Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tim Berne Comes Back Strong with "inSOMNIA"

Anybody who follows the avant jazz scene knows that Tim Berne was a major force in the music a while ago. I guess the '90s were the most visible years for him. I don't know that he's been anywhere other than around after that, but it seems that his presence has been somewhat less. It could be that I've simply missed some of the releases and I don't get out clubbing much these days due to a poverty element in my life.

Be that as it may his recent release inSOMNIA (Clean Feed 215) finds him in excellent company with plenty of conceptual thrust. It is a rather large band by today's standards, an octet, and the lineup is filled with some heavy hitters--namely Baikida Carroll, Michael Formanek, Marc Ducret, Dominique Pifarely (violin), Erik Friedlander, Chris Speed, Jim Black, and of course Tim Berne himself.

It's a session that consists of two long pieces with much in the way of free (and often collective) improvisation, pre-arranged ostinato motifs, ensemble parts and a lot of atmosphere. In many ways it's a continuation of the larger group excursions Tim Berne has done. There's a kind of stylistic unity to what he's about. One thing follows out of another with a logic and the Bernian identity stamp, so to speak.

In the end the music satisfies and sounds contemporary without pandering to the peanut gallery. Tim Berne has that serious streak in him that comes with a dedication to doing something modern and substantial, something that has a particular sound yet allows the soloists plenty of free play within the context of the music.

Well worth checking out!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Nicholas Urie's "My Garden:" Composer's Big Band Music Based on Charles Bukowski

Without a great deal of build up and/or suspense I'll say right off the bat that I like what Nicholas Urie is up to on My Garden (Red Piano Records [RPR] 14599-4405-2). It's very modern big-band music, well played, with the moderately acerbic and melancholic poetry of Charles Bukowski as the unifying theme.

Christine Correa handles the vocals. She's pretty much perfect for the texts. Sometimes I am reminded of the Steve Lacy-Irene Aebi collaborations in terms of the jagged art-folk of the melodic lines and Christine's delivery. But it's only at moments. The entire thrust of the album is toward a well-conceived, slightly avant modernism. With apologies in advance, I am not going to list the big band members here. I have not heard of many of the names (which doesn't necessarily mean anything) and really the primary focus is on Mr. Urie's musical vision, which has lots of room for elaboration between the various moods of Bukowski's poem-texts and the extended musical suite form utilized. But the band sounds good.

Nicholas would seem to have found his own voice in this work. It is a most interesting and highly recommended disk. Keep going, Nicholas Urie. You have something to say!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

David Borgo, With and Against, 1998

I've been covering David Borgo's music on these pages with a number of postings (do a search in the search box to find the others). That's because I find him one of the important West Coast voices today, as tenor-soprano stylist and as composer-conceptualist. If I retrace steps today to go back to one of his first (if not THE first), it's because I find it a worthwhile listen, and also because it is still available on CD Baby. I refer to With and Against (Resurgent Music 123, 2-CDs). It's a quartet of David with David Ake, piano, Todd Sickafoose, bass, and Mark Ferber, drums. This is an excellent band and there is much to hear (in the studio for the first CD, live for the second).

If you follow David Borgo (or even if you don't) this gives you a blueprint for where he comes from as a musician-composer, and where ultimately is is going (or went). The band handles adroitly old Duke, Monk, modern jazz-funk, swinging left-of-center mainstream and flat-out-pretty-out music.

It also gives you a good handle on how this band-as-a-band can do just about anything convincingly. The rhythm section is primed and David Ake plays some definite piano. Ultimately it is a testament to David Borgo's versatility, poise and fire in any number of directions. This outing impresses. And it is one any jazz afficianado will dig.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Jonathan Parker Group Holds Forth From Shanghai

Where I stand with hard bop is where I stand with a number of styles. It has to have that "some- thing" or there's no use even trying. Hard bop done right is not a music that some old lady would say of, "Oh my, that's nice!" At least not the old ladies that were old when I was young. The one's with the floral sack dresses who could still make cookies like they came from heaven. Cookies and old stories they were an excellent source for, but you would not be likely to find them popping on a Blue Note scorcher by Lee Morgan.

As we sit perched on a time crest that my calender insists is 2011, we have seen the rise, fall and rise of a number of styles. Hard bop is one of them. Like anything subject to flux, its triumphant return does not necessarily mean it has come back exactly as it was when it more or less became under eclipse. At least not in the right hands.

