Friday, November 30, 2012

The Lou Grassi Po Band with Marshall Allen, Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1, 2000

A couple of years ago Porter Records released a 2000 performance of an all-star configuration of the Lou Grassi Po Band Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1 (Porter 4051). I am just (happily) catching up with it so I am sharing the experience with you, my much appreciated readers.

Lou is of course on the drums, the always incandescent Marshall Allen makes his presence vibrate on alto and flute, then there's Paul Smoker on the trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, Perry Robinson, clarinet, and the late Wilber Morris on bass.

Needless to say this was a formidable gathering of avant jazzmen and I am glad to say the results live up to expectations. Three longish segments fill the disk: two collective improvisations and a Paul Smoker piece, "LouRa."

You could just listen to Lou Grassi on the drums and get something out of it. He is inventive rolling thunder personified. But everybody is onto the main stem in classic new thing ways so there is much to hear. The group improvs are sometimes extraordinarily tumultuous in part thanks to Marshall's patently raucous war cries as inspiration, but there are plenty of spaces less dense as well.

It's a very good blow-out that I would have been very happy to have caught live. For all that there is the document disk available as consolation. Avant fans will find this one very stimulating, as I did.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Christmas Time is Here

When it comes to holiday music, I feel strongly that it should be volunteerisitic. If I turn on the TV and they are singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" on November 22nd with the words changed to emphasize how much you'll save at x store, I find it a most annoying imposition. But when the time is right, I am there, if it is something ancient or tasteful, or, if I am in certain mood, tasteless even.

Today's disk goes under the "tasteful" category. It's the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, a solid big band, doing arrangements of 12 perennials. A chorus makes an appearance on a few numbers, and there is a nice sounding singer for one of the carols, but this is primarily a set of arrangements that are middle-of-the-road mainstream for an outfit that does a fine job making them swing. Soloists Gregory Tardy, Tim Green and Dan Trudell add the nutmeg to the musical eggnog.

It's most definitely something that would go well with get-togethers and such. If it won't change the world, it should add some good cheer, and we all need some of that this year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Noah Howard Quartet, Live at Glenn Miller Cafe

Noah Howard is no more. But his music lives on. An interesting, previously unreleased quartet performance can be had as Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe (JaZt Tapes 030).

It features Noah on alto and tenor in good form from 2000 with the always lively Bobby Few on piano and a game rhythm section of Ulf Akerhjelm on bass and Gilbert Matthews, drums.

It has the late Trane general free feel as far as group dynamic goes much of the time--implied, open pulse at times, all-over chordal piano in Bobby Few's own way, Noah incantatory.

This is not copycatting, though. It extends the music tradition and it's doing so through the creative passion of Noah. And there are musical excursions into other zones in the course of the two sets represented here on disk.

The sound is very decent. It may not be the best thing Noah recorded but it extends what we have of his later period quite nicely and gives you some soulful freedom in the process.

Go to to find out more about the series and how to order a copy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Maya Dunietz, John Edwards, Steve Noble, Cousin It

Cousin It? (Hopscotch 23). No not the hairy character from the TV show. Instead, a trio of Israeli pianist Maya Dunietz with bassist John Edwards and Steve Noble on drums.

Maya has made a name for herself over there, and this trio gives you an idea why. She is extremely plastic in her conception, able and willing at any given moment to dive into inside-the-piano and prepared sounds, then give out with an extension, an original phrasing that shows an absorption of the piano jazz that existed (and exists) in another time. John Edwards and Steve Noble are ideal partners. They respond not by stepping on her lines but by setting up complementary pulsations, phrases, sounds that complete the musical picture.

This is music of freedom, piano trio avantness of distinction. It is very in there and it is very out there! It's something that most definitely adds something to the piano trio scene, and it does so in ways that make you smile and keep digging.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Zen Widow featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget)

Wadada Leo Smith has been on a roll lately, there is no doubt. His recordings as leader, composer, trumpet master have been some of the most important releases of the last several years. And now he makes a rare appearance as sideman, in great form, with the group Zen Widow.

