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.