Author: Kremsky, Stuart
Date published: March 1, 2010
Yes, the fabled avant-garde label, forever identified with New York's free jazz ferment of the Sixties, is back on the scene in a big way. Actually, the label has been around in one form or another in the CD era, through licensing of its back catalog. But over the past few years, a reinvigorated ESP has not only been producing high-quality reissues of gems and obscurities of the past, but they've also unearthed vintage tapes to release for the first time, and have started recording new artists for the label as well as promoting a series concerts in smaller New York venues. Go to www.espdisk.com to learn more.
Most of the reissues have no added material, although the sound is usually much improved over previous issues. For the album variously known as You Never Heard Such Sounds In Your Life (per the Lord Discography; this was one of the label's slogans) or simply The Burton Greene Quartet (per the All Music Guide), and now known as Bloom In The Commune (originally ESP 1024), the music is bookended by bits from interviews.
Pianist Burton Greene, still quite active today, introduces his first session as a leader with remarks taped at an unspecified time in the Nineties. By the standards of the time, this is a spacious and dynamic session, with an emphasis on the textures of individual instruments. There's some excellent work by Greene and altoist Marion Brown. The album is also notable for the only studio appearance of legendary tenor man Frank Smith, whose fractured wailings on Taking It Out of the Ground are accomplished and beguiling. Greene, with a brief appearance by label owner Bernard Stollman, reminisces for another 17 minutes after the music, putting the era in perspective and talking about "The Mind Set of That Time," along with expounding his personal philosophy of music and life.
ESP-Disk ESP 4038. Marion Brown (as) Frank Smith (ts on 5) Burton Greene (p, piano harp, perc) Henry Grimes (b) Dave Grant (2, 4, 5) or Tom Price (3) (perc) interviews with Greene* and Bernard Stollman#; music NYC, December 18, 1965, interviews undated; 1.His Early Band, His ESP First Recording*/ 2.Cluster Quartet/ 3.Ballade II/ 4.Bloom in the Commune/ 5.Taking It Out of the Ground/ 6.Recap of Session#/ 7.Recap of Session*/ 8.How He Got Involved With ESP*/ 9.The Music Scene*/ 10.Music Is Life*/ 11.The Mind Set of That Time*/ 12.Albert Ayler at Slug's Saloon*; 63:27.
Among the recent releases by the label is the initial album by the Charles Tyler Ensemble. Tyler, whose discography begins with his participation on Albert Ayler's seminal Bells and Spirits Rejoice albums, went on to a respected if largely under the radar career. He's heard exclusively on alto here, quivery or wailing as if there's no tomorrow, as the occasion demands. He's accompanied by an intriguing quintet featuring a percussion section of Charles Moffett on orchestra vibes and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums (his first recording) and a string section of Joel Friedman on cello and Henry Grimes on bass. Long a personal favorite for its unusual sound and spooky atmosphere, the latest remaster sounds great.
One mystery: although the original jacket credits Richard Alderson, a New York engineer, with the recording, the Lord discography says it was recorded in Indianapolis and gives a date (February 4, 1966) as well. Too bad the label didn't decide to couple it with Tyler's only other ESP date, Eastern Man Alone, which would fit with some minutes to spare.
ESP-Disk ESP 1029; Charles Tyler (as) Joel Friedman (cel) Henry Grimes (b) Charles Moffett (orch vibes) Ronald Jackson (d); NYC, [February 4, 1966); Strange Uhuru/ Lacy's Out East/ Three Spirits/ Black Mysticism; 34:07.
The straight-ahead reissue of The Forest and The Zoo by Steve Lacy and his 1966 quartet corrects the phase of the stereo mix for the first time. Sound is better, but still rather thin. These two long tracks, recorded in concert at the end of an ill-fated South American tour, are the only documentation of this international group with Enrico Rava on trumpet, Johnny Dyani on bass, and Louis Moholo on drums. While not among the prolific Lacy's essential releases, its roiling surfaces, rhythmic excitement, and instantaneous interactions make this set more than worthy of some attention.
ESP-Disk ESP 1060; Enrico Rava (t) Steve Lacy (ss) Johnny Dyani (b) Louis Moholo (d); Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 8, 1966; Forest/ Zoo; 41:54.
Saxophonist Gato Barbieri has had a fascinating career in a variety of jazz styles. His greatest successes came in the early Seventies with his theme for Last Tango In Paris and a string of pop jazz albums. But his first release in North America was In Search of the Mystery, with the fiery saxophonist leading a quartet with cello (Calo Scott), bass (Sirone), and drums (Bobby Kapp). With a spiritual edge that combines Coltrane with his own excitable sound and his natural interest in Latin rhythms, Barbieri leads the charge on a pair of medleys. The saxophone heads off into the stratosphere, secure in the knowledge that the rhythm section is there for him whenever he comes back to earth. While the music does have its moments, Barbieri's squealing cry quickly grates on the ear. His sound is an acquired taste that's seldom appealed to this listener.
ESP-Disk ESP 1049; Gato Barbieri (ts) Calo Scott (cel) Norris Jones (Sirone) (b) Bobby Kapp (d); NYC, March 15, 1967; In Search of the Mystery/ Michelle/ Obsession No. 2/ Cinemateque; 39:33.
Towards the end of the label's original tenure in the New York scene, ESP released a handful of albums by younger exponents of a new avant-garde. One of those groups was the Revolutionary Ensemble, a trio of violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone, and percussionist Jerome Cooper, which Eugene Chadbourne has declared "a favorite of many avant-garde jazz fans in the '70s." Vietnam 1 & 2 (at the peace church) was their first release, recorded in concert in New York. It's one long piece, separated into side-long chunks for the original vinyl, a situation that's been unaccountably preserved in the CD era!
The group's rapport is apparent in the first minute as they negotiate the tricky head. When Jenkins and Sirone (on arco) take off for simultaneous soloing at length, shadowed by Cooper concentrating on his cymbals, the effect is exhilarating. Cooper's restraint allows the band to explore a wide range of silence and quiet sounds in addition to the full-bore passages the group was capable of. This is an intense and tautly focused performance, and a valuable component of the Revolutionary Ensemble's relatively sparse legacy.
ESP-Disk ESP 3007; Leroy Jenkins (vln) Sirone (b) Jerome Cooper (perc); [NYC, March 1972); Vietnam 1/ Vietnam 2; 48:39.
Recorded in March 1973, Black Beings, the debut release by fire-breathing saxophonist Frank Lowe, shows how the lessons of the free music of the Sixties had been learned and filtered by a new generation of improvisers. Lowe had some impressive credits already, playing with Sun Ra and recording with Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, and in duet with Rashied Ali prior to this live date.
On the opening fusillade, In Trane's Name, Lowe and Joseph Jarman spar and scream up front, as Rashid Sinan puts up a wave of drums. Violinist Raymond Lee Cheng, long identified only as 'the Wizard', bows hard and wails on his solo, here restored to its full length. Bassist William Parker, making disc debut, is confidently the beating heart of the group sound. The final ten minutes are searingly intense, and not meant for a casual listen. Brother Joseph, an impressive unaccompanied tenor solo by Lowe, is more meditative, but still full of fire and grit.
Jarman's closer has a fanfare-like theme and a resolute Sinan driving things forward. This track has also had its edit removed, with about 7 minutes of unfettered free blowing restored. Lowe spent a good part of his career in Europe and never really caught on in the US, remaining a cult figure throughout his career. Once again, ESP was there at the start of a promising career.
ESP-Disk ESP 3013; Joseph Jarman (ss, as) Frank Lowe (ts) The Wizard (Raymond Lee Cheng) (vln) William Parker (b) Rashid Sinan (d); NYC, March 1973; In Trane's Name/ Brother Joseph/ Thulani; 60:26.
Label founder Bernard Stollman met Ronnie Boykins in 1964 when the bassist was appearing with the Sun Ra Arkestra. Offered his own session at the time, Boykins waited more than a decade to decide he was ready, and The Will Come, Is Now, his own and only session as a leader, is the result. Not surprisingly, the music, all Boykins compositions, has the arkestral aura, heavy on saxophone textures and percussion, with plenty of vamps for the assembly to explore.
The bassist holds down the title track with a repeated figure of the kind that William Parker has made his own. A string of urgent sax solos and a spot for Daoud Haroom's woozy trombone precede an ethereally beautiful arco solo by Boykins with percussion backing. Starlight At the Wonder Inn, a Sun Ra -Mingus blend, features more bass arco, slightly nervous horns and a shuffle rhythm. The rather jolly Demon's Dance has a snappy melody and a hip chart that includes room for free improv by the horns. Dawn Is Evening, Afternoon starts as a mildly dissonant ballad, then steams up for Monty Waters' soaring alto.
