Daily Archives: December 10, 2012

Point of Departure review by Jason Bivins

CF 255Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
The suggestively named ensemble Platform 1 is constituted by top drawer improvisers from several different scenes. Reeds player Ken Vandermark and trumpeter Magnus Broo have long experience together from various ensembles and shared friendships, and they’re joined on the front line by the superb trombonist Steve Swell. The group is rounded out by an engine room stoked by bassist Joe Williamson and drummer Michael Vatcher. Their music takes on a lot of different aspects, but it’s often rather rolling and rambunctious, with an energy and even some arrangements that recall mid-1960s Archie Shepp to some extent. No fear of derivative music here, though, as the compositional framework and the instrumental vocabularies are far more contemporary (even if Swell does owe an audible debt to Rudd, a fine thing that). For example, for every boisterous yawp and raggedly swinging passage, the band is as likely to move crisply into a clacking, Braxtonian pulse track to focus their energies differently.

But, possible influences aside, a lot of the pieces here are not only vehicles for terrific playing (the brass players in particular won me over) but are great expressions of these players’ personalities and backgrounds. Broo’s jaunty, swaggering “Portal #33” and uproarious “Dim Eyes” recalls the enthusiasms of his work in Atomic (and to a lesser extent those of a different, Broo-less band, Exploding Customer). Vandermark sounds really good throughout here: lusty and focused on “Dim Eyes” (which also boasts killer work from Vatcher), sweetly melancholy on his marvelously assured ballad “Stations” (for CF honcho Pedro Costa),” and funky as hell on his Rudd dedication “In Between Chairs.” Speaking of funk, Swell’s “Compromising Emanations” hits the sweet spot just after the nicely groaning textural piece “Deep Beige.” A smart, well-balanced set overall.

All About Jazz Italy review by Angelo Leonardi

CF 253Hugo Carvalhais – Particula (CF 253)
Dopo l’ottimo esordio di Nebulosa, il contrabbassista e compositore portoghese pubblica un nuovo lavoro confermando i componenti del suo abituale trio e presentando in front line il sax soprano Emile Parisien (già partner del quartetto di Daniel Humair) e il violinista Dominique Pifarély, ben noto per le collaborazioni con Louis Sclavis e François Couturier. Siamo ovviamente nell’ambito dell’avanguardia, in una dimensione che risente sia della libera improvvisazione di ambito jazzistico (inglobando anche certe suggestioni free) che della musica classico-contemporanea (evidente nell’austero rigore delle strutture formali). Il risultato è ancora una volta suggestivo e non fa rimpiangere la presenza di Tim Berne, la principale voce solista del disco d’esordio citato. Carvalhais si conferma un leader e un esploratore dalle idee chiare che utilizza spesso le varie combinazioni possibili della formazione. In “Amniotic,” uno dei momenti più aleatori, lascia il contrabbasso per l’elettronica, creando un fondale ossessivo su cui improvvisano liberamente Pifarély e Parisien; in “Cortex” si confronta col solo Pinto. La libera esplorazione non esclude l’assenza di forme strutturate, anche di tipo melodico e come dice lo stesso leader: “Ho fornito ai musicisti una road map, una cornice operativa con alcune parti scritte: alcuni finali e alcuni attacchi, alcune forme aperte, alcune atmosfere come ispirazione e qualche accordo qui e là come punti di partenza e arrivo. Talvolta abbino parti strutturate e non, entrando e uscendo”.

Qualche brano ha la forma di una ballad quasi tradizionale, che si snoda lentamente con austere cadenze. Ci riferiamo in particolare a “Generator,” (suggestivo quadro notturno, che vede protagonista il soprano di Parisien) e in parte a “Simulacrum,” che inizia con un lungo solo di basso e lascia poi apparire il tema, in un suggestivo contrasto tra un soprano ieratico e un pianoforte tayloriano. Ricordiamo infine il lungo e multiforme “Flux,” che si snoda senza cali di tensione in un gioco continuo di sorprese, ed è il momento più rappresentativo del disco.

