Monday, August 5, 2019

Christy Doran: 144 Strings For A Broken Chord


Christy Doran enlisted 19 fellow electric guitarists, 4 electric bassists, one lonely drummer, and a conductor for a 7-part composition he calls 144 Strings For A Broken Chord. Even before I started to listen to this rather beautiful music, I was captivated by a photograph of the entire band on stage with an impressive array of guitars, amps and pedals. Expecting a total onslaught of sound, I was pleasantly surprised when the opener, Cannon Street Canon, proved to be a nuanced exploration of the classical structure. The contrapuntal format is perfectly suited to this agglomeration of guitars. Doran built the band around his current trio with bassist Franco Fontanarrosa and drummer Lukas Mantel. He gives Fontanarrosa the only solo on Cannon Street Canon. Curiously, Doran doesn’t solo himself on any of the tunes. While most of the pieces make some room for solos, they tend to be quite short, and the full ensemble is really the focus. Andromeda begins with a four note melody. With licks passed around the ensemble over a perky beat from Mantel, the band proceeds to develop and elaborate on the simple theme for over 11 minutes. Bassist Wolfgang Zwiauer and guitarist Walter Beltrami are the featured soloists over richly textured guitar lines. The jittery Gunslingers is next, the occasion for a series of brief solos by guitarists Christopher Guilfoyle, Yves Reichmuth, and Philippe Emanuel Schåppi popping out of the ensemble, followed by an electric bass duet by Fontanarrosa and Andi Schnellmann. A broken chord is one in which the notes are played successively, and with so many strings available, there are plenty of possibilities for precisely how this can work. Broken Chords is a wild tune with tempo shifts and dynamic extremes amid the entrancing weave of electric guitars. Laurent Méteau’s screaming guitar solo is one of the disc’s many highlights. I am particularly taken with the funky and audacious Bad News Babe, a multi-part piece loaded with dissonant power chords and piercing licks. There’s a heavy metal feel to a number of sections, which hint both at parody and homage without ever really deciding which. Like all of Doran’s pieces in this setting, it’s got delicate sections right up against more robust passages. This is the longest track on the session, at just over 13 minutes, but the fullness of the sound and the intriguing paths that the music carves out justify the length. What follows is the shortest track, Goin’ In On the Way Out, with a lovely section of guitarists playing part of a scale, then passing the baton, as it were, to another player. The finale, Bows and Wahs, is deeply mysterious, with a dark subterranean feeling for most of its 10-minute length. Lukas Mantel’s steady and minimalist drumming holds down the center, with guitars and basses flowing around him, quietly at first but building slowly into an intense scrum of sound. Franz Hellmüller takes an energetically spunky solo to conclude the tune, and the disc. Via the thoroughly committed playing by all hands of Doran’s well-crafted compositions and the conducting of John Voirol, what could have been an undifferentiated mess is an eminently viable format and a triumph for all concerned. Definitely recommended, and the transparent sound quality and careful mix make 144 Strings a superb listen on headphones.
Between The Lines BTLCHR71245; Walter Beltrami, Manuel Büchel, Glauco Cataldo, Christy Doran, Lucia D’Errico, Dave Gisler, Christopher Guilfoyle, Franz Hellmüller, Laurent Méteau, Urs Müller, Yves Reichmuth, Florian Respondek, Simon Rupp, Philippe Emanuel Schåppi, Philipp Schaufelberger, Nicolas Stettler, Urs Vögeli, Christian Winiker, Christian Zemp, Gael Zwahlen (g) Martina Berther, Franco Fontanarrosa, Andi Schnellmann, Wolfgang Zwiauer (el b) Lukas Mantel (d) John Voirol (cond); Stalden, Switzerland, September 13-15, 2016; Cannon Street Canon/ Andromeda/ Gunslingers/ Broken Chords/ Bad News Babe/ Goin’ In On the Way Out/ Bows and Wahs; 59:47. challengerecords.com

Friday, August 2, 2019

George Cables: I’m All Smiles


George Cables, a master of modern jazz piano, has had more than his share of health problems over the last few years and was unable to play for a while. But he’s back on the scene, and his latest trio venture, I’m All Smiles, functions as the best “thank you” to his many well-wishers that they could have hoped for. Many of the selections impart definite messages, like the opening Young at Heart, the popular Love is a Many- Splendored Thing from 1955, and the title track, first heard on Broadway in The Yearling (1965). The nicely balanced program also includes Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Consuelo Velázquez’s immortal Bésame Mucho, Freddie Hubbard’s durable Thermo, Jaco Pastorius’ Three Views of a Secret, one Cables original (the brightly optimistic Celebration) and a pair of tunes by Thelonious Monk. A curiously upbeat and choppy version of Ugly Beauty is performed by the trio, while a spirited solo piano rendition of Monk’s Mood ends the disc with a flourish. Suffice it to say that Cables sounds strong and is swinging as hard as ever. Essiet Essiet on bass and the veteran Victor Lewis provide impeccable support throughout. This disc was recorded in a single day in the studio, and I can’t help but get the feeling that Cables was champing at the bit to get back to music-making. Welcome back, George Cables! I’m All Smiles is a real winner, and happily recommended.
HighNote HCD 7322; George Cables (p) Essiet Essiet (b, exc. on *) Victor Lewis (d, exc. on *); NYC, October 26, 2018; Young at Heart/ I’m All Smiles/ Speak No Evil/ Besame Mucho/ Ugly Beauty/ Love is a Many-Splendored Thing/ Celebration/ Three Views of a Secret/ Thermo/ Monk’s Mood*; 58:24. www.jazzdepot.com

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Lafayette Gilchrist: Dark Matter


Listen to enough music of all kinds, and after a while you can tell pretty quickly if there’s anything really happening on a particular disc. It took me just a few seconds of listening to pianist Lafayette Gilchrist’s solo album Dark Matter, to realize that I was in for a real treat. Gilchrist’s musical associates have included Oliver Lake, Hamid Drake, Carl Grubbs, and, crucially, David Murray as a member of his Black Saint Quartet. This is his second solo effort, after 2012's The View From Here. He’s heard here in concert at the University of Baltimore, his home town. Gilchrist starts the set with For the Go-Go, a blues in tribute to the Washington, DC/Baltimore go-go music scene he grew up with. The pianist is smoking and stomping from the start, and all I can say is that virtually any jazz fan will be happy to just sit back and let Gilchrist take you into his confidence as his original compositions roll over you. The finely detailed recording by Gilchrist’s co-producer Wendell Patrick captures his rich piano sound and his close attention to the dynamics of a tune. There are hints of both Monk and Bud Powell in his piano style, along with occasional forays into free territory. Gilchrist is continually harking back to earlier pianists like Earl Hines, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Duke Ellington, with his left hand particularly active for a modern player. Gilchrist really has it all: a highly individual touch, a powerful rhythmic drive, a deep affinity for the blues, appealing compositions, and the ability to play the hell out of them. There are a number of jarring edits between songs that mar the flow of the music, but aside from that, Dark Matter is a genuine triumph, and one of the albums of the year so far. Don’t miss it.
Lafayette Gilchrist Music CDcds 005; Lafayette Gilchrist (p); Baltimore, MD, September 18, 2016; For the Go-Go/ Child’s Play/ Dark Matter/ The Love Bind/ Spontaneous Combustion/ And You Know/ Blues for Our Marches to End/ Old Whale Bones/ Happy Birthday Sucker/ Black Flight/ Greetings; 67:59. www.lafayettegilchristmusic.com

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

David Kikoski: Phoenix Rising


Pianist David Kikoski leads a quartet with Eric Alexander on tenor, Peter Washington on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums on Phoenix Rising, his debut release for HighNote Records. No surprise given these personalities, but the band is swinging like mad on the opening title track, co-composed by Kikoski and Alexander. It’s also no surprise that they keep it up throughout this winning session. Kikoski, who has been heard on many recordings since his debut with drummer Fabio Jegher in 1982, is probably best known for his extended relationship with the great drummer Roy Haynes from the mid-Eighties through the early part of this century. To my mind, no one needs a stronger recommendation than the imprimatur of Mr. Haynes to seriously spend some time with Kikoski and friends. Except for the opening track, and Alexander’s Kik It, a jumping blues that follows it, the repertoire is a considered selection of standards plus John Coltrane’s Lazy Bird. Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman, made famous by Glen Campbell in 1968, may raise a few eyebrows, but a quick glance at a discography tells me that it’s been recorded over 50 times by jazz musicians, including J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, and Sonny Stitt. From Kikoski’s lush introduction, it’s easy to hear why it’s so appealing: a fascinating chord progression, a memorable melody and a sense of drama, even without the lyrics. The quartet does it justice, at just about the original tempo, with Kikoski and Alexander soloing in a relaxed manner. Save for the two originals, the balance of the program is older than Webb’s classic, and from the straightforwardly swinging way that everyone’s playing, you could be forgiven for listening to this disc blindly and thinking that the music is thirty or forty years old. Respecting the tradition, of course, is far from a bad thing, especially when the match of players and program is as well-designed as it is here. Standout tracks include a romp through If I Were a Bell, in the Miles Davis arrangement but with the twist of an extra tag, a rollicking version of Love For Sale, and a supersonically charged look at Lazy Bird, with Alexander and Kikoski deftly navigating this classic theme. But truth to tell, you really can’t grow wrong dipping into this CD anywhere. Alexander and Kikoski have been pals for years, but this is the first time that the two have recorded together. Here’s looking forward to more collaborations from this well-matched pair. Easily recommended.
HighNote HCD 7328; Eric Alexander (ts) David Kikoski (p) Peter Washington (b) Joe Farnsworth (d); Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 20, 2018; Phoenix Rising/ Kik It/ Wichita Lineman/ If I Were a Bell/ Emily/ Love for Sale/ My One and Only Love/ Lazy Bird/ Willow Weep for Me; 59:16. www.jazzdepot.com

