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Monday, April 30, 2007

Dave Ballou - Insistence (Steeplechase, 2007) ****

This is the second album by Dave Ballou with only bass and drums in support, a real trumpet trio, an unfortunately all too uncommon line-up. Ballou is a great trumpeter, with broad background and expertience, who played amongst others with Rabih Abou-Khalil, Kenny Werner, Tom Varner, Satoko Fujii. To play in a trumpet trio setting you need to be strong both in the musical composition and in mastering the instruments : the players are not only vulnerable because of the exposure, but more importantly, you have to keep the listener's attention only through the musical power you bring, rather than through the breadth and depth of arrangements of a bigger band. Luckily, this trio with Michael Formanek on bass and Randy Peterson on drums is strong enough to avoid those pitfalls, bringing abstract improvized music, focussing on the interplay and the spontaneous joint creation. The CD starts a little hesitantly, almost vulnerable, but the title song "Insistence", brings some uptempo life into the album, not quite boppisch but close enough, with strong blues inflections in Ballou's playing. "Upon Reflection" is a slow meditative piece, with a melancholy trumpet, economically accompanied by the coloring accents of bass and drums. "Randy Starts" is not only the title of a song, but to all expectations the only preconceived part of a piece which starts with Randy Peterson's drums, giving the intro for the other two to join in. This is music which requires attention, music that is not readily accessible in the sense that rhythm and melody are not there on the surface of things, yet the quality of the playing closes a gap which all too often appears with too proficient instrumentalists : they play with soul, with warmth and with a directness of approach which appeals immediately. Ballou has what Dave Douglas often misses in my view : warmth. Recommended : for sensitive listeners who like some effort.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Cracow Klezmer Band - Remembrance (Tzadik, 2007) ****

The Cracow Klezmer Band keeps producing albums of the highest calibre. Als this one is a treat, yet unfortunately it is the dessert on their menu. Jaroslaw Bester, the founder of the band, started a new ensemble earlier this year : the Bester Band. And that's a pity, because this acoustic band with violin, bass, accordion and percussion (and once in a while a clarinet), brings klezmer music indeed, drenched in melancholy so typical for the genre, but they lift it to a higher level, without the dance, outside the song format, to an intense, chasing, menacing, dark, sad mix of traditional scales with modern structure and improvisation. And the four musicians excell at their instruments. This album does not offer any new songs, but gives us a live performance from somewhere mid-2005, with a selection of songs from their previous CDs, all released on John Zorn's Tzadik label : "Recollections of the Past", "Memento Mori", "Klezmer Rhapsody" come from The Warriors, "The Tree Of Life", "The Migration of Souls", "A Devilish Tale" and "The Colors Of The Heavens" are from Bereshit, and "Awaiting" from De Profundis. There is, as usual, not one weak moment in the whole performance. On the slow passages,as well as on the most repetitive, forward-moving uptempo pieces with speedy unisono lines, their musical expressiveness remains of the highest level. But the ultimate strength of this band, next to the sheer musicality they offer, is the tension they bring to every piece, and which keeps the listener attentive and captivated from beginning to end. A pity this is their last album. Let's look forward to hear from the Bester Band.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake - From The River To The Ocean (Thrill Jockey, 2007) ****

Not many will be able to use their own well-known recipes again, and yet bring it in an interesting and refreshing way. The first two pieces on the album hail back to boppy free jazz in which especially Fred Anderson feels at ease like a fish in the water, and the last three are more inspired by Hamid Drake's leaning for spiritual jazz with middle-eastern chants and scales. They did the same thing on their previous album together, but also in their collaborations with William Parker, then succesful, now again. Jeff Parker on guitar, Josh Abrams on bass and guimbri, and Harrison Bankhead on bass, cello and piano, all three belonging to the Chicago jazz scene, bring the variation in the line-up, and also offer depth and additional color to the recipe. And by all standards this is free jazz of the highest order : accessible, full of variation, emotional, with musicians who inspire each other while playing. The first two songs are the "river songs", close to the source, deeply set in a blues mood. Both Anderson and Drake are originally from Louisiana and the River represents to all expectations the Mississippi and the Blues. The Ocean links the blues with the rest of the world and with spiritual infinity. That's at least my philosophico-musical interpretation of the title. The "ocean pieces" offer to me the the most beautiful part of this CD - they're slow, rhythmically strong, melodic, with Drake singing with his limited knowledge of Arabic, and with Bankhead figuring strongly on bass and cello. Anderson and Drake are both superb throughout the album. This is music with a light tread, yet with incredible depth. Great!

