Tag Archives: Anthony Davis

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

JASON ROBINSON / ANTHONY DAVIS – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
Poor “official” jazz reviewers, at least the really skilled ones, belong to a category that I sincerely admire. Writing on jazz and related topics without recurring to stereotypes is hard, unless the customary “let’s rehash the career” approach is introduced, the writeup typically finished by a couple of lines lyophilizing the disc’s content after entire paragraphs devoted to historic comparisons, previous landmarks and – when courage abounds – laughable (for lack of serious playing experience) descriptions of the instrumental action. Accordingly, Cerulean Landscape – the latest outing by reedist Robinson (three saxes and flute) and pianist Davis – is an album for which a plethora of words for a detailed description can’t be found, but there’s no problem in calling it simply beautiful. Its general aspect may evoke decrepit adjectives such as “lyrical” and “pensive”, yet the overall sense of harmonic respite and the lingering scents of meditative gradualness are often replaced by sections where complicated intertwinings of angular conjectures and swirling symmetries strike the attention rather significantly. The artists declare Duke Ellington as an essential influence on their current and earlier work, but somehow this ignorant reporter paralleled the melancholy and the somber moods of certain Davis suggestions to scattered pages from Gordon Beck’s book. Robinson is naturally flawless himself: the marriage of intelligible density and thoughtful respect – both for the partner and the music – defines everything that is blown through his instruments, a belief in superior designs alimenting illusions of transcendence that sometimes materialize into tangible signs.
http://touchingextremes.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/jason-robinson-anthony-davis-%e2%80%93-cerulean-landscape/

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198 )
Back to the future for pianist Anthony Davis, this CD is a reminder that the improvising skill he first exhibited in the 1970s still lurks within the composer now best-known for his chamber, choral and symphonic work as well as operas such as X and Amistad. Co-leader of the band Cosmologic, multi-reedist Jason Robinson renews the on-again-off-again relationship he has had with Davis since 1998, for a series of duo numbers, most composed by either man.

Nevertheless, “Someday I’ll Know” written by Jason Shurbury, is the tune closest to a standard, and both so-called avant-gardists handle it exquisitely. Robinson’s moderato flutter tonguing quivers comfortably alongside low-frequency keyboard tinkles from Davis. Delicately emphasizing the tune’s contours as it unspools, the pianist turns to comping when the saxophonist reenters with a conclusive, andante cadenza.

Not that the experimental fire has been smothered. Harsher interface on “Of Blues and Dreams” finds the pianist nearly upsetting the balanced tension of the piece when his metronomic strums and soundboard resonations turn to harder syncopation to contrast with reed-biting, showy tongue slapping and screechy triple-tonguing from the saxophonist. Finally underlying chords are exposed from both sides for melodic intertwining.

Earlier modal jazz era tremolos from Davis and Robinson proving that his flute attack can be as rough and staccato as on it is on saxophone(s), produces the duo’s ultimate definition on the title track. Davis’ deliberately paced, pseudo-classical lines turn to key-ringing in order to match the smears and finger vibrations from Robinson’s tenor saxophone. Initially showcased unaccompanied, the reedist’s glide to legato classicism from overblowing variations on distinct sets of reed tones, ingeniously connects with the piano work.

This is a notable disc from a veteran verifying his improv chops and a young veteran proving his versatility.
http://www.jazzword.com/review/127519

The New York City Jazz Record review by Ken Waxman

Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
Back to the future for pianist Anthony Davis, this CD is a reminder that the improvising skill he first exhibited in the ‘70s still lurks within the composer now best-known for his chamber, choral and symphonic work. Co-leader of the band Cosmologic, multi-reedist Jason Robinson renews the on-again-off-again relationship he has had with Davis since 1998 for a series of duo numbers, most composed by either man. Nevertheless, “Someday I’ll Know”, written by musical theater composer Jason Sherbundy, is the tune closest to a standard and both so-called avant-gardists handle it exquisitely. Robinson’s moderato flutter tonguing quivers comfortably alongside low-frequency keyboard tinkles from Davis. Delicately emphasizing the tune’s contours as it unspools, the pianist turns to comping when the saxophonist reenters with a conclusive andante cadenza. Not that the experimental fire has been smothered. Harsher interface on “Of Blues and Dreams” finds the pianist nearly upsetting the balanced tension of the piece when his metronomic strums and soundboard resonations turn to harder syncopation in contrast with reed-biting and screechy triple-tonguing from the saxophonist. Finally, underlying chords are exposed from both sides for melodic intertwining. Earlier modal jazz-era tremolos from Davis and Robinson, proving that his attack on flute can be as rough and staccato as it is on saxophone(s), produces the duo’s ultimate definition on the title track. Davis’deliberately paced, pseudo-classical lines turn to key-ringing in order to match the smears and finger vibrations from Robinson’s tenor. Initially unaccompanied, the reedist’s glide to legato classicism from overblowing variations on distinct sets of reed tones ingeniously connects with the piano work.

Jazz.pt review by José Pessoa

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198 )
****1/2
Estes são dois músicos que poderiam dispensar apresentações. Anthony Davis é membro veterano da AACM, com uma reputação de excelente pianista, improvisador e compositor (música de câmara, coral e obras sinfónicas) bem firmada desde os anos 1970. A sua fama só tem, talvez, rival em Muhal Richard Abrams. Jason Robinson toca regularmente com Davis (seu ex-professor) desde 1998, tendo gravado em 2002 um conjunto de duetos para o excelente álbum “Tandem”. É um saxofonista de grande talento e que já emparceirou com muitos grandes músicos, tendo também já assumido com distinção o papel de líder, de que é um bom exemplo “The Two Faces of Janus”, para a Cuneiform.
Neste disco, Robinson mostra-se muito interessado nas sobreposições entre improvisação e composição, conjugando experimentalismo e música popular. No uso dos saxofones tem uma voz distinta que se exprime de um modo potente, mas lírico. Podemos evocar no seu discurso narrativo tanto Coleman Hawkins como Albert Ayler.
Dos sete temas, três são de Davis, outros três de Robinson e um de Jason Sherbundy. Este é o material que lhes permite inundar o espaço com um profundo lirismo (está por todo o lado e mesmo nos momentos de maior abstracção e improvisação livre) e um sentido de colaboração a toda a prova. Este CD evoca sobretudo, e com carinho, a música de Duke Ellington e os blues. É simplesmente notável a abordagem que se opera de “Mood Indigo”, “Transbluesency” e “Azure”.Em outros momentos é mais audível uma exploração free, como em “Vicissitudes”, onde a improvisação é mais labiríntica, não obstante estar ainda presente a melodia.
“Cerulean Landscape” faz a ponte entre o “mainstream” e a vanguarda. O que se ouve é uma conversa rica, sensível e inteligente, nela se descobrindo novas leituras, sempre com inesgotável prazer.

Pop Matters feature on Clean Feed by Will Layman

Clean Feed Records and Mary Halvorson: Promises of Good Things to Come in Jazz

If you’re looking ahead in 2011 at what the year—or the coming decade—holds in jazz, then 2010 gave us two stories that portend thrilling music ahead.

First, there is a relatively new record label that seems dead-set on unleashing the full-on floodgates of adventurous improvised music at every turn.  Clean Feed, based in Lisbon and founded in 2001, has become nothing less than a force of nature, releasing exciting music in big, fat batches.  Snaring big name artists, yup, and also promoting the little guy, Clean Feed is supernatural.  Clean Feed is my hero.

Among the artists showing up on Clean Feed in 2010 (and elsewhere too, importantly) was guitarist Mary Halvorson.  Halvorson is the furthest thing from another Berklee-trained pentatonic wonder.  She’s all edge and all charm at the same time, someone whose pedigree includes Wesleyan University and Anthony Braxton bands, but also a gentle duo or two.  And in 2010 she released what may have been the most surprising—and promising—disc of the year.

Two trends to watch, right here.

Trend One: Clean Feed Can’t Be Ignored
When your regular, everyday jazz critic comes home from a day of doing whatever he does to make some scratch for rent and food and the occasional new pair of Pumas, he finds a package leaning against his door.  If it’s a skinny package, then it might be a new recording from Blue Note or Sunnyside—a good day, for sure.  But if it’s a big thick package jammed with seven or eight new releases at once, baby, it’s from Clean Feed.

He tears the manila envelope open and finds beautiful art adorning thin cardboard CD packages, and beyond that nothing is predictable. He might not know Matt Bauder (an adventurous reed player), but he sure does know James Carney and Stephan Crump.  Unfamiliar with James Robinson?  But he’s playing with the pianist Anthony Davis, one of his favorites.  The Convergence Quartet is new to him, but—Holy CRAP!—look at the band Tony Malaby has put together on Tamarindo Live.

He’s tired, so he’s excused if he doesn’t get around to putting on any of these many discs right away.  But he’s just got to hear them.  What is the deal with Clean Feed records anyway?

Clean Feed’s website is modest and slightly out-of-date.  Who has time to update the “About Us” page when you are putting out almost 50 recordings in 2010 by bands from all over the world, recordings that span styles and sounds with flying abandon?  Here’s some of what the label says about itself:

“Clean Feed was founded in 2001 to release Portuguese and foreign musicians in separate and cooperative projects.  The label was also created facing the whole world as its operating ground, taking advantage of the Internet revolution and the increasing global music market.  Very quickly, Clean Feed found itself at the vortex of the international creative jazz scene, releasing projects that reached far beyond what we could initially imagine…  Clean Feed aims at recording innovative contemporary jazz projects that can make a difference, building a catalogue that will be internationally recognized by its quality and coherence.”

The judgment is George W. Bush-isms simple: Mission Accomplished.

It would be impossible fully to do justice to the work of Clean Feed in 2010 in a single column, but here is a limited snapshot of some (and way too few) of my favorites.

Clean Feed Gives Musicians Room
Take the Crump/Carney duet album, Echo Run Pry.  Like some classic jazz LP from the ‘70s, this recording consists of just two tracks, 20-plus minute free improvisations that unspool gradually and beautifully.  (The model for Crump and Carney may have been the 1976 recordings on Improvising Artists by Sam Rivers and Dave Holland.)  These duets are free and sometimes dissonant, but they are clear and melodic too—patient and surprising and uncommonly gorgeous.  Carney is reaching into his instrument to pluck or mute strings, turning the piano into something exciting but not snarling, and Crump is rich in tone and every bit the piano’s equal.  Grooving, swinging, free, mind-blowing.

Clean Feed Let’s Stars Play Around 
For a small label, Clean Feed sure is hauling in some big jazz names.  Maybe not the Diana Kralls or Wynton Marsalises, but few jazz players have risen faster in the last few years than alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.  But here he is recording for Clean Feed along with another big name—Steve Lehman.  The two alto players share a sound and sensibility, of course: a jagged but precise kind of linear blowing that transcends “inside” and “outside” clichés and thrives on new kinds or arrangements, complex patterning, and acid-toned energy. 

So Dual Identity, which pairs the two in a quintet with Liberty Ellman’s guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damion Reid on drums, is both a jazz event and a bit of an indulgence.  The two leaders snake around each other on nervous fast tunes and obtuse ballads, sounding quite similar in some ways, working out like kindred spirits who need to push each other hard.  Ellman gets to play plenty of beautiful textures, but he also moves in tandem with Brewer to create grooves.  This wasn’t my favorite disc of the year, but it has a thrilling all-star quality to it, like watching Lebron James and Dwayne Wade finally play on the same team.  Like the Miami Heat, it mostly works.