A throwback to the swing era, the upbeat Tipping On Heels features the horn soloists in duets. The finale is The Third I, where a percussion forest is invaded first by Boykins on sousaphone, followed by Jimmy Vass on flute, Waters on soprano, and Joe Ferguson on flute. Drummer Art Lewis leads the band in the stately ensemble section that ends the album in style.
Boykins' thought-out process which led to The Will Come, Is Now stands in stark contrast to Sun Ra's usual slap-dash methods of recording and assembling albums. The result is an album that's better musically than many of Sun Ra's releases. The big surprise is how Boykins got this group of non-Ra players to so strongly evoke the Arkestra. Definitely recommended.
ESP-Disk ESP 3026; Daoud Haroom (tb) Joe Ferguson (ss, ts, fl) Monty Waters (as, ss) Jimmy Vass (as, ss, fl) Ronnie Boykins (b, sousaphone) Art Lewis (perc) George Avaloz (congas); NYC, 1975; The Will Come, Is Now/ Starlight at the Wonder Inn/ Demon's Dance/ Dawn Is Evening, Afternoon/ Tipping On Heels/ The Third I; 47:02.
One very welcome reissue is a very rare Sun Ra release, originally on his own El Saturn label, Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold. And the CD comes with bonus material, no less. The first five pieces, around 45 minutes in stereo sound, appear here for the first time, while the original LP is presented in mono as the last six tracks. The proceedings were recorded at Judson Hall in New York on New Year's Eve, part of a concert presented by the legendary Jazz Composer's Guild. The music is the usual wild brew of piano flourishes, screaming horns (thanks in part to a young Pharoah Sanders), a few space chants, and plenty of drums. Uncertainty is a given in the Sun Ra universe, and the personnel listing given below is what the CD prints.
The heavily-researched discography of Ra, The Earthly Recordings, 2nd edition, omits Boykins and Jimmhi Johnson, but adds Chris Capers on trumpet, Bernard Pettaway on trombone, Robert Northern on French horn, Danny Davis on alto sax and flute, and Robert Cummings on bass clarinet. With so many titles on the market, it's hard to call any Sur Ra essential, but fans will surely want this version of an album that's always been virtually impossible to find.
ESP-Disk 4054; Al Evans (t) Teddy Nance (tb) Marshall Allen (as) Pharoah Sanders (ts) Black Harold (Harold Murray) (fl, log d) Pat Patrick (bars) Sun Ra (p, celeste) Alan Silva, Ronnie Boykins (b) Clifford Jarvis, Jimmhi Johnson (d) Art Jenkins (space voice); NYC, December 31, 1964; Cosmic Interpretation*/ The Other World*/ The Second Stop Is Jupiter*/ The Now Tomorrow*/ Discipline 9*/ Gods On a Safari/ The World Shadow/ Rocket Number 9/ The Voice Of Pan/ Dawn Over Israel/ Space Mates; 71:40. Tracks marked * are previously unissued.
Trumpeter Don Cherry spent most of his time in Europe between the recording sessions for his two Blue Note albums Complete Communion in December 1965 and Symphony For Improvisers in September 1966. Working for a solid month at Copenhagen's famed Café Montmartre, Cherry and his international band were broadcast several times on Danish radio, now collected on ESP. During this period, Cherry was performing and recording in mini-suites he termed "cocktails." Although most of the material was written by Cherry, anything was liable to make its way into the flow.
While it's not surprising to hear themes by Albert Ayler or Ornette Coleman, tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ray Brown also appear. Brown's bebop classic Two Bass Hit shows up in the lengthy Remembrance on Live At Café Montmartre, Volume 3. A shorter version of the piece, introduced as a ballad by Cherry, appears on Live At Café Montmartre, Volume 2.
Gato Barbieri worked closely with Cherry during this period, appearing on both the Blue Notes and tagging along to Europe. His frenzied approach to the tenor sax is reined in slightly by the material, giving his contributions more focus than is sometimes the case. The rhythm team of Karl Berger on vibes, Bo Steif on bass, and the volatile Aldo Romano on drums churns and throbs with disciplined abandon. Cherry himself is in fine form, an expressive soloist whose calmness forms a good counterbalance to Barbieri's volubility. Sound quality is super, and these sets offer a valuable complement to Cherry's studio recordings of the era.
Volume 2: ESP-Disc ESP 4043; Don Cherry (t) Gato Barbieri (ts) Karl Berger (vib) Bo Steif (b) Aldo Romano (d); March 31, 1966, Copenhagen, Denmark; Intro/ Orfeu Negro/ Suite For Albert Ayler/ Spring Is Here/ Remembrance/ Elephantasy (incomplete)/ Complete Communion; 65:45. Volume 3: ESP-Disc ESP 4051; Don Cherry (t) Gato Barbieri (ts) Karl Berger (vib) Bo Steif (b) Aldo Romano (d); March 3, 1966, Copenhagen, Denmark; Complete Communion/ Remembrance; 51:01.
In addition to mining its storied past, ESP has been moving into the future by releasing new recordings. One recent disc is by tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis, bassist Joe Morris, and drummer Charles Downs (a/k/a Rashid Bakr), collectively known as the Flow Trio. All three musicians are solidly identified with the "outside" scene.
Belogenis has played in various bands devoted to the music of Albert Ayler, Morris has too many associations to even contemplate, and Downs has played extensively with Cecil Taylor and the co-op quartet Other Dimensions In Music. You pretty much know what to expect before you press play on Rejuvenation, the band's second release. The saxophonist's throaty sound, full of strangled cries, naturally dominates the trio's sound. The CD opens with Reflection, a solo sax piece that's slow and rather calm.
The big revelation here is the evolved bass playing of Joe Morris, who opens Slow Cab with a series of double stops and an incisive solo that soon provokes commentary by Downs and typically screamy sax lines by Belogenis. Morris first made his name on guitar and continues to be a significant force on that instrument, but he picked up the bass early in this decade and he's become adept on that axe as well. It helps that Downs' free-flowing drumming is generally understated since it allows the listener to more easily concentrate on Morris' playing. Rejuvenation offers a set of potent free improvisation, not essential perhaps but worthy of investigation by afficionados of the style.
ESP-Disk ESP 4052; Louie Belogenis (ts) Joe Morris (b) Charles Downs (d); Brooklyn, NY, October 4, 2008; Reflection/ Slow Cab/ Pick Up Sticks/ Two Acts/ Succor/ Unfolding/ Rejuvenation; 46:02.
Back on guitar, Joe Morris leads a trio on Colorfield. He describes his tunes for the date as "open ended improvised trio pieces..." inspired in part by painters. With Steve Lantner on piano and Luther Gray on drums, the utter tightness of the trio is no surprise. They've worked together extensively over many years, but with Morris on bass. In this setting, the absence of a bass is intentional, allowing "the flow of the music to go in any direction..." There are just four tracks spread over 50 minutes, giving them plenty of time to roam around Morris' musical landscapes.
Transparent, the opener, is the shortest piece, just shy of 7 minutes. Everyone is careful not to get in each other's way most of the way through, with Morris' spiky guitar lines, Lantner's rolling melodies and Gray's spreading percussion in a gentle game of chase. Their gently meandering progress allows the listener to work his own way into the music at a leisurely pace. Only at the end does the trio show a hint of the power they've held in reserve so far.
That energy really comes out on Silver Sun, nervous and ecstatic, with waves upon waves of sound coming at you from all sides after a solo burst by Morris sets the stage for an extended display of the trio in full flight. For the first third of its length, Purple Distant unfolds more deliberately. Lantner's piano sets the intervals, then Gray slowly joins in. Morris' guitar sidles in, and the three proceed to explore at length with a growing sense of wonderment and surprise.
The finale, Bell Orange Curves, blasts out of the speakers with a full-on attack by all three players. This concentrated intensity can't last, you think, but it does, filling the first half of the piece. An unsettled section around the 9 minute work leads to a subdued drum solo, leaving a few minutes for the band reconnect before concluding in some light dance-like rhythms before the music simply halts.
In the end, it's difficult to say what makes this music so enticing and absorbing. You won't be singing the melodies of any of these pieces after you've heard them, but free jazz fans of a certain ilk will want to start from the beginning again and see how it all works.
ESP-Disk ESP 4056; Joe Morris (g) Steve Lantner (p) Luther Gray (d); Charlestown, MA, May 12. 2009; Transparent/ Silver Sun/ Purple Distant/ Bell Orange Curves; 50:05.
