Friday, December 31, 2010

Stephan Crump and James Carney Create Focused Freedom in Album of Duets

Echo Run Pry (Clean Feed 199) joins bassist Stephan Crump and pianist James Carney for two extended improv duets. Carney works inside the piano, adds prepared objects for a buzzing texture and also plays conventionally. Stephan Crump brings into play an approach that alternatives between a percussiveness and a flow (the latter especially when articulating arco lines) which works well with Carney's orientation.

The two twenty-minute-plus improvisations on the album cover the territory of free improvisation that lies somewhere between jazz per se and new music. It is a listen that requires attentiveness and patience as the players slowly reveal their musical thinking. Your patience is rewarded with some quite interesting and thoughtful sounds.

I would love to hear these two in a trio with a drummer. But for now they have made some very interesting music for us. Thank you. Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hans Otte's "Book of Sounds" for Solo Piano

Hans Otte's (1928-2007) Das Buch der Klange (The Book of Sounds) is a full-length piece (in 12 parts) for solo piano. Ralph van Raat has recorded a new version for Naxos (8.572444) and I am listening to it now as I write this.

The music is sonorous, straddling a grey area between the solo minimalist pianism of Keith Jarrett when he is in a mystically hypnotic mode and the sound of the piano music of Debussy, Ravel and Satie. That may be simplifying things too much, but those predecessors do come to mind when hearing the work.

Otte clearly revelled in the sounds of the various intervals and harmonies he brought forth on the piano. So much so that the piece strikes the hearer as a means to listen closely to the nature of those tones, set off by their sustained and repeated insistence and moments of relative silence.

Ralph van Raat gives a sensitive reading of the music, in all ways attuned to the composer's aims. But ultimately the music seems less weighty than its presentation. In other words, to me this is a marvelous performance of what seems to me a decidedly minor work of the latter half of the last century. It is quite pleasurable to listen to the music however. Like a babbling brook or the pounding of the surf, it pleases rather artlessly.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ullmann-Swell 4 and Their "News? No News!"

This exact band (Ullmann, reeds; Swell, trombone; Greene, bass; Altschul, drums) recorded on Cadence in 2004, producing a rather exciting disk which I've reviewed in a posting on this site (see below). They return with a superb avant jazz set today on the Jazzwerkstatt release News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt 068).

This is a well-matched set of players. Gebhard Ullmann plays a raucous, probing tenor and a snaky, fleet bass clarinet; Steve Swell is one of the handful of truly premier avant trombonist working today, a master of projection and color, extroversion and subtlety; Hilliard Greene plays a foundational bass that figures prominently in all that happens on this album. He is a rock. Barry Altschul has been an important innovative force in jazz-improv drumming ever since his seminal work with Paul Bley and Chick Corea, among many others. He sounds better than ever here. Whip-snap swing and a melodic approach to the full drum kit are what you expect from Mr. Altschul, and you get it here, for sure.

With my descriptions above, you might expect that this music just HAS to be good. Sometimes a group that should be really terrific on paper never seems to get it going in real time. That is not true here. This is modern improvisational avant jazz at its finest. But be careful. You may wake up your cat when you play it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eric Dolphy-Booker Little at the Five Spot Vol. 2: The Rudy Van Gelder Edition

The internet has led to various good things and some less good. Like the habit of some companies to rely on amateur writers' reviews to compensate for their lack of an editorial staff. The company pays nothing; they get highly erratic results; writers go without work. No one seems to care. That's the way it is. For example I accidentally stumbled across one such review today. It informed us that the Live at the Five Spot recordings contain lesser-known musicians. Booker Little, Eric Dolphy, Mal Waldron, Richard Davis and Eddie Blackwell...lesser known? Sure, they are if you don't know anything about jazz. If you do, well. . .

So. Never mind that for now. I have in my hand the jewel case of the Rudy Van Gelder Edition of Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Volume Two (Prestige PRS-31339). When CDs first hit Prestige/Fantasy issued all three volumes of the date as single CDs, which when you consider the playing time of the volumes (some 30 minutes or so), was a bit stingy in my estimation. The new Rudy Van Gelder edition remedies this. Volume Two includes the cuts from The Memorial Album (Volume Three) in addition to the two numbers originally a part of the second volume as released. So you get "Aggression," "Like Someone in Love," "Number Eight (Potsa Lotas)" and "Booker's Waltz."

