Tag Archives: Jason Scott

NPR Music Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2010 by Patrick Jarenwattananon

The jazz musician of 2010 has nearly 100 years of recorded jazz history to grapple with. This is both alarming and liberating: alarming because the task of coming to grips with your roots is bigger than ever, and liberating because there are so many exciting places to start doing so. 

My favorite jazz records of 2010 often explicitly interacted with history. Perhaps the musicians were recasting jazz gems from the ’50s with their own language (Bill Carrothers, Mike Reed) or using predecessors’ aesthetics and sonic signatures as points of departure (Geri Allen, Jason Moran).

But just as often, musicians felt liberated to embrace whatever they felt like from outside the standard jazz narrative, from an Argentine folk composer (Guillermo Klein) to The Band (Fight the Big Bull) to hip-hop (Maurice Brown). This natural eclecticism also seems somehow appropriate to our age: If all recorded music ever is fair game, then why can’t it be on the jazz musician’s playground, too?

Of course, some great records reflected music history in less direct ways — they just were. Chris Lightcap and Mary Halvorson don’t get to play with their own bands nearly as much as they support others, but maybe their records this year will help change that. And Steve Coleman has been pioneering entire musical systems with a band called Five Elements for nearly 30 years; the latest recorded incarnation is a force to be reckoned with.

Top 10 Jazz Albums Of 2010
 
1. Jason Moran, ‘Ten’ (Blue Note)
It’s been The Year Of Jason Moran, with appearances on several great records (Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, Ralph Alessi, Charles Lloyd), widespread mainstream press (NPR not excepted), and that whole MacArthur “genius grant” thing. All well and good, but Ten tops this list because the pianist has made possibly his best album yet. Whether sampling Jimi Hendrix’s feedback, writing for ballets and art museums or channeling Thelonious Monk, Moran has a way of translating high-concept commissions and unexpected artistic choices into gutsy, gritty satisfaction. And when your band has been together 10 years, and sports Nasheet Waits and Tarus Mateen, your unusual language is spoken like a common vernacular, lived and breathed night after night. It’s a kind of magic, and it’s bottled here.
 
2. Guillermo Klein, ‘Domador De Huellas’ (Sunnyside)
In Argentina, Cuchi Leguizamón was a folk musician whose songs people know, but whose name people don’t. He lived in northwest Argentina, developing poetic, idiosyncratic takes on folk forms: chacareras, zambas, carnavalitos. Composer and pianist Guillermo Klein grew up in Buenos Aires and, like several of his bandmates, found his way back home after studying jazz in the U.S. Now, he’s made a tribute record with his Argentine band, arranging Leguizamón’s songs for something that looks like a jazz band. But Klein stretches them until they’re new again, introducing new beat patterns, or subtracting voices, or reharmonizing passages, and otherwise making them groove. Essentially, these are the sounds of one Argentine musical iconoclast covering another, in ways that will make listeners want to learn more about both.

3. Steve Coleman And Five Elements, ‘Harvesting Semblances And Affinities’ (Pi)
As a composer, alto saxophonist Steve Coleman is as inspired by the astrological calendar and 13th-century philosophers as next-level metric number-crunching. But with a 2006 edition of Five Elements, the name he’s used for many different bands over the years, he makes all that mad science sound intuitive. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is filled with staggered-but-throbbing grooves, edgy blowing and Jen Shyu blanketing it all with airy, often wordless vocals. Coleman also features his arrangement of a choral piece by modern composer Per Nørgård, proving that all this alchemy can in fact produce moments of beauty. There’s something here for wandering mystics and awestruck listeners alike.

4. Bill Carrothers, ‘Joy Spring’ (Pirouet)
Before Bill Carrothers moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, mostly known for its snow density and population scarcity, he studied jazz piano and worked the New York circuit. With two versatile New York musicians in bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart, he’s made a sly new album which interprets the repertoire of ’50s trumpeter Clifford Brown — in other words, some of the best source material on earth. Subtlety is the key: Hiding in plain sight within a fine straight-ahead session are loopy clusters, cheeky snares and relaxed swingers that turn into moody ballads. Slightly demented, but rooted in the jazz mainstream, it’s one of those records that gradually sneaks in tasteful tweaks until it dawns on you that it is, in itself, a thing apart.