Such hands I would assert belong to Jonathan Parker, an altoist-bandleader who has spend a number of years in China, and recorded an album with his group over there simply dubbed The Jonathan Parker Group (self-released, no cat #). It's him with a piano-bass-drums quartet and cameo appearances by four additional players (bone, tenor, guitar, trumpet).

Jonathan clearly has dug Bird, Jackie McLean, and probably Phil Woods, and no doubt others. He has a searing tone that goes well with the fiery lines he coaxes from his horn. They are supercharged, which is only fitting for a hard-bop date. His fellow musical compatriots are primed and know the idiom well.

The set of originals on the album are worthy vehicles for the swinging-blowing goings on. And the goings on will appeal to anyone who digs the style. With the compositions and the way Maestro Parker goes at it, this is in the realm of EXTENSION, certainly not REGURGITATION. So bravo for that!

You can get a nice sounding download of the album for $4 at http://jonathan-parker.bandcamp.com. For that amount, if you like what you read here, you can hardly go wrong.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Classical and Avant Garde Concert Music Gets New Gapplegate Blog

Effective now, all new postings covering modern classical and avant garde concert music will be on my newest blogsite, Classical-Modern Music Review (see link on this page). Of course the hundreds of past classical postings will continue to be accessible here on the original site.

The Gapplegate Music Review blog will cover avant, free and mainstream jazz as it has since its beginnings, but now on an exclusive basis. The Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog (gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com) will continue to cover jazz recordings that feature guitarists and bassists in a prominent role, as well as relevant rock and electric music. World music, blues, roots, and jazz vocalists will also be covered on the guitar site as they always have been.

As ever, thank you for reading my posts. You make it all possible. May a life of musical joy be yours!

All the best,

Delfeayo Marsalis's New Version of Ellington's "Sweet Thunder"

Duke Ellington's post Newport-1955 work for Columbia to me is one of the cornerstones of his output. The suite in tribute to Shakespeare, Such Sweet Thunder, first recorded for the label during that period, I rank high on the list of my Ellington favorites. So when I found that trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis had created a new version of the work (Sweet Thunder [Troubador Jazz 092110]) I was certainly interested, but had misgivings. The latter came out of my more than occasional disappointment with jazz repertory versions of masterpieces. Sometimes they just try too hard to sound like the original and fall short.

That happily turned out not to be the case, partially because the music does not attempt to be a carbon copy of the original version and, then, it does not fall short of accomplishing its aims.

To be sure, it IS a big band playing "Such Sweet Thunder." The charts have been altered, modified, partially to accommodate some extensive soloing by Delfeayo and his brother Branford, both of whom sound quite modern but also swinging and lyrical as needed.

It works and it does so because it has the immediacy of the present in the soloists and the classicism of the Duke-ian mode in the charts. It does not supplant or replace the original. It has enough going for it on its own terms that is can stand beside that original as an alternate version. And both are well-worth having and hearing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Angelica Sanchez's Solo Piano Debut "A Little House"

Every solo piano album by an improvising artist does not have to be the same as the ones by the rest of the bunch. I've found that some are more the same than others. I've found that Angelica Sanchez's debut in this realm, A little House (Clean Feed 206), is not only not the same, it's charmingly, substantially different. First off she is geared up to play music, not to show her jazz pedigree by playing old standards, bop chestnuts and generally putting on the jazz dog.

But first you want to know who she is? Angelica Sanchez. Well OK, you've gathered that. She is an up and coming artist who's been playing with Wadada Leo Smith, Phillip Greenlief, Paul Motian, Brian Groder, and others. She's a New-York based key specialist who is rapidly gaining credibility and good exposure in a town where that is by no means an easy thing.

The reason why that is seems fairly clear from the solo album. She plays freely improvised music with a heart and soul. There is whimsy in her pieces that add the toy piano; there is mystery in her inside-the-piano evocations; there is pure melodism in her searching pianistic essays. Well, no, not pure exactly, since harmony is there too, understandably. It's an honestly direct kind of improvising. Angelica pursues musical ideas and develops them. Those ideas are not at all in the realm of cliche.

It's avant piano with a human face, a human heart. It's piano music that exudes personality, a human being behind it all.