Screaming in Daytime (Make Men Forget) (pfMENTUM 069) is a very productive meeting between Wadada and the members of Zen Widow (Gianni Gebbia, alto, Matthew Goodheart, piano and electro-acoustic gongs and cymbals, and Garth Powell, drums and percussion).

It's a varied offering of adventuresome new music-avant jazz that gives plenty of opportunity for all to express themselves freely, yet has a compositional and interactional program that keeps the music moving in the best ways. The members of Zen Widow make their kinetic improvisations speak, as does Wadada, as one comes to expect of course.

This is carefully conjured, serious new music. It works on all levels. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, Live at ABC No Rio, NYC, 2007

The JaZt Tapes series seems to me a very good idea. It is a series of limited-edition releases by mostly avant jazz artists, music they want the music community to hear, as a promotion of their music and as a way of introducing the music to the public in hopes of a larger-scale release in the future.

Today we take a look at one such release by Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, Live at ABC No Rio, NYC (JaZt Tapes CD-029). It is a 2007 performance with a shifting set of improvisers that includes Shurdut on piano along with Chris Welcome, Robyn Siwula, Ken Silverman, Blaise Siwula, Marcus Cummins, Raymond Todd, Shayna Dulberger and Scott May.

It is nice sort of free-energy anarchy that gets going on this set, put in to orbit with Shurdut's all-over density at the piano, with Silverman's guitar and Blaise Siwula's alto and clarinet some of the other more outstanding voices in the general tumult.

It's music that does not compromise. It is music that should fascinate those into the "new thing" because the mix is very dynamic, ever-changing and sonically diverse. It's worth the effort to track this one down. Some Shurdut is no doubt essential to any free improv collection and this is a good one.

Go to to find out more about the series and how to order a copy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trespass Trio, Bruder Beda, Kuchen-Zanussi-Strid

Today, a look at an attractive release from the Trespass Trio, Bruder Beda (Clean Feed 251). It is named after (and centers around) the Jewish WWI hero, priest and minister who was persecuted and martyred by the Nazis.

Fittingly the music has a serious, sober, commemorative cast. Other than one collective improvisation, these are Martin Kuchen compositions, who plays alto and baritone. Per Zanussi is on double bass, Raymond Strid on drums.

The music is free, compositional, structured, passionate, anguished, moving. Much of the music in in a minor tonality, in keeping with the theme. On alto and baritone Martin is quite convincing and the rhythm team brings an intensity of focus to the session in keeping with Kuchen's own musical commitment.

It is one of the most distinctively alive avant trio disks to come out this year to my mind. This is music of intensity, of tenderness, rage and transcendence.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Guerino Mazzola, Joomi Park, Passionate Message

A most interesting and unusual project stands before us today. Pianists Guerino Mazzola and Joomi Park joined together to produce the recording Passionate Message: 12 New Works for Piano Duo (Silkheart 159).

The idea behind the meeting was a good one. The two artists have very different approaches, Mazzola favoring a free jazz improvisational stance, Park in the new music, contemporary avant classical composition-performance-improvisation zone. The idea was to both underscore the differences and to find a common ground in a series of improvisations.

And so there resulted four "series" of interchanges, involving statements of theme and improvisation by Park alone, then Mazzola alone, then the two together. The material ranges from more or less fully realized compositions ("Black Summer") to harmonic-melodic takes on standards (the Beatles' "Yesterday").

It is music that catapults back and forth between the two stylistic zones, then finds various forms and degrees of improvisational syntheses in the two-piano meetings.

It's frankly experimental and creative rather than some polished end-product, but that does not mean that the music is a throw-off or merely some gestural act. The results are fascinating, varied, vitally alive. It is music to explore on as deep a level as you wish, for there is much there and yet it is easily appreciated on the immediate level as well. What emerges is a complex double-portrait of two artists and two styles caught in the process of motion. You should hear it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Szilard Mezei Ensemble, BOT, 2004

After a bit of a break it's time today to look at the last in the batch of Szilard Mezei recordings on Not Two Records that I have been covering of the past few months. It is BOT (Not Two 818-2), one of Szilard's most ambitious offerings. Here we are treated to two full CDs of music recorded live in 2004.

