Wednesday, June 30, 2010

John Goldsby and his Trio Do "The Innkeeper's Gunn"

The sax-bass-drums trio, ever since Sonny Rollins' Live at the Village Vanguard and Ornette Coleman's trio of the early sixties, has been a popular configuration for players who look for the harmonic freedom of a chordless instrumentation and the intimacy of interaction that this sort of wide open context can provide.

Bassist John Goldsby heads a contemporary trio that fits right in with the tradition on his new CD The Innkeepers Gunn (Bass Lion BLM008), Goldsby's nimble and imaginative pizzicato (and a little solid arco too) blends well with the sharply projecting alto of Jacob Duncan and the flexible and very capable drumming of Jason Tiemann. There are seven originals by Duncan and Goldsby that have the lively quality of the contemporary at its best, and for a bit of a laugh, Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" done as a sort of reggae.

It's the kind of record that shows off Goldsby the bassist while also showcasing the trio as a quite substantial unit. There's nothing half-hearted here. I'd say that the record makes a great case for hearing these fellows live. But it stands on its own in a very straightforwardly modern way. They will get your attention and keep it with some nicely looping, bouncing and fast-forward moving after-bop. Nice!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bryan and the Haggards Take Country Music Out the Window

Every once in a while an album comes along that is so unexpected yet so interesting that you want to laugh out loud. That happened to me when I first put on Pretend It's the End of the World (Hot Cup 094).

The promo sheet that came with my copy of the disk proclaim the artists as "New York's Most Decorated Avant-Country Instrumental Merle Haggard Cover Band." Now if that doesn't bring a smile to your face, perhaps you aren't in a very good mood. Point is, though, this is the band "Big V Chord" under another name, with the leadership in the hands of tenorist Bryan Murray (as opposed to the usual leadership of guitarist Jon Lundbom). Everybody from that band appears here: the two just mentioned plus Jon Irabagon (as), Moppa Elliott (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums).

As you have gathered this is a sort of twisted tribute to country artist Merle Haggard. They do his songs in ways Merle may have found puzzling. Sometimes there's a relatively "straight" rendering. Much of the time the band veers off into the avant garde with searing free solos and the sort of high jazz rhythm work that has more in common with Ornette than the Grand Ol' Opry.

Now I happen to find this sort of thing exhilarating. I go for the sort of abrupt collisions of style universes that you hear on this recording. It's healthy for music and it's healthy for the listener to let go of the rigid compartmentalisation that has so prevailed in music consumption over the many years I know about.

Now it's not just that the Haggards do this tricksterish conflation of musical genres; they do it well and they do it with obvious affection for the original music. But they also maintain the integrity of their playing and arranging styles. That is a feat. Nothing sounds forced or contrived.

What it tells you a little about is that the "Great American Songbook" is much too narrow. Classic country, blues, soul, rock, you-name-it. . . so much has been excluded from this imaginary monument to "great music" that redefinition is in order. The status quo, as always, needs shaking up now as much as ever. And I give lots of credit to these guys for doing just that. Plus it gives you a musically enriched program. . . and it's FUN!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bernardo Sassetti and his "Motion" Recording

As I auditioned Bernardo Sassetti's new album Motion (Clean Feed 177) I caught myself thinking, "Some artists are so subtle, you actually have to listen to them." Then I thought, "What are you nuts? All artists must be listened to!" But, face it, some music is so predictable it almost listens to itself. You set your ears to the coarse grained sample mode. You pop the mental sampler on and register, "OK, there's a bop lick. . . yes, walking bass. . . .ding ding da-ding on the cymbals."

I had a heavy blues listening phase when I was young, and then went on for a while to other musics. Looking back at that time a little later I first thought that emotionally and mentally I needed something completely redundant and predictable because of all the change I experienced in my life in those days. Later, when I returned to the blues and kept it in the things I actively listened to again, I didn't feel that way anymore and by then I tried to listen to that and any other music at hand with the mental sample mode as fine tuned to "continuous" as possible in the world we are in today.

Clifford Geertz once complained that he could no longer entertain only one thought because the telephone would ring and. . . there would then be two thoughts. Nowdays having only the telephone as interrupter and only two thoughts seem charmingly quaint. There are literally hundreds of potential interruptions from computer internet activities and such. Multi-tasking is common and almost impossible to get away from. But still the idea that music must be heard continuously to be appreciated remains completely true.

So then back to Bernardo Sassetti's trio and their new album. Redundancy is very little in evidence. This is a pianist who takes Evans and Jarrett as stepping stones but then actually goes beyond those influences to be himself. And that self is richly lyrical, harmonically sophisticated, melodically profound, and not inclined toward repetition in any sense. His bandmates Carlos Barretto and Alexandre Frazao, bass and drums, hold tightly to the almost sacred eminence coming out of Sassetti's piano. They hold tight to what he does and really complement it.

