Monday, May 26, 2014

Vertigo Trombone Quartet - Developing Good Habits

Vertigo Trombone Quartet
Developing Good Habits

Nils Wogram - Trombone
Andreas Tschopp - Trombone
Bernhard Bamert - Trombone
Jan Schreiner – Bass Trombone

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Not a startling revelation, I know, but that’s how I came to hear a sample from Nils Wogram’s new group, an aggregation I could have easily overlooked. For despite the fact that Wogram is an excellent musician, whose 2012 album Complete Soul I’ve previously reviewed, a trombone quartet would normally have been low on my list of groupings to investigate.

That would have been my loss, for Developing Good Habits is an engaging, multi-textured record. It’s fascinating to hear how lines get introduced, extended, blended and developed between the four players. Some of the record brings to mind a swaggering Ellington brass section, and some of it a classical chamber quartet. The group doesn’t get into a lot of extended techniques, but they’re not missed, as the quartet generates a nice full, rounded sound with intricate arrangements that support solo passages. 

There’s a lot of life, joy and humanity in Nils Wogram’s music, and it’s present on Habits in abundance. The music is forward-thinking, but it doesn’t lose the connection to the emotional reasons why we listen to jazz. The Vertigo Trombone Quartet strikes a nice balance between accessibility and adventure.

Developing Good Habits is available as a CD or download from Nil’s NWog Records site.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Peter Epstein Quartet - Polarities

Peter Epstein Quartet

Peter Epstein - Alto & Soprano Saxophone
Ralph Alessi - Trumpet, Cornet
Sam Minaie - Bass
Mark Ferber - Drums

I was very interested when I read that Peter Epstein had released his first album in several years, Polarities. I remember discovering him at my local Tower Records (remember those?) when I ran across the series of CDs he put out on ma recordings in the late 90s. They were artfully packaged and featured great players such as Jamie Saft, Scott Colley, and Jim Black. He also had a beautiful solo sax album on that label called Solus.

It turns out that Epstein has been teaching for the past several years at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he is now director of their jazz studies program. He put out a record on Songlines back in 2005, Lingua Franca, and one on Origin called Abstract Realism, but has had a lower profile in comparison to his New York days.

Epstein has always had flawless technique, but he tended to be a little too laid back over the Polarities. There's a nice variation in mood and tempo, and he brings the heat when needed. It's a controlled burn, certainly, and Epstein never loses the lyricism that defines his style. He’s good on both horns, but on alto is where you can really hear his unique voice.
course of an entire album for my taste, and his improvisations could wander a bit. I'm happy to report that he's fixed those minor flaws on

Epstein has the perfect front line partner in Ralph Alessi, who can play in or out with equal skill. They work well with each other, trading lines and overlapping in that tight yet loose way that seems to define today’s more adventurous jazz albums. I wasn’t familiar with bassist Sam Minaie, but he and drummer Ferber hook up to provide a seamless ebb and flow to support the horns. Together, the four musicians pull off a neat trick for a group with this lineup: They don't immediately make you think of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet.

Welcome back, Mr. Epstein. It’s good to make your acquaintance again.

Sound clips are available on the Songlines website.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Martin Kuchen on Clean Feed, Injuries

Just saw on Facebook via Clean Feed that Marin Kuchen has a new CD and double LP coming out next week with his nonet Angles 9 called Injuries. The label has a teaser video on YouTube, and it sounds mighty good:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Max Johnson - The Prisoner

Max Johnson
The Prisoner
NoBusiness Records

Ingrid Laubrock - Tenor Saxophone 
Mat Maneri - Viola
Max Johnson - Bass
Tomas Fujiwara - Drums

I’ve never watched The Prisoner, the 1967-68 British TV series that starred Patrick McGoohan as a secret agent help captive by a mysterious organization, but I know it has reached iconic status over the years. Bassist Max Johnson, who recently released the excellent The Invisible Trio, has composed a tribute to the series that plays as an extended suite. 

It begins slowly, almost hesitantly, as if in a fog, with long tones from the bass and viola. Then Ingrid Laubrock sounds a siren, or perhaps a clarion call, and the first theme of the album emerges. 

The rest of The Prisoner alternates between composed and improvised sections, but even in the freer passages there’s always something anchoring the music - a rhythm, a bass line, a repeating figure - that provides some structure but doesn’t sacrifice the feeling that the musicians generate. There are some exciting passages where free-form explorations suddenly transition into theme statements with a swinging pulse, and then take a right turn in another direction. You never know what’s coming next, which from what little I know of the plot of the show is probably what is intended. 

This is a record that you can listen to one or twice and enjoy, but as you dig deeper more layers reveal themselves. Johnson constructs some interesting textures with just four instruments, and as you might expect everyone is stellar. Ingrid Laubrock can wax lyrically, reminding me of Mark Turner in spots, and then go totally abstract, utilizing extended techniques. Mat Maneri might be the most immediately recognizable string player around, and he and Johnson create a dense thicket of sound, possibly mirroring the confusion and uncertainty that plagued McGoohan’s character Number 6. Tomas Fujiwara has never been better, accenting the music perfectly and providing plenty of drive.

As I listen to The Prisoner, I get the feeling that the music is programmatic, tracking certain developments in the plot that I wish I knew. That’s one indication that The Prisoner is a success; the other is that the music stands on its own as a fascinating glimpse into the musical mind of one Max Johnson.

Sound samples and ordering information are available on Max’s Bandcamp page

Here's a video of the group playing this material live back in 2013: