Daily Archives: June 21, 2013

Chicago Reader review by Peter Margasak

CF 260Paul Lytton / Nate Wooley – The Nows (CF 260)
Percussionist Paul Lytton is almost 27 years older than trumpeter Nate Wooley, but they’ve built a strong musical relationship atop their shared roots in jazz, finding common cause in rigorous explorations of abstract sound and free improvisation. One of the ways they’ve kept their collaborations energized and unpredictable has been to invite guest players—including Swiss bassist Christian Weber, guitarist David Grubbs, reedist Ken Vandermark, and electronics improviser Ikue Mori. For last year’s superb double CD The Nows (Clean Feed), Vandermark and Mori each joined Wooley and Lytton for a trio session, and you can hear the duo bending and pushing in different ways to accommodate these very different guests. With Mori involved they emphasize texture-rich sound, creating eddies and crags within the electronicist’s liquid output: Wooley employs his most abrasive vocabulary (sharp squeals, unpitched blubbering), and Lytton uses his kit like an elaborate washboard, rubbing, scraping, and thwacking. When they work with Vandermark, the music is more like free jazz, with a relatively pronounced rhythmic thrust and clear linear interplay between the horns. Joining the duo tonight is Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy, who’s adept at the clattery rustling that Lytton helped pioneer but tends to act as more of a propulsive force. I can’t begin to predict how things will shake out with him, and that’s precisely the point.

Notebook reviews by Tom Hull

CF 272Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Meteo (CF 272)
Pianist, b. 1964 in Paris; tenth album since 2000, a trio with Edwards on bass and Noble on drums. Free, the piano often lurking as bass and drums set up a forest of uncertainty, but very impressive when it all comes crashing together. B+(***)

CF 276Harris Eisenstadt September Trio – The Destructive Element (CF 276)
Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto, father was also a drummer; has been prolific since 2002 — AMG lists 14 records, one (looks like) a dupe, but hasn’t logged this one yet. One of the best of those was his 2011 September Trio with Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax and Angelica Sanchez on piano. Same group here: Eskelin is superb at stepping around the rhythms, while the pianist burns right through them, adding more along the way. A-

CF 271Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek: Mirage (CF 271): Tenor sax, pedal steel guitar, bass. Main mystery here is Alcorn, who has an album with Dr. Eugene Chadbourne titled An Afternoon in Austin, or Country Music for Harmolodic Souls (Boxholder; I haven’t heard it). She’s hard to follow here, merging into the bass and rarely coming out. Eskelin responds with ballad volume, but with no one offering him a groove he has to tiptoe around the uncertainty. B+(**)

CF 275Lama + Chris Speed – Lamaçal (CF 275)
Live at Portalegre Jazz Fest, they say “10o edition” but mean 2012. Speed, who should need no intro, plays tenor sax and clarinet. Lama is a trumpet trio led by Susana Santos Silva, with Gonçalo Almeida on bass and Greg Smith on drums, both also dabbling in electronics, and this is their second album. A little slow on the start, but when the horns get working they bounce off one another splendidly. B+(***)

clean feed made to break layout TEXTO DIFERENTE - ROJOMade to Break – Provoke (CF 273)
Ken Vandermark group, with V5 drummer Tim Daisy, Devin Hoff on electric bass, and Christof Lurzmann on “lloopp” — a free software package for live-improvising on a computer. Three longish (19, 20, 24 minutes) Vandermark pieces, dedications to John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan. The electronics have some difficulty gaining traction, and never amount to more than background, so this reduces to Vandermark’s performance: a little screechy on clarinet, but a powerhouse on tenor sax. Group also has a new LP (vinyl only) called Lacerba, which I didn’t get. B+(***)

