Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Transition – At Mibnight Jazz Festival

For the next few days, I’m going to turn my attention to new Italian jazz, specifically several new releases from the Setola di Maiale label of drummer Stefano Giust. Solos, duos, trios and a quintet are all represented, along with a variety of approaches from through-composed music to totally free. 

At Mibnight Jazz Festival 

Nils Gerold - Flute
Nicola Guazzaloca - Piano
Stefano Giust - Drums 

First up is a live recording from the 2012 Mibnight Jazz Festival in Bremen, Germany from the trio known as Transition. This is another great release from them, following their self-titled record, which I reviewed previously

With a lineup of flute, piano and drums, one might expect a pastoral approach, but that’s hardly the case. The trio generates plenty of heat, with the interaction between Guazzaloca and Giust recalling the epic battles of Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley. Nils Gerold is pushing the boundaries of the flute as an improvising instrument, and he deserves to be mentioned alongside Nicole Mitchell as one of the top flautists in today’s music. 

Within the three pieces, which sound completely improvised, the group exhibits great range, “transitioning” if you will from terse exchanges to very dense passages. The live sound is crisp and clear, and with the absence of audience noise, Mibnight sounds very close to a studio recording.

Definitely one to seek out if you’re a fan of free improv or the flute in new music.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme

Steve Lehman Octet
Mise en Abîme 

Steve Lehman - Alto Saxophone and Live Electronics
Jonathan Finlayson - Trumpet
Mark Shim - Tenor Saxophone
Tim Albright - Trombone
Chris Dingman - Vibraphone
Jose Davila - Tuba
Drew Gress - Bass 
Tyshawn Sorey - Drums

Mise en Abîme
 returns the same personnel as Lehman’s breakout 2009 album Travail, Transformation and Flow. Since then, he’s partnered with Rudresh Mahanthappa for Dual Identity and released an under-appreciated trio album, Dialect Flourescent, on which he radically deconstructed some standards. Mise features a mix of Lehman’s own compositions alongside three Bud Powell tunes and a nod to hip-hop on one track.

The title Mise en Abîme appears to be a play on words combining two concepts, "mise en abyme", a formal technique in which an image contains a smaller copy of itself, appearing to recur infinitely, and “abîme”, the geographical term for a vertical shaft that opens into a network of subterranean passages. The connotation clearly is one of layers spreading in many directions, perhaps a reference to Lehman’s fascination with spectral harmony. 

Spectral harmony organizes overtones of different instruments according to their frequencies as opposed to the intervals of a musical scale. Using this technique, along with harmonic movement to different tonal centers, Lehman constructs a shimmering, vibrating sound that incorporates elements of new music, jazz and electronic music.

The combination of Lehman’s ascetic alto, the intricate yet melodic compositions, and the overtones created, particularly by the vibraphone, creates a signature sound. Vibist Chris Dingman plays a key role, prominent in the mix, his dense ringing overtones a continual presence in both solo and ensemble sections.

There’s always been an element of emotional distance in Lehman’s music, but it serves here to create an air of mystery. The combination of the geometric arrangements and ringing vibes create a feeling of suspended animation. The last track, Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription, features Lehman playing over what sounds like samples of distant voice and piano, and comes across as a throwaway compared to what has come before. But it doesn’t distract from the quality of the seven previous tracks.

The fact that Mise is a consolidation of Travail shouldn’t be considered damning with faint praise. It’s a confirmation of Steve Lehman’s talents as conceptualizer and composer, synthesizing influences such as Jackie McLean, Anthony Braxton, spectral composer Tristan Murail, and M-Base. There’s no other group out there that sounds like this.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Charlie Haden 1937 - 2014

Jazz lost one of its greatest bassists this past Friday. Mr. Haden was 76, and evidently had been ill for some time. There have already numerous articles, blog posts and forum entries paying tribute to the man, so rather than retell the facts about his career, I wanted to mention a couple of performances that particularly resonated with me when I had just discovered jazz as a teenager.

I think my first exposure to Mr. Haden’s music was his contribution to Ornette Coleman’s Crisis, which was also my introduction to Ornette. For some reason that Impulse LP was still lying around in the bins of my local record store in 1974 when I picked it up. Here’s Haden’s Song for Che from that album:

As great as that record is, Haden really caught my attention with his work of Paul Motian’s Tribute, released in ’74 and still one of my favorite records from ECM’s “classic” period, when the label released gem after gem. Tribute is a great example of Haden’s monster, fat sound and his ability to simultaneously support and drive the music being made. There are parts of this record where he gets as funky as I’ve ever heard him.

Truly one of the very greatest bassists of any period of jazz, his death is a profound loss. Thank you, Mr. Haden, for helping a teenaged kid discover the magic that’s inherent in this music.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Luis Vicente/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino/Marco Franco - Clocks and Clouds

Luis Vicente/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino/Marco Franco
Clocks and Clouds

Luis Vicente – Trumpet
Rodrigo Pinheiro – Piano
Hernani Faustino – Bass
Marco Franco - Drums

On Clocks and Clouds, Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente is joined by two-thirds of the RED Trio, pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and bassist Hernani Faustino. Marco Franco, who started out drumming in metal bands, takes the place of Gabriel Ferrandini.

Clocks and Clouds refers to Ligeti’s composition of the same name, which itself was a reference to philosopher Karl Raimund Popper’s essay “On Clocks and Clouds.” Popper wrote of natural processes that can be measured exactly (“Clocks”) and those that are indefinite and can only be described in approximation (“Clouds”).

Based on my limited experience with the RED Trio’s music, I thought Clocks and Clouds was going to be a minimal, lower-case affair. Boy was I wrong, but gladly so, because this is a free improv record that has some muscle. 

Vincente does a nice job expressing himself through both traditional and extended techniques, with the open horn and with a mute. Pinheiro sounds like two piano players at times, exploring the extremes of both the lower and upper registers of his instrument. The RED Trio is a group that’s never really clicked for me for some reason, but with Franco in the driver’s seat things really take flight. The whole group engages in lightening quick reactions to each other, and sounds animated and more assertive than I expected. Now I need to go back and reassess RED Trio’s catalog, especially their recording with Nate Wooley, Stem.

Based on Popper’s definitions, Clocks and Clouds is probably more “Clouds”, an indefinite, in-the-moment process, but the structures the group creates in the moment work. If you’re looking for free improv that’s not afraid to get boisterous at the proper times, Clouds and Clouds is for you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Catching Up With Brandon Evans

Saxophonist and composer Brandon Evans is probably best known for his work with Anthony Braxton beginning in the 90’s. Braxton’s Small Ensemble Music (Wesleyan) 1994 is the first album I’m aware of on which his name appears, and he’s also on the four volumes of Ninetet (Yoshi’s) 1997.

Evans also collaborated with Sonny Simmons on several albums issued on Evans’ Parallactic Records label. He produced and directed a documentary in 2003 about Simmons called The Multiple Rated X Truth

Evans seemed to drop out of site for several years, and releases on his label became highly sought after by collectors, such as the excellent 3 CDr set of duets with Anthony Braxton, Elliptical Axis 15.

In recent months, however, Evans has uploaded all the Parallactic releases to his Bandcamp page. And now, there’s even better news: All of these albums are available for download for free, or “name your price”, during the month of July. One of these is a new release entitled Harbors

I encourage everyone to download one or more of Evans’ albums; I think you’ll be pleased by what you hear.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Shiki

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York

Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss – Alto sax
Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby – Tenor sax
Andy Laster – Baritone sax
Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou – Trumpet

Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fielder – Trombone
Satoko Fujii – Piano
Stomu Takeishi – Bass
Aaron Alexander - Drums

Shiki is Satoko Fujii’s ninth album with her Orchestra New York, and for the occasion she’s brought back her collection of downtown all-stars. It’s a testament to Ms. Fujii’s tenacity and vision, and the regard with which the musicians must hold for her, that she’s been able to keep a core group intact for eighteen years.

The album continues in the vein of its predecessor, Eto, in that the title composition plays more of a supportive role rather than standing out for its theme. Shiki, which means “four seasons”, presents a series of long simple motifs that rise and fall like the swell of waves, constantly building and releasing tension. The composition serves as a backdrop, framing a series of explorations by individual soloists. Just when you think the band has lost its way, Fujii re-introduces a thematic thread to pull the performance back together. 

Gen Himmel, which was the title track from Fujii’s most recent solo album, is a beautiful composition, given a somber, processional feel by the band, with aching interjections by a trumpeter, I assume Natsuki Tamura. Here his extended techniques work well to convey what comes across as profound grief for the loss of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, a member of Tamura’s Gato Libre quartet. The shortest of the tracks at less than seven minutes, it left me wanting more.

Bi Ga Do Da by Natsuki Tamura is a tribal romp, with slightly deranged vocal exhortations by the band of the rhythmic words that make up the title. Here the band is front and center, as opposed to any particular soloist, although Fujii does contribute some of her signature fractured piano runs, something that is kept to the background for most of the album. 

Shiki, both the composition and the album as a whole, comes across as the trumpet section’s showcase, given the solos on the title track by Herb Robertson and Steve Bernstein, and for Natsuki Tamura’s contributions. They use a lot of extended techniques, and I found myself wanting to hear a good “clean” trumpet sound for at least part of a solo, but that’s about my only quibble with the album.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ideal Bread - Beating the Teens

Ideal Bread
Beating the Teens

Josh Sinton – Baritone Saxophone
Kirk Knuffke – Cornet
Adam Hopkins – Bass
Tomas Fujiwara – Drums
“Like a baker makes his bread, I make music...If I make the same bread tomorrow, that bores me...I have to remake it, I have to do better...I’m always looking for...the ideal bread.” – Steve Lacy

Beating The Teens is Ideal Bread’s track – by – track interpretation (Josh Sinton calls them "recompositions") of the Steve Lacy set Scratching The Seventies that appeared on the French Saravah label. The songs are presented in a different order than the original, and the 3-CD set has been compacted to two discs, with most tracks clocking in at under five minutes. 

Scratching the Seventies comprised five different albums and several different groupings of musicians, including solo works, so the fact that one group is playing this music makes the presentation more homogeneous on one level. But the instrumentation of the group and their original approach to the arrangements take the material in a whole new direction. 

Lacy frequently incorporated texts into his music, either overtly or as inspiration, and this speech-like quality is brought out on Teens; it’s like listening in on a conversation between four old friends, with arguments, laughter and passionate debate. 

Josh Sinton has matured as a player since their prior release, Transmit, gaining expressiveness and facility on his horn. Kirk Knuffke is the perfect trumpeter for this project, quirky and original, yet still letting Lacy’s voice and style come through. The rhythm team of Adam Hopkins, replacing Reuben Radding, and Tomas Fujiwara contribute their voices as well, and even lock into grooves at times, something else that sets this apart from most of what I know of Lacy’s music. 

Beating the Teens plays like a jazz concept album. It’s not about the individual solos, or even the individual songs, but the gestalt of the whole set. With this album, Ideal Bread has taken a big step forward in developing a distinct voice and a distinct take on the music of Steve Lacy.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund this release.