William Gagliardi - Memories Of Tomorrow (CIMP, 2006) ****

Saxophonist Bill Gagliardi has done two great things : he assembled this band and made a record with it, with John Carlson on trumpet, Ken Wessel on guitar, Dave Hofstra on bass and Lou Grassi on drums, or put differently, some of the best of the best of the free jazz scene. The long opening piece "Coup d'Etat Follies" is a long meandering song with few anchor points yet which is still organized and structured. The very light guitar play of Ken Wessel works on the whole like cream in the soup, softening the texture, enriching the flavor. "Let's Play" is more joyous, slightly boppish, with strong solos. The most beautiful piece is the title song "Memories Of Tomorrow", which starts calmly with light arpeggiated guitar play by Wessel, supported by arco bass, and add to that some extremely beautiful free interplay of the theme by sax and trumpet, almost unisono, but not quite. Free jazz is unfortunately appreciated by too few people, but a song like this one is so incredibly strong that even classical symphonic orchestras or jazz big bands could play it without any problem of style conflict. Those who don't like free jazz don't know what they miss, and they miss a lot. "The Key To The Gates" is almost as good : incredibly beautiful, with all musicians at their peak, and again the guitar of Wessels adds the nuance, the coloring, fingerpicking some chords, adding a glissando touch, .... and in combination with the expressive sax and the muted trumpet this makes some astonishing, sensitive, sad music. Really, the non-free-jazzers don't know what they miss.

Ken Vandermark - Three reviews

It is quite a challenge for the jazz lover to keep track of Ken Vandermark. Every few months he releases new material, with new bands, with new names, on different labels ... The good news is that whatever he does, he keeps treating us to some great music, ... for those who are not afraid of some powerful blowing.

(((Powerhouse Sound))) Oslo/Chicago : (((Breaks))) (Atavistic, 2007)***

The first album in this row has a rather special concept. The first part is recorded in Oslo, Norway, with Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Nate McBride on electric bass, Lasse Marhaug on electronics, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and of course Vandermark on tenor sax. The second part, re-edited with added musicians Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums brings the same music.

This music is actually led by the basses and the drums, and is at times rhythmically superb. Vandermark keeps at his usual powerplay, and that's what he's best at, with short powerful balsts, funky and rhythmic. The new element here is that the electronic coloring gives the music a totally different dimension, at times disturbing and interrupting, at times enriching. Vandermark himself describes it as follows : "The three major influences I considered when putting the music together were the rhythmic ideas of James Brown, the dub ideas of Lee Perry and the collage ideas of Public Enemy."

Territory Band - New Horse For The White House (Okkadisk, 2006) **

Territory Band is a different ball game. This 12-strong ensemble blows the roof off your house on this triple CD. The music is complex, varied, risky, with top musicians, only ... it is not really my thing. I have no problem with chaos, yet this album is at moments hard to keep listening to : too much is going on at the same time, there isn't enough recognisable structure (I never thought I would put this ever on paper!), ... maybe I should just listen to it a couple of more times to really learn to apprecitate it, but it will take effort. For the courageous.

