Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solo bass

By Stef 

My latest solo bass review only dates from end February, and here we are again with a new list of new albums.

Benoît Cancoin - Instants Minuscules - Solo Pour Un (Blumlein, 2013) ****

The first album in this overview is presented by French classically trained bassist Benoît Cancoin, who offers us four pieces of around fifteen minutes each, all played arco, not in a studio, not live, but in front of selected friends. The first, "Plume", is fully bowed starting slowly yet gaining full and almost monotonal increase in intensity, an offering to the newly born Plume, the daughter of his dancer friend Laure, yet the minimalism leaves room for more explorative parts, rough and sensitive built around silence. 

And it this exploratory journey that makes Cancoin's music interesting, hard to grasp, and hard to predict even, switching between long minimal and hypnotic repetititions and cautious sonic excursions with lots of empty space to more dense moments, yet despite the avant-garde approach, feelings remain at the heart of the music. 

Antonio Bertoni - Half Hour Drama (Leo, 2013) ****

France-based Italian bassist Antonio Bertoni, offers us something of a completely different nature. Inspired by the German avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys' movie "One Hour Drama", in which for one hour a bottle is filmed and nothing happens at all except for the breathing of the cameraman. 

Bertoni's music is luckily of the same boring nature, but it is equally a statement. For approx. thirty-six minutes he bows his strings with relentless energy, never once slowing down or changing his approach. And what may seem as monotonous, is anything but, quite to the contrary, it becomes a mesmerising experience of raw energy and physicality and endurance, which leaves the listener almost as exhausted as the artist when the final notes ring. 

Coti ‎– Solesulsuolo (Antifrost, 2013) ****½

And this is also something else. Performed by Milan-born Greek musician Constantino Luca Rolando Kiriakos, in the meantime known as Coti K. He does not play bass, but his self-created instrument, the "Oniscus harmonicus", a seven-string instrument tuned in semitones.

The result is nothing short of amazing. The artist uses lots of overdubs and collates his music with an incredible sense of drama and storytelling. Every sound is part of a longer narrative and atmosphere, in which anticipation is created with every note, a tension built for new events to unfold.

Coti K is not a jazz musician, but he has been a member of several pioneering electronic bands. There are no electronics here, with the exception of the attention given to a high quality sound and careful layering of the recorded material.

The end result is extremely beautiful, moving and sad.

Marco Serrato - Seis Canciones Para Cuervo (Self, 2014) ****

Marco Serrato, the bassist of the Spanish doom metal band Orthodox brings us an amazing solo album, a kind of concept album on the lives of  a crow, as its title "Six Songs For A Crow" suggests, further illustrated by the beautiful cover art, a painting by Javi Pessoa. As you might expect from this context, the atmosphere is not really joyful or hopeful, but drenched in powerlessness and doom. The first track gives nothing more than scratching the strings of the bass, and even if it sounds irreverent on my side, it is just a fact, and one that evocates the crow's attempt to sing, yet nothing but hoarse croaks result from it. 

On the second track, Serrato offers us an overdub of beautiful arco, playing the theme of Hindemith's double bass sonata, over a backdrop of eery high level bowed sounds. The third track is again with overdubs of various dissonant takes, inspired by Ligeti and Xenakis, and the title "the crow devours the eyes of its father", as an oedipan ring to it, full of paradoxical feelings of hunger and disgust. On the longest track, "Las Dos Caidas De Cuervo", the music develops hesitantly and slowly, with plucked and bowed sounds alternating in a universe of silence and loneliness, gradually growing in volume and power, only to be calmed down by distant piano tones turning the bass into high-ringing flageolets until out of nowhere trumpet, drums and heavy piano chords crush the bass sounds under an avalanche of sound, an idea take from Simon H. Fell's "Compilation", with whispers taken from Black Sabbath's "Children Of The Grave".

A more than interesting album, and as you have understood, not for the faint of heart, but fully on the right side of good taste.

Inspired by Ted Hughes and the unborn, you can listen and buy from Bandcamp

Jon Mapp - The World Will End With A Bang (We Are K Records, 2014) ***

British electric bass guitar player Jon Mapp serves us a virtual experience of the end of the world, also using overdubs to bring his art. Again, this is not jazz, nor rock, as Mapp's musical universe is broader than genres. 

As for the end of the world, it is not here yet. Mapp's music sounds even joyful and light-hearted for such an event, with lots of calm, gentle and open-textured compositions, with guitar-like sounds in the higher register setting the melodic theme. Overall an interesting exercise by a technically gifted musician, but we could have done with more tension and power. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

David Helbock’s Random/Control – Think of Two (Traumton Records, 2014) ***½

In a world, random at the basic level, a semblance of order has been established, taken up through the scales, and all that resulted, among others into creatures that create.  Music for instance.  Now you take two of the real musicians (Thelonious Monk and Hermeto Pascoal) or rather their music and start another creation. In this case that means : you amass a staggering amount of noisemakers, there is three of you and you call yourself Random/Control. Your names are : David Helbock, Johannes Bär and Andi Broger. What do you do, you have listened to the masters themselves, you have listened to many interpretations of the masters’ music, you have about 10 instruments each, which allows for 30 + 300 + 1000 + 1 possible small sound-producing clusters.  And you have the curiosity of children playing with the minds of controlled musicians. You uncovered the humour so often overlooked by others.

It must be incredible fun. Sometimes I cannot but think that musicians are the most privileged humans on the planet, being just there and doing just that. Disregard all needs. Now luckily we can participate in this joy. Live of course, nothing beats live (they must be awesome live) or once removed.

Think of Two” you call your record and the people who are affected by the names will flock to it. You take Hermeto’s Voa Ilza, introduce the jungle noises and the merry dance ensuing. Do Bresil naturalments. These days I like music that makes my foot tap. Helbock plays the piano with blocked strings, giving it a great Cagean percussion sound, and there is some ferocious taking it away. Even blown through a straw. And some great stride piano. And so on. You can’t dance about architecture. End with the theme. And stray in another world, pulled deeper in, pulsing in the distance, piano pulling out notes, and this all building into the wonderful Round Midnight. Their version is there with the greats. Hush now. Allow the velvet. Once again I can go on and I won’t. They end with Think of One, starting it off in a Tibetan temple ceremony then bringing it down the mountain, chopping it up and after lapsing into lazy swing, they pull out the stops and leave you with that most wonderful moment  :  the silence immediately after a great set.  No applause. And after a long silence they give you one last bit. Ending it like a broken radio. Magic.

I do not mince words today.

David Helbock says that he feels very good in the area “zwischen kontrolliertem Spiel und freiem Spiel” and they all do. Sometimes you get hit by music that takes you places. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chicago Underground Duo - Locus (Northern Spy, 2014) ****

By Stef 

The duo of Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on percussion becomes a real orchestra, by adding layers and layers of sound, performed on their instruments, or ambient or electronically altered. Mazurek at times sounds like a full horn section in a big band, joyfully soloing on top of it, with Taylor's beats repeated and edited for maximum effect.

Like on previous albums, the overall sound alternates dark passages with celebratory and upbeat injections, as a collage of sonic colours, danceable even, as a great mix of sounds from across the globe, but preferably its most tropical parts, its most tropical parties, in a dense atmosphere of warm fun with subterranean gloom and high energy madness, built around a rhythmic backbone supporting a great "moqueca" of musical influences and genres, of jazz, of techno, of electronics, of film music, of street music, without limit and restriction, welcoming everything in the same stew, as long as it's tasteful, compelling, dramatic or fun, including "a Ghanian folk tune and Ennio Morricone played on cornet, drums, mbira, ballophone, bamboo flute and Game Boy". Nineteen years after its inception, the latest incarnation of the Chicago Underground Collective is still alive and kicking!

Join the festivities. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Colin Vallon Trio: Le Vent (ECM, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Single notes like heavy drops of port wine on the tongue. A house at a Swiss lake, a porch on a warm summer’s night, it is 4 a.m. A soft breeze is coming from the water. The music on the stereo comes down on you like an Erik Satie melody with a huge wind chime in the background. However, there is an austere solemnity to the notes, an enormous sadness combined with the utmost beauty. This is “Le Vent”, the title track of the new album of the Colin Vallon Trio.

After their ECM debut album “Rruga” drummer Samuel Rohrer has left the trio and was replaced by Julian Sartorius which means that pianist Colin Vallon has had to take over more compositional responsibility. The result is that the compositions are even more fragmented, reduced and minimalist than the ones on their two previous albums (their first album was “Ailleurs” on HatHut). On the other hand the trio sounds more like a unit, a real collective stripped bare of unnecessary solo excursions. The compositions unfold slowly, yet consequently, Vallon’s subtlety is more in the focus than before, which puts more emphasis on the composition itself.

Tracks like “Le Quai” and “Cendre” are airy, easily accessible, light-headed examples of the new dimension Vallon and his collaborators have reached – and Manfred Eicher’s typical ECM sound is just perfect for this music. However, it is not always just pure atmosphere, the band can also add slow grooves to the songs, like in “Immobile” or “Pixels”, especially the last one being a melody which is brushed against the grain of the pulse of the track.

Yet, not everything is subjected to the new sound. The album is bookended by "Juuichi", a composition by bassist Patrice Moret, which reminds of the repetitive and slowly shifting and even driving motifs from “Rruga”, and the collective composition “Coriolis”, in which Vallon's prepared piano snippets entwine with Julian Sartorius' bells to create, over a simply bowed bass line, the feeling of a falling icy rain during the return of livestock from Swiss high alpine summer pastures - a track with almost Wagnerian qualities (listen to the mock alphorn in the background).

“Le vent” is an album for fans of classic piano trios, for listeners who like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. It is not as adventurous as RED Trio for example, but the compositional standard is absolutely high and the musicianship is great as well. Absolutely worth a try.

Listen to “Juuichi” here:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

J. Spaceman and Kid Millions - Live at the Poisson Rouge (Northern Spy, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

I have seen many concerts over the years and there are moments I will never forget. One of these events is Spacemen 3’s gig in Stuttgart’s recently closed club “Die Röhre” in the late 1980s. When guitarist Jason Pierce entered the stage he stubbed out a fat joint, sat down on a bar stool and then the band started a huge chord that went wrooooom, it was a psychedelic symphony par excellence (they even taped keys on their organ to make the drone last before they left the stage). Spacemen 3’s credo was "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to" (J. Spacemam really lived it.) His follow-up project Spiritualized has made seven albums full of drug imagery (among them the seminal “Lazer Guided Melodies”, “Pure Phase” and "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space", which came packaged as a giant pill). Today Pierce has stopped taking drugs after being diagnosed with severe liver damage some years ago but his music still breathes the old Spacemen 3 attitude, even when he teams up with free jazz musicians (check out the last 20 minutes on Spring Heel Jack’s “Live” album and you know what I mean).

On September 11th, 2013, J. Spaceman and Kid Millions (John Colpitts of Oneida, Man Forever, People of the North) performed an improvised set at New York's Le Poisson Rouge club and the first track “Misha” (obviously an homage to Misha Mengelberg) is a hallucinatory 24- minute jam in exactly this old Spacemen 3 spirit. The beginning sounds as if the two were tuning their instruments before the track changes almost unnoticed to a minimal, monotonous and sheer endless one-chord-ride with Pierce using loops and wah-wah-effects which sounds as if two or three guitars were at work. “Han”, again a long track lasting more than 20 minutes, uses a staccato loop, and Pierce lets his guitar howl and scream and yell in a huge feedback orgy. Especially towards the end, when he puts the sounds through the effect grinder, it is a great whirlwind of noise but the staccato loop takes some getting used to which is why this track cannot give off the magic of “Misha”. The show ended with two encores, “New York” and “London”, both brute noise orgies which even remind of Neil Young’s “Arc/Weld” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”. 

This is not the usual music we have on this blog but sometimes I can’t get enough of it.

Live at Poisson Rougeis limited to 3000 copies, it’s a 12″ LP with a bonus 7″. A download card comes with each record.

It is available today, Record Store Day.

Make sure you get a copy.

Listen to „Misha“ here: 

Sax Ruins - Blimmguass (Skin Graft, 2014) ****½

By Julian Eidenberger

Yoshida Tatsuya is the lone gunman of the Avant-Prog prairie. In the course of a career that spans almost three decades by now, he has only occasionally performed in a conventional rock-band context, and when he did, his stints usually didn’t last very long. Tellingly, his main musical outlet, the Ruins, was (and, in a way, still is) not a full band, but a duo in which the drum maestro performed alongside a rotating cast of bassists. Four different bass players (one at a time, of course) have played in the Ruins over the years, and after the last one had left – not long after the release of the excellent Tzomborgha –Yoshida decided to continue without a bassist, under the moniker Ruins Alone. This little narrative is not, of course, meant to imply something about the drummer’s character. The point of this introduction is a rather obvious one: unflinching dedication to a cause can often result in your being the only one left.

In Yoshida’s case, though, this has not impeded his musical career in the least. Unable to find a bassist with the skill and spare time needed for the Ruins, he has – as mentioned above –turned the Ruins into a tape- and/or computer-assisted one-man enterprise. Moreover, he has recorded and performed with several high-profile avant-garde musicians, among them John Zorn, Keiji Haino, Uchihashi Kazuhisa and Satoko Fuji. That’s elevated company, and many of those collaborations don’t just look good on paper, they’ve also yielded (at times) spectacular results (Erans, the duo recording with Satoko Fuji, deserves particularly high praise).

Viewed against this background of excellence, the recorded output of Ruins Alone (so far) is a bit of a letdown. The sole full-length release suffered from a sterility that often comes with man-machine interplay, and didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. In a way then, Sax Ruins – a project with saxophonist Ryoko Ono (that’s just one letter away from good old Yoko) – can be viewed as an attempt to remedy those shortcomings. Blimmguass is the duo’s second full-length, and considering its quality, I have to kick myself for missing out on the Ipecac-released debut.

While the new record features mostly revisions of well-known Ruins classics, that’s not a problem at all – not even if you’re a long-time fan like me. The saxophone is, of course, endowed with an expressiveness that’s far beyond the scope of even the most heavily effects-treated electric bass, and Ono’s virtuosic playing brings out moods and colors the originals could only hint at. Vrresto starts off the record, and it’s a fine enough opener, but the first real jaw-dropper here is Refusal Fossil. In four short minutes, it assaults with jarring stop-start blasts and multi-tracked sax blowing that easily rivals the volume and intensity of a violently strummed electric guitar; this is punchy jazz-punk on par with Zorn or Zu. The title track, which I assume is a completely new song, is no less impressive, albeit a bit more varied. At first, it’s a wild ride, with the saxophone struggling not to be thrown out of the saddle by the drums’ permanent changes of direction. A little later, it segues into a much calmer middle section, dominated by sustained tones and reminiscent of the melancholy ballads of 70’s King Crimson. Towards the end, of course, the mayhem returns.

Since listening to this record is a lot more fun than reading a track-by-track retelling of it, I’ll leave it at that; that being said, Zwimbarrac Khafzavavrapp (how’s that for a song title?) probably deserves special mention. Originally written for the Asphalt Orchestra, an avant-garde marching band performing songs by artists as disparate as Björk, the Pixies or Meshuggah, it’s the longest and most nuanced track here, shifting from powerful marching rhythms to exuberant melodicism in the blink of an eye. To make a long story short, this is a great record, and I think the “post-bass” Ruins have never sounded this vital before. Here’s hoping that Ono, whose contributions throughout really are amazing, will stay for the long haul.

Check out a track here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Frode Gjerstad-Hasselt (NotTwo, 2014) ****½

By Ed Pettersen

I’ve been following Norwegian reed man Frode Gjerstad for years, even collaborated with him a few times but Hasselt, his new disc recorded live at the Hasselt, Belgium Cultural Centre in 2006 is perhaps his meatiest and most lyrical work to date.  Simply put, this album is a powerful statement far exceeding the scope of a simple live quartet recording.  Sabir Mateen’s sax work proves the perfect counterpoint and foil for Frode’s muscular, multi-timbre explorations and the two sound like they practically read each other’s minds in their taut interplay on the album’s five tunes.  It is so well executed it leaves you wanting more hoping maybe more was played at the concert not included here (which is kind of the point isn’t it?).

Drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen Love who has worked extensively and sympathetically with Mr. Gjerstad before is on skins again here and truly shines and holds it down keeping the bold improvisations grounded and, dare I say, rocking and solid.  To me he’s sort of, for the rockers among us, the Keith Moon of free jazz.  He swings, propels, titillates yet keeps perfect time (the last not necessarily something Mr. Moon was known for alas…).  The real surprise for me here is Danish bassist Peter Friis-Nielsen.  He squeezes every bit of funky goodness and growl out of his double bass while still retaining a strong pulse and never losing his intonation.  No small feat.  This is expansive work by all involved.

My wife has read some of my reviews and given me a hard time for using too many superlatives and fluffy journo-speak to describe the music so here’s what I would tell my best friend: When you first put this disc the opening song feels like your first gulp of strong coffee in the morning only to realize you want more and more which invigorates your system but somehow leaves no jittery buzz but simply fuzzy, bouncing warmth and pure energy.  I’ve listened to it five times already start to finish and could easily put it on again without feeling like I’ve heard it before at all.  To me there’s no stronger recommendation than that.  In fact, I’m so taken my this record that I almost forgot to write about it because each time I think about it I had to put it on again and I drifted off again with its thundering, exhilarating storm.  Not a bad island to be stranded on for a good while.

Highly, highly recommended stuff.  If this is your first introduction to Frode Gjerstad’s work there could almost be no better place to start but don’t stop here.  He rarely repeats himself and has a vast catalog well worth researching.  His work on this recording includes sax, flute and occasional clarinet and he’s highly proficient on each.  Kudos to the entire unit on this record.  They could well be considered a classic line up in years to come whether they record again or not.  That’s how good they sound together here.  I could prattle on and on and wax more poetically but it wouldn’t add anything more to this gem without ruining your own discovery of this set and possibly overstating it.  Simply, check it out.  I think you’ll dig it.  As we Scandinavians say, “Skol!”

Available from Instantjazz.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord – Liverevil (Hot Cup, 2014) ****½

By Chris Haines

This live double album not only shares a similar title to the famous live Miles Davis album, by all but one character, but also has that sort of exploratory fusion vibe to it at times. As the title suggests it certainly whips-up a potent brew that goes down well.  However, there’s no copying going on here and Lundbom’s clear musical vision continues to make him the original artist that he is.

The sound of the band is top notch and the tunes are played well throughout. The pieces are allowed to breathe in the live environment and the creative musicianship from all the band members gives the well-known tunes a new lease of life.  Lundbom’s playing is excellent and his smooth legato work nestles alongside more angular passages and mazey runs where free playing and more traditional jazz forms meet.  On occasion the music feels barely contained by the structures and the playing threatens to burst the forms wide open.

Great moments and interesting sounds keep appearing throughout the album such as the mash-up between electric piano and drums, multiphonic punctuations and nasal tones from the saxophones, ‘On Jacation’ sports its John Scofield-like guitar sound, which Lundbom wields extremely comfortably, and ‘Bring Forth The Battalions’ with it’s dirge-like feel, which Lundbom excels on.

There’s a buzz about this album and the excitement in the atmosphere comes across in the recording, and not just from the whoops and calls from the audience, but tangibly, so that it’s very presence can be felt within the music itself.

This is a great album and although some live albums can be for completists or die-hard fans this is not one of them.  This double-album contains a couple of great tunes from his studio albums, several new tunes and a suite of Wiccan prayer songs previously unrecorded.  This album could also serve as a good place to start for those wanting an introduction to his music, in fact, this is highly recommended for anyone wanting to hear great music!

Musicians : Jon Lundbom on guitar, Jon Irabagon on alto and soprano saxophone, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto! saxophone, Moppa Elliott on bass, Dan Monaghan on drums, and Matt Kanelos on keyboards.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Boots Brown - Dashes to Dashes (Häpna, 2014) ****

By Stef 

Boots Brown is a different kind of band, maybe also of brand. It consists of musicians we know from different contexts and different sounds. Mats Gustafsson on alto, David Stackenäs on guitar, Magnus Broo on trumpet, and Johan Berthling on bass. 

The four musicians interact with short phrases, with single note responses, in a murmur of dialogue, soft-spoken and intense, open-ended and surprised at each other's interjections, yet sufficiently interested to add some of their own. But it is more than call and response. The four create something together, something spontaneous, with instant lyricism, like birds of different breeds celebrating the first light of day. It is gentle, a celebration of sound, somewhat abstract and also intimate co-creation, agitated at times but never for long, fragile in the lightness of its overall texture yet solid in the conviction of each instrument to let its voice be heard. Despite its lightness and lack of density and low volume, this is not minimal music, there is a lot happening actually, many things that are inventive and fun and a pleasure to the ears, even if these ears get stretched a bit at times.

The most amazing thing is that this sound is created by these musicians in particular. Possibly it is closest to Stackenäs' usual idiom, but even then. This is not your usual Gustafsson or Broo or Berthling, and still despite the know voice of each of these musicians, they manage to create something this different, so quiet and human and abstract. A great demonstration of versatility, band coherence and open-mindedness .


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A couple solo piano discs: Kris Davis and Myra Melford

In the spirit of the recent set of piano related reviews, Troy Dostert digs deeper into Kris Davis' and Myra Melford's recent solo efforts.

By Troy Dostert

Here we have two outstanding contemporary pianists, each with a distinctive vision.  Of the two, Myra Melford is the veteran, having been around since the mid-80s, and recording with her own groups since the early 1990s.  Her Alive in the House of Saints (HatHut, 1993) remains, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of the finest live piano trio recordings of the last few decades, a masterful record that manages to be sublimely lyrical, technically dazzling, and irresistibly accessible, with a dynamic groove established by Lindsey Horner (bass) and Reggie Nicholson (drums) that works perfectly with Melford’s compositional approach.  

Kris Davis is the (relative) newcomer, although the list of noteworthy recordings she’s released over the last few years is impressive, many of which have been reviewed on this blog.  (Listen to her Paradoxical Frog release, Union, with Tyshawn Sorey and Ingrid Laubrock, for an especially strong glimpse of what she brings to the table).

Both players are highly adventurous in their own way, with Melford generally choosing a more melodic approach to her compositions, although not without freer moments of abstraction and dissonance.  Davis, on the other hand, is in some respects the more challenging composer, with pieces that are alternately dense, complex, and minimalist, sometimes all within the same piece.  She is certainly the less accessible of the two pianists, but the rewards of persisting with her music are substantial.  Okay, so much for the preliminaries: let’s get to the records at hand!

Kris Davis – Massive Threads (Thirsty Ear, 2013) ****

Davis’s playing on this record is especially intriguing for the diversity of styles it showcases.  The first cut, “Ten Exorcists,” is a stunning and captivating track, which relies for much of its seven or so minutes on just one or two notes, struck rapidly in a minimalist technique that Davis then gradually develops into more complex passages, all while keeping the simple tonal center at the core of the improvisation, and with independent ideas explored with each hand.  From the very start, Davis is letting the listener know that this isn’t going to be an “easy” record; it’s going to challenge and confront, rather than drawing in, her audience.  But the brilliance of her technique on this track signals that there will definitely be some memorable moments in the process.

With the second track, “Desolation and Despair,” Davis shifts gears radically, going to a much more spartan musical vision, getting the most musical value possible from just a few notes, using space and silence to great effect, and as the title of the piece suggests, it’s a haunting and bleak musical statement.

The centerpiece of the record is really the fourth track, “Massive Threads”: it’s the longest of the eight tracks, at over 10 minutes, and it perfectly illustrates the way in which Davis embodies a technically sophisticated but austere, demanding approach to her instrument.  It’s also another example of Davis’ astonishing ability to develop separate ideas with both hands simultaneously, as she does at the opening of the track.  Then, as the piece develops, Davis gravitates toward the lower end of the piano, using progressively stronger and weightier chords, eventually building to a powerful two-handed workout in the bass register.  It’s almost overwhelming: relentless, and pummeling (“massive” threads indeed!), until finally retreating a bit, giving the listener some mercy, as she explores a lighter theme before going back to more tension and power with driving chords in the bass register and then, finally, diminishing, with a few spare interjections at the upper end of the keyboard to bring things to a close.

The rest of the tracks are similarly distinctive and imaginative; Davis has clearly planned this record carefully, offering unique statements with each track.  And each track is well-named also: yes, the fifth track, “Dancing Marlins,” really does remind one of spry, exuberant fish, full of life and surprise!  And there’s even a great Monk cover (“Evidence”).  True to form, Davis develops it in a careful but abstract manner.  Although it takes a while for the tune’s melody to come into focus, it does emerge, and Davis displays her distinctive voice wonderfully as it unfolds.

It’s a fine recording, and especially strong in revealing Davis as a terrific improviser and one whose compositional approach is both forceful and intriguing.  If I had to offer a quibble with it, I’d say that at times Davis’s concept strikes me as a bit cold and severe.  While I’m certainly not averse to being challenged in my musical explorations, I did at times struggle to find an emotional core in the music that would allow me to enjoy it on a less cerebral level.  Davis does what she does really well; but this might not be a record I’ll come back to listen to as often as others that have left a stronger emotional impact on me.

Myra Melford – Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12, 2013) ****

Just as Davis’s opening track on her record signaled what was to come, Melford’s “Park Mechanics” will sound familiar to those who know her music: it’s animated by a jaunty, rhythmically buoyant ostinato, with a strong melodic feel.  Melford’s ability to get the toes tapping is evident on a number of cuts; “Attic,” the sixth track, offers a rather funky flavor at points, even while the tune at its core is rhythmically complex.  There’s a subtle blues voice that colors a lot of Melford’s playing; this is the more “jazz”-oriented of the two records, without a doubt.

With eleven tracks to work with, Melford doesn’t offer any marathon-length performances, but there’s a lot of stylistic variety, especially on the first half or so of the record.  I hear some Keith Jarrett influence on “Red Land,” with another compelling left-hand use of ostinato, with ringing chords in the right hand; and Melford’s oft-cited debt to Cecil Taylor is apparent on “Piano Music,” where her technical skill with percussive flourishes and powerful note clusters is truly attention-grabbing.  In addition to the more up-tempo tracks, where Melford is often at her best, she also has a way with more reflective pieces, as on “Red Beach” the second track.  It’s a ruminative, melancholy statement, with a somber but also uplifting delicate melody she explores as the piece develops.

It’s an excellent recording overall, although the last half of the record does meander a bit; Melford’s compositions were somewhat less successful on the final few tracks, and they lacked the more convincing sense of purpose established earlier in the record.  The last track, “Still Life,” offers a charming little tune, but it wasn’t quite enough to rescue the more lackluster tracks that preceded it.

For fans of solo piano records, both of these recordings are definitely worth checking out.  While Davis’s is the more imposing record, it’s got a lot to offer; and although Melford is just as technically brilliant, she is a bit more willing to let loose and dance from time to time.