Monday, July 29, 2019

Luca Sisera ROOFER: Starlex Complex

Bassist Luca Sisera writes boldly complicated music for Luca Sisera ROOFER, his quintet with a front line of Marcus Twerenbold on trombone and Michael Jaeger on tenor sax, and a rhythm section of Sisera, pianist Yves Theiler, and drummer Michi Stulz. I’ve wondered about the band’s name, and the press release for Starlex Complex, the group’s third release, finally answers that question. Pirmin Bossart writes that “so-called ‘roofers’ are climbers who clamber up high structures without safety equipment ...” which makes perfect metaphorical sense for this wild and woolly compositions of Sisera and the utterly fearless performances of his band. When I reviewed the band’s first CD (Prospect, Leo Records, 2014), I wrote the listener can “never be exactly sure where the tunes are headed, but [one] can trust this unit to make the process a hell of a lot of fun.” A few years later, and with more playing time as a group, that statement seems more true than ever. The individual parts may not be too daunting, but the ways that Sisera puts them together are usually surprising and unexpected. It’s harder than usual to describe Sisera’s music in words, but let me try. The staccato theme of Starlex Complex quickly leads into a long boppish theme voiced by Twerenbold and Jaeger over the high-stepping rhythm section before the trombonist breaks the spell for a dark-toned solo. He’s joined by Jaeger for a duel of solos while piano, bass, and drums grow agitated and aggressive. As the rhythms calm down, Twerenbold takes over again and the piece abruptly comes to a halt. That description just begins to scratch the surface of what’s going on. This is music that demands and rewards repeated close listenings to appreciate the details of what Sisera and his bandmates are up to. The second track is the carefully paced Internal Body Messenger. That yields to the exuberant Struggle Bubble, with a theme that reminds me of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, of all things, before moving on to an almost giddy group improvisation with a busily propulsive bass solo. The already blurred line between composition and improvisation is essentially erased for the spacy Nairs, seven minutes of whooshes, blurs, and cymbal hits. Until the last minute, there are occasional stately piano chords that are thrown in, seemingly at random, could come from a different piece altogether. But all of a sudden, Theiler’s piano grows more assertive and moves to the forefront in what amounts to a musical coup. Mama Helix is a favorite of mine. This starkly dramatic and swirling piece has parts that fit together in the strangest ways. There’s a section that features a trombone and saxophone chase, a lush solo piano interlude, and inspired drumming by Stulz. Missing Chan(n)els Part 1 offers a sweetly conversational bass solo before heading directly into Part 2, a upbeat bebop theme with a tenor solo that’s languid at first, slowly building up to some more intense playing. A similarly constructed piano solo follows, energetically supported by Sisera and Stulz. Making her only appearance on the date, Isa Weiss swoops in with some wordless vocalizing for Missing Chan(n)els Part 3, soaring above and harmonizing with trombonist Twerenbold and saxophonist Jaeger over a busy vamp by the rhythm section. Starlex Extro, a brief collective improvisation, concludes the disc with a sense of unresolved mystery. In sum, another exciting and absorbing collection from this endlessly provocative Swiss ensemble. Definitely recommended.
nWog 023; Marcus Twerenbold (tbn) Michael Jaeger (ts) Yves Theiler (p) Luca Sisera (b) Michi Stulz (d) Isa Wiss (vcl on *); Winterthur, Switzerland, October 29-31, 2018; Starlex Complex/ Internal Body Messenger/ Struggle Bubble/ Nairs/ Mama Helix/ Missing Chan(n)els Part 1/ Missing Chan(n)els Part 2/ Missing Chan(n)els Part 3*/ Starlex Extro; 47:25. www.nwog-records.com

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rich Halley: Terra Incognita


Pianist Matthew Shipp’s working trio with  Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums is capable of generating plenty of sparks when they convene. Add the tenor saxophonist Rich Halley, and the proceedings grow downright combustible on Terra Incognita. Halley is based in Portland, Oregon, but he travels annually to northern California in May for a small jazz festival that he curates. When Shipp, Bisio, and Baker came to the 2018 festival for a trio set, Halley played in a trio on the following day with Bisio and Baker. This studio recording came together that August, with the saxophonist making his way to Brooklyn for the date. Working in this quartet format is something of a departure for Halley, who hasn’t recorded with any pianist since 1988. His tenor commands your attention for his rugged and muscular sound, dense with passion and displaying an almost endless imagination. Each of the six spontaneous compositions are credited to all four musicians, with Baker’s crisp and direct drumming often used as the starting point. From the sauntering Forager and the graceful The Elms to the tempestuous title track, the players find plenty of common ground to explore. Especially worthy of note are Shipp’s relaxed solo on Forager, Halley’s passionate and barely under control solo on Centripetal, Bisio’s inquistive solo that closes Terra Incognita, and throughout, Baker’s disciplined dynamics. It’s a true meeting of the minds, and a journey into Terra Incognita that all fans of improvised music will find worth taking. Recommended.
Pine Eagle 012; Rich Halley (ts) Matthew Shipp (p) Michael Bisio (b) Newman Taylor Baker (d); Brooklyn, NY, August 21, 2018; Opening/ Forager/ Centripetal/ The Elms/ Terra Incognita/ The Journey; 59:07. richhalley.com

Giant Step Arts: The First Three Releases

Jimmy Katz has been photographing jazz artists for more than thirty years, and his work has graced hundreds of magazine and CD covers, as well as been collected in four books. He’s also a recording engineer, and he brings all his skills to his latest project, the non-profit Giant Step Arts. Katz writes that he was “interested in supporting the highest level of creativity in ... jazz. Giant Step Arts will give musicians the opportunity to fulfill their dreams with no strings attached.” Katz also emphasizes “that the musicians have total control of their artistic projects.” The label is dedicated to premiere live performances, with their first three releases out now.

       First up is Rhyme And Reason by trumpeter Jason Palmer, with Palmer joined by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Kendrick Scott. Recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York, Rhyme And Reason finds the band stretching out at length on eight of Palmer’s intricately attractive original compositions. There’s plenty of shared history among the musicians, which leads to a healthy environment for powerful improvising. And that’s what we get, with a bounty of inspired soloing by some of the most creative players around. Palmer and Turner make a exceptional team, with the trumpeter’s fire and personal logic matched by Turner’s usually cooler presence and slippery solo style. At first listen, it felt like nearly every tune seemed to go on to too long, with only Blue Grotto clocking in at under ten minutes. After spending more time with the discs, I’m more attuned to the way the quartet operates on stage. Obviously, a live concert and a studio recording make different demands on players and listeners, and it takes the right attitude and attentiveness to immerse yourself in a club date like this one. Among the many high points over an hour and three quarters of dynamic interplay are Palmer’s dark and adventurous solo on the opening Herbs in a Glass, the trumpeter’s brash unaccompanied introduction to the title song, the entwined melodic lines of bass, trumpet, and tenor on Blue Grotto, the bright funk of The Hampton Inn, Turner’s playful solo on Waltz for Diana, and the rousing solos by Turner and Palmer in the hard-charging Kalispel Bay that closes the show. The peppy and buoyant rhythm team of Brewer and Scott never falters in keeping the music moving along smartly. Katz’s detailed and transparent recording enhances the music, and like the best in-concert documents, puts the listener right in the middle of things. As the cliché goes, it’s the next best thing to being there.

Drummer Johnathan Blake, perhaps best known for his ongoing association with Tom Harrell’s band, has appeared on dozens of albums since his recording debut with Bob Berg in 2001. His third release as a leader is Trion, where he leads a trio at the Jazz Gallery with Chris Potter, sticking to tenor saxophone, and Linda May Han Oh on bass. Blake starts off the first disc with a two-minute drum solo before the trio gleefully dissects Sting’s Synchronicity 1 with a gruffly authoritative Potter leading the charge. Bassist Oh takes a powerful and moving solo as well, leading into Potter and Blake trading phrases with utter abandon. It’s a deeply involving performance, and that’s from someone who never could stand listening to The Police. The supremely melodic Oh takes center stage with an extended introduction to her own Trope. The song has a tricky theme, arranged as a delicate dance of bass and saxophone with Blake’s understated drums in support. Potter’s part is a tour de force of modern tenor playing, and Oh responds with another vigorous display of her prowess and formidable technique. The late bassist Charles Fambrough wrote One for Honor, and it first appeared on McCoy Tyner’s Horizon (1979). Here the appealing theme receives a high-spirited treatment, featuring more electrifying tenor work by Potter over furious swing from Blake’s drums and Oh’s testifying bass line. A pair of Blake originals concludes the first disc. High School Daze is a mid-tempo blues with a backbeat. Potter, who manages to sound at home in just about any musical environment, is really in his element with this pace and feeling. Oh is no slouch either, with a busy and spicy solo after Potter’s opening spot. She has the relatively rare bassist’s knack of constructing extended solos that maintain interest and never lose the pulse. No Bebop Daddy also features a potent bass solo, with Blake keeping up the pulse. A loose and bluesy Potter even sneaks a little bebop in at the end of his sax solo. Like the first disc, part two starts out with a few minutes of solo drums to set the stage. Two originals by Potter come next. Good Hope is the occasion for some deft triangulation with Oh’s throbbing bass, Blake’s assertive drums, and Potter’s angular saxophone lines in a friendly competition for the spotlight. My attention settled on the lightning fast interactions of the trio as they build this dynamic performance over 11 minutes. The first half of Eagle features a long melodic statement by Potter, shadowed by Oh’s complimentary bass line. Oh takes over for a characteristically involving solo before Potter returns with rough and tumble closing statement. Relaxin’ at Camarillo is a Charlie Parker tune, first recorded for Dial in 1947, which makes it by far the oldest tune in the set. The trio takes it out for a spin, and uncovers plenty of life left in this venerable blues. The calm Blue Heart was composed by Blake’s father, violinist John Blake, who passed away in 2014. This previously unrecorded tune gets a suitably respectful and emotional treatment from the trio. Johnathan Blake’s West Berkley St. ends the second disc with a bit of funky fun.
Trion presents a well-selected and sequenced program, highly effective soloing and the instantaneous interplay of a truly unified trio. Unreservedly recommended.