CF 269Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee – Human Encore (CF 269)
Trespass Trio is Martin Küchen (alto/baritone sax), Per Zanussi (bass), and Raymond Strid (drums). They’re one of several groups I file under Küchen, their two previous albums less successful than the larger Angles. McPhee, a double threat on tenor sax and pocket trumpet — split here is 5 cuts to 4 — plays with everyone, often blowing them away. He doesn’t do that here, perhaps because Küchen doesn’t challenge him; they just negotiate odd angles, as they are wont to do. B+(**)

Expresso review by João Santos

CF 271Ellery Eskelin – Mirage (CF 271)
5 estrelas
Mal se anunciou “Mirage”, Ellery Eskelin postou a boa-nova no fórum “Sax on the Web”, divulgando o lançamento e aproveitando para testar as funcionalidades da página no que diz respeito à alocação de ficheiros áudio distribuídos pela plataforma SoundCloud. Consuetudinariamente chegaram-lhe mensagens congratulatórias e questionários acerca do processo de gravação, levantando-se uma dúvida referente à captação do baixo. O saxofonista esclareceu o forense e lembrou que, naquela circunstância, partilhava dados no formato MP3, pelo que a qualidade da audição dependeria do equipamento utilizado na sua reprodução. Quando o seu interlocutor confessou estar a escutar através dos altifalantes de um portátil, Eskelin compreendeu o equívoco, desabando: “de certa maneira estamos a regredir com tanta tecnologia”. O episódio ganha pertinência no contexto da apresentação de um disco intitulado miragem; e, numa perspetiva mais oblíqua, revela-se oportuno o seu enquadramento na discussão de um registo – com Eskelin no tenor, Susan Alcorn na guitarra pedal steel e Michael Formanek ao contrabaixo – que contraria a teleológica leitura que no horizonte desponta sempre que dá à costa um trio tão invulgar. Mas a sua evocação é nos dias de hoje eminentemente apropriada pois permite ilustrar uma distinta característica coetânea a esta época de progresso técnico e científico, que é a que determina o abismo entre aquilo que conhecem do mundo a maioria das pessoas e o que sobre a sua disciplina específica sabe cada um. Dito de outra forma: não só expertos num instrumento se mostram incapazes de formular uma análise musical como se receia que a crítica de jazz se prove inábil em louvar o que com o género mantém uma relação vestigial embora não menos transformativa. “Mirage”, uma fissura para o seu âmago, é essa obra-prima.

Audiophile Audition review by Doug Simpson

CF 276Harris Eisenstadt and September Trio – The Destructive Element (CF 276)
Portugal’s 12-year-old, avant-leaning Clean Feed label has an eclectic release roster which ranges from historical (a 1972 live Steve Lacy CD) to anthologies (the ongoing I Never Meta Guitar series organized by Elliott Sharp), and a lot of free jazz/avant-garde material. One versatile performer who has taken advantage of Clean Feed’s distribution and promotion is drummer Harris Eisenstadt, and his September Trio, with pianist Angelica Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. Eisenstadt has a multidisciplinary approach which comprises jazz, creative improvisation, African music ensembles and additional musical areas. He earned a B.A. cum laude in literature and music in 1988 from Maine’s Colby College, received a Masters in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 2001, and has played with an assortment of artists, including Yusef Lateef, Vinny Golia, Bennie Maupin, Wayne Horvitz, Nels Cline and others. He has worked in the theatre world and composed for indie and mainstream movies. Sanchez is an equally free-form player, who has collaborated with Wadada Leo Smith, teamed with her husband Tony Malaby, and has a string of solo records on Clean Feed. Eskelin has long been a mainstay of the East Coast improv scene, has over 20 albums to his name, and contributed to studio outings by David Liebman, John Hollenbeck and many more.

