Mark Dresser Quintet – Nourishments (CF 279)
Bassist Mark Dresser is known for his stunning ability to interpret the most advanced notated and improvised music. However, on his first quintet date in decades, he shows he can compose affecting and swinging music without neglecting his matchless technique.
While the line up of trombone, alto saxophone, piano, bass and drums may sound standard, each sideman is so accomplished that the results are out of the ordinary. The most obvious departure from the norm is that Denman Maroney plays so-called hyperpiano throughout, allowing him to exposein-and-outside-the-frame multiphonics along with expected patterns. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who co-wrote “Not Withstanding” with Dresser, has a knowledge of Carnatic music that helps him negotiate the shimmering changes of the leader’s“Rasaman”, which honors a sitar-playing colleague. Trombonist Michael Dessen is established in mainstream and avant contexts while Tom Rainey and Michael Sarin, who split drum duties, are both sympathetic, un-showy accompanists.
The players intertwine their parts, interjecting tone extensions without losing the tunes’ thematic threads, as on the time-signature shifting “Rasaman”. Dessen’s wide-ranging plunger tones dovetail with Dresser’s stentorian slaps, Mahanthappa heading into screech mode alongside the bassist’s spiccato scratches as contrapuntal lines churn beneath them. A little bit Latin, a little bit boppish, the title track demonstrates Dresser’s compositional sophistication as players simultaneously tease variations from the melodic line. His chunky solos serve as bridges between slurred trombone and honking sax flutters, referencing Mingus’ writing and faint echoes of “Played Twice” as well as devious recaps of the tune’s head. “Para Waltz” is an exemplar of group interaction as Rainey’s drumbeats behind harmonized horns maintain a relaxed feel, seconded by Maroney’s keyboard rhythms. At the same time the pianist’s string preparations spice the narrative with unsettling microtones.
Dresser’s piquant asides, plus the other ingredients used his compositional recipe book, help provide the musical nourishment for this key session.
Eric Revis – City of Asylum (CF 277)
Eric Revis has worked across a broad spectrum of jazz, from mainstream to free, from his emergence with Betty Carter in the ‘90s and tenure in the Branford Marsalis Quartet to recent collaborations with Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark. While that kind of varied career testifies to competence and flexibility, there’s something far more compelling in Revis’ music: a sheer force of personality that demands outlet. Here he finds a kind of free-jazz middle ground in a trio with pianist Kris Davis and drummer Andrew Cyrille, playing together for the first time in a recording studio.
Recording a first meeting isn’t that unusual, but it’s particularly difficult in the space in which this group operates. Seven of the ten pieces played here are completely improvised (complemented by a Revis original and tunes by Monk and Keith Jarrett), but they are done so with a special ear for pattern and intuitive structure.
Revis’ bass playing is grounded: though he might take sudden flight into the upper register, he focuses on the low end, creating a solid foundation. The approach finds ideal partners in Davis and Cyrille, Revis’ equals in intensity and spontaneous structure. There’s a profound communication evident in trio music of genuinely equal parts. Working largely without composed structures reveals how fluent an improviser Davis is, playing with an exuberant virtuosity that invites comparison with Don Pullen and Marilyn Crispell. Cyrille, still the consummate free jazz drummer at 73, can generate sufficient force and form to suggest that the band itself is a kind of drum kit, a key to the empathy here in which every instrument sounds like the center of the band.
While the music is always intense, there’s also variety, ranging from the creative flights of “Vadim” to the percussive insistence of “St. Cyr”. For a group that’s so accomplished in a dense, rhythmic dynamism, the trio also whispers very well on the minimalist “Egon” and title track. It’s a creative contrast that bodes well for the trio’s further development.
Joe McPhee – Sonic Elements (CF 278)
Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee – Human Encore (CF 269)
At the age of 73, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee shows no signs of slowing down. Since his re-emergence to full-time recording in the mid ‘90s, he has jumped from project to project with little respite.
Even though McPhee began on trumpet, the saxophone is the instrument with which most people associate him. He primarily plays tenor but has increasingly made his mark on alto. Sonic Elements is alive set from the 2012 Ljubljana Festival, half played on pocket trumpet and dedicated to Don Cherry and the other on alto, celebrating Ornette Coleman. McPhee’s trumpet is all about breath and squeezing unheard sounds out of the instrument. He employs subtle valve pops, siren-like squeaks and vocalization within a wide dynamic range. Bill Dixon is a prime influence but the spectre of Cherry can also be heard in his bright and feathery upper register lines. On alto, McPhee employs the rich, full sound he brings to his tenor. Towards the end of the Coleman set McPhee plays his classic tune “Old Eyes”, a song he wrote in the late ‘70s and dedicated to Coleman (who gave McPhee a trumpet when the younger player was coming up).
