Daily Archives: January 28, 2013

The New York City Jazz Record review by Kurt Gottschalk

CF 270Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered (CF 270)
One might on occasion be given to pause and consider the future of music in the hands of people who have grown up with the history of recorded music just a You Tube search away, in a world we might conceive of as (or even hope will be) post-genre. That generation might well already be looking at such players as drummer Ches Smith to mark the way. Smith has been largely a rock drummer who has booked time with such familiar-to-these-pages personalities as Trevor Dunn, Fred Frith, Ben Goldberg and Marc Ribot.

More central (perhaps) to Smith’s own field of vision are his oddly fascinating duo Good for Cows (with former Deerhoof bassist Devin Hoff), his equally offbeat solo project Congs for Brums and These Arches, a group he leads with the stellar lineup of saxophonists Tim Berne and Tony Malaby, guitarist Mary Halvorson and Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics. What perhaps holds his contributions to all of these projects together is a fluidity with rhythm – contrasting, overlaid and sliced with the ease of a hip-hop DJ.

Such characterization might be unexpected for a record given the name Hammered, but Smith is as solid as he is nuanced behind the kit and this, the second outing for These Arches, is a rewarding, exciting listen. The band does hammer away at times and in fact several of the compositions – according to Smith – were originally written with a rock band in mind, but they are still roomy enough for healthy improvisation, name checking in its titles such departed influences as Chicago drummer Phillip Wilson and Haitian Vodou drummer Frisner Augustin, suggesting a couple more touch points informing Smith’s work.

With the addition of Berne to the band’s original lineup, the group’s sound is now thick with, well,sound. They’ve crossed that nebulous line between sounding like some people in a room and becoming a blur of group think. In very different ways, Berne and Parkins have traipsed that territory for decades and here in fine company they are continuing to hammer a way at blurry lines.

The New York City Jazz Record feature by Martin Longley


Kris Davis
In just over a decade, the Canadian pianist Kris Davis has become an important player on the NYC alternative jazz scene. Early this month, she’ll be marking the release of a quintet album on the Portuguese CleanFeed label. This Cornelia Street Café gig will reunite the makers of Capricorn Climber, promising to harness its refined, bitter sweet aura. Davis has sculpted an exquisite construction of chamber ice, which is frequently populated by ripping molten outbursts, alternating with marshaled themes: an ambulatory Monkishness can (and indeed does) evolve into a sparse séance ‘scape.

CF 268Davis is joined by Mat Maneri (viola), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). This quintet played their first gig at Barbès in Brooklyn two years ago. At that genesis point, they were solely concerned with improvisation. Then Davis decided that she wanted to write for this lineup, the five subsequently playing at Cornelia Street Café and The Jazz Gallery.

“It’s a mix,” says Davis, just before a meeting at the latter venue, where she was set to finalize the details of an artist residency. “A lot of composed things that are manipulated by the artists. I wanted to allow them to have the space to be free, to do whatever they feel is right for the music. But I still want there to be a written component, so they interpret whatever I have there.”

CF 233Clean Feed has been the main home for the pianist’s work in recent years, whether as a bandleader, bandmember or even as a completely solo performer (Aeriol Piano, 2009). “There are solo sections,” she continues, explaining the Capricorn Climber method. “Some of it is collective, some is completely written, trying to sound completely improvised. I wrote for those specific players, but sometimes the situation is that you’re writing for a project and you don’t know who’s going to be playing, so you go with what your concept is at the time. There isn’t a set way that I write, I’m usually exploring an idea for an individual piece.”

CF 262A pivotal out fit is Paradoxical Frog, where Davis is joined by Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. This is one of the most mystically ritualistic combos on the scene, specializing in composed music that sounds improvised (is some kind of pattern developing here?), with all three members contributing pieces. “We take a lot of liberties with it,” Davis admits. “But we have pages and pages of material! For the first record we had pieces separately and we just brought them in, but for the last record we wrote them specially for the group.”

Davis’ journey went from Calgary to Toronto and then down to New York. “I always wanted to live here and I had met a lot of New York people at the Banff Centre For The Arts, so when I came down I already knew a few people. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it work, but I wanted to try. Right after I finished school, I came down and dove in, tried to find my way. There were a couple of times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to stay, being a Canadian, for immigration reasons. But I found someone to sponsor me and I was able to work here legally. Once that happened, I knew I was going to stay. The scene here is flourishing and things are changing all the time. It’s an exciting place to be!”

Davis studied and practiced in the classical mode, but became attuned to jazz at a very early stage, drinking in Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. She studied with Jim McNeely in New York and Benoît Delbecq in Paris, then met the saxophonist Tony Malaby at Banff. “He was a big influence for me,” says Davis. “When I moved to New York I hadn’t really composed that much and he encouraged me. After I did Lifespan (Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2003) I wanted to explore blurring the lines between improvisation and composition.”

CF 232For the first half of her career Fresh Sound was a prime supporter and then the emphasis switched to Clean Feed for the second stage, at least so far. Davis penned all of the arrangements for Malaby’s 2011 large ensemble Novela album. “It was the first time I’d written for a group like that and heard a whole large-scale project come together. I’ve just been awarded a grant to write for a large ensemble, so I’ll be doing that this year. I want it to focus on bass clarinets, three or four of them, plus piano, accordion, organ, guitar and trumpets.”

I quiz Davis on whether she’s ever felt drawn to electronic keyboards. “I don’t know if I will end up doing that. I haven’t really experimented with that. I feel like that’s such a large world, you can really fall into it.”

