Friday, May 29, 2015

Jason Roebke Octet, High/Red/Center

Those who follow the Chicago jazz scene and those who regularly read my blogs know that there is an important, loosely federated group of Chicago jazz artist-composers who have been quite active in the last decade or so making some very good music in various ever-changing configurations.

The music has compositional and improvisatory influences that range from mature Eric Dolphy and perhaps Mingus, the early Shepp-Dixon-Tchicai-Cherry bands, to the AACM and beyond, and they manage to make something new and very good out of it all. I will not run down a complete list of these musicians. The album at hand today features a good number of them in an octet under the leadership of bassist Jason Roebke. High/Red/Center (Delmark 5014) is the title of the album.

Roebke plays some very accomplished bass on this one, but the primary emphasis is on the structure of his compositions and what the entire octet makes of them. The band is an exemplary gathering of some of the new Chicago artists, Roebke of course but also Greg Ward on alto, Keefe Jackson on tenor, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Josh Berman on cornet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes and Mike Reed on drums. All have at one time led subgroupings of their own and all belong to the loose confederation I speak of.

The music is highly complex, accomplished and varied, showing both roots and the ultra-contemporary avant stance of the present. The pieces have much room for individual and collective spontaneous contributions, which this band very much excels at. You hear eleven pieces in all, varied and fascinating, convincing and very today.

High/Red/Center stands out as one of the typically fantastic examples of the new Chicago music. If you were only to have a handful of new Chicago sounds, this should be one of them. What is so interesting about this band and the movement in general is that the music somehow captures the enthusiasm and joy of the new jazz in its early stages, yet it gives us a very contemporary spin on that moment with an accomplished conceptual and rousingly free attitude. Excellent it is!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mark Weber and Michael Vlatkovich, Elasticity

The fusion of modern poetry and modern jazz can be filled with variables that can sometimes make for disappointing results. The poetry of course must be strong and recited with a certain panache; the music must fit into the picture without slavishly following the poetry, at least that is my take.

All such things happen and happen well with the collaborative synergy between poet Mark Weber and trombonist-composer Michael Vlatkovich, on the album Elasticity (pfMentum 087).

Weber writes prose-ish free verse that describes scenes from everyday life while also injecting poetic personal inner states and cosmic wanderings and speculations. There of course is no one particular form of poetry that is meant to go with jazz, just like there is no one form of jazz that should go with poetic recitation. The combination of Weber's poetry and Vlatkovich's music makes an excellent match.

Vlatkovich on trombone joins together with the band he calls Ion Zoo. Carol Sawyer sings, Steve Bagnell wields the tenor sax and bass clarinet, Lisa Miller is on piano and Clyde Reed on the double bass. Much of the music is through composed with some free improv to be heard in the interstices. It works wonderfully well as music but also sets the varying moods of Mark Weber's poetic utterances.

It is the meeting of two parallel worlds. Both music and poetry are not so much synchronized as they are two sides of a complete aesthetic statement.

It is one of the more successful such meldings I have heard. That is a testament to all involved, but of course especially Weber and Vlatkovich. Don't miss this one, whether you are a lover of poetry and jazz combinations, a fan of Mark Weber's or Michael Vlatkovich's or both, or even if you just want something different. It's a good one!

Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille, Song for a New Decade

The Finnish world of young avant saxophonist Mikko Innanen joins with the New York vet worlds of William Parker and Andrew Cyrille (bass and drums, if you need to be told) on a recent two-CD set Song for a New Decade (TUM 042-2). The first disk features the trio in full flower, the second a series of fascinating duets by Innanen and Cyrille.

The first album contains head compositions by Innanen except for one collective improvisation. The second is a free-formed collective improv with thematic spontaneity.

All of it works very well. Innanen in spite of his youth sounds mature and well into his way of playing, on alto especially but also baritone and miscellaneous winds.