McPhee is a consummate collaborator. He has always added his individuality to groups from Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet to Other Dimensions In Music. Saxophonist Martin Küchen tapped McPhee as a foil on the Trespass Trio’s third album, Human Encore, recorded in 2012 at a concert in Coimbra, Portugal. Küchen’s rough-hewn sound (on alto and baritone) contrasts nicely with McPhee’s stately tenor. When McPhee switches to pocket trumpet, their intertwining is even more pronounced. On the ballad “Xe” Küchen states the melody as McPhee etches a contrapuntal line, then the situation reverses. Bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Raymond Strid (both veterans of the Swedish improvising scene) give the music a wide rhythmic berth and colorful backdrop. The title track has some exceptional four-way interaction, as if McPhee had always been a member of the group.
Harris Eisenstadt September Trio – The Destructive Element (CF 276)
Drummer Harris Eisenstadt garners as much recognition for his composing as for his instrumental performances, but on The Destructive Element, the second outing by his September Trio, he manages to combine both in an expansive expressive delight. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Angelica Sanchez move around, through and out of Eisenstadt’s artful constructs with such command that they make them flexible breathing frameworks, rather than something prescriptive or straitjacketing. And that’s just as well when you have as much to say as this pair. Eskelin takes plaudits as MVP. He’s everywhere, integrating the spirits of Ben Webster and Gene Ammons into a thoroughly modern sensibility. Rugged and bluesy, he instills the program with a gritty late-night ardor both impassioned and opinionated. Sanchez proves the perfect foil, moving seamlessly between tumbling chords, earthy comping and sparkling repartée. Eisenstadt covers the bases, from delivering a master class in maintaining momentum without settling into a steady tempo to savvy tonal shading and probing commentary, all with an easygrace. His one feature, a languidly pulsing intro to the opening “Swimming, then Rained Out” is over before you know it, as the other two take over for a deep indigo ballad while a brace of flinty duets with Eskelin’s tenor emerge organically from the staccato interplay of “From Schoenberg, Part One” and “From Schoenberg, Part Two”. Nothing can be gainsaid about the charts as Eisenstadt keeps everyone guessing. On the flag-waving “Additives”, hard-driving sections continually morph into open form improv while the portentous closer “Here Are the Samurai” sees three separate lines converging and diverging until one final knotty dash. One of the strong suits of this band is a way with a ballad and they don’t disappoint. Eskelin’s slow burning lyricism illuminates “Back and Forth” while his tender lament percolates up through the lilting solemnity of the lovely “Cascadia”. Here and throughout, they keep you coming back only to discover more on each listen.
Ellery Eskelin Trio – New York II (Prime Source)
Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek – Mirage (CF 271)
These recordings capture saxophonist Ellery Eskelin in wildly divergent trios: one focusing on standards, the other making things up on the fly.
The first recording by his excellent organ trio with Gary Versace and Gerald Cleaver was dedicated to his mother, Bobby Lee, a Baltimore organist. Eskelin has written that he considers this group “a free improvisation unit” that just happens to use the Great American Songbook for structure. The first few minutes of “ The Midnight Sun” find Versace playing spacey, cascading note runs while Eskelin deploys his gorgeously smoky tone to spontaneously shape melodies that sound recovered from half a century ago—the tune is almost half over by the time Cleaver enters with gentle swing prodding and Versace traces the changes. Versace sometimes lays down bass lines using his foot pedals, but he also functions more in the pianistic role à la Larry Young.
Mirage is totally improvised. Pedal steel guitar player Susan Alcorn has a slippery quality that allows her to function as a fluid glue, bridging the sometimes nubby, sometimes woody notes knotted up and the sinuous, striated lines bowed by Michael Formanek and breathy improvisation by Eskelin. The album is dominated by ruminative pieces taken at ballad speed, with the exception of the rare piece where things move rapidly, like “Saturation,” with Eskelin playing eighth-note flurries and Formanek plucking out pointillistic lines.
Trumpets and Drums – Live in Ljubljana (CF 282)
Avec tambours et trompettes, Jim Black, Paul Lytton (tambours), Nate Wooley et Peter Evans (trompettes) déterminent quelques francs territoires.
Une première improvisation est là qui explore la périphérie : drones métalliques pour les uns, fourmillements et effeuillements chez les autres (encore que l’excès de rythme pointe parfois chez Black). Les trompettistes, eux, restent solidaires, modulent leurs souffles, font de leur salivaire un émoi, battissent un court chaos, explorent toujours.
Une seconde improvisation affirme que jazz et rythme font encore sens. Longs phrasés des deux trompettistes avant hautes turbulences de tous, le ver est dans le fruit de cette improvisation dégagée de tout cliché. Cela se passait le 30 juin 2012 dans le cadre du Jazz Festival de Ljubljana.