You end up after a few listens knowing that Ms. Sanchez has direction. She may not have totally arrived at her destination, which is only proper, but she is going someplace.

And while she is going there she has left behind an excellent example of solo piano musings. Very much recommended.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet, 2004, "Be Music, Night"

Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet combines some of the finest avant improvisers out of Chicago and Europe. For a such a logistically and musically complex multi-member outfit they've had a rather long and significant life. And they still flourish today, as witnessed by their recent European tour.

We turn the clock back to 2004, and a Tentet gig recorded at Wall to Wall in Chicago. It was auspicious and fortuitious that the mikes were in place, the "tapes" running that day, because the resultant album Be Music, Night (Jazzwerkstatt 002) is a good one.

First of all there is a great line-up going at this point, with the titanically endowed reed configuration of Brotzmann, Gustafsson, Vandermark and McPhee (the latter on alto sax and trumpet), plus Jeb Bishop on the trombone. Then there is Lonberg-Holm on cello, Kessler on bass, and the duo drum-team of Nilssen-Love and Zerang. Mike Pearson appears in the guise of recitator, since Be Music, Night centers around the poems of Kenneth Patchen and a hommage to his work.

One should not be surprised but there is a very good fit between the personal abstractions of Patchen and the equally personal abstractions of the band members, collectively and individually.

As is usually the case with the Tentet, there are ever-shifting combinations of instrumentalists, in this case accompanying and commenting freely upon Patchen's poetic texts. The band most definitely has at it during much of those sections where the texts lapse into silence. There are some thematically composed elements and some very powerful collective-free improvs.

For over an hour the band alternates recitation & free soloing with all-band excursions. It's a good sort of contrast and a very solid way to combine the complex freedom of Patchen's words with the complex freedom of the Tentet going from soft to hard focus as needed.

This may not be the Tentet's greatest recording, but it is a most unusual one given the Patchen thematic center. Like all things Tentet it is challenging avant music that does not suit at all as background. It must be heard attentively or it will form a puzzling backwash to your everyday concerns. This is not meant to be everyday so much as it is meant to be beyond-the-day. It is the music of night, of that special quality of night where time is suspended and the darkness alternately sharpens and obscures site, of the night that reserves its special dispensation to sound, poetic sound. Of those special sounds of the night. Of the sound of the Tentet. Of the sound of Patchen's words.

You undoubtedly should have at least one Tentet album if you are a serious explorer of the avant improvisational present. This is a pretty good one to start with.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Starlicker Trio (Mazurek, Adasiewicz, Herndon) Turns Up the Heat On "Double Demon"

The trio Starlicker (as heard on their release Double Demon, Delmark DE2011) is not your usual line-up playing the usual sorts of things. First off the instrumentation is not at all the norm. There's Rob Mazurek on cornet, Jason Adasiewicz, vibes, and John Herndon on drums. What this means in terms of sound has much to do with how the band approaches what could be a somewhat quieter ambiance, especially compared with Mazurek's large ensemble Exploding Star Orchestra (see this past December's blog postings for a review of their last album).

Key here is Adasiewicz's hard-hitting, ringing chordal style on vibes, something he showed us well in his trio recording of several months back (do a search in the blogger search box at the top of the page to call up that review). He hammers and sustains chords with insistent rhythmic propulsion, something like classic McCoy Tyner comping from his harder-edged days, only it's the vibes involved and Jason goes about it his own way. This rhythmic-harmonic vitality and density allows drummer John Herndon to play a harder, dynamically dense sort of ringing kicked style. In turn Rob Mazurek soars atop the intense wash. So the result is a trio that projects with burning hardness, the opposite of a gentile sort of chamber jazz that could come about with this instrumentation. Everybody is playing flat-out HOT and they really tear it up.

The second factor, something always a part of the Rob Mazurek presentation is the quality and through-composed nature of his writing. There are very memorable themes and chordal-rhythmic motifs that permeate every number, giving the band a unified stance and a very recognizable identity.

Now that I've set this up for you the only thing left is for you to take over--and listen. That I most certainly recommend you do because this is a very hip set and it freely devastates as much as it demonstrates what a contemporary ensemble of this sort can achieve. And that is very much. Starlicker is yet another bright light on the Chicago jazz scene.