ESP has also issued the 2001 film Inside Out in the Open, an expressionist journey into the music known as free jazz on DVD. This hour-long documentary by Alan Roth is as awkward as its subtitle. The film drifts from topic to topic with brief interviews and mere snippets of performance. It helps to know a lot about the scene before you press play, because Roth is uninterested in providing the context or creating a narrative flow.
So while the hardcore fan will likely enjoy appearances by the likes of Joseph Jarman, Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Alan Silva, Bakaida Carroll, Marion Brown, and many others, the production is unlikely to win very many converts to the music. ESP 4042; DVD features NTSC on one side and PAL on the reverse.
Reissues, Chronologically (Mostly)
Everybody loves boogie woogie, so another collection of music by the Boogie Woogie Kings is always welcome. This set reissues a few titles originally on the Euphonic label by the absolute royalty of the form in Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, along with selections by "Cripple" Clarence Lofton, Henry Brown, and Speckled Red, the very first Delmark recording artist. Although most of the tracks date from the hey-day of the style in the late thirties, songs cut in later decades reveal its unchanging nature. Sound quality is often less than pristine, but the spirit is strong, and the beat never stops. This CD makes a fine supplement to Mosaic's stellar three-disc set of a few years back. Delmark DE 804; Albert Ammons (p): Pinetop's Blues (10/4/39); Pete Johnson (p): G-Flat Blues (9/30/39); "Cripple" Clarence Lofton (p, vcl): Streamline Train/ Pitchin' Boogie/ Mistaken Blues/ Travelin' Blues/ I Don't Know/ Mercy Blues (1938 or 1939); Meade Lux Lewis (p): Doll House Boogie (Sept. or Oct. 1939)/ Whistlin' Blues (9/30/39); Henry Brown (p, vcl): Deep Morgan*/ 22nd St. Stomp*/ Pickin' 'Em Out Again (St. Louis, MO, 8/28/60); Speckled Red (p, vcl): Dirty Dozens* (St. Louis, MO, late December, 1955)/ Dad's Piece*/ Pinetop's Boogie Woogie/ *Right String But the Wrong Yo Yo (St. Louis, MO, 10/30/71); Ammons, Johnson & Lewis: Boogie Woogie Prayer (10/24/39)/ Lewis: Closing Time (6/17/39). Recorded in Chicago, IL, unless otherwise noted. Tracks marked * are previously unissued; 53:48.
In the last few years of his life, the great drummer Philly Joe Jones led Dameronia, a repertory band dedicated to the music of one of the greatest composers and arrangers of the bop era, Tadd Dameron. The nonet's second album, featuring the esteemed tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, was Stop, Look, and Listen. Now Uptown has reissued the date, remixing the whole shebang and adding a pair of worthy previously unissued alternates. For purposes of superior communication among the players, Jones insisted on setting up his drums in the main studio instead of the usual drum booth. As musical director Don Sickler recalls, that demand nearly scuttled the entire session. Luckily it all worked out, and while the drums are still front and center in the new mix, this edition sounds quite fine. Griffin, an old friend of Jones who'd worked with Dameron on The Magic Touch for Riverside in 1962, was clearly ready for this assignment. He sounds superb on both takes of one of Dameron's best-known songs, the beautiful If You Could See Me Now. Those tracks alone offer pleasure enough, but there's much more to savor here. Dameron's charts made the most of limited resources, and Sickler's transcriptions (the written parts have not survived) recreate them with flair. Stop, Look, and Listen offers a nearly perfect match of musicians and repertoire. Warmly recommended.
Uptown UPCD 27.59; Don Sickler (tpt; tenor sax on both takes of If You Could See Me Now) Virgil Jones (t) Benny Powell (tb) Frank Wess (as, fl) Charles Davis (ts, fl) Johnny Griffin (ts on *) Cecil Payne (bari sax) Walter Davis Jr. (p) Larry Ridley (b) Philly Joe Jones (d); Look, Stop and Listen*/ If You Could See Me Now*/
Choose Now/ Focus/ Killer Joe*/ Dial B For Beauty/ Our Delight*/ Theme Of No Reif You Could See Me Now* (alternate take Look, Stop and Listen* (galternate take 1); From the Vaults
Although the decades-after-the fact issue of Kenny Dorham leading a quintet live at The Flamboyan, Queens, NY, 1963 seems precious to jazz fans today, and rightfully so, the very ordinariness of the circumstances provides an added dimension. The music is taken from a Monday night after-midnight broadcast from an obscure club in the New York City borough of Queens. From the sound of host Alan Grant's exhortations to come down to the club ("No cover. No minimum. No admittance charge!"), it sounds like the place is pretty empty.
To place this document in context, it was made on the job 10 weeks before Una Mas, the first of six Dorham/Henderson collaborations on record. Sound is better than average for Sixties airchecks, particularly when it comes to the horns. The perennially underrated Dorham is masterful on a gorgeous version of "Summertime," and he turns in superior solos on his own Una Mas (still without its ultimate title) and an upbeat look at Autumn Leaves. Joe Henderson is in fine form, spinning robust improvisations that sing and soar. A crisp rhythm section led by pianist Ronnie Mathews with bassist Steve Davis and drummer J.C. Moses supports the leaders with a blend of power and restraint. Don't know about you, but I can never get enough KD, so I'm very happy to have this document of a good night from his prime years, well documented in Uptown's deluxe booklet.
Uptown UPCD 27.60; Kenny Dorham (t) Joe Henderson (ts) Ronnie Mathews (p) Steve Davis (b) J.C. Moses (d); Queens, NY, January 15, 1963; Dorian/ Alan Grant speaks with the band/ I Can't Get Started/ Summertime/ Alan Grant speaks/ My Injun From Brazil (Una Mas)/ Autumn Leaves/ Alan Grant speaks/ Dynamo (Straight Ahead); 53:15.
One of the last projects that trumpet master Freddie Hubbard was working on before his death in December 2008 was a reissue album drawn from a 1969 concert tour. Without A Song: Live In Europe 1969 features Hubbard in fabulous form fronting a quartet with the versatile and hard-driving rhythm team of Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums.
The occasion was a package tour known as the Jazz Wave that featured a number of acts playing short sets. The format, rare for trumpeters, allowed Hubbard to act as the only horn in the group without burning himself out by playing too much. Drawn from concerts in England and Germany, Hubbard and company tackle a gratifyingly wide range of material, including the blues, a pair of standards, and Dizzy Gillespie's bebop classic, "A Night in Tunisia." As the catchphrase goes, it's all good. To put this set in perspective, Hubbard went back to New York after it was over and recorded Red Clay, one of the highlights of his career, the following month. A beautiful release.
Blue Note 97093; Freddie Hubbard (t) Roland Hanna (p) Ron Carter (b) Louis Hayes (d); l.Without a Song/ 2.The Things We Did Last Summer/ 3. A Night In Tunisia/ 4.Blues By Five/ 5.Body and Soul/ 6.Space Track/ 7.Hub-Tones; London, Dec 13, 1969 (1 & 7), Bristol, England, Dec 14, 1969 (2-4), or Germany, early Dec, 1969 (5 & 6); 69:43.
The reliable and soulful tenor saxophonist Houston Person is back with Mellow, the latest in a long series of releases for HighNote. All the Person characteristics are here, including his wonderful tone that incorporates a little Gene Ammons and a bit of Ben Webster, winning solos, and a tasty selection of standards and jazz favorites. His perfectly attuned co-conspirators swing effortlessly. Lest you think from the title that the proceedings will be totally laid-back and relaxed, rest assured that Person's definition of Mellow includes the hard groove that he puts onto Bobby Hebb's Sunny or the uptempo drive of Lester Leaps In. When Person caresses a ballad like Too Late Now, you just want to lean back and soak it all in. Sure, it seems a bit nostalgic, but when the music is this tasty, it's best to just go with the flow.
