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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Alexander Frangenheim - The Knife Again (Creative Sources, 2010) ****

My first impression when listening to bassist Alexander Frangenheim's music was that he actually used notes like a sculpture uses matter, whether wood or stone, because he not only shows the most incredible respect for the tones he produces, but then he bends and shapes them based on how they present themselves, based on their instrinsic value and color. It is only after listening to this album that I read that he actually is a sculpture as well as a classically trained double bass player.

In seventeen relatively short tracks, Frangenheim builds his aesthetic, mostly by bowing, making his bass sing and grunt and scream and shout and whisper, sometimes with sparse sounds, as on "The Plains", or with unrelenting intensity, as on "Counter", but as said, it is more a demonstration of the beauty of the sound material, their sensitivity to the touch, the physicality of the resonance and the vibration of the strings under the pressure of the bow, the deep tones arising from the wood, the power of hard plucking: it is all so physical and intimate at the same time. Don't expect long epic developments, but listen to the struggle between man and instrument between material and shape, between the inside of the artist and the inside of the instrument.

Absolutely excellent.

I am not sure what the cameraman had been smoking or drinking, but the music is quite good on this Youtube clip (don't watch it if you get seasick easily):

© stef

Saturday, October 30, 2010

David S. Ware - Onecept (AUM Fidelity, 2010) ****

Like on his previous solo album "Saturnian", David S. Ware uses his stritch and saxello next to his tenor, and in all truth I really prefer the sound of the latter instrument. Both other instruments have a shriller tone, and for a reason unknown to me, it makes the saxophonist also drag his sound a little at the end of phrases, maybe because he has more lung capacity left with the smaller instruments, ... I don't know.

In any case, this album celebrates Ware's 50th year of saxophone playing, hence his interest in picking up some other horns that just the tenor, and he wanted to celebrate this with William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums and tympani.

Compared to other albums, there are many differences : the music is a little more abstract, less obviously based on themes and the rhythms have become more ethereal too, arising out of the spontaneous improvisations, and possibly too because of the absense of a harmonic instrument. As compared to some of his earlier records, at more than several occasions he leaves room for the other musicians to come into the foreground, giving them ample solo space.

The title, "Onecept" refers to the idea that there is one direction, "one concept" behind the whole album, with little differences, shades of playing, but all part of one undividable whole, where musicians meet each other and where musicians meet listeners, because of the universality of the music.

His playing his expansive, expressive and lyrical, Smith and Parker are the ideal collaborators for this project.

If you want David S. Ware at his best, listen to "Live In Vilnius", or "Live Around The World", "Shakti" or "Surrendered".

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wadada Leo Smith & Ed Blackwell - The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (Kabell, 2010) *****

The most magnificent moment of this year's Vision Festival was the duet between Wadada Leo Smith and Günter "Baby" Sommers, not only because of the fabulous playing and interaction of both musicians, but also because the trumpeter has made this format one of his own, delving into the possibilities and expanding them over the years. Lately his stellar "America" with Jack DeJohnette, his equally excellent "Wisdom In Time" with Günter Sommers, or his more meditative "Compassion" with Adam Rudolph.

Here we find him again in excellent company, with Ed Blackwell no less, the fabulous free jazz drummer who laid the foundations for his instrument's new role with the Ornette Coleman bands and Old & New Dreams. Like with Don Cherry on the historic "Mu", he is possibly the best partner for this kind of endeavor and also for Smith's concept of music : it is freedom while being based in African rhythms, blues and jazz. Blackwell is incredibly creative and expressive, adding little touches, shifting meters, reorganising the beats constantly, actively shaping the overall sound and melody. Just listen closely to the album's title track if you want to be convinced.

The title track also figured on the album with Jack DeJohnette as "Ed Blackwell, The Blue Mountain Sun Drummer". It's interesting to compare both performances: not only the difference in approach by both drummers - equally stunning, with DeJohnette having a lighter touch, more cymbal work, steadier in the rhythm, and Blackwell using his polyrhythmics on his toms without losing the beat, more African, but Smith's tone has also changed, become deeper, richer over the years, but interestingly his improvisational skills and his capacity of positioning the composition - of putting it right there in front of your ears as if there was no other choice for it to sound that way, despite the endless possibilities, are still there.

He plays some of the tunes from his "Kulture Jazz" album which was released on ECM in 1995: the bluesy song "Don't You Remember", "Uprising" and "Albert Ayler In A Spiritual Light". This also demonstrates how Smith nurtured his own ideas and compositions over the years and decades even.

Smith's trumpet playing is incredibly good as can be expected: he can be intimate and sensitive and bluesy, but he can be expansive, jubilant and soaring.

The performance was recorded live on October 23, 1986 at Brandeis University, Massachusetts. That's 24 years ago. The sound quality is excellent. How fantastic that we get to hear this. I hope there are still more gems in a drawer somewhere.

As usual, I can only recommend it. Highly.

Listen to this and you will feel so refreshed.

Just listen to this!

The cover art is by Lynn Horton, jazz journalist from All About Jazz. She also wrote a great article on the trumpeter, which you can read here.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Ned Rothenberg

It's already hard to keep up with all new releases, but if musicians now also start releasing several albums a year, in various genres and all worthwhile to review, there is little choice left but to combine them, but also to rejoice because of so much good music.

Ned Rothenberg needs no further introduction: a fantastic clarinet-player and composer, open to any genre and style, and proficient in many, he uses this broad background to treat us to some special records.

Ned Rothenberg - Quintet For Clarinet & Strings (Tzadik, 2010) ****

Quintet For Clarinet & Strings is almost modern classical music, not only because of the strings, but primarily because of Rothenberg's abstract and intense compositions, often dissonant, varying between long repetitive phrases, lots of counterpoint or more open textured. You get it all. All through the compositions, you get the rare event of a clarinet which is used with all the possible tonal expressivity of a jazz instrument, adding tremendous power to the more traditionally played strings.

The Mivos quartet consists of Olivia De Prato and Joshua Modney on violin, Isabel Castellvi on cello, Victor Lowrie on viola.

The nice thing about the compositions are the variety of moods and influences, ranging from romanticism over jazz to more cinematic parts. Rothenberg gives the quartet also ample possibilities to add their own ideas and leaves them plenty of room to play the long pieces. On some, like "Setting Stones", his own contribution on clarinet is minimal. The last track "Finale" is pretty intense, but the best piece is the opening track, with its long and eery central moment when Rothenberg let his clarinet soar, first in circular breathing over light touches by the strings, then adding a wailing quality to his playing.