Clean Feeds Give Us New Names, Old Names
Some musicians hide from the public.  They disappear and teach.  Or they play locally and never quite get on your radar.  Or they play outside the center of one style somehow.  For me, one of the “lost” jazz masters of the ‘70s and ‘80s is pianist Anthony Davis.  Davis made a series of recordings for India Navigation featuring flutist James Newton, trombonist George Lewis, vibist Jay Hoggard, and others that defied category in delicious ways. 

Then, quite deliberately, Davis—trained classically at Yale—started composing music that was not jazz in any meaningful way, including pieces for his ensemble Epistome and eventually opera as well (X about the life of Malcolm X).  Once in a blue moon he would appear playing jazz, each time seeming like a long lost, but favorite, uncle.  Cerulean Landscape pairs Davis with saxophonist and flutist James Robinson, now a professor at Amherst (and a former student of Davis’s at UC San Diego).  It’s a lush and expansive set of seven tunes by both men, reflecting influences from Ellington to Cecil Taylor to classical and folk music.  It gives you the sense that original, thrilling music is awaiting you beyond the clubs and concert halls.  Anthony Davis is still here, pulsing with life, and musicians you’d never heard of are pulsing right along with him.

Clean Feed Encourages Surprising Collaboration
In real life, there are working bands, sure, real bands that stay together for years and develop on records over time, scrutinized by fans.  But in jazz there are even more bands that come together for one night or one tour, one project, create some magic then split.  Those special occasions too often miss the ears of even the ardent fan.  But Clean Feed is giving many of these assemblages a chance for immortality.  How about this band:  Tony Malaby on tenor, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, New York bassist extraordinaire William Parker, and Bandwagon drummer Nasheet Waits.  Tamarindo Live catches them live at the Jazz Gallery from June 2010, playing free and fantastic.  Malaby sounds unleashed on soprano sax, buzzing and twirling, Smith is clarion at times and always a rhythmic marvel, and the rhythm section feels like a trampoline: pliant and yet firm.  You missed this gig because you weren’t in town that day?  Clean Feed brings it to your door.

Clean Feed Crosses Oceans, Easily
Based in Lisbon, Clean Feed isn’t hung up on nationality, race, location, culture.  In the Clean Feed playground of improvised music, the monkey bars are open to all.  A good example is Pool School from the Tom Rainey Trio.  Rainey is a delicious drummer who I associate with the aggressive and wide-open playing of Tim Berne, but who has the skill and sensibility to play just about anything, funk to free and back again.  This trio brings in US guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, born in Germany but based in London.  And while this is certainly “free jazz”—in that Laubrock plays with little regard for standard harmony or tonality, Halvorson plays textures as much as she does chords, and Rainey is constantly fracturing any steady sense of swing or straight time—the tunes are brief (mostly four-five minutes) and concise, with each player committing to a framework and not just going on-and-on-forever-already.  While they sound freely improvised, the clarity of each track suggests a magical guiding hand.  If only all jazz, free or otherwise, played by musicians from around the globe had this focus.

In 2011, Clean Feed already has five releases, including a live date from Mostly Other People Do the Killing (with a hilarious cover parodying The Koln Concert).  Are you drooling a little bit?  You should be.

Trend Two: Mary Halvorson Is Coming For You
The Tom Rainey Trio disc on Clean Feed features the guitarist Mary Halvorson, and in 2010 she is the other emerging story.  Halvorson has been playing in New York since 2002, after studies at Wesleyan and The New School.  But the chance that you would mistake her for, say, Pat Metheny or John Scofield is zero percent.  Halvorson’s style is fragmented and cuts utterly loose from conventional jazz patterns.  And while she plays a huge hollow-body Guild guitar with a fairly clean sound, she is quick to bend her notes, frazzle her lines, leap and crackle, pluck and pull and strike her strings against convention.