Over the course of more than forty albums as leader, saxophonist Eric Alexander has played with many piano masters, including frequent dates with such luminaries as Harold Mabern, John Hicks, David Hazeltine, and Mike LeDonne. But I could only find one instance, the 2016 Venus release Just One Of Those Things, in a trio format with just bass and drums. Leap Of Faith, drawn from two nights at the Jazz Gallery, reprises the piano-less trio with Doug Weiss on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. The immensely fluent and imaginative Alexander seems set on exploring the freer aspects of the hard bop sound that he’s known for. Dispensing with a chordal instrument is a way for him to open up the music. Penning a new batch of tunes and working with two musicians that he has little history with contribute mightily to his new direction. Alexander says that he has “always incorporated bits and pieces of what people might consider the avant-garde into what I do, so this was just a matter of letting that take over.” Brawny and totally self-assured, Alexander takes off into the stratosphere on a quick-tempoed swinger like Mars, egged on by Weiss’ busy bass lines and Blake’s steady rolling drums and splashy cymbals. The two fairly short pieces, Corazon Perdido with a little taste of Alexander on piano, and Magyar, a trifle adapted from music by Bartók, don’t do much for me, but that leaves plenty of fine music. Standouts include the aptly named Hard Blues, with some ferocious tenor work, the smoothly evocative ballad Big Richard, the electrifying Frenzy, previously recorded by One For All and on Alexander’s Second Impression CD, and that album’s title track, a jumping blues which closes the disc with some intense Coltrane-inspired blowing. You think you know Eric Alexander’s playing? Take a Leap Of Faith and discover fresh aspects of his musicianship. Recommended.
Palmer: Giant Step Arts GSA001; Jason Palmer (tpt) Mark Turner (ts) Matt Brewer (b) Kendrick Scott (d); NYC, June 7-8, 2018; Disc 1 (47:34): Herbs in a Glass/ Rhyme and Reason/ Blue Grotto/ Sadhana. Disc 2 (58:39): The Hampton Inn (for Alan)/ Mark’s Place/ Waltz for Diana/ Kalispel Bay.
Blake: Giant Step Arts GSA002; Chris Potter (ts) Linda May Han Oh (b) Johnathan Blake (d); NYC, January 21-22, 2018; Disc 1 (61:47): Calodendrum/ Synchronicity 1/ Trope (Linda intro)/ Trope/ One for Honor/ High School Daze/ No Bebop Daddy. Disc 2 (51:21): Bedrum/ Good Hope/ Eagle/ Relaxin’ at Camarillo/ Blue Heart/ West Berkley St.
Alexander: Giant Step Arts GSA003; Eric Alexander (ts; p on *) Doug Weiss (b) Johnathan Blake (d); NYC, May 8 & August 7, 2018; Luquitas/ Mars/ Corazon Perdido*/ Hard Blues/ Frenzy/ Big Richard/ Magyar/ Second Impression; 57:15. www.giantsteparts.org

Monday, July 22, 2019

Vinny Golia and Ken Filiano: Elongation


Vinny Golia and Ken Filiano engage in an extended musical dialogue on the stimulating Elongation. Multi-instrumentalist Golia, whose command of an array of wind instruments is unparalleled, is heard here on saxello, sopranino and tenor saxes, bass clarinet, flutes from Turkey (ney) and Bulgaria (kaval), and djura gaida, a Bulgarian bagpipe. His link with bassist Filiano goes back to the middle Eighties, and the two have recorded together on dozens of projects since then, including a previous duo album in 1996, The Art Of Negotiation for CIMP Records. Those years of collaboration pay off here as Golia and Filiano match wits with breathtaking speed and bravura. A moment by moment recap of their endeavors is pointless, as well as impossible. Suffice it to note that Elongation is a fervent and inspired 62 minutes of bold duets, enlivened by Golia’s ongoing sonic explorations of instruments from all the cultures of the world. The recording was made in 2009, the CD was issued in 2016, but I just ran across this in a pile of review discs. Good taste is timeless, right?
pfMENTUM CD098/Ninewinds; Vinny Golia (djura gaida [Bulgarian bagpipe], saxello, sop sax, ts, bcl, Turkish ney, kaval) Ken Filiano (b, elec); Valencia, CA, May 19, 2009; Prologue/ Elongation, section A/ Elongation, section B/ Written in H2O/ Elongation, section C/ Your final Phone call arrives for Victoria Galli/ Elongation, section D/ Elongation, section E/ Siri/ Elongation, section F/ Epilogue; 62:53. pfmentum.com

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster


It’s taken many years for this concert to be issued, but it was worth the wait for about 90 minutes of Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster. The two saxophonists joined forces with the bass and drums team of Putter Smith and Joe La Barbera for this stirring performance at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California in 2003. With the repertoire stemming mainly from the co-leaders interest in composers in the Lennie Tristano orbit, the first set kicks off with Warne Marsh’s Background Music. Not surprisingly for this group of musicians, the emphasis is on hard swinging and unfettered melodic invention in extended, free-wheeling improvs. Everyone gets to solo on the opener, in a time-honored routine designed to introduce each player to the audience. First Foster, then Turner, Smith and La Barbara take their turns, before the saxophonists play a friendly call and response sequence then return to the head. Sonny Red’s ‘Teef is next, a tune introduced on a Louis Hayes album for Vee-Jay back in 1960 and a real favorite for Foster, who has recorded it half a dozen times since 1979. Putter Smith played on a few of those recordings, and he takes the first solo here. Foster follows with a beautifully flowing solo before ceding the spotlight to a seemingly off-hand but well-constructed solo by Turner. Tristano’s Lennie’s Pennies is up next in a delightfully brisk rendition which opens with the saxes in deep communion on the theme, then dives into a masterful duet before a powerhouse solo by Turner. An extended look at the Arlen/Mercer classic Come Rain or Come Shine, featuring an exciting opening cadenza by Turner, concludes the first set. Another Tristano classic, 317 East 32nd Street, opens the late show with more lovely sax styling and a warmly melodic bass solo by Smith. That’s followed by a relatively brief and tender look at What’s New?, and to close, a delicious and sensual quarter-hour with Lee Konitz’s Subconscious-Lee. It was crystal clear from statements by Foster and Turner (in the booklet for Our Métier, a Mark Masters Ensemble recording from 2017 that they both played on) that the two men form an inter-generational mutual admiration society. There are plenty of reasons why they might feel that way, and most of them are on full display in this most enjoyable documentation. Joyfully recommended.
Capri 74156; Gary Foster (as) Mark Turner (ts) Putter Smith (b) Joe La Barbera (d); Claremont, CA, February 8, 2003; Disc 1 (52:07): Background Music/ ‘Teef/ Lennie’s Pennies/ Come Rain or Come Shine. Disc 2 (35:18): 317 East 32nd Street/ What’s New?/ Subconscious-Lee. www.caprirecords.com

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wayne Peet Trio: What The?


Keyboardist, occasional bandleader, and recording engineer par excellence Wayne Peet has long been a mainstay of the Southern California improvised music scene. He first recorded with guitarist Nels Cline back in 1980 as part of a large ensemble led by bassist Roberto Miranda, and they’ve worked together sporadically in the decades since. Peet, Cline, and drummer Russell Bizzett are the Wayne Peet Trio, captured live in Peets’s Los Angeles studio over two days in 2006 for the just-issued What The? on the pfMENTUM label. An earlier edition of the band, with guitarist G.E. Stinson joining the fun, recorded Live At Al’s Bar in 1999, also for pfMENTUM. Here the trio stretches out at length on four of Peet’s tunes, Cline’s supercharged Chase to the Cut, and four group improvisations. Peet is heard mostly on organ, with little touches of clavinet and theremin. For the most part, the music just sort of flows along as riffs come and go. The focus drifts between Cline and Peet with no one voice dominant for very long. The music is often pretty laid-back, though they do build up a head of steam in parts of Capable Faith and again towards the end of the fifteen-minute extravaganza Improv 3 - Special Feeling, as Cline’s effects-laden guitar threatens to break things wide open. There’s also a deliciously rambunctious passage in the middle of Improv 2 - Above & Beyond the Bend. While organ groups tend to aim for danceability and a soulful, blues feeling, that vibe is mostly absent here in favor of an atmospheric approach to sound and the free exchange of musical ideas. Mostly, but not altogether, as the trio slams through the concluding title track on waves of electric guitar, snaky organ, muscular pedal bass, and Bizzett’s fierce beats. Peet’s musical world embraces the happy accidents of improvisation and the surprises that result from allowing the music to go in any direction. What The? is a kick, with thanks to Peet and pfMENTUM for rescuing this set from the archives.
pfMENTUM PFMCD127; Wayne Peet (Hammond B3 organ, clav, theremin, FX) Nels Cline (g, FX) Russell Bizzett (d); Los Angeles, CA, June 6-7, 2006; Capable Faith/ Devout Vulgarity/ Improv 1 - Immoral Dilemma/ Improv 3 - Special Feeling/ Chase to the Cut/ Hushbubba/ Improv 2 - Above & Beyond the Bend/ Improv 4 - Momently/ What the?; 75:49. pfmentum.com