It will require some open ears, but it is a treat.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Ned Rothenberg - Ryu Nashi/No School - New Music For Shakuhachi (Tzadik, 2010) ****½

As a young man, I was a great fan of Tony Scott"s "Music For Zen Meditation" of which I mysteriously own two copies. I never listened to it for meditation purposes, but I liked the purity of the sound and the absolute calm the music expressed, linked to a emotional element that can be qualified as deep compassion with everything. Buddhism, in a nutshell.

That is the memory that comes back to me now, when listening to Ned Rothenberg playing his shakuhashi. The Japanese flute is actually quite expressive, offering a wide range of tones, and allowing to bend timbre while playing, flexing or bending tones, resulting often in a kind of plaintive fragile cry.

He plays several solo pieces ("Emergent Vessel" and "Shadow Detail") and there are some duets, yet with Rothenberg ceding his position to either Riley Lee or Ralph Samuelson, on shakuhachi, and with Stephanie Griffin on viola, Yoko Hiraoka on jiuta shamisen and voice. 

The long "Dan No Tabe", with Stepahnie Griffin on viola is to me the highlight of the album, because of the almost perfect match between both instruments, and its incredibly slow and carefully mastered sense of pace.

It all sounds very Japanese, with no clear indication that jazz or other genres are involved, but as Rothenberg explains, these are all his own improvisations and compositions in the Japanese style, but without following any specific rules that are ususally at the foundation of the music. The music is a "little westernized", but it will be impossible for the casual listener to notice this. 

Absolutely impressive and beautiful.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Ned Rothenberg and Vladimir Volkov - Live in Dom - Duo Music for Nicolai Dmitriev (DOM Records, 2010) ****

But because this is a jazz blog, you get your jazz too. On this album, Rothenberg plays alto, clarinet, bass clarinet and shakuhachi, and Russian bassist Vladimir Volkov joins him for ten improvisations that are absolutely fantastic. Abstract in nature, often with high intervallic jumps, but the two musicians correspond quite well, with faster than light reactions and joint build-up of a piece's character.

But it is jazz, without a doubt : the phrases, the rhythms, the expressivity, the joy, the fun, and the direct appreciation you get as a listener from sometimes complex interactions. Volkov plays more arco than you would expect, and the effect of that on the music is great, because it brings both instruments to the same level of sonic and lyrical expressivity.

It shows a totally different side of Rothenberg,with moments of fun, madness, deep sorrow, and wild explorations, with less restraint and composure than on the albums reviewed above, yet an environment that fits him equally well.

Again, great stuff.

© stef

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stephan Crump & James Carney - Echo Run Pry (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

Last year pianist James Carney released an excellent modern jazz CD, "Ways And Means", yet what he does here on this album with bassist Stephan Crump is of a totally different nature. Gone are the compositions and the arrangements, gone is the solid ground under their feet, gone are the planification and the known endpoints.

On two pieces of a little more than twenty minutes, the two musicians explore the sounds of their instruments with lots of extended techniques, slowly, patiently, yet full of the excitement of the mutual discovery, sometimes building in rhythmic moments like little dance movements, spontaneously, then switching back to normal walking, doing the more serious stuff. That's the kind of freshness and joy that you find here.

Yet within the same piece, they will also delve into other emotions: Crump's arco on the second half of the first piece will bring tears to your eyes, while the piano adds the very sparse keys to accentuate the desolation and loneliness, evolving into more romantic yet equally expressive piano playing.

The second piece is even more minimalist and quiet, it is intimate, very "European" in approach, abstract yet lyrical, gradually picking up a sense of urgency and tension, utterly refined, and with a kind of universal aesthetic that will appeal to all true lovers of music, including more traditional jazz fans and afficionados of classical music. But then it might also be that I have lost all sense of reality.

In any case : grand in its intimate power.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ninni Morgia & Control Unit (Ultramarine, 2010) ****

As the art work suggests, we're entering a psychedelic environment, full of weird colors and fascinating hues. And so is the music, played by a trio but often sounding like a bigger band. Ninni Morgia plays guitar, bass, electric autoharp, electric sitar, keyboards, percussion and kalimba, Daniel Carter is on saxophones, trumpet, clarinet, flute and voice, and Jeff Arnal plays drums, percussion and thumb piano.

It's hard to qualify the music: it holds the middle between prog rock, psychedelic rock, free jazz and world music, but then without the mellowness and shallowness usually attributed to the latter. There are no real vocals either. There are clear influences by bands like Soft Machine or even early Pink Floyd.

The soundscapes that Ninni Morgia creates on his electric instruments are, in combination with Arnal's percussive drive, very hypnotic and mesmerising, with Carter having a ball by playing his sax and trumpet over this flowing background.

One of the album's highlights is the long "Dhyana", with sparse electric guitar notes, and unusual yet powerful singing by Daniel Carter, after which he switches to sax. 

Ninni Morgia was not known to me. He is an experimental guitarist from Catania in Sicily, now living in New York, and primarily active in (noise) rock bands. The last thing you hear on this album is noise, though, but carefully crafted and varying soundscapes, each with its own character and emotional quality, all relatively accessible and welcoming, but not smooth: like with rock music, it has this raw, direct approach, more concerned with sound and overall effect than with harmonics and thematic development. The label's website mentions Derek Bailey, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis as references, but there is really nothing on this album that relates to them musically.

And it works : for sure the original musical vision is Morgia's - and a strong vision at that - but the overall result is without a doubt as much to the credit of Carter and Arnal who complete the psychedelic vision to perfection. Not for the die-hard jazz fan, but pretty intense and captivating.

The album is released on double vinyl LP, but is also available on some download sites.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Complete Communion" - Don Cherry tribute albums

Don Cherry may not have been the most technically gifted trumpet player, he surely was among the most creative artists, of the last decades until his untimely death on October 19 in 1995.

His implicit motto may well have been "the perfect is the enemy of the good", which allowed him to play many instruments, starting with piano, trumpet, pocket trumpet (his favorite), melodica, bamboo flutes, percussion, berimbau and dousn' gouni,  and he even learned the Indian karnatic singing, always putting the musical result and expressivity above instrumental proficiency. 

He was at the heart of free jazz from its very first inception in the late fifties, and he entered musical space like a sponge, sucking up influences all over the place, actually learning new things in all open-mindedness, hoping to become musically and spiritually richer in the process. He turned all these influences into new things, unlikely combinations. Like any adventurer and pioneer, not every path he took resulted in success or is even worth remembering now, but many of his endeavors were unique and changed the musical landscape until now. He released albums with Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Steve Lacy.