But here’s the thing:  for all the veering away from conventional melodic form, you can’t stop listening.  Halvorson captivates.  And I’m not sure you’ll be able to figure out why.  For all her lack convention—indeed, her self-described “weird”ness—she is extraordinarily musical.

Though Halvorson leads several bands and plays regularly in (and records regularly with) a dozen others, the news in 2010 was her first recording with The Mary Halvorson Quintet, Saturn Sings.  This disc is special in Halvorson’s catalog because it gives fuller expression to her fascinating compositions.

“Miles High Like (No. 16)” is underpinned by typical Halvorson guitar work: stabbing patterns, oddly timed jabs and scratches, droning repetitions.  But riding atop this is a coolly harmonized set of keening melodies played by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Jon Irabagon on alto sax.  As Finlayson solos, Halvorson grows more and more agitated beneath him, bending her chords, scratching at the strings, then finally playing what amount to mad rock chords.  This music is weird, sure, but with Finlayson it’s also deeply melodic and rollicking fun.

“Sea Seizure (No. 19)” is just for the trio, and it actually just rocks.  Halvorson starts by a playing a single distorted note in a hammer of repetitions while drummer Ches Smith provides solid backbeat, then they both shift into a syncopated groove beneath an oddball arpeggio.  When Halvorson improvises, then, there is no chord pattern to follow but just a rhythmic blueprint that could go almost anywhere.  And as with all of Halvorson’s music, things do go anywhere and everywhere.  Could she play a straight bebop line if she wanted to?  That certainly is not in the DNA of her style, but who really cares?  She plays with plenty of precision when she wants to, and this band proves that repeatedly as bassist John Hebert or the horns lock in with her notes.

Saturn Sings proves that the idiosyncratic shapes of Halvorson’s melodies are not merely the sounds of someone freaking out on the guitar.  Her odd melodic forms can sound vaguely random (if thrilling) on the trio tunes, but the cascades and marches, Blakeyisms and singsong ballads that she composes for the horns become wonderfully balanced counterpoints to her guitar.  In fact, as “avant-garde” as Halvorson’s basic aesthetic may be, a tune like “Crack in Sky (No. 11)” is flat-out lovely.  Irabagon’s alto solo lilts and dances, and the guitar accompaniment comes close to sensitive comping while still retaining certain trademarked bends and flutters.  Amen, Mary!

The reason Mary Halvorson is giving jazz a nice little thrill about now goes beyond the quality of the music.  Partly it’s that she is different.  Not insignificantly, she is a woman in an art form that—despite how little we write and talk about it—is weighted madly toward men.  She’s not a singer or a pianist but a guitarist with a caustic sound.  That is very different.  And her sound does not come from and then deviate from jazz’s mainstream of bop and post-bop orthodoxy.  Halvorson’s art begins with an assumption of huge freedom, so it doesn’t become “free” by violating the norms she learned in music school.  This second generation liberty, in not being a reaction against anything, feels utterly sincere and balanced.  It’s the closest thing in jazz guitar playing to the piano styles of Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer, and Jason Moran that have been the other main story of the last five years in jazz.

Mary Halvorson smiles.  Her music sounds like a fresh, brisk rain shower.  She works noise and charm into the same track with ease.  She plays with anyone and everyone who needs a new sound on guitar.  And—of course—you can find her on Clean Feed releases.  The promise of 2011 in jazz is bright.
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/136606-two-2010-stories-to-remember-in-2011/

Le Son du Grisli review by Pierre Lemarchand

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscapes (CF 198 )
Tels John Coltrane (Blue Train, Coltrane Plays the Blues), Booker Ervin (Blues Book), Thelonious Monk (Blue Monk) ou encore bien sûr Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), nombreux furent ceux qui replongèrent le jazz dans sa teinture originelle : le blues. Et c’est Duke Ellington qui inspire à Jason Robinson et Anthony Davis la musique jouée ici. Le fameux pianiste avait en son temps exploré les nombreuses nuances de la couleur bleue (Mood Indigo, Azure, Transbluesency…). Avec Cerulean Landscape (« paysage céruléen »), les deux hommes de poursuivre la démarche de leur aîné et de plonger à leur tour leurs mains dans le profond courant bleu.