Eisenstadt’s nine originals vary from lyrical ballads to long-form pieces colored by classical music, and compositions influenced by Japanese film and English literature. Eisenstadt initially penned the short title track for voice and piano, but Eskelin’s warm full-bodied tenor nicely translates the tune’s emotionalism into a horn-driven discourse. The cut was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, which Eisenstadt studied in university: as Sanchez and Eskelin stream through the poignant melody, one can sense Conrad’s experiential contentions concerning the conjoining of joy and sorrow. Someone else who understood adversity, sadness and hopefulness was composer Arnold Schoenberg. During two related pieces, Eisenstadt echoes Schoenberg’s somber tones and optimistic reflections, with distinctively avant-garde sounds. The lengthy “From Schoenberg, Part One” borrows from Schoenberg’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, but in ways which may shock tradition-biased, classical music listeners. Eisenstadt’s roving percussion layers and rhythmic elements are far removed from European classical idioms, while Eskelin’s independently-inclined horn engages spontaneously with harmony and melody. Sanchez builds tension as she moves from chords to single-note stabs, and erects ebb and flow during a demanding sax/piano combination. The terser “From Schoenberg, Part Two,” which comes near the program’s conclusion, maintains a similar expression, while Eskelin develops a repeating phrase which is cornered and then altered by Sanchez, while Eisenstadt adds skittish percussion as bedrock. Conveying music as being cinematic has become a cliché, but that’s the feeling one gets from hearing “Here Are the Samurai,” a tense track prompted by a key incident in Akira Kurasawa’s enduring motion picture, Yojimbo, when Japanese sword-wielders walk into a village. The tune has rolling percussion and a portentous escalation, with reiterating and twisting sections where the sax and piano confront each other, seek the upper hand, and then unify in a heated dialogue. By the end, the clashing samurai in the village streets are vividly portrayed by the increased tempo. Further cuts might lack interesting background stories, but are also vibrant examples of Eisenstadt’s compositional forms, from the hectic “Additives” to the classically-tinged “Cascadia,” which hints at European Romanticism. The recording process is as dynamic as the music, with evocative audio which captures the trio’s sonic breadth, from hushed sax to dissonant percussion, and from whispered brushwork to jarring keyboard flourishes.

emusic review by Britt Robson

CF 277Eric Revis – City of Asylum (CF 277)
Distinctively wise and fearless in all the right places

Andrew Cyrille is a 72-year-old drummer who spent a decade stoking the fiery eruptions of avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor; he was arguably Taylor’s most ingenuous and empathetic foil. Kris Davis is a 30-something pianist with a reputation for mixing Taylor’s virtuosity with the elliptical phrasing and harmonic sophistication of Andrew Hill and the epigrammic wit of Thelonious Monk. The 46-year-old bassist Eric Revis presciently thought he and this pair could excel at collective improvisation, and City of Asylum is the consistently marvelous result, tapping into a shared intuitive wellspring that spans generations. It is distinctively wise and fearless in all the right places.

There are three covers — Monk’s obscure “Gallop’s Gallop,” Keith Jarrett’s “Prayer” and Revis’s own “Question” — but the nimble excitement and uncanny communication present in the seven improvisations are the real story on City of Asylum. “Vadim” is highlighted by the way Cyrille’s cymbals liquefy an otherwise-percussive song. “Egon” finds Revis in especially fine form, sawing and slapping his bow. On “Sot Avast,” Revis grinds out notes that recall thick ropes straining on a ship at sea before unearthing a low, growling riff topped off with a high-pitched accent, which Davis then eclipses with her own looming vamp. It is a forceful, unhesitating dynamically changeable song full of portent and beauty. The following improvisation, “For Bill Traylor,” is much different, an exercise in pace, patience and delicacy that is more resolute than gentle, with gorgeously rendered thickening and paring of the timbre. Revis, who released Parallax with Jason Moran, Ken Vandermark and Nasheet Waits late last year, now has two masterworks in six months time to his credit.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

CF 277Eric Revis – City of Asylum (CF 277)
Bassist Eric Revis‘s second album for the Portuguese Clean Feed label, City of Asylum, was recently released. It’s a follow-up of sorts to Parallax, an album featuring saxophonist Ken Vandermark, pianist Jason Moran, and drummer Nasheet Waits. That was an interesting collision, given that Moran, Revis and Waits are all black and all East Coast post-bop masters who’ve worked with Branford Marsalis, Andrew Hill and many, many others (Waits is also the drummer in Moran’s Bandwagon trio); Vandermark, by contrast, is a white, Chicago-based free jazz blower who divides his time between the US and Europe, where he allies himself primarily with players like Peter Brötzmann (with whom Revis has also played), Mats Gustafsson, and Paal Nilssen-Love, among others. It didn’t work all the time, but Parallax had its moments, for sure.