Don Cherry's music was always light-footed and fun, but equally discipined and spiritual. He was free-jazzer, hippie and musical nomad, world music innovator, world citizen. He was open to any musical genre and contributed to lots of bands outside the jazz genre, including rock music, like Steve Hillage, Ian Dury, Lou Reed or some of his solos even ended as samples with dEUS. But he also played amongst others with Mahmoud Gania, Latif Khan, Foday Musa Sosa and Trilok Gurtu. He maintained a kind of adolescent attitude of wonder at the world and its inherent possibilities, something which transpires in all his music. Among his easiest to recommend albums are "Complete Communion", "Mu", "Nu - BBC Sessions", his work with "Old & New Dreams" and "Codona".

Even if we was historically not as important as Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, it is not a surprise that he is widely appreciated and that his music gets covered by other musicians.

There are Don Cherry tunes that never leave my head, they boil up out of my unconscious at various times of the day, like "Togo", or "Mopti".

Watch a clip with the Polish Janusz Muniak Quartet on Youtube (one of the few clips out there of good quality)

Aldo Romano - Complete Communion To Don Cherry (Dreyfus - 2010) ***

Just released, 15 years after Don Cherry's death, and 45 years after the release of the original "Complete Communion", this French band gives its interpretation of the suite, on the initiative of master drummer Aldo Romano, with master bassist Henri Texier on bass, and with a young horn front with Géraldine Laurent on sax and Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet.

The big difference between this "Complete Communion" and the original is that Don Cherry never laid out the structure before they started playing. Don Cherry started with a few themes that the band members learned to play. Then they started to play music. Cherry would start with a theme, then they would expand on it and improvise until the leader would start another theme without any planned timing or structural clue. That explains why on the original the timing is often a little bit out of sync, but on the upside it creates a magnificent feel of spontaneous and common creativity, of the joy of joining in the singing of the song that someone else has started. That's the "communal" part of his music.

Despite the excellent playing on this album, they have reversed the order, starting with the structured themes in perfect lay-out, taking out the surprise element, while adding in polish and sophistication. It is a nice bop album, with seven Cherry compositions, four by Ornette Coleman and one by Aldo Romano.

If you want to hear great music by Aldo Romano and Henri Texier, look for their "Suite Africiaine" trio recordings with Louis Sclavis.

Listen and download from eMusic.

There is also a live version that was distributed for free with the Italian Jazz magazine.

More information at JazzFromItaly.

Watch the band play on Youtube

Atle Nymo, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Håkon Mjåset Johansen - Complete Communion (Boleage, 2008)

The same music by Don Cherry is also re-worked by a Norwegian trio : Atle Nymo (Motif) on saxophone, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (Atomic) on bass, and Håkon M. Johansen (Motif, Maryland) on drums. 

(Thanks, Svenn for informing us - I haven't heard it yet). 

More information from Boleage

Tom Varner - Second Communion (OmniTone, 2001) ****

French horn player Tom Varner creates his own personal tribute to Don Cherry by penning a few compositions on the life of Don, starting with "Watts '56" on his first meeting with Ornette Coleman in a Watts record store to the incredibly sad "Leaving Malaga", on his untimely death in Malaga, Spain.

For his project, he brings together a great band : Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone,  Dave Ballou on cornet, Pete McCann on guitar, Cameron Brown on bass, Matt Wilson on drums.

The Cherry tunes on the album are "Complete Communion", "Cherryco" and "Elephantasy".The album has its wild moments, but is relatively contained and more disciplined than what Don Cherry himself would have done. A great personal tribute.

Yá-sou - Tribute to Don Cherry (Gowi Records, 1996) ****

Yá-sou consists of Peter Apfelbaum on saxophones, flutes, percussion, vocal, Jai Uttal on dotar, guitar, charango, percussion, vocal, Horatio Altan on percussion, Milo Kurtis on percussion, vocals.

They get the company of Tomasz Stańko on trumpet for the second and third track, and of the members of Polish band Osjan on the last track:  Jacek Ostaszewski on recorders, kaya-kum, vocal, percussion, Wojtek Waglewski on guitar, vocal, percussion, and Radoslaw Nowakowski on percussion.

The album starts with a long very Indian piece in honor of Cherry. Then follow Rumba Multikulti and Malinye, two compositions by Don Cherry.

If anything, this album comes closest to capturing the spirit of Don Cherry's music. It is so full of joy and humanity, lots of world music and fun interplay. Great stuff.

Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten & Pal Nilssen-Love - The Thing ****

The band "The Thing" is named after a Don Cherry song and they actually started as a Don Cherry tribute band. Their first album contains tracks like "Awake Nu", "Mopti", "Cherryco".

No doubt one of my favorites.

Mats Gustafsson & Hamid Drake - Ode To Don Cherry (Okka Disk, 1995) ***

This album by Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and Hamid Drake on drums is a free improvisation tribute of a gig they played on the day Don Cherry passed away, so they turned their performance into an "Ode to Don Cherry", even if none of his material figures here. By itself a worthwhile performance.

Berger/Knutsson/Spering - See You In A Minute (Country & Eastern, 2005) ***

Bengt Berger on drums, Mats Öberg on keyboards, Christian Spering on bass, Jonas Knutsson on saxophone, Per Tjernberg on percussion, Christer Bo Bothén on bass clarinet, Sigge Krantz on bass, Thomas Gustafsson on sax, Lars Almqvist on trumpet, with Neneh and Eagle-Eye Cherry on vocals on two tracks.

Released on October 19, 2005, ten years after Cherry's death, the album consists of "See You In A Minute, Moki’s Saxophone / Clicky Clacky / AC/DC / Ganesh / El Corazón / Fun / Dina Kana Gina / God Is At The Door.

It has some "fusiony" keyboard horrors, and the song with Neneh Cherry does not really fit in the overall musical concept, but her presence here has of course a strong emotional value. A nice album. 

Listen and download from the label. There are also some alternate takes to download here.

Tiziano Tononi - Awake Nu - A Tribute To Don Cherry (Splas(h), 1996) ***

Italian drummer Tiziano Tononi assembles some of his country's best jazz musicians with Herb Robertson on trumpet.  The band is Daniele Cavallanti tenor sax, Giovanni Maier on bass,  Roberto Cecchetto on guitar, Umberto Petrin on piano, Lauro Tossi on trombone, and Piero Leveratto on bass.

This real Don Cherry tribute contains only compositions by him.  Somewhat too mainstream to my taste.

Ken Vandermark & DKV Trio - Trigonometry (OkkaDisk, 2002) ****

A great live recording with Ken Vandermark on reeds, Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. Tracks include : Awake Nu, The Thing, Brown Rice, Elephantasy plus some compositions by Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Joe McPhee.