HighNote HCD 7206; Houston Person (ts) John di Martino (p) James Chirillo (g) Ray Drummond (b) Lewis Nash (d); Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 23, 2009; Sunny/ Too Late Now/ In a Mellow Tone/ To Each His Own/ What a Difference a Day Made/ Two Different Worlds/ Blues in the AM/ Who Can I Turn To?/ God Bless the Child/ Lester Leaps In; 56:02. www.jazzdepot.com
Mainstream jazz is in solid hands with Eric Alexander, whose latest HighNote release, Revival Of The Fittest, finds the saxophonist in stellar form. On all but one track, he's aided and abetted by a masterfully swinging rhythm section headed by veteran pianist Harold Mabern. Alexander's soaring sound, effortless command of the hard bop vocabulary and rhythmic suppleness are displayed on a well-paced set of tunes that you don't hear very often plus a couple of Mabern's funky originals. The pleasures of this music are many, beginning with a absolutely terrific solo by Mabern on his own Too Late Fall Back Baby followed by a commanding Alexander solo, full of double-timed, soulful phrasing. Then there's Alexander's warm ballad side, as displayed on an oldie like Love-Wise. He's revealed more and more of a Coltrane influence over the years, and it gives him a more edgy sound, as revealed in his masterful solo on Mabern's Blues For Phineas.
Drummer Joe Farnsworth, an Alexander regular, and bassist Nat Reeves are flexible and bouncy. The album ends with Alexander in duet with pianist Mike LeDonne on the saxophonist's lone original, Yasashiku (Gently), a lovely way to wind up.
HighNote HCD 7205; Eric Alexander (ts) Harold Mabern or Mike LeDonne* (p) Nat Reeves (b) Joe Farnsworth (d); Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 14 or 28*, 2009; Revival/ My Grown-Up Christmas List/ The Island/ Too Late Fall Back Baby/ Love-Wise/ Blues For Phineas/ You Must Believe In Spring/ Yasashiku (Gently)*; 55:44. www.jazzdepot.com
Veteran pianist Cedar Walton seems to improve with age. His latest HighNote release is Voices Deep Within, with the hardswinging Walton leading a trio with long-time associate Buster Williams on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring makes it a quartet on four tracks. Walton's taste in sidemen and repertoire are impeccable. With so much history to draw upon, Walton can pick and choose from his own large catalog of songs when he's putting together a new album. Voices Deep Within, for instance, debuted in 1985 in trio format. The crowd-pleasing Dear Ruth, a tender shuffle, first appeared in 1992 on an Eastern Rebellion album.
The disc gets off to a roaring start with Herring and Walton tearing through the title track. A bouncy stroll through Eubie Blake's Memories Of You follows, with Jones moving over to brushes. Herring is back for Stevie Wonder's Another Star, which fits the band's style as it had been written for them. Before the disc is through, Walton has put his stamp on everyone's favorite ballad Over the Rainbow, Sonny Rollins' tasty 1953 blues, No Moe, and a spirited rendition of John Coltrane's Naima, a tune that Walton helped the composer with by voicing the closing piano chords back in 1959. A winner.
HighNote HCD 7204; Vincent Herring (as on *) Cedar Walton (p) Buster Williams (b) Willie Jones III (d); Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 20, 2009; Voices Deep Within*/ Memories Of You/ Another Star*/ Dear Ruth/ Something in Common*/ Over the Rainbow/ Naima/ No Moe*; 56:55. www.jazzdepot.com
Drummer Towner Galaher put together a fine sextet in the Jazz Messenger mold for Courageous Hearts. His original compositions are squarely in the Sixties Blue Note mold, starting out with the title track. It's an upbeat shuffle that opens with the first of trumpeter Brian Lynch's idiomatically persuasive solos, followed by Craig Handy wailing on tenor. Percussionist Gabriel Machado adds some spice, but it's down to Galaher to spark the proceedings. The opening two tracks put Galaher's drums right out front, but he doesn't generate the fire that the music really needs. For the most part, he's saved by his soloists, especially Lynch, who never plays a dull note, veteran trombonist Fred Wesley, and a loosely funky George Colligan at the piano.
Boogaloobop is an attractive upbeat number, with an excellent trombone solo. Galaher is more relaxed and propulsive, on Second Line Samba. He gets to mix it up with percussionist Ze Mauricio, and the bold rhythmic flow provides an extra kick for soloists Wesley, Lynch, and Handy. The least interesting track is a misguided drum-centric arrangement of Hot House, with breaks for Galaher to show off a bit that sap the flow of Tadd Dameron's famous melody for no good reason. Nice piano solo from Colligan and another tasty spot by Lynch, though.
The second half of the disc is more consistently satisfying. April 28th (Vivre Égale A Vous-Même) is another boogaloo. Anchoring the rhythm section, Galaher digs deeper here to good effect. There's more fine work by Colligan on Londel's, with its last-set bluesy feel. A Latin-flavored reprise of the title track, Courageous Hearts (Rhythm of Victory) is one of the disc's highpoints, with more potent soloing and a unified ensemble sound. Mongo Santamaria's Afro Blue gets a lengthy workout to end the disc on a high point, though I doubt a seasoned producer would have faded it out in the middle of a trumpet solo.
This mostly enjoyable self-produced release would probably have benefitted from a tighter hand at the helm, leaving Galaher to concentrate on his drumming.
Towner Galaher Music no #; Brian Lynch (t) Fred Wesley (tb) Craig Handy (ts) George Colligan (p) Charles Fambrough (b) Towner Galaher (d) Gabriel Machado (perc on *) Ze Mauricio (perc on #); April 28-29, 2008, NYC; Courageous Hearts*/ Boogaloobop/ Second Line Samba#/ Winter Sunrise/ Hot House/ April 28th (Vivre Égale A Vous-Même)/ Londel's/ Courageous Hearts (Rhythm of Victory)*/ Afro Blue*; 46:06. www.townergalahermusic.com
Guitarist Graham Dechter, currently a member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, steps out as a leader on Right On Time. Surrounded by his rhythm section mates in the big band, Dechter applies himself to a canny selection of older jazz songs, including three from the Duke Ellington songbook. In fact, the most recent piece is the eccentric 42-bar title track, written in 1979 by Dechter's father, Brad Dechter.
The leader has an appealingly warm sound and a clean tone in the best jazz tradition. His thoughtfully structured solos tell all kinds of stories, and he seems relaxed no matter what the tempo. Drummer Jeff Hamilton breaks out on a maniacally fast version of Johnny Hodges' Squatty Roo. Bassist John Clayton's feature is Ray Brown's Lined With a Groove. Pianist Tamir Hendelman contributes a hard-driving solo on this one. Together, the three have a tight rapport with the crisp swing of a working unit. The proceedings are really rather old-fashioned, but there's still life in these familiar songs, and they're very nicely played.
Capri 74096; Graham Dechter (g) Tamir Hendelman (p) John Clayton (b) Jeff Hamilton (d); Hollywood, CA, November 29-30, 2008; Low Down/ Wave/ The Nearness of You/ I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues/ Broadway/ Right On Time (Db Tune)/ Squatty Roo/ With Every Breath I Take/ Lined With a Groove/ In a Mellow Tone; 59:37.www.caprirecords.com
The scene at Smalls jazz club in New York spawned any number of lasting connections among like-minded musicians. In his notes to New Music, bassist and composer Ari Roland notes that he's been playing with saxophonist Chris Byars and pianist Sacha Perry every week for the last 22 years. Drummer Keith Balla is a relative newcomer, with just 5 years in the group. That kind of regular music-making leads to the friendly blend of playfulness and serious focus that the quartet brings to the date.
With his work grounded in the hard bop and progressive jazz trends of the Fifties and Sixties, Roland writes attractive lines that sound vaguely familiar and generate spirited solos from Byars and Perry. The endlessly inventive Byars has a bright and warm sound, with echoes of Paul Desmond in his alto and a touch of Warne Marsh in his tenor. He seems to thoroughly enjoy contending with Roland's complex harmonies. Perry, a soulful player with lush voicings, is a tidy and hard-driving soloist. Roland, pretty handy with a bow, has an arco solo on every track, with a sound that recalls Paul Chambers with a hint of Slam Stewart.
While the unfailing and refined swing of Roland and Balla will definitely put a smile on your face, the unchanging routine of sax, piano, and arco bass solos, followed by the trading of four-bar phrases wears thin pretty quickly. For that reason, New Music is best enjoyed in small doses.
Smalls SRCD-0046; Chris Byars (as, ts) Sacha Perry (p) Ari Roland (b) Keith Balla (d); River Edge, NJ, May 25, 2009; Damonesco/ Village/ The Finder Of Horsehair/ Station Blues/ Portrait Of M./ Story Of Three/ Folk Melody; 45:32. www.smallsrecords.com
Aaron Parks' flowing piano lines animate Invisible Cinema, his debut as a leader after a stint in Terence Blanchard's group. Most of the tracks are by a quartet featuring Parks on piano with guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland, all of whom have played together in various other ensembles. All of the songs are original, and while they often have a pop flair to them, Parks and group play them with an improviser's sensibility buoyed by the tough, emphatic rhythms of drummer Harland.
Blanchard has made a specialty of writing jazz-based film scores, so think of this as the soundtrack to a movie that hasn't been made yet. Things get off to a nice start with the intriguingly bouncy Travelers. Moreno joins the trio for Peaceful Warrior, a lengthy investigation of a heroic-sounding theme that goes through several changes of tempo and phrasing with the guitar and piano trading off as lead voices.
Parks overdubs keyboards and more on the dramatic Nemesis, but it doesn't hide the limitations of the tired chord structure. Harland's funky backbeat gives Riddle Me This some bite. Parks is adept at setting moods and while his solos tend to be a little busy, as a accompanist he takes a more minimalist path, darting in and out in response to the soloist. Playing the blues on Roadside Distractions, he gets a little funky himself, then turns around for another calmly atmospheric excursion on Harvesting Dance, with electronic keyboards augmenting Parks' piano.
The folky Praise, a long and lithe theme that emphasizes the lyrical side of Parks' playing, is next, and which he continues to investigate his gentle side with Afterglow, a delicate solo piece that concludes this carefully sequenced date. Well worth a listen.
Blue Note 09011; Aaron Parks (p, mellotron on 3. glockenspiel on 3, keyboards on 3, 5, 6, 8) Mike Moreno (g, exc on 1, 5, 10) Matt Penman (b, exc on 5, 10) Eric Harland (d, exc on 5, 10); Brooklyn, NY, January 20-22, 2008 & NYC, March 1, 2008; 1.Travelers/ 2.Peaceful Warrior/ 3.Nemesis/ 4.Riddle Me This/ 5.Into the Labyrinth/ 6.Karma/ 7.Roadside Distractions/ 8.Harvesting Dance/ 9.Praise/ 10.Afterglow; 55:00.
Parks helms the attentive rhythm section of the Francesco Cafiso Quartet on Angelica. The main attraction is Cafiso's insistently clear and bright sound. The set opens with a respectful and very slow treatment of Billy Strayhorn's A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing. Pleasant, but not a grabbing opener. King Arthur is the first of four originals by the saxophonist. It jumps from a fragmented theme into a real burner fueled by Adam Cruz's peppy drumming. Pianist Parks lays out for long stretches, insinuating his way back into the music with a snaky line that becomes the core of his solo.
The title track, an Ellington tune from his 1962 date with John Coltrane, is the real convincer. The combination of Cruz's dancing beat, Parks' broad voicings, bassist Ben Street's fluid bass, and Cafiso's bouncy and elastic style, this time with plenty of grit and bite in his tone, is utterly winning. From there, I was ready to follow the quartet wherever they decided to go, and that's in the direction of balladry and relaxed tempos that dominate the disc. Besides the always cogent and often exciting saxophone of Cafiso, it's pianist Parks who makes the strongest impression here. His solos are models of probing invention and concentrated lyricism. This one's a pleasure through and through.
CAM Jazz CEM 5033; Francesco Cafiso (as) Aaron Parks (p) Ben Street (b) Adam Cruz (d); NYC, September 1-2, 2008; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing/ King Arthur/ Angelica/ December 26th/ Peace/ Scent of Sicily/ Waiting For/ Why Don't I/ Winter Sky; 53:37.
Many in Body, One in Mind by the Bobby Zankel Trio showcases the emotionally direct alto saxophonist at the helm of a distinctly unified and focused unit. Zankel is yet another product of the fertile Philadelphia scene that has spawned such powerful hornmen as John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Odean Pope and many more.
The common thread that unites their disparate sounds is the sense of nourishment, the feeling generated by a deep attachment to and an immersion in the blues. In Philly, more often than not, that kind of emotional catharsis is pushed in a spiritual direction. The intense spirituality of late-period Coltrane and the examples of one-time teachers Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Lyons are the main guiding forces of Zankel's music. On alto, he has a marvelously liquid sound, rich, broad-toned, and full of the cry of the blues. He and veteran drummer Edgar Bateman have been playing together on and off since 1976.
Zankel's acquaintance with bassist Dylan Taylor is nearly as long, so the trio's interactions feel as natural as breathing. Except for Bateman's unusually flavored Journey To Life, all of the tunes are Zankel's, simple soaring melodies that by their phrasing generate a lot of forward momentum. This is potent and satisfying music, another marvelously transparent and revealing recording from the CIMP label.
CIMP #365; Bobby Zankel (as) Dylan Taylor (b) Edgar Bateman (d); Rossie, NY, May 7-8, 2007; One in Mind/ Observing the Mind/ Spirit Mirror/ Journey to Life/ Revealing the True Identity/ Never Disparaging; 63:42.
On Proverbs For Sam, Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble offers an effective blend of world music and free jazz in a septet heavy on atmospheric percussion. Leader and composer Cole wields a trio of reed instruments, a Chinese sona (or suona), and the Indian shenai and nagaswaram, in addition to Ghanaian flute.
The first three tracks capture the ensemble live at New York's Vision Festival in 2001. The opener comes on strong, a romping and stomping chart that balances the horns of Cole, soprano saxophonist Sam Furnace, and brass specialist Joseph Daley with the percussion of Warren Smith, Cooper-Moore, and Atticus Cole. The music is balanced on the imperturbable flow of the masterful bassist William Parker, no stranger himself to the mixture of jazz and ethnic musics that Cole explores here.
If a blacksmith... calms things down considerably, a relaxing and soothing interlude. Things pick up again with The drum sounding a message..., more than twenty minutes long with a South African-styled head, propulsive rhythms, and rowdy collective improvisation.
The under-appreciated Sam Furnace, who died in early 2004, played with everyone from Art Blakey to Fred Ho to Julius Hemphill, and this release is dedicated to him. He's in his element here, sparring with Cole atop the swirl of drums and Parker's bass, always at the heart of things. The flutes come out on No one knows the path..., taken from an earlier performance. It's another fairly basic melody elaborated on by the call and response patterns of the band. Strong stuff, and with Cole's simple structures played out at length, it's easy to relax and just go along with the music.
Boxholder BXH 056; Bill Cole (Chinese sona, didgeridoo, Indian shenai, Ghanian fl, Indian nagaswaram) Sam Furnace (as, fl) Joseph Daley (bari horn, tba, tb) William Parker (b) Warren Smith (perc, marimba, vcl, whistle) Cooper-Moore (diddley bow, rim drums, fl, vcl) Atticus Cole (perc); NYC, June 1, 2001, or *Burlington, VT, March 31, 2001; Don't wait for the day of battle before getting your weapons ready/ If a blacksmith continues to strike an iron at one point, he must have a reason/ The drum sounding a message in war is beaten in a cryptic manner; only wise men can dance to I, and only experienced men can understand it/ *No one knows the path in a garden better than the gardener; a follower should always allow his guide to lead; 76:00.
Chicago mainstay Fred Anderson, one of the hardest blowing tenor saxophonists ever to take the stage, is still plugging away. A pair of superb recent releases show him digging ever deeper into his personal amalgam of blues, bop, and unfettered free expression. Staying in the Game is a studio trio date with his frequent collaborator, the ever-impressive Harrison Bankhead on bass plus the versatile Tim Daisy on drums.
The spontaneous compositions reflect the feelings of the day, and Anderson had the blues on his mind. He nails it on the lengthy opener Sunday Afternoon, a commanding performance that grabs you from the first downbeat and never lets go. The interplay between Anderson and Bankhead comes to the fore on The Elephant and the Bee, a duet that begins with an appropriately buzzing bass and opens up to a free-form conversation between swirling tenor and quick-fingered bass.
A hyperactive Daisy is the catalyst for the unstoppable 60 Degrees in November, a furious 10 minute onslaught. Wandering starts out in Africa with the sound of a kalimba. Anderson meanders in for a relaxed dialogue that evolves into a trio with Bankhead's inquisitive bass joining in for a lovely and understated piece. The tempo is back up for the stirring Springing Winter, and the set concludes with Changes and Bodies and Tones, an occasion for open solos by a rollicking Daisy, a fiddling Bankhead, and a majestic-sounding Anderson. A wonderful CD.
Its live-on-stage counterpart is 21st Century Chase, presenting a long set recorded at Anderson's long-time Chicago club, the Velvet Lounge. The date was Anderson's eightieth birthday, and he spent it doing what he clearly loves to do above all else: play for the people. A joyous Bankhead is on board, with Chad Taylor taking over on drums plus Jeff Parker joining on guitar.