Monday, July 8, 2019

Matt Mitchell: Phalanx Ambassadors


Keyboardist Matt Mitchell is one of the busiest musicians in New York, working with such ornery conceptualists as Tim Berne, Henry Threadgill, Dave Douglas, Steve Coleman, and John Hollenbeck, among others. Phalanx Ambassadors, just his fourth release as a leader since 2013's Fiction, a duo set with percussionist Ches Smith, is the first documentation of this eponymous quintet. Mitchell is joined by Miles Okazaki on guitar, Patricia Brennan on vibes and marimba, Kim Cass on bass, and Kate Gentile on drums for passionate performances of Mitchell’s fascinatingly intricate compositions. Okazaki, also a mainstay of Coleman’s groups, characterizes Mitchell’s compositions as an “endlessly branching decision tree ...” The composer himself declares his pieces here as “the most challenging music I’ve ever written for a band ...” Mitchell, equally adept on piano and all manner of electronic keyboards, sticks mostly to the acoustic variety for this session, which had a lengthy gestation of composing and rehearsals until the ensemble was ready to document the compositions in a studio. The band slams into stretch goal to open the show, with Gentile’s busy drums leading the way. Bassist Cass takes a complex and propulsive solo next, followed by a brisk turn by Mitchell. After barely two minutes, you’re either thoroughly captivated by the dense goings-on, or you’re ready to stop and turn to something more easily apprehended. Put me firmly in the captivated camp, since as soon as I made my way through this 45-minute project for the first time, I was more than ready to take it from the top all over again to try and attend to more of the details that fly by. Terse melodies, unexpected harmonic twists, surprise dissonances, and forceful polyrhythms combine with the unerring commitment of the players to make Mitchell’s difficult music utterly absorbing as it unfolds. (Makes for great headphone listening, by the way, for the opportunity to concentrate and hear more detail.) Mitchell notes one of his recurrent goals “in creating music such as this: to try and make something that will continually and variably make sense, even as it sometimes doesn’t until it does.” Let that percolate in your brain for a spell, then turn your attention to Phalanx Ambassadors for a healthy dose of idiosyncratic and beautifully realized performances that fulfill that goal admirably. Highly recommended.
Pi Recordings PI81; Matt Mitchell (p; Prophet 6 synth on *) Miles Okazaki (el g) Patricia Brennan (vib, marimba) Kim Cass (b) Kate Gentile (d); Rhinebeck, NY, December 13-14; stretch goal/ taut pry/ zoom romp/ phasic haze ramps/ ssgg/ be irreparable*/ mind aortal cicatrix; 45:41. pirecordings.com

Thursday, July 4, 2019

David Cruz: EP


Canadian guitarist David Cruz offers a musical calling card on his EP with half a dozen trio performances designed to entice listeners and maybe get himself a few gigs too. Cruz has a clean sound, an easy-going manner of soloing, and the good taste that leads him to program tunes like Sam Rivers’ Beatrice, Billy Strayhorn’s Take the ‘A’ Train, and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Sympathetically supported by bassist William Dietrich and drummer Miles Fuller, Cruz makes a strong first impression with this set. His version of ‘A’ Train is sweetly downtempo, bringing out the innate lyricism of Strayhorn’s much-beloved anthem. The vigorous In Hindsight, one of three original tunes, swings hard, with strong solos from all hands. Avery, another Cruz composition, is a tender ballad that lopes along with style. Giant Steps is the quintessential test for a modern saxophonist, and it sounds equally challenging on guitar. With Fuller’s drumming driving the trio, their version is fluid and dynamic, but at just over two minutes, they don’t give themselves much of a chance to improvise. The EP concludes with another Cruz original, Chocolate Blackout, a cheerful mid-tempo number that leaves this listener feeling pretty good. Spend half an hour with David Cruz’s EP and you’ll experience some enjoyable guitar - based jazz. Well worth a listen.
Self-produced; David Cruz (g) William Dietrich (b) Miles Fuller (d); Toronto, ON, February 2019; Beatrice/ Take the ‘A’ Train/ In Hindsight/ Avery/ Giant Steps/ Chocolate Blackout; 27:15. www.davidcruzguitar.com

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Monk, Monk, More Monk!

A big part of learning about jazz for me consisted of haunting cut-out bins (remember those?) and buying bargain copies of albums that, for one reason or another, attracted me. I remember seeing the cover of Thelonious Himself and wondering about this cool cat on the cover (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelonious_Himself). I knew very little about jazz at the time, but I was familiar with John Coltrane, so when I saw that he played saxophone on the last track of what was otherwise a solo piano album, that Lp came home with me. It was the start of nearly half a century of totally loving the music and the playing of Thelonious Sphere Monk. At first, with the exception of ‘Round Midnight, hardly anyone played Monk’s songs aside from the maestro himself and a few disciples like Steve Lacy and Johnny Griffin (in the quintet he co-led with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis). Over time, as more and more musicians were drawn to his material, entire albums of Monk’s compositions began to appear. A trickle of tribute sessions turned into a flood, and before long, Monk’s tunes were showing up all over the place. Then, in 2005. came the first “complete” release, Monk’s Casino by the Alexander von Schlippenbach quintet, which offered 57 tracks on three CDs. Trumpeter Don Sickler and guitarist Steve Cardenas collaborated on the Thelonious Monk Fake Book, with lead sheets for 70 tunes, including several that Monk himself never recorded. 2017 was the centenary of Monk’s birth, and in celebration, we now have two more complete collections of Monk songs. Both are six-disc sets. Work: The Complete Compositions Of Thelonious Monk is a solo guitar effort by Miles Okazaki, self-published on Bandcamp, while Monk’s Dreams by the Frank Kimbrough quartet was issued by Sunnyside Records. Since there’s never enough Monk to listen to, note also the releases of pianist Andrés Vial Plays Thelonious Monk: Sphereology Volume 1, with the hint of more to come, and Duck Baker Plays Monk. with renowned finger-style guitarist Baker giving us versions of nine Monk songs.
All of which makes this a great time to indulge in a Monk Marathon. I’d suggest you start with a little of the master composer himself, whether it’s some of his critically important Blue Note sessions, the illustrious Riverside period, or even the Columbia years. Getting a bit of Monk’s playing freshly into your skull sets the stage and whets the appetite for more interpretations. Then turn your attention to the audacious Work: The Complete Compositions Of Thelonious Monk, where Miles Okazaki has devoted a large chunk of time to learning and playing Monk’s tunes on his lightly amplified 1978 Gibson Charlie Christian ES-175 archtop guitar, guided by Monk’s admonition to Steve Lacy in 1960: “Stop playing all those weird notes, play the melody!” His priority, he writes in his extensive essay that accompanies this download-only effort, “was to make a natural and lifelike improvisational performance” of each tune. In this, he has succeeded admirably. The simple and unvarying setup combined with the naturalistic recording process, overseen by fellow guitarist Liberty Ellman, allows the listener to hone in on Okazaki’s ever-beautiful delineations of Monk’s tunes. In addition to his introductory essay, Okazaki also includes notes on each of the songs, limning his approach to each one. The pieces are thoughtfully sequenced on the equivalent of 6 CDs, each one ending with a blues. That’s a lot of guitar to take in, so let me make a further suggestion: alternate the 6 discs of Okazaki’s set with the 6 discs of Frank Kimbrough and friends.

On Monk's Dreams, the much-admired Frank Kimbrough manages to almost never sound like Monk while playing his tunes. That’s not a surprise, since the composer had his own distinctive and inimitable approach to the keyboard, but when you play Monk’s music on the piano, comparisons are unavoidable. Working with multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, mostly heard on tenor saxophone, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Billy Drummond, Kimbrough varies the program by mixing solo, trio and duet tracks into the flow. On the first disc, for instance, Reflections is caressed by the duo of Robinson on bass sax (!) and Reid on bass, and the disc concludes with a springy version of Blue Sphere performed by Drummond on drums and Robinson on tenor. Kimbrough goes it alone on Crepuscule With Nellie to open the second disc, and goes on to play Ruby, My Dear as a duet with Robinson’s tenor sax. There are way too many highlights to note throughout this collection to more than a few. On the first two discs alone, there’s Robinson’s well-constructed tenor solo on Played Twice, Robinson back on bass sax for Little Rootie Tootie, Kimbrough’s crisp accompaniment and lovely solo on San Francisco Holiday, and the pianist’s unhurried solo look at Functional. And everywhere, the listener can delight in the solid bass work of Rufus Reid and the unbridled enthusiasm and swing of drummer Billy Drummond. In a liner note, co-producer and recording engineer Matt Balitsaris discusses the sessions and notes that virtually everything you hear is a first or second take. The entire project took just six days to record 68 tunes, with Kimbrough’s solo pieces done a month later. The top-notch results arise from the obvious dedication and fierce commitment of the musicians. As Balitsaris exults, the players recorded this music “with such a collaborative spirit that it feels as Monk might have been in the room.” Monk’s Dreams is a tremendous achievement, and it is strongly recommended.