They are on the last leg of a US tour this month, hitting some key midwestern cities and concluding their travels with a return to Chicago and a final tour appearance there May 23rd.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gerhard Stabler's Modern String Orchestra Work "Zeichen"

Post 509. Who's counting really? I did neglect to note post 500, though. So we mark the progression at this juncture. The blogs do in part document my personal odyssey through the world of "serious" music today and I have come out of it thus far with a profound respect and appreciation for those artists and their institutional supporters and abettors who trudge onward in spite of all obstacles. This time we live in may not be ideal for the music makers of substance. But I believe it will be seen as an important, creative epoch in terms of musical results. Much worthy music is coming into the world, like orphans abandoned at the doorsteps of foundling-homes in times where there may be little sympathy at large for the abundance of unwanted guests. So here's to the creators and their helpmates. May they prosper! And to that dedicated group of listeners, you readers! You make it possible.

Gerhard Stabler comes center stage now, one of those creators of note in the world we speak of. His Zeichen (Navona 5839) is a twenty-minute EP devoted to an interesting work (of the same name) for string orchestra (capably performed by the Moravian Philharmonic under Vit Micka).

His composition has the singularity of high modernist aesthetics reworked and rethought for the present-day sensibility. That means to say that his string writing takes advantage of the innovations in sectional string-sound production once considered experimental. The orchestra executes passages played with the stick side of the bow, plus more conventional bowing techniques but at the fingerboard or at the bridge. This gives the three movement work a greater variety of sound color and timbre.

The disk comes with enhancements, including a detailed booklet and several of Stabler's scores.

Aside from that Stabler's work has the appeal of sonic sensuality and creative sound narrative flow. It is a work that will certainly give the modernist contingent of listeners much satisfaction. That includes me.

Karlowicz (1876-1909) and His Rebirth Symphony

There's good reason why you probably have never heard of composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz. He was on the verge of international recognition and full musical maturity when he was killed in an avalanche while on a skiing trip. Fortunately for us he had created a small but very interesting body of work in the late-romantic vein. His Symphony in E Minor "Rebirth", Op. 7 is one particularly appealing example.

We are again fortunate that Naxos is devoting a series of releases to his work. The latest is a stirring Warsaw Philharmonic reading of the Rebirth, with Antoni Wit as conductor (Naxos 8.572487). It is scored for a fairly large orchestra, yet unlike some of the works of his contemporaries it is relatively succinct, occupying a somewhat modest 45 minutes in an age where much longer works sometimes prevailed. Length does not equal breadth, however, for this is an ambitiously sonorous ode that says much in its presentation of inventive thematic material and its discursive development.

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as I listened: in an age where late Beethoven was often the model for the development of larger symphonic form, and composers Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler were the pre-eminent (yet still controversial) symphonic voices of the era, the Rebirth Symphony manages to go its own way, not sounding particularly derivative of these luminaries. If there's a hint of Wagner in the Andante, and that of Tchaikovsky in the Allegro, it is a hint. For the rest we have a voice on the verge of full-flower, a symphony that deserves attention and adherents, in a performance that deserves our approbation. Like his contemporary Szymanowski, he was one of the leading young lights of the Polish musical rennaisance. Unlike Symanowski, he did not live to see the full realization of his creative potential. Nonetheless we can listen to this Opus 7 without the need to evoke hindsight, for it has much in the way of power and charm. It needs no apology or historical exegesis to win us over.

The disk has the bonus inclusion of his Opus 6, Bianca da Molena (The White Dove), two enjoyable movements of incidental music.

Recommended for all late-romantic symphony buffs and those interested in 20th-century Polish composers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Alex Vittum Creates A Sound Poem For Drums-Percussion and Electronics on "Prism"

The drum set is not just that noisy contraption that disturbs parents' peace of mind for years at a stretch with barrages of cracks, crashes and ba-booms (and I must admit I was guilty of doing that to my folks while growing up). It is of course a MUSICAL instrument, capable of holding its own (in the right hands) with the violins, pianos, cellos and the rest for toneful invention.

That this is so can be heard especially clearly in drummer-percussionist Alex Vittum's album for traps and electronics, Prism (Prefecture 003). There are eight compositional-improvisational vignettes on the record, each involving singular duet-like excursions with Vittum on drums-percussion in conjunction with interactive electronics software that allows for a dialog, a live give and take between "man and machine."

