largely summons the crème-de-la-crème of like-minded artists for her solo endeavors. Indeed, Sanchez’s burgeoning discography for Clean-Feed records bears witness to her resourceful persona. On Wires & Moss, she traverses a route initiated upon evocative moods and jarring tone poems.

“Soaring Piasa” is an 11-minute opus designed with guitarist Marc Ducret’s angular and creaky extended notes that help establish an unwieldy and slightly ominous introduction. As saxophonist Tony Malaby fills in the gaps along with Sanchez’s nimble piano voicings. Hence, an unnerving calm underscores the storyline. But they subsequently raise the pitch, due to the leader’s fractured jazz phrasings and subtle reverse-engineering processes, instilling a notion that many unanswered questions prevail.

It’s an open-ended piece that morphs into a structured theme, centered on a simple and congenial melody line, where Malaby elevates the pitch via his plaintive cries during the finale. Sanchez and associates inject quite a few teasers into this multifaceted work. The ensemble decrees a translucent median, toggling between artistic risk-taking and modern mainstream while tossing several riotous detours into the grand schema.

Free Jazz review by Joe Higham

Angelica Sanchez – Wires and Moss (CF 259)
What a magisterial opening to an album, ‘Loomed’ bumps into action giving a positive impression with the first melody. Here I am listening to Angelica Sanchez’s 4th album(*) to date as a leader, a finely produced album of lovely melodies and searching solos. This is also the second album from Clean Feed with this line-up, Tony Malaby – saxes, Marc Ducret – guitar, Drew Gress – bass, Tom Rainey – drums and of course Sanchez – piano, and a very fine group it is.

The album is made up of six pieces which work on the development of melody and freedom. It’s a concept that is gradually evolving throughout the modern jazz world. Structured melodies give way to open ended improvisations, sometimes wild and improvised, and others based on rhythms or melodic fragments used elsewhere. What gives these records, this one included, a very exciting side to them is the ability to interpret chord progressions using modern vocabulary. Lessons learnt from Albert Ayler, Braxton or Derek Bailey are now the norms, moving the art post-bop orientated improvisation into the realms of jazz for conservatory musicians. On this album tracks such as the fine opening ‘Loomed’ let the musicians probe areas that aren’t necessarily suggested in the initial tune before working in a more melodic area that although semi-written inspires the musicians to find alternative vocabulary. ‘Feathered Light’ lets Tony Malaby weave intricate soprano lines that are neither tonal nor atonal. However before Malaby solos Angelic Sanchez opens up the material a little in the same way that Keith Jarrett did back in his classic Impulse years band of Paul Motian, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden. In fact the music probably owes more to that era (style) than one would maybe think.

‘Soaring Piasa’ finds Tony Malaby and Marc Ducret trading ideas before Angelica Sanchez gives the rhythm section some sort of harmony to work with. Drew Gress and Tom Rainey accompany her like a modern Bill Evans trio before the sax of Tony Malaby joins them by which time it’s clear that the melody is being developed and prepared to lead the group towards the end of the piece. It’s a very graceful and inventive piece that combines open soloing and classic melodic writing. the excellent ‘Wire and Moss’ which features Marc Ducret also works a little on the same idea. A sort of A-B-A structure with ‘B’ being the melody. ‘Dore’ has a dense melody full of rhythmic surprises. Gradually it lets the musicians find their own way, who then develop a more ‘open’ approach to the improvisation. ‘Bushida’ the final track is given over to Drew Gress who opens up the tune with a wonderful unaccompanied bass intro. The piece then moves gradually away into a dark melody that is punctuated by Tom Rainy’s (almost rock) drumming which accompanies Marc Ducret rough solo and Tony Malaby’s poly-harmonic(**) lines.

It’s a strong idea to finish an album that is certainly a pleasure to listen to. I imagine this will certainly be of interest for those who enjoy music that is ‘new’ in terms of jazz, yet aren’t ready to jump directly into more abstract improvised music.

*= I could only find, and remember, the following : ‘Mirror Me’ (Omnitone), ‘Life Between’ and ‘A Little House’ on Clean Feed Records.
**= Sorry for the maths expression ‘poly-harmonic’, but somehow it seems to conjure up the idea of these atonal/melodic lines.