Continue your Monk Marathon with pianist Andrés Vial, who tackles some less-familiar numbers on Plays Thelonious Monk: Sphereology Volume 1. The lead-off track is the obscure Bluehawk, a seldom-played Monk tune that the composer recorded just once, on 1959's Thelonious Alone In San Francisco. Dezron Douglas on bass and Rodney Green on drums set the pace, and Vial and guitarist Peter Bernstein state the theme together before Bernstein takes off on a typically lively and lyrical solo. Vial follows with a fluid and suitably bluesy solo before turning the spotlight over to Douglas for a chorus before the band takes the tune out. Vial convened two quartets a couple of months apart for this release, each featuring guitarist Bernstein, with bassist Martin Heslop and drummer André White on the earlier date, replaced by Douglas and Green for the second session. While there’s sometimes the feeling that the rough edges of Monk’s tunes have been smoothed down a bit, there’s also the sense that Vial and his bandmates have really inhabited the material. The propulsive Think of One is particularly fine, including an inventive piano solo by Vial. Equally tasty is the quartet’s jaunty version of Green Chimneys, with a wonderfully snappy drum solo by Green. Light Blue is on the slow side, with a punchy guitar solo by Bernstein and a smoothly incisive turn by Vial. Bernstein shines again in a duet with Vial for a meditative look at Ask Me Now. The Heslop-White rhythm team is heard on the last three tracks of the disc. Introspection coasts right along, with some adept comping by Vial during Bernstein’s extended solo. Their version of Work features a bouncy piano solo and a happily swinging series of four-bar trades by Bernstein and Vial with drummer White. The disc ends with another tune rarely played by the composer, Functional. Vial and his bandmates give this blues a late at night, last set kind of feeling. It’s a fine way to end the date, and leave the listener looking forward to the next installment.

Last, and far from least, is Duck Baker Plays Monk, a vinyl-only release from Triple Point Records. The label has also produced a vinyl reissue of an earlier gem by Duck Baker, the 1996 album Spinning Song : Duck Baker Plays The Music Of Herbie Nichols, originally released in Japan on the Avant label. In a liner essay for the Monk project, Baker notes a significant difference between the two tribute albums. The Nichols project resulted from a suggestion by John Zorn at a time when Baker hadn’t arranged any of the tunes. He “had been fooling around with Monk’s tunes for almost all of my musical life” when the time came to make this album. Baker goes on to note that he learned a lot of Monk songs by ear, with tips from fellow guitarists like Ton Van Bergeyk and Davy Graham. He also praises the assistance of the late Roswell Rudd, an occasional collaborator and expert on Monk and Nichols, who contributed some voicings to these pieces, and also wrote a typically insightful essay for this release. It seems to this non-musician that learning a song by transcribing it from record, listening to it over and over again until you think you’ve got it, has to incorporate it into your musical muscles in a very different way than reading it from sheet music. The process of learning by ears yields more freedom to subsequent interpretations. Think of Charles Mingus teaching his bands to play his tunes by singing and playing them. The result here is that Baker’s versions of nine Monk compositions are exquisitely playful, with the melodies and harmonies thoroughly assimilated and distilled from a lifetime of listening and playing. In Baker’s vision, Jackie-ing is more introverted than usual, ‘Round Midnight, a song you think you know, sounds utterly refreshed in his hands, and the deceptively simple Light Blue sounds like it was written for guitar. This is a truly beautiful album, ranging, as Rudd notes, “from moments of profound simplicity to those of bristling complexity ...” Since 1976, Duck Baker has proved through his recordings of material ranging, per his website, from “traditional Irish music through old-time mountain music and bluegrass to blues, gospel, and ragtime to swing and modern jazz, to free improvisation” that there’s no music that he can’t make his own. On Plays Monk, he’s done it again. Strongly recommended, and the perfect coda to a Monk marathon.
Miles Okazaki: self-produced; Miles Okazaki (g); Brooklyn, NY, September 2017-May 2018; Volume 1 (46:43): Locomotive/ Brilliant Corners/ Gallop’s Gallop/ Light Blue/ Evidence/ Crepuscule with Nellie/ San Francisco Holiday/ Monk’s Point/ Shuffle Boil/ Jackie-ing/ Criss Cross/ Introspection/ Functional. Volume 2 (48:19): We See/ Sixteen/ Misterioso/ Humph/ Teo/ Hornin’ In/ Raise Four/ Skippy/ Pannonica/ Think of One/ Well You Needn’t/ Bolivar Blues. Disc 3 (45:58): Monk’s Dream/ Little Rootie Tootie/ Eronel/ Thelonious/ Ruby, My Dear/ Four in One/ Blue Hawk/ Stuffy Turkey/ A Merrier Christmas/ Played Twice/ Bemsha Swing/ Blues Five Spot. Volume 4 (48:10): Bye-Ya/ Who Knows/ Green Chimneys/ Blue Sphere/ Ugly Beauty/ Oska T./ Hackensack/ Ask Me Know/ I Mean You/ 52nd Street Theme/ Something in Blue. Volume 5 (47:49): Nutty/ Off Minor/ Two Timer/ In Walked Bud/ Monk’s Mood/ Let’s Call This/ Let’s Cool One/ Children’s Song/ Boo Boo’s Birthday/ Rhythm-a-ning/ North of the Sunset. Volume 6 (47:31): Epistrophy/ Coming on the Hudson/ Bright Mississippi/ Trinkle, Tinkle/ Reflections/ Brake’s Sake/ Straight, No Chaser/ Friday the 13th/ ‘Round Midnight/ Work/ Blue Monk. www.milesokazaki.com
Frank Kimbrough: Sunnyside SSC 4032; Scott Robinson (ts, bass sax, echo cnt, tpt, contrabass sarrusophone, bcl) Frank Kimbrough (p) Rufus Reid (b) Billy Drummond (d); Pipersville, PA, May 22-24 & 28-30, [band] and June 20, 2018 [solo piano]; Disc 1 (57:02): Thelonious/ Light Blue/ Played Twice/ Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are/ Ask Me Now/ Humph/ Bright Mississippi/ Reflections/ Bemsha Swing/ Teo/ Blue Sphere. Disc 2 (54:20): Crepuscule with Nellie/ Think of One/ 52nd St. Theme/ Eronel/ Bluehawk/ Little Rootie Tootie/ Two Timer/ Ruby, My Dear/ Boo Boo's Birthday/ San Francisco Holiday/ Functional/ I Mean You. Disc 3 (57:01): Shuffle Boil/ Monk's Dream/ Evidence/ Misterioso/ Four in One/ Brake's Sake/ Pannonica/ Bye-ya/ North of the Sunset/ Introspection/ We See/ In Walked Bud. Disc 4 (60:06): Nutty/ Trinkle Tinkle/ Blues Five Spot/ 'Round Midnight/ Jackie-ing/ Well You Needn't/ Sixteen/ Locomotive/ Gallop's Gallop/ Children's Song/ Blue Monk/ Friday the 13th. Disc 5 (52:11): Criss Cross/ Raise Four/ Let's Call This/ Who Knows/ A Merrier Christmas/ Stuffy Turkey/ Monk's Point/ Work/ Brilliant Corners/ Off Minor/ Hackensack/ Oska T. Disc 6 (50:38): Let's Cool One/ Hornin' In/ Coming on the Hudson/ Straight No Chaser/ Monk's Mood/ Green Chimneys/ Rhythm-a-ning/ Ugly Beauty/ Skippy/ Something in Blue/ Epistrophy. www.sunnysiderecords.com
Andrés Vial: Chromatic Audio 111417; Andrés Vial (p) Peter Bernstein (g) Dezron Douglas (1-6) or Martin Heslop (8-10) (b) Rodney Green (1-6) or André White (8-10) (d); Mount Vernon, NY, November 14 (1-6) or September 16 (7-10), 2017; 1.Bluehawk/ 2.Coming on the Hudson/ 3.Think of One/ 4.Ugly Beauty/ 5.Green Chimneys/ 6.Light Blue/ 7.Ask Me Now/ 8.Introspection/ 9.Work/ 10.Functional; 58:58. www.chromatic-audio.com
Duck Baker: Triple Point Records TPR 271 (Lp only); Duck Baker (g); Cary, NC, November 8-10, 2010, exc. *Balso (Reggio Emilia), Italy, November 23, 2015; Side A: Blue Monk/ Off Minor/ *Bemsha Swing/ Round Midnight. Side B: Light Blue/ Straight, No Chaser/ *Jackie-ing/In Walked Bud/ Misterioso; 46:25. www.triplepointrecords.com