5. Maurice Brown, ‘The Cycle Of Love’ (Brown Records)
Trumpeter Maurice Brown came up in jazz in Chicago; he found his way to New Orleans for a while, including through Hurricane Katrina, and he now lives in New York. Judging from his second album, The Cycle Of Love, he seems to have picked up various lessons along the way: earthy intelligence, urbane slickness, how to party. The global aesthetic of hip-hop is also present — Brown works with plenty of R&B and rap artists — and his band, especially the tenor saxophonist Derek Douget, has a certain bounce (and a few skittering rimshots) in its step. But there’s also a clear compositional savvy in the 10 tunes here; it attests to a jazz pedigree. The result is a jazz record that feels like it’s from musicians of the hip-hop generation — and compromises neither genre.

6. Mary Halvorson Quintet, ‘Saturn Sings’ (Firehouse 12)
The critical hype that preceded Mary Halvorson’s second album as a leader made her out as one of the most original guitarists today. Indeed, she can lay the strange squiggles on thick, and the rawk shredding on with force. But Saturn Sings succeeds largely because of her compositions, too. Halvorson has added trumpet and saxophone (Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon) to her core trio (John Hebert, Ches Smith) for many of the tracks here; her music feels grander, more fleshy. Sometimes, the songs bound and even swing, and sometimes they paint somber moods through much chromatic strain. But they make easy sense — not an easy feat in the world of free/out/whatever jazz. This recording highlights this band’s abilities to ramp up the tension, and also to sketch fetching release valves in tandem.  
 
7. Geri Allen, ‘Flying Toward The Sound’ (Motema)
For one of two remarkable albums she released this year, pianist Geri Allen recorded by herself. It seems like a simple decision, but it’s inspired: Flying Toward The Sound is an engrossing program of nine original compositions. Some of the works are inspired by her heroes Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock; others are titled “GOD’s Ancient Sky” or “Your Pure Self (Mother To Son)”; all deliver the inquisitive, weighty oomph their subjects and titles would suggest. It’s tremendously well-recorded: The pianos she plays have lots of flavor, and their sounds are captured pristinely. This was a year filled with standout solo piano records (Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer, Marco Benevento and others), but in any format, it’s uncommon to hear abstract improvisation so dark, so enveloping, so moving.

8. Fight The Big Bull feat. Steven Bernstein, ‘All Is Gladness In The Kingdom’ (Clean Feed)
Imagine the intersection of free jazz and Southern music at large; now, take that idea and flesh it out for an 8- to 11-piece band, bristling with plump orchestrations and noisy breakdowns. That approximates the music of Fight The Big Bull, whose sophomore disc also features buzz-saw slide trumpet and some arrangements from New York guru Steven Bernstein. Not all the solos on All Is Gladness In The Kingdom are of the same caliber, and not every transition comes off perfectly cleanly. But there are too many good ideas in play here, many of them from the brain of leader Matt White. When this unit is at its best — and it is frequently here — it rears back and bellows, and cuts quickly to the pleasure centers of your brain.

9. Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, ‘Deluxe’ (Clean Feed)
Red and cream with silver accents, a vintage convertible extends across the gatefold cover of bassist Chris Lightcap’s CD Deluxe. It references his band, Bigmouth — after the oversized grilles of such vehicles, presumably — but also evokes a great mental image. Lightcap is a smart composer of driving music; his tunes breathe, with plenty of room for horn interplay, but they also chug-chug along. (Craig Taborn’s electric piano and Gerald Cleaver’s drums have a way of doing that.) And he summoned more New York heavy hitters for his front line: Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxes, plus Andrew D’Angelo on alto on three cuts. It’s a brawny unit, but also at ease — a muscle car with an unconcerned foot on the gas, a ribbon of Western highway unspooling before it.

