Friday, October 30, 2009

Weightless, A Free Quartet in a New Recording

Of all the instruments to play, the piano is one that poses particular challenges. You sit down to it and all the notes are available to you simultaneously. You only have ten fingers, plus your arms for clusters if you play like Don Pullen (or Henry Cowell), so choice becomes critical. The moment you push down the keys the piano immediately gives out with a sound, one group of sounds really, that has to do with that particular piano and its characteristics. To get "your" sound takes many years, if you ever get there.

A child when first fooling around with the instrument can immediately and un-selfconsciously pull off a bad Cecil Taylor imitation. Tinkle-slam-chop-blur. Again to get any good at going at it in this way takes considerable time and practice. To go beyond that second level, to be a truly individual stylist in this mode is even more difficult.

This brings me to the CD at hand today. It's by a group called Weightless and the CD is entitled A Brush with Dignity (Clean Feed). Weightless consists of Alberto Braida on piano, John Butcher on tenor and soprano, John Edwards on double bass and Fabrizio Spera on drums.

Weightless engages in carefully executed sorts of free improvisations that owe something to new concert music though there is a strong foundation in the "jazz" orientation, whatever that means anymore.

Braida's playing reminds us of what it takes to get a personal sound and a kind of free playing that goes leagues beyond the "kid-slamming-at-the-piano" fundamentals. He picks his way painstakingly through the possibilities. . . a cluster here, a phrase there, an overall attempt not to be automatic or banal and an avoidance of any overt key center. He has tangible success in the "what" category; the "how" category (the personal sound) is not fully present, at least on this recording according to my own take on it. That is not a problem to the music in any sense. Because also to consider is that Braida succeeds in interjecting himself into a set of collective ensemble improvisations, and in that context he is not supposed to stand out but to meld together with the others.

The four players as an organic whole succeed in creating group structures that are not uninteresting. Butcher's tenor steps out alone on occasion, not to blaze with incandescent speakings of the tongues, but with more considered note making. That is true of the group at large as well.

I would not go so far as to say that Weightless has achieved total individuality as yet. That may come. What they have done here is created an hour of interesting free music. This is not a high-energy, high density slam-dunk sort of freakout. It's a bit more thoughtful. Those who like the quieter areas of free music and sensitive group interplay will find it pleasing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet and Flute of Nobuyasu Furuya

You can depend upon Clean Feed Records consistently to come up with interesting releases in the advanced free improv jazz genre. That doesn't mean you've heard of everybody on the label. That's a good thing because it means they are offering up some fresh faces to the international scene and that's how growth happens in music. One of the ways, at least.

Nobuyasu Furuya. There's a new name to me. He is a Japanese expat residing in Portugal. He's studied Ottoman classical music. He plays vibrantly. There's his new album Bendowa (Clean Feed). It's a trio affair with Hernani Faustino on bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. They do a fine job.

Nobuyasu has a good sense of linear drama and absolute control over his sound. Some people say he sounds like Archie Shepp on tenor. Well, there IS that sort of near-speech inflection he sometimes evokes. But there's a little Ayler there too. Maybe some Dolphy as well. On flute he has a shakuhachi like purity. His bass clarinet is snaky. To me though, it's his dramatic sense of space, of sound and silence, of color and darkness that stands out. The phrasing lengths, the pauses and the trajectory of his drive show a great sensibility.

There is plenty of good music on Bendowa. It tends more towards the exploratory than the frantic. But there is plenty of energy to be had as well. Here is a player to watch. Or rather to listen to. This CD will give improv enthusiasts a good adventure. I would say to you "go get it" if you are looking for a different sort of free player.

By the way, for those internet folks who mention me (and that's nice, thanks) my name is GREGO, it is not GRECO. And my last name is EDWARDS, middle name APPLEGATE. I personally am not called GAPPLEGATE. And I am not el Greco; I am el Grego. I may paint, but el Greco I ain't! Whatever. . . just want to get the record straight. (Is that a pun?)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baird Hersey's Extraordinary Music for Voice I

A little while ago on this blog a question was raised about Baird Hersey. "Whatever happened to him?" someone asked in the comments section of a review of a David Mott CD. For those that might have missed it, in the mid-seventies Baird recorded a very interesting set of duets for electric guitar (Baird) and percussion/drums (David Moss), Coessential, which was very well received. He formed a progressive-avant big band Year of the Ear that had critical and artistic success and several seminal records at that time as well. His considerable compositional and arranging talents made this an important group, as did the aggregation of some terrific soloists. The band deserves to be remembered and I hope the recordings will be re-released sometime soon.

After those high points, I lost track of what Baird was doing. It turns out his practice of yoga and perfection of a throat singing vocal technique (akin to the vocal practices of Tibetan monks and Siberian Tuvan folk artists) converged in an all-vocal style of music that brought Baird into entirely new musical realms. The vocal technique involves the manipulation of the mouth cavity and throat to produce fundamental vocal sounds along with pronounced overtones, so that the solo voice becomes a multi-toned instrument.

What Baird makes of this we can hear in one of his initial forays into the new style, his recording Waking the Cobra (Hersey), recorded in 1997-98. This is the first of a series of Baird's recent CD's that we'll cover in this blog in the coming weeks. And it's a very good place to start.