The Van Gelder touch on remastering these sides is noticeable. He gets the sound of the band as they were meant to be heard--which is more or less what you got on the LPs.

The music? Totally classic. "Aggression" is a barn stormer that madly cooks from start to finish. Little and especially Dolphy (on bass clarinet) turn in some amazing solos. Waldron's piano is possessed. OK, the instrument is out-of-tune as Neil Tesser notes, but what Waldron is doing accentuates that to his advantage. At times his piano sounds like a kalimba, it is so drivingly percussive. Blackwell is on fire, as he is throughout. He and Richard Davis form one of the most exciting rhythm teams of the era. They drive!!

"Like Someone in Love" has great Dolphy flute as only Dolphy could do. "Number Eight" is a fabulous Dolphy composition that snakes and swirls through its routining (some interesting changes alternating with a riff vamp) in ways that drive the soloists into a very good place. Waldron's solo hits hard at the out-of-tune notes, getting a sound that a correctly tuned instrument just would not produce. I've found over the years of listening that the piano is just right for most of the music, which can be dissonant and tends to favor open voicings--less of the close thirds that would especially need proper tuning to properly sound. Perhaps that's the genius too of Mr. Waldron to accentuate those intervalic combinations. It works for the piano and it works for the music, which has much in the way of fire, drive, and a fully expanded tonality.

Live at the Five Spot is a one-time meeting of five masters at a peak of their considerable abilities. It turned out there wasn't much time left for the two principals--three months for Little, three years for Dolphy. But we have these wonderful sides, classics among classics. If you don't have Volumes Two and Three, here's a chance to get them in great remastered sound on one disk. Do that and you'll be happy, once you've listened a few times. Trust me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Danish Composer Anders Brodsgaard and "Galaxy"

Modern Danish composers? DaCapo brings us a bird's-eye view of some of what goes on there, as you may have noticed from previous posts on this blog.

Today, another very interesting release, Galaxy (DaCapo 8.226551), focusing on the orchestral music of Anders Brodsgaard (b. 1955). First things first: Christopher Austin and the Odense Symphony Orchestra illuminate the two works covered with bold definition and verve. The sound is quite good as well.

The two works? "Galaxy," (composed between 1990-1999), and "Monk's Mixtures" (2009). The former matches a large orchestra with an expansive, continuous sonic matrix. It is in turn consonant, dissonant, relatively quiescent or boldly dynamic. The sound universe suggests an isomorphic relation to the nearly infinite yet complexly patterned logic of a galaxy in motion. It is a finely nuanced, deeply expressive work that never seems less than inspired. His use of the orchestra shows a complete mastery of the sound-producing resources available to him, though he mostly realizes his ever-shifting sound masses without recourse to the less conventional sound-producing techniques developed by composers like Xenakis and Penderecki in their breakthrough works. Yet the overall effect is singular.

"Monk's Mixtures" is no less interesting. The music moves along more briskly, more periodically, as the movement titles ("Moving," "Walking," "Flying") suggest.

In the end one gets a sense of Brodsgaard the composer; a musical mind that is as attuned to orchestral color as it is inventively original in a melodic-harmonic sense.

This is bracing music, a jump into a cold stream. It's a good thing to hear. It gives you an open window into Brodsgaard's universe of sound. Recommended.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis Make Beautiful Music on "Cerulean Landscape"

Cerulian Landscape (Clean Feed 198) is one beautiful recording. Lyricism is not a common thing in jazz-improv these days. Lyricism is bursting at the seams on this Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis release. It serves notice in several ways. One, Anthony Davis is a jazz composer and pianist of the highest stature. I won't say he's back, because I don't believe he's ever left the scene. But this CD should wake people up to his artistry if they have not paid enough attention to him. Secondly, it highlights the formidable compositional skills of Jason Robinson, and also puts the lyrical side of his work on tenor, soprano, alto and alto flute in bold relief. Now he also happens to have two other new releases we'll be covering on this blog in the near future. All three together show a remarkably versatile musician. But that will become more clear in the coming weeks.

So of the seven songs on this disk, three are by Davis, three are by Robinson (there is also one by Jason Sherbundy). There are moments of free-fire but they have such strong melodic projection in them that I would have to say that there's a kind of lyricism going there too. Two very strong players in full flight; some very beautiful pieces....what more could you want? Ravishing! Really ravishing music.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Douglas J Cuomo's Multi-Stylistic Chamber Opera "Arjuna's Dilemma"

One version of the "complete composer" of the 21st century is one who is bi-musical; that is, the composer deftly incorporates the vocabulary and syntax of a great number of styles, both in and outside of contemporary classical music per se. I've been covering several such "post-modernists" on these pages, and today we turn to yet another.

Douglas J. Cuomo's chamber opera Arjuna's Dilemma (Innova 697) not only fits the bill in this regard; it gives the music lover much of interest from the listening point of view. The libretto is based on the Bhagavad Gita and the poetry of Kabir. The opera focuses on the principal character's quest for a deep knowledge of what is, which is in keeping with the subject matter of the B. Gita.

The libretto in turns makes it natural to incorporate and adapt South Asian musical elements to the operatic idiom, and Cuomo does that well. Those stylistic strains further combine into a unique and convincingly blended stew of Garbarekian jazz elements, a dash of minimalism, a contemporary choral idiom and chamber instrumentalities that evoke a straightforward sort of simplicity one associates with Virgil Thompson's operatic scoring. That is, they evoke it in the sense of "being in a lineage that includes" as opposed to "derives their existence from...". And there is also an oblique reference to vernacular song that also seems in the lineage of works like Robert Ashley's Atlanta. And then there's the pioneering Carla Bley work Escalator Over the Hill for a lineage of multi-stylistic operatic works that look to South Asian forms as part of the whole. (And I can't really omit Ravi Shankar's movie scores as having some relevance in the overall lineage at hand.)

A well-balanced ensemble prevails. There are two principal singers, a four-voiced chorus, and a small chamber group. The latter includes tabla master Badal Roy and tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini, both of whom have some prominent roles to play in parts of the score.

The point of it all though is that the music hangs together despite the stylistic disparity, and it does so in memorable ways. It is such a rich mix in fact that as I write this I listen to the music for the fifth time, and I am still getting new insights in the process. I think perhaps another five times and I'll truly begin to digest all that is going on.

The libretto in itself contains some true wisdom. It's something one should experience for oneself. That's true of all music of course, but description does not equal the actual experience. Maestro Cuomo has fashioned a vital work that demands your attention, then rewards it with much of merit. I suspect I'll spend some number of years to fully appreciate this one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anthony Braxton's Four Ensemble Compositions, 1994

Anthony Braxton has been so prolific over the years that I have been guilty of not keeping up with it. So especially his music of the '90s for me, partially because that was a decade where I was so absorbed in trying to make a living that much fell by the wayside.

Realizing this I searched out some of Braxton's music from that period, one being his Black Saint release Four Ensemble Compositions, 1992. Now I know some people find his classical-improvisational pieces perplexing or difficult. I think that usually that has to do with the need to hear the music a number of times. The four compositions on this recording, for example, do not yield their charms to the listener the first time around, at least not all of them.

Once you hear them three, four, five times, you start getting inside them. That is, if you have developed the close listening concentration that's necessary to appreciate all such pieces.

At any rate, I found the Four Ensemble Compositions to be some remarkable music. They combine the expressivity of avant garde improvisation a la Braxton with the kaleidoscopic play of sound colors that composed modern ensemble music offers. To me what's especially good about these pieces is how, by this point, Mr. Braxton has mastered an idiom that allows both approaches to meet on common ground. The result is not pastiche. It is pure Braxton.