Parker and Cyrille sound excellent throughout, with no signs of slowing down, at a peak of inventive creativity. If you were to focus on following either or both players throughout the program, your ears would profit greatly by the experience. Neither player can be mistaken for someone else once you get familiar with their playing and both can get free or swing or both with their own special way.

What they provide Innanen is an ideal playing situation. Wherever he goes, they are not only there, they virtually anticipate.

Innanen is a stylist in the free-zone who is well on the way to a real originality that is nevertheless rooted in the late improv and free tradition. Playing with the two masters here he is inspired to outdo himself.

There is much excellent music to be heard on the two-CD set. None of it sounds rote or routine. Quite the opposite. Hear this one, by all means!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Myra Melford, Snowy Egret

The first installment of pianist-composer Myra Melford's band Snowy Egret has been upon us for several months. I finally get to it today. It is self-titled (Enja) but otherwise there is nothing generic about it.

Myra originally formed the group for a specific project, a suite based on author Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. From there they went on to record this, their first album. Melford is joined by Tyshawn Sorey, Ron Miles, Liberty Ellman, and Stomu Takeishi.

The music is both open and composed. There are some very intriguing moments where Ms. Melford's piano sensibilities are at the forefront. There are ensemble moments of compositional interest, ranging the gamut from rock-funk-ish to free to balladic, but all of it bears the Melford stamp of identity. And there is space for some excellent group and individual improvisational adventures.

Everyone sounds very good. It is in every way a showcase for Myra and her musical vision and the entire band adds much to it. Recommended!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cene Resnik Quartet, Live, From the Sky

On the docket today is a lesser-known (in the States) European free-avant jazz quartet live the the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2013. More specifically it is the Cene Resnik Quartet and their album From the Sky (Clean Feed 299). Resnik fronts the band on tenor sax in a program of free music that makes good use of Emanuele Parrini on violin, Giovanni Maier on double bass and Aljosa Jeric on drums.

Resnik has a sort of post-Sam-Rivers, post-Ayler dynamic expressiveness which sounds well throughout. He is consistently inventive. Parrini and Maier sometimes sound as a two-person string section, other times pair off as front-line soloist-rhythm, though the boundaries are fluid. Both are players of imagination, impressive each in her/his own way. Jeric drums freely and appropriately.

It is real-deal free-avantness and perhaps not likely to appeal to those who do not dwell in those realms. Those who do, however, will find this a very interesting set, perhaps not one of the most astounding of the decade, but quite competent, imaginative and dedicated.

I look forward to hearing more from these four improvisers. They are true artists and come off well here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ask 7, Michael Vlatkovich Septet

Some jazz artists you can count on to make quality music year-after-year. They may not always win popularity contests, yet their music lives and breathes well. Trombonist jazz-composer Michael Vlatkovich is one of those. With his own bands/projects and now as a member of the Rich Halley group he comes through consistently. Being a West Coaster he may not have as large a presence on the scene than if he was in New York, for example, but that has nothing to do with the music.

So today another fine one, the Michael Vlatkovich Septet's Ask 7 (pfMentum CD089). It is Michael, his trombone and compositions along with a multi-wind outfit of Ron Miles on cornet, Wade Sander on bass trombone, Mark Harris on alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, Glenn Nitta on tenor sax, Kent McLagen on acoustic bass and Chris Lee on drums.

It is a game outfit that handles the composed ensemble music well and has a deep pocket of good improvisers to get the music moving. These are some of Vlatkovich's most compelling compositions, modern and on the outside edge but also somehow timeless in a classic sort of way.

Combine the music with some very nice voicings and performances, good solos and a loosely swinging rhythm team and you have some excellent music. That is what you get. Vlatkovich's trombone is in good evidence and as always has high artistry. The other wind players get some good things going solo-wise. Harris and Nitta get my ear especially.

Hearing this I felt strongly that Vlatkovich would write some excellent big band charts but no matter because we get a very full-sounding septet that allows for some very ambitious and successful Vlatkovich music here.