Lane/Vandermark/Broo/Love - 4 Corners (Cleanfeed, 2007) ****

This album brings us back to more familiar territory : the quartet à la Ornette Coleman with Vandermark on sax, Magnus Broo on trumpet , Adam Lane on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. All of them are fantastic musicians, yet Adam Lane is my favorite here (check out the CD's he released in the past years). And the result of these gentlemen's combined effort is excellent. The first piece "Alfama" immediately offers all the variation you might expect from such a band : strong pulsing rhythms with unisono sax and trumpet, coming to a sudden halt for a long unaccompanied bluesy trumpet solo, that is first supported by some subtle drums which forces the energy back into the piece, into higher and more intense spheres, picked up by a hard-bopping sax solo like runners in a 4 x 100 relay race. The second piece "Spin With the EARth" starts with an African theme and melody, reminiscent of Don Cherry, that is deconstructed into shreds of solo and it gets gradually built up again rhythmically. On "Lucia" Vandermark steals the show with his fiery bass clarinet soloing. This CD offers a lot : freejazz, hard bop, blues, afro-jazz, funk, intens harmonic interplay and shouting counterpoint.

Of all the line-ups Vandermark played in for the last years, 4 Corners is one of the best. Adam Lane brings a deep musical and bluesy feeling to the band, and Broo adds the melodic and sometimes joyous sound. From the three CDs reviewed above, my not so very courageous choice would go to this one.

Matt Lavelle Trio - Spiritual Power (Silkheart, 2007) ****

Matt Lavelle is a multi-instrumentalist : he plays trumpet, flugelhorn and bass clarinet. This is, I think, his first CD with a trio, and it is more than appealing. He is accompanied by veterans Hilliard Green on bass and Mike Thompson on drums. The lack of a harmonic chordal instrument is more than compensated by the intensity of the interplay. The tone for the album is set from the first piece, "Spiritual Power" : a powerful, chasing, relentless propulsing composition that gets out the best of the three musicians. The same intensity continues on the second piece, with the trumpet being changed for the clarinet. Don't look for clearly delineated melodies here, but that is definitely not the objective. The third piece, "Si Se Puede" gets Spanish shouting support from the musicians and is an exhilirating, pulsing, halting song with powerful drum and bass work. After all this intensity, "End Times" brings a moment of rest in the album : Green plays arco for several minutes, to be joined by Lavelle on the bass clarinet, who takes over the initiative and further improvises on the sad theme. The most beautiful piece is "I Will Have Love In My Life" that starts with a drums solo from Thompson and which evolves into a bluesy free theme that hails back to the roots of jazz. Great stuff. For those who like open and unpredictable music.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Quick Review - several albums

John Zorn, Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron - Moonchild

The John Zorn I don't like. Or put differently : I don't understand this music. Lack of inspiration, loud, ... immature. I usually make the effort to listen to the whole CD, even if this requires hard and nerve-wracking concentration. I tried twice with this one and I failed.

William Parker Bass Quartet - Requiem

By comparison, William Parker's Requiem is a real adventure : four basses and the howling sax of Charles Gayle. The four basses keep within the same tonal register for the whole duration of the album, slowly mumbling in the background, mourning if you want, interspersed with screeching arco sounds. There is no melody on this CD, hardly any rhythm, you can't discern one bass from the other, you can't discern one song from the other, there are no bass solos, they keep rumbling and bowing, yet the total effect is devastating - keep listening. And then once in a while the sax soars above the basses : screeching, howling, crying. Keep listening : intently. This is sad music. Dedicated to the great bass player Peter Kowald and to the great bass player Wilber Morris. Keep listening.

Eric Vloeimans - Gatecrashin'

Eric Vloeimans is a more than capable Dutch trumpet player, yet this CD lacks unity of vision. What is it?Mainstream? Pop? Erik Truffaz? Electronics? Great musicians, no doubt, yet poor compositions.

Uri Caine & Paolo Fresu - Things

Again, by comparison, "Things" by Uri Caine (piano) and Paolo Fresu (trumpet, flugelhorn) is really a great piece of music. Classics and own compositions. Extremely well played. Very mainstream. Very emotional. Very respectful. For the quiet evening.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin - Stoa

This album also starts with an interesting piano band line-up, yet it's the opposite of Caine & Fresu : strange music, often hardly jazz, yet always rhythmic, very melodic, repetitive by moments, yet surprising, creative. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

John Lindberg - Ruminations Upon Ives And Gottschalk (Between The Lines, 2003) *****