Highly recommended. . .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Paul Hartsaw with Trio, "Matter and Memory"

Paul Hartsaw, Chicago avant tenor and soprano, has been making very interesting music, quietly but definitively. We've covered several of them on these pages (see below) and continue today with a trio recording he made with bassist Andrew Young and percussionist Jerome Bryerton. Matter and Memory (metastablesound 013) is dedicated to the philosopher Henri Bergson. That seems fitting because the music consistently flourishes on abstracted, conceptual grounds. It's available as a download-only album from the usual sources (Amazon, i tunes, Napster, etc.)

It was recorded in 2007 and released this year. Like the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and others before them, they construct timbrally exploratory sonic worlds that envelope the listener with ever-changing densities, freely presented. All three players meld into one as they find means of expression that avoid the obvious combinations and rhythmic regularities to create a more "meta"-oriented approach. And so of course the name of the label for this release (metastable sound) seems as much descriptive and emblematic.

Each player contributes a thoroughgoingly original musical personality on these improvisations. They are deliberative in a high modernist realm; there are no mis-steps or quotations from the vernacular. This is very well-executed, rather pure music of the modern age. And it's really quite good. Don't plan to unleash it at your next dance party. It's not a music of overt pulsation. Or perhaps you SHOULD, if you have friends who have a sense of adventure. Nevertheless, this tends to be more contemplative than visceral, though generalities can be misleading, since Matter and Memory does have a highly expressive component.

Give this one a listen. It's good for your ears.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Alexander McCabe Bops and Burns on "Quiz"

Hey, Alexander McCabe puts together some smoking nu-bop on his album Quiz (CAP 1023). It's McCabe on alto with a highly capable group of Uri Caine on piano, Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and either Greg Hutchinson or Rudy Royston on the drums. They burn through five McCabe originals and two standards. The material is played with plenty of fire. McCabe has the Bird-McLean-Woods-Cannonball lineage at his heels and he shows that he's mastered the searing virtuosity associated with such masters, and brought his own personality into the equation as well. Uri Caine makes for a strong second soloist, as you can imagine, and the band is swinging right where they should be throughout.

Everybody does a beautiful job. And it gives notice that Alexander McCabe is a heavyweight!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evan Parker, Peter Evans, "Scenes in the House of Music"!

Peter Evans is one of the very best of the new trumpeters in the free-avant zone. Evan Parker plays tenor sax and soprano in ways that have extended the music and he's done it for many years. The same could be said for bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton. When they came together for a live concert in Portugal last year, anticipation among the audience must have been high. The new Clean Feed (196) recording of the concert, Scenes in the House of Music gives it to you straight-up. The expectations were justified. Fully.

Here are four superb free players pulling out all the stops, exploring textural-aural intensity and movement in ways few can approximate today. This is STRONG music and it will put all avant fans in a zone that has been reserved for the very best. Music, I mean. That's what this is.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

John McNeil and Bill McHenry? Most definitely.

Live jazz is what jazz IS. Say what you want, a small club is still probably the best place to hear jazz at its most direct, spontaneous, and uninhibited. I don't suppose that will come as a revelation to many of my readers. Still, it is true, even if the economics of that equation are increasingly difficult to sustain, at least for the musicians. Compare what was happening in Manhattan in the '40s, especially on 52nd Street, with what is going on now. Back then, you had, just on one block alone, maybe ten clubs offering a six- or seven-night gig for as many bands. Today there are only a handful of clubs doing that regularly. Otherwise it might be one night a month for you, and maybe only for a take of "the door" or worse.

The musicans keep on as best they can. The Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan hosted the John McNeil and Bill McHenry group for a number of nights (I assume) in November of last year. Luckily, the "tapes" were rolling. You can hear what they were doing on their new record Chill Morn She Climb Jenny (Sunnyside 1268).

Well, you might mumble to yourself, "so what?" The so-what is that this is a terrific example of the combined looseness and inspiration that a live jazz recording should have. It's a pianoless quartet in the classic mode with John McNeil and Bill McHenry as the front-line soloists, on trumpet and tenor, respectively. They both are totally on it for this date and the rhythm team swings the whole gig with the open-ended feel a classic open-middle quartet has done so well in the right hands.

They tackle some of the more obscure numbers from the jazz songbook--like a couple of Russ Freeman tunes and Wilbur Harden's "Wells Fargo," which was first performed by Wilbur with Coltrane on an old Savoy release.

