Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Top of 2012

Here, roughly in order, is my list of the top releases of 2012. I should say that my current listening is mainly centered around 1) artists who are combining composition with improvisation in interesting ways, and 2) Anthony Braxton, so there are undoubtedly some free improv records that got by me. And if you’re looking for eai or lower case stuff, you’ll be disappointed. But with that being said, here goes: 

Michael Formanek - Small Places (ECM)
A brilliant combination of edgy and emotive writing and playing, it creates a complete environment.

Michael Attias - Spun Tree (Clean Feed)
Attias thrives in a compositionally-based setting versus his recent free improv bent.

Simon Nabatov - Spinning Songs of Herbie Nichols (Leo)
Inspired meeting of iconoclastic composer and iconoclastic interpreter.

Tomas Fujiwara – The Air is Different (482 Music)
A great follow up to Actionspeak. When is he going to get more attention?

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day Octet (482 Music)
A broader palette enhances an already great concept.

Nils Wogram - Complete Soul (nwog)
A big step forward for Wogram the composer.

Angelica Sanchez - Wires & Moss (Clean Feed)
This one sneaks up on you, and then you want to hear it again and again.

Eric Revis – Parallax (Clean Feed)
Goes inside, outside, to the tradition and back to today. Some of Vandermark’s best tenor playing that I’ve ever heard.

Vijay Iyer - Accelerando (ACT)
Has found the blend between the intellectual and emotional sides of his music.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):

9Volt with Tim Berne – Open Circuit (OutNow)
Just a fun, gnarly, fusion-y (in a good sense) record.

Tim Berne – Snakeoil (ECM)
A maturation of his approach, without losing his essence.

Catatumbo – Catatumbo (Babel Label)
Rumbly, meaty free improv.

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day III (Songlines)
One of the best composers out there.

Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan (Skirl)
Quirky, interesting, with a great supporting cast.

Mary Halvorson - Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12)
Maybe not quite the level of Saturn Sings, but still worthy.

Steve Lehman – Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
A butt-kicking trio takes on some standards.

Living by Lanterns – New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform)
Great blend of inside and outside sensibilities.

Tom Rainey - Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt)
Just when you thought Mary Halvorson couldn’t wring any new textures out of her guitar...

Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform)
Could have used some editing (gasp!), but engrossing.

Weston/Laubrock/Marshall – Haste (Emanem)
Three people with something to say who find a way to say it together.

Promising, but arrived too recently to potentially make either list:

Paul Giallorenzo Trio – PG3 (NotTwo)

Roscoe Mitchell, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble – Three Compositions (RogueArt)

Watershed (Dennis Fournier) – Watershed (RogueArt)

Monday, October 22, 2012

David S. Ware 1949-2012

It seems a little superfluous to post about the passing of saxophonist David S. Ware, as tributes have hit the Web and public radio over the weekend. Still, Ware, who passed away on October 18 at the age of 62, had such lengthy and uncompromising career that I feel the need to join in celebrating his art. Tenor was his main instrument, although he also occasionally played more obscure horns such as the saxello and stritch. He was intense and unyielding, influenced by Rollins (with whom he studied), and late-period Coltrane but with his own formidable style.

I first became aware of him with his appearance on Cecil Taylor’s Dark To Themselves (Enja), a live recording from 1976. He recorded only sporadically in the intervening years, but in 1988 Passage To Music appeared on Silkheart with William Parker on bass and Marc Edwards on drums. Parker would become a core member of Ware’s seminal group, The David S. Ware Quartet, along with pianist Matthew Shipp and a series of drummers: Edwards, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake and Guillermo Brown. He had health setbacks in recent years, and underwent a kidney transplant a couple of years ago. He was able to return to activity with a new group consisting of Cooper-Moore (p), William Parker (b) and Muhammad Ali (d), documented on Planetary Unknown and Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden, both on Aum Fidelity. He will be missed, but his music is forever.