CF 121Even though most of her output is composed, Davis still has a firm commitment to improvisation. The 2005 Fiction Avalanche Clean Feed album found her working as part of the RIDD Quartet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. “That record was completely improvised, ”she confirms. “We worked a lot on improvising concepts together, for a year before we recorded.”

Another fully improvising project is soon coming: a continuation of a quartet with Laubrock, Rainey and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. An album was recorded last year and will be released later in 2013.

That above-mentioned residency at The Jazz Gallery was indeed finalized and will take place in May, revolving around new works written for Davis’ trio with Rainey and bassist John Hébert. “There’s so much history and so many people doing it and, as hard as it is, that’s also attractive, to find your own way of doing it. ”

Deep contrasts are the Davis way, with composition that sounds like improvisation, improvisation that sounds composed, cerebral constructions delivered with glacial calm and heat-of-the moment inventions negotiated with a vigorous emotional attack. All of these will doubtless transpire at that enticing Cornelia record release party.

Recommended Listening:
RIDD Quartet – Fiction Avalanche(Clean Feed, 2005)
• Kris Davis – Rye Eclipse(Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2007)
Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed, 2009)
Paradoxical Frog – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2009)
Tony Malaby Novela – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2011)
Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2012)

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

CF 254The Fish – Moon Fish (CF 254)
Thomas Tilly & Jean-Luc Guionnet – Stones Air Axioms
Jean-Luc Guionnet may not be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the opposing musical personalities he reveals on these and in other situations suggests this duality – at least in a sonic sense. Paris-based and a members of the microtonal Hubbub quintet – hm, we could be getting into Three Faces of Eve territory here – on his own Guionnet can be the very epitome of the go-for-broke hard blowing Free Jazz saxophonist, as he demonstrates on Moon Fish. However his other persona is that of a composer/performer of New music.

Stones Air Axioms captures this role. Trained as an organist, Guionnet, together with Thomas Tilly, a specialist in site-specific sound installations, mapped out the spatial qualities of St. Pierre Cathedral in Poitiers. This on-site metric measurement later allowed the two to merge textures generated by Guionnet improvising on two scores simultaneously played on the cathedral’s pipe organ, while a white-noise sine-waver generator captured the standing wave form retorts that bounced off massive stone walls of the edifice’s cruciform structure. Reconstituted with studio wizardry into four sections, dealing with one aspect of the relation between sound and architecture, the filtered timbres were expanded to encompass the sonority of the empty building.

In all honesty for the layperson, the differences among sections aren’t that pronounced. Throughout as the concentrated textures are propelled from flat-line quivers to resounding crashes and multiphonic drones, the layered results don’t necessarily appear to reflect air and stone as much as approximate machine-generated tones. Only on “SAA3” does the previous seemingly impenetrable thudding response separate enough to reveal spiraling timbres and whistling tremolos that can be attributed to the organ itself. These interludes are brief however. Most of the time crackling static layered with watery laps against indistinct objects, create a result so tonally solid that any variations are infinitesimal. Without formal beginning and end there also appears to be no climax or finale. However scrapes, shuffles and a motion undercurrent are layered into the variants of phase, speed and volume already exposed.

Significant perhaps as an electro-acoustic exercise, Stones Air Axioms lacks the raw emotion that animates Moon Fish. With Guionnet are fellow Hubbuber Edward Perraud on drums, plus Benjamin Duboc, one of France’s most accomplished bassists, who works in similar configurations with other adventurous reed plays like Daunik Lazro. Recorded live in Fundão, the three selections are as close to Energy Music as you can hear in the 21st Century.

Like saxophonists such as Peter Brötzmann and Charles Gayle, Guionnet seems to put the horn in his mouth and blow and blow until he stops. The comparisons to Gayle and Brötz are apt as well, for while the reedist is listed as playing alto saxophone his frenetic tone extensions frequently dip into the tenor register. Evocatively the first two selections are actually one of a piece with the third an encore. Throughout Perraud’s cymbal shatters plus knocks, rolls and rebounds evolve at the same febrile pace as the saxophonist’s reed-shattering lines. With the two often threatening to push the entire performance past the point of no return, it’s Duboc’s thick pumps and scrubs, as well as one suspects, sheer force of will, that moors the others to terra firma. Exhilarating in his improvising that’s staccato, shrieking splintered and spluttering all at the same time, Guionnet doesn’t ignore any extended technique from flutter-tonguing to split tones. Renal cries and pressurized growls are repeated over and over again until the bassist’s solid thump signals the end.

Although the trio appears to pick up where it left off, “Moon Fish 3” is superior to the previous tracks. More cooperative and with more brevity and balance, space is made for a couple of upfront stentorian sound extensions from the bassist as well as a finale of rumbles, pops and flams from the drummer. Mixing bugle-like spetrofluctuation with dips into his horn’s lowest register, the saxophonist piles notes upon note, phrase open phrase, then splinters and splays what he’s created. Although it could be that the “William Tell Overture” is alluded to for a brief sequence, the staccato cries are all his.

For sonic excitement at the same level as a pioneering New Thing session Moon Fish can’t be beat, however the more scholarly committed to that sort of sound may prefer Stones Air Axioms. Whichever is chosen the fact that’s obvious is that Guionnet has made his mark on contemporary improvised music. Of course which of his playing stances is Dr. Jekyll and which is Mr. Hyde depends on your musical orientation.