Powerful stuff. 

New York Jazz Collective - I Don't Know This World Without Don Cherry (Naxos, 1997) ***

The album is an ode to Don Cherry, but is comprised of new material by the band. The New York Jazz Collective is Marty Ehrlich on sax, clarinet and flute, Baikida Carroll on trumpet and flugelhorn, Frank Lacy on trombone, Michael Formanek on bass, Pheeroan akLaff and Steve Johns on drums.

The music is relatively mainstream, it doesn't take many risks. If it were not for the album's title, it would be very hard for the listener to hear in the music itself a reference to Don Cherry.

Lennart Ǻberg & Peter Erskine - Free Spirit - A Tribute To Don Cherry (Amigo, 2007) ***

Consisting mainly of compositions by Ǻberg and Erskine, Don Cherry's "Relativity Suite" stands at the center of the album. Ǻberg tries to capture the spirit of Cherry's music with a big band. Not an easy task, and even if the result will be somewhat disappointing to the true Don Cherry fans, the playing is absolutely excellent and often rhythmically stunning. With Ǻberg on sax, Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet, Peter Erskine on drums.

Fat Kid Wednesdays - The Art Of Cherry (Hope Street, 2007) ***

Read my review of this album here.

Any other albums you're aware of?

Let us know!


© stef

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Henry Grimes & Rashied Ali - Spirits Aloft (Porter, 2010) ****

Last year Porter Records already released a bass & drum duo album by two of free jazz great musicians: Henry Grimes on bass and violin, and Rashied Ali on drums, recorded live in February last year, some six months before the great drummer passed away. An unsual line-up, but one that seems to work.

The album starts and finishes with a short poem by Grimes, but the music in between is raw and ferocious, starting with the long "Rapid Transit", on which Grimes leads with screeching violin sounds, an intro for Ali to start attacking his drums, tribal, polyrhythmic, becoming a solid backbone for Grimes powerful plucking, that shifts back to bowing, raw and intense near the end of the piece. "Oceans Of The Cloud" is slower and evokative of unknown worlds, filling empty space with sparse notes and weird sounds, light and breezy. Grimes' violin-playing is technically bizarre but highly expressive to say the least, as is also the feeling of the enthusiastic audience. "Larger Astronomical Time" is a great drum solo, something I usually dislike, but Rashied Ali keeps the attention going, offering a great lead-in for some ferocious solo bass-playing by Grimes, first pizzi, then arco, with some limited accentuation by Ali at the end.

And so it goes on, strangely enough they give each other lots of space, which gives sometimes the bizarre feeling that they are playing either drums solo or bass solo consecutively, with limited moments of actual joint playing, but either way, the quality and the energy are high. You can feel the joy they had in the performance.

And it's that what makes this a memorable album, two musicians giving themselves to the full, believing in their art and succeeding in transferring this to the audience: great stuff.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trio X - Live On Tour 2008 (CIMP, 2010) ****½

When there's a new Trio X record coming out, I feel like a child waiting for a birthday gift, in eager anticipation. That's how excited I am about this band, and have been so for many years.

Even though the band has evolved over the years, it has stuck to its origins: to merge very forward-looking sounds with the sensitivity and the material of tradition, a little bit in the same concept as Albert Ayler, fusing "power and warmth", as Bob Rusch writes in the liner notes.

Even though the music is fully improvised, keeping things completely open-ended at any time, or playing in the mood of the day or the evening, they are used to work around the key themes. "My Funny Valentine", figured on their first recorded performance (on their second album :The Watermelon Suite, 1999). 

Today, it is still part of their "playlist", as on this newly released 5-CD album capturing their concerts of their tour in 2008 in New York, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois. The thing is : you never know when these themes will enter into play and sometimes it takes a while into the improvisation before they arise out of the free flow of phrases. The gospel and traditional tunes thrown into the mix here are "A Secret Love", moving and spiritual, "Motherless Child", slow and sad, "Old Man River", full of sensitivity and sorrow, "Going Home". The new tune to be used is "Brownskin Girl", made popular by Harry Belafonte in the late 50s, in a great variety of forms, often funky and fun. 

Most of the time you get on-the-spot free improvisations, very lyrical at times, raw and fierce at others , never lacking in intensity. "Prairie Fire" is a good example, with absolutely powered-up and raging circular breathing evolving into a hard blues switching back to sensitivie squeals: even in the most avant-garde moments, tradition is never far away.

What is changing over the years is the speed and the sense of adventure. In the early years, the raw musical adventure clearly dominated over the slow and sensitive moments. Today, that order is reversed, but it doesn't mean of course that the adventure is gone. But in all frankness, I would have preferred more of the wilder stuff like the opener on the 4th CD "Waukee Hello Naima".

Oh, yes, for those who don't know the band : Joe McPhee is on tenor and soprano, once in a while picking up his pocket trumpet or flugelhorn, Dominic Duval on bass and Jay Rosen on drums, three stellar musicians who've come to know each other so thoroughly over the years, that they play as a trio should play, as one single being producing common and coherent sounds. 

One technical downside is the very low recording volume. When playing the CD in my car, even with the volume up to the maximum (and I usually never do that) the music is at times barely audible.

The question remains what the album adds to the 8-CD box that was released in 2008. If you have nothing by the band, this would be a great place to start (although more expensive than their equally excellent "Roulette At Location One" or "Live In Vilnius"), if you already have the 8-CD box and are an average fan, this album may seem a little redundant, but if you are a die-hard fan like this guy, this is again a must-have.

The sheer volume of CDs is crazy of course, but since every performance is so different, hearing it all is so much fun.

I hope you still get gifts for your birthday.

© stef

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Miles Davis epigones and tributes ...

With some regularity we get tribute bands for Coltrane and Miles, and that should be no surprise, considering the musical revolution those giants had on the history of music. What is unfortunately also not a big surprise is the lack of quality of the tribute bands. But luckily there are exceptions.

My favorite band, and yours too without a doubt is "Yo Miles!", led by Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith, but there are also some fun alternatives, like the Miles Tribute Band from Scandinavia. The former re-issued parts of the records released on Cuneiform some years ago, and added some unreleased material.

Yo Miles! Shinjuku (There Records, 2010) ****

The first of these albums is called "Shinjuku", and it brings the tracks "Shinjuku", "Who's Targeted", "Miles Star" and "Willie Dixon" from "Sky Garden" (Cuneiform, 2004). One piece is new:  "Muhamed Ali".