Essentially, this entire recording consists of Baird's expansive vocal pieces. I believe all of the parts were sung by Baird via overdubbing. It is a meditative, cosmically reflective music, with much in the way of drones and vast landscapes of vocal sound color, with the overtone singing providing one of the primary timbres in the ensemble. It is a brilliant music, hard to classify, and quite rewarding to experience. There is a primal quality akin to various Tibetan, Japanese and Indian religious-ritual vocal styles, but it also has a foot in the contemporary world of modern concert music in its conceptual thrust.

It is a music that verbal description cannot really approximate. One must hear it to appreciate it. Sublimity comes in many forms. This is one of them.

If you have a cosmic bent and/or if you want to explore something very new yet very primal in the world of new music, you should seek this one out. Google Baird Hersey to find out more. And stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lin Halliday, A Tragically Underappreciated Tenorman

Lin Halliday played the hell out of the tenor sax. He passed away in 2000, after a career that, because of health problems and an erratic lifestyle, had many downs and a few ups. His first recording under his own name took place when he was 55 years old! He had some important associations before that (with Maynard Ferguson, for example) but never managed to keep his business together long enough to gain the exposure he deserved. Until he moved to Chicago in 1980 and began working regularly there.

By the time of his (I believe) fourth recording, Where Or When (Delmark), issued in 1993, things really seemed to be coming together for him, at least judging by the evidence of this recording. But bad health in the end prevailed.

The album at hand is a goodie. It brings Lin together with bop stalwart Ira Sullivan on trumpet and tenor, the great Jodie Christian on piano, and a good rhythm team of Larry Gray and Robert Barry, bass and drums, respectively.

Halliday was a tenor in the robust tradition of Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon, and he is in great form on Where Or When. This is a freewheeling session of jazz and American songbook standards, done with elan. It makes you wonder how far he could have gone had circumstances permitted. He certainly had all the talent and tools to make a big name for himself. But it wasn't to be. Check out this album and you'll hear why we should not forget him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Music of Michael Daugherty II

Michael Daugherty's music seems to be widely performed on the concert circuit these days. Perhaps that's so for two reasons: a.) His music is accessible in a kind of Populist way. And his eclecticism helps his music sound a bit as if you've heard it before, somewhere. b.) His music often uses as launching points literal themes that are not stuffy or academic. (Mind you, I have nothing against stuffy and academic, either.)

One can certainly see both of these factors at work in a second Naxos release devoted to his orchestral music. On it we find Giancarlo Guerrero conducting the Nashville Symphony in spirited performances of two works that span a period beginning in 1988 and ending in 2007.

The first piece, Metropolis Symphony (1988-93), celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Superman comics with a substantial orchestral work. Daugherty states in the liner notes that the symphony is a "musical response to the myth of Superman." Like very well received works in the standard repertoire, The Planets and Symphony Fantastique come to mind (and like the latter, interestingly there are quotations from Dies Irae), the listener is given a concrete handle on the music via accessible subject matter.

This alone would not not be sufficient to make the Metropolis Symphony worth your listening time. Daugherty's masterful orchestrational talents shine throughout the work. It's bright, colorful, even exciting music that comes to vivid life on the aural soundstage of this CD.

The same can be said of the more recent (2007) work Deus Ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra. This time the jumping off point is the world of trains. In keeping with the inspiration for this work, the music here has a bit more power and sensory-motor bite than the Metropolis Symphony. Terrence Wilson performs the part of the Machina piano protagonist with drive and masterful execution. This is music of great motion and the piano seems like the locomotive that drags the orchestra along, sometimes at a furious clip.

Anyone looking for orchestral showcase works that convert the vast sonoric resources of the modern symphony orchestra into bright digital sound will welcome this recording. There is exhilaration and much pleasure to be had!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Orchestral Music of Michael Daugherty

We live in a pluralistic world. In the visual arts today, for example, no one style holds absolute sway. Traverse the galleries this autumn and you'll find any number of post-, neo-, quasi-, appropriated or just plain straightforward work in the style of "x." So conceptualism, performance art, expressionism, abstract expressionism, neo-geo, representational, hyper-realism and any number of other styles rub shoulders indiscriminately. I suppose this is a healthy trend. I really am rather neutral about it, though.

In contemporary classical concert music the same thing might be said. There are the minimalists, post-minimalists, neo-romantics, post-serialists, noise artists, and any number of other avenues of musical composition. The days of "this style and no other" have seemingly passed. That brings us to American composer Michael Daugherty. He is not easily categorized. He writes music that shows imagination, exceptional orchestrational craftsmanship and a thoroughgoing eclecticism.

A recent Naxos release is a case in point. It contains three interesting works, performed with excellence by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Jarvi. The principal work on the disk, Fire and Blood for Violin and Orchestra, features Ida Kavafian as soloist playing a part that has distinct roots in the romantic era violin showpiece. Yet the piece itself combines a rhapsodic orientation with modern orchestral tone painting of a high order. The piece musically depicts artist Diego Rivera and his 1932 mural commissions honoring the auto industry. Subsequently the music in this piece incorporates Mexican musical folk elements, and not just in terms of the marimba part. It's a masterful work, and both Ms. Kavafian and the Detroit Symphony give a stirring performance.

Daugherty's Motor City Triptych, a work from 2000, gives the listener another half-hour of attractive tone painting. The third movement with its Villa Lobos-like writing for three trombones particularly stands out.