Matthew Shipp paid tribute in an article on The Daily Beast. Here's a clip of the Quartet live in Vilnius, a performance released on vinyl by No Business Records:

Batting A Thousand

I recently went 5 for 5 based on my first listens to these:

Michael Formanek - Small Places - might be the best thing I've heard all year

Living By Lanterns - New Myth/Old Science  
Nice compositions/arrangements based on a Sun Ra rehearsal tape

Michael Attias - Spun Tree

Angelica Sanchez- Wires and Moss

Paradoxical Frog - Union

(Pictured above: Michael Formanek)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Variations On The Canon

Evan Parker and Georg Graewe, 
Dortmund Variations
Nuscope Recordings

Evan Parker - Tenor Saxophone
Georg Graewe - Piano

No one has conquered the demands of free improv like Evan Parker. And while at this stage of his career you pretty much know what to expect from him, his mastery of the idiom still makes it a pleasure to hear one of his performances. Dortmund Variations, recorded as part of a Graewe-curated Ruhr 2010 series, consists of three improvisations lasting from eleven to thirty-seven minutes. Parker sticks with tenor throughout, and he and Graewe engage in meaningful conversation that is characterized by subtle shifts in emphasis and tone rather than demonstrative displays of emotion. Think of a stream that’s polished the stones below as opposed to waves crashing over coral. (Wow, I’m going to have to work on my analogies!) Graewe’s notes unspool at a pretty consistent pace, and that’s my one quibble with the performance; a little more contrast from him would have benefited the whole. Still, it’s a dialogue that’s worth listening in on – and attention to the shades of meaning proves a rewarding experience.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New From Nils

Nils Wogram Septet, Complete Soul
NWog Records

Nils Wogram - trombone
Stephan Meinberg - trumpet
Claudio Puntin - clarinet
Frank Speer - alto sax
Tilman Ehrhorn - tenor sax
Steffen Schorn - bass clarinet, baritone sax
John Schröder - drums

An unusual lineup from Nils, 4 reeds, 2 brass plus drums. From the description on the site of his new self-owned label, I gather he wrote and arranged all the selections. As he puts it, "...the horns mix such that one attains these organ-like sounds. The chords function as a whole and do not simply result in six tones that somehow blend together."

The compositions on Soul have a circular feel to them, like you're hearing a different facet each time a section comes back into view. Some reminded me of the way Mingus arranged for horns, with the prominent trombone and the languid bluesy feel. Other compositions had more of a Balkans influence to them. There are sections where the drums lay out that emphasize the wind ensemble, and other sections that have a lot of rhythmic drive. It's a record that I immediately played again after it finished, because I wanted to figure out what was going on.

This is one of the strongest albums I've heard from Wogram, and it could be the start of a new chapter in his career, as I haven't heard arrangements this complex and engaging from him before.

Nils Wogram & Simon Nabatov, Moods & Modes
NWog Records

Nils Wogram - trombone
Simon Nabatov - piano

No one brings out the best in Nils Wogram's playing like Simon Nabatov. This is at least the third duo album the two have recorded, and it's a little jem. Rather than being freely-improvised, Moods & Modes splits compositional duties between the two of them, with 4 selections from Wogram and 5 from Nabatov. It's a joy to hear two artists so closely in sync, whether playing themes in unison or engaging in spirited back- and- forth exchanges in the improvised sections.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Jackson In Your House

An appreciative crowd of around 90-100 saw Ronald Shannon Jackson fight through an atrocious sound mix to bring the noise Saturday night, July 7 in Dallas. Appearing at the historic Kessler Theatre, Jackson unveiled a new version of his Decoding Society, with only Melvin Gibbs a holdover from previous incarnations.

The night opened with some intense verses from national poetry slam champion Janean Livingston, speaking truth to power to those who could embrace the storms she unleashed. To those suckas who couldn't, better go find your momma.