The playing is again fantastic, full of drive, technical skills and musical joy. It starts with this kind of mad tribal hypnotism that makes you want this music never to stop, followed by lots of quieter moments but full of crackling intensity, in the best Miles Davis vein, allowing especially Wadada Leo Smith to go deep into his known emotional spritualism on trumpet. And the album ends with a phenomenal duet between the trumpeter and Zakir Hussain on tabla, this almost becoming Smith's second nature to perform with percussionists.

The band is Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally and Chris Muir on electric guitars, Michael Manring on bass, Steve Smith on drums, Karl Perazzo on percussion, Greg Osby on alto, John Tchicai on tenor and soprano, Tom Coster on keyboards, and Zakir Hussain on tabla drums.

Listen and download from eMusic or from iTunes

Yo Miles! - Lightning (There Records, 2010) ****

"Lightning" brings us tracks from "Upriver" (Cuneiform, 2004) : "Thunder & Lightning", "Macero", and one from "Sky Garden" : "Cozy Pete". Here you get three additional tracks, recorded live with the Rova Sax Quartet guest starring on the percussion-heavy "Tsapiky Frelimo", a wild piece somehow holding the middle between Mahavishnu, Weather Report and Miles Davis. 

The added pieces are great, starting again with a great duet between trumpet and electric piano on "Still Sunrise".

To hear the live version of "Miles Dewey Davis III Great Ancestor" in a live version is fantastic, with the whole band moving forward on the magnificent pulse of the electric bass and the percussion, with guitar and keyboards adding the side colors for the soloists. You can only get up and dance when you hear this stuff. I usually hate the sound of rapid fire electric bass, but here it works to perfection.

The band is Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally and Chris Muir on electric guitars, Michael Manring on bass, Steve Smith on drums, Karl Perazzo on percussion, Greg Osby on alto, John Tchicai on tenor and soprano, Tom Coster and Mike Keneally on keyboards.

Listen and download from eMusic or from iTunes

Colin Town HR Big Band - Visions Of Miles (In+Out Records, 2009) ***

It is somewhat unfair to review Colin Town album in this context, because the British composer brings Miles Davis's electric music more into mainstream territory, played a German big band. It is a challenge like expecting a big truck to be as flexible in taking high speed turns in the road as a rally car, but somehow they kind of manage. The band covers the themes quite faithfully, playing compositions like "Bitches Brew", "Tutu", "Calypso Frelimo", "Agharta", "In A Silent Way" and other pieces.

The great thing is that these compositions really stand their ground, still sounding fantastically compelling and powerful. Let's hope the performance will guide listeners to the original.

Colin Towns: arrangements, direction; Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn: alto and soprano saxophones, flute and alto flute; Oliver Leicht: soprano saxophones, flute, alto and bass flute; Rainer Heute: baritone saxophone, bass and contrabass clarinet; Andy Greenwood: trumpet, flugelhorn; Thomas Vogel: trumpet, flugelhorn; Martin Auer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Axel Schlosser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gunter Bollman: trombone, euphonium; Peter Feil: trombone, euphonium; Christian Jaksjø: trombone, euphonium; Manfred Honetschläger: bass trombone; Martin Scales: guitar; Vladislav Sendecki: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards; Thomas Heidepriem: bass; Farouk Gomati: percussion; Wolfgang Haffner: drums

Médéric Collignon & Jus De Bocse - Shangri-Tunkashi-La (Plus Loin Music, 2010) **

This album led by French trumpeter Frédéric Collignon starts really strong, with the Davis' compositions "Billy Preston" and "Bitches Brew", full of drive and power. The band is Médéric Collignon on pocket trumpet and voice, Frank Woeste on Fender Rhodes 73,  Frédéric Chiffoleau on double-bass and electric bass, and Philippe Gleizes on drums.

That is the good news. Things start turning a little strange when Collignon starts singing, not really my cup of tea, on "Early Minor", with a four person horn section. Unfortunately Collignon keeps up the scat singing on "Shhh Peaceful". On "Ife" he starts changing the sound of his trumpet electronically to the extent of extorting silly sounds that could have come from a seventies moog synth, which is even exaggerated even more on "Interlude". "Nem Um Talvez" is accompanied by background vocals.

The album ends with Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". I can't believe how four musicians with the skills of this band can so utterly destroy their own music and the example they take it from by adding non-essential stuff and style-breakers. A pity.

If only his album had sounded like this clip by the band, it would have been great.

© stef

Sunday, October 17, 2010

John Butcher & Claudia Ulla Binder - Under The Roof (Nuscope, 2010) ****½

Very few of the people I know would call this music, but for those of us who can enjoy these sonic explorations, all the rest seems bland by comparison. John Butcher plays tenor and soprano, Claudia Ulla Binder plays piano and prepared piano.

Both of them can be lyrical in the traditional sense, lining up notes in a somewhat regular and repeated sequence, but more often than not they explore the space around them, and it shouldn't surprise us that they choose "everything under the roof" for this one. Butcher loves resonating spaces to play in, but here the result is more homey, but intimate and calm.

The result is impressionistic, evoking those elements in the environment, not as they are, but as they appear. The music can be light-footed, as in "Umbrella" or "Raincoat", or full of dark tension, as in "Troves" and "Coffer", the latter becomes possible because despite the limits of their instruments, both musicians manage to stretch their tones to the infinite, by scratching the piano strings, or by circular breathing.

They can also conjure up the weirdest sounds, like the bird whistling on "Black Martin, Female" and "Black Martin, Male": it is fun and well played, or the Butcher's stretched multiphonics on "Cantilever", accentuated by Binder's sparse voiced keys.

But their music is definitely not about the technical skills alone. It's about the music itself. It's about the sonic environment they create out of nothing: a world that opens before your ears, full of sensitivity and tenderness, full of fear and joy. And they don't need spectacular things to do that, just the careful juxtapositions of the right tones, all at low volume and full of caution.

The world "under this roof" is fragile, even if not every place is welcoming. An exceptional result.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, October 15, 2010

Liudas Mockūnas & Ryoji Hojito - Vacation Music (No Business, 2010) ****½

Japanese pianist Ryoji Hojito goes to Lithuania on holidays. He meets with reedist Liudas Mockūnas and they play music, spontaneously, improvised, first in a studio, with some stuff recorded a year later in St. Kotryna church in Vilnius during the next vacation, then packaged the thing to share it with us.

I did not know Hojito, I must admit, and I know Mockūnas only from his collaboration with Mats Gustafsson on "The Vilnius Explosion", and he impresses again.

