Saturday, October 1, 2016

Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables

Tyshawn Sorey
The Inner Spectrum of Variables
Pi Recordings

Tyshawn Sorey - composer, conductor, drum set
Christopher Tordini - contrabass
Cory Smythe - piano
Chern Hwei Fung - violin
Kyle Armbrust - viola
Rubin Kodheli - cello

I realize that I’m late to the game on this one, even though I’ve been listening to it ever since it came out earlier this year. I’ve hesitated to review it, because I feel ill-equipped to comment on a work that is so informed by the classical music tradition. 

However, on its own merits The Inner Spectrum of Variables is an ambitious work that deftly combines strings, piano and percussion to make an assured, mature statement as a composition. Given that Sorey is one of the best jazz drummers working today, you might expect Variables to be heavy on percussion, but in actuality the accents are subtle. Cory Smyth is wonderful, as he was on Sorey’s trio album from 2014, Alloy.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Illegal Crowns - Illegal Crowns

Illegal Crowns
Illegal Crowns

Mary Halvorson: guitar
Tomas Fujiwara: drums
Benoît Delbecq: piano, prepared piano
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn

One of the best albums I’ve heard this year. Illegal Crowns has great writing from all the players, and brings to mind the subtle magic and mystery of Miles’ Second Quintet, even though it’s very different in terms of its language and approach.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You

Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

Jonathan Finlayson - trumpet
Jon Irabagon - alto saxophone
Ingrid Laubrock - tenor saxophone
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Mary Halvorson - guitar
Susan Alcorn - pedal steel guitar
John Hébert - bass
Ches Smith - drums

Just got through listening to Mary Halvorson’s amazing new album with her Octet, Away With You (Because of the letterspacing on the cover, at first I thought the title was A Way With You, which is a nice play on words if you think about it!) This recording hit me so hard that I had to come out of my blog retirement to comment on it.

No real dominant voice, everything is very well-balanced throughout, and it’s the ensemble sound that you notice. One unique quality to the arrangements is Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel, an instrument I generally steer clear of even though I was born in the South. Here, however, it blends remarkably well with the woodwinds and brass, as well as Ms. Halvorson’s guitar.

Away With You builds on Ms. Halvorson’s work on her previous Firehouse 12 group recording, Illusionary Sea; in fact, it’s the same group with the addition of Ms. Alcorn. Listening to Away With You brought to mind Michael Formanek’s The Distance, not in the specific sound but in the way each offers a fresh take on arranging for larger groups of instruments.

This is brilliant stuff. It releases on October 28, but you can pre-order at Firehouse 12’s Bandcamp page.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 4: Balance Point Acoustics

Wrapping up this series of "My favorite things" is bassist Damon Smith and his label, Balance Point Acoustics. Smith was active on the West Coast avant-garde scene, founded the label in 2001 and then relocated to Houston, Texas in 2010. Damon is known for his adventurous playing, an insatiable thirst for listening to new music, and his culinary adventures (which he documents on Facebook). He's also known for his outspoken opinions on other players, something of a rarity among improvising musicians, at least in public. I recall his comparison of MOPDK's Kevin Shea to Jimmy Cobb generated strong reactions when the group's Blue album, a recreation of Kind of Blue, came out.
Smith has played with musicians from all over the world, and is known for long-running collaborations with guitarists Henry Kaiser and Sandy Ewen. Some of the work on Balance Point Acoustics that I've enjoyed recently include:

Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith - Background Information

Fred Van Hove / Peter Jacquemyn / Damon Smith - Burns Longer

Peter Kowald/Damon Smith - Mirrors Broken - But No Dust

One other outstanding album on which he plays is on the Nuscope label:

Magda Mayas / Damon Smith / Tony Buck - Spill Plus

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 3: Setola Di Maiale

I've sung the praises of drummer Stefano Giust's label before on this blog. Founded in 1993, Setola Di Maiale continues to put out a steady stream of releases that combine some names you know with some you don't, and are always challenging and worthwhile.

These CR-Rs are well-recorded and come housed in contemporary, eye-catching graphics, most of them designed by Giust himself, who trained as a graphic designer. Setola Di Maiale illustrates how vibrant an improvised music scene there is in Italy, in the same way For Tune highlights Polish musicians.

Some recent Setola Di Maiale releases I've enjoyed are:

One Lip 5 - Apro il Silenzio (I open the silence); with Guido Mazzon, Nicola Catteneo, Franco Cortellessa, Alberto Mandarini, Stefano Giust, etc.

Sabir Mateen (sax), Gianni Lenoci (piano), Giacomo Mongelli (drums) - Testing the System

Guido Mazzon (trumpet), Marta Sacchi (clarinets), Stefano Giust (percussion) - Neu Musik Projekt

The site is down temporarily, but you can see most of the catalog at Discogs.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 2: Pi Recordings

Some labels put out a plethora of releases each year, and of course we should all be grateful that they do. Others, like Pi, issue a handful of what feel like carefully curated albums that cause you to really focus your attention. The most recent, save one, is drummer Dan Weiss’ Sixteen: Drummer’s Suite, which pays indirect tribute to famous drummers who have influenced him in one way or another. I say indirect because the suite doesn’t mimic any past styles but makes a very comprehensive statement of its own. 

I wasn’t a fan of Weiss’ previous Pi release, Fourteen, because it felt like a pastiche, with styles grafted onto each other. He’s taken a major step forward with Sixteen, displaying complete mastery in combining acoustic instruments, electronics, voice and percussion. Some themes remind me of the open, endless blue sky style of John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, but Weiss is his own man, and he has birthed a masterwork. 

The most recent Pi Recordings release ,which I haven’t yet heard, is Henry Threadgill’s Old Locks and Irregular Verbs.