All About Jazz review by Eyal Hareuveni

CF 253Hugo Carvalhais – Particula (CF 253)
Portuguese bassist Hugo Carvalhais creates a highly personal musical universe on this, his sophomore release. His compositions draw inspiration from the American free jazz of the sixties, the sonic experimentalism of saxophonist John Zorn and guitarist Fred Frith, and European chamber jazz, but do not surrender to any of these formative influences. Furthermore, Carvalhais chooses a distinct sonic structure for his band. He occupies the lower register with his bass, expanding it with delicate use of electronics and leaving only a narrow upper spectrum for soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien and violinist Dominique Pifarély. This choice gives the compositions a unique openness, freedom and unpredictable spirit.

The nine compositions do not decipher easily. The energetic and tight interplay of “Flux” accumulates patiently until Parisien’s surprising contemplative solo shifts the energetic flow to a slower course. The spare atmosphere of “Chrysalis” revolves around light touches of violin, double bass, piano and drums, with no attempt to gravitate these parallel sonic orbits. The fleeting melodic theme of “Simulacrum” appears only in the middle of what sounds like an open-ended improvisation, but then resurfaces again as an accompaniment to pianist Gabriel Pinto’s improvisation.

The lyrical side of “Capsule,” suggested by Pinto (on piano) and Pifarély, collides with Pinto on organ, with drummer Mário Costa’s disjointed patterns and Carvalhais’ eerie electronics. On “Omega,” Pinto is determined to sketch a clear ballad structure while the others are focused on separate, thoughtful sonic searches. “Madrigal” stresses the five musicians’ continuously creative and playful exchange of ideas. Carvalhais and Pinto explore and exchange newfound sounds on their short duet, “Cortex.”

The last two compositions offer another compositional approach. Both “Generator” and “Amniotic” possess clearer thematic structures, close and supportive interplay and distinct luminous sound that becomes lighter and purified on “Amniotic.”

In his liner notes, writer Stuart Broomer calls Carvalhais “an architect of absence.” Carvalhais structures a unique experience that leaves a central role for which to find a place within the constantly changing focus of Carvalhais’ beautiful musical universe.

Point of Departure review by Brian Morton

CF 252Peter Brötzmann – Solo + Trio Roma  (Victo CD 122/123)
Hairybones – Snakelust  (CF 252)
The revisionist position on Peter Brötzmann is that he is not “really” a screamer after all, but a lyrical improviser whose frequent assaults on the altissimo range are perverse confirmation of a quieter and more accommodating nature. Revisionism has its uses, but this example fails to convince. It is a little like describing Muhammad Ali as a “poet” or Joe Frazier as a “singer”: neither false, neither sufficient, both misleading. For a start, it confuses exception with rule, the most obvious exception being the unaccompanied 1984 14 Love Poems.  It is also, quite transparently, an attempt to rebrand the “saxophone terrorist” (vile phrase!) in line with a gentler and less confrontational market aesthetic. In reality, we still look to Brötzmann for high-energy playing, putatively engendered by Coltrane, Sanders and Ayler, but bearing surprisingly little of that strain and far closer in terms of development and basic texture to Sonny Rollins than is usually acknowledged.

These performances were recorded some four months apart, in Victoriaville and Lisbon respectively, during the summer of 2011. The first disc is a set of solo reed improvisations, including a new, alto version of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” which led off 14 Love Poems, but on baritone. The other disc is a trio performance from the following day with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and electric bassist Massimo Pupillo. The use of an electric bass in a Brötz group stretches back to Last Exit (if indeed they can be placed in his column), but is still somewhat surprising. The saxophonist has had close and creative associations with master bassists, Peter Kowald most obviously, but William Parker and Kent Kessler as well. Electric bass put in an appearance on the relatively obscure 1999 Noise of Wings from Kungälv in Sweden with drummer Peeter Uuskyla and Peter Friis Nielsen whose juicy, uncomplicated sound sets a mark for Pupillo’s role in the more recent trio. Critics love to feign surprise, even shock, at musician’s recruitment decisions. It reached something of a hysterical peak with Miles’s appropriation of Michael Henderson. I’d say Brötzmann’s use of electric bass is closer to Rollins’ loyalty to Bob Cranshaw, one of the few players of the older school who invests bass guitar with real character and personality. But I was also irresistibly reminded of some of Brötz’s work with his guitarist son Caspar Brötzmann, and in particular the remorseless Last Home on Pathological (!), on which there is little sign of interplay between the two duo voices, just parallel lines. Where once I might have thought this was a criticism, it may turn out to be descriptive and definitive. Pupillo throbs away, sometimes in a meter that seems to waver from bar to bar but that on a closer and more detailed count maintains its relentless progress. Again, not a criticism; just the way this music seems to function, with Brötzmann worrying away at ideas for many minutes, Nilssen-Love providing much of the movement and color. It’s an intoxicating blend.