There are strings of lusciously subtle ballads here, as well as some rock inflected or Latin inflected numbers, and some brief free type sojourns, even use of some "found sounds" electro-acoustically at one point. Everything is rather remarkable. It's so subtle and sophisticated that you cannot ignore it because you just won't get anything out of it at that level. Listen or just don't bother. If you do listen, you'll be in for one of the nicest and most original of the tonal piano trios out there. We reach levels of sublimity perhaps only the piano trio is capable of attaining. It's extraordinarily intimate, extraordinarily inventive. Extraordinary. I mean that.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wallace Roney: Don't Take Him For Granted

It's been a number of years since those who would be our musical spin doctors, trendsetters and what have you singled out trumpeter Wallace Roney as the flavor of the month. Such attention cannot all be bad. The artist gets more gigs and recording opportunities as a result. Once the dust settles, however, such an artist either continues to grow and make good music or falls back on a formula that he, she or the agent or record company feel is part of what got him or her all the initial attention. That can be devastating to the artist in the long run, surely. Thankfully, Wallace Roney has not fallen into that trap.

His new album If Only for One Night (High Note 7202) wisely puts him in a good live club situation, NYC's Irridium. He has his regular band in tow, which includes his eloquent brother Antoine on reeds and the hard-hitting yet subtle triumverant Aruan Ortiz, Rashaan Carter and Kush Abadey on piano, bass and drums, respectively.

There are some jazz standards, notably a very nice version of Herbie Hancock's "I Have A Dream," and there are originals. Wallace has the legacy of Miles in his bones, of course. But he consistently hits it harder than Miles in a typical period, though the Miles of Four and More has lots of that too.

He and his band have been growing though. This is excellent live jazz with all that entails. They are out to play and they do. There's enough fire for the NYC Fire Department to contend with. And there is an assurance in Roney's playing as well as the band as a whole. They are in that desirable category where "mainstream" only connotes an aspect of their connectedness to a tradition. It does not connote the careful cloning, polite whitewashing, or the playing it all for grandma approach some artists, too many alas, are apt to fall back upon for either security or due to a momentary (or permanent) lapse in the talent part of the equation.

No, Wallace Roney is mainstream only in the sense that he builds on what went before. And most importantly he does that with the essence of what jazz, especially live jazz, should be. A vehicle for self-expression, an instant form of communication, a conduit of the musical, mental and emotional self. Listen to the concluding, unaccompanied trumpet solo on "FMS." You'll get what I mean! I think most will find this a very worthy addition to their collection. It's brought hours of joyous enjoyment for me so far. May it do that for you as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Canadian Brass Get Out the Big Guns for Independence Day

If you are the sort of music lover that needs to have various musics to mark various occasions, then, in the States anyway, July 4th and Thanksgiving may send you on a longer and more complicated search for appropriate sounds, compared to some of the other holidays. Neither holiday has a long tradition of record merchandising to appeal to those who need musical ritual to heighten the day's festivities. Ives' Holidays Symphony actually covers both and a few others to boot, but we already talked about one excellent recording of that last November.

If you have taste and something quite a bit more developed than the tin ear sort of music appreciation, the music should be appropriate but also have a little substance. In other words, Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" won't do. Now pardon me, but in the aftermath of 9-11, I personally have heard enough versions of "God Bless America" to last me several lifetimes. The New York Yankees played that god awful 78 of Kate Smith for EVERY seventh-inning stretch in Yankee Stadium for how many years? Much too many. It's just a terrible song in my opinion. It has a mawkish sentimentality that was appropriate during the WW II years but only seems forced today. "Stand beside her and guide her in the night with the light from above" must be one of the most inane lyrics ever produced. Who is she, first of all? And is that the moon the song is referring to? Anything to get some rhymes going, I suppose.

So when I look for stirring, appropriate music for July 4th, I surely hope that GBA is left out. The Canadian Brass and their album Stars and Stripes (Opening Day 7382) do NOT cover GBA, so immediately I like the thrust. It's their exceptional brass ensemble teamed with a crack drum outfit that goes for the old rudimentary Colonial-to-Civil-War instruments and styles. That works. That works quite well.

Now I can't help but wonder how a selection of songs for brass and drums to mark Independence Day has changed since Charles Ives' dad marched down Main Street more than 100 years ago. One swallow does not make a summer, and so too the Canadian Brass's choice of repertoire does not constitute a scientific plumb line for every concert and band's play list today. Nonetheless it's fun to notice what might be different in 2010 comapared with 1910. Much of the selections perhaps are identical to those heard in a bandshell concert in the park 100 years ago. There are the potboilers like Sousa's "Stars and Stripes," "Hail Columbia" "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and those sorts of things. But "Shanandoah" is not something typically included in ye olden times, if I am not mistaken. "O Canada" is part of the disk because after all this is the CANADIAN Brass, and I happen to think it's one of the nicest anthems going, so who's complaining?

