Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sam Rivers Has Passed

People are posting on Jazzcorner's Speakeasy that Sam Rivers has passed away. He was a magnificent saxophonist and composer from Oklahoma who studied at the Boston Conservatory, and who first came to national attention with a short stint in Miles Davis' Quintet in the early 60's. His intense, often gut-wrenching style wasn't a good fit for that band, but he went on to record some wonderful dates for Blue Note during the rest of that decade and for Impulse in the 1970's. He's also notable for being a pioneer in the NYC "Loft Jazz" movement by opening Studio Rivbea. The Wildflowers sessions, originally released on Alan Douglas' label, were recorded there.

He eventually moved to Orlando, Florida in the early 90's, where he cultivated a group of sympathetic musicians to play his music, many of whom worked in the theme park orchestras around the area. Some of his recent big band performances were recently released by Mosaic Records as a Mosaic Select set called Trilogy.

I remember walking into my local record store as a high schooler in the 70's and picking up his Blue Note Reissue Series two-fer Involution. That record blew me away, his intense style really speaking to me. He's always been one of my favorite tenor players, with a style above Coltrane in my opinion. I was less enthralled with his soprano and flute playing, but I tend to like those horns less no matter who is playing them.

If you've never heard Rivers' work, a good place to start is with one of the reissues of his Blue Note work, such as Fuschia Swing Song or Contours. He was also part of a classic ECM date by Dave Holland, Conference of the Birds with Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul. If you can find a copy of  Crystals, his big band recording on Impulse from 1974, grab it.

Here's probably Sam Rivers' best known composition, Beatrice, named after his wife:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Brutal Juice

7k Oaks, Entelechy
die Schachtel

Alfred 23 Harth – Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet, Pocket Trumpet, Electronics
Luca Venitucci – Keyboards
Massimo Pupillo – Bass
Fabrizio Spera – Drums

I read a review of this on Stef’s blog and was intrigued enough to give it a go, especially since I’ve been a fan of Alfred 23 Harth since his POPendingEYE came out back in 1992. I’ve hardly seen his name since, however. Entelechy (“a realization or actuality as opposed to a potentiality”) grabs you from the start, with electronic noise, bass feedback and skittering, nervous drums setting a menacing tone, Hearth joining in like the unholy love child of Albert Ayler and Peter Brotzmann. The intensity lets up only in spots on the first track, Seon Avalanche, but through it all there's a cohesion between the four; they listen and react like the most seasoned jazz group.

The middle section of the concert, marked on the disc as Tracks 2 and 3, lets in a little more light, and Hearth gives an impassioned reading of Chic's (!) At Last I Am Free
to close the set that made the hair on my arms stand up, his gruff tenor cutting right to your soul. 

It's a white knuckle ride, so strap on your strap on and brace yourself…

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Samuel Blaser Quartet in Action

Here's a clip of the Quartet playing part of the Boundless suite:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Regarding Nicholas Payton's Blog Post

Recently trumpeter Nicholas Payton posted on his blog a free verse rumination of why Jazz isn't cool anymore. It's definitely worth reflecting upon, and I agree with some, though not all, of what he says. Two main ideas stuck out for me:
"People are holding on to an idea that died long ago.  
Jazz, like the Buddha, is dead.  
Let it go, people, let it go."
Jazz, if you define the music very narrowly, is not exactly dead, but more accurately a codified art form. There's still a lot of people playing traditional jazz across the world, and the rules are well-known by now. However, if you define jazz broadly, there's a wealth of musicians taking different influences and incorporating them with the language of jazz. To me, it's a very vibrant art form, although that doesn't necessarily equate to being popular.
"It’s the colonialist mentality that glorifies being treated like a slave.  
There is nothing romantic about poor, scuffling Jazz musicians."
I believe that anyone who is playing jazz/improvised music as a profession is probably scuffling, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Two from Samuel Blaser

Samuel Blaser Quartet, Boundless

Samuel Blaser – Trombone
Marc Ducret – Guitar
Banz Oester – Bass
Gerald Cleaver - Drums

Samuel Blaser, Consort in Motion
Kind of Blue

Samuel Blaser – Trombone 
Russ Lossing – Piano
Thomas Morgan – Bass 
Paul Motian - Drums

Trombone is not the first instrument to which I usually gravitate when I’m picking out something to listen to. Not that I have anything against it; I just find the saxophone or the piano, to cite two examples, to be more expressive in the right hands. But Samuel Blaser has changed my perspective. His Clean Feed release from 2009, Pieces of Old Sky, was one of the best I heard that year; Russell Summers of Nuscope Records, among others, agreed. Now he’s released two records in close succession that put him at the top of contemporary trombonists.