It's a 10-member ensemble playing Mezei compositions and freely improvising around them. The band has a vibrant color, partly due to Mezei's writing/arranging, partly due to the instrumentation: oboe, bass clarinet/clarinet/alto, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, viola (Mezei), cello, doublebass and drums. So there is a potential contrast between and confluence of winds, brass, strings and percussion that Mezei makes use of in various creative ways as well as breaking out parts of sections to work together during solos and elsewise.

There is a lot of music to be heard, all of it worthwhile. The compositional/improvisational elements balance well throughout and the rhythmic feels vary from free to swinging and things in between.

This is/was a band that could and did make a statement via Mezei's compositional brilliance. It is a set filled with originality and excitement. I most certainly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pao, Pedro Sousa, Tiago Sousa, Travassos

The Portuguese creative music-improv scene today gets a new label to showcase some of the more adventurous sides of what is going on. It's called Shhpuma. It's a division of the seminal contemporary label Clean Feed. And I have their second release, Pao (Shhpuma 002), on my player as I write these lines.

Pao is a trio effort featuring Pedro Sousa on tenor sax, Tiago Sousa on keys, harmonium and percussion, and Travassos on live electronics. It's a heady sort of new music-free improv sound they get, with layers of electronic texture and drone, sometimes aided by harmonium and other keyboard effects, for a tripartite series of soundscapes that places Pedro Sousa's tenor overtop of the wash playing long notes, subtones, harmonics, unconventional soundings and breaking at certain points into a flurry of avant expression which stands out as significant contrast and musical event.

This is music of adventure, not exactly something to groove out on in some conventional jazzy sense. It is music of sound color, well done for what it is doing, moody, atmospheric. It is not music of a self-assuming sort. No one is trying to amaze you with prowess. It's all about the sounds. That is fully legitimate (in the sense that it has as much right to exist as bebop or symphonic music) and they leave an impression that is both positive and memorable.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Alex Wyatt, There's Always Something

Thanks to Kickstarter, we have Alex Wyatt's There's Always Something (NOWT Records NOWT 006) to appreciate. It's a sextet playing Wyatt's compositions, Alex on drums, Kyle Wilson on tenor, Masahiro Yamamoto, alto and soprano, Greg Ruggiero on guitar, Danny Fox, piano, and Christopher Tordini, bass.

It's a set of players that have the subtle finesse and style to fit the pieces, which are new jazz mainstream--or in other words, the music is progressive-acoustic, well put-together, and the players know what to do. Alex's rhythmic sensibilities come into play in the compositions and in the grooves that weave around them. There are kicks and other rhythmic devices that give the music a jolt and show off Wyatt's fine drumming. But the melodic-harmonic content of the numbers is also compelling, with some nice twists.

I like Wilson's stylistically encompassing tenor. It compliments Yamamoto's contemporary stance nicely. Both Ruggiero and Fox weave some very attractive lines. Tordini's bass playing is distinctive enough that you can listen to what he's doing directly and get something out of it on its own, but of course what he's doing also fits in well with the music at hand.

Everybody sounds good and the tunes are quite interesting and unpredictable. It's an album you need to listen to a few times to get how nice it all is. Then you are there. I was. Thank you Alex.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hairybones, Snakelust (for Kenji Nakagami), Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, Peter Broetzmann, Paal Nilssen-Love

Some music drives with such a singular force that it totally occupies the space it is in. There is nothing but the music at that moment and you either surrender to it and let it wash over you like a kind of baptism or you leave the space and go it alone.

That's the kind of music to be had in Hairybones' single 53-minute rout Snakelust (Clean Feed 252). It's the band live at Jazz em Agosto, Lisbon, last year and they are most definitely cranked for this set. Hairybones is the irrepressable Peter Broetzman on tenor, alto, etc.; Toshinori Kondo on trumpet; Massimo Pupillo on electric bass; and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Now that's a formidable lineup.