It's the sort of thing that could sound tentative or unfocused. Prism most assuredly does not. There are times when electronic envelopes of tones project a legato wash that is punctuated by drum phrasings of a sound color sort. Other times there is pulsating interaction between the electronic sounds and Vittum the drummer.

Electronics of course can produce sound complexes that are very complex and thickly layered like an orchestra or more chamber-like in dimensions. Both possibilities are successfully engaged on Prism, as are varying stages in-between.

Whatever the density however, Alex shows himself to be a very creative and sensitive player who thinks through his interactions with a subtle virtuosity and a keen ear for the wash, the speech-like utterance and the rumble of power.

I might venture to say that Mr. Vittum has learned a thing or two from the experimental ventures in drum-percussion-electronic music made since the early sixties and he refines what can be done to a point that here all is rather deliberate and nothing sounds tentative. He seems to know what he is about and proceeds to create some very impressive sound poetry that brings the drummer into a more completely musical realm than he has sometimes been in during the past 100 years.

Prism is on the whole a most remarkable achievement. Listen and you will gain a new appreciation for the drummer-as-musical-visionary. This is a kind of concerto for drums and electronics as it is also an extended improvisation in the advanced sense of the term. Listen and enjoy!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fred Hersch, Improvising Pianist, Alone at the Vanguard

Fred Hersch plays one hell of a piano. He was very ill several years ago, in a near-death coma-state, but most thankfully he's recovered and back at it.

The live solo disk Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto 2147) shows a certain even deeper level of profundity than the usual, which I have to believe comes out of the wisdom and introspection going through such an ordeal can bring to the creative person.

It's a full disk of Fred playing standards and originals at the mother of all jazz clubs, the Vanguard.

You listen and you think, "yeah." He's dipping into that deep pool that Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett have come to and immersed themselves in. Lushly impressionistic harmonies, gospelly voicings, roots and branches, a classical pianism, great touch. And with Fred at least on this night, you can hear the whole history of jazz piano coming off his fingers in ways that could only be Fred Hersch.

It's a wonderful solo flight. The piano buffs out there need to hear it, to dig it. Since Google is down and my word processing software is giving me some trouble I will have to leave it at that this morning. Do not miss this one if you dig the deeper recesses of expression that great pianists can reveal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graham Reynolds' "The Difference Engine": Triple Concerto and Remixes of Note

Graham Reynolds composes and conceives of music as a man of his time. Perhaps that's more true of some than others, but Maestro Reynolds most definitely fits with his time, in whatever ways that can be. Our century is no doubt too new to understand where we are and are going, what we are becoming, what future generations will think and say about us. That's inevitable. One can never be sure what the final judgement (never will happen) would be on our times in the murky nethers of hundreds of years in the future. So we press on, mindful that we act in the company of future generations (they as spectators), but unable to speak with them directly. Such is as it has always been.

One thing does seem clear, to me at least. That is, that the neatly divided musical genres that seemed so sacrosanct in, say, 1950, have become fluid and subject to flux. Perhaps they are undergoing transformation into sets of something other, like caterpillars into butterflies.

So we have Graham Reynolds' new work, The Difference Engine (Innova 790), a triple concerto for violin, cello, piano, and chamber string orchestra. Triple concertos are something that the Baroque through Romantic Ages seemed to favor, more so than today at any rate. The form obviously has life left in it. After all, it's a way to have maximal solo color to contrast with the larger orchestral texture.

Graham Reynolds has constructed a work that puts me in mind of the delicate whimsy of remembrance and a sense of the shifting sands of life at times; other times there is a certain motor insistency that you could say comes out of rock and/or hip hop, but not in any obvious way. It is a very attractive, inventive work. The soloists Leah Zeger, violin, Jonathan Dexter, cello, and Mr. Reynolds himself at the piano combine virtuostic dash with a interpretive stance that is emotionally redolent without being mawkish. There is a shade of neo-classical restraint that appeals, to me anyway.