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

SPAZA


Anyone reading this probably doesn’t need to be reminded of the instant global reach of the internet, but listening to the South African SPAZA ensemble on their self-titled debut for Mushroom Hour Half Hour Records really brings the point home.“Spaza,” I learn from the press release, has “come to signify an entrepreneurial spirit,” and spaces with that name have become “the nerve centers of social activity” in their communities. This sextet was recorded in a totally improvised performance in 2015 at the Spaza Art Gallery in Johannesburg, an impressively coherent achievement from what the label’s website describes as a “once-off ensemble of Johannesburg-based avant-garde musicians.” Their range of instrumental and vocal sounds is broad, with a sonic palette that incorporates synthesizers and electronic effects with impromptu lyrics and wordless voices. Percussionist Gontse Makhene is a powerhouse on an array of hand drums, and his rhythmic drive provides a constant pulse in tandem with the earthy sound of acoustic bassist Ariel Zamonsky. Trombonist and vocalist Siya Makuzeni and electric violinist Waldo Alexander make themselves felt with swoops of sound. Synthesist João Orecchia helps shape the overall ambience. Vocals, by Makuzeni, Makhene, and Nosisi Ngakane, blend, dart, and testify in a swirl of hypnotic and other-worldly sounds. The deeply syncretic approach of the group draws on traditions from all over the globe, eschewing genre considerations in favor of forging their own highly personal music. This is fascinating music with a global feel, but still grounded in the specifically local aspects of the Johannesburg scene. SPAZA is well worth a listen. Mushroom Hour Half Hour M3H-004 (LP & digital); Nosisi Ngakane (vcl, FX) Siya Makuzeni (vcl, FX, tbn) João Orecchia (synth, elec) Waldo Alexander (el vln with FX pedal) Ariel Zamonsky (b) Gontse Makhene (perc, vcl); Johannesburg, South Africa, May 17, 2015; Magwinya, Mangola neWhite Liver/ Sunlight, Glycerine, 2 loose draws/ Five Rand Airtime nama-eveready - 4000 degrees/ Tigerbalm nobuhlebakho [interlude]/ Ice Squinchies | Waiting For You/ Invocations [interlude]/ Stametta Spuit - Invocations; 44:02. www.mushroomhour.com

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lapis Trio: The Travelers


Musical compositions arise from numerous sources of inspiration : a person, the sky, a memory, a place, a color, or the mere curiosity of a particular chord sequence. For his Lapis Trio, nylon-string guitarist Casey Nielsen used a unique concept to generate songs. He imagined himself as a composer in a small village whose job was to write a new tune every day which “would need to immediately engage the work-weary audience by being unique and entertaining.” The result is The Travelers, with bassist Dan Thatcher and percussionist Tim Mulvenna joining Nielsen in a delightfully relaxed session, beautifully recorded live-to-2-track by Dana Nielsen. There’s a stately elegance to the trio’s formal yet emotionally rich explorations of Nielsen’s tunes. His writing is equally informed by classical guitar styles and the jazz and folk traditions. The acoustic instrumentation gives the music an intimate and friendly feel, just as Nielsen intended when he began the project. First among equals are Clavé, with its Latin-ish melody and Nielsen’s gorgeous solo perfectly accented by Mulvenna’s stripped-down hand percussion, and the sensitive closer, Beloit, with a rapturous bass solo by Thatcher. I liked The Travelers from the minute it first started playing, and the more I listen, the more enjoyable it becomes. Happily recommended.
Shifting Paradigm SP138; Casey Nielsen (ac g) Dan Thatcher (b) Tim Mulvenna (perc); Chicago, IL, April 21-27, 2017; The Travelers/ The Fischer/ Clavé/ Scatological Humor/ Culver City/ Gallagher’s Gift/ Beloit; 49:49. www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com

Monday, June 17, 2019

Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery on Resonance Records

Once a record label has established itself as a conduit for ethical reissues, with all the aesthetic and legal challenges that they have to deal with, collectors in possession of rare tapes tend to seek them out. So it is with the Resonance label, with their beautifully done packages of previously unheard music by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Grant Green, and Larry Young. Two of the most important and widely influential jazz artists of the Fifties and Sixties, pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Wes Montgomery, are each represented by multiple Resonance sets.

Evans In England is the fourth Resonance release for the pianist, documenting a couple of sets recorded at Ronnie Scott’s famed club by the 1969 edition of his trio with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. The repertoire is familiar; only Michel Legrand’s What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? was new to the band’s book for this engagement. Sound quality is pretty good for a surreptitious tape made by one of Evans’ European admirers, and the pianist is in top-notch form throughout the 110 minutes of playing time. Lengthy bass solos by Gomez are about the only distraction from Evans’ energetic playing on this set. Resonance has done their usual superb job of presentation, populating a 34-page booklet with rare photos, reminiscences with Gomez and Morell, and liner notes by Marc Myers. There is also a brief essay by, and an interview with Leon Terjanian, whom Resonance producer Zev Feldman calls “a passionate collector” and a member of Evans’ inner circle. He’s the source for this material, though not the recordist. There’s quite a lot of Bill Evans material out there; Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography lists over 200 sessions as leader. But for his hard-core fans, there’s never really enough, and this lovingly complied set will definitely satisfy.

Wes Montgomery’s Resonance projects have been split between Indiana recordings that predate his “official” releases and later live recordings after his skills were well known to jazz fans around the world. The latest set is Back On Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings, two CDs of early sessions that lack many of the data points that obsess some jazz fans. There are only rough dates, the locations are largely unknown, and the identities of the other musicians are largely guesswork. But it doesn’t matter that much, since Montgomery sounds so damn good whatever the context. The tapes come from a collection maintained by Carroll DeCamp, a pianist and arranger in Indianapolis who passed away in 2013. It turns out that Echoes Of Indiana Avenue, the first Resonance compilation of early Wes Montgomery, was also derived from DeCamp’s tapes, but no one knew that at the time. With the assistance of jazz educator and publisher Jamey Aebersold, who obtained the tapes from DeCamp merely by asking to preserve them, we now have a couple of hours of fine music to enjoy. When you consider the casual recording circumstances and the passage of time, the music is pretty good sounding, and happily the guitar is usually prominent. The material is organized by instrumentation. The first seven tunes on CD1 are quartets of guitar, piano, bass and drums. The rest of the CD is filled out by four tracks by an organ trio and two more by the trio plus David Baker on trombone and David Young on tenor saxophone. Disc 2 is labeled “Nat ‘King’ Cole-style trios with guitar, bass and drums.” Besides the sheer joy to be found in Montgomery’s guitar forays over more two hours of newly-restored sounds from more than half a century ago, there’s the obvious historical dimension to these early works. The big revelation in that regard is the inclusion what appear to be the earliest versions we have for four of Montgomery’s original compositions: Four on Six, Mr. Walker, West Coast Blues, and Jingles. Author Lewis Porter discusses the recording history of these songs, and much more, in his long essay in the accompanying booklet. As usual, the booklet, expanded to 44 pages, features plenty of period photos and a slew of brief interviews and recollections. Reissue producer Zev Feldman has his say, and we also hear from guitarists John Scofield and George Benson, along with memories of Carroll DeCamp by several of his family members. With this set, their sixth Montgomery collection, Resonance continues to reshape the career arc of one of the most revered guitarists in jazz history. Absolutely recommended.
Bill Evans: Resonance HCD-2037; Bill Evans (p) Eddie Gomez (b) Marty Morell (d); London, England, December 1969; Disc 1 (55:39): Our Love is Here to Stay/ Sugar Plum/ Stella by Starlight/ My Foolish Heart/ Waltz For Debby/ ‘Round Midnight/ The Two Lonely People/ Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me). Disc 2 (56:21): Elsa/ What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?/ Turn Out the Stars/ Re: Person I Knew/ Goodbye/ Come Rain or Come Shine/ Very Early/ So What/ Midnight Mood/ Polka Dots and Moonbeams.
Wes Montgomery: Resonance HCD-2036; Wes Montgomery (g) with (collective personnel, “educated guesses”) Earl Van Riper, Buddy Montgomery, John Bunch, Carl Perkins (p) Melvin Rhyne (org, p) Monk Montgomery, Mingo Jones (b) Paul Parker, Sonny Johnson (d) David Baker (tbn on *) David Young (ts on *); Indianapolis, IN, possibly mid- to late 1950s; Disc 1 (67:05): Piano Quartets: Four on Six/ Mr. Walker/ ‘Round Midnight/ So What/ The End of a Love Affair/ Tune-Up/ West Coast Blues. Organ Trio: Jingles/ It’s You or No One/ Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You/ Ecaroh. Sextet: Sandu*/ Whisper Not*. Disc 2 (64:04): Nat “King” Cole-Style Trios : Stompin’ at the Savoy/ It’s You or No One/ Opus de Funk/ Summertime/ Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea/ Easy Living/ Four/ I’ll Remember April/ The Song is You. resonancerecords.org. Both releases are available on CD and limited edition vinyl.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Roland Bühlmann: Crucial


Remember being a child and making noise by blowing through a blade of grass? Roland Bühlmann certainly does. It’s just one of many unusual sounds on Crucial, a solo effort with his electric guitar and electric bass joined by a staggering array of sonic tools. Bühlmann records several tracks of guitar and bass before layering that with other, more obscure varieties of stringed instruments, like the hanottere, a Swiss zither, the guitar-ukulele hybrid known as a guitalele, the mandola, tuned a fifth lower than a mandolin, and a modern recreation of a kinnor, an ancient Israelite type of lyre. On various tracks, he also employs the Aeon sustainer, an infinite sustain device for guitar, along with grasses, wine glasses, a whistle, and another ancient Israeli instrument, the shofar, usually a ram’s horn and heard most often in the modern period at the start of the Jewish New Year. Adding to that wild brew, Bühlmann sprinkles sounds from various objects he uses as percussion, including branches and leaves, knives, an oil tank, stones, wrenches, and on one track, an udu, a Nigerian drum made from pottery. In typical critical shorthand, reviewers often reference music the reader is likely to have heard as a comparison to the recording under discussion, but aside from a few passages in Kaiilen and Buzzing, where the primitive percussion made me think of the Residents, Bühlmann’s swirling soundscapes don’t sound much like anything else unless you’ve heard his two previous solo releases, Aineo (2015) and Bailenas (2017). Most interesting to this listener, as he slips and slides along with the twists and turns in Bühlmann’s eccentric structures, is the way that Bühlmann manages to preserve the serendipitous accidents of improvised music while working with the painstaking process of overdubbing so many layers. Crucial is an endlessly fascinating release that’s especially suited to headphone listening for an hour of music to get happily lost with.
Self-produced; Roland Bühlmann (el g, bass g, Aeon Sustainer [1,2,4,8], grasses [3,6], guitalele [1,4], hanottere [1], kinnor [1,6,7], mandola [5], shofar [4], whistle [3], vcl [7], wine glasses [1,8]; percussion: branches, knives, leaves, oil tank, stones, udu [6], wrenches); Switzerland, no dates specified; 1.Kaiilen/ 2.Higgayon/ 3.Buzzing/ 4.Arabon/ 5.Crucial/ 6.Uvkal/ 7.Miserere/ 8.Subconsciously; 61:19. rolandbuehlmann.bandcamp.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte: You Don’t Know the Life


