Thursday, March 30, 2017

Miles Okazaki - Trickster

Miles Okazaki - Trickster

Miles Okazaki - guitar
Craig Taborn - piano
Anthony Tidd - bass
Sean Rickman - drums

Trickster is an apt name, as what at first seems like a quiet, unassuming recording turns into an unexpected delight with further investigation. Okazaki has accomplished a difficult feat: Making a record that is both adventurous and accessible. 

Okazaki and his group take Steve Coleman’s M-Base concepts and apply their own interpretation, one which encompasses complex rhythms married to compositions with attractive melodies, even hints of the blues and boogie-woogie.

Okazaki has a quiet style that fits the music perfectly, and Craig Taborn does his usual fantastic job of fitting into a group concept and bringing his point of view. Tidd and Rickman are less well known to me, but provide sure-handed support in support of the mood of each piece.

Miles Okazaki has taken a huge leap forward in his evolution as an artist with Trickster.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Rich Halley and Carson Halley - The Wild

The Wild
Rich Halley - tenor saxophone, wood flute
Carson Halley - drums

The Wild is a new album of duets by saxophonist Rich Halley and his son Carson. I’ve seen the elder Halley’s name around, but have never heard him up to now. The album is divided into 10 tracks, ranging roughly from 4 to 8 minutes each, and the feel is free, even though there are some pre-determined melodies used as springboards to improvisation.

The album feels like a throwback, to a time when free improv, at least on this side of the pond, was more closely tied to the jazz tradition. The sax and drums format call to mind the classic Interstellar Space, and Halley is clearly influenced by Coltrane. He has enough of his own voice, though, contrasting sections of overblowing with lyrical phrasing, showing a tender side on occasion. In fact, it’s in these more reflective moments that I feel I’m more connected to his music, something I’ve observed with other artists who bring a lot of energy to their playing. Sometimes the conversation between musicians seems to be more nuanced at more relaxed moments.

What I like about this record is the performances unfold organically and at their own pace, with a variety of moods and tempos. Carson mixes up his approach between fixed tempos with a slight rock feel and totally free drumming. The length of the tracks means that, with a couple of exceptions, the Halley’s maintain a good level of focus and a sense of moving things forward, again linking to the jazz tradition.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo - Peace

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo

Satoko Fujii: conductor/composer; Kunihiro Izumi: alto sax; Sachi Hayasaka: soprano sax, alto sax; Kenichi Matsumoto: tenor sax; Ryuichi Yoshida: baritone sax; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Yosihito Fukumoto: trumpet; Takao Watanabe: trumpet; Yusaku Shirotani: trumpet; Haguregumo Nagamatsu: trombone; Yasuyuki Takahashi: trombone; Toshihiro Koiki: trombone;Toshiki Nagata: bass; Akira Harikoshi: drums; Christian Pruvost: trumpet; Peter Orins: drums

Of Satoko Fujii’s five orchestras (Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, New York and Berlin), Orchestra Tokyo might display the best balance between composition and improvisation. Whereas Orchestra New York, in particular, has leaned heavily in the direction of showcasing individual talent, perhaps because of the collection of all-stars she has in her band, Orchestra Tokyo provides some compelling evidence why Ms. Fujii has been called “the Ellington of the avant-garde.”

Knowing this, I listened to the opening of 2014, the lengthy first track on the album, with some growing trepidation as a trumpet (Tamura I believe) led off with an exploration of extended techniques that eventually wore out its welcome. However, at about the ten-minute mark, things really got underway and from there the listener is treated to an experience that continually shifts between composed sections and improvised ones, with varying degrees of dark and light. Christian Pruvost and Peter Orins, members of her small group Kaze, are on board for this album and they integrate seamlessly.