So if Reynolds stopped there, one would be satisfied that a contemporary work of breadth, charm, and eventful content had been well performed, and that would be that. He does not. The second half of the disk is a series of remixes of all five movements, each one taken by a different artist. (By "remix" it is not a matter of shifting a balance of tones here and there, but rather a reworking of the musical material in the studio, adding instruments, adding musical motifs, resituating motifs in new contexts, etc.). Octopus Project takes a movment, as does Reynolds himself. So does Adrain Quesada, Peter Stopschinski, and the redoubtable DJ Spooky.

The result is sometimes a beats version of a movement, sometimes a minimalist-rock recasting, sometimes a creative chopping, sometimes a kind of electronica-meets-organica situation. The second half brings the so-called "ivory tower" neo-classicism with its particular integrity out onto the street, where it learns to chill and act in new ways according to the dictates of its new world.

Now this would be a rather moot situation if the remixes didn't work--if either the original music itself or the re-treatment of it (or both) failed to connect. That is certainly not the case here. The conventional piece and the remixed movements illuminate one another, put phrases in new contexts and resituate what once was on sacred ground onto another spatial configuration altogether.

I don't want to sound anything more than historically illuminative when I add that this sort of thing has been happening on the rock turf since the later '60s (for better or worse) with the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Zappa and many groups that followed in the prog rock realm, as well as various experiments in fusion and third stream jazz, and some of the orchestral-jazz hybrids put together by artists associated with the ECM label. That is only to say that this music has precedent. And I leave out similar endeavors that have taken place on the solidly classical side (Bernstein and a fairly long list).

The point though is that Graham Reynolds injects life into his music by subjecting it to the second, remix process. The remixes succeed because the music lends itself to reconfiguration and the remixers have applied their alterations with a genuine affection and respect for the original score.

This is a fascinating, exhilarating, and probably, an indispensable disk for those who have an open mind. And it's beautiful music.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble Comes Through with "The Prairie Prophet"

Chicago's Ernest Dawkins has been making some very goodly music for some time now (11 CDs so far). His New Horizons Ensemble has been a big part of the scene since 1978! On The Prairie Prophet (Delmark 598) Dawkins runs the mid-sized, seven-artist cast through in-jazz to out-jazz compositions that have plenty of latitude for the considerable improvising abilities of the players while emblazoning a distinctive stamp on the sound and thrust of the music.

This is a well-paced set, dedicated to the great tenor institution Fred Anderson, who passed away last year after a long and luminous career as improviser, mentor and owner of the famed Velvet Lounge, where Dawkins had the opportunity to work frequently, honing the long-running ensemble and their group sound.

And it's some group. There's Dawkins himself on alto and tenor, a force of distinction; trumpeters Marquis Hill and Shaun Johnson, good soloists and a burnished, bright "section" sound color; Jeff Parker on guitar, a man fully versed in the roots of his instrument and fully able to take it into orbital outness when called for; trombonist Steve Berry, one of Chicago's very best on that instrument; and the creative, brilliantly spontaneous yet team-oriented rhythm section of Junius Paul (bass) and Isaiah Spencer (drums).

It is not a contradiction to say that the right kind of band, one with a certain amount of free playing by first-rate new improvisers, can become ever more tighter in their freedom as they continue to work together. That is most certainly the case with the New Horizons Ensemble. There is no dead space on The Prairie Prophet. Solo spots are incisive, ensemble grooves are focused and hard-hitting, the free-er moments develop and move linearly from point A to point B in creative ways, and the compositional elements totally integrate into the performance, allowing breadth, latitude, and performative elements their due.

This CD is in many ways a bit of a masterpiece. It shows that Dawkins and Horizons are making some of the finest jazz coming out of Chicago today. And that in a city still central to the music!

Monday, May 9, 2011

David Mott's Latest and Best Unaccompanied Baritone Set "Dragonhorn"

David Mott, baritone sax. Up there in Canada. A real player. He's had one or two solo baritone recordings out. They are very good. The new one, Dragonhorn (MAE 013), I think is his very best.

With David's solo work, there is virtually always an energy component, motor repetition, sound color and structured improvisational ideas. What's generally true of his playing is particularly evident on this one.

He sometimes circular breathes while articulating particular repeating note patterns (a little bit inspired by late-period Trane), letting the embouchure and differences in blowing strength allow the horn to shift back and forth between registers and sometimes catch that space between the two registers where you get harmonics and overtone change. Roscoe Mitchell does that sometimes on his soprano or alto too, but David does not sound like him, partially because it's the baritone with its expanded space between registers where you can get more cross-talk and because David sounds and phrases differently. In any case you get a full disk of Maestro Mott exploring melodic ideas and the baritone horn, and it's quite well done. Zen baritone? Yes.