"Dixie's Land" may or may not have been included years ago. It depended on where the concert was being performed of course. And of course a quotation from Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" is only possible now, since it did not exist then. Well, all that is interesting but it's the album that must stand or die on its own. I am happy to say that this one has plenty of good factors going for it. First of all, the Canadian Brass are a great outfit and they sounds as good as ever here, as do the drums. The recording has nice presence. The arrangements have just enough subtlety to keep the more musical ears occupied, while there are also plain old moments of bombast to get grandma going.

Anyway I was a little surprised to find myself really liking this CD. It's good! This taps on a musical tradition in ways that keep it vibrant and living. And it's something anyone with musically attuned ears will not cringe to hear. It may well delight your guests. It will likely delight you as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Big Wow for Mahanthappa & Lehman's "Dual Identity"

Masters of the saxophonic arts. That would certainly be an apt description of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman. Both have established a buzz among the jazz community as players to hear. With their Dual Identity (Clean Feed 172) CD, they are in a breakout mode. I'll start right off by saying that this is an album one should not miss. The twin altos of Rudresh and Steve stylistically and aurally mesh in the best sort of way. They both run long and exciting modern lines; together they have a kinetic interaction that puts the whole sheebang onto a very high plane. Whether it's matching solo for solo, simultaneously improvising, or working through the serpentine written passages, they shine and blaze like twin suns.

Their bandmates are not slouching either. Guitarist Liberty Ellman fuzes sophisticated post-William's-Lifetime comping and solo distinctiveness worthy of the best of the modern electricians out there. The rhythm team of Matt Brewer and Damion Reid (bass and drums, repectively) take the straight-eight form of a post-rock-funk approach and make something driving, complex and catalytic. Think of them as musical catalytic converters if you like.

This music is NOT polite (which is one of the first prerequisites for the modern jazz scene in my head), NOT cool ('though there isn't anything wrong with cool, either) and NOT pandering in any way to those who look for a smooth ride. This is on-the-edge music, not exactly as much free as post-post-bop ultramodern. All the fire of the medium is brought into play, but harnessed to the interest of creating a self-contained, renewed sense of form.

The sound of the dual altos is cutting and brittle. The note-ing is worthy of the best of the "new" players. That's because they are. Among the best, that is. This is the biggest thing since sliced bread. Bigger because once consumed, it can be consumed again with even more pleasure. Mahanthappa & Lehman get my BIG WOW and a vote for one of the best of the year! But I don't really like the CD, NOT! It rejuvenates the scene for me. What more to say?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

William Hooker Trio and "Yearn for Certainty"

William Hooker has been a powerful free drummer on the scene for a long time. His qualities as a leader-conceptualist are out front on the recently released Yearn for Certainty (Engine 2010). It's a live date from Roulette in NYC, 2007.

A rather unusual trio instrumentation of William on drums and recitation, David Soldier on acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and violin, and the redoubtable Sabir Mateen on saxophones, flute and clarinet give the music color and texture.

Hooker's recitation of poetic utterances comes across as unpretentious and mood setting. His drumming has a narrative quality; it tells a story, even as it sometimes eloquently flails away. Soldier creates aural rootedness with the various string instruments, but also takes it out on occasion, as with his electric-wah violin on "Commonplace Travel." Mateen blows atop of whatever is going on with authority and big tone, or takes a little time out for some introspective searching, depending on the moment at hand.

This is not your typical free date. There are moments of energy and bash, yes, but just as frequently a kind of present-day-DIY-folk style that breaks up the music nicely into a series of vignettes, keeps your attention and brings fascination and pleasure to the listening event.

Yearn for Certainty is one of William Hooker's best to date.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guarnieri's Piano Concertos Give Your Ear A Workout

"The most important Brazilian composer after Villa-Lobos" the liner notes for today's CD tell us. Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993) may well be that. I have had the misfortune to miss a decent performance of any of his works over the years. I still have a few recordings, made in the pre-stereo era, sounding like the orchestra was trying to play inside a soup can. (Or desperately trying to get out of that can!)
Suffice to say that I didn't get the full impact of his music. Until now.

Guarnieri's Piano Concertos Nos. 4, 5, and 6 (Naxos 8.557667) as performed by Thomas Conlin conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic with Max Barros, piano, gives you full-throttle music, excellently executed.

This is exciting, dynamic modernism, alternately brash and pellucid. Its motor-sensory insistence suggests early Prokofiev or middle period Stravinsky. The melodic invention and overall orchestration suggest nobody.

The generous inclusion of the last three concertos (composed 1968-87) gives us an extended look at the composer in a sort of international modern framework. It's not music overflowing with South American folk strains. They are not well-known works, at least in the States, but they should be. No. 6, in fact, enjoys its world premier performance here.

If you love the modern style, this one will be a real treat. Bravo Guarnieri!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Joe Chambers Still Kicks It On "Horace to Max"

Drummer, vibraphonist, composer and leader Joe Chambers still has it! When I was pretty young and just getting into the modern jazz scene, I started grabbing up the mid-sixties Blue Note recordings, many of which turned out to be masterpieces. There were fabulous records by Dolphy, McLean, Hancock, Shorter, Moncur, Hill, Hubbard, and others. They took the basic hard bop ideas and spaced them out in that period, with wonderful results.