The perpetually surprising trio of Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte’s latest venture is You Don’t Know the Life. After two releases with Saft at the acoustic piano, he limits himself this time around to two different electric organs and a Baldwin electric harpsichord that was manufactured from 1966 to the early Seventies. In addition to a pair of Saft originals and a few group improvisations, the trio’s typically eclectic repertoire includes a Bill Evans tune, a piece by the late Roswell Rudd, a couple of standards (Moonlight in Vermont and Alfie), and the title track, a song originally performed by the Moving Sidewalks, a Texas band from the late Sixties which was founded by future ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. Evans’ tribute to producer Orrin Keepnews, Re: Person I Knew, kicks things off in surprisingly upbeat fashion. Dark Squares, the first improvisation, is well-titled for this somber investigation, showcasing Previte’s delicate cymbals and Swallow’s careful bass. Water From Breath is another improvisation, a sort of funky blues with a moody Saft out in front. Clocking in at just over six minutes, You Don’t Know the Life is the longest piece of the set. As played here, it’s a slow-moving dirge performed with impeccable grace by the trio. Previte’s tom-toms take the lead for a brief look at Rudd’s Ode to a Green Frisbee, with snaky organ lines by Saft. Two of Saft’s original compositions follow, The Cloak, an energetic romp, and Stable Manifold, an orderly blues line that rolls right along. The meanderingly self-absorbed The Break of the Flat Land is the last of the collective improvisations and the least interesting piece. Things get back on track with a finger-snapping version of Moonlight in Vermont, a favorite of jazz musicians since it was introduced by Margaret Whiting in 1944. A faithful version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Alfie concludes this largely satisfying excursion by this redoubtable trio.
RareNoise RNR101; Jamie Saft (Hammond org, Whitehall org, Baldwin elec harpsichord) Steve Swallow (el b) Bobby Previte (d); NYC, January 2018; Re: Person I Knew/ Dark Squares/ Water From Breath/ You Don’t Know the Life/ Ode to a Green Frisbee/ The Cloak/ Stable Manifold/ The Break of the Flat Land/ Moonlight in Vermont/ Alfie; 41:14. www.rarenoiserecords.com

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Soul Message Band: Soulful Days


The core members of the Soul Message Band are Hammond organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham, both members of the Deep Blue Organ Trio that recorded three CDs for Origin and Delmark between 2005 and 2010. For their new venture, the pair have enlisted young guitarist Lee Rothenberg, making his recording debut, and saxophonists Greg Ward on alto and Geof Bradfield on tenor. It’s pretty easy to discuss the band’s Delmark debut, Soulful Days. The only real question for a group called the Soul Message Band is whether the message has been delivered, and the answer here is yes, most emphatically. This CD is a lengthy excursion into the world of funky organ-based jazz, with the special attraction of the progressive-leaning saxophonists. The effervescent alto of Ward has been heard on discs by leaders like Hamid Drake, Ernest Dawkins and Mike Reed since his first appearance on disc in 2004, so he brings a fresh voice to the organ-based style. It’s a real kick to hear him on tunes like Grant Green’s Matador and Jimmy Smith’s J.O.S., and he reaches heights of bluesy intensity on Easy Time, a easy-going groover by Louie Bellson and Tommy Newsom. Tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, who appears on three tracks, has a more varied recording history, including dates with drummer Ted Sirota and pianist Ryan Cohen. Both saxmen play on Wayne Shorter’s Hammer Head, and their friendly duel makes the track one of the disc’s many highlights. Guitarist Rothenberg’s smoking Sir Charles and Ward’s snappy and upbeat Uncertainty are the sole originals in an exemplary batch of tunes with a welcome focus on less-frequently revived tunes from the Sixties. We’re treated to lengthy excursions through pieces like the Shorter tune, premiered by the Jazz Messengers in 1964, Freddie Hubbard’s Thermo, first performed by the 1962 edition of the Messengers, and Cal Massey’s These Are Soulful Days, which was debuted by Lee Morgan on his 1960 Lee-Way album. Foreman, Rothenberg and Rockingham keep things cooking with impeccable taste and unfailing momentum. Soulful Days is an irresistible treat, and is happily recommended.
Delmark DE 5030; Greg Ward (as, exc on 2,9) Geof Bradfield (ts on 2,4,9) Chris Foreman (Hammond B3 org) Lee Rothenberg (g) Greg Rockingham (d); Chicago, IL, August 22-23, 2018; 1.Sir Charles/ 2.These are Soulful Days/ 3.Uncertainty/ 4.Hammer Head/ 5.Little Girl Blue/ 6.Matador/ 7.Easy Time/ 8.J.O.S./ 9.Thermo; 76:12. www.delmark.com

Friday, May 31, 2019

Jay Anderson: Deepscape


Every once in a while, I suspect a hidden competition among musicians to find the widest possible range of composers for an album project. Bassist and recording engineer Jay Anderson makes a strong bid for the prize on his latest SteepleChase release Deepscape. Who would expect to find two mid-Seventies tunes by Keith Jarrett, Jim Pepper’s anthemic Witchi-tai-to, Branford Marsalis’ The Mighty Sword, Gil Evans’ Time of the Barracudas, and that good old Tennessee Waltz on the same program as compositions by Morton Feldman and Billy Joel? Add a pair of Anderson originals and the popular standard Sweet and Lovely and you’re got one of the most eclectic releases of the year, at least so far. Of course, none of that would matter if the performances weren’t as thoroughly committed and eloquent as they are here. Anderson’s opening solo improvisation, with four layers of bass, sets an exploratory and lyrical tone for the entire program. Jarrett’s seldom performed Shades of Jazz sounds great, with dynamic solos by cornetist Kirk Knuffke and saxophonist Billy Drewes. Take some time to marvel at Anderson’s forceful bass line, egged on by drummer Matt Wilson. Anderson’s long-time relationship with SteepleChase Records owner Nils Winther led directly to this project. Anderson also has extensive playing experience with the musicians he’s gathered for Deepscape, and that kind of deep fellowship is both an inspiration and a challenge not to repeat himself. It’s a challenge that Anderson meets head-on, using strategies that include using Frank Kimbrough only on harmonium instead of his usual piano, overdubbing a Tibetan singing bowl on Feldman's Rothko Chapel, and playing Billy Joel’s And So it Goes as a lyrical bass solo, sounding a bit like Charlie Haden. It’s hard to pick favorites when the menu is so varied, but the Jarrett pieces are particularly fine, the standard Sweet and Lovely more than lives up to its name, and the finale of Tennessee Waltz, played as a bass and harmonium duet, is guaranteed to bring a broad smile to anyone’s face. Spend a fruitful hour with Jay Anderson and friends, then pick your own special moments. Cheerfully recommended.
SteepleChase SSCD 31870; Kirk Knuffke (cnt on 2,4,6-8,10) Billy Drewes (as, ss, bcl on 2-4,6,8-10) Frank Kimbrough (harmonium on 3,9,11) Jay Anderson (b, Tibetan singing bowl on 3) Matt Wilson (d on 2-4, 6-10) Rogerio Boccato (perc on 3,6,7,9); New Paltz, NY, May & June 2018; 1.Deepscape/ 2.Shades of Jazz/ 3.Rothko Chapel/ 4.Southern Smiles/ 5.And So It Goes/ 6.Time of the Barracudas/ 7.Sweet and Lovely/ 8.Momentum/ 9.Witchi-tai-to/ 10.The Mighty Sword/ 11.Tennessee Waltz; 60:59. www.steeplechase.dk

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Francesca Prihasti: Adriana


On her self-produced Adriana, pianist Francesca Prihasti offers a batch of smart compositions that make good use of the instrumentation she’s assembled for the project. Born in Indonesia, Prihasti studied in Australia before moving to New York. This is her third release since 2015. For this outing, she’s recruited a stellar septet with brassmen Mike Rodriguez and Alan Ferber, saxophonist Dave Pietro, guitarist Nic Vardanega (who’s been on all three discs), first-call bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Josh Roberts. The prevailing mood is thoughtful reflection, with fine solo work by all hands. The slow groove of Johnny gets things off to a good start, with concise solos by Prihasti (spacious and conversational), Gress (warm and expressive), Vardanega (appealingly melodic) and Ferber (smooth and well-constructed). Saxophonist Pietro takes an invitingly warm alto solo on Time Traveller, with a thoroughly engaged Prihasti in support. She follows with another sparkling piano solo. It’s clear from her crisp attack and provocative comping that she’s learned a lot from studies with pianists Mike Nock, Kevin Hays and Alan Broadbent. With her careful writing and accompaniments, Prihasti’s approach to small group dynamics makes her bandmates sound good, and they return the favor. All of which makes Adriana a solidly entertaining collection of tunes, and a disc well worth hearing.
Self-produced; Mike Rodriguez (tpt, flgh) Alan Ferber (tbn) Dave Pietro (as, ss) Francesca Prihasti (p) Nic Vardanega (gtr) Drew Gress (b) Josh Roberts (d); NYC, May 14, 2018; Johnny/ Time Traveller/ Stargazer/ Verano/ Adriana/ The Wind Chimes/ The Emperor; 45:31. francescaprihasti.com.au