Le saxophoniste et flûtiste Jason Robinson et le pianiste Anthony Davis commencèrent à jouer ensemble en 1998, à l’occasion d’un hommage rendu à Cecil Taylor. C’est dire si les deux extrêmes de ce spectre (Cecil Taylor alors ; Duke Ellington aujourd’hui) suggèrent un attachement à la tradition nuancé d’une poursuite opiniâtre de la liberté.

Le disque s’ouvre avec une composition de Davis, Shimmer, lent envol vers de vibrantes altitudes. Les battements d’ailes du piano puis les circonvolutions du saxophone posent le décor de Cerulean Lansdcape : la musique alternera longues pauses planantes et virages épris d’accélérations et changements de rythmes. On pense dans ce premier morceau à Steve Lacy, tant le saxophone soprano ici mêle en un même flux tendresse et abstraction, chair et esprit. Sur le titre suivant, Someday I’ll Know, le saxophone ténor prend le relai. C’en est fait de la légèreté, le propos s’aggrave, s’approfondit, et à mesure que la musique progresse l’on semble se rapprocher du sol pour enfin se poser à mi temps du morceau, un court instant. Puis, sous l’impulsion de Davis, en un solo stupéfiant, redécoller et jouer malicieusement avec le vent.

Le disque s’écoutera alors à l’aune de ces débuts : aux grands espaces succéderont d’accidentés terrains, où les notes se fraieront un passage avec agilité et inquiétude. Quitter les hauteurs ne se fait parfois pas sans risques et Vicissitudes, seul véritable bémol du disque, ne fait qu’accroître notre impatience de voir les musiciens reprendre calme et hauteur. C’est chose faite dès le quatrième (et plus beau ?) morceau, Of Blues and Dreams. La paix retrouvée se teinte cependant de ces notes bleues qui interdisent tout abandon, qui rappellent l’imminence possible de la chute. Alors, l’art du suspense de Davis et Robinson achèvera de convaincre. Cet autre sommet du disque qu’est Andrew (septième et pénultième morceau), au piano tout en brisures mais ne se départissant jamais d’un implacable rythme, nous offrira une proposition singulière de ce qui faisait battre le cœur de la musique de Duke : le swing.
http://grisli.canalblog.com/

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – CERULEAN LANDSCAPE (CF 198 )
Californian reedist and composer Jason Robinson has been documenting consistently engaging new music on the Accretions label for some time now (most recently on his vivid solo disc Cerberus Reigning, where he supplements his customary axe with electronics). On his duo summit with Anthony Davis, he gets to showcase some of his liveliest and most lyrical playing. From the first notes of the opening “Shimmer” he sounds enthused by Davis’s boisterous, dancing rhythms and harmonic subtleties (it could almost be Muhal imitating Bill Evans), responding with ebullient, faintly quavering soprano lines. But the disc as a whole traverses many different territories. Notes billow and pop on the spacious, at times crystalline “Someday I’ll Know.” The exchanges are spiky, fractious, and pinwheeling on “Vicissitudes (for Mel),” after which they enter a kind of spiral world on “Translucence,” but one whose very abstraction is somehow defined by idiomatic playing: quasi-stride piano and lovely alto flute that wend their way at last to a haunting descending line. The punishing reading of “Of Blues and Dreams” and the muscular swing of “Andrew” are great palate cleansers for the superb, sumptuous course of “Cerulean Seas and Viridian Skies.” Its urgent alto opening ushers in far more heart-on-sleeve romance than I’d expected, a veritable rhapsody.
http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2010/12dec_text.html#8