It's one of his very best and so I heartily recommend you hear it. Encore!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reggie Quinerly, Invictus

If Reggie Quinerly is not a familiar name to you, you are not alone. Yet on his album Invictus (Redefinition) we get a good chance to know him, his finely honed, swinging drumming, his earthy and appealing compositions and his bandleading.

The album revels in a post-bop directness. A quintet holds forth very nicely with Reggie on drums, Warren Wolf on vibes, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Christian Sands on piano and Alan Hampton on bass. They are all very good players, in fact excellent for this date. The Jacksonian roots of Wolf are apparent, though there is more to him than that, and in many ways his sound helps shape the ensemble into a kind of post-MJQ, post-Bagsian cool-hot fundamentality that builds more modern edifices on top of the foundation.

Wolf and pianist Sands work very well together, taking the harmonic synergy in hand and making it work well. That's key to the success of such an ensemble and they do it in ways that give your ears a jump-start. At the same time guitarist Silberstein contributes with single lines and a light touch harmonically that never clashes. Clearly they form a working relationship that makes it all come together. Hampton does an excellent job in the bass chair. Quinerly propulses the band with fabulous time and solos that have a post-Roachian inventiveness and thrust.

But then as far as solos go the front line excels with an ease and conviction that does not make this date seem calculated to assert a tradition as much as it naturally falls into it out of conviction and a shared passion for the language of jazz in the later '50s-'60s mode. It is the opposite of stale. It is fresh, alive, swinging like hell. And I must say I get much from listening to the vibes, piano, guitar loquacity.

The tunes give new life to the sound also. There is only one standard, the rest some fine Quinerly originals.

No doubt this band would be a treat to hear live. They have an in-the-moment quality that embodies live jazz.

So that is my take. It's a fine album! Quinerly knows how to set it all up. I hope he can gives us lots more in the years to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Benny Sharoni, Slant Signature

Benny Sharoni has developed into a fully mature artist with his latest, Slant Signature (Papaya Records). I covered his first a few years ago on this blog (type his name in the search box for that) and now, some five years later we have some genuine movement into a very cohesive stylistic personality. Benny and his tenor are joined with a crack outfit of Jim Rotondi on trumpet, Joe Barbato, piano, Mike Mele, guitar, Todd Baker, acoustic bass, and Steve Langone on the drums.

Rotondi sounds very limber and soulful here, Joe Barbato solos quite well, but all are in fine form in a fired-up afterbop set that includes five Sharoni originals plus some classics by Hubbard, Morgan and Ray Bryant.

Benny's tenor has an assured and notefull originality these days that is a pleasure to hear. He can and does blast-off into intricate lining over changes, with a sound not obviously derivative, burnished and heated at the same time. It's the Sharoni sound.

This one tells us plainly that Benny has arrived. It is not avant but it is not content to repeat, either. It is mainstream with all the fire that the harder style craves to get a move on.

Sharoni is a top tenor contender for the middle ground. It is an album you'll no doubt fall into happily. Thanks, Benny!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sinikka Langeland, The Half-Finished Heaven

Over the years ECM and Manfred Eicher have introduced us to important Scandanavian artists who span both the jazz and neo-folk worlds. Of course Garbarek and Rypdal have made a huge impact, but then there have been others less directly concerned with jazz but working with folk and song worlds in different ways.

Such an artist and a very shining example is Sinikka Langeland, a creator-performer who stands out in her own way as a maker of music both typical of ECM's tonal ambience and very much an artist in her own right. Her fourth album, The Half-Finished Heaven (ECM B0022777-02), brings us squarely into her enchanted world, with folk-like and folk- rooted song that has an almost neo-medieval sound, especially in her playing of the kantele, a zither-like instrument that has medieval counterparts.

The music is performed by her quartet: Sinikka on vocals and kantele, Lars Anders Tomter on viola, Trygve Seim on tenor saxophone and Markku Ounaskari on percussion. The quartet configuration and the various musical personalities involved allow Sinikka to explore a contemporary music that shows folk-roots but also engages in contemporary and jazz-oriented excursions.