Boundless is a live recording culled from two separate 2010 concerts, although it presents as one seamless suite in four parts. The group covers an impressive amount of ground over the sixty-plus minutes of the disc, from impressionistic passages imbued with classical references to outright funk. Blaser has incredible technique and command of his instrument. Oester and Cleaver have the quick interaction, ability to turn on a dime and approach to rhythm that at some points calls to mind Haden and Blackwell, while other passages that shift in tempo and mood from rock toward sudden silence and space remind one of Foster, Henderson and Cosey circa Agartha.

Guitarist Ducret weaves in and around Blaser with commentary both lyrical and jagged. He proves to be a good partner for Blaser, although he steers dangerously close to fusion-y overkill in a couple of spots. That quibble aside, this is the best new hatOLOGY release I’ve heard in awhile.

Consort in Motion highlights Blaser’s classical influences in a more overt way, as he blends 17th century Baroque works from Italian composers Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Marini with jazz improvisation. This is not a work of pastiche, however, and it suffers from none of the stiffness that has at times marred Third Stream efforts in the past. His arrangements flow seamlessly, establishing the connections between genres in a way that makes it difficult to determine where compositions end and improvisations begin.

It’s a restrained recording, and Lossing, Morgan and Motian are perfect partners. I’ve been a fan of Lossing since his cooperative disc Change of Time came out in 2001. His playing can at times be overly abstract, but here his solos and running interaction with Blaser strike the perfect balance of emotion and technique. And of course, who better for this type of project than the late Paul Motian? In probably one of his last recordings, his coloration and subtle interjections are reminders of why he was such a sought-after accompanist.

Together, these recordings make the case for Samuel Blaser’s vision and artistry.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Regarding Paul Motian

So sad to hear of Paul Motian's passing. Ellery Eskelin has a nice post about Motian's influence on his music on Ellery's Musings from a Saxophonist blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Madness of Trios

Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief,
The Madness of Crowds
Intakt Records
Ingrid Laubrock - Saxophones
Liam Noble - Piano
Tom Rainey - Drums
The madness of crowds is from Sleepthief, a cooperative trio of sax, piano and drums. This configuration appears to be all the rage these days: Ellery Eskelin, Ken Vandermark and Rob Brown all have recent albums out using this format.
Liam Noble is the new entity for me, although this trio has a prior release out on the same label. Noble occasionally uses a prepared piano effect that has a zither-type sound, a little of which goes a very long way. I mean, if I wanted to listen to frickin' Zamfir king of the pan flute I'd go buy his album off the telly, now wouldn't I?
On another track it sounds like someone's blowing bubbles underwater, which also doesn't add anything to the proceedings. Once they quit horsing around, though, at about track 3, things pick up nicely. There’s some great interplay between the three musicians, and Laubrock impresses on soprano as well as tenor, demonstrating a nice control on the smaller horn.
Ms. Laubrock is a frustrating artist to listen to in a way, because she seems to prefer free improv settings, but I'm not sure that's really her strength. A little structure or, dare I say it, melody, suits her better. Still, she's a star on the rise and it will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rob Brown Trio in Action

Here's a clip of the Rob Brown Trio at VisionFest 14:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Friendly Skies

Rob Brown Trio, Unknown Skies
Rob Brown - alto sax
Craig Taborn - piano
Nasheet Waits - drums   