Very much recommended.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bones & Tones: Hip Percussive Afro-Jazz

Bones & Tones (Freedom Art 52964) has something very good going on. Their first, self-titled album brings the effectively grooved percussion intricacies of M'boom with African elements and contemporary jazz. That is no doubt due to the talents and proclivities of the quartet: Abdou Mboup on percussion, vocals and kora; Lloyd Haber on marimba, bells, percussion; Jaribu Shahid on contrabass and percussion; and Warren Smith (a founder of M'boom among many other things) on vibes and percussion.

This is a formidable group on paper. They do not let down on disk.

Eight originals grace this program. The two-mallet team of Haber and Smith, the rich-toned, in the pocket bass anchorage of Mr. Shahid and the vibrantly convincing Afro-elements from Abdou Mboup make for very lively listening (and certainly dancing if you feel the urge).

Bones and Tones brings to your speakers music every bit worthy of the reputations of the members. Get an earful and you'll be coming back for more! Highly recommended.

And happy birthday to Mr. Warren Smith!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Neil Rolnick Covers Much Contemporary Ground in His "Extended Family" Program

Neil Rolnick composes music that goes somewhere. Then the next piece goes somewhere else. He is not one to be pinned down to a single style. He uses whatever expressive stylistic means he sees fit for any given piece. And so it is with Extended Family (Innova 782). Three divergent works come to light herewith.

"Extended Family" (2009) is a lovely, sort of neo-classical sounding string quartet, played very convincingly by the quartet ETHEL. The CD liners tell us that this is about Rolnick's family's state of being during and after his father's death. It's something you do not need to know to appreciate the music, which has depth and dignified stature, movement and motor-liveliness.

"Faith" (2008-9) features improvising pianist Bob Gluck (see my review of his new trio disk on these pages, last Friday's posting) and Rolnick on laptop electronics. It addresses the theme of believing or disbelieving and what that entails. Again, though, it is music that could be about many things; it is primarily music and secondarily program. Bob Gluck turns in some very interesting playing. Rolnick's electronic complements bring a nice timbral contrast and second line counter-commentary. It has some of the looseness of jazz and Maestro Gluck seems to be given latitude not just for expressive rubato, but improvisation per se. It works and sounds well.

The final piece "MONO Prelude" is a performance piece with Rolnick narrating his experience with a hearing disorder that came upon him suddenly as a result of a viral infection. Laptop computer brings electronics into the picture as a counter element and narrative backdrop. It is a moving account of something that someone with a musical life-sentence would (and does) find traumatic and harrowing. This piece is very successful as narrative, less so as music. No matter, really, because it is only ten minutes of what is a very engaging and variegated program.

Rolnick writes music that speaks naturally. The unfoldings of sound events and cadences are like conversations between good friends. I've grown fond of this one. It may not change the musical world but it will give your life a little life through the hearing of it. Pretty great performances of interesting music. That can never be a bad thing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Welcome Reissue of Heiner Stadler's "Tribute to Bird and Monk" and How WRONG is RIGHT

I keep coming back to Ken Burn's jazz series because it towed a particular party line (musically speaking) that I have disagreements with, and because it reached so many people who otherwise would not have gotten some kind of comprehensive overview of jazz in its 100-or-so-year history. (That's good, but that also means that a particular viewpoint was portrayed as THE view and that might not be good.) There was a point in the series where the question was raised about jazz in the '60s-'70s. The implication was that perhaps there was something "wrong" with the jazz of the time because it wasn't extremely popular, that the albums didn't sell well. Imagine saying that, because J.S. Bach didn't get his music played in the European village get-togethers of his day, that the music must have been wrong. Some of the best music, I hope we all have learned by now, may not initially, or EVER be popular in the statistical sense. And some music, when you apply that yardstick to it, is going to be misrepresented badly.