Now the drummers used on these dates were drawn from a small pool of players. Billy Higgins, who could fit in any manner of sessions, was often on a date; Tony Williams did his fair share of dates, and wow, what results. Then there was Joe Chambers. He was on many of the records. At first, before I listened, I thought, "too bad, it's some guy named Joe Chambers," not Tony or Billy. But then I started checking out what Joe Chambers was doing. His time was superb. He kicked the band in a loose but very driving way. He had impeccable dynamics and made the drum set SOUND.

Later on I heard him as an important member of the percussion ensemble M'Boom. I initially came for Max Roach, but Joe Chambers contributed some great compositions and played terrific mallets too. From there I heard his first albums on his own, and again was totally gassed.

Max is gone. Tony is gone. Billy is gone. Joe Chambers is not only not gone, his new album Horace to Max (Savant 2107) shows he is completely HERE! His drumming is as good as ever, maybe even more nuanced. His vibes-marimba playing is great, and he's gathered a group of sideman perfect for what he is doing.

Horace to Max, as the title implies, looks back and pays tribute to some of the masters of hard-bop-and-beyond. The choice of material is excellent, with numbers that really should be heard again--and so they are. Kenny Durham's "Asiatic Rays," Horace Silver's "Ecaroh," Max's "Man from South Africa," Shorter's "Water Babies," Monk's "Evidence" and a very nice nice rendition of Joe Chambers' own "Afreeka," among other things. Arrangements are deftly put together by Joe and they work well. The band shines. Eric Alexander's tenor has just the eloquence and fire needed to get things on a good footing, Steve Berrios is just the man to do the percussion-conga-lering and plays nice drums when Joe switches to mallets. Xavier Davis (and Helen Sung on one cut) play in the idiom with good drive and swing. They are joined by vocalist Nicole Guiland on two cuts and she fills Abbey Lincoln's shoes on "Mendacity" in ways that are certainly not slavishly imitative.

And Joe Chambers the drummer--any aspiring trapsetist monk ought to study what he is doing on this record. Listen carefully to the pulse and the SOUND. It's that of a master.

I can't say enough good things about Joe Chambers and this album. May he continue to thrive. Check it out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some Interesting & Lesser Known Hovhaness Wind Symphonies

Generations of music lovers from the beginning of time have all had their epiphanies, I would think, those moments when they are first exposed to some music that changes the way they hear, changes the way they think about what music is and can be. One way or another, the journey of musical connoisseurship must start somewhere. There must be one or more early formative moments where one is introduced fortuitously into musical styles that one has no idea about. For me it was in the brick-and-mortar shops, junk shops and record outlets of otherwise non-musical concerns where I found cheap and ready access to all kinds of unknown gems.

For example for me there was a 5 & 10 several towns away where, tucked in their basement, there was a quite interesting and eclectic assortment of classical cutouts, 99 cents each. I bought them without a clear idea of what they were, but it turns out there was much that for me became seminal. Some examples: a Concertgebouw recording of Bruckner's Third, Joseph Szgeti playing Prokofiev's Violin Concert No. 1, and, more to the point, a Heliodor re-release of what I assume now was an old MGM recording of the music of Hovhaness. (I could go on about the gems mouldering away in some archive now; some very interesting and obscure recordings long forgotten, originally released on MGM's modern classical series of the '50s, but another time for that.)

I plunked down the 99 cents for the Hovhaness with no idea what it was. It so happened that the influence of Ravi Shankar and the East in general was at a peak in the US. When I first listened to Hovhaness's strongly Armenian flavored music it seemed completely in line with that tonality of non-Western modal forms that I had already been exposed to, which of course it was, and I came to love that record very much. Time passed and I explored more and more of the Hovhaness opus, and found in him a major composer with another way through the dilemma of what to do after the demise of late Romanticism.

He nearly always had a modernist sensibility in terms of attention to the sound color of a piece, but he worked in a eastern modal idiom that set his music apart. And there was an archaism there too, which gave his music a timelessness I still feel. Most importantly his inventiveness within that quasi-modal idiom was and is second-to-none. He was a great melodist with a natural sense of good flow and self-imposed form.

Now i don't know fully how the very latest generation will be exposed to serious music. I expect the internet will allow any young budding pioneers in ear expansive explorations to find their way. For the youth, now as then, what's available needs to be inexpensive enough that experimentation and taking a chance on the unknown will be possible.

Of course Naxos is a modern institution where the young and old can be exposed to unfamiliar music priced low enough to make risk-taking unproblematic. To get to the point, I hope some kid like me stumbles on the release we discuss today. And I hope it is a revelation to that kid.

Namely, Keith Brion conducts the Trinity College of Music Wind Orchestra in a fine recording of three early to mid-period symphonies of the late American composer, Symphonies Nos. 7, 14 and 23 (Naxos 8.559385). All three works have not to my knowledge been recorded repeatedly, but are not in any sense lesser works for all that.