This new Society began their set with Wayne Shorter's Deluge, off his JuJu album. This was as straight-ahead as things got, as remaining compositions were by Jackson and his band, veering between atmospheric, almost meditative pieces and those with his brand of harmolodics. Jackson has always had a pronounced rock feel to his playing, and this was on full display. At 72, the man can still play the hell out of the drums. The standout among his band was trumpeter John Wier, who combined great articulation with the ability to generate forward momentum, even on tunes with relatively static backdrops.

The biggest disappointment for me was someone I thought would be the biggest asset, at least on paper, and that was Melvin Gibbs. His bass was way too high in the mix, which wasn't his fault, but he turned on a fuzz device for his solos which flattened everything in its path. I know he was playing notes, because I could see his fingers move, but only noise was produced. Still, the crowd seemed to dig what he was doing.

The band played Gibb's Howard Beach Memoirs, originally done by Power Tools with Bill Frisell on their Strange Meeting album, and finished with a bang with Jackson's Bloodlife. All said, it was a solid performance by the band, who with a little tightening could prove to be a worthy addition to the lineage of The Decoding Society.

P.S. As an added bonus I was finally able to meet Mr. Dennis Gonzalez, who was there with his sons.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Deep Listening

“I am in the glories of winnowing,” Cecil Taylor states while reading his poem “Laryngeals, laryngeals…” as part of the 2008 opening festivities of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The performances surrounding the event are captured in a new DVD, Cecil Taylor/Pauline Oliveros Solo-Duo-Poetry.

And his solo and duo performances as part of that event provide aural evidence of such a winnowing process, although it is not a wholesale change in his approach. Rather, the listener gets a strong sense of the architecture of his improvisations, and the contrast between light and dark sections. There’s space to this music, the feeling of every note being well-considered, of course in the blink of an eye, given that we’re talking about Cecil Taylor.

The DVD consists of a 32 minute solo Taylor performance, a 16 minute solo Pauline Oliveros performance, a 22 minute duo performance, a 75 minute (!) poetry reading and 20 or so minutes of excerpts of other performances from the opening.

Considering poetry, let’s be clear: Taylor’s hands are poetry. The solo performance is concise, disciplined, exhilarating to watch. This was my first exposure to Oliveros’ work, and it wasn’t to my taste, although I’d like to hear from a fan, as she's obviously well-regarded. And she came through in the duo performance with Taylor; there’s a wonderful interplay between the two, deep listening going on throughout. And while I’m sure the fact that I’m on pain medication had something to do with this, the final section is so tender, so lyrical even, and so filled with mutual respect that it brought tears to my eyes. They hug at the conclusion, capping off a wonderful performance.

If you’re a fan of either artist this is a no-brainer.

Subcutaneous arising
The root of the syntax
Of the music
Arising rippling following
The code the ancients
Demanding our genuflection
They smile they approve
The ceremony is their praise
The root of the music
Uncovered flowing
Tapping into the source
Language myth science astronomy
Currents uncovered existing

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Snake Charmer

Tim Berne, Snakeoil

Tim Berne - Alto Sax
Oscar Noriega - Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Matt Mitchell - Piano
Ches Smith - Drums, Percussion

As a long-time Tim Berne fan, I looked forward to hearing this new line-up. I enjoyed Oscar Noriega's Luciano's Dream from several years back, and I've also liked what Craig Taborn has brought to Berne's music, so I wanted to hear Matt Mitchell's contribution. Listening to Snakeoil is an adjustment when compared to his previous work, but it's rewarding, and can be viewed as a maturation of his approach. There's more subtlety, more shading, helped in large part by Mitchell as well as Noriega's clarinet textures. Whereas Bloodcount and Paraphrase were about building sustained tension with little release, Berne's compositions here are more varied and episodic. This is not a perfect record; there are spots where the thread gets lost and my attention wanders, but overall it's a great addition to his body of work. Between Snakeoil and his guest role on Simon Fell's wonderful large group work, Positions and Descriptions, we may be witnessing a fruitful new stage in Tim Berne's career.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pete Cosey RIP

Guitarist Pete Cosey passed away this week at the age of 69. Althought he never achieved widespread acclaim, he’s best known as the lead guitarist in Miles Davis’s early 70’s band that recorded Agartha, Pangaea, and Dark Magus. While the jazz police disdained this unit, it was beautiful, intense, mysterious and scary, sometimes within the same piece. Miles in his autobiography said it captured the sound of deepest Africa, and while I’ve never been there, I can imagine what he meant. Listening to this band brings to mind vivid hues of red, orange and deep blue, on a field of black. The music that they produced presaged a lot of what was to come, and I think it directly or indirectly influenced drum n’bass, electronica, and the use of noise elements in rock and improvised music. If you want to dive in, I recommend starting with Agartha, recorded live in Japan. Here’s a clip of the band in Vienna in 1973:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tastes Like Chicken

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet, Frog Leg Logic
Clean Feed

Marty Ehrlich – Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Flute
James Zollar - Trumpet
Hank Roberts - Cello
Michael Sarin – Drums

Marty Ehrlich is one of those unsung heros of modern jazz. He’s been a great player for years, but doesn’t seem to enjoy a consistently high profile. Other alto players, most notably Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa, have gotten a lot of press in recent years. Ehrlich made a series of excellent albums for Enja in the nineties and early aughts, but I sometimes yearned for him to break loose a little more; he could be tasteful to a fault.

I’ve lost track of what he’s been up to the past few years, but he’s made a strong statement with Frog Leg Logic. The record is a perfect balance of memorable melodies, all by Ehrlich, with solos that straddle the inside and the outside. Ehrlich being Ehrlich, the blues is never far away in his sound. James Zollar is another under-recognized player who is excellent throughout, and it’s great to hear Hank Roberts' funky cello again. Michael Sarin is another name I don’t see quite as often as I did a few years ago, but he provides the drive and the nuance as needed.

If you’re a fan of mainstream-modern playing, you’ll like this. If you’re a fan of the avant-garde, you’ll like this.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Cecil Taylor Live Recording

The Destination Out boys are making available, through FMP, a previously-unreleased concert by Cecil Taylor. From the site:

"Almeda (To Matie) features a previously unreleased concert by Cecil Taylor’s band from November 3, 1996. His large ensemble work has never been documented enough, so this is an especially welcome addition to his discography. The first three tracks feature different permutations of the group essaying musical variations of the theme. Although Cecil doesn’t play on these tracks, they offer a prime opportunity to focus on his skills as composer and bandleader.

The entire piece pulls together in the 36-minute final track, featuring Taylor at the piano, along with five horn players, Tristan Honsinger on cello, Dominic Duval on double bass, and Jackson Krall on drums. "

My week just got a little brighter...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Fitting Tribute

Clare Fischer Orchestra, Extension
International Phonograph

Clare Fischer - Compositions, Piano, Organ
Various Musicians

This reissue of the 1963 big band date by Fischer, who died in January of this year, has been the topic of considerable conversation on the Organissimo forums. It's been lovingly remastered and released by Jonathan Horowitz of International Phonograph, the same label that has reissued Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D. and Bill Dixon's Intents and Purposes. The debate has centered on whether this is a work of arranging and composing genius, or simply a well-crafted effort in line with other recordings of that period. I've listened to Extension about 4 times now, and I agree with the person who posted on Organissimo that it rewards patient listening. It sounded pretty "loungy" the first time through, partly because of the organ, which is probably my least favorite instrument. But repeated listenings reveals depth to the arrangements and some interesting voicings. I hear echoes of Gil Evans, but Fischer had his own style, based on this one piece of evidence. It's also interesting because the music draws me in, but I feel an emotional distance from it, some sense of remove. I think aspects of the recording, especially the closing "Canto Africano", mark it as a period piece. And I take points off for the organ. But overall, I like it and I'm glad I bought it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

