Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suites

Wadada Leo Smith
The Great Lakes Suites

Wadada Leo Smith - Trumpet
Henry Threadgill - Alto sax, flute, bass flute
John Lindberg - Double bass
Jack DeJohnette - Drums

Wadada Leo Smith is undergoing a creative renaissance, with involvement in what seems to be an unprecedented amount of projects over the past few years. Ten Freedom Summers, Occupy The World and the collective that just released the album Red Hill are just a few of the projects that he’s spearheaded or been a part of.

Occupy and several other albums from Mr. Smith have been released by Tum Records of Finland, and now that label gives us The Great Lakes Suite, six compositions by Smith spread over two CDs.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this when I learned who was on it, an all-star quartet with Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette. But beyond the players, it’s the strength of the compositions, particularly the three suites that comprise the first CD, that grabs one’s attention. 

The opening Lake Michigan has an unusual and arresting stop-start theme, with a structure that leads to a couple of false endings over its length. Lake Ontario, which follows, makes excellent use of Threadgill’s arid flute. There’s a sense throughout that the musicians are really taking their time to explore each composition, so that the mind doesn’t really record whether the tempos are fast or slow; everything flows in an organic fashion through to the final suite, the music shuffling off like a freighter moving out to the horizon.

Mr. Smith’s trumpet has always had a majestic quality, with a little hint of Miles, and that is still the case here, but now there’s an additional richness, an emotional resonance, that I don’t remember hearing from him before. I was looking forward to hearing Threadgill in a context other than his own groups, and he doesn’t disappoint. His solos seem to be more about juxtaposing interesting textures and building blocks of sound in interaction with the other players, rather than providing strict linear narratives.

It’s a treat to hear Lindberg and DeJohnette, both of whom just kill throughout Suites. I don’t know why we don’t see more of Lindberg, but I’m glad Smith uses him regularly, and DeJohnette is all over his kit, bringing to mind his hyperactive work with Miles during the Fillmore days. 

Overall, the first CD is the slightly stronger of the two, mainly due to the aforementioned first two compositions, but that’s a minor quibble. There’s a lot that will keep you coming back to The Great Lakes Suite.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl - North And The Red Stream

RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl
North And The Red Stream

Rodrigo Pinheiro - Piano
Hernani Faustino - Double bass
Gabriel Ferrandini - Drums
Mattias Ståhl - Vibraphone

I have to admit its taken me a while to fully warm up to the RED Trio. What I had heard of their previous releases, particularly those with guest artists John Butcher and Nate Wooley, had seemed a little too “pointillist” for my tastes. But I liked what I heard from individual members’ contributions to records such as Clocks & Clouds with Luis Vicente, and now the Trio has released a fabulous recording of a 2013 live concert with vibist Mattias Stahl.

What I’ve come to appreciate about the RED Trio is this great sense of architecture they bring to what they create in the moment. The performance as released consists of three pieces ranging from 16 to 20 minutes each, and it’s fascinating to hear how each develops. One moment the group will be engaged in intense interplay, then turn on a dime to sparse sections with what sounds like prepared piano and percussive interjections from Ferrandini. For a small group, they create an impressive set of textures. 

The more intense sections of this performance remind me of The Feel Trio. Pinheiro’s playing has some of Cecil Taylor’s markers, but he’s developed his own vocabulary that contains more use of space and silence than any of Taylor’s work, along with the way he dampens his strings to generate percussive effects. Guest Stahl fits right in with a metallic flavor to his vibes, and sounds like a permanent member of the group.

The RED Trio is known for their democratic interaction, and they don’t disappoint here. As I write this, I realize it’s somewhat useless to single out any one member’s contributions, as one might when listening to a traditional piano trio. Every time I listen to North, and no matter how hard I try to focus on one member at a time, I end up perceiving the totality of the performance. There are a lot of trios that emphasize “leaderless” group interaction, but the RED Trio takes this to another, unique level.

You can now officially count me as a fan. Now to catch up with all their previous output…(sigh)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Patrizia Oliva/Gustavo Costa - FROGS

Patrizia Oliva/Gustavo Costa
FROGS

Patrizia Oliva – Voice, stir xylophone, bamboo flute, water, leaves
Gustavo Costa – Drums, cymbals, bells

Here’s one that’s a little outside of my usual listening habits. Oliva and Costa have recorded a continuous 26+ minute track “next to a small lake in Luminasio (Marzabotto, Bologna, Italy).” There are definite elements of a field recording present in the soothing sounds captured in nature, and the two musicians have added vocals and percussion in real time without overdubs. As suggested by the locale, FROGS proceeds in a generally placid, meditative nature until Ms. Oliva adds intensity with her wordless vocal effects.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Anna Webber - SIMPLE

Anna Webber
SIMPLE
Skirl Records

Anna Webber - Tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute
Matt Mitchell - Piano, prepared piano
John Hollenbeck - Drums, percussion

SIMPLE is at once an apt and a misleading title for this CD. Saxophonist/flautist Webber, a new name to me, has attracted a couple of A-listers in Mitchell and Hollenbeck for her project, and upon listening it’s easy to see why they wanted to be on board – there’s a lot to sink your teeth into.

Ms. Webber uses only the three instruments to fulfill her compositional vision over the seven tracks of the album. However, she deploys an impressive variety of approaches to the material, from quieter minimalist passages to themes stated in unison to knotty full-bore free improv.

Using only woodwinds, piano and drums creates a lot of open space in the music, and Webber plays in and around the compositions, suggesting they could unspool infinitely. Her tone on tenor is malleable, bending and stretching notes in a way that calls to mind the spirit, if not the exact style, of a young David Murray.

Shifting effortlessly and seamlessly from composed to improvised sections, intricate is the word that best sums up her approach, and if that seems to be contrary to the title of the album, somehow it all fits. She makes the complex simple, which as we all know is harder than making the simple complex.

As soon as SIMPLE had finished, I started over and immediately listened to it again. Now that’s the sign of a good record!

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.