The solo disc from Victoriaville begins with a version of “Never Too Late But Always Too Early,” a title which became associated after a previous Canadian performance in Kowald’s memory. It’s a brooding, reflective piece here, taken on alto with supple use of the lower register. The other pieces are for clarinet and tenor, with the surprise appearance of “I Surrender, Dear” tacked on to the end of “Frames of Motion.” The trio performances seem to share some energy, if not an actual body of musical material, with the solo date. Certain phrases, and their inversions, play a part in both. The solitariness proposed in the Ornette piece seems to give way to a group philosophy that does not depend on clichés of empathy, “telepathy” or even communication, but a constructivist logic that relies on simple co-presence and co-existence. It’s worth listening again with this in mind. Parallel elements have no necessary connection. They simply work, and work very powerfully as a musical unity.

That sense is complicated slightly with the addition of Kondo for Hairybone’s Lisbon performance. This is a format that has been around for many years. Its language is implicit in the inchoate Marz Combo sessions of 1992, when Brötzmann was still evolving a language for larger-scale ensembles. It was made explicit on Die Like A Dog and the two volumes of Little Birds Have Fast Hearts, on which William Parker and Hamid Drake form the two other legs of the quartet. Kondo’s electronics significantly fill in the sound, in a quite different way to, say, Evan Parker’s marshalling of electronics within his recent larger ensembles, but here in a curious balance between a bigger, “orchestral” palette and the “intimacy” (another curious cliché) of a small group. It doesn’t sound intimate. It sounds challenging, and in a very particular way because there is no obvious common cause among the players, no sense of a consistent front or message. The result is far from chaotic, but it is also far from normative or routinely cohesive. Again, Nilssen-Love creates the most obvious sense of movement. The reeds (which this time include tarogato) worry away at ideas and then drop abruptly silent, marking deep and dramatic transitions in what is otherwise a continuous 53 minute performance. The title is taken from and the piece dedicated to poet and short story writer Kenji Nakagami, who died prematurely in 1992. The group’s collective title should offer some warning against any assumption that this is Brötzmann’s project, but equally one shouldn’t assume that the dedication to Nakagami is Kondo’s sole responsibility. The aesthetic it implies is one Brötzmann thoroughly understands, a body of work that draws much of its energy from the divisions within Japanese society, of race, language and class primarily. More than ever, Brötzmann draws his energy from the Babel of contemporary styles and from the uneasy truce between once-irreconcilable approaches. Both the trio and Hairybones have some elements of rock and noise, and show some resistance to virtuosic soloing. It’s the nature of that resistance that makes this music so compelling.

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

CF 259Angelica Sanchez Quintet – Wires & Moss (CF 259)
Despite her enviable skills, pianist Angelica Sanchez has maintained a relatively low profile since relocating from Arizona to New York in the mid-1990s with saxophonist Tony Malaby. In addition to numerous collaborations with Malaby, Sanchez’s sideman credits include work with peers like Matt Bauder, Harris Eisenstadt and Rob Mazurek – though her output as a leader has been somewhat limited. Other than Mirror Me, her 2003 Omnitone debut, the only other title in Sanchez’s discography as a bandleader is Life Between (Clean Feed, 2008) – the phenomenal premier of her Quintet with Malaby, renowned French guitarist Marc Ducret and the stellar rhythm section of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey.