Diario de Noticias review by João Moço

Concerto que o coletivo Angles (transformado em octeto) deu no 52.º Festival de Jazz de Liubliana foi recentemente editado pela Clean Feed.

Angles 8 – By Way of Deception – Live in Ljubljana (CF 256)
Classificação: 4/5

No final dos anos 60 o contrabaixista Charlie Haden criou a Liberation Music Orchestra, uma das mais ricas formações de jazz da época e que teve um papel preponderante na forma como esta música tem também um implícito carácter político.

Ao ouvirmos o recente By Way of Deception – Live in Ljubljana, gravação em disco do concerto que o coletivo Angles (transformado em octeto para essa noite) deu na 52.ª edição do Festival de Jazz de Liubliana a referência à Liberation Music Orchestra é clara.

Uma composição como Let Speak About Weather (and not about war) é apenas um exemplo da mensagem política e social que o saxofonista Martin Küchen (o líder e autor de todas as composições do grupo) quer transmitir com a sua música. Música esta habilmente orquestrada, assente na liberdade criativa do jazz contemporâneo, ao mesmo tempo que assimila outros universos sonoros mais distantes do jazz.

Neste By Way of Deception são assimiladas músicas dos Balcãs, percussões tribais que remontam para África, mas esse cruzamento nunca abandona a essência do jazz. Essa integração de outras músicas torna-se parte intrinseca e fundamental das composições, que não escondem a sua vertente dramática.

Nesta altura de convulsões sociais por toda a Europa, este novo álbum dos Angles acaba por ter um significado ainda maior.

All About Jazz Italy review by Maurizio Comandini

Carlos Bica & Azul – Things About (CF 239)
4 stelle
Il bel trio Azul, guidato da Carlos Bica, arriva al quinto album, dopo oltre quindici anni dall’inizio della collaborazione de l contrabbassista portoghese con il chitarrista tedesco Frank Moebus e con il batterista americano Jim Black. Forse il segreto di questo perfetto amalgama sta proprio nella dilatazione dei tempi e nella capacità di lasciare passare per il giusto tempo fra una collaborazione e l’altra. Non c’è spazio per la routine, il lirismo dei brani è alimentato dalla passione e dall’intelligenza, la capacità di scambiarsi ruolo all’interno del trio è ormai proverbiale. Il chitarrista Frank Moebus è preciso e puntuale, con un suono che irradia luce e splendore. Il suo fraseggio è sempre ben meditato, spesso angolare e sofisticato, privo di esagerazioni che in questo contesto sarebbero deleterie. La batteria nervosa e intelligente di Jim Black è ormai una garanzia che si dilata dai progetti a proprio nome per alimentare anche altri progetti ben selezionati.

Il contrabbasso di Carlos Bica è presente ed elegante, con un suono legnoso e carico di sapori antichi, un perfetto padrone di casa che lascia spazio ai propri ospiti intervenendo quando la situazione lo richiede, senza mai farsi prendere la mano dalla voglia del proscenio.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Hairybones – Snakelust (Clean Feed 252)
Some music drives with such a singular force that it totally occupies the space it is in. There is nothing but the music at that moment and you either surrender to it and let it wash over you like a kind of baptism or you leave the space and go it alone.   That’s the kind of music to be had in Hairybones’ single 53-minute rout Snakelust (Clean Feed 252). It’s the band live at Jazz em Agosto, Lisbon, last year and they are most definitely cranked for this set. Hairybones is the irrepressable Peter Broetzman on tenor, alto, etc.; Toshinori Kondo on trumpet; Massimo Pupillo on electric bass; and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Now that’s a formidable lineup.   The effects and volume element of Massimo’s bass and the electronics-trumpet of Toshinori gives the band an electricity that seems to bring out some harder playing from everybody. Paal is demonic, Peter, never the shy violet, is strongly possessed by the free-energy spirit here, Massimo does some very effective bass thundering, and Toshinori screams, wails and plunges into an aesthetic abyss for some of his best playing on disk.   There are times when the intensity reaches the level of Ascension and even beyond. Other times they explore less dense territory. They never flag nor do they play a single unfelt note, so far as I can hear.   I wont lie to you and say that this CD will convert those who dislike the free-energy-maelstrom sort of onslaught. I doubt that it will. It is a good one for somebody who knows nothing of this kind of music and wants to be blown away. Broetzmann fans and those who seek out the heat of out music will revel in it.