The CD concludes with Raise the Roof, an exciting piece for solo timpani and orchestra. It is one of the single most convincing vehicles for the solo timpani that I have yet to hear, a tour de force of kinetic energy with some wonderful playing by soloist Brian Jones.

Michael Daugherty writes a directly communicating music that has the straightforward qualities of some of Aaron Copland's best scores. The Naxos CD has brilliant sound and Neeme Jarvi gives us a precision rendering that does not eschew the passion Daugherty's scores contain. A most satisfying release is this, and highly recommended for anyone interested in what orchestral music is about today.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Encyclopedia of Concentration Camp Composers

KZ Musik is in the process of issuing a comprehensive CD series covering music written from 1933 to 1945, the Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps. I have been listening to their sixth volume and it is a very moving experience. It the midst of one of the most evil series of actions in the history of the world, the human spirit asserts itself here with eleven composers who refused to be spiritually defeated.

The courage of these musicians should serve as a model for all of us today. Whether the compositions are absolute classics or not is moot. The fact of their existence demands that they be heard, not forgotten, and that they be an active part of the cultural heritage of the 20th century.

The music is noble and filled with a strength that goes beyond styles and fashions. The compositions in Volume 6 include the solo vocal cantation-style works of Josef Pinkhof, William Hilsley's haunting "Fantasia on Provencal Christmas Carol," songs for voice and piano, solo piano pieces, chamber works.

Each volume contains an informative booklet.

It is music that on one level is hard to listen to. What monstrosity let this happen? But ultimately these composers were writing the music in the hopes that we and their God might hear. These are like musical messages in a bottle, for us and the generations to follow. Do not forget our sufferings, they seem to be saying. If we can write beautiful music under such traumatically harrowing conditions, then you have no excuse. Music must flourish, musicians must be heard. If not civilization does not stand a chance on this earth.

Getting at least one of these CDs and listening is a symbolic act of solidarity with those victims of a world gone criminally insane. And the music is worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Josh Berman and Chicago Jazz

Chicago Jazz flourishes. This should be no surprise. It also has a bi-regional and international presence. Ken Vandermark is touring Europe with an excellent band right now. That's just an example. NOLA trombonist Jeff Albert has teamed up with Chicago's luminous counterpart, Jeb Bishop, for the deservedly acclaimed Lucky 7s ensemble, who have an excellent new album out. And cornetist Josh Berman forms an important part of that group, along with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibist Jason Adasiewicz. They are some superb musicians, so that comes as no surprise, either.

What has surprised me is that Josh Berman just put out his first CD as a leader, Old Idea (Delmark). It surprised me when it arrived in the mail because I did not know it was in the works. It's Josh along with Keefe and Jason in a quintet that features the fine playing, writing and arranging abilities of the leader. Josh has been around for about ten years, with fruitful associations that include Ken Vandermark, Rob Mazurek and as co-leader of the Chicago Luzern Exchange. His time is due.

Old Idea reminds me of what I like so much about the Lucky 7s. This is no straight-ahead blowing date. It's a beautifully paced program where individual players get plenty of opportunities to shine in the context of ever-shifting instrumental configurations and very attractive compositional vehicles. Josh is tart and assured; Keefe is impeccable in the ensemble and freely original in solo passages; Jason is a fabulous addition to the group with a post-Hutcherson attention to color, nuance, and spatial solos of daring and intelligence. The rhythm section of Anton Hatwich and Nori Tanaka on bass and drums, respectively, provide sensitive support and wide-open ears to what they can contribute. They do.

Old Idea is an excellent recording. Do not fail to grab it if you like the modern side of improvisational music.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Louie Belogenis, Tenor Sax Modernist on the Way Up

Louie Belogenis is one of those tenor saxophonists that seems to be appearing more and more frequently on important improvisational sessions. He was/is a key member of Steve Swell's Magic Listening Hour (see review in an earlier posting), he's had an important association with the late Rashied Ali, collaborated with bassist Michael Bisio, Karl Berger et al on Old Dog (see review on my other site and I could certainly go on.

I've yet to review his 2004 recording The Flow (Ayler Download Series), where he leads a dynamic trio, only because I cannot be everywhere at once (unless some kind of Twilight Zone device were to come on the market).

The Belogenis Trio on that day was comprised of Louie's tenor plus the bass of Joe Morris and Charles Downs on drums. They played a full set at the CBGB Gallery in New York and Ayler Records was there to capture the musical event.

This is free improvisation in the tradition of Albert Ayler and his followers. That means that rhythmically there may or may not be a set pulse, but always (and appropriately, given the title) a flow of musical utterances. The group gradually builds momentum, with Belogenis sustaining a long and interesting improvisation utilizing his ability to coax an interconnected palette of instrumental colors from his horn and to weave long, interesting horizontal segments of spontaneous line creation.

We are talking about OUT Jazz, of course. It is a very good showcase for what Belogenis can do with a sympathetic group of players and a conducive live venue. It's a little gem in Ayler Records' rather substantial collection of download only releases.

If you seek an introduction to the Belogenis tenor and where it's been, this is a good start.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jazz Icon Series DVDs: Garner, Hawkins, Farmer

Naxos has been releasing a series of rare jazz performances on a series of DVDs called "Jazz Icons." Each grouping of releases is available singly or as a box set. The fourth installment will be out on October 27th and I have been sampling three volumes in the batch: to wit, DVDs of Erroll Garner, Art Farmer and Coleman Hawkins.

First of all, the prices. These are quite a bargain.

The good price does not come through a sacrifice in quality. Nicely packaged with an illuminating 20-page booklet, each volume has been carefully transferred from the original source videos/films and come across with good audio and sharp visuals.

The three I've been enjoying each have their own merits. Coleman Hawkins' disk gives you a solid 140 minutes of the Bean in two settings. The first from a 1962 appearance in Belgium finds Coleman's tenor in very good form, perhaps inspired by the company of sympathetic sideman--the nearly forgotten pianist Georges Avanitas, veteran drummer Kansas Fields, the solid bassist Jimmy Woode. They do a fairly long set that swings well and has plenty of great tenor characteristic of Hawkin's later period. The second segment hails from a 1964 BBC show and teams Coleman with the great "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, the laconically profound Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woode again and the pioneering Jo Jones on drums. As the booklet admits, Hawkins takes a few numbers to find his groove on this second appearance but he is never uninteresting. The addition of Edison and Thompson gives the group two more very game soloists. And to hear and watch Jo Jones in action is a real treat. By 1964 he was an elder statesman of the music but he sounds as youthful as his early days with the Count. And there's a solo spot for him on "Caravan" that has as much visual as aural interest. There aren't that many people left who were lucky enough to have caught Coleman Hawkins in person. As the father of the modern tenor his authority is undisputed today. Watch this video and you'll understand why.

The Erroll Garner disk brings his trio out front with two appearances dating from 1963 and 1964, respectively. Erroll was such a magnificently full pianist that his accompanying trio were mostly foreshadowed by his musical enormity. But here as ever they give a good accounting of the art of accompanying. It's the inimitable pianistic attack of Garner that is the main attraction. He is in fine form for both dates. Seeing him visually in the throes of a solo can help you understand his rhythmic thrust. He often nods his head in a two against three pattern to the four square swing flow and it underscores through gesture the polyrhythmic swinging he mastered so fully. This is joyous pianism. Fine sound and clear visuals bring the Garner live experience home in bold relief.

Art Farmer's disk features his subtly burning, undersung quartet. There's Farmer's cooly passionate fluegelhorn, Jim Hall's suave and creative guitar, the innovative Steve Swallow on bass, and the hot yet very intelligent drumming of Pete LaRoca. If you need reminding, this 1966 date from England tells the story of Art in all his greatness, as musician and bandleader. He had affinities with Miles Davis of course, but he built up his own citadel of musical illumination and the concert represented here shows you how solid that was. He and the band are absolutely phenomenal on this day.

So that's my take on these three volumes. This is part of the fourth set and they all look interesting.

To find out about the content of all four Jazz Icon installements, and to enter a sweepstakes and get a chance to win the complete four-box set, go to The contest ends October 22nd.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A New Performance of Bernstein's Mass

It was the summer of 1972. I had left Berklee College of Music that spring for good, because I arrogantly thought that "they couldn't teach me anything." I had come back to New Jersey, was studying classical piano, composition, concert percussion and jazz drumming with various personages privately because I realized I still had much to learn after all.

I had befriended while in Boston some fellow Berklee-ites who listened equally to modern classical, rock and jazz and did not distinguish between them as far as what form was superior to what other form. I felt I wasn't alone.

Rock was still in a phase where seriously dedicated musicians were making it an art form at the level of the other two musics. That is probably also the case again today. I joined what now would be called a jamband and we tried to incorporate all three musics into what we did, with greater and lesser success, depending. I had a cute girlfriend who was young and made no distinction between Joe Namath and John Lennon; both were equal to her.

I bought an eight-track player for my 1965 Ford Fairlane station wagon and I used to drive through the streets of New Jersey blasting the music that I liked. It was said at the time that I had a resemblance to Jesus Christ (as painted by the Dutch Renaissance artists) and sometimes I would catch people crossing themselves in jest as I drove past. I sure didn't feel Christ-like. I just had long hair and a beard.

I was neither religious nor a-religious, but one of the eight-tracks that got a lot of listening on my player that summer was Bernstein's Mass. I thought it was great. It combined modern classical, Broadway, rock and jazz elements and I and my musical friends thought that was a very good thing to do. (I don't feel any differently now, either.)

What is my point in all of this? Bernstein wrote his Mass in a time when America was in tremendous upheaval. Categories, musical or otherwise, were conflating, collapsing, appearing and regrouping as fast as farmland was disappearing from my home state. The music scene was wide open to combinations of genres and Bernstein was only one of the people who were making radical recombinations of this sort, though he was in the handful of those who truly made of the mix a musical success.

Politically and religiously, the world was in turmoil too, of course. Bernstein's Mass reflects all of this. The Mass shocked some people then because it dared to address loss of faith and the tumult of the times--the confrontation of Church and the political present--along with the "timeless" post-Gregorian musical-ritual formation of the mass itself. Perhaps it still can shock in this way.

The original version as recorded by Bernstein shortly after the work's premier was the one I had on eight-track. There were no others. The performance had an exciting, almost feverish quality about it.

Now we have another version, newly recorded by the Baltimore Symphony, Martin Alsop conducting (Naxos, 2-CDs). Jubilant Sykes is the baritone principal and the Morgan State University Choir and Peabody Children's Chorus handle the large-group vocal parts.

