Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hafez Modirzadeh - In Convergence Liberation

Hafez Modirzadeh
In Convergence Liberation

Hafez Modirzadeh - Saxophones, flute, clarinet, percussion
ETHEL - Cornelius Dufollo: violin; Ralph Farris: viola; Dorothy Lawson: cello; Mary Roswell: violin
Mili Bermejo - Vocals
Amir ElSaffar - Trumpet. vocals, sanfur
Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh – Tonbak, daf, dohol, bells
Faraz Minooei - Sanfur

Sometimes it takes a set of circumstances to make an album click. Driving home from work in the early evening after an exhausting week, I put on In Convergence Liberation and let it take me where it wanted to go.

Something about the solemn melody of the opening track, La Angustia de Los Amantes (“Lover’s Agony”) and Mili Bermejo’s soulful rendition in Spanish of a 13th century Persian poem made a connection with me, speaking some truths about life’s struggles, breaking through barriers of culture and language. It transported me out of that specific time and place, and gave me a perspective beyond my immediate concerns. I suppose that’s one of the main reasons we listen to music.

With In Convergence Liberation, Hafez Modirzadeh has accomplished an extremely skillful blending of jazz, avant-garde classical, and Persian as well as Iberian music. The record proved somewhat difficult to wrap my head around, and write about, because with its diversity of approaches and instrumentation, along with its length over 18 tracks, Liberation at first sounds like two or even three different albums.

It was when I began focusing on the strings that I realized that they serve as the unifying thread throughout the record. Far from a “reeds with stings” date, the writing for the ETHEL string quartet is complex and deftly woven into each piece. In fact, the 4-part Suite Compost solely featuring the quartet is one of the highlights of the entire album.

In addition to the strings, Modirzadeh blends his reeds, the trumpet of Amir ElSaffar, Ms. Bermejo’s voice, and traditional Persian instruments such as the tonbak (goblet drum) and daf (frame drum) into a unified whole. Certain tracks, such as the aforementioned La Angustia bring more of the Persian musical influence, and others, such as Number That Moves featuring Modirzadeh’s plaintive alto, will remind one of Ornette Coleman.

Even with all I’ve described, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Hafez Modirzadeh’s musical world, which also includes gamelan music, motifs from Beethoven and string quartet music from Mozart to Bartok. Through all these connections, Modirzaheh makes connections with life, with the beauty in art and with the human experience that connects us all.

Here's a performance of Number That Moves, excerpted from a July, 2011 performance in San Francisco with ETHEL and Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith - From-To-From

Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith
From-To-From

Alvin Fielder – Drums, Percussion
David Dove – Trombone
Jason Jackson – Alto, Tenor & Baritone Saxophones
Damon Smith- Double Bass

Damon Smith is a bassist who in recent years has migrated from Northern California to Houston. He runs the Balance Point Acoustics label, which has several releases with a mix of American and European musicians. 

From-To-From brings together three talents from the Houston area with 78-year-old drumming legend Alvin Fielder. The six tracks appear to be all freely improvised, ranging from a 3 minute blowout to an episodic 20+ minute piece.

Unlike some free improv albums, this record is not just about textures, and the frontline of trombonist David Dove and saxophonist Jason Jackson aren’t afraid to mix it up in extended periods of interaction. What is unexpected are those quieter sections where the horn players engage in some West Coast cool school counterpoint, Jackson waxing lyrically on his alto.

Smith provides a framework for the other musicians, and reminds me a little of Barry Guy in that he will let fly with some rapid phrases, and then recede into a supporting role. Fielder, for all his avant-garde credentials, has a solid foundation in all forms of jazz, so it’s refreshing to hear him create a nice gangly free-bop groove at different points, with the horns taking advantage, diving in and out of the waves of rhythm he creates.

David Dove, head of Houston’s Nameless Sound organization, acquits himself well on trombone, with a garrulous sound somewhat reminiscent of Steve Swell. Jackson’s star is seemingly on the rise, as he is now a member of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten’s Young Mothers and has made guest appearances with Dennis Gonzalez’s Yells At Eels.

The Texas jazz scene is the richer for Damon Smith’s presence, and here’s hoping it leads to more concerts and more albums.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Schwingungen 77 Entertainment - Act I: Notes In Freedom

Schwingungen 77 Entertainment
Act I: Notes In Freedom

Andrea Massaria – Guitar, objects, live electronics
Enrico Merlin – Guitar, kaospad, live electronics
Alessandro Seravalle – Guitar, toys, electronic substratums, samples, live electronics

Just when I thought I somewhat knew what to expect from the Setola Di Maiale label, along comes a curveball, at least for my ears. Act 1: Notes In Freedom contains elements of musique concrète, spoken word, massive amounts of signal manipulation, and occasionally some recognizable elements of electric guitar. 

The writer and poet Edmond Jabes’ quote “Banality is not harmless: It drives you furious” is featured on the CDR sleeve, and one would never call this record banal. Notes on the label website state that the work is inspired by Italian futurism, and I get the sense that the twelve tracks have a conceptual link, an aural equivalent to a Dadaist play.

This recording is well outside my frame of reference – I wouldn’t say it comes within a country mile of jazz, or even what most of us think of as free improv - but if you’ve got open ears and want to keep up with developments in guitar music, this is something you should check into.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stephen Gauci/Kirk Knuffke/Ken Filiano - Chasing Tales

Gauci/Knuffke/Filiano
Chasing Tales

Stephen Gauci – Tenor saxophone
Kirk Knuffke – Cornet
Ken Filiano – Double bass

I like to pull for the underdog, and I suppose that's why I like to check out what Stephen Gauci is up to from time to time. I'm not sure why I feel that way about him; perhaps it's because he came to music as a profession relatively late in life (I’ve read that his first studio session was at age 35), or perhaps because you don't see his name a lot. 

Stephen Gauci
Gauci has put out some albums on the CIMP label, displaying promise but also falling victim to the drawbacks of the CIMP aesthetic: A seeming lack of preparation and a tendency to let ideas run past the point of diminishing returns. But he was impressive on 2010’s SKM (Clean Feed) with Kris Davis and Michael Bisio, and now he’s part of another drummer-less trio on Chasing Tales

Six of the tracks are completely improvised, while Gauci contributes three compositions, and Knuffke and Filiano one each. The composed tracks have interesting arrangements and are crisply executed, with enough air in them to encourage dialog between the players. It’s a tribute to the group that the quality is consistent across all the tracks, whether composed or improvised.

Kirk Knuffke
Gauchi has sometimes come across as tentative to these ears, perhaps thinking a little too much, but he sounds confident and in control here, more fluid than I’ve ever heard him. Knuffke is so consistent; I sang his praises on Max Johnson’s The Invisible Trio, and he delivers here as well. Like Gauci, he doesn't feel the need to use a lot of extended techniques to make his point.

A few years ago I was on the fence about Ken Filiano, but he seems to get better and better. I still think Dreams from a Clown Car (Clean Feed) was criminally overlooked, and he's the glue for this record, whether walking under the other two players with a full, rich tone, adding his commentary, or playing unison phrases.

This album makes me smile, and who can't use a little of that in their lives? Great spirit, great interaction, mutual respect. It's the little record that could.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rodrigo Amado - Wire Quartet

Rodrigo Amado
Wire Quartet 

Rodigo Amado – Tenor saxophone
Manuel Mota – Guitar
Hernani Faustino – Double bass
Gabriel Ferrandini - Drums

Rodrigo Amado is a free jazz musician whose sound harks back to the classic saxophonists of the jazz tradition. His thick tone, bluesy in quieter moments and containing an R&B edge, brings to mind players like Gene Ammons and Lockjaw Davis. When things get heated, his tone takes on a grainy quality that reminds me of a young Gato Barbieri. 

His Wire Quartet is composed of bassist Faustino and drummer Ferrandini of the RED Trio; Ferrandini is also part of Amado’s Motion Trio with cellist Miguel Mira. Guitarist Manuel Mota completes the group.

The initial and longest track, Abandon Yourself, alternates between sections where everyone plays nice with each other, in sort of a free jazz version of a ballad session, and moments when things come to a full boil. Probably the most fascinating part of this track, and the record overall, is the tension of the interaction between Amado and Mota, where Amado’s rational explorations of thematic elements are juxtaposed with Mota’s frenzied finger-picking and bursts of noise.

The two shorter tracks that follow are even more compelling than the first, each providing a clearer arc of tension and release with a little more economy of expression.

You would expect the bassist and drummer of the RED Trio to be hand-in-glove, and they are, but this is Amado’s and Mota’s show. This round is a draw, and it’ll be interesting to see how things settle out should they tangle again.

Here's a video from 2007 of the group in concert, with Peter Bastiaan in place of Ferrandini.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fail Better! - Zero Sum

Fail Better!
Zero Sum

Luis Vicente – Trumpet
Joao Guimaraes – Alto saxophone
Marcelo Dos Reis – Electric guitar
Jose Miguel Pereira – Double bass
Joao Pais Filipe – Drums

What makes a free improv record successful can be an elusive thing to define. I think it comes down to how well the musicians listen to each other, how skilled they are at interacting, and if they generate some sort of forward momentum. I may be old school in my love of jazz, but for me merely exploring textures doesn't cut it. I still want a sense of the music starting at one point and traveling to another.

I started to wonder about Zero Sum as I began listening to the first track, but my fears were soon allayed. I'm happy to report that the collective known as Fail Better! has documented a successful live concert, one that gets stronger as the record progresses. 

The group is good at creating structures in real time. Even though it's free, there are places where each musician has a chance to shine out front, as it were, of the rest of the band. I recently reviewed Clocks and Clouds from a different group also featuring Luis Vicente, and he again impresses here, asserting the trumpet’s natural leadership position while still leaving space for contributions from the rest of the musicians. The other group members were unknown to me, but all acquit themselves well; Dos Reis shows an intriguing approach, using spare single note lines, but also developing monolithic slabs of feedback to ratchet up more intense moments. 

Zero Sum is yet another example of the extremely fertile Portuguese jazz scene.