The point though is that this takes the late coolbop style and loosens it up, contemporizes it, and lets it breathe. It's a glorious looking-back-by-looking-ahead action and it just sounds great no matter what you want to call it. These guys need to be heard. . . today. Chill Morning He Climb Jenny gives you that--with irresistible charm and conviction.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rich Halley Teams with Bobby Bradford in New Live Quartet Recording

Tenor-man Rich Halley has recently released a new recording of a lively quartet featuring himself and the legendary Bobby Bradford as the two-horn front line, with Clyde Reed and Carson Hailey ably taking care of the rhythm section roles on bass and drums, respectively. Specifics: the CD is matter-of-factly titled Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival (Pine Eagle 001)

This is post-Ornettian jazz. It can swing or go into looser free-time, and it conceives of the solo-ensemble interactions as subject to implied and/or overtly stated linear harmonic-melodic continuity. That doesn't necessarily mean that there are changes that are played over all of the time, but implies a relation to the changes-bop that went before it.

Now I happen to be quite attracted to that sort of thing, as many are. What's nice about this one is that it puts it all together with worthy head-structures, strongly personal blowing from the two principals, and a good dynamic from the ensemble. Rich and Bobby sound especially good together, and Mr. Halley is right up there as a soloist worth checking out.

This is a great way to spend some listening time. Recommended.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mark Applebaum's "Sock Monkey" Goes Everywhere in Interesting Ways

From the very first listen to Mark Applebaum's CD Sock Monkey (Innova 706) it is clear that there is a stylistic restlessness somewhere lurking in the depths of the composer's being, and he makes very creative and credible use of it to cover a great deal of ground. There are some intriguing chamber ensemble and orchestral pieces in the modern classical mode, pieces for solo instruments, electro-acoustic ensembles, a solo for 18 prepared pianos (apparently one at a time in succession) based on a Mozart theme, there's a piece for several soloists plus live electronics, and on from there.

However it's not only that he isn't afraid to construct music for very varied resources, it's his success at doing so. There is an Applebaum sensibility, an original voice in operation throughout. So it's beyond eclectic and more in the realm of sonically extended original music. And it is indeed a hoot.

Applebaum manages humor, pathos, revelry, expressionism and parody all in various combinations in these works. Listening is a thorough pleasure. His is an avant garde that wears its approach lightly, yet quite seriously. It is a knockout disk.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Live at Irridium, 2004

The Art Ensemble of Chicago have transformed the jazz world from their beginnings in the later sixties through to today. There is the thorough integration of percussion doubling and the little instruments; there is the humor; there are the intelligent free improvisations; there is the injection of stylistic elements that cover everything from rock to reggae and classical music; there is the traditional African influence; the compositional originality; there are five very distinctive musical personalities; there are the costumes; there is the dynamic flow of each and every set. I could go on. With the sad, successive losses of trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors, and the departure of reedman Joseph Jarman, there were natural concerns about whether the group would continue.

The answer on the most impressive 2-CD set Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Irridium (Pi 20) is a resounding "yes!"

This is a terrific piece of phonography. The Ensemble welcomes the return of Joseph Jarman and fills out the ranks with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Jaribu Shahid on bass. When you add to this Roscoe Mitchell's and Don Moye's continued essential presence in the band, the expectations were high (for me).

Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City confirms those expectations in every way. Sure, there are no true replacements for Lester and Malachi, but Corey and Jaribu do their own take on their roles, putting themselves into the mix.

The two-CD gives you a judicious selection of some of their seminal compositions redone, like "Erika," "Song for Charles," and "Odwalla." There are newer pieces too and some very wonderful collective and solo improvisations.

This is the AEC on a very good night. A new band within the old band. It is sublime. It is a cornerstone of their work in the last 10 years. May they continue to thrive and prosper.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Richard Sussman and Quintet Play A Blazing Set

I'll admit I missed Richard Sussman's Free Fall album when it came out 30-some-odd years ago. But no matter. Mr. Sussman has resurrected the quintet from that date and presents them to great advantage on Live at Sweet Rhythm (Origin 82563).