10. Mike Reed’s People, Places And Things, ‘Stories And Negotiations’ (482)
In other hands, this would be a “blowing session”: Gather several top-notch soloists, line up some tunes, press record. But this is drummer Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things, a project expressly committed to Chicago jazz history. So the special guests here are three Chicago gentlemen of earlier generations — trumpeter Art Hoyle, trombonist Julian Priester and saxophonist Ira Sullivan. Live at Chicago’s Millennium Park, they join a tight-knit unit which takes late ’50s tunes (and Reed’s charts) and works them over with modern, casually audacious language. In all, eight musicians were on stage: The arrangements take advantage of their quantity, while the solos benefit from their quality. This disc is third in a trilogy of PP&T records; all were so taut, so unpretentiously joyous, that a fourth is already on the way.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2010/12/01/131712050/top-10-jazz-albums-of-2010

Time Out review by Jose Carlos Fernandes

Fight The Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
*****

Os aficionados da festa brava têm motivos para exultar: estão de regresso os Fight The Big Bull. Que não se inquietem os defensores dos nossos irmãos de quatro patas, que aqui não há picadores, matadores ou bandarilheiros e nenhum animal foi maltratado na feitura do disco. O mesmo não se pode afiançar em relação aos instrumentos, dados os uivos lancinantes e estertores inquietantes que se fazem ouvir.

O grupo tem sede não em Málaga, mas em Richmond, Virgínia, a metade espanhola do site bilingue da banda é hilariante (apresentam-se como “Luche La Bull Grande”) e as suas referências são, não Manolete e El Cordobés, mas Charles Mingus e Duke Ellington.

O anterior Dying Will be Easy foi um dos cinco discos de jazz de 2008 da Time Out Lisboa e só dois detalhes o separavam da perfeição: a gravação ao vivo nem sempre tinha a limpidez ideal e a duração ficava-se pela meia hora. O novo CD tem um som pujante e claro, dura 76 minutos e, como se isso não bastasse, Steve Bernstein, que em Dying Will Be Easy apenas redigia as notas de capa, salta para a arena como trompetista e compositor.

O guitarrista Matt White, o líder deste formidável undecateto, partilha com Bernstein a composição, assina um solo demoníaco em “Mothra” e faz de sirene de nevoeiro em “Eddie and Cameron Strike Back” – antes de o tema tomar o freio nos dentes e se lançar à desfilada.

Num tempo em que muito jazz cultiva a abstracção glacial ou o neo-classicismo sorumbático, é revigorante ouvir uma banda que, sendo resolutamente moderna, recupera a alegria, exuberância e visceralidade dos primórdios do género, com riffs contagiantes, ritmos avassaladores e solos apoplécticos. Quem é que faz o favor de trazer esta gente ao Campo Pequeno?

All About Jazz review by Martin Longley

Fight The Big Bull – All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (CF 169)
Such an unwieldy band name and album title is almost perversely suitable for the ambitious music contained herein. Fight The Big Bull (FTBB) is, doubtless, dominant on the Richmond, Virginia alternative jazz scene, but possesses the powers to be equally noticeable on the much larger stage of, let’s say, New York City. From this very place, trumpeter Steven Bernstein made the pilgrimage by car, invited to be an artist-in-residence. He okayed a heavy schedule, but did he really realize how productive his stay would be? Gigs, workshops and, oh yes, the studio recording of this very disc. Bernstein took a pair of tunes and three arrangements, but FTBB’s leader, guitarist Matt White, also contributed strongly with his own majority of six compositions. The combination was eminently suitable. FTBB is a horn-heavy 11-piece that can move with ease from bell-chiming spaciness to severe charging, though the latter is probably its ideal state.

Bernstein is, unsurprisingly, dominant on the soloing front, his agile muted splintering often stepping into the foreground. This is not to say that the six other horners are much less extroverted. This is why Bernstein fits in so easily, as the band enjoys a similarly lusty approach to retro reclamation. Stalking themes grab the ears with both fists, as most of the tunes reel with memorable riffs that could certainly draw in many rock aficionados. The pieces are very visual, inhabiting genre zones that invariably inspire filmic connections: imaginary seedy activities relating to guns, drugs, monsters, chicks, fast cars and murderous machinations.

FTBB craves the climactic blowout. Much of its unusualness lies in the percussion patterns of Brian Jones and Pinson Chanselle (the latter a star of one of those movies?). When these atmospheric chimings are audible, this means that FTBB is taking a rest from its brawling, oily, big band barging, an occasional respite from the slugging, brutalist majority. Sluggingly brutal with a refined intelligence, of course.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=36595

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

Fight the Big Bull –   All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Valutazione: 4.5 stelle
Dying Will Be Easy era stato il sorprendente album d’esordio che aveva rivelato una formidabile formazione riunita attorno alla figura illuminata del chitarrista Matt White. L’unico appunto mosso ad un disco pressoché perfetto riguardava la durata vinilica del lavoro (trenta minuti appena!). Matt White sembra aver colto la nostra implorazione e con questo All Is Gladness in the Kingdom rilancia e raddoppia regalandoci settantasei minuti di puro piacere per anima, corpo e mente.

Impossibile descrivere la musica contenuta nel CD e l’uragano di emozioni e pensieri che colpisce l’ascoltatore. Perché vengono meno i normali criteri valutativi di fronte ad una musica che non porge punti di riferimento, viscosa e incandescente come una colata lavica, proteiforme come un’ameba che scivola via appena pensi di averla tra le mani. Laddove l’album d’esordio era secco e accecante, All Is Gladness in the Kingdom porta all’estreme conseguenze i concetti spazio temporali là contenuti, dilatando in una sorta di vuoto pneumatico un materiale sonoro difficilmente imbrigliabile, grumoso, a volte claustrofobico, spesso disseminato di falsi indizi.

Potremmo allora immaginare che dietro “Mothra” si nasconda l’orchestra di Duke Ellington alle prese con una colonna sonora di James Bond, dopo una nottataccia in qualche bettola poco consigliabile. Che in “Jemima Surrender,” The Band venga catapultata nel bel mezzo di una conduction di Butch Morris, mentre in “Gold Lions” i Sex Mob incontrino i Lounge Lizards. O che “Eddie and Cameron Strike Back/Satchel Paige” sia in realtà una sorta di drum&bass eseguito da una qualche formazione di George Russell, e ci piace pensare che “Martin Denny” sia un party psichedelico organizzato in uno sperduto monastero tibetano.

Ma è solo immaginazione. Di certo vi è un chitarrista assai originale che per il momento privilegia le sue grandi doti di compositore e arrangiatore, una piccola big band di dieci elementi che nelle sua mani diventa straordinari strumento per dar forma alle idee di una mente musicale senza limiti, e, ciliegina sulla torta, il contributo della slide trumpet di Steven Bernstein, una sorta di padre spirituale del giovane geniaccio di Richmond, Virginia.
http://italia.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=5070

Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Fight the Big Bull – ALL IS GLADNESS IN THE KINGDOM (CF 169)
Swagger isn’t a term often used with respect to contemporary improvised music, and especially large ensembles. One more often comes across it in connection with archival territory band recordings, Mingus or the funkier moments of the Clarke-Boland Big Band. Creative large ensembles are frequently praised instead for either attention to detail or fire-breathing. Both of these certainly occur in the twelve-tet Fight the Big Bull, but neither is necessarily a given. Active in the Richmond, Virginia area since 2005, FTBB centers around guitarist and composer Matt White, and All Is Gladness in the Kingdom is the group’s second disc to date. Most of the names here will be unfamiliar to even the most keyed-in modern jazzheads, though trombonist Bryan Hooten, drummer Brian Jones and bassist Cameron Ralston are also three fourths of the oddly groovy Ombak. For All Is Gladness, FTBB are joined on nine compositions by trumpeter and New York impresario Steven Bernstein, who contributes two pieces and one arrangement.

The disc begins with White’s “Mobile Tigers,” whose breathy reed and trombone textures are punctuated by Jones’ vibes (shades of Charles Moffett) and in-the-red wahs and whinnies from Bernstein’s trumpet. Those dirty blats engender a sweaty slink that remains consistently on the verge of exploding until tenor and dueling trombones punch through in nasty albeit fleet tailgate, a bar walk on hot coals. There’s an intricacy as well that’s wholly modern, as ricocheting rim shots support a clean muted trumpet, clarinet and tenor lines. Some of the reed bluster is reminiscent of a husky Vandermark tune, but that’s not a slight and the rhythms have an intricacy and metallic tautness derived more from minimalism. Borne on pillowy looped guitar and stuttering saxophones, Bernstein’s “Mothra” evolves into a strange merger of crime jazz, Basie hustle and gritty electric bass vamp. A smidgen of Southern indie-rock lineage must have gotten into the arrangement, though, because that vamp does a fuzzy about-face into something straight out of a Polvo song, before White stretches out into wicked metallic skronk over a syrupy horn section.
It seems like Gato Barbieri’s Chapter One has collided with Rhys Chatham’s guitar army on “Jemima Surrender,” but the tune unfolds into wry Canterbury-like horns with snatches copped from Morphine and Klezmokum. Calling FTBB postmodern would be easy, but hardly does them justice – their assemblage hangs together extraordinarily well and is the result of weekly open rehearsals and serious chops. But it’s hard to think about anything other than collisions when Hooten’s trombone multiphonics evolve into pitch-divided trumpet and swamp riffs somewhere out of Beefheart and Dr. John. Rarely has stylistic dissonance seemed so singular and swaggered with such conviction.
http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2010/05may_text.html#8

Jazz Review review by Glenn Astarita

Fight The Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Guitarist Matt White leads this Virginia-based large ensemble featuring estimable and perennially cutting-edge trumpeter Steven Bernstein.  Simply stated, this unit projects a illuminating slant on jazz-rock, unlike many other permutations of this ilk.  Yet the goodness doesn’t end there.  Bernstein’s prominence within New York City’s downtown scene and affiliation with Sex Mob confirms his stance within the newer wave of progressive-jazz shaded art forms.  However, the old adage, brilliant minds think alike applies here. 

Bernstein’s bawdy lines on trumpet and slide trumpet reside as one of many highlights throughout this polytonal engagement, consisting of gelling dirge motifs, moody horns, brash big-big arrangements and more. The band executes crafty sub-themes and outlines a distinct sound, teeming with cyclical pulses, booming ostinatos and soaring horns. Coupled with White’s scorching psycho-guitar licks and a multi-angled scenario, the musicians fuse simple melodies with themes that ravage the soul and occasionally drift into the netherworld.

The program unfolds as an ongoing plot, hued with memorable hooks, rowdy improvisation, humor, pathos and bluesy episodes to complement the jazz factor.  At times, the ensemble dishes out a cinematic soundtrack, reminiscent of 1960s fare. On “All is Gladness in The Kingdom,” either Reggie Pace or Bryan Hooten renders a wild, raspy and whirling trombone solo atop a pummeling rock beat and countered by the hornists’ unorthodox harmonic movements.  Nonetheless, the album is an extremely hip and engaging recorded document that lays out fresh new territory via the large ensemble approach.  A mid-year top ten pick, indeed…
http://www.jazzreview.com/cd/review-20962.html

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Hear Fight the Big Bull for Exciting Big Band Outness, 2010 Style

Fight the Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Guitarist Matt White and trumpet extraordinaire Steven Bernstein put together some provocative charts for the avant-contemporary big band Fight the Big Bull and their new album Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed). White and Bernstein are joined by ten other game musicians in a powerful, rough-and-ready set of pieces that utilize both free timelessness and hard riffing, almost rock intense lines for a very exciting romp through musical thickets overflowing with ideas.

Like some of Steven Bernstein’s large ensemble music and Carla Bley’s band at its best, there is a healthy unity of the written and the improvised, the free and the rooted pulse music of the modern vernacular. And it’s an extroverted, brash, boldly emblazoned sound they get.

Bernstein’s raucous trumpet and White’s effects drenched psyche-soundscape guitar find good company in the other soloists featured on the various tracks. All are lucid. The ensemble sonority and the many twists and turns in the charts make for an excellently conceived, heartily executed, exciting CD.

THIS is what a modern big band sounds like. Fight the Big Bull doesn’t try to recreate successful, hoary old bop charts or swing era niceties. It’s music of today. It’s excellent music of today.
http://gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/2010/04/hear-fight-big-bull-for-exciting-big.html