Sinikka sings beautifully, her kantele playing can be traditional or contemporary and the band contributes much both through the collective arrangements and the sonic identities of each.

It is music both stunning and beautiful in its very own way. Very recommended!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Andrew Drury, The Drum

When is a drum not a drum? The answer is never, unless perhaps it serves as a coffee table or is dismantled into tiny pieces. Yet the formidable modern drummer Andrew Drury makes us think of this question on his matter-of-factly titled recent album The Drum (S&S 50002).

Why? Because he has recorded this entire album bit-by-bit, experimenting with unusual ways of making a single floor tom give out with sounds entirely untraditional. The result is a fascinating and challenging series of sound poetics, unearthly sounds made live on the single drum.

Drury scrapes, rubs, blows into and does all manner of other performative things to give us a myriad of possibilities incorporating the natural resonance of the instrument and the sheer visceral makeup of drum heads and wooden shell.

It takes some getting used to, the premises of the project. But after a period of adjustment the listener enters a sound world both somehow familiar yet radically unfamiliar.

It is expressive sound sculpture you hear more than "drumming," and of course that is the point. Nobody to my knowledge has done so thorough and creative a job unveiling the untraditional sound possibilities and working to create a series of aural segments, each unique.

The music gotten by these means seems to be both very primal and ultra-avant, noisy but resonantly acoustic. It is a rather amazing album that can be appreciated only on its own terms. This is not an extended version of "Caravan" or "Sing, Sing, Sing!"

If you are open to something surprisingly different and are willing to let your ear explore the exotic timbral unfolding, this one will give you much to appreciate. Otherwise, you might find it puzzling. Very new music is like that...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Billy Lester, Unabridged

Last July 15, 2013 I reviewed pianist Billy Lester's solo album Storytime on these pages and wondered to myself how I could have missed this pianist until then. He is back with another good solo effort, Unabridged (Jujikaan 002). I find myself thinking the same thing, only maybe even more so.

The Sal Mosca-Lennie Tristano influenced artist gives us an ever more freewheeling set on this one. These are improvisations that show the swinging, open style of Lester at his best, but with some very spontaneous freedom noticeably present. It's as if he lets himself go further than ever into where his musical mind and fingers will him to go.

There is nothing inherently surprising at the bottom of it all, since Lennie was a free piano pioneer way back when. But then Lester gives us his own version of the open style, so it also is no mere repetition as much as it is a new moment in Billy Lester's approach.

What makes it all especially enjoyable is that the playing remains squarely Lestorian, extending it into heretofore uncharted waters but still very much in continuity with his swing and percussive touch.

I found the listen exhilarating.

If a swinging outness sounds like something you'd enjoy, do not hesitate. This is a testament to Lester's creative artistry and a real pleasure to hear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plunge, IN for the OUT, with Mark McGrain

Mark McGrain, an outstanding jazz trombonist, has been making some very good albums with his group Plunge (type that in the search box for other reviews). There is a new one, another good one, called IN for the OUT (Immersion 15-01) and I've been listening to it, happily.

This one injects a good helping of New Orleans funk along with some excellent excursions into semi-avant terrain. McGrain's trombone gets plenty of space and he sounds motivated and inspired. The band is a pretty large one, a septet with of course McGrain, Robert Walter on organ, Kirk Joseph on a very NOLA tuba, Simon Lott on drums and electronic percussion, Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor sax and flute, James Singleton on acoustic bass, and Tim Green on saxello and baritone sax.

It's a rollickingly good band effort. Everybody gets the spirit with a strong soulfulness and then sometimes goes where you don't expect. The arrangements are well put-together and compositionally there are some very original things to hear. It's music that will make you smile, pat your foot, and dig the solid soloing. But then it can get serious, too, and you find yourself very absorbed in some innovative music.