Best of all is the presence of Kidd Jordan on tenor. Together, Anderson and Jordan put a modern spin on the venerable two-tenor format. They're capable of pushing and prodding one another to almost unbearable intensity. By the sixth minute of 21st Century Chase Pt. 1, they're flying and things really take off from there. There are solos, duos, call and response sections, and much more including a mind-bending sax duel around 25 minutes in. The music is a total joy, but Anderson and comrades are also great to watch, with a vigorous and colorful stage presence.
Luckily, you can check it out for yourself on Delmark's DVD of the same evening, which includes a bonus track, with rediscovered bass master Henry Grimes making an appearance. It's a multi-camera shoot that puts you right in the middle of the action on the small stage. There are some annoying special effects thrown in here and there, but that doesn't seriously detract from the excitement. Anderson's commentary track, reminiscing in an interview with Steve Wagner of Delmark, is a nice extra.
Staying in the Game: Engine E029; Fred Anderson (ts) Harrison Bankhead (b) Tim Daisy (d); Chicago, IL, November 2, 2008; Sunday Afternoon/ The Elephant and the Bee/ 60 Degrees in November/ Wandering/ Springing Winter/ Changes and Bodies and Tones; 67:14. 21st Century Chase CD: Delmark DE 589; Fred Anderson, Kidd Jordan (ts) Jeff Parker (g) Harrison Bankhead (b) Chad Taylor (d); Chicago, March 22, 2009; 21st Century Chase Pt. 1/ 21st Century Chase Pt. 2/ Ode to Alvin Fielder; 68:55. 21st Century Chase DVD: Delmark DVD 1589; Fred Anderson, Kidd Jordan (ts) Jeff Parker (g) Harrison Bankhead (b; cel on *) Henry Grimes (b on *) Chad Taylor (d); Chicago, March 22, 2009; 21st Century Chase Pt. 1/ 21sy Century Chase Pt. 2/ Ode to Alvin Fielder/ Gone But Not Forgotten*; 83:55.
The extraordinarily prolific composer, saxophonist, and bandleader Anthony Braxton travels far afield for Quartet (Moscow) 2008. The unique lineup of Braxton's reeds, Taylor Ho Bynum's panoply of brass, Mary Halvorson's electric guitar, and Katherine Young's bassoon provides a wide range of tonal colors to work with. As usual with Braxton's concert work of late, the performance was taken up with a single long piece.
Composition 367B is an exploration of contrasts in timbre, silence, and the attack and decay of individual sounds. There's no beat, or even a pulse, just the undeniable force of time manifested in forward motion. There aren't really many solos per se so much as brief passages where one or another voice dominates the proceedings. Surprises lie in details like Halvorson's extended finger-picking interlude, Bynum's darting comments, and Young's broad growl. There's plenty of dense interaction to explore, and fans will welcome this release, even if everyone else is scratching their heads and trying to figure it all out.
Leo CD LR 518; Anthony Braxton (sop s, ss, as, cbcl) Taylor Ho Bynum (cnt, flgh, pice t, bass t, valve tb) Katherine Young (bsn) Mary Halvorson (el g); Moscow, Russia, June 29, 2008; Composition 367B/ Encore; 73:07.
Trombonist Bill Lowe has a long and distinguished jazz career, working with bandleaders as widely varied as Frank Foster, Henry Threadgill, James Jabbo Ware, and Alan Silva. In The Othertet, Lowe brings his skills and experience to bear in a quartet that pairs him in the front line with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum. With the exploratory Joe Morris on bass and a steady Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng on drums, the disc is characterized by relaxed and adventuresome playing that puts as much emphasis on solos as it does on the high level of interplay within the group. With Lowe and Bynum sometimes soloing simultaneously, and at other points riffing or growling in counterpoint, the music is clearly energized by the way that the brassmen feed off of one another's lines.
The material, contributed by Lowe, Bynum, or improvised by the quartet, ranges over the history of jazz, picking and choosing fragments like a swing riff, an Ed Blackwell drum lick, or a bebop melody and recombine them in fresh ways. A most enjoyable session, definitely recommended.
Engine e028; Bill Lowe (b tb, tba) Taylor Ho Bynum (cnt, flgh) Joe Morris (b) Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng (d); East Windsor Hill, CT, January 14, 2007; 1.one other/ 2. naptown/ trenton/ 3. dreamsketch/ 4.cold day clip/ 5.look below/ 6. tet tw0/ 7.bill's idea; 62:24.
Saxophonist Tony Malaby leads a perfectly poised and balanced quartet on Paloma Recio. A resolute modernist, in the sense that he's always looking for new modes of expression, he never ignores the jazz virtues of restraint and rhythmic vitality. The perennial issue for modern composers of balancing improvisation and composition is one of his main concerns. Malaby's tunes move in mysterious ways. They start out in one direction, dart this way and that into an array of moods and densities before coming to a halt.
The opener, Obambo, fuses a cyclic figure from guitarist Ben Monder with an off-kilter drum beat courtesy of Nasheet Waits and the busy bass of Eivind Opsvik. It's odd, a little nervous and positively intriguing. When Malaby enters, first with brief bursts of notes, then building into a controlled frenzy, it's easy to get carried right away with the group. Opsvik takes the lead on the atmospheric Lucedes that follows, with Monder sending out gentle clouds of chords and Waits moving over to brushes. At various times, the spotlight shines on each of the players. The keen rapport of the group makes every track a fresh adventure. The result is a great record, with music that reveals new depths and details with each listen. Seriously recommended.
New World 80688; Tony Malaby (ts) Ben Monder (g) Eivind Opsvik (b) Nasheet Waits (d); NYC, June 22-23, 2008; Obambo/ Lucedes/ Alechinsky/ Hidden/ Boludos/ Puppets/ Sonoita/ Loud Dove/ Third Mystery/ Musica Callada; 57:58.
Saxophonist Noah Preminger has assembled a killer band for his impressive debut album. Dry Bridge Road draws on the talents of trumpeter Russ Johnson, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Ted Poor to explore six of his own varied original tunes, plus well-chosen pieces by Dave Douglas, Eric Lane, and the classic Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh collaboration, Sax Of a Kind.
The proceedings get off to an intriguing start with the sinuous melody of Luke, an introduction to Preminger's light and buoyant sound and his adroit rhythmic flexibility. A Dream is suitably ethereal, which makes the whomping Today Is Okay that much more thrilling. Preminger and the dynamite Johnson generate enough heat to set their lead sheets on fire, egged on by the go for broke drumming of Poor. I keep coming back to this one for a dose of pure adrenalin. Bassist Hébert introduces Douglas' Blues For Steve Lacy with a aptly exploratory solo before the whole band stretches out into a deeply emotional groove with excellent solos by Preminger, Johnson and guitarist Monder. Preminger blazes through Sax Of a Kind with Poor once again playing hard. Monder shines here as well.
The topsy-turvy melody of Was It a Rat I Saw? gets surprisingly noisy and weird, but I guess a cornered rat is liable to move in any direction in an instant. Relative calm prevails once again on Lane's Real Nice, a pensive little groove that brings out the best in Kimbrough who contributes an astutely analytic solo. Once again, Johnson and Preminger tangle with exciting results, riding the tune out with a surge of lyrical intensity.
Rhythm For Robert ends the date with another piece that will have you squirming trying to keep still and listen while Poor and Hébert conspire to keep you moving. It's a stirring performance of hard driving rhythms, powerful solos, and an ever-rising melody that just doesn't quit. An excellent date, well worth searching out.
Nowt NOWT-002; Russ Johnson (t) Noah Preminger (sax) Frank Kimbrough (p) Ben Monder (g) John Hébert (b) Ted Poor (d); Brooklyn, NY, August 1-2, 2007; Luke/ A Dream/ Today is Okay/ Blues for Steve Lacy/ Sax of a Kind/ Where Seagulls Fly/ Was It a Rat I Saw? (war-distended, nets I draw)/ Real Nice/ Rhythm for Robert; 56:21. www.noahpreminger.com
The Rob Garcia 4 conjures up a solid hour of tastefully grooving modern jazz on Perennial. Drummer Garcia leads a spunky and tight-knit quartet utilizing the talents of saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Dan Tepfer, and bassist Chris Lightcap. Garcia wrote all the tunes save for Ray Noble's reliable Cherokee, and he has a distinct flair for melodic invention.
The drummer has had quite a varied career, recording with acts as disparate as Joseph Jarman, Woody Allen, and the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra. As a leader, he's firmly in charge of the dynamics and the flow of the music. Never confusing volume with intensity, Garcia makes every beat count, swinging hard all the way, and without the slightest rock influence. Pianist Tepfer, who's worked quite a bit with Lee Konitz in recent years, is equally impressive. A passionate soloist, he's also a superbly sensitive comper who adapts rapidly to changes in the musical environment. His crisp work on a tune like the slow-burning Cyberganic is exemplary.
