Monday, March 27, 2017

Julia Hulsmann Trio, Sooner And Later

Here we are with pianist Julia Hulsmann and her sixth ECM album to date, the trio in a stunning offering Sooner and Later (ECM 2547). You'd be hard pressed today to find a more beautiful piano trio set for the harmonic-melodic advancement of Julia's playing (in a post-Evans manner and very individually so) and her trio's very subtle and moving togetherness.

The regular trio appears here, now burnished down to a very fine three-way sonance. Marc Muellbauer has a beautiful tone on contrabass and a very eloquent approach to match. Heinrich Kobberling drums with drive and subtlety, in ways the trio profits greatly from but in the end requires for a full flowering.

The music played on this set includes many moving Hulsmann originals which have gotten the seasoning of being played for some time in the trio's live performances. One welcomes "Thatpujai," a tribute to the late pianist Jutta Hipp, who left our planet in 2003. The thematic materials are nicely culled from some of Jutta's recorded solos. But there is much to appreciate here with all five Hulsmann pieces. Then there are two tunes apiece by Muellbauer and Kobberling, interesting and worthy, plus an adaptation of a Kyrgyztanian violin piece played by a 12-year-old musican the band heard when on tour, and finally a Radiohead cover, unexpected but fully consistent with what the trio is doing today and their way of working inside harmonic-melodic material transformatively.

In the end this is a delicately ravishing album that marks the excellence of the pianist and her trio.

This is exultant listening, ecstatic music of calm and fire from some of Europe's most talented musicians and a pianist of world-class brilliance. Hear this!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Rich Halley, Carson Halley, The Wild

Tenorman Rich Halley has been making great strides forward in modern, avant contemporary jazz for quite some time now. His albums are consistently focused on the highest standards of the music, on the heightened peaks of expression that make new jazz one of the joys of modern existence.

He returns with a near-perfect expression in the duo zone, just Rich, his tenor (and a little wooden flute) accompanied by his son Carson on drums. Carson keeps sounding better and better. He is an ideal partner and co-equal on this set.

The Wild (Pine Eagle 810) has a series of ten improvisations, some with added compositional elements, others untrammeled forays into ecstatically charged open space. An obvious genetic relationship with John Coltrane and Rashid Ali's duo recordings of the last phase of Trane's career exists here. But that is probably a given on ANY sax-drum outing in the free zone these days. It is a touchpoint, a springboard from which arises tabula rasa expression. Similarly you might hear a bit of the influence of Ornette Coleman's harmolodic openness. But that also might be appropriately seen as the bedrock from which the art form has developed since Ornette's celebrated first recordings and onwards.

Fact is, though, that Rich is his own person on tenor and continues to grow and excel on his own terms. He has by now created a complex personal voice and a rich personal vocabulary that you can hear at peak levels on The Wild.

From the brash and energetically lucid to the free equivalent of balladic pastoral emanations, all form an important part of this set. It is tour de force saxophony. And Carson is much more than a mere foil to Rich's exhilarating effusions. His drumming drives the music with power and poise.

Like the sound of the ocean, there is near infinite variability and mood. Rich has attained a pure improvisational level that only the most accomplished in the art ever get to. He makes use of the full pallet of notes and tone colors available to him and does so with the innate wisdom of somebody who phrases in the best and most varied ways, the sound of a master.

And that makes him one of the West Coast's greatest living jazzmen, to my mind.

I recommend this one highly. You will have much to appreciate here, so go ahead and order it! It's at the apex of new jazz today.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mount Meander, Kartis Auzins, Lucas Leidinger, Tomo Jacobson, Thomas Sauerborn

Today, a bit of a sleeper. The best music out there requires multiple listens before you get the full impact of it. And Mount Meander (Clean Feed 3750 is surely in that category. This is avant jazz that captures a series of moods that are more introspective than the full-flush assault that is sometimes the norm. All four players take pains to capture a complex, free-wheeling, but at times more reflective mood. Tenor-soprano man Kartis Auzins, pianist Lucas Leidinger, upright bassist Tomo Jacobson and drummer Thomas Sauerborn establish the tone in the three-part "Sunsail." It is all about a flow around a key center and some well realized lyric hardness, if that makes any sense. There are ostinatos and hypnotic outcomes, and a considerable range of group improvs.

