Saturday, November 7, 2015

Matt Mitchell - Vista Accumulation

Matt Mitchell
Vista Accumulation

Chris Speed - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet
Matt Mitchell - Piano
Chris Tordini - Bass
Dan Weiss - Drums

I like albums that take you somewhere, a journey, maybe to somewhere inside of yourself, or perhaps bringing back flashes of memories. This is what happens when I listen to Vista Accumulation, pianist Matt Mitchell’s new 2 CD set on Pi.

I was skeptical when I first heard about this project, primarily because two CD’s worth of material is ambitious for an artist I perceived as relatively new on the scene. However, Mitchell is 40 and has been featured on Tim Berne’s three ECM albums as well as with Dave Douglas’ quintet. I was also curious, because Mitchell fits in with so many diverse situations I wasn’t sure what I’d hear.

Vista Accumulation manages to sustain a mood and thematic unity over the course of 95 minutes, without exhausting the underlying ideas. His approach is an intriguing mix of impressionism and modern classical, and frankly there’s nothing overtly “jazzy” in his approach to his eight compositions. Lines unfold in an unhurried way, and the mostly medium tempos give the group time to explore the material, with Chris Speed’s clarinet a highlight. Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss create subtle, shifting patterns underneath, ripples spreading across the music.

Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m absorbing Vista as the seasons change from summer to fall. I can see the flashes of dark gold and amber, mixed in with dark greens and browns. It’s a story that is yet to fully unfold, and I’m ready for the next chapter.

Bonus: For an unintentionally amusing review of Vista Accumulation, go here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rodrigo Amado - This Is Our Language

Rodrigo Amado
This Is Our Language
Not Two Records

Rodrigo Amado – Tenor Saxophone
Joe McPhee – Pocket Trumpet, Alto Saxophone
Kent Kessler – Double Bass
Chris Corsano - Drums

This Is Our Language is a record of an engaging conversation between Amado and McPhee, with superb interjections from bassist Kessler and drummer Corsano. Of course, with musicians of this caliber, it’s really a four-way dialog, but it’s the interplay between the horns that first gets your attention. The CD begins with a murmured conversation between tenor and alto, then things heat up on the title track as McPhee switches to pocket trumpet. Amado has a grainy, almost R&B-influenced tone, while McPhee is as nuanced as I’ve ever heard him on alto. The lack of a chordal instrument gives all four musicians space, and I like the way the pieces unfold organically. There are fiery moments, but they grow naturally out of what has come before.

As with his previous Not Two album Searching For Adam, Rodrigo Amado has aligned himself with top flight musicians and the results bear fruit.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chamber 4 - Chamber 4

Chamber 4
Chamber 4
FMR Records

Luis Vicente - trumpet
Theo Ceccaldi - violin and viola
Valentin Ceccaldi - cello and voice
Marcelo Dos Reis - acoustic guitar, prepared guitar and voice

Chamber 4 is a very well-balanced effort from the quartet of Vicente, Dos Reis, and the Ceccaldis, all leading lights of the Portuguese free jazz scene. At first it might seem a strange assortment, trumpet with "strings" in what sounds like a freely improvised small group setting, but it works extremely well, with Vicente's trumpet engaging in dialogue, sometimes conversationally, sometimes sounding the call. All three string players create interesting arrangements and textures on the fly. You could call it chamber jazz, but it has a spark that removes it from any connotations of stuffy formalism. Another winner from Vicente and Dos Reis.

Mea Culpa

I owe musicians, labels, PR folks, and any readers who have might have wandered back to this blog an apology. Over the past couple of years i really hit a stride in terms of the frequency of my reviews. Then I accepted a challenging new job in April of this year, and my life completely changed. The hours I'm putting in leave little time for listening or writing, but I'm trying a new approach: shorter reviews that attempt to capture the essence of the record. I don't know how long this will last, frankly, but I'm trying to make good on my commitment to showcasing deserving new music. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ran Blake - Ghost Tones

Ran Blake
Ghost Tones
a-side records
Available through CD Baby

Ran Blake - Piano, electric piano
Peter Kenagy - Trumpet
Aaron Hartley - Trombone
Doug Pet - Tenor saxophone
Eric Lane - Piano, electric piano
Jason Yeager - Piano
Ryan Dugre - Guitar
Dave "Knife" Fabris - Pedal steel guitar
Rachel Massey - Violin
Brad Barrett - Acoustic bass, electric bass
David Flaherty - Drums, tympani
Charles Burchell - Drums, tympani, vibraphone
Luke Moldof - Electronics

Ghost Tones is Ran Blake’s tribute to his former colleague at the New England Conservatory of Music, the late composer and theoretician George Russell. The album was originally slated to be released on HatOLOGY, but was rescued when that label went through some tough times and has been issued on a-side records.