Hearing this new version brings back all those times in 1972 when I listened to the original recording endlessly. But it also gives the work new life. Alsop's interpretation is a bit Apollonian to Bernstein's Dionysus. There is a kind of meticulous care in the choral and orchestral balance and more transparency than out and out passion. The rock passages sound less like something from the Fillmore or the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and a little more timeless.

That's fine.

That is not such a bad thing.

This is a work that obviously has outlasted the times it came out of. That an interpretation today has more of a reflective bent than the one that came out of that world of chaos that was 1971 (the year of its first performance) is to be expected, even desired. This version in a way forces you to listen to the music on its own terms today and forget the revery of nostalgia that the original can produce. What it tells you by its production in a changed world is that Bernstein's Mass was not a kind of freak product of those times, but an American masterpiece that lives on with undiminished power.

In short, this is a fine rendition of the mass that I would not hesitate to recommend. Personally, I am glad to have both.

Merzbow: A Whole Lot of Noises Going On

Noise. My father used to tell me when he disliked some of the music I listened to as I was growing up, "that's nothing but a bunch of noise." How prophetic of him. Today, noise has entered the New Music scene in a big way. John Cage probably is responsible. He opened up the playing field to any sounds whatsoever, noise included. Listen to his early-fifties electronic composition "Fontana Mix," for example.

There are composers and improvisers today that deal exclusively in noise, and many that incorporate it into their otherwise tone-based music. When you think about it, the complexities of tone itself involve texture, except perhaps in the instance of a pure syn wave. And the more texture, the closer to "noise."

All this brings me to today's featured CD. It is by the Japanese noise composer Merzbow, otherwise known as Masami Akita. 1930 (Tzadik) is the recording in question. This is noise at its noisiest, most sustained, and paradoxically for some, most sophisticated.

I have experience with this sort of music. I spent some time in my high school years essentially destroying several tape recorders, much to my father's chagrin. I did it with an aim: to create collages of electronic noise. Unfortunately in those days and with the equipment available to me, destruction was necessary. My results were spotty. By the time you got good at it, things stopped functioning, and the experiment was at an end.

Merzbow is much better at it than I ever was. 1930 gives you a five-part work that lays down thick blankets of unending but ever-evolving noise. After you listen long enough, you reaffirm that noise does indeed have pitch and so there is a kind of melody here, very latent, but present in long sustained caverns of sound. It may be the world's slowest melody, but it is there. In short, this is music of some kind. It has pitch, periodicity (and so rhythm) and overlapping (which is a kind of harmony). Perhaps the point though should be, is it "any good?" You be the judge of that.

Some of the sources are most definitely analogue, some digital. All of it, experienced end-to-end, is close to being overwhelming but perhaps in its own way is wonderful. There are people who will not like this. If you hear the word "noise" and you respond with, "no thanks," I don't believe this will be for you. For those that seek musical intrigue, for those who have a pioneering spirit, a vision quest outlook, this will give you a trail to follow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zorn's New Masada CD with Joe Lovano

John Zorn's Masada group started out as his primary working band, a rather stable gathering of like-minded musicians playing high energy avant-Semitic jazz of a very captivating kind. Over the years there have been sidebar versions that included such things as a guitar-oriented ensemble, a piano-centered group, and others as well. Zorn was not necessarily present on these groupings as the alto saxophonist, but as always he was the guiding force behind the compositions and arrangements.

There's a new Masada Quintet recording, Stolas (Tzadik), that includes some of the old stand-bys like the drumming dynamo Joey Baron and the all-seasons trumpet master Dave Douglas, but this one brings in Joe Lovano, and that makes it special. John Zorn plays alto on only one number, but as before it is his music and arrangements that put it all together.

You might call this one Masada's hard bop record, but sometimes in the later Blue Note freed-up version. The first number, for example, is a Jewish-tinged Blue Note boogaloo, sort of a Lower East Side "Sidewinder" and that is lots of fun. It is straight-ahead music at least half the time, with the principal soloists taking free liberties and the ensemble loosely driving the music, but operating within the confines of the style for the most part, albeit with a Mideastern minor orientation. Then again, there are some pieces that touch the more out fringes and the numbers coexist side-by-side. All that makes it something altogether different. The pieces are compelling, the band has real presence and there is lots of room for some very good soloing from Lovano, Douglas and pianist Uri Caine. The "Rabliel" number (kind of like Haden-Ornette in Israel) brings in Zorn's alto and there are some great interactions between the three horns that perhaps form the high point of the entire disk.

I must note at this point that Joey Baron's drumming leaves me in awe much of the time. He has a chance to do that to me again on this record, when he stokes the fires with incendiary measures.

Stolas is a blast. Lovano fits right in and the vehicles are ever interesting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicago Freebop from Pianist Paul Giallorenzo

Paul Giallorenzo is one of those artists that sneaks up on you. The first hearing of his Get In To Go Out (482 Music) was not unpositive, yet I felt that I hadn't gotten a handle on his playing or his group sound. As I listened further however his artistry began to come into focus for me.