Nothing is one-off or fluff. It is substantial and an example of why NOLA is still the setting for some excellent jazz. Give it a spin!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Matthew Shipp and Mat Walerian Duo, The Uppercut, Live at Okuden

The music of today continues. It continues in a seminal gathering of the central piano playing of Matthew Shipp and his duo-mate for the album at hand, Polish reedist Mat Walerian. It's a live date from Okuden. The Uppercut (ESP 5007) gives us a good 70 minutes of the two exploring freely and creatively some common ground. As William Parker reminds us in the liners to this album, if you are not familiar with Mat Walerian, forget who he studied with or that sort of thing, just listen! Well I took that advice because I must admit I have not had much experience with Walerian, and it turns out to be sage advice indeed.

Walerian has roots in bluesiness and freedom. His playing on alto, bass clarinet, alto clarinet and flute throughout the set has a clarion tone with a touch of breathiness. That and the rootsy-ness and soul of his stance opens up a complementary response in the considerably versatile Shipp. So we get a freedom strongly colored with a certain sanctification that is a very good thing to hear.

As always Matthew Shipp these days has a very horizontal, directional foresight in what he does. He swings, lopes along, punctuates and lingers over spontaneous phrases now and then before moving ahead again. Mat Walerian opens up his phrasings to long-form horizontal constructions that complement what Matt is doing, and too on occasion lingers over a phrase now and again before moving ahead.

This is a very strong duo session that confirms Shipp as one of the important original piano masters of today, a player who uniquely channels the history of the music into his own free approach. And Walerian complements and feeds into that slipstream of past and present that Matt deals with so well. If there is a pattern to the latest Matthew Shipp albums it has a two-pronged forkedness, so to speak: it's to do with a sort of resynthesizing of all that has gone into his musical mind over the years, the pianistic lifeways of Duke-Monkdom and how Matthew has taken their freedom and made something very much Shippian out of it. That's too simplified because there is much more to Matthew's style. Then there is Matthew in his second aspect: moving ahead with where he is now. Mat Walerian in a duo setting seems very timely though because Shipp seems to be recharging his present by revisiting roots and Walerian has that way about him right now, too. At the same time there is space for the "moving ahead" to be heard here as well. And Walerian follows with creative playing responses in both situations.

And so the melding of the two on this date seems especially right. If a pedal-point in the bass and fourth chordings remind us that the present also has roots in nearer past masters there is no contradiction, especially when neither Matthew nor Mat are quoting as much as making it personal and new. None of us comes down from the sky. We all make that of what we hear into something we can hear differently, given much preparation and talent. That's what in part is so phenomenally creative about Matthew Shipp's playing. It not only goes out, it comes out of somewhere with a clear original direction. Mat Walerian has that about him, too. So that makes for some great duet interactions.

Listen and feel the strength of this music!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Samuel Blaser Quartet, Spring Rain

Trombonist Samuel Blaser comes front-and-center in a new album that further cements his reputation as an important exponent on the new jazz scene. He and his quartet give us much to like on Spring Rain (Whirlwind 4670). It is a trombonist's tribute to Jimmy Giuffre, not what you might have especially expected if you know Blaser's previous work (type his name in the search box to get the previous reviews of his music here), but then when you listen it has a logic of its own that fits in with the Blaser approach and goes a long way to bring the Giuffre sensibility into today.

The album features three Giuffre compositions, two by Carla Bley and the rest Blaser originals that take some of the implications of vintage Giuffre and extend them. The band is a quartet that packs lots on invention and swing into the proceedings. Russ Lossing is on piano and keys, Drew Gress on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Samuel and the three are fully mature, innovative artists in their prime and the music shows it with excellence.

There is a Giuffre-like attention to sound statements on each instrument, trombone first and foremost but no less the piano-keys, the bass and the drums. They can engage in chamber like new improvisations out of time, in the manner of the middle-period Giuffre groups, they can swing heartily on thematically well-developed modes, and/or they can get vibrantly "free."