Wires & Moss, the band’s sophomore effort, expands upon its predecessor’s deft equipoise, gracefully shifting between open forms and taut written sections. Sanchez’s elegant melodies provide boundless inspiration for her bandmates, facilitating a wide range of individualized expression – especially from Ducret. The guitarist’s dynamic versatility manifests in myriad ways, from the glassy fretwork that underpins the dolorous ballad “Feathered Light,” to the metallic shards and searing maelstroms that dominate the remainder of the album. His introductory soliloquy to the title track unveils the breadth of his wide-ranging approach; he uses fretboard hammering, whammy bar pitch bends and sustained feedback to extrapolate the tune’s sinuous melody into a multitude of abstract variations.

Selectively underpinning Ducret’s salvos, Sanchez demonstrates her mettle as a discerning accompanist whose keen understanding of dynamics provides the group with spacious vistas to explore. Her harmonically unfettered melodic sensibility and pellucid touch imbues the session with robust lyricism, whether plying delicate filigrees on the unassuming “Feathered Light,” issuing cascading neo-classical figures on the expansive title track, or closing the knotty opener, “Loomed,” with a stately cadenza.

Building on years of familiarity with her oeuvre, Malaby’s contributions to Sanchez’s work are deeply affecting. His tender soprano regales with understated sensitivity on the title cut, while his pneumatic tenor fusillades amplify the dramatic contours of “Bushido.” His commitment to Sanchez’s artistry is most telling on “Soaring Piasa.” He invests the rousing melody with soulful ruminations that gradually ascend with irrepressible urgency, inspiring the band to greater heights of controlled fervor.

Veterans Gress and Rainey gracefully navigate stop-start rhythms, unconventional meters and impressionistic accents, their practiced rapport providing magnanimous support. Buoyed by her illustrious sidemen’s stirring interpretations, the vivid panoramas revealed on Wires & Moss are among the most satisfying of Sanchez’s burgeoning career.

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

CF 261Michaël Attias – Spun Tree (CF 261)
Spun Tree is Michaël Attias’ first studio recording in six years and the first to revisit the elaborate ensemble writing featured on Credo (Clean Feed), which was made in 1999 but unreleased until 2006, a year after Renku, his Clean Feed debut. Intriguingly, it is also the only album in the multi-instrumentalist’s varied discography to feature a traditional quintet lineup fronted by saxophone and trumpet. Limiting himself to alto in this conventional format, Attias enjoys rare accord with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, whose aesthetic temperament and dynamic range matches the leader’s at every turn. Whether soloing in tandem or executing contrapuntal motifs, Attias and Alessi make a consummate pair. Ably supporting the congenial frontline in an array of evocative settings are up and coming pianist Matt Mitchell, semi-ubiquitous bassist Sean Conly and veteran drummer Tom Rainey.

Consisting of eight new pieces, the record is evenly split between long-form compositions featuring numerous shifts in tempo and tone and shorter, more streamlined works, like the melodious through-composed ballad “Arc-En-Ciel.” Attias’ episodic writing expertly balances intricate harmonic frameworks and malleable structures, allowing his sidemen ample room for unique interpretations of the written material. Colorful unaccompanied preludes are commonplace, including Rainey’s hypnotic drum intro to “Question Eight,” Mitchell’s regal thematic extrapolations at the outset of “Ghost Practice” and the shofar-like trumpet fanfare that opens “Calendar Song.” The latter provides an exemplary showcase for the group’s intuitive prowess. Sustaining the tune’s fervent mood mid-song with a rousing drum solo, Rainey’s thunderous palpitations are underscored by Mitchell, whose percussive block chords ring out with militaristic precision before Attias and Alessi’s dovetailing cadences culminate in strident call-and-response figures that bolster the coda’s martial theme.

Whether expounding on non-linear narratives or pithy motifs, the quintet invests each cut with a subtle, haunting ambience, providing the session with a cohesive emotional center. From the bracing angularity of “Question Eight” and the driving swing of the title track, to the minor key introspection of “No’s No” and the noir blues of “Subway Fish Knit,” each number exudes a moody, cinematic flair. Even the carnival-like ebullience of “Ghost Practice” is tempered by stark episodes of dark lyricism. A compelling release from an artist whose selective output rarely accentuates his compositional abilities, Spun Tree is an exceptional album, revealing additional layers with each spin.