Part of the problem perhaps (and it's a problem many CDs have in common) is that the generous length of the disk is such that fully absorbing that much rather advanced music in one sitting for the first time is a daunting task. But that's only to say that any complicated musical offering takes time to become clear to the listener unfamiliar with it. Before the days of mechanical reproduction, when repetition of a piece involved a physical regathering of musicians and audience, that process of familiarization could take a century. Beethoven's later works come to mind. Thankfully we can listen and relisten to recordings at will today, and become familiar with new music without considerable expense and logistical difficulties.

So then, what of Paul Giallorenzo and this CD? Paul is a native New Yorker who transplanted himself to the Chicago area in college, stayed, and has become part of the Chicago jazz re-nascence. Get In To Go Out finds him in the company of some Chicagoland heavyweights, notably cornetist Josh Berman and reedman Dave Rempis (see yesterday's posting for another, not unrelated association of Chicago players). The rhythm section of Anton Hatwich on contrabass and Frank Rosaly on drums fleshes out the group with a good foundation.

Giallorenzo plays in a piano style that has something to do with early Cecil Taylor, in that it is simultaneously free, swinging and gives a nod to the bop and after folks. His compositions have the flavor of early Ornette and Bill Dixon to me, but not in any but the lineage sense of the idea. He relates to these important forbears like a younger participant in a family reunion who remains his own person in spite of the family relation and resemblance.

The seven mostly somewhat lengthy pieces on this CD provide ample time for Giallorenzo, Berman and Rempis to dig into the material and the results are worthy. This is good Chicago modernism, if you will. My only quibble is with the sound of Anton Hatwich's bass. Perhaps it was a matter of microphone placement, or maybe it's just my playback system and the acoustics of the room that it is in, but in certain portions of the session his sound seems so boomy that distinguishing individual pitches can be problematic. This is in no way a serious defect, but it can be distracting at those times when he is laying down a foundation riff.

In the end Get In To Go Out provides a timely and absorbing set of new jazz from Chicago. It's a lively scene, and this CD well documents a part of it that appears to be in the process of establishing its importance to the jazz world today. I look hearing more from this most able player, writer and leader!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ken Vandermark's Avant Big Band

One thing you can depend upon from tenorman Ken Vandermark's many projects, and that is a great variety of settings and ultra-solid musical performances. Such is true of his recent vinyl-only release, Resonance (Not Two). For this live date recorded in the Ukraine, Ken assembled a crack outfit of ten pieces, including the always incredible Steve Swell on trombone and out journeyman Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxes.

This is music of a boisterously out bent, with arranged moments, collective improvisations and solo spots of concisely focused expression, often with arranged backdrops. There are two long pieces, one for each side, and they both maintain interest.

Resonance is the sort of recording that will convince you of its importance the moment you listen to it. Ken Vandermark has been an instrumentalist, composer and leader at the top of his game for at least a decade. Anyone who wants to further explore the outer orbits of improvisation should check him out. Resonance is a great one to start with, or to continue to appreciate his music. It comes with a cool poster, too. The vinyl pressing is virgin and sounds terrific.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Violinist Leroy Jenkins in a Historically Important Reissue

The late Leroy Jenkins was the primary violinist to come upon the American free jazz scene in the late '60s. Ornette Coleman had thrown down the gauntlet when he took up the instrument as part of the expansion of his instrumental oeuvre after the breakup of his original quartet, and he brought a hell-for-leather style of attack that was to prove influential on all who came after. Mr. Jenkins was no exception, though the melodic thrust of his playing was always more a prominent factor in his approach.

After coming to attention as an integral member of the Anthony Braxton trio (along with trumpeter Leo Smith) in the late '60s, he formed a cooperative trio with bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper that was dubbed The Revolutionary Ensemble. Working in the breakthrough New York loft scene in the early '70s, they made a recording, Vietnam, that was subsequently issued as an LP on ESP Disk. That recording has just been reissued on CD.

Returning to this record after many years, I find that my original feelings about it still hold. The group plays a long, two part work that covers plenty of ground. Other than a few ensemble passages, it is essentially a free improvisation. All three players were innovative and dynamic figures in the music of the era. And the group itself was unique in its instrumentation. A violin trio was an unknown quantity at the time.

Jenkins, Sirone and Cooper have moments of individual and collective brilliance on this record. There are other moments that seem less inspired. Intonation is sometime a bit faulty, which would have been resolved I am sure by another take of that portion of the work. The largest difficulty, however, one encounters on a listen is the recording quality. The balance throughout is good. But Sirone's bass is recorded well into the red levels, so that there is a pronounced distortion of his tone over much of the record. Part two of the piece has some pitch problems in playback, more noticeable as the track progresses, as if the recording was digitized from a record whose grooves were pressed slightly off center. Perhaps it was a problem with the original tape. It does not matter how it came about, certainly, but it gets distracting over time.

There were other, later recordings of the group where the sound was not at issue. I don't believe they are available on CD at this point so I wont go into the details. For the reasons mentioned I would have to say that Vietnam is more historically important as a first documentation of the group than it is as a fully satisfactory presentation of what they were about. Nonetheless, anyone interested in the development of the free violin in general, and Mr. Jenkins in particular, will find much of interest here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Phil Kline Presents His Specially Commissioned Electro-Acoustic Work for Surround-Sound Playback

Phil Kline is one of those adventurous musical souls who is not afraid to trek off into uncharted territory. A composer of post-eclectic dimensions, he has created some later-day masterworks that use available technologies to form sound panoramas of great beauty and complexity. His Unsilent Nights exemplifies this tendency. It was created by transforming bell-like sounds and vocal parts into a vast tapestry played out in an extended physical space. The sounds were recorded and transferred to cassettes. The performances take place in the out of doors on Christmas Eve, with multiple participants equipped each with a boom box containing the music to be heard. A performance involves the playback of the boom box "orchestra" parts as participants walk through a neighborhood, originally NYC's Village, with the resonant sounds going in and out of synch and combining in ever complex patterns. It's quite a piece and I've reviewed the CD of it on my other blog (At You'll need to do a search for "Phil Kline" once you land on the opening page.)

Starkland has just released his latest piece as a two-DVD set. It is the stunning Around the World In A Daze, an ambitious and successful electro-acoustic suite specially commissioned by Starkland for 5:1 surround sound playback (though it can also be played in two-channel stereo). Running at 65 minutes plus, this is substantial Phil Kline in both temporal and spatial terms.

The work is divided into ten movements, each a sound event in a sequence that forms an epic musical journey. Live instrumentalists and vocalists, field recordings, electronic sounds and pre-recorded music are subjected to varying degrees of electronic transformation, often via multi-boom box performance.

The work begins with the manipulated sounds of a street in New York City on a summer evening, turns to music for string quartet and tape choir, then to a madrigal for multiple voices, strings, percussion, bug zapper and prerecorded lecture, and proceeds to a rather ravishing movement for tape orchestra ("Pennies from Heaven") which sounds quite marvelous in surround sound.

From there we jump into a chopped and condensed transformation of the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde using original orchestral performance tapes as the source material, a movement for the violin of Todd Reynolds and its multiple orchestration through electronic means. After several other intriguing vignettes there is the finale, an electronically enhanced field recording from an African watering hole, bringing us full (or rather half) circle, from one place in New York to another very far away and hence "around the world."

The second DVD contains a lengthy and enlightening interview of Mr. Kline, plus an engaging short video-surround work called "Meditation (run as fast as you can)."

Phil Kline has given us a monumentally conceived work that manages to be pioneering as well as fully pleasurable. The contrasting complexities of each sound-event-soundscape as experienced in sequence tells a kind of story in musical sound which has no literal equivalent in words. All good music should probably do that, but in the case of Around the World In A Daze there is an extraordinarily absorbing and even startling world of truly "new sounds." It is not a work you will forget after one hearing. And repeated listens will draw you even more deeply into Phil Kline's world.

There always needs be an interval of time before one can be sure of the ultimate stature of a work. Where we stand right now, this could well be one of the major "classical" works of this decade. And it's fun, too!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brian Groder Teams with Burton Greene

Brian Groder? I'll admit I've missed his efforts as trumpeter and bandleader in the new, new thing music realm. I checked his website and found he's released a number of albums. If they are anything like his new one, Broder & Greene (Latham), they are well worth hearing.

This recent outing finds Broder surrounded by some heavy company. Burton Greene, for starters, is one of the foundation pianist of free music, beginning in a very interesting group with Alan Silva in the early sixties, continuing to thrive with a number of seminal recordings for ESP and BYG, and on from there. He has from the very start forged his own path and he sounds today as good as he ever has, which is very good by any index. Rob Brown plays extraordinarily loquacious alto sax. He never seems at a loss for lines nor does his inspiration flag. Adam Lane is one of the premier bassists of the new music and a composer and leader in his own right. If I were only allowed to name a handful of bassists that were most actively innovative today, he would be on it. Ray Sage I don't know much about, but his drumming on Groder & Greene achieves exactly what is needed: a loose freetime player who can carry a pulse well if called upon, and consistently invents within the group setting. Well, then there is Brian Groder himself. The evidence of this disk suggests he is a trumpeter anyone would welcome on a free date. He's limber and filled with good musical ideas.

That's the lineup individually. Collectively they come up with a program that updates the classic free date with plenty of permutations, landmarks, signposts and traffic signals, always showing green (or is it Greene?). Seriously this is excellent music and some of the best Burton Greene in a long time. But it's everybody shining. I don't give out stars, that always reminds me of second grade penmanship, but if I did, this would get the highest rating. Grab a copy and give it a spin.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Charles Tyler's First Recording, 1966

After a significant association with Albert Ayler's band in 1965, where he was present on Ayler's magnificently raucous Bells, Charles Tyler put together a group of his own and entered the studios for ESP Disk in February 1966.

ESP has just reissued that album, simply titled Charles Tyler Ensemble, and though I haven't listened to it in years, the music jumped out of my speakers with a renewed freshness and intensity.

Tyler was then strictly on alto sax (he later also played baritone) and his playing at the time in part reflected Ayler's influence, notably in his sometime use of exaggerated vibrato and a heightened "speaking in tongues" quality of improvisation. The band had an unusual lineup of the great Henry Grimes on bass, Joel Friedman on cello, Charles Moffett on orchestral bells, a young Ronald Jackson on drums and of course Tyler himself.

They romp through four very spirited pieces with energy and determination. This is the free jazz playing of the first wave of players to follow in Ornette Coleman's wake, and the music often has a raw power, a brashness, a kind of unabashed vitalism that later incarnations of the music sometimes put to the side in favor of increased virtuosity and more sophisticated group interactions. The "pure," undiluted burst of free expression contained on this first Tyler recording breathes anew in the context of the world of 2009.