The abstract cover of the CD shows a mottled, fuzzy image of Mr. Russell, and the music matches the visual perfectly. Ghost Tones features a mix of standards, Blake’s own songs, and radically reworked versions of Russell compositions such as Stratusphunk, Ezz-Thetic and a segment from Vertical Form. You’ve never heard You Are My Sunshine like this before, a funhouse ride through C&W, avant-garde and who knows what else.

The words I thought of when listening to Ghost Tones was “fever dream”. Through various solo, duo and group performances, a languid mood is sustained, mixed with Mr. Blake’s trademark Noir sensibilities. There are some subtle electronic touches that appear, and even though there are contributions from thirteen musicians sprinkled through the CD, a consistent tone and mood carries through all seventeen tracks. Ghost Tones plays as one continual piece, taking the listener through a time capsule of various aspects of Mr. Russell’s music and Mr. Blake’s signature conception.

The CD begins and ends with Ran alone, with two gorgeous versions of Autumn in New York, beautiful harmonies capturing the perfect fall day in the city with a touch of sentiment and regret.

Ghost Tones will take you to a Lonely Place, but it’s a place you’ll want to visit with Mr. Blake as your guide.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Vicente/Marajamaki - Opacity


Luis Vicente - Trumpet
Jari Marajamaki - Electronics
Pedro Madaleno - Guitar on track 01
Marcelo dos Reis - Guitar on track 02
Miguel Mira - Cello on track 03
Valentin Ceccaldi - Cello on tracks 04, 06, 07

Opacity represents a change of pace from what I’ve heard of Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente, who has emerged over the past couple of years as a strong player, with Clocks and Clouds from 2014 one example that has garnered very positive reviews, including one from this blog. For this record Vicente teams up for the second time with Finland-born electronics artist Jari Marjamaki, the two having collaborated previously on Alternate Translations (Mimi Records, 2013). Contributions from either guitar or cello are also featured on six of the seven tracks.

The combination of trumpet with electronic textures immediately brings to mind those who have explored this area before, particularly Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer. Parts of Opacity have that Hassell/Molvaer/Ambient vibe you’d expect, but overall Vicente and Marjamaki do a good job subverting the genre by adding grit via the electronics and especially Vicente’s trumpet. It’s a tribute to the strength of Vicente’s conception that he for the most part avoids the two ditches that line this road: sounding bland and generic on the one hand, or like a straight-up Miles clone on the other.

Both musicians throw in enough variations in texture, tempo and rhythm to keep things interesting. Overall, Opacity conjures up frozen, forbidding landscapes, perfect for listening on a day in which winter will not yet give up its grip to spring.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

GuitCussion - Blue Congo

Blue Congo
Brakophonic Records

Henrik Wartel - Drums
Stefan Thorpenberg - Electric Guitars
Per Anders Skytt - Drums
Gunnar Backman - Fretless and Fretted 25 string Virtual Guitar, Live Loops

I tend to look at guitar groups in the area I’ll loosely describe as free jazz with suspicion. Too often it seems there’s latent heavy metal tendencies lurking in the background, looking for the moment to make themselves known with some inopportune “shredding”.

Still, the premise of the Swedish group GuitCussion is intriguing. Consisting of two guitarists and two drummers, the group wants to create a powerful form of free music in a non-idiomatic fashion. Whether GuitCussion fulfills the non-idiomatic part of the equation is open to debate, but ultimately beside the point, because they create some interesting atmospheres and textures on Blue Congo. Parts of it sound like what would have happened if Larry Coryell had played with Tony Oxley back in ’75 instead of Alphonse Mouzon, and the band can bring the heat when it wants to, as on the track Broken View.

Blue Congo is an embarrassment of riches, with over 70 minutes of music, and I could have been just as happy with a little editing. But that’s a minor quibble. It seems that fans of free improv are frequently also fans of bands like King Crimson. I think those folks will like this a lot, as to my ears they successfully bridge both genres.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Astral Spirits Records

Astral Spirits is a neat little Austin-based label whose releases are in cassette tape format with digital download in editions of 100 - 150. They’re fun to collect, because the simple graphics are appealing and the format is such a throwback. Part of the fun is finding something to play them on; I broke out my old boombox to give them a spin!

As unpretentious as the label appears, Nate Cross of Astral Spirits (a part of Monofonus Press) is dedicated to releasing serious, challenging music. The first two releases were John Dikeman’s The Double Trio and Hexane by Icepick (Nate Wooley, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Chris Corsano). I believe the Dikeman is already out-of-print, but Hexane has been reissued in a different colored cassette. These were followed by Ballister’s The Ballister Monologues, Upés by Broken Trap Ensemble, and Stepped Stoned, a solo effort by drummer Will Guthrie. 

It will be interesting to see where the label goes, because one can already detect a movement away from the free jazz nature of the initial releases. Certainly Ballister fits within that description, but the links grow more tenuous with the skewed chamber music of Broken Trap Ensemble, and the previews on Astral Spirit’s Facebook page of their February 10 releases are of the avant-pop of Tredici Bacci and a minimalist composition by percussionist Nick Hennies.