City of Asylum shares neither personnel nor thematic commonalities with Parallax. It’s a piano trio date, featuring the bassist, Kris Davis on piano, and Andrew Cyrille on drums. Seven of its 10 tracks are improvisations—the other three are a version of Thelonious Monk‘s “Gallop’s Gallop,” a take on Keith Jarrett‘s “Prayer,” and “Question,” written by Revis.   The album’s first two pieces, “Vadim” and “Egon,” demonstrate both the potency of this trio and the risks of  unmediated interaction. There’s a lot of potential here—Revis and Cyrille almost establish a groove, Davis almost creates a melody the listener can hang onto—and a tremendous amount of eruptive creativity: stabs and flurries from the keyboard, a thick and driving bass throb, delicately dancing cymbals and evocative taps on the toms. But “Vadim” ends without having gone anywhere, or taken the listener on a journey; it’s just distraction. And “Egon,” pointillist and frenzied, with Revis bowing the bass madly, is even more abstract and less welcoming, and has nothing to do with what’s come before—the group has started all over again, from nothing, and the listener must effectively do the same. When the classically Monkian melody of “Gallop’s Gallop” is the next thing heard, it’s hard to not feel relief wash over you. Even so, Davis strives mightily to dissect and scatter the piece, reducing it to its component notes as Revis and Cyrille pulsate and rattle, avoiding the churning, broken-beat swing that was so essential to Monk’s music.

The album continues to vacillate between freely improvised pieces which offer moments of great beauty, but little lasting impact, and composed pieces which do much more. “Sot Avast” has a churning, almost marching rhythm reminiscent of Julius Hemphill‘s “Dogon A.D.,” especially when Revis returns to bowing the bass, creating thick, skull-filling drones. The group’s version of Keith Jarrett‘s “Prayer” is a slowly unfurling flower, easily the disc’s most emotionally resonant moment, while Revis’s composition “Question” has a Monkish feel all its own, and the band swings through it in an abstracted but forceful manner, Davis offering shimmering ripples and hypnotic, repeated phrases from the piano. The title track, which closes the disc, might be the most surprising piece here; Revis plucks some of the highest notes the bass can offer, sounding almost like a violin at times, while Davis darts about the keyboard, notes falling like raindrops on a pond, and Cyrille barely brushes the toms, rumbling like far-off elephants. It’s more like chamber jazz than anything that’s come before, and it demonstrates the possibilities of improvisation, when the players are 100 percent in mental and emotional sync, better than anything else on City of Asylum. This is an album with peaks and valleys, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting piano trio releases of 2013.

El Intruso review by Sergio Piccirilli

CF 270Ches Smith & These Arches – Hammered (CF 270)

La música es arquitectura congelada (Arnold Schonberg)
En arquitectura un arco es la construcción curva que se apoya en dos pilares o puntos fijos y cubre el vano o apertura que queda entre ellos. El arco es un elemento constructivo –generalmente en forma poligonal o curvada- de gran utilidad para salvar espacios relativamente grandes. Este tipo de edificación se compone de un reducido aparejo de piezas en piedra, ladrillos o adobe -denominadas dovelas- que trabajan a compresión, depositando toda la carga que soporta el arco en los apoyos, mediante una fuerza oblicua que se denomina empuje.