Hovhaness writes beautifully for brass, and one finds plenty of characteristic passages in these symphonies. There are searching, mysterious moments, moments of grandeur, and long expressive chorales (note especially the first and following movements of Symphony 23).

All three works are good examples of the Hovhaness style and since they cover a span of time from 1959-1972, give the listener a handle on its development.

Brion's interpretive performances are sharply focused, etched with clarity. The sound is terrific, the wind band brightly sonorous or murkily brooding as appropriate to the music at hand. In short, this is first-rate Hovhaness. It will give the newcomer to his music a good introduction; it will be a most welcome addition to the collection of Hovhaness admirers. He was one whose death in 2000 I personally mourned. But the music lives on, sounding as new and original as it did back when I first put that Heliodor LP on my father's clunky old turntable.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Marco Benevento Gets Some Nice Sounds Going

Categories can get tedious. Boring. To hell with them. Like for example there's Marco Benevento's new album Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato Family). It's Marco and his array of keys, his trio, and the full run of a studio. Benevento crafts a set of original pieces that capitalize on building a sound, a mix of the various sonances available to him with the keys, the effects and overdubs. What results is a very interesting instrumental presentation that is less directly centered around improvisation and more concerned with the ensemble blend. It has the thickness and aural depth of psychedelic rock soundscaping as practiced in recent times; but more straightforward and periodic in terms of song form. It also has a kind of tunefulness that will no doubt attract a larger audience.

I wouldn't call it "jazz" exactly. I wouldn't call it anything because it's pointless to do so. Innovative instrumental rockishness? Hear his trio live and you are apt to find Marco improvising lengthily in a more conventional jazz sense, with the trio adeptly dodging would-be brickbats from those who don't want their sacred categories mucked up with something ambiguous. The live situation gives you his trio in real time; Needles gives you the sound of Benevento in virtual time. Both are quite valid. Why shouldn't they be?

Between the Needles and Nightfall is all about music-making, about creating a large sound, very electronic in its manipulations but not derivative of drums n' bass or electronica. You don't get the trance riffs done ad nauseum or the stylized canned drums and electronic bass so fashionable a few years ago. What you do get is lots of melody, improvised and/or plotted out and arranged.

It's music. It makes for a good listen. Maybe to balance things off it's time next for a live trio date recording? That's of no matter. The point is, listen to this record without preconceptions and I think you will like it very much. Otherwise, it will not give you what you expect. Now that's really what an artist should do, isn't it? Give you something you didn't know you wanted?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Larry Ochs, Rova Sextet, "The Mirror World"

The downloading world can be a great convenience, but it has its problems. One is that the legit downloading services take no note of the "peculiarities" of serious jazz, improv and classical fanatics like me (and probably you, if you are reading this). That is, they assume that all you really want is a list of song titles, the artist and the album title and that's about it. So when I downloaded Larry Ochs/Rova Sextet's recording The Mirror World (Metalanguage 2007), I got the music in a more or less acceptable grade of MP3 sound, and little else. The music is dedicated to film auteur Stan Brackhage, that it mentioned. Otherwise, I was on my own. Pop and rock listeners generally, so it is assumed, don't care about anything but finding the tunes they want. Well I'm not sure that is always true, either. But at any rate the idea that information will be ignored by the consumer and will distract him or her from the all-important INSTANT PURCHASE is not only insulting to our intelligence, but assumes that people like me, who write about music, are really not useful. (Ahem, I refer to the fast disappearing art of writing liner notes, which I would be happy to do. It would be a great thing to actually bring in some money for peanut butter sandwiches, which are a good staple along with beans when you basically have no money. OK?)

So when I decided after listening several times that The Mirror World was quite interesting and good to review, I had to go back to the net and try to get a little more info. You who have an actual hard copy of this 2-CD set may have the extra info I didn't find on the net, but bear with me because it is the music itself that gets my attention here. Fill in the extra-musical details as you will.

So Larry Ochs and his fellow members of the Rova Saxophone Quartet added two drummer-percussionists and realized Mr. Ochs' extended piece for this recording. That was and is a great idea because. . . 1. Rova sounds even more exciting when a couple of drummers are there bashing away. 2. Ochs' piece is ambitious, extended and very worth the listen. There are worked out passages of a brittle complexity, group improvisations of great strength, lucid, torrid solos in a free-form mode and there's a good bit of the above. Though the piece runs at about 70 minutes and could have easily fitted onto a single CD, the breaking of the piece into two digestible segments keeps the listener focused. It's not such a bad thing.

I wonder what the fate of Ascension would have been had CD technology been around when it was first released. An 80-minute version would be great to hear now, but back then I don't think the intensity and newness of free larger group excursions would have made many people comfortable with so much of it at one sitting.