In my search for musical beauty that fell between the cracks of the critics' network, I found this gem. John Lindberg is an exceptional bass player and composer, with a very broad musical scope, from classical music over jazz to avant-garde music. This CD is a tribute to two great American modern classical composers : Charles Ives and Louis Moreau Gottschalk, yet this music is far from classical, it is modern jazz : melodic, rhythmic and adventurous. Lindberg uses many influences, and at moments this sounds like world music, with Arabic and Asian influences. The line-up is limited : Susie Ibarra on percussion, Steve Gorn on clarinet, sax and bansuri, Baikida Carroll on trumpet, and of course Lindberg on bass. Often only a few of the musicians play together at the same time, creating a very spacious feeling, yet also one of proximity. This music is both spiritual, witty and funny, with tight compositions, contrapuntal melodies, rhythm changes and room for improvization. An album to listen to very often - you discover new angles and creative approaches with each listening. Beautiful. Wonderful.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Ravi Padmanabha/Daniel Carter - Nivesana (Epoch Music, 2006) *****

I am sorry, but I keep finding music of exceptional quality. This is one more : absolutely marvelous and hard to find. Daniel Carter is a trumpet player, sax player and flautist, who is, next to his own productions (worth checking out), also known for his collaborations in high calibre free jazz bands such as "Other Dimensions In Music" and "Test". This album is different, and at the beginning very comparable to Compassion the 2006 album by Wadada Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph. If you like the latter, you'll enjoy this one too : the combination of instruments and the angle of appraoch are very similar : free improv of horn and percussion. The percussionist here is the in the US residing Indian Ravi Padmanabha, whom I did not know, and who brings lots of power to this CD. His percussion is sometimes used as background sound (placed in loops sometimes), for the slower pieces, rather than as rhythmic support. Daniel Carter's playing is gorgeous, especially on trumpet, with long soft meditating tones, without real melody yet without being dissonant either. The pièce-de-résistance is the long high energy work-out on "Maka Supreme/Takadinkataka", where on a repetitive Indian vocal, an electrifying duet of sax and drums undulates over softer passages to high intensity pyrotechnics and back to softer moods. Above all, this is great, authentic music with its own voice and a very tight logic kept throughout the album, despite the variation of instruments, tempi and moods. Highly recommended!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Henri Texier - Alerte A L'Eau (Label Bleu, 2007) *****

Here it is : the new Texier : suprising and recognizable at the same time. Texier's trademark melodies are again all over the place, something only he could compose, whether the music is slow or fast. The CD starts with the uptempo "Afrique à l'Eau", with a strong horn section contrapuntually supporting the fusion-like guitar of Manuel Codjia, accompanied with afro drumming not unlike Ed Blackwell. The third piece, "Blues d'Eau", is a slow blues, with Sebastien Texier's tenor in a leading role. Every four numbers brings a duo setting. The first, "Flaque Nuage", with the trombone of Géorgui Kornazov and percussion, slow and bluesy, the second "Flaque Etoile", a free-spirited dialogue between the bass clarinet of François Corneloup and the sax of Sébastien Texier, talking, shouting, dancing against and around each other, yet ending in a suprising unisono, the third "Flaque Soleil", with arpeggio guitar accompanying a beautiful bass solo by Texier, and the fourth "Flaque Lune", starting with the pulsing bass of Texier, supported with the nervous drumming of Christophe Marquet. This has also become a trademark of Texier's albums : to pay careful attention to the structure of the whole album and to intersperse it with shorter pieces (see "Indian's Week" for instance). The strongest piece of the album is "O Elvin", wonderfully rhythmic with solo space for each of the musicians and with changing themes. And it goes on and on : light-weighted, heavy-hearted, dancing, crying, with carefully crafted compositions, with changing rhythms (reggae, blues, afro, jazzy, rock, waltz, ...) and with strong interplay with shouting solos, singing solos, crashing solos.

I don't know what's happening in the first few months of this year, but many great jazz albums have been published so far. And this CD fits perfectly well in the series. Again : run to the store to get this album. Now!