Heiner Stadler's Tribute to Bird and Monk (Labor 7074) (originally titled Tribute to Monk and Bird), newly reissued, is a case in point. When it came out as a two-record set on the Tomato label in, what, 1978(?) it was not a best-seller. It was one of those records that somebody could say was "wrong." Perhaps a textbook case. It took a sextet (give or take) of some of the finest improvising musicians of the day (Thad Jones, George Lewis, Stanley Cowell, Reggie Workman, Lenny White, Cecil Bridgewater, Warren Smith) and gave them Heiner Stadler's rearrangements-recompositions of six Bird-Monk classics. The arrangements took the music out. Bitonality, harmonic expansion, rhythmic fracturing and all sorts of other things were done with the original head sheets. And the musicians took Stadler's ideas and made of them some phenomenal jazz.

Well the music is back in print, on one CD, and guess what? It is not going to be a best-seller this time either. But guess what else? It IS going to be one of those albums I might play for someone who wants to know what was RIGHT about the jazz of the sixties and seventies, if they hung around long enough for me to get to it. This one is still RIGHT. The music of the '60s and '70s is still right, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sunny Murray in Duet with Sabir Mateen: "We Are Not at the Opera," 1998

Many if not most of the readers of this blog will know that drummer Sunny Murray is the godfather of "free" drumming. He played with critically important improvisers of the new thing musical explosion in the early sixties (like Ayler, Taylor) and he developed a uniquely effective "freetime" style, one that rarely stated an overt pulse, but proffered a running commentary and complement to the solos and bass punctuations. That's textbook fact. But listen to him in an especially exposed situation of duet or trio and you realize (if you didn't before) that he gets his own sound on the drums too. The cymbals and hi-hat don't ride as much as they speak in tones. And the same applies to the bass drum, snare and toms. It's drum melody, noise/pitch composing of the spontaneous kind.

A couple of years ago I reviewed for Cadence the 2-CD Eremite set Perles Noires, which documented a series of live dates with Murray and reedist Sabir Mateen in duet and in trio with other players coming in and out of the playing situation. Now that is an excellent set. Today though we backtrack to another similar outing of Sunny and Sabir doing a single gig in Amherst, Mass, 1998. We are Not At the Opera (Eremite 014) brings you almost 70 minutes of prime Murray and Mateen, alone and unaided by the cushioning that additional voices provide.

First off, Sabir is in excellent form, jumping from alto to tenor to flute and always fruitful with free ideas and sounds. Sunny too gets his A-game going. The sound of the drums are quite beautfully Murray-esque, thundering, setting up a wave of sound, making free melody in tandem with Mr. Mateen's lucid speechifying. Something else too, as anyone who's listened to Murray through the years knows: he does fall into loose pulses as he feels the urge, and he does them swingingly but wide open in terms of feel.

Sunny has always managed to find the right players for his groups over the years. In Sabir he finds the soulful and spacey hand-in-hand. What you get is what was played on that day. It was a very good day! Highly recommended.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Duo Jalal Explores the Convergence of Indigenous Mid-Eastern, Modern Compositional and Improvisational Approaches on "A Different World"

We of course live today in a global village. We take as a matter of course that musical traditions that centuries ago would reach our shores solely in the form of immigrants now can be studied in depth via recordings and live concerts by world-class practitioners from every corner of the globe. We may only be on the edge of what this could mean for music in the world at large, but it is an exciting time for those who wish to reach out and explore what humanity has accomplished with their "second voice" in the widest sense.

Duo Jalal serves as a fine example of what we are seeing (hearing). It consists of violist Kathryn Lockwood and percussionist Yousif Sheronik. A Different World (Innova 793) devotes an entire CD to pieces that span traditional and compositional realms. Kathryn Lockwood combines classical technique, a ravishing tone, and a most definite feel for the mideastern musical mode. Yousif Sheronik adds his mastery of traditional mideastern and south Asian hand drumming (frame drum, tumbek, etc.). They tackle pieces that range from the more formal minimalism of Philip Glass to melodic frameworks that give room for improvisation within their form (such as David Krakauer's "Klezmer a la Bechet"), to the more through-composed modern post-classicism of Kenji Bunch.

Both artists show excellence in stylistic grasp and nuanced execution. Duo Jalal breathes a freshet of new wind into the sails of a form of music that goes back countless centuries. The composers represented do the same on their end.

A Different World, that. It is our world today. The maps we see have hard and fast borders. The music we hear transcends those borders, sometimes. Duo Jalal does just that with a very memorable album. Very much recommended.