The effects and volume element of Massimo's bass and the electronics-trumpet of Toshinori gives the band an electricity that seems to bring out some harder playing from everybody. Paal is demonic, Peter, never the shy violet, is strongly possessed by the free-energy spirit here, Massimo does some very effective bass thundering, and Toshinori screams, wails and plunges into an aesthetic abyss for some of his best playing on disk.

There are times when the intensity reaches the level of Ascension and even beyond. Other times they explore less dense territory. They never flag nor do they play a single unfelt note, so far as I can hear.

I wont lie to you and say that this CD will convert those who dislike the free-energy-maelstrom sort of onslaught. I doubt that it will. It is a good one for somebody who knows nothing of this kind of music and wants to be blown away. Broetzmann fans and those who seek out the heat of out music will revel in it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fred Hersch Trio, Alive at the Vanguard

The Fred Hersch Trio is without a doubt one of the finest groups working in what you might call the post-Bill-Evans tradition today. The recent double CD Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto 2159) affirms that with some great improvising-tunesmithing.

The Evans trio legacy includes the idea of the trio as a fully integrated entity, not piano solos with bass and drums relegated to mere accompaniment. The former is most certainly the case here with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. They play an important part in the outcome, with solo and group interactions the order of the day.

Fred of course is a fully developed, finessed artist-pianist with good harmonic and melodic ideas continually flowing from his fingers. He can be impressionistic on the ballads and he is robust and individual on the more up swingers.

The program of originals benefits from a sprinkling of standards done with some care and attention for getting to the essential core of things. The originals have plenty of variety and cut across the contemporary scene with style and a thoughtful quality.

Alive at the Vanguard captures the trio at their very best. The double CD gives listeners a bird's eye earful of what they were doing at the club last February. It's essential listening for what the piano trio is today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Fish, Moon Fish (Guionnet-Duboc-Perraud)

In many ways at many times so-called "free jazz" depends for its success on inspiration and inventive commitment on the part of the musicians involved. If they are without a certain amount of "juice" and a certain level of ideas, it can be a little like the cartoon image of a hippopotamus taking a high dive into a much-too-small tub of water. Ouch!

I bring this up because today's CD is just the opposite of this kind of lack. We have the trio known as the Fish doing a three-part improvisation on their recent CD Moon Fish (Clean Feed 254). They are filled with the inspiration of the muses for this one, tumbling their way through some kicking free space.

This is a well-matched European outfit of Jean-Luc Guionnet, alto, Benjamin Duboc on contrabass (who we've encountered rather often in good settings both here and on the guitar-bass blog), and Edward Perraud on drums.

They are supercharged and wail their way through this set, Guionnet sometimes worrying a phrase a la "Sunship," more often proceeding in a linear way through phrases that blaze; Duboc creating forceful counter-onslaughts and digging in for a continuously thrumming energy foundation; Perraud feeling the spirit and busily pushing his kit to the barrage limits.

It's the wild and crazy kind of freedom we have on this one, continuous, energized, on fire and beautifully frenetic. Nice one.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Natsuki Tamura, Satoko Fujii, Muku

I had no idea when I posted here a week ago that Hurricane Sandy would make it impossible to do so again until now. After a brutal buffeting by winds we lost power until Saturday, so no internet until then. I am safe and thankful for it.

Today a suitably reflective album by trumpeter Natsuki Tamuka and his pianist partner Satoko Fujii entitled Muku (Libra 102-301). It is their fifth duo recording. Natsuki wrote the music for the set in a way that required the two of them to supply the creative improvisational spark to set things alight. That happens throughout.

The music was originally written for their quartet Gato Libre (see my review of their latest disk on these pages several weeks ago) but performed as a duo here for a more open sound. The music has elements that remind one of Japanese folk strains, some that have a new music feel to them, others that might be more easily comprehended as new jazz.

It's music of reflection and introspection much of the time. Natsuki and Satoko dig into the material and give us dramatic, compassionate yet structured performances.

Nicely done and a pleasure to hear.