The moment I took the CD out of its mailer I knew that something special could be happening. It's Richard on piano, Jerry Bergonzi, tenor, Tom Harrell, trumpet, Mike Richmond, bass, and Jeff Williams, drums. There are originals, there are standards, but most importantly, there are fine performances from all. It's everything that the lineup promises. They stretch out with plenty of solo time and they get the flames fired up in ways that bring you the joy of improvising well.

The term "straight-ahead" is too tame sounding for this music. "Good music" might be better. Listen!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paul Hartsaw and Desiring Machines, "Is Heaven Secret?"

From 2005 comes a fully engaged avant improv offering by the collective ensemble Desiring Machines. Is Heaven Secret? (Metastablesound 010) brings together Chicago's Paul Hartsaw on tenor and soprano, Jim Baker on ARP synthesizer and piano, Anton Hatwich on bass and Brahm Fetterman on percussion-drums.

This is their first go-round and it's a no nonsense excursion into the outer realms. The group works together as a seamless whole, with Jim Baker's synthesizer work jagged and incisive, his piano full-fisted in a post-Cecil Taylor manner. Paul Hartsaw turns in a spirited and hard-hitting performance on tenor and soprano, and the Hatwich-Fetterman rhythm team plunges the band into the maelstrom with conviction and sensitivity.

The music can be thickly enveloping or more open and exploratory, alternately.

As you listen a number of times the conviction of the players in the avant style and their careful abandon convinces. This is improvisation of a high level. It is another great example of what's happening in and around Chicago today. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sun Ra: The Complete "Heliocentric Worlds" in a New Box Set

Heliocentric Worlds was a breakthrough project for Sun Ra and his big-band Arkestra. Recorded in two session in 1965, it was the first chance to hear an extended foray into a-thematic free improvisation-composition-conduction by the band and constitutes a milestone in the avant garde jazz of the period. Two volumes were released back then; an additional third volume surfaced much later. And now all three volumes are available as a box set (ESP 4062).

The band goes through a spectrum of moods, densities and ensemble textures. The constantly shifting combinations of players and modes of attack reflect Sun Ra's careful concern with a freedom that has a conversational logic.

This was extraordinarily advanced music for the time it was made. It's a prime example of just how pioneering Sun Ra's music was, and IS. The box set includes a 20 minute documentary made around that time, which is certainly of interest, and some other nice extras. No doubt the new box is the best way to experience the full impact of Heliocentric Worlds. It's a must for those seeking to measure Sun Ra's importance, and for any student of the rise of the "new thing." It's also very provocative listening!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Joe Gilman Gives Us Something Substantial on “Americanvas”

I ordinarily give the first one or two listens to a new CD for review without reading the liners or other written descriptions of the musicians and the music. So it was with Joe Gilman’s new Americanvas (Capri 74105-2). This way the music speaks to me directly and I get a more or less pure first experience of what’s going on.

As I listened I started realizing that there was something original happening. Hard-swinging soloing, a very good band
. . . but the writing was unusual. Some repetition in a quasi-minimalist sense, some unusual phrasings. When I finally went to the reading material I found that pianist-composer Gilman was devoting each composition-improvisation sequence to a particular American painter and one of his works. So you get one on Haring, on Rockwell, Rothko, etc.

Gilman sounds great on piano and the rest of the band, largely made up of up-and-coming younger players, has fire and facility.

It is music that hits you as not at all beholden to the formulas of the past. It’s a straight-ahead jazz date with a ballsy countenance and a definite twist on how one can do a contemporary date and also avoid the typical.

Highly recommended music. Thank you Mr. Gilman.

Vibist Jason Adasiewicz Shines in "Sun Rooms" CD

Chicago vibist Jason Adasiewicz has been making important contributions to some landmark record dates in the past several years. His work with the Lucky ‘7s comes to mind, among others.

Now he makes his debut as a leader on Sun Rooms (Delmark 593). It’s a nicely manned trio with Jason plus Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed on the drums, both of the latter important participants in the latest wave of great Chicagoland modern jazzmaking.