So beyond my long asides, for which I apologise, I want to express to you my feeling that The Mirror World is one of those recordings that is destined to grow in stature as time passes. It is intense, but really quite beautiful, quite an achievement. Get it and you may feel the same way after a number of plays.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pascal Dusapin's Masterful "7 Solos Pour Orchestre"

Pascal Dusapin was born in 1955. That doesn't make him exactly a youngster, but considering, say, Elliot Carter (who has been productive for very many years), Dusapin (one hopes) has a good time to come where he can continue to extend his music. As it is, the Pascal Dusapin of the Seven Solos for Orchestra is a composer fully matured and extraordinarily eloquent in his orchestral writing. The seven solos were written over a period between 1991-2008. The gathering together and performing of the entire cycle for the first time on disk makes it clear that this is important music.

Unlike Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, here we have music where sonority takes precedent over group virtuosity.

The compete set of Solos we've been discussing is out on a 2-CD set (Naive 782180), with Pascal Rophe conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liege Wallonie Bruxelles. It is concentrated, focused music and the performances are quite exciting. Maestro Dusapin writes music that has a kind of inexorable logic. The music is very modern and uses melodic-intervalic-harmonic cells as ideas that unfold with a kind of linear reasonableness. Like Varese before him, Dusapin creates a musical syntax that has movingly expressive content but also flows out if itself with speech-like clarity. The music-speech we hear is his own. Very much so.

Each of the fairly short pieces is a gem; together they make a marvelous impression on this listener. Dusapin crafts inspired music. Listen to this one and I think you'll agree. Most highly recommended. . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Uncertain Living" from the Britton Brothers Band

In the modern mainstream of jazz, nuance is everything. It makes the difference between an outstanding date and a "stuck groove." Cut for cut, the two hypothetical sessions may match in terms of instrumentation, stylistic subgenres explored and overall thrust. The first may find its way onto jazz radio for various musical and extra-musical reasons, yet the musical engine is idling, wasting precious musical gas. The other session will also (one hopes) be heard at large, yet has those elements that distinguish the music, revitalize it and give an individual touch to the whole endeavor. The first session will be forgotten quickly, in a just world; the second, one hopes, not. The Britton Brothers Band and their new CD Uncertain Living (Record Craft, no catalog number listed) belong to the second category

They play a range of styles from jazz-rock to bop, but it is not in some generic sense. The songs have substance and those extra arranged and composed touches that stand out. John and Ben Britton write most of the music and it's worth one's attention. John plays a very nice trumpet with a touch of universality. He's good though. There are roots of the best of the hard boppers in his playing, but not the licks they might have played. Ben is on tenor, and has that drivingly linear modern sound, evocative slightly of Mike Brecker, Dave Liebman and other such players. He has a very strong tone and a confidence and inventive ability in the improvisations that make you want to check him out in a live setting. The backing trio is strong, especially pianist Jeremy Strickland. The formidable Chris Potter joins the fray on two cuts for a vigorous two-tenor matchup.

This is a date one feels proud to file away under "good modern mainstreamers" and return to with pleasure. In this current world of musical overproduction, the Britton Brothers belong among the few who would have been, or should have been recorded in the earlier days when it took the backing of a dedicated boutique jazz label or even a major. That is not to say that this music could have been made in 1972. It's of today, regardless of its rootedness. I hope we hear much more from this talented musical family!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Steve Baczkowski, Baritone Firebrand II: Aqua Machine

A while ago (see earlier posting) we took a look at Steve Baczkowski in duet with Ravi Padmanabha, drummer and percussion adept. Today, another. Viz: a series of live performances from several venues selected and sequenced onto the interesting limited edition CD-Rom Aqua Machine (Qbico 51).

Both Steve and Ravi shift to various instruments from piece to piece in a free improv outing that has power and grace in equal quantities. Ravi plies and coaxes the conventional drum kit with barrages and essays in sound color, and also plays some appropriate tattoos on a frame drum, the gopichand, tabla and small instruments. Steve goes from baritone to slide bass clarinet, and on to the tenor, a homemade clarinet and the bamboo flute.

Baczkowski has that big, timbrally complex sound on bari and tenor and gets some very nice improvisations going. His playing is free-form yet has a logic musically. Ravi Padmanabha gives back as much as he takes in, providing a rather ideal foil to Steve's outbursts and getting quiet and subtle with him when that is on the agenda.

Not everything on this disk is essential, The jawharp-vocal interlude does not seem especially profound. It is a short part of the set though and one must expect a few moments of tentativeness in the free improvisational event.

This disk may or may not be in print (it is several years old) but it is worth searching for. Aqua Machine gives you a worthy introduction to the duo. Bravo!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Compelling New Version of Corigliano's "The Red Violin"

Composer John Corigliano is a musical mind, as it were, so inventive and lyrically endowed that listening to his best work transcends period and style. One forgets to gauge the music in the context of our current century and rather loses oneself in the sheer delight of his mastery. That, at least, is what happens to me when I listen.

His Violin Concerto, The Red Violin, is a case in point. This is the concert-concerto re-composition of the soundtrack Corigliano wrote for the rather wonderful movie of the same name. It follows the fate of a most singular violin and its owners over a period of several hundred years. Given the period of time represented it is only natural that Corigliano's music has a looking-backwards-over-time quality, a feeling of time lost (Proustian?) but regained in the telling of the story. This is modern music that is musically expressive first and modern only in its secondary sense.