Debo reconocer que mis conocimientos en arquitectura apenas abarcan las ochenta y cinco palabras que acabo de escribir. Por lo general cuando una persona tiene tan precaria sapiencia sobre un tema y conoce sus limitaciones –o al menos posee un mínimo de dignidad- no debe atreverse a dar explicaciones ni sentar cátedra sobre la materia en cuestión; pero está claro que… ése no es mi caso.

Hasta hace algún tiempo –es decir, desde que escribí “En arquitectura un arco es…”- todo lo relacionado con el arte de la construcción era para mí una “gran cosa” compuesta de otras “cosas” que a su vez contenían muchas “cositas”; pero ya me siento suficientemente familiarizado como para hablar con cierta propiedad sobre la historia del arco, los principios científicos en los que se funda e incluso desplegando un vocabulario que me permite reemplazar lo que hasta hace poco eran “cosas” por una terminología que incluye léxicos y frases tales como arbotante, contrafuerte, sistema de arriostramiento, estructura hiperestática de tercer grado, etc., etc., etc. En definitiva –y para no irnos por las ramas-, resulta obvio que un contacto frecuente con una “cosa” tarde o temprano nos permitirá identificar de qué se trata. Por ejemplo, si usted en lugar de estar en contacto con su perro todos los días se encontrara hoy con él por primera vez, lo percibiría como una “cosa” o quizás pensaría que se trata de una especie de gallina con hocico y cuatro patas. Se entiende el concepto, ¿no?

De regreso a nuestra disertación sobre el arco, cabe consignar que su presencia en la historia de la construcción abarca un período de seis mil años. Los primeros registros de este arquetipo de edificación provienen de la arquitectura mesopotámica; de allí, se transmite luego a Europa mediante su uso en el Imperio Romano hasta alcanzar su máximo esplendor con los constructores medievales. Sin embargo, hoy se sabe (o por lo menos yo acabo de enterarme de eso hace unos instantes) que el funcionamiento del arco no fue comprendido científicamente sino hasta el primer tercio del siglo XIX, lo que equivale a decir que para su diseño en la antigüedad se empleaban métodos empíricos, la intuición y modelos geométricos sin inspiración científica.

Con el advenimiento de las teorías modernas se ha podido entender que un arco funciona como un conjunto de elementos que transmiten cargas hasta los muros o pilares que lo soportan haciendo que las dovelas vayan empujándose entre sí -transmitiendo las fuerzas verticales y convirtiéndolas en un componente horizontal- hasta establecer un sistema de equilibrio.

Lo cierto es que buena parte de estos principios (la transmisión de fuerzas, el empuje, la transformación de los componentes, el equilibrio, los puntos de apoyo, etc.) parecen oficiar de explicación descriptiva sobre los motivos que llevaron al baterista y compositor Ches Smith a denominar su banda como These Arches (“Estos Arcos”).

La actualidad muestra a Ches Smith comprometido en un sinfín de propuestas simultáneas, ya sea integrando bandas de inocultable vigencia y rigor creativo como Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Mary Halvorson Trio & Quintet, Ben Goldberg’s Unfold Ordinary Mind y Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, entre otras; o bien encabezando sus propios proyectos como Congs for Brums y el que nos ocupa en este comentario: Ches Smith & These Arches.

La idea de este emprendimiento –cuyo debut discográfico tuvo lugar en 2010 con el álbum Finally Out of My Hands- ocupa un “arco” de fuentes musicales diversas que van desde la improvisación libre al heavy-rock pasando por múltiples formas asociadas a la avanzada jazzística del nuevo milenio.

En ese contexto queda claro que Ches Smith, al igual de lo que sucede con un arco, encontró la forma de salvar el espacio abierto entre las aspiraciones estéticas que lo animan y su respectiva implementación, mediante puntos de apoyo representados aquí por los miembros de su banda (originalmente en cuarteto con su líder en batería, Tony Malaby en saxo tenor, Mary Halvorson en guitarra y Andrea Parkins en acordeón y electrónicos y ahora devenido en quinteto con la estelar incorporación de Tim Berne en saxo alto).