Blaser sounds great, choosing his notes carefully and colorfully, with even a nod to Mangelsdorfian multi-phonics but in the main an open-horn liquidity. Lossing comes through with some really fetching work. And the Gress-Cleaver rhythm team functions very nicely as part of the melodic invention as well as the propulsors of a very hip time sense.

I found this album a milestone in creative improv presentness. The choice themes when utilized inspire all to go further and the freely conceived moments continue the inspiration in a first-class fashion. Samuel Blaser is a top trombonist in the new jazz field and this quartet qualifies as one of the most vibrant out there today.

Need I say more?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Steve Cromity, All My Tomorrows

When I put on the album by jazz singer Steve Cromity, All My Tomorrows (self released), I experienced a mild surprise. Superficially Steve has that burnished, laid-back crooning style that I identify with middle-period Frank Sinatra. As you listen you realize there is much more to his approach, in that he has his own nuanced phrasing that is a little more jazzed than you would ordinarily get with Frank. And ultimately you hear that he has his own way and a sound that differs enough from Sinatra so that the deja vu feeling fades quickly.

So we get Steve with a true, swinging jazz outfit that includes Eric Wyatt's tenor, Kenyetta Beasley's trumpet, Marcus Persiani's piano and music direction, and for five cuts Patience Higgins on tenor, soprano and flute. The nicely worked-through arrangements are by Persiani, Steve and Rob Crocker.

The album energizes standards well-known and more obscure. Especially nice is Steve's version of "Jeannine," the Duke Pearson gem with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.

But it all comes through as straightforward and swinging, with nice solo spots for the principals and Steve holding forth very musically as a vocalist of stature.

Frank? No, not really. It's good music and Steve Cromity is the real thing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Scott Miller, Tipping Point

Scott Miller, or Scott L. Miller to be precise, is not a jazz composer in the usual sense. Yet his music has a new music-avant jazz synergy. I covered several of his albums on my Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review. You can go there and type in his name in the search box to find those. I post the latest review here because his music seems to me will be of equal interest to avant jazz aficionados as it is to new music listeners.

And so we have the latest one, Tipping Point (New Focus 161), which features the chamber ensemble Zeitgeist, with whom Miller has collaborated since 2003, and electroacoustics, an important component of much of his work.

Six pieces are presented on the album, some previously unrecorded, some new. Zeitgeist consists of piano, two percussionists and woodwinds. They seem especially well-suited to the music, which has tonal and more avant structures and a kind of direct expressiveness that brings it closer to avant jazz than some other composers. Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw graces the ensemble on three of the six works represented and sounds excellent.

It is music better heard than described, except to say that Miller has a real flair for evocative new music which he gives us ample evidence of in these works.

If you want to be introduced to a new voice on the scene, or even if you know his music already, this one is a seminal example of why he is important. Give Tipping Point your ears and I think you will be pleased.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bolt, Shuffle

If I am a little late covering Shuffle (Driff 1402) by the quartet known as Bolt, it is not because I think the music is second tier. On the contrary. My stacks of review CDs that I slate for coverage become a little chaotic during peak periods, and I am afraid this one got tucked away in the back where I did not notice it for a few months.

But we press on and shed some appreciative light (mixed metaphor?) on the album today.

Bolt offers us an absorbing series of 19 mostly short free improvisational events. The album advises us to set our players to the "shuffle" mode, as the sequence can be heard in any number of ways. Hence the title of the album. It is a tribute to the inventive powers of the quartet that each number carries with it its own mood and personality, more or less. Each number bears a distinctive modular independance so you can enjoy the sum total in whatever sequence you wish.

In part that is because the players have both an individual and collective acumen that they turn loose on the segments. Jorrit Dijkstra is well-known to us as an alto saxist of stature. He also appears here on the lyricon and adds atmospheric analog electronics. Eric Hofbauer plays mostly electric guitar. I've covered some fine outings of his on the guitar blog, which you can reference easily enough by typing his name on the search box for that site. Junko Fujiwara adds her considerable sonic color and inventiveness on cello. And Eric Rosenthal has an important presence as the drummer-percussionist.

This is spontaneous music at its best. All are attuned to one another and listen closely without breaking their independent sonic stance. Each cut has textural-instrumental clarity, each in its own way. Some sound "free" in a classic sense; others are more frankly experimental. All reach good places and provide the listener with a mini-world of sound and structure, feeling and interplay. The going from sound station to sound station provides plenty of fascination and stimulation.

Driff records is off to a great start. This one is no exception. Good nourishment for the ears, this is!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ghost Trees, The New Gravity

The duo Ghost Trees used to be a trio called The Eastern Seaboard, with a number of releases and some acclaim, until the bass player decided to go elsewhere. The two remaining members, Brent Bagwell on tenor sax and Seth Nanaa on drums, decided to stay with a two-person lineup. That works very well on their new, beautifully produced and mastered limited edition clear vinyl LP release, The New Gravity (MTM 001). The album shows us the togetherness and excellent sense of space the two have developed with a free-avant jazz program that centers around as a rule specific melodic cells and their expansion-variation.

The duo is joined periodically by the Wm. B. Kennedy Chamber Ensemble (strings and piano). The latter also on occasion state a theme alone.

The dramatically effective use of free drumming along with motives and development on tenor--laced with interludes of general improvised freedom--and an enriched sound with occasional chamber support mean that Ghost Trees do much more with what on the surface seems at first a simple set of premises, less. They end up with something not really so simple at all, something extremely evocative and attractive.

I would recommend highly that you listen to this one. You can check out a sample track at and also find out how to order the vinyl. It puts a rather different spin on "freedom" and ends up giving us very good music from beginning to end.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Eric Plaks Quintet, Some Ones

Eric Plaks? Yes. You may not be familiar with him. He is a pianist-tunesmith who works in an inside-out, outside-in fashion to cover both the bop-and-after past and the avant-free present with convincing poise. What I believe is the debut of his quintet can be heard on the recent release Some Ones (Cadence Jazz 1223). It is music to hear, a program of originals and standards.

The band is an interesting mix of individual voices. Don Chapman is on tenor and soprano, Alan Davis on tenor, Leco Reis on bass, Jon Panikkar on drums and of course Eric Plaks on piano. Panikkar shares the writing credits with Plaks for many of the originals, the others are Plaks' sole doing. These numbers have some interestingly original twists and turns and are generally in the avant-out style. The standards include "My Shining Hour," "My Favorite Things," Duke's "African Flower" and "42nd Street."

The rhythm team propulses the band well, whether swinging or taking it out. The two-sax team play the inside standards in an out way. They clearly do not come out of a hard bop school and take avant liberties that a strict moldy fig might not find to his or her taste. They have the energetic immediacy of new thing though and it makes for exhilarating listening even if technically they would not be the sort who would have found a lasting home as part of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or other such outfits. On purely out turf they make themselves a bit more at home, but in any event they are unpredictable and so you listen willingly and get something back that's worthy of the eartime.

Eric Plaks plays convincingly in ways that show a kinship with Cecil Taylor, perhaps Jaki Byard and Don Pullen, in the way he can pull off an in-and-out approach to the traditional repertoire (which in some ways is a strong suit with him) and then get into a scatter, all-over out piano style that owes something to Cecil. The combination of influences and what is done with them make Eric Plaks a pianist of high interest and real potential. The album shows him inventive, creative and off-the-wall/on-the-wall at various points but with a good sense of where he is going, it seems.

The out originals have that nicely kinetic charge. Some are more involved than others but all seem to give an effective platform for the solos and sometimes are more substantial as well.

All-in-all this is very stimulating music. It may not be perfectly evolved at this point but it makes up for that in its fired-up authenticity. There is nothing polite about it and for that and what is done with avant and earlier traditions it is a very worthy listen. Kudos!