The main, and most formidable movement of the work is in the form of a chaconne, a series of chords that center the music and provide a framework to the unforgettably evocative melodizing. It's all in the form of a bravura violin concerto that recapitulates the tradition from Mozart to Berg (in fact Berg's concerto has a certain resonance with Corigliano's) without sounding as if it were derived from any particular moment in that history. In short Corigliano's exceptional, naturally fecund compositional brilliance and his complete internalization of the grand tradition leads to music that transmits a great beauty, mystery and passion, complete within itself. There are references, but it is not assuredly a work of citations and footnotes. It is organic completeness. . . marvelous Corigliano music.

There is a new version just out with Michael Ludwig taking on the solo part and JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic (Naxos 8.559671). It is hard to top the original version with Joshua Bell. But this version does quite well for itself. Ludwig gives a finely detailed rendering of the solo part without forgetting the romantic passion so much a part of the piece. Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic bring out the sensuous and mysterious sides of the work in fine fashion. The performance has its own coherence and validity. My take would be to get this version AND the one with Joshua Bell. If you are on a budget, this one at Naxos prices will serve you quite well.

It has as a nice bonus the Phantasmagoria Suite from Corigliano's quite successful opera "The Ghosts of Versailles." In essence this suite has a kind of fascinating pastiche quality, with quotations from classic opera, snatches of Rossini, Mozart and Wagner incorporated into a masterful orchestral tour de force that reflects the opera in a kind of instrumental microcosm. It is very enjoyable and very much an inimitable product of Corigliano's eloquent pen.

Corigliano's music impresses without the appearance of an intense striving for novelty. It appeals to those that may not like modern music, and too those that do. That's quite an achievement. This recording is a great place to experience his extraordinarily attractive music.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

David Borgo: The Fine Art of Conceptualizing and Performing

When I had the good fortune to review David Borgo's African inspired ensemble suite Ubuntu (Cadence 1181) I was so taken by it that I choose it as one of the top ten releases for that year. Never being one to let that all be, I searched out and found a few more albums by Dr. Borgo.

One of them we consider today, Reverence for Uncertainty (Circumvention 042). It turns out to be a wide-ranging, free to African-inspired outing with an ever-shifting lineup of musically sympathetic colleagues. David Borgo mostly is found playing his tenor, but also the alto and soprano, and a solo for chalumeau clarinet.

David has advanced degrees in ethnomusicology (good for that!) and teaches at the University of California San Diego. I suppose that helps explain some of his more African-inspired music, but on this CD there is a wider range of stylistic explorations: free improvisations, more or less formally written works, Ornettish anthems, and a little of Afro-groove-meets-avant-jazz, in a small group context.

Solos, duos, two and three horn pieces and three- to five-piece conventional combos alternate throughout the recording and keep the ear stimulated with the adventure of sound and the sound of adventure.

Dr. Borgo plays his saxes adeptly and with convincing avant fervor and polish, but he also thrives as conceptualist-composer. Reverence for Uncertainty provides the advanced improvisation aficionado with a sparkling gem of an offering. I recommend it highly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"Monkey: Journey to the West," Modern Chinese Opera Adaptation

The 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West I don't suppose is read much in translation. I've never read it anyway. A few years ago actor-director Chen Shi-Zheng collaborated with Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, English musician and English artist, respectively, on a stage piece, a modern Chinese operatic adaption, if you will, of the story. Monkey: Journey to the West (XL 388) is the recording of the production, released in 2008.

The music is of a syncretist cast. There are electro-acoustic elements, a sort of electronica, orchestral passages of interest, rock-pop-ish elements and some traditional Chinese influences, not to mention a bit of minimalism here and there.

When I first put this one on (without first seeing what it was) I was puzzled and intrigued. I still am. It's decidedly different, and rather good at being different to boot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Haney-Cyrille-Duval a Go Go

David Haney is a pianist of the purist sort. He plays freely, he plays imaginatively and he plays exactly what he wants. That to me is a "pure" sort of stance. On the Conspiracy A Go Go (CIMP 369) recording, he is surrounded by an ideal set of musicians for such an endeavor. Andrew Cyrille is one of the true pioneers and a most lucid example of the free drummer. He listens, he responds beautifully. He can play excellent time and excellent out-of-time drums. And he does here. Dominic Duval happens to be one of the major free bassists on this planet. A description of his style would assume he can be pinned down. He cannot. He varies what he does to accord with who is playing on the date and the nature of the music intended. He plays some wonderful solo spots on this one and makes a major contribution to the success of this trio effort. (My spellcheck tells me that I should substitute "sauces" in place of "success." That would leave us with "makes a major contribution to the SAUCES of this trio effort." Almost a good one!)

Then there is David Haney. Perhaps not a name everybody knows. But listen to him. He knows the value of varying density and dynamics; he has a sharply honed sense of what clusters and individual lines suit the moment and he comes through with them.