Del mismo modo en que el prestigioso arquitecto italiano León Baptista Alberti aconsejaba que las dovelas –parte esencial en la construcción de un arco- fueran de “gran tamaño y muy similares entre sí”; Ches Smith tuvo el buen tino de sumar en este proyecto a músicos de innegable prestigio, con intereses estéticos equivalentes e idénticas aptitudes para moverse idóneamente en el intrincado territorio donde convergen la improvisación y la composición.

En la construcción de todo arco existe una pieza esencial denominada clave o dovela central que encaja entre las contra-dovelas –mediante un proceso de martillado- para cerrar y fortalecer el arco, evitando así su desplome. Pues bien, en ese juego de analogías entre los aspectos que distinguen la propuesta de Ches Smith & These Arches y el funcionamiento del arco, no debe sorprender que su nuevo álbum se titule Hammered (en inglés, “Martillado”) ya que a todas luces parece cerrar (y fortalecer) la construcción del “arco estético” iniciado en su debut discográfico.

Hammered, en relación a su predecesor, se muestra mucho más directo, poderoso y desarrollado pero deja entrever con inusitada claridad que su núcleo composicional esta aposentado en el rock pero especialmente concebido para ser interpretado por este grupo de improvisadores en particular.

El álbum abre con el intrincado y polisémico Frisner, pieza cuyo título refiere al legendario baterista haitiano e ícono de la tradición vudú Frisner Augustin y de quien Smith fuera discípulo. Aquí los saxos de Tim Berne y Tony Malaby se entrelazan para expandir los límites del mapa sonoro de la pieza, mientras la guitarra de Mary Halvorson y la batería de Ches Smith -a la manera del puntillismo en la pintura- van ofreciendo intersecciones aisladas que parecen eludir deliberadamente una secuencia lineal para finalmente hilvanarse en las imaginativas texturas provistas por Andrea Parkins en electrónicos.

El apasionado temperamento que exuda Wilson Phillip sirve para rendir tributo al notable baterista estadounidense y miembro fundador del Art Ensemble of Chicago y la Paul Butterfield Blue Band: Phillip Wilson (de hecho, el ritmo principal aquí extrapola una cadencia que Wilson aportara al álbum de Julius Hemphill Dogon A.D. de 1972); en tanto que el deliciosamente anárquico Dead Battery –en origen compuesto por Smith para el Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog- evoluciona a través de un crescendo alternado por cíclicos segmentos de improvisación libre.

Luego sobrevienen la visceral, infartante y adictiva impronta heavy-rock de Hammered; el intermedio minimalista del difuso e inquietante Limitations y las caóticas exuberancias sonoras de Learned From Jamie Stewart, tema cuyo título alude al vocalista de Xiu Xiu, junto a quien Ches Smith & These Arches tienen planeado hacer próximamente un álbum en tributo a la cantante Nina Simone.   El entusiasta empaque de Animal Collection repite la estructura fundacional del tema que da título al álbum pero orientándola al groove y adosándole armonías provenientes del prog-rock; en tanto que el tema de cierre -This Might Be a Fade Out- es una especie de collage de sucesivos pasajes terminados en fade.

El “arco” de ideas pergeñadas por Ches Smith para dar vida a Hammered están llenas de vivacidad y expresan una inquebrantable vocación por alcanzar territorios sonoros inexplorados; pero además queda claro que su líder tuvo la suficiente inteligencia para apoyar sus ideas en músicos idóneos y comprometidos con el proyecto.

Es decir que supo imaginar el arco que sostiene al puente pero sin perder de vista la importancia de cada una de sus partes, recreando así –tal vez impensadamente- aquel memorable diálogo entre Kublai Jan y Marco Polo que dice:
– ¿Cuál es la piedra que sostiene el puente?
– El puente no está sostenido por esta piedra o por aquélla sino por la línea del arco que ellas forman.
– ¿Por qué me hablas entonces de piedras? Lo único que importa es el arco.
– Sin piedras no hay arco.