Preminger, who seems to thrive on Tepfer's energized attack and dense cushioning, gets around his horn with facility and controlled power. He gives Garcia's tunes the same microscopic attention and lively playing that he brings to his own songs. Bassist Lightcap, whose comprehensive résumé includes plenty of work with the avant garde, brings a jaunty resolve to his bass lines. He seldom calls much attention to himself, but his presence and authority are strong contributors to the success of this music. The quartet's appealing unity and playful creativity make for a thoroughly pleasing and rewarding release. Heartily recommended.
Brooklyn Jazz Underground BJUR 012; Noah Preminger (ts) Dan Tepfer (p) Chris Lightcap (b) Rob Garcia (d; p on *); Joe-Pye Weed/ Seasons of Stone/ Perennial/ Vortex/ A Flower For Diana/ Little Trees/ Cyberganic/ Spores/ Cherokee/ A Flower For Diana: Reprise *; 60:52.
The accordion has enjoyed a resurgence in creative music circles of late, and now Here Comes The Nice Guy Trio to further the trend. Trumpeter Darren Johnston, accordionist Rob Reich, and bassist Daniel Fabricant are The Nice Guy Trio, augmented on some tracks by various combinations of violin, percussion, clarinet, and more.
Their delicately balanced sound is supple and accommodating to material like Mingus' Fables Of Faubus and Ornette Coleman's Folk Tale along with a host of evocative originals by the members of the band. The Euro-café origins of the band's blend is simultaneously acknowledged and subverted on Reich's The Balancing Act, an introductory jaunt without any guest stars to muddy the waters. That kicks in with Sameer Gupta's tablas, which enliven Johnston's Apples, a feature for his agile and articulate trumpet. Pedal steel guitarist David Phillips plays the horn lines on the Mingus tune, giving the classic piece a new spin. The band's thoroughly enjoyable version balances respect for the material with the willingness to transform it, and the chops to make it new.
Fabricant's one song, the appropriately titled Woeful, showcases his dancing bass. Reich's soulful accompaniment and smooth solo also make a strong impression. Johnston's Simple Life is simply gorgeous, with Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Dina Maccabee's violin warmly blending in with the trio. I could go on, but that would take more time away from listening to The Nice Guy Trio and their even nicer friends. Warmly recommended.
Porto Franco PFR 003; Darren Johnston (t) Rob Reich (acc) Daniel Fabricant (b) Sameer Gupta (tablas on 2, 10) Ben Goldberg (cl on 3, 5) Alex Kelly (cel on 3) Dina Maccabee (vln on 3) David Phillips (pedal steel g on 4, 9) Aaron Keirbel (dumbek & assorted drums on 8); Oakland, CA, no dates specified; 1.The Balancing Act/ 2.Apples/ 3.Simple Life/ 4.Fables of Faubus/ 5.Woeful/ 6.See Ya/ 7.Folk Tale/ 8.Unicycle Cocek/ 9.Amy's Day/ 10.Off the Grid/ 11.Ducei Calypso; 57:27.
Composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda, with his vast and varied canon of cinema soundtracks and recordings, established modern jazz in Poland. Komeda's music was heavily influenced by progressive jazz of the Fifties and Sixties, and now the Komeda Project, co-led by his countrymen saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna and pianist Andrzej Winnicki, returns the favor on Requiem by bringing his music to American musicians. Trumpeter Russ Johnson appeared on the first Project release in 2006. The high-powered bass and drums team of Scott Colley and Nasheet Waits brings a high level of harmonic sophistication and superbly modulated dynamics to the band.
The album opens with Komeda's Night-time, Daytime Requiem, split into three parts by Winnicki, who did all the arranging. Medyna's brawny tenor takes the lead on part one to explore the full range of his horn. Winnicki's sensitivity and delicate touch belie his strength at the keyboard. Colley takes a truly lovely solo in part two, perfectly set up and shadowed by the piano. Russ Johnson's clear tone and well-structured solo dominate the third part, which is informed by the music of Charles Mingus. Waits is superb here. The whole band shines on Ballad for Bernt, another Komeda composition, originally part of the soundtrack for Roman Polanski's 1962 classic, Knife In The Water. Komeda, composer of the music to Rosemary's Baby, is shown above in a vintage photo running down a score with his studio group.
Another highlight is the restrained Litania, an episodic piece that includes concentrated solos separated by iterations of a stately theme. Winnicki contributes two of his own tunes, the exceedingly pretty Elutka, a through-composed and out-of-tempo feature for the whole band, and Anubis, a churning little blues that ends the set and features a stunningly acrobatic solo by Johnson. Komeda provided an attitude and a wealth of compositions for several decades of Polish jazz, and it's only fitting that modern American players should play them. Strong material and accomplished musicians often lead to stellar results. This is a great set, one that sounds better each time I hear it. Heartily recommended.
WM Records WMD 0-358852; Russ Johnson (t, flgh) Krzysztof Medyna (ts, ss) Andrzej Winnicki (p) Scott Colley (b) Nasheet Waits (d); Brooklyn, NY, April 2009; Night-time, Daytime Requiem (Parts 1-3)/ Ballad for Bernt/ Dirge for Europe/ Astigmatic/ Elutka/ Prayer and Question/ Litania/ Anubis; 59:41. www.komedaproject.com.
Reedist Jacám Manricks and his quintet, with the occasional help of a chamber orchestra, offer admirably restrained sounds with a serious mien on Labyrinth. Manricks wrote all the tunes, and he offers brief notes about their genesis and structure. It takes adaptable and capable players to tackle his complex structures, influenced, as he notes, by composers like Debussy and Schoenberg. The tunes don't burst out and announce themselves so much as unfold through a series of twists and turns.
Fortunately, the musicians are more than up to it. In bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, Manricks has a sensitive and dynamic rhythm team. Ben Monder is invaluable, contributing delicate acoustic guitar and atmospheric electric guitar to the proceedings. Pianist Jacob Sacks negotiates Manricks' tricky tunes with grace and poise. Manricks is mostly heard on alto, where he has a smooth and liquid sound though not without some bite. The title track shows him at his best, as he solos as length over the churning rhythm section.
Manricks' charts for Micro-Gravity and March and Combat reflect his interest in impressionism. They're full of unpredictable movement, delicate color, and the pieces flow with the quintet that surround them. Manricks' aim is to provide "beauty, sophistication and a clear path to musical expressions."
I'd say he's succeeded on all counts. Recommended.
Manricks Music no #; Jacám Manricks (as, ss, fl, alto fl, cl, bcl, shells) Ben Monder (el & ac g) Jacob Sacks (p) Thomas Morgan (b) Tyshawn Sorey (d) on *, add: Laura Arpiainen, Ann Marie Bermont, Kiku Enomoto, Garry Ianco, Brooke Quiggins (vln) Marla Hansen (vla) Maria Jeffers (cel) Amie Margoles (Fr hn); June 6-7, Englewood, NJ; Portal/ Micro-Gravity*/ Labyrinth/ Move/ Cloisters/ Aeronautics/ March and Combat*/ Rothko; 57:57. jacammanricks.com
The bewitchingly adroit rhythm team of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey are only part of the appeal of Bafa by the Timuçin Ôahin Quartet. Leader Ôahin, pronounced 'Sahin', originally from Turkey, is an electric guitarist who employs a unusual double-necked model combining a 7-string fretless guitar with a regular 6-string. There are definite echoes of Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, and John McLaughlin in his sound, but his crisply adventuresome angularity and a choppy urgency in his attack are all his own. His measured use of the expanded pallette afforded by electronic effects gives his music another dimension.
Then there's the fourth member of the band, the ebullient alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher, who consistently impresses with his bright sound, assured rhythmic drive and deft improvisatory style. Ôahin's original tunes are full of unusual time signatures, broken melodies, and unexpected chord progressions that serve to generate conversational interplay within the group. This is one of those albums that rewards multiple listening because it's impossible to fully absorb everything that's going on. Take It's Time for an example. Morgan and Sorey are mixing up the time, and I want to focus on what they're doing, but Ôahin is taking a killer solo and I take to pay closer attention to that and ... well, you get the picture. Go get it while you can find it.