The album starts with "Sunday", in an impressionistic way, with tentative piano chords, and tentative bass clarinet, for a slowly unfolding lyrical dialogue, full of joy and control, evolving into the next piece, "Monday", into a more meditative and melancholy vein, with Mockūnas blowing some heartrending pieces on his soprano, but gradually the mood changes, as does the tension, with Hojito adding small percussion and some quicker runs on his keys, pushing the sax into somewhat more frenetic regions, supported by sudden accordion sounds. By "Tuesday", raw baritone blasts are met by extended techniques on the piano.

We're in church on "Wednesday" for a solo piece on tenor by the Lithuanian, deeply emotional and dramatic, filling the space with plaintive phrases. "Thursday" starts avant-garde, with the Japanese singing and squeaking toys, and rattling all kinds of stuff, somewhat reminiscent of Nana Vasconcelos. Mockūnas' response and ensuing phrases are to the point and beautiful, somewhat romantic but with loads of character, and the real fun sets in when Hojito starts using his keyboard, for staccato runs, resulting in some astonishing interplay, of the kind that many musicians would like to accomplish after lots of rehearsals, but here it comes naturally, free-spirited and again full of joy.

"Friday" is more contemplative and slow, warm and sensitive, with the soaring soprano being supported by the prepared piano, in a great contrast between crystal-clear and distorted sounds, evolving towards more uncharted territories. "Saturday" ends the week in darker environments, full of gloomy deep circular breathing tones and irregular percussive attacks on the piano strings, voice and other objects. The only (again!) pity is that the applause of the apparently large crowd that opens the live performance does not end the album too.

Too much said already, what a duo, bringing absolutely captivating music from beginning to end. A real find. A musical vacation. Highly recommended.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stephen Haynes - Parrhesia (Engine Records, 2010) ****

Trumpeter Stephen Haynes is a great fan of the late Bill Dixon (like me), and that can be heard on this free improvisation with Joe Morris on guitar and Warren Smith on drums and vibes.

The music is calm and exploratory, as you might expect, with a lot of attention to sonic details and the creation of an unusual atmosphere, that holds the middle between meditative calm and restrained energy, which leads to a great paradoxical tension.

For all three musicians, slowness in the delivery leads to precision and great interaction, and that includes Joe Morris, here often limiting himself to his bass strings, which at times gives more the impression that he's playing bass. Especially on the first track, one gets the impression to hear an arco bass, rather than a guitar. And when he plays on all six strings, as in "Quietude" or "Unfolding", the result is fantastic.

This is also a musical environment in which Smith feels as free as a fish in the ocean or as a bird in the sky, using his broad pallette of percussive sounds and ideas to complement and interact, more interested in coloring and emphasising than in setting a rhythmic base.

As the leader of the trio, Haynes determines the overall sound : wailing, growling, weeping - muted or voiced - with a high level of abstraction, but like Dixon with a deep emotional and spiritual content, one that can only be achieved once the barriers of form are overcome. This is illustrated on all tracks, but expecially on "Unfolding" which is of a staggering beauty and depth, with Morris's guitar adding an eery warmth to Haynes' magnificent playing, with some phrases reminiscent of Lester Bowie, but mainly being himself.

The ttitle of the album is well chosen, and can be explained by the definition by the French philosopher Michel Foucault : "More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy" (taken from Wikipedia).

The authenticity and courage required to do this, is what his music is indeed about. Warren Smith takes it a step further by reciting his poem "Yet And Still", but you all know I don't like spoken word on music, and it doesn't work well here either (the exalted tone, the lack of lyricism, the conflict with the music), even if it is one of the best pieces of the album.

But this shouldn't deter you : this is a truly strong and beautiful album. Recommended!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ingrid Laubrock - Anti-House (Intakt, 2010) ***½

One of my main comments on saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock's excellent previous album "Sleepthief", was that it was too short. I really appreciated the broad expansiveness of her improvisations and the time she took to develop her ideas.

On this album, she does the exact opposite: you get fourteen compositions that are each in an almost totally different musical universe, ranging from the raw and abrasive punk-attitude ("Big Bang"), over fun tracks (like "Funhouse Clockwork") to more intimate pieces ("Tex & Clementine"), or carefully crafted little musical pastries ("Messy Minimum"). And you get an overview of jazz history from swing over fusion to Zorn and avant-garde, playing with volume, speed and sonic changes throughout.

She is accompanied by Mary Halvorson on guitar, John Hébert on bass, and Tom Rainey on drums, and glockenspiel. Kris Davis joins on piano for half the tracks.

Each track is a kind of musical capsule, existing in its own right, and following its own logic. Even the short ones can include several twists and truns, taking the listener wrong-footed at more than one occasion. Despite the incredible variation and wealth of ideas, the overall sound is still coherent.

Not only Laubrock's musical insights, but also the other musicians contribute to this result : Halvorson's guitar can be gentle and subtle, or incredibly violent, Hébert is as nuanced and versatile as I mentioned in earlier reviews, and so is Rainey, still one of my favorite drummers.

Despite all this, and despite the album's obvious inherent qualities, it's not one I would play as often and with such eager sense of anticipation as "Sleepthief". It is a nice exercise in updating various styles, and therefore maybe a little too programmatic, leading to a less obvious rapport with the listener (at least this one) than on her emotional and expansive predecessor.

Watch the band perform in August of this year

© stef

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sax and bass

Ha! Duets! I love them. I love the intimacy of the dialogue, the limitless possibilities unfolding, with the big danger of losing focus of the music itself, or of moving in all directions without keeping coherence. In the hands of true masters, works of art are created, leading to captivating listening experiences, requiring some concentration and effort from the listener, but that's a small price to pay to become part of this music.

Vinny Golia & Mark Dresser - Live At Lotus (Kadima, 2010) ****

Interestingly enough, Kadima released this excellent recording close to nine years after it was recorded. The artists are Vinny Golia on woodwinds and Mark Dresser on bass. On the first piece Golia sticks to flute, switching to sax on the second, and the change is apparent, both in the quality of the recording as on his presence, which sounds more dedicated and committed to what he is playing. Maybe comfort, maybe inspiration.

I recently reviewed some of Dresser's bass skills, and I have always appreciated Golia for his free lyricism, without fully  relinquishing the jazz tradition, even with blues undertones in the overall mood.

The second piece, "Can There Be Two", brings an exploration of a set theme, and explore they do, ranging from forceful blasts, to multiphonics and sensitive touches, using trills as on a flute, deep soulful moments, and even some Middle-Eastern excursions, without loosing the thread of the theme, and all this in perfect dialogue with the bass.

"Excursions" starts in the lower registers, with Dresser setting the tone, and Golia answering on bass clarinet, starting quite abstract, but gradually picking up a wayward boppish rhythm, and adding fluency to the phrasing, first while maintaining a minimum level of abstraction, then turning the piece into delightful free bop, only to reduce the speed again to more intimate conversations, ending in a bluesy one-note beat, like coming home.

"Locution", the last piece, is the album's highlight, with Dresser using his bow to play some heartrending and sometimes piercing sounds in an overall dark and ominous environment, with Golia's multiphonics increase the tension.

Two magicians conjuring up worlds in front of your ears.

Remi Álvarez & Mark Dresser - Soul to Soul (Discos Intolerantia, 2010) ****

We find Dresser back with Mexican saxophonist Remi Álvarez, a one-time student with the likes of Braxton, George Lewis and Steve Lacy, not bad references if you ask me, yet he clearly has his own voice and musical ideas.

The first piece is relatively abstract and even meditative, until Dresser seems to think it needs some deep emotional dive by elucidating some screaming bowing out of his bass, pushing the sax into wilder territories. The second piece starts uptempo with both instruments setting up a very nervous dialogue, with changing rhythms and pulse, short phrases and quite some intensity.This just to illustrate the broad range of approaches going from the lyrical extended phrases over rhythmic backbones to weird sonic interactions, but keeping the dialogue open at all times, with focus on the music as it unfolds itself almost naturally.

The seven improvisations on the album range from short statements of less than three minutes to lengthy dialogues of fifteen minutes, and they're good at both.

The great similarity between both albums is the incredibly coherent sense of adventure and technical skills that allow them to do what they do : make great free music with incredible warmth and passion.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Nu Band - Live In Paris (No Business, 2010) ****½

Few bands can carry the sound of "free jazz" so well as The Nu Band, consisting of Roy Campbell on trumpets and flute, Mark Whitecage on alto and clarinet, Joe Fonda on bass, and Lou Grassi on drums, all four seasoned musicians who demonstrate again what experience can mean in a freely improvised environment.

Three tracks are fully improvised, with Lou Grassi's "Avanti Galoppi" one of the band's essentials on the playlist, starting with a composed theme and concept.

"Somewhere Over The Seine", is free jazz in its purest nature : implicit rhythms, yet great pulse and drive, with Whitecage and Campbell demonstrating their fabulous skills, soaring, flying, howling, slowing down for Fonda's solo, when he picks up his bow for some meditative and almost quiet minutes, with Campbell's muted horn joining the sad weeping, which suddenly becomes more abstract, then Whitecage starts a swinging theme on his sax, and the rest of the band follows suit, joining the mood and rhythm.

The second piece, "Bolero Francaise" (sic), is a slow and melancholy piece, not exactly the dance the title refers to, that gradually picks up tempo and volume, leading to the kind of open-ended avalanche of sound, massive and expansive, over the endless rumbling of Grassi's toms, with Campbell and Whitecage surpassing themselves.

"Avanti Galoppi" then, has a high speed bass and drum forward propulsion, as the title suggests, and a great slow theme, worthy of the best in jazz history, that both horn-players slowly start to diverge from and expand on, full of soul and blues and sadness, while the hypnotic galop continues at steady speed, without once changing for the whole thirteen minutes, until the whole thing comes to a grinding halt in the last five seconds.  

"The Angle Of Repose", the last track, starts somewhat in free form, searching for its own nature, but gradually Fonda and Campbell give the piece a boppish drive, in a truly terrific duet between trumpet and bass, until the magic erupts when Grassi and Whitecage join, delving up jazz history in the process and making it shine, shine, shine, ... and the great thing about this band is that they take themselves not too seriously: fun erupts, some silly interplay, some crazy shouts, a wild drum solo and a grand finale.

Wow, I love this band and its great music.

The performance was recorded live in Paris in 2007.

Check also their other albums, reviewed on this blog : "Lower East Side Blues", "The Dope And The Ghost", "The Nu Band Live".

© stef

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Elderflower - Deep Drink (Elderflower, 2010) ****

Elderflower bings a unique musical concept, the brainchild of two excellent musicians: Loren Stillman on alto saxophone and Ryan Ferreira on guitar.

Several years ago, I reviewed Stillman and appreciated his strong improvisational skills in a post-bop context, with his Trio Alto.

On the first and last track, Ferreira weaves extended electronic backgrounds for Stillman to play his ephemeral solos, sounding a little bit like ECM style jazz, but the "new-agey" coloring is no longer present on the next tracks, which are intimate improvised conversations between the two musicians, with the guitar having its "natural" voice.

On this album, Stillman and Ferreira take us is clearly into more avant-garde territory than I would have expected, while remaining quite accessible. The improvisations are cautious, dreamy, sensitive, abstract and impeccably precise. The pace is slow and measured, enjoying the moment and the shades of sound they can offer.

Stillman is a master at letting his alto speak, varying incredibly clear tones with multiphonics and nuanced shading, and Ferreira is in that respect his ideal companion for this music, another example for many guitar-players that "less is more", because his few notes create a whole world by themselves.

The fragile beauty of the music is underpinned by a subtle tension, just like the elderflower: sweet and a little toxic.

The album can be listened to and downloaded from Bandcamp, where you can also purchase their two previous albums. 

© stef

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hugo Antunes - Roll Call (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

There are albums when you know from the very first minutes that something is "right" : in the fit of the musicians, the approach, the sound, the freedom. This is one of those albums, and one with an unusual line-up at that : with two saxes - Daniele Martini and Toine Thys, two drummers - João Lobo and Marek Patrman, and one forceful bass, played by Portuguese Hugo Antunes.

The first piece is a rhythmic delight of soft-spoken horns engaging deeply in free form, with a solid and subtle bass as the anchorpoint, with both drummers creating a great background of percussive shifting colors. The title track does what it says, a "roll call" of the various musicians, each one presenting himself, as an invitation for the others to welcome by joining the created context, then leaving for the short solo moment to the next instrument, and so on. The result is nice because each musician adds his own touch and approach, basically telling his story in a few notes, with the other musicians completing it together, which gives the piece a suit-like nature.

The third track starts with a long bass intro, setting a steady pulse over which both saxes weave a slow,  ethereal and yearning sound."Anfra" is more boppish, "Einfach" more subdued and atmospheric.

I will not review every track, but you get the picture, this beyond bop and post-bop, capturing the complexity, the improvisational power, the freedom and the emotional depth that are so the essence of jazz.

Strong album.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Exploding Star Orchestra - Stars Have Shapes (Delmark, 2010) ****½

Three years ago, trumpeter Rob Mazurek started this magnificent "Exploding Star Orchestra", creating a whole new musical subgenre in the process, adding big band with electronics, new music, repetitive minimalism and jazz, colored by some additional sonic weirdness, including the sound of electric eels, resulting in a wall of sound built up by layers and layers of musicians playing either in agreed arrangements or not. In the concept slower parts emerge which give soloing space to primarily the trumpet.