From A Whisper To A Scream

Catatumbo, Catatumbo
Babel Label

Ingrid Laubrock - Tenor Saxophone
Ollie Brice - Bass
Javier Carmona - Drums

Ingrid Laubrock is often seen in the musical company of Kris Davis, John Hebert and Tom Rainey, but on Catatumbo she fronts a trio with bassist Ollie Brice and drummer Javier Carmona. Laubrock plays tenor throughout the date, recorded in November of 2010 at the Vortex in London. It begins a little tentatively, with Laubrock’s horn getting into dog whistle territory, but that quickly morphs into a more frantic section that shows an Evan Parker influence, somewhat unavoidable one supposes in this context. The group does a good job of negotiating through several peaks and valleys of intensity in what sounds like a freely-improvised set. Much of Catatumbo is played at less than full throttle, but this gives the group time to really investigate what is being played and respond to each other.

Laubrock varies her sound between extended techniques and a full-bodied tone, an approach reminiscent of Ellery Eskelin. I wasn’t familiar with the bassist or drummer; Brice has a meaty tone and a lot of ideas, and Carmona is also impressive with an approach that marries free jazz drumming with a dash of the “kitchen sink” school of Lytton and Lovens.

Babel Label has done a nice job with the presentation; purchasers receive a gatefold album, CD, and download. There’s a download-only option available as well. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Steady Improvement

Kris Davis, Good Citizen
Fresh Sound New Talent

Kris Davis - Piano
John Hebert - Bass
Tom Rainey - Drums

Ms. Davis is fast becoming one of my favorite contemporary pianists. While I wasn't totally knocked out by her 2007 release Rye Eclipse, I could hear her potential. And to be fair, the harshness of Tony Malaby's playing on that recording, though I usually love what he does, had a lot to do with my reaction. Good Citizen is from May of 2009 and shows a quick progression. Davis can go inside or outside, and shares that Monk-Nichols-Hill lineage that is a favorite of mine. Of course, Hebert and Rainey give great support. Just over two months after this date, she went back into the studio with Ingrid Laubrock and Tyshawn Sorey and recorded Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed), one of the best releases of 2010. She's one to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Video for Airbag by Julio Resende Trio

Here's a video of the Radiohead song Airbag performed by the Julio Resende Trio, with photos by Ann LT:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The (Real) Art of The Trio

Achim Kaufmann, Verivyr

Achim Kaufmann – Piano
Valdi Kolli – Bass
Jim Black - Drums

Achim Kaufmann should be considered in the top rank of jazz pianists, but his albums don't seem to get as much attention as they deserve. I first became aware of him with the release of Double Exposure (Leo) with Michael Moore and John Hollenbeck, and his album Starmelodics (Nuscope) with Mark Dresser and Harris Eisenstadt is a little gem.

Verivyr got a 5 star review on Stef's blog, and it's hard to quibble with the rating. It has the perfect blend of abstraction and beautifully melodic playing that is unique to Kaufmann.

Jim Black has been a great engine for Satoko Fujii's trio, and he's equally magnificent here, giving just the right amount of coloration and drive. I wasn't familiar with Valdi Kolli, but he proves to be an adept partner, interacting as an equal.

Julio Resende Trio, You Taste Like A Song 
Clean Feed 

Julio Resende – Piano 
Ole Morten Vagan – Bass
Joel Silva - Drums
Joao Custodio – Bass on Track 8
Bruno Pedroso – Drums on Track 3

This record caught me off guard; it's tender and lyrical and touching without lapsing into sentimentality. It has relatively straightforward melodies, rhythms, harmonies - everything I usually hate! But You Taste Like A Song really moved me.

It’s almost become a cliché for jazz pianists to include a Radiohead song, and I rolled my eyes when I saw Resende had done the same. But he takes Airbag, a song I’m not familiar with, and crafts a beautiful reverie. Later in the set he tackles a John Mayer tune with equally good results.

Song is lyrical but not easy listening. Resende throws in some curveballs to keep it interesting, like playing inside the piano or chopping up the rhythms when he improvises

Listening to this reminded me of those times when you were a kid lying on the side of a hill, looking up at the clouds going by, trying to grasp the universe and your place in it. It's a beautiful listening experience.