Adasiewicz in larger ensembles (at least on records) tends to excel at the staccato jab phrases that come out of the lineage of Bobby Hutcherson, though Jason has his own musical sensibility. In a smaller group such as this one, unencumbered by the need to accommodate one or more solo voices, he stretches out his phrasing and allows the vibes to ring a little bit more than he might do in a larger ensemble. In that sense the great Walt Dickerson comes to mind, if only as a referent. The music sometimes tends toward the contemplative side, with some wonderfully laid back neo-balladic playing. But there are also numbers that have forward-moving momentum and plenty of energy in reserve.

There are some excellent originals here plus an affectionate, legato look at Ellington’s lyrical "Warm Valley". Everyone is on his “A” Game, not the least Mr. Adasiewicz. Sun Rooms is a superb outing and probably the vibes album of the year. It is chamber jazz at its finest.

The Black Butterflies and "1 de Mayo"

First off, pardon the silence of several days. My internet connection disappeared in a windstorm on Wednesday and I could not get it repaired until Saturday. It was a sober reminder of how dependent we all have become on technology. No matter. I am back.

Today, a good one from a group that calls itself The Black Butterflies. Said unit is a seven-person outfit playing an appealing mix of Latin and modern contemporary jazz.It has moments of freedom and moments of groove. Never does it sound slick or contrived.

1 de Mayo (self release TBB001) is their first. A dual horn front line of Mercedes Figueras (soprano, alto, tenor) and Tony Larokko (same) can fan flames (as in their version of "Afro Blue") or run the melodic variations against a Latin groove. There are two originals each by Mercedes and Tony. The tunes are not without interest and each sets up a good blowing scenario. Dan Tepfer plays appropriately idiomatic keyboards with some push.

What I like about The Black Butterflies is their refusal to take the polite road. This is jazz with the Latin and post-bop fire that gives you plenty to like. Oh, and the rhythm section (two Latin percussion, acoustic bass, drums) kicks some tail too. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lutoslawski's Last Concert Captured On CD Release

The so-called Darmstadt School (Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen) dominated European avant garde classical composition from sometime in the mid- to late-fifties through to the early seventies. But of course not all composers followed in the wake.

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) was one who didn't. Hindsight has allowed new music lovers to re-appreciate the originality of his musical vision. The Naxos release (8.572450) of the last concert that Lutoslawski conducted gives us a fine opportunity to experience some of his best later compositions at a great price.

The logistical details are that Lutoslawski conducted the New Music Concerts Ensemble in a program of his works in a concert in Toronto on October 1993. It was most fortunate that tapes were rolling that day because the performances are excellent; and the compositions are late Lutoslawski at his best.

Basically there are three major works for violin and orchestra represented on the program: "Partita," Chain 1" and "Chain 2", plus the song cycle "Chantefleurs et Chantefables" for soprano and orchestra. Fujiko Imajishi shines forth as the violin soloist for the former works; Valdine Anderson sings with great attention to detail and sensuous beauty on the song cycle.

In the end the compositions show that Lutoslawski handles the orchestral sections in ways that show a continuity with the past: winds, strings, percussion, etc., have a sectional resonance for the most part. Don't expect him to divide up the orchestra in unprecedented ways, with 52 different parts for the strings, for example. Similarly this is less a music of a pointillistic nature, nor is it much given to contrapuntal passagework. If Boulez's orchestral music may be likened to the painting stipples of Cignac, or the drips of Pollock, Lutoslawski might be likened to the blocks of stain associated with the Color Field painters (Frankenthaler, etc.) The point may be slightly strained but the idea is that there are less "blips and bloops" with Lutoslawski, and more block-like sound events. (Though "Chain 1" is a bit of an exception.)

What you CAN expect is that Lutoslawski has an extremely keen ear to develop orchestral atmospheres and textures that have brilliance, movement and a certain luminescence. He's a master of the forces at hand. He chooses to exercise that mastery in his own way. The important part, the musical result, is consistently singular and stimulating to the aural senses and the musical imagination of the listener.

This is an essential disk for lovers of the Eastern European contemporary concert scene. And it makes a great introduction to a composer with whom you may not be familiar. This one is a winner.