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ehud Asherie Trio: Wild Man Blues


The Ehud Asherie Trio teams pianist Asherie with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Rodney Green for a straightforwardly swinging program on Wild Man Blues. Their well-chosen repertoire includes gems like Louis Armstrong’s title track, first recorded by Johnny Dodd’s Black Bottom Stompers in 1922, two pieces by Charlie Parker (Parker’s Mood and Chasin’ the Bird), Dizzy Gillespie’s mid-Sixties composition And Then She Stopped, a few uncommon standards, and Ary Barroso’s 1938 tune Na Baixa Do Sapateiro. A few tracks are a bit on the sedate side, like the title track and Autumn Nocturne. The more energy that the trio displays, the better the result. Flyin’ Down to Rio, for one example, zooms along in a very satisfying way. So does the Barroso song, with an especially chipper Rodney Green stoking the fires. The Gillespie tune ends the set with flair, as the impeccable bassist Washington and a deep in the pocket Green prod Asherie into sailing through the performance with casual abandon. Wild Man Blues is a delightful helping of lucid and radiant music from a crisply balanced piano trio. It’s well worth hearing.
Capri 74153; Ehud Asherie (p) Peter Washington (b) Rodney Green (d); Brooklyn, NY, March 2, 2018; Wild Man Blues/ Parker’s Mood/ Flying Down to Rio/ Autumn Nocturne/ Chasin’ the Bird/ Na Baixa Do Sapateiro/ Oh, Lady Be Good/ And Then She Stopped; 47:14. www.caprirecords.com

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Joe Fiedler: Open Sesame


Open Sesame, new from trombonist Joe Fiedler, is a jazzy look at songs from the long-running children’s television show Sesame Street. The broadly experienced Fiedler is currently the program’s music director and arranger, a task he juggles with performing in his own bands and working as a sideman with the likes of Satoko Fujii and Eddie Palmieri. For this date, he’s enlisted the help of trumpeter Steven Bernstein as special guest with his regular quartet of saxophonist Jeff Lederer, electric bassist Sean Conly and drummer Michael Sarin. The band is clearly having a lot of fun with this material, just as Fiedler intended when he began the project. The quintet’s vibe is infectious, even when Lederer injects some free jazz style into his solo on songs like Bein’ a Pig or The Batty Bat. Those pieces, and many of the others, were composed by Joe Raposo, who, with Jeffrey Moss, was one of the show’s songwriters and musical directors in the early years. It takes a special attitude to compose music designed specifically for young ears, and the long run of Sesame Street, now half a century old, is a testament to their success. Fiedler and company pay creative homage to the trombonist’s predecessors on the show, putting their own spin on these genially melodic songs. Listening to Open Sesame is a wonderful experience, from the opening entreaty Somebody Come and Play to the brief Jazz Alphabet that closes the disc with the band chanting their ABCs. Happily recommended.
Multiphonics Music MM 004; Steven Bernstein (tpt, slide tpt*) Joe Fiedler (tbn) Jeff Lederer (ss, ts) Sean Conly (el b) Michael Sarin (d); Mount Vernon, NY, May 31-June 1, 2018; Somebody Come and Play/ Sesame Street Theme/ Doin’ the Pigeon/ Rubber Duckie*/ Sing/ Has Anybody Seen My Dog/ Pinball Number Count/ Pigs Love Song (I Love Being a Pig)/ Pig Interlude/ Magic Pig/ Pig Interlude 2/ Bein’ a Pig/ Jazz #10/ The Batty Bat/ People in Your Neighborhood/ Put Down the Duckie/ Jazz Alphabet; 65:16. www.joefiedler.com

Monday, April 22, 2019

Oogui: Travoltazuki


Oogui is a new trio combining the talents of keyboardist Florence Melnotte, electric guitarist Vinz Vonlanthen and percussionist Sylvain Fournier. For their Leo album Travoltazuki, they’ve concocted a bonkers mash-up of disco, funk, free jazz, electronics, and rock with an overlay of Dadaist absurdity. Dada began as an art movement in Zürich in 1916, and just over a century later in Geneva, only 172 miles away from the Cabaret Voltaire, Oogui revisits Dadaist sound poetry and bends it for their own needs as the spice for these ever-surprising compositions. The band’s name means “glutton” in Japanese, where “big eaters” seem to have a devoted following. Metaphorically speaking, it seems that Melnotte, Vonlanthen, and Fournier are “big eaters” of musical genres, blending them into a continuously changing and brashly unpredictable stew. All the tunes are original compositions by the members of the trio, mostly separately but the four shortest tracks, which don’t sound like improvisations, are credited to all three. It’s all pretty crazy, and a whole lot of fun.
Leo CD LR 861; Florence Melnotte (p, kybd, kaossilator synth, vcl) Vinz Vonlanthen (el g, vcl) Sylvain Fournier (d, perc, vcl); Geneva, Switzerland, September 7-8, 2017; Mupulupu/ Fournibus/ Shitimogo/ Sprung/ Melnottika/ La Brignoire de Claude/ Vinz Day/ Toigrandebrute/ Grugenbulles/ Night Fever/ Réminiscence Acid Dance Floor/ Gatogato; 53:51. www.leorecords.com

Friday, April 12, 2019

Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy


The Village Vanguard will never be mistaken for anyone’s back porch, but if you kept your eyes closed when the guitar and bass duo of Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan took the stage at the venerable New York nightspot in March 2016, you might have felt yourself transported to a backyard space somewhere out of the city. ECM Records recorded the gig, and the acclaimed Small Town came out the following year. Now comes Epistrophy with another helping of intimate duets from the same week. A wide range of songs, including Kern-Hammerstein’s seldom played All in Fun, two Thelonious Monk compositions and the Fifties pop classic Save the Last Dance For Me, by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, gives the pair plenty of opportunities to commune with the music and support one another at length. A friendly and relaxed vibe permeates the performances, as the instrumental focus changes almost imperceptibly between Frisell’s gently floating electric guitar and Morgan’s lyrical bass. The two men were first heard on record together on Paul Motian’s 2010 release The Windmills Of Your Mind, and Morgan appeared on Frisell’s When You Wish Upon A Star in 2015. Obviously, they’ve established considerable rapport in those encounters, as demonstrated time and again throughout the nearly 70 minutes of Epistrophy. Particular high points include Motian’s Mumbo Jumbo, a tricky number first heard on a live 1990 recording, also at the Vanguard, by a trio of Motian, Geri Allen and Charlie Haden, Billy Strayhorn’s ever-beautiful Lush Life, a playful dissection of Monk’s theme song, Epistrophy, and the luminous closer, David Mann and Bob Hilliard’s perennial favorite In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Epistrophy is a truly lovely collection showcasing the manifold delights of the Frisell and Morgan pairing. Don’t miss it.
ECM 2626; Bill Frisell (g) Thomas Morgan (b); NYC, March 2016; All in Fun/ Wildwood Flower; Save the Last Dance For Me/ Mumbo Jumbo/ You Only Live Twice/ Lush Life/ Epistrophy/ Pannonica/ Red River Valley/ In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; 69:12. www.ecmrecords.com

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Jeff Morris: Interfaces - Jazz Meets Electronics


Jeff Morris begins his liner notes for Interfaces - Jazz Meets Electronics with a friendly warning that the listener “is going to experience some unfamiliar musical moments” as Morris wields his real-time sampling apparatus in a series of free-wheeling trios with veteran Karl Berger, playing both vibes and piano, and percussionist Joe Hertenstein. He’s right about the unfamiliar part, as the textures and colors that this unit creates are indeed quite unusual. In his notes, Morris goes into some details about his setup and methods, but that kind of information is really just for musicians. For the rest of us, what matters are the sounds and how they make you feel. I’m happy to report that this is an attractively wild collection of genuinely improvisatory electronic music. Berger has been at the forefront of the improvised music scene for a long time now, both as a recording artist and as the creative leader of the Creative Music Studio in upstate New York. The CMS slogan is “Music Without Borders,” which could also serve as the motto for this project. The pieces are surreal blends of recognizable and unrecognizable sounds, as Morris’ rig twists, loops and manipulates what Berger and Hertenstein are playing into a variety of unexpected shapes. If you enjoy being surprised by your listening choices, the wacky and frequently humorous sound collages of Interfaces will definitely fit the bill.
Ravello RR7998; Karl Berger (vib, p) Joe Hertenstein (d, tabletop perc) Jeff Morris (live sampling); Woodstock, NY, September 25-27, 2017; Upzy/ A Solo is the Nth Melody/ In Which/ Rondo/ Into/ Three at One/ Unwind/ Clocksays/ Inderneath/ Dot (Dot Dot); 51:29. www.morrismusic.org