Tag Archives: Liberty Ellman

The New York City Jazz Record review by Stuart Broomer

Dual Identity – Dual Identity (CF 172)Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman formed Dual Identity as an alto saxophone duo in 2004, relatively early in their careers and before they had emerged as two of the most important musicians of their generation.There’s a special playfulness in any band fronted by two improvisers playing the same instrument, prodding one another further. This concert recording presents Dual Identity in its quintet form, with guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid. It’s a highly cohesive group with astrongly defined collection of compositions crafted by the two leaders. The complex rhythms of “Foster Brothers” or the sudden lyrical bursts of “Resonance Ballad” hinge on both an experimental approach to form and a conversational give and take, a specific focus on the alto saxophone line as it has come down through Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean. The value of the individual voice is apparent in the very contrast between Lehman’s drier sound and the rounder warmer voice of Mahanthappa. The group language is a key factor here, most highly developed in the cleverly titled “Extensions of Extension of”, with Ellman, Brewer and Reid creating a minefield of conflicting directions beneath the horns. The performance concludes with the title piece and the way the group began, a sustained unaccompanied dialogue between the two altoists, answering one another’s phrases or running spiral lingscales, matching fluting harmonics with circular breathing to multiphonics, a dialogue rooted at once in the potential of the saxophone and the mutability of pitch and time.

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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/

All Music Guide review by Michael G. Nastos

Steve Lehman / Rudresh Mahanthappa – Dual Identity (CF 172)
Birds of a feather who never think twice about what they do, alto saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman play together with a religious fervor and shared values that few musicians on similar instruments have ever possessed. Recorded at the Braga Jazz Festival, these two blow as if their lives depended on it with every phrase, accent, and extended counterpoint line, the essence of conjoined compatible styles, using so many notes in so little time. These whirling dervishes base their rhythmic contours via power-pointed accents and ethno-funk at times during “The General,” and spiky fatback counter-melodies on a bed of lean beats from drummer Damion Reid during “Foster Brothers.” There are spatial moments as constructed by guitarist Liberty Ellman, ballads, blues from bassist Matt Brewer, and fluttery separates from the principals. But mostly it’s Mahanthappa and Lehman pushing the limits of their instruments as they duel away nonstop, feeding off each other and building huge pyramids of sound. The insistent “Circus” and more joined, less kinetic “Post-Modern Pharaohs” might be tracks that are something of a departure, but reveling in the mastery of how they both uniquely approach what has been a bebop vehicle for most post-Charlie Parker saxophonists is nothing short of a modern miracle. As ultra-concentrated a creative jazz outing as you will ever hear, the Mahanthappa-Lehman combine is heretofore unrivaled, challenged by no similar current tandem, and deserves high merit for its energy level alone. Yes, wailers still roam the Earth!
http://www.allmusic.com/album/dual-identity-r1800310/review

Cuadernos de Jazz review by Jesús Gonzalo

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
El saxofonista de origen indostaní reafirma su valía al frente de una formación encabezada por sendos saxos altos. Como instrumentista Mahanppata es un músico portentoso, veloz e inventivo, que articula con insultante suficiencia las rápidas secuencias de Parker con las escalas superpuestas de Coltrane. En este trabajo vemos también cómo desarrolla su discurso y cuán exigente y descriptiva puede llegar a ser una música que usa los recursos de intensidad de expresión del free, la celeridad del bop, los intrincados emparejamientos de Ornette Coleman, las melodías teñidas de blues y aquellas otras claramente enraizadas con la música india. Apremiante por el lado melódico y con propensión a veloces patrones groove (que junto al fraseo bop recuerda por momentos a Steve Coleman), la brevedad y precisión en los unísonos, el tupido trenzado polifónico, la abrupta y exacta separación entre los saxos y el timbre incisivo o apaciguador de la guitarra se ven reforzados por unos proteicos bajo y batería. Dual Identity, por su naturaleza en vivo, presenta una estructura abierta y acerada, pero también inmediata.
http://www.cuadernosdejazz.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1089:rudresh-mahanthappa-a-steve-lehman&catid=4:discos&Itemid=7

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Rudresh Mahanthappa / Steve Lehman – Dual Identity (CF 172)
Alto saxophonists Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa are prime forces and motivators for the new jazz; artists who can boast impressive resumes as leaders, and first-call session champions that assist with surging the modern jazz element into diagonally opposed schemas. Dual Identities is a fascinating glimpse of what happens when two saxophonists merge their respective styles into dense compositional soundscapes.

With countering maneuvers, off-centered metrics and scintillating aerial assaults, the quartet primes for the kill on “The General.” Here, the saxophonists bob, weave and impart an idiosyncratic and sizzling modus operandi atop unorthodox beats. Like whirling dervishes vying for top honors, the sax men produce high-impact statements amid a devilish, yet appeasing climate, while guitarist Liberty Ellman takes some of the edge off via his shrewdly articulated solo during the bridge. “The General” radiantly launches a program, steeped within technical veracity and cunning group-centric interplay, that proposes ammunition for the mind’s discerning eye.
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=38129

Chicago Reader Critic’s Choice by Peter Margasak

Critic’s Choice Recommended The List (Music)
Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet 
This year alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has released two small-band records with fellow alto players, but despite their unusual instrumental format neither is merely a blowing session. On Dual Identity (Clean Feed), the recorded debut of his collaboration with saxist Steve Lehman, both men contribute brainy, mathematical compositions that allow Mahanthappa to showcase his mastery of metrically advanced postbop a la Steve Coleman. Over intricate grooves shaped by bassist Matt Brewer, guitarist Liberty Ellman, and drummer Damion Reid, the saxophonists manipulate time as though they’re solving equations in their heads, navigating shifting tempos on “Foster Brothers” and unfurling simultaneous skeins of stuttering, thrillingly bumpy sixteenth notes on “Rudreshm.” Better still, they complement the technical sophistication of their improvisations with raw emotion. Mahanthappa is joined by veteran saxist Bunky Green, one of his key influences, on the brand-new Apex (Pi)—a collaboration they debuted last summer in Millennium Park with a different backing band. It’s less frenzied and more supple than Dual Identity ; some tracks borrow from Indian classical music, using briskly winding melodic shapes or 22-beat cyclical patterns, while others update fiercely swinging hard bop with a busy, aggressive rhythm section. Though Green has had an enduring influence on several generations of reedists, the album is no mere deferential salute but rather a rigorous, contemporary statement. The arrangements, filled out by pianist Jason Moran, bassist Francois Moutin, and on several tracks the great drummer Jack DeJohnette (Reid plays on the rest), not only highlight Green’s driving energy and curiosity but also illustrate Mahanthappa’s remarkable ability to locate common threads shared by disparate traditions and build entirely new musical systems from them. For this engagement he leads a variation on his long-running quartet: Moutin, drummer Dan Weiss, and pianist Craig Taborn filling in for Vijay Iyer. Taborn is an agile player, and because he and Mahanthappa aren’t steady collaborators, he’s perhaps more likely to provoke something surprising from the saxist. —Peter Margasak

Time Out Lisboa reviews by Jose Carlos Fernandes

Luxo em tempo de crise

Já aqui se deu conta de três discos essenciais de músicos portugueses incluídos nos recentes lançamentos da Clean Feed. Queiram por favor adicionar à lista de “bens de primeira necessidade” mais três items

Corro o risco de me repetir, mas no meio da cacofonia geral é necessário insistir: a lisboeta Clean Feed é hoje a mais importante editora de jazz do mundo. Pelos riscos que assume, pela amplitude estética e geográfica do catálogo, pela quantidade e qualidade média das edições.

Rudresh Mahanthappa e Steve Lehman são duas estrelas ascendentes do saxofone alto e dois dínamos criativos e a ideia de ter ambos na mesma banda parece boa demais para ser verdade. Mas é isso que acontece nos Dual Identity, a que se juntam Liberty Ellman (guitarra), Matt Brewer (contrabaixo) e Damion Reid (bateria). O quinteto esteve o ano passado na Culturgest, mas antes passou por Braga, em cujo festival de jazz foi registado este Dual Identity (*****). Os que se queixam de que “o jazz moderno já não swinga” deviam abrir as orelhas e os poros a esta rítmica convulsiva, complexa e poderosa, que não deixa de ser sensual apesar do rigor matemático e que tanto serpenteia como uma pitão (“Circus”) como se reinventa como drum’n’ bass esquizóide (“1010”). Sobre os ritmos intrincados, os dois saxes perseguem-se como dois besouros furiosos, rodando em torno um do outro, num circo aéreo que faz a Red Bull Air Race parecer um vôo charter carregado de turistas reformados.

O contrabaixista Chris Lightcap remodelou o seu grupo Bigmouth, com a substituição de Bill McHenry por Chris Cheek (sax) e a adição de Craig Taborn (teclados) e Andrew D’Angelo (sax, em três temas), mantendo-se os habituais Tony Malaby (sax) e Gerald Cleaver (bateria). O elenco estelar e o título do CD, DeLuxe (*****), sugerem despesismo e ostentação, mas não há aqui nada de supérfluo. Com uma sonoridade poderosa e cheia de autoridade, Lightcap comanda as operações ao longo de sete peças de sua autoria, de personalidade bem variada. Embora também haja lugar à introspecção (“Year of the Rooster”) domina a exuberância e a pulsão rítmica. E sempre que se juntam os três saxes tenor, o indicador de temperatura vai ao vermelho: até “Silvertone”, que começa de forma banal, vai aquecendo gradualmente e acaba com Malaby, Cheek e D’Angelo a soprar como se não houvesse amanhã.

De atmosferas bem diferentes trata Spiritual Lover (*****), do trio liderado pelo contrabaixista John Hébert, que conta com o camaleónico e omnipresente Gerald Cleaver (bateria) e o inventivo Benoît Delbecq (teclados). Entra-se num mundo de reverberações e refracções, como se o clássico trio com piano tivesse passado para o outro lado do espelho – se o Gato de Cheshire gosta de jazz, é este o seu combo favorito. “Spiritual Lover”, um tema de Andrew Hill, é atacado por Delbecq com sonoridade ácida de guitarra distorcida e converte-se num sonho febril e o standard “Here’s That Rainy Day” é desfigurado até ficar irreconhecível. Se “Cajun Christmas” e “Le Rêve Eveillé” são tão rarefeitos e delicados que uma rajada os poderia levar, “50808” é um ímpeto irresistível de bateria e contrabaixo, enquadrado por piano anguloso, e “Ando” é um fervilhar de ritmos ensimesmados e emaranhados. Delbecq, desdobrando-se por piano “normal” e preparado e diversos teclados, tece vasta gama de texturas e coloridos.

Três CDs bem diferentes entre si, que contrariam rumores e alarmes infundados sobre a periclitante saúde do jazz.