Between the Lines BTLCHR 71221; John O'Gallagher (as) Timuçin Ôahin (7-string fretless & 6-string fretted double-neck g, elec) Thomas Morgan (b) Tyshawn Sorey (d) Marcel Wierckx (comp prog on *); Brooklyn, NY, August 31, 2008; Around B/ I Also Know How to Live Like Stars/ It's Time*/ Bafa*/ New Years Letter/ Elif/ Ciccado & Guguk; 58:19. www.challengerecords.com
Adventuresome listeners would have much less music to challenge their ears and preconceptions without stalwart entrepreneurs that start record labels to reflect their own tastes. One such invaluable music lover has been Leo Feigin. Without his Leo imprint, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2009, we would have missed so much imaginative and daring music that no one else would have put out. The occasion for these musings is the latest provocation from the prolific label, In Search of a Standard, by the trio of Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky, Andrei Kondakov and Vladimir Volkov.
Here we have three accomplished Russian musicians reconstructing standards and jazz classics. For most of the tracks, it's easy to guess at the raw material from the titles for the new "tune." Sometimes the source is clear to the ear as well, while on other occasions the original composition is so transformed that it's difficult to hear it. Wintertime, for one example, is spacious and hushed as a snowfall. Not until the very end does pianist Kondakov play a little of the melody of Summertime. Guyvoronsky is a trumpeter that tends to tunnel into the material with a quizzical tone and a sound that encompasses clear tones along with splats and raw bursts of sound. He sneaks up on Caravanserai with nimble backing from bassist Volkov. Kondakov shifts from accompanying the trumpet solo on hand percussion to an aggressive piano solo. This caravan makes a lot of stops during the eight minutes before it comes to a rousing finish. The trio comes up with just the right blend of respect and playful invention to make the music work. Definitely worth a listen.
Leo CD LR 544; Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky (t) Andrei Kondakov (p, perc) Vladimir Volkov (b); St. Petersburg, Russia, May 2009; Don't Take the "B" Train/ Miles's Exercises/ On the Other Side of the Street/ Wintertime/ Caravanserai/ Unsophisticated Lady/ Standard/ Someday; 47:20.
The music of the Klare/ Maris/ de Joode/ Vatcher quartet on Played 1000 moves in mysterious ways. The prevailing mood is somber, and even a bit stern, but saxophonist Jan Klare, trumpeter Bart Maris, bassist Wilbert de Joode, and drummer Michael Vatcher do have their playful sides. It just comes out in strange ways, like the strangled duet for Maris and Klare on the first track, "City Forest," or Klare's later honking solo like he'd come across a lakeful of ducks.
Most of the tunes are credited to Klare, with "Panorama" based on a theme by Monteverdi and "Fountain" on one by Ravel. The others are free improvisations credited to the quartet. There's usually no attempt to do anything so pedestrian as to swing, and more often then not, there's not even a pulse to hold onto. Nonetheless, thanks to four strong individual sounds with definite ideas about the way improvisations work, the music both moves forward and holds your interest. The spaciousness of the band's interactions allows each instrument to be heard as an equal voice in the proceedings. Maris' quizzical trumpet, Klare's blustery saxes, de Joode's aggressive and physical bass playing, and Vatcher's ultra-dynamic approach to the proceedings make for one finely balanced and continually surprising ensemble. Definitely recommended.
Leo CD LR 539; Bart Maris (t) Jan Klare (rds) Wilbert de Joode (b) Michael Vatcher (d); Leiden, the Netherlands, October 26, 2008, or , Köln, Germany, October 15, 2008; City Forest/ Panorama (Canzonette)/ Museum/ Pavement/ Fence/ Skywalk/ Park/ Fountain/ Warden/ Pedestrian*; 48:29.
Who would have thought to rock out with alto saxophone and chromatic harmonica leading the way? Why, Steuart Liebig & The Mentones, that's who. "Contrabassguitarist" Liebig wrote all the tunes for Angel City Dust, and while they take off in various directions, they all share kickass beats thanks to the leader and excitable drummer Joseph Berardi. Bill Barrett wails like nobody else on the chromatic harp, with Little Walter attitude and technique tied to a modernist sensibility. A gruff Tony Atherton on alto dukes it out with him. The Mentones make music that appeals to the head as well as the feet. It's funk with brains, and a gas all the way through.
pfMENTUM CD057; Tony Atherton (as) Bill Barrett (chromatic hca) Steuart Liebig (contrabassguitars) Joseph Berardi (d, perc); Los Angeles, CA, January 10-11, 2009; fingeroo/ wool/ all gone/ empty/ locustland/ fie & ice/ lonelyheart/ slow burn fever/ kingfish/ out, down and over/ headlock/ peach tree/ topped off; 56:09.
The bass clarinet, more often than not, is used in the jazz world as an another color in the instrumental arsenal of a saxophonist or clarinetist. Jason Stein, however, plays nothing but bass clarinet, and his dedication to the instrument is, as near as I can tell, unique among improvising musicians. Previously heard on record as a member of various Chicago ensembles, as well as leader of his own trio for Clean Feed in 2006, In Exchange for a Process presents Jason Stein Solo.
He's up to the challenge, and the eleven pieces amount to a sampler of his evolving grab-bag of techniques on the expressive horn. From the swirling lines and controlled honks of "For the Sake of Edgar Pollard," it's clear that Eric Dolphy (who brought the instrument to the attention of jazz fans and recorded several solo features on the horn) is a big influence on Stein. If the first track nods in the direction of where solo bass clarinet begins, the strangled cries of "For Ishan," combined with the rapid and controlled execution of long convoluted passages, bring us up to the present. Before the disc is over, we'll hear the requisite squeaks and growls, games with reeds and breath, bop-like melodies that take off into realms unknown, a quivering tone that criesat the top of the horn's range, and more.
The closer is a boisterous piece that features Stein singing through the horn, a la Dewey Redman. Art Lange, in his enthusiastic notes, characterizes these pieces as "spontaneous etudes," which strikes me as exactly right. But one player's etudes are another's practice session - a bit of this goes a long way.
Stein is definitely worth hearing on his own, but as an extended musical experience, I found myself growing impatient after a few tracks in succession. For home listening, it's best to mix this up with other expressive and uncompromising music.
Leo CD LR 549; Jason Stein (bcl); Chicago, IL, October 19-20, 2008; For the Sake of Edgar Pollard/ For Ishan/ History-Histrionics/ Paint By Number/ E.P. and Me/ Hysterical Eric/ Murray Flurry/ Temporary Framing of Dr. J./ Homemade Chicago/ For Peter/ Fiction of C.G. 42:38.
Scoolptures is a quartet of three instrumentalists (bassist Nicola Negrini, reedist Achille Succi, and drummer Philippe Garcia) plus sound manipulator Antonio della Marina, credited with sinewaves and live electronics. Prime instigator Negrini and Garcia also contribute live electronic treatments to the proceedings on Materiale Umano.
The first track, Brainslice, lays out most of their musical parameters: fierce and free alto saxophone over busy bass and energetic drums, sliced, diced, and altered in ways that augment the band's interactions without obscuring them. After all, as the title proclaims, it is the human material that interests them.
There's a brief note, in radically distorted type, to the effect that there was no prearrangement involved in the recording. The tracks, mostly between two and six minutes, flow into one another, and sometimes it feels like they were sliced out of longer improvisations. The instruments nearly always sound like what they are, with an overlay of distorting electronics. Succi's volatility on alto and bass clarinet are central to the quartet's peregrinations. He's the main voice, and a commanding presence, with the close-miked recording catching every click of his keys (or are those just electronic blips I hear?).
For the most part, they make spooky soundscapes loaded with unexpected fractures and echoes. Tempestuous, edgy, and sometimes teetering on the edge of random noise, the music makes for totally cool and enthralling headphone listening. Check out the other-worldly Liverslice, with its mutant percussion, or the subterranean aura of Breathslice, with a whispered and altered voice. The only real let-down is the rather unpleasant Lostslice, a dirge-like number with treated wordless voice and braying bass clarinet. Scoolptures' music is aggressive and demanding, not the kind of music you'll be able to relegate to the background. Definitely worth a listen.
Leo CD LR 546; Nicola Negrini (b, metallophone, live elec) Achille Succi (bcl, as, shakuhachi) Philippe Garcia (d, vcl, live elec) Antonio della Marina (sinewaves, live elec); Mantova, Italy, April 24-25, 2009; Brainslice/ Bellyslice/ Tactslice/ Chunkslice/ Liverslice/ Lipslice/ Breathslice/ Hipslice/ Lungslice/ Nerveslice/ Lostslice/ Tumslice/ Skinslice; 57:44.