This may not make my top ten list of new thing jazz recordings from that first round of ESP releases. It does have staying power, though. Charles Tyler was to have a long, on-again off-again career before he passed from this earth in 1992. Nowhere did he sound more vital than here, in 1966.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Necks Live in 2007

A friend of mine, when I mentioned the Necks to him, commented, "Oh, I listened to one of their CDs. It sounded like the Bill Evans Trio." I don't know which one it is he heard, but I know of none where they sound like that. They don't. (Unless on a certain level? No. Did I miss one?) And perhaps that's the point of the Necks. They are an acoustic piano trio that has carved their own stylistic stance outside of the piano trio tradition. Like Nik Baertsch's music they generally groove on a minimalistic cyclical feel.

Well, most of the time, anyway. On their CD Townsville (ReR Necks), recorded live in Australia in 2007, they don't really groove. They perform one long improvisation that drones and gradually builds up waves of reverberant piano undulations that have a kinship with Indian classical, particularly music for the santoor (which is a horizontally placed piano harp played with special plectrums, like the western hammered dulcimer and the Hungarian cimbalom). The bass and drums support with their own timeless waves of a-rhythmic pulsation.

If you are expecting groove music, this Necks album is not the one. If you come to the music without expectations, you will be rewarded with a world of sound that's quite comfortable to live within. It's cosmic without a mood-music vapidity. Now if that sounds good to you, listen to Townsville. Then don't forget to listen to the Bill Evans Trio while you are at it. It's all good.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ari Roland, His Bass and His Brand of Hard Bopping Jazz

Luke Kaven in his capacity as owner/a & r man/producer of Smalls Records has the almost uncanny knack of organizing sessions that feature working musicians with a non-diluted approach to Hard Bop and after, players who go at the music with all the fervor of the original masters of this style.

Bassist Ari Roland is certainly one of those. His classic walking, his Paul Chambers' inspired arco flights, his driving compositions, all of this makes him a natural as band leader for a top-notch blowing date. And that's just what you get on his CD New Music.

Roland is joined by some game practitioners. Chris Beyers, on alto and tenor, invokes the tradition without sounding stale. He has his own way, and it does not involve copying licks. Sacha Perry too has mastered the style and fully digested the salient aspects of it without plagiarizing. Then there is Keith Balla on drums. He swings.

This is no polite, diluted traditionalism for those who want standards done with anemic inoffensiveness. This is the real thing. This is the living music.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Zorn's Music for Children

John Zorn's Music for Children is one of his masterpieces. The 10th Anniversary Edition (Tzadik) is now available, and it is a must for any serious student of contemporary music.

There is controversy surrounding the work. Some people seem to have felt that it was not suited for children. Perhaps it is not, not for ALL children. The ones who have learned to open their ears at an early age will undoubtedly find it interesting. Others may be frightened by its sometimes startling eruptions of chaos, though some of that resembles cartoon music of a classic era.

This in many ways is music about childhood. What is breathtaking in experiencing the piece is Zorn's cut and run segments of contrasting stylistic episodes. One minute something in a modern classical mode, over-the-top avant jazz the next, a longish soundscape, surf music, music-box-like minimalism in several guises. . . . Nothing is boring. Everything becomes possible. Yet Zorn chooses well what specific items he has crafted for the whole and the sequence that unfolds before us.

It's a work to me that's important for what Zorn has consolidated out of his earlier game pieces. That is, that a cohesive and musically satisfying whole can be constructed out of patches of sometimes vastly different musical events, like a traditional American quilt. And perhaps most importantly, each segment is a fascinating world in itself, so that you get moment after moment of inspired music making. It's an indispensable work for anyone who wants to understand what makes Mr. Zorn such an important figure in the music of today. Or at least one of the aspects.

The new 10th Anniversary edition adds several new parts here and there, making it the definitive version to have.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Amina Figarova at the Forefront of Mainstream Jazz

Netherlands based Amina Figarova and her band recently toured the states, including an appearance at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival. Her most recent album Above the Clouds (Munich Records) gives good evidence that the audiences must have been treated to some fine, thoughtful mainstream jazz. She plays excellent piano, writes very memorable, skillfully crafted music and (I gather) arranged the music on the session, which is deftly scored for a largish mid-sized ensemble.

An earlier release of hers, September Suite, was a moving paean to the victims of 9-11, and the feelings felt by those who experienced the traumatic events wherever their lives happen to place them. Above the Clouds has a contrasting mood of hopefulness suited to the world we currently occupy.

Amina's playing and writing take something out of the Herbie Hancock Blue Note stylistic approach, especially what he was doing with mid-sized ensembles just before the Mwandishi Afro-Fusion period of his music. That does not mean she is copying him. She just shows a sophistication in harmonic and melodic realms both in her playing and writing, and she voices for the band with real finesse and sensitivity. All these qualities were present in Herbie's mid-period work in a particular way. And that resonates with Amina's work. Let's just say she builds on such a past examplar to create a music of her own that is mainstream, but contemporary. She's an artist for today.

The band is very well-rehearsed and quite good. Besides some wonderful piano work from Amina, there's Bart Platteau's ravishing flute and a solid ensemble of good improvisers.

This is an exceptionally fine effort. If she is having success I am happy, for she well deserves it. Listen to Above the Clouds and I think you'll agree.