Sometimes these folks remind me a little of the classic Jarrett group that included Dewey, Haden and Motian--for the sort of kinetically open and unpredictable approach they espouse.

And the more you hear this, the more it jumps out at you. Recommended!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Paul Kikuchi, Autonomic

A Paul Kikuchi album is nearly always something special. I have had the pleasure over the years of discussing a number of them on these pages as well as on the Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review blog.

Today is no exception--here the composer-percussionist presents to us the fascinating work Autonomic (Prefecture 015). As we have come to expect, Paul shows us a heightened sensitivity to aural timbre and a pronounced ambiance that conveys a spiritual cosmos and a strong sense of direction. We hear the composition/suite "Autonomic" in this light, surely.

The work is comprised of four movements that feature three winds, cello, contrabass and percussion (the latter played by Kikuchi).

There is a composed-performative immediacy to the work, apparently based on specific motivic-interval cells that structure each movement, which in turn portrays an inner experience of each successive event-aspect of a deep breathing moment.

The total effect of the music is a pronounced timbral mysticism, an encompassment of movement and stasis in the bodily cycle of respiration, a musical analogue of an inner state, suggesting in aural terms its inner workings.

It is very meditative, very beautiful, very strongly evocative music that expands Kikuchi's universe of possibilities and at the same time is a fully immersive, stunning work.

Strongly recommended!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Whit Dickey, Kirk Knuffke, Fierce Silence

A duo of just cornet or trumpet and drums? We might recall Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell's iconic Mu duets from 1969. Now we have something altogether different, less wide-ranging but more strictly focused on free jazz per se. I speak of drummer Whit Dickey and cornet player Kirk Knuffke's Fierce Silence (Clean Feed 376).

Complete freedom and vivid aural imagination are the rules of the day on this set of ten segments. Whit made his name as the creative drummer with David W. Ware's ensemble and then Matt Shipp's trio, as well as lively dates as a leader. He is back and sounds as good as ever here. Kirk Knuffke has come to the forefront of the avant jazz world, especially in the last decade, making beautiful music with bassist-bandleader Michael Bisio among many others.

I've said this before on these pages but it bears repeating: Kirk manages to channel the history of jazz in his playing through a very classic tone, the poise of immaculately idiomatic phrasing and a creative ability that means he can be counted upon to come up with ever fresh, good ideas. That's very true on Fierce Silence.

Whit is a drummer and musical dynamo that takes the early freedom of Milford Graves and Sunny Murray and applies his own personal way to it all, building out of New York free school drum ideas and going beyond.

This album marks a very fruitful frisson of two well seasoned avant vets. There is not a note wasted. Every one counts. And the sum total of every note is some free music of the highest caliber.

Very recommended!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Frank Kimbrough, Solstice

Contemporary jazz pianist Frank Kimbrough has appeared on these pages a number of times (see blog index window above) as a thinking person's artist. A new one from Frank gives us a wondrously vivid set of tunes by the likes of Carla Bley, Annette Peacock, Gershwin, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Maria Schneider and one by Frank himself.

Kimbrough is a studied and brilliant exponent of the jazz piano school that loosely groups around Bill Evans, Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett. He for a long time has taken control of his artistic destiny to be solidly on original turf and indeed, this trio finds him take on each tune with a brilliantly introspective presence.

Bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirschfield are open and inventive counterparts to Frank's improvisational extensions. They do all the right things to bring out the implications of the leader and what he is doing, adding their completely apposite selves.

This is a landmark in Frank's recorded output to date. It is ravishing  All modern piano trio fans will find this one hard to resist, I'll warrant!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Reunion Project, Varanda

Bouncing out of my speakers is a sturdy, well played set of originals (and one standard) from The Reunion Project album named Varanda (Tapestry 76027-2). A quintet they are: Felipe Salles on tenor, soprano, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet; Chico Pinheiro on guitar; Tiago Costa on piano; Bruno Migotto on bass; and Edu Ribeiro on drums.

They are game players and the originals by Chico, Tiago, Edu. Bruno, and Felipe have a well constructed presence that sets the band apart as a formidable vehicle for modern contemporary jazz.

Chico, Felipe and Tiago give us a front line that contributes very good solos. The rhythm section cooks with excellent Latin and straight-ahead grooves.

This is seriously good modern jazz!