Anyone who likes the full interactive possibilities of the free piano trio ought to check this one out. It's a textbook lesson on what three people can do to keep the music happening. And it is consistently excellent in thought and execution.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Empty Cage Quartet and Guests Create A Little Magic

We looked at a recent Empty Cage Quartet CD last February and also covered a couple of very intriguing projects Paul Kikuchi did with some key collaborators in the intervening time between then and now (see earlier posts).

Today we look at another Empty Cage recording and it's another goodie. This time out drummer Kikuchi, bassist Ivan Johnson, reedman Jason Mears and trumpeter Kris Tiner are joined by special guests Aurelien Besnard on clarinets and Patrice Soletti on electric guitar. The resultant Take Care of Floating (Rude Awakening) is a winner in every sense.

Soletti gives the band some rock ambience, a harmonic voice and a tone color that adds much to what goes on. Besnard brings another voice to the ensemble and adds a distinctive solo presence on bass clarinet as well. Mears, Tiner, Besnard and Kikuchi contribute the compositions, which provide well thought-out frameworks for each performance. There are meaty, substantial motives, modern chorale-like horn choirs, loose grooves that do not engage in cliches, and plenty of ensemble parts to bolster and contextualize the soloists.

The music is MODERN, searing at points, intricate at other points, but never harshly bombastic (which of course some modern jazz can be, not that I have a problem with that either). A lot of thought and care went into this music, but also a lot of inspiration and solo presence too. Take Care of Floating for me marks a high-water mark in mid-sized jazz ensemble work of the past five years. Put this one down as one of my favorite this year so far!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New-Old New York Art Quartet Recording!

It's always an occasion when new material is released by an important band, when as you listen you realize that reasons for its unavailability over time have nothing to do with the quality of the music itself or the recording.

That's the case with the new issue Old Stuff (Cuneiform) by the New York Art Quartet. The band, headed by altoist John Tchicai and trombonist Roswell Rudd, made some of the most interesting music on the "new thing" jazz scene in the mid-sixties, then were no more. It was a group that featured the formidable two soloists in lengthy explorations, some fantastic interplay between the horns, interesting composed material and a rhythm section that burned away.

The story behind Old Stuff is that John Tchicai lined up some gigs in his native Copenhagen for the fall of 1965. The regular drummer (was it still Milford Graves?) and whoever the bass player was at the time (Reggie Workman?) could not make the trip, so the quartet was fleshed out with Finn von Eyben coming in on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. Von Eyben sounds fine on the recording and adds his own conceptual influence. However it is Moholo that changes the character of the band in an more dramatic way. He gives the band a totally different rhythmic base. Moholo's time was quite different from Graves: there is in the former a more linear poly-rhythmic thrust to the pulse that propulses the band differently yet still opens it up to an expanded sense of temporal possibilities. It gives Tchicai and Rudd support for more complex yet still free solo statements and they respond beautifully.

And so you get a long set of music drawn from two gigs they played during their stay that fall. The recording quality is excellent, as is the level of the music. It's a major addition to the NY Art Quartet discography and highly recommended!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pandelis Karayorgis and Nate McBride Duo

If you don't know Pandelis Karayorgis and his pianism, you are missing out on something. He's been around a while, lives in Boston, and has his own take on the avant improv free piano. There are players of the piano who are free yet their playing comments implicitly on the bop and beyond tradition they extend; then there are players that break the thread and emerge into a world of "pure" improv. This rule of thumb doesn't completely hold true to every player across the board. But think of Paul Bley for the former and later Cecil Taylor for the latter. Connie Crothers can go in either camp, Don Pullen could too. And Pandelis on his Let It (Cadence Jazz Records), straddles the line, crossing in either direction as the muse warrants.

This CD came out a few years ago. It gives you a substantial sampling of what Mr. Karayorgis can do in duet with bassist Nate McBride, who puts in an excellent performance on these improvisations, as anybody who knows his work might expect.

Pandelis is is great form on this one (but then again I've never heard him sound badly). There is a Monk influence to his playing, among other things, and it comes out in his staccato-sfortzando attack on dissonant chords and hard hitting single lines, not to mention some direct Monk quotes and a version of "Criss Cross" here. Karayorgis has so internalized the influence though that it is the voice of Karayorgis that speaks to us, wholly, whatever he plays.

McBride and Karayorgis have the kind of two-minded unity in this series of duets that few such interactions manage to achieve. They are on the same wave-length and inspired to give their best.

Let It provides plenty of examples of why I find Karayorgis on my short list of the most interesting free pianists working today. That list would include the aforementioned Ms. Crothers, and. . . well, Matthew Shipp, Anthony Coleman, of course Cecil Taylor, and I am leaving out people but the point is the handful is small. Let It gives you a more naked Karayorgis, if you will, an exposed player in the act of creation. So that is probably an excellent place to start for his music. Find out more about the album at Click on Cadence Jazz Records when you get there.