A lineup of alto, piano and drums may conjure up memories of The Cecil Taylor Unit, but on Rob Brown's Unknown Skies the ghost of Ornette makes its presence felt. Brown isn't overly slavish to Coleman's influence however, and has produced his strongest recording of any I've heard.
A key to the success of Skies is Craig Taborn. His approach is so all-encompassing that you don't miss a bass. It's interesting to contrast the dense, knotty style on display here to the minimalist approach on his recent solo record Avenging Angel – quite a range. In fact, the closest Unknown Skies comes to the aforementioned Unit is in some sections featuring only Taborn and Waits.
Rob Brown's own playing ranges from meditative to frenetic, and although I still detect a tendency from earlier releases to wander a little in his improvisations, and although I found myself wondering a couple of times, WWGCD? (What would Gerald Cleaver do?), I wanted to play it again immediately after it was over, which is a good sign.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Light Made Darker

Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel
ECM Records
Craig Taborn - piano
I’ve come to appreciate Craig Taborn due to an earlier CD, Light Made Lighter, his appearances on a couple of Drew Gress albums and his pivotal role on Michael Formanek’s The Rub and Spare Change. But Avenging Angel is a different beast. It sounds as if it might be fully improvised, yet each piece contains logic and structure. There’s a quiet intensity to it, even a sense of foreboding. It’s a nighttime CD, although more frenetic sections are contained within.
There’s a hint of vintage Jarrett in Taborn’s overt classical influences, the use of repetition in the development of certain pieces, the occasional sly allusions to gospel and the blues. But this is not to say we’re dealing with the rolling ostinatos of The Sun Bear Concerts, and Taborn definitely has his own approach. 

There are parts that gave me chills. If you even thought you might be a Taborn fan, get this. If you’re a solo piano fan, get this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jazz in the Seventies

When I think of Jazz during the Seventies, my reflexive thought is of a time when fusion ruled the planet, leading to an abuse of power and numerous excesses. Of course, there were a few jewels among the dross, but I think the tendency is to write off much of the work during that decade, as we waited for the Eighties to set us all straight (ahead).

A recent post by Pete C on Jazz Corner's Speakeasy got me thinking about the accuracy of my recollections, however. He opined that "Tyner's Milestone output is one of the great bodies of work in jazz, and is one of many proofs that the 1970s was far from a jazz wasteland." I also dug out Dexter Gordon's Homecoming set from 1976, and I had forgotten how great it sounded. So, here is the start of a list of all that was great about Jazz in the Seventies, from a non-fusion perspective: 

- McCoy's Milestone albums

- Dexter Gordon's return to the U.S., including the Homecoming album

- Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra's albums

- The golden age of ECM: many classic albums during this time

- Several albums on CTI that successfully navigated between commercial accessibility and sufficient Jazz content

- The series of albums on Horizon

- The series of albums on Artist's House

- The emergence of Anthony Davis and the "New Haven" scene, including the albums on India Navigation

- The loft jazz scene: Studio Rivbea et al

- Anthony Braxton's series of albums for Arista

- The new West Coast players like David Murray 

Anyone care to add?

4/20/11 What I'm Listening To

Louis Armstrong and King Oliver 
Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines 
Sidney Bechet - Portrait 
Duke Ellington - Live at Newport 
Mal Waldron - Mal One and Two
Red Garland - Saying Something
Circle - Circulus
Bob James - One 
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis - Suite for Pops
Sonny Fortune - Awakening 
Dexter Gordon - Homecoming 
Steve Lehman - Camoflage

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4/14/11 What I'm Listening To

Charles Brackeen, Rhythm X
Ornette and Prime Time, Opening The Caravan of Dreams
Walter Davis, Jr., Davis Cup
Ingrid Laubrock & Anti-House, live in Austria 8/28/10
Bill Evans/Tony Scott Quartet, Complete Recordings
Kaufmann/Dresser/Eisenstadt, Starmelodics
Anthony Braxton, Three Orchestras (GTM) 1998

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lesser Known Trumpeters

Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music blog referenced a nice, informative post about some of the great, but lesser known, trumpeter players through the years. It's on a blog called Curt's Jazz Cafe. It's worth checking out; one of them, Louis Smith, I wasn't familiar with.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Great Time for Jazz

There was a recent post in JazzCorner's Speakeasy Forum that stated that "The players in New York are too busy slinging old hash around at Smalls or bellowing to the rafters at the Stone, while everybody else seems more fascinated by beeps and blips—you know, "texture"—than music." 

I agree to a point, but right now is an incredibly fertile time for Jazz that combines composition with improvisation in interesting ways. Some of the players who I think are emblematic of this area are Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock, Kris Davis, Satoko Fujii, Myra Melford (note how many are women), John Hebert, Tyshawn Sorey, Ken Filiano, Harris Eisenstadt, Liberty Ellman, Russ Lossing, Adam Lane, Matt Bauder, Nate Wooley, John Hollenbeck, Tomas Fujiwara (note how many are drummers), Tony Malaby and Peter Evans. I'm sure I've left many people out as well. 

There was a recent post in that same Forum about the meaning of Third Stream Music. I think a lot of what these artists produce could be considered a new type of Third Stream, one that integrates many types of musics with jazz and creates an organic blend in which the elements mesh seamlessly. 

This is a great time to love Jazz, even if it puts a strain on your wallet!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, Actionspeak

482 Music, 482-1071
Danton Boller-bass
Mary Halvorson-guitar
Brian Settles-tenor saxophone
Jonathan Finlayson-trumpet
Tomas Fujiwara-drums

Actionspeak is like a forward-thinking ‘60s Blue Note release with a twist. The Blue Note influence is accounted for by Fujiwara’s admiration for the compositions of Wayne Shorter, and that “cinematic” quality is evident here. The twist is provided by Mary Halvorson’s guitar, which is given ample room to wind in and around the structures of the songs. She plays it straight occasionally, but her unique sensibilities give Actionspeak a left-of-center edge. Like many contemporary jazz recordings, it’s difficult at times to tell where the composition leaves off and the improvising begins. Settles is the new name here, at least for me, and his hoarse upper register and terse statements remind me of Frank Lowe.
This release has really grown on me with repeated listens, and successfully navigates between inside and outside sensibilities.

My Top 10 for 2010

Here are my Top 10 recordings for 2010, in order:

Ashcan Rantings – Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra (Clean Feed)

 Paradoxical Frog – Davis/Laubrock/Sorey (Clean Feed)

 Day in Pictures – Matt Bauder (Clean Feed)

 Royal Toast – The Claudia Quintet (Cuneiform)

 Summer Works 2009 – Riviere Composers’ Pool (Emanem)

 Three – Gauci/Davis/Bisio (Clean Feed)

 Actionspeak – Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up (482 Music)

 Ground Rush – Julian Arguelles Trio (Clean Feed)

 Live in Lisbon – Peter Evans Quartet (Clean Feed)

 The Rub And Spare Change – Michael Formanek (ECM)

 And my Honorable Mentions, in no particular order:

 Searching for Adam – Rodrigo Amado (Not Two)

 Transmit – Ideal Bread (Cuneiform)

 Desert Ship – Satoko Fujii ma-do (Not Two)

 The Horse Jumps & The Ship is Gone – The Vandermark 5 Special Edition (Not Two)

 Saturn Sings – Mary Halvorson Quintet (Firehouse 12)

 All is Gladness in the Kingdom – Fight The Big Bull (Clean Feed)

 Dual Identity – Mahanthappa & Lehman (Clean Feed)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Claudia Quintet, Royal Toast

Cuneiform 307
John Hollenbeck – drums/percussion
Ted Reichman – Accordion
Chris Speed – Clarinet/Tenor Saxophone
Matt Moran – Vibraphone
Drew Gress – Acoustic Bass
 Guest: Gary Versace - piano
Every once in a while, a recording really grabs your attention and is a powerful reminder of why we love this music. And even though Jazz is the “sound of surprise”, let’s face it: We’ve all listened to a lot of records over the years that were well crafted and well played, but didn’t offer anything new.
Right now I’m listening to Royal Toast by The Claudia Quintet, a group led by John Hollenbeck, and it’s energizing my morning. Hollenbeck composed all the pieces excepting some brief overdubbed solos from various group members, and he gets an amazing amount of textures from such a small group. The compositions themselves don’t follow a theme-solos-theme format, but seem to cycle with variations of instrumentation and rhythm. Gary Versace is a guest on the CD, but he’s so well integrated it’s hard to imagine how the groups sounds without him.
I also recently received Hollenbeck’s large ensemble recording, Eternal Interlude, and I can’t wait to spin it based on what I’ve heard on Royal Toast.