Peace is dedicated to the late Kelly Churko, the guitarist associated with the noise genre and who played on Orchestra Tokyo’s previous release, Zakopane. Throughout the album you hear sadness, anguish, anger and some grudging hope. Peace resolves with the closing Beguine Nummer Eins, which mixes majesty with folk-like simplicity, resulting in a melody that will stay with you. Not quite peace, but at least a sense of hopeful resignation.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Satoko Fujii - Invisible Hand

Satoko Fujii
Invisible Hand
Cortez Sound

Satoko Fujii - piano

Invisible Hand, surprisingly, is Satoko Fujii’s first live solo recording, although you wouldn’t know from the pristine sound and edited applause. There’s not even a glass clink or cough to be heard. The inaugural release from clubowner Teruhiko Ito’s Cortez Sound label, Invisible Hand is a major milestone for Ms. Fujii, who has only released three solo albums previous to this.

The first CD of the two CD set was completely improvised, while the second features her compositions, and it’s a credit to her compositional and organizing skills that the difference is not readily apparent. Ms. Fujii covers a lot of stylistic ground, from playing inside the piano to allusions to stride to a percussive prepared piano on Floating that reminded me of Benoit Delbecq. You can still hear a little of Paul Bley’s influence, Ms. Fujii’s mentor, perhaps because of his passing only three months prior to this concert, although that's purely a guess.

Gen Himmel (Libra), her previous solo album from 2012, was generally a restrained affair with twelve mostly shorter tracks. Invisible Hand, however, features longer performances, some with suite-like structures of distinct parts. There are turbulent moments on Invisible Hand, but overall you come away with a sense of peace. You could almost call it avant-garde meditation music.

The composition Gen Himmel, featured on both albums, serves as a useful comparison. On the album of the same name, the composition is tinged with foreboding, as Ms. Fujii creates some eerie textures by playing inside the piano. Here, Gen Himmel is striking in its directness, its plain emotion, evoking a sense of yearning and reflection. It’s so beautiful it will break your heart, and it’s a fitting ending to a complex journey.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Best of 2016

I'm honored to have been invited to take part in Francis Davis' 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, hosted by NPR Music for the fourth consecutive year. As usual, it's hard to edit a list down to ten new releases. Here are my choices, including reissues and best debut:

New releases:

Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus
The Distance

Dan Weiss
Sixteen: Drummer's Suite
Pi Recordings

Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You
Firehouse 12

Tim Stine Trio 
Tim Stine Trio
Astral Spirits

Christoph Irniger Pilgrim
Big Wheel Live

Bill Charlap Trio
Notes from New York

Illegal Crowns
Illegal Crowns
Rogue Art

Ches Smith
The Bell

Igor Osypov Quartet
Dream Delivery
For Tune

Mark Dresser
Sedimental You
Clean Feed


Jimmy Giuffre 3
Bremen and Stuttgart 1961

Anthony Braxton
Quintet (Basel) 1977

Wadada Leo Smith


Ron Stabinsky
Free for One
Hot Cup

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mark Dresser - Sedimental You

Mark Dresser
Sedimental You
Clean Feed Records

Mark Dresser - bass
Nicole Mitchell - flute
Marty Erlich - clarinet
Michael Dessen - trombone
Joshua White - piano
David Morales Boroff - violin
Jim Black - drums

Recently I acquired an old Columbia 2-record set called Outstanding Jazz Compositions of the 20th Century featuring Third Stream works such as Jazz Suite for Brass (J.J. Johnson), Three Little Feelings (John Lewis) and All About Rosie (George Russell).

Perhaps it's because I listened to Sedimental You shortly after hearing those older works, but I see Mark Dresser in a continuum with the Third Stream composers of the late 50s, who were trying to fuse jazz with classical and concert band music.

In an age where there are countless Free Improv sessions of debatable long-term value being released by small aggregations, it's refreshing to see someone craft adventurous compositions with small group arrangements that skillfully bring together a mix of woodwinds and strings.

Based on the composition titles, there are political points to be made on Sedimental You, but the compositions hold together without that context.

This, along with Dresser's compositions on the DVD Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series, provides insight into where modern Jazz-influenced composition is heading.