The overall tone is dark, unfathomable, ominous, with the solos sounding as cries for help in a totally inhospitable environment.

I called their first album "Where Are All From Somewhere Else" from 2007 a masterpiece. I gave the band's sophomore album with Bill Dixon on trumpet a five-star rating.

On this album the band continues in the same vein, starting with upbeat whistling, but soon the sonic swell rises out of empty space to grow and expand and once it gets sufficient volume, several little stories emerge, played by the different instruments, the vibes, the saxes, the flute, the trumpet, yet never really dialoguing, or soloing, but adding eery phrases over the uncanny backdrop of noise out of which they emerge and return into.

The band is Rob Mazurek on trumpet, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Nicole Mitchell on flutes, Matt Bauder on clarinet and tenor sax, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Greg Ward on alto sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Matthew Lux on guitar, Josh Abrams on bass, John Herndon and Mike Reed on drums, Carrie Biolo on gongs, vibes and percussion, Jeff Kowalkowski on piano, and Damon Locks as word rocker, whatever that means.

This stellar band is further expanded with "sounds from a variety of sources, including: rain from the Brazilian Amazon, insects at the turn of an eclipse, the hammering  overdrive of bicycles in Copenhagen, stacked muted cornets run through various filters, drones built from electric eels and piano feedback, hi-frequency sinuous lines from tone generators, pitched bass guitars, and other prepared instruments"

And truth be told, the magic works again. The sonic landscape or universe is unique, full of desolation and cold beauty, full of menace and sadness, although the short last track sounds a notch less desperate.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

William Parker - I Plan To Stay A Believer/The Inside Songs Of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity, 2010) **½

 I usually review every new album on which William Parker plays, but I did not review "The Inside Songs Of Curtis Mayfield", released on the Italian RAI label, because I thought it was more soul than jazz, and hence not quite matching this blog's profile.

Now Parker is back on the same track, and I think a certain warning is in place for the fans. The first warning is that this is not all jazz, or not jazz at all. The second is that this is a compilation taken from various concerts at which the Curtis Mayfield songs were played, with big differences of approach and quality.

The record starts very strong though, with Leena Conquest on vocals, and the "established" William Parker band : William Parker on bass,Hamid Drake on drums, Lafayette Gilchrist on piano, Lewis Barnes on trumpet
Darryl Foster on tenor & soprano sax, Sabir Mateen on alto & tenor sax. In short, the band we love and enjoy. The playing and the singing are phenomenal, full of soul, funk even, energetic drive and great soloing. But it lasts only for two tracks.

Then you have Amiri Baraka on voice, on six tracks, talking rather than singing, and on those pieces the recording quality is lower, with the musicians being reduced to a supporting role.

Then the whole thing completely collapses into cheap gospel when the children's choirs from either France or the New Life Tabernacle Generation Of Praise in New York take the lead vocals, with the band even more pushed into the background.

Dave Burrell plays piano on several tracks, and Guillermo E. Brown drums.

I can understand Parker's admiration for Curtis Mayfield, about his music and what he represented historically and socially. But I would have expected a more personal and creative angle: possibly Mayfield's material isn't strong enough to start with. It is too bland and could have been played by a zillion other village bands.

 Watch an excerpt from the Vision Festival two years ago.

© stef

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Benjamin Duboc & Itaru Oki - Nobusiko (Improvising Beings, 2010) ****

My kind of thing: the intimate and intense dialogue between a bass and a trumpet. Nothing spectacular, no effects, no pyrotechnics, no showing off, no screaming .... just two disciplined and creative musicians gently exploring the sonoric possibilities of their fully improvised dialogue, full of a wise joy of life, full of appreciation and admiration for the sounds brought forward, by the other instrument, and one's own.

The duo is Benjamin Duboc on bass and Itaru Oki on trumpet, flugelhorn and flutes, or half of the Nuts quartet, which is among my favorite European bands.

The two musicians mostly let the natural voice of their instruments speak, using extended techniques or "voiceless" sounds add color once in a while but without pushing it. Nor is there any sense of urgency, there is no sense of need either : there can be rhythm or not, phrases or not, repetition or not ... anything goes, but within the same musical framework. The phrases and music softly move forward, evolve and progress, with once in a while in an increase in the emotional intensity, but rarely one in volume. Despite the limited line-up, they vary quite a lot, with Oki playing his flutes, or Duboc playing arco, but also musically there is a lot to hear.

An open and captivating dialogue between two fantastic musicians. It leaves this listener with a great feeling of freedom and peace.

Buy from the label

© stef

Marty Ehrlich - Fables (Tzadik, 2010) ****½

I rarely review world jazz albums, although they used to be very high on my listening agenda. One of my favorites is Myriam Alter's "If", with clarinet, piano, bandoneon, bass and drums, a very intimistic, melodious and yet utterly creative album.

This album by Marty Ehrlich is of the same nature, and strangely enough with almost the same line-up, here with Ehrlich on clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto and soprano sax, Hankus Netsky on piano, and accordion, Marcus Rojas on tuba, and Jerome Harris on acoustic bass guitar. Although the line-up changes regularly, with one track, "Scroll N°2", consisting of Ehrlich on all his instruments in a haunting overdub.

The recipe are world music influences in scales and mood, with long unison themes and phrases, yearning sentiments and an all-permeating melancholy, played with such refinement and sensitivity that every note is a pleasure for the ear and heart. This is about beauty of sound and execution, not about adventure, but that makes the end-result not less creative (although I can imagine that the ferocious alto on "The Lion's Tanz" will not please regular mainstream listeners).

Despite the typical klezmer influence, Ehrlich goes far beyond the often too straight-forward replication of traditional klezmer in a modern context that characterises the "Radical Jewish Culture" series. This music takes it all a level higher, making it almost genre-less, with tunes that sound familiar to the European memory of street music, or to the human subconscious "tout court".

Highlight of the album is the soprano-piano duo "Rozo D'Shabbos", a classic but so full of emotional depth, together with the dark closing tune "Scroll N°3", with accordion, bass clarinet and tuba, which suddenly shifts to full joy.

Without a doubt the most sentimental of albums I have listened to in many years, but it's luckily on the right side of tastefulness, with no cheap effects and feelings, but expressing genuine emotional depth, musical creativity and vision. Don't underestimate the feat : it is incredibly difficult to turn the familiar into something so authentic, personal and fresh. A major achievement.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef