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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vandermark, Nagl, Thomas, Reisinger - C.O.D.E (Cracked Anegg, 2008) ****

What a joy! Austrians Max Nagl, alto, and Wolfgang Reisinger, drums, are joined by Australian Clayton Thomas on bass and the ubiquitous Ken Vandermark on sax and clarinet. Nagl has this wonderful knack of using traditional material and turning it into fresh modern music, or vice versa, to improvise freely and without restrictions in various styles and modes. This album is no different, and they take on free jazz founders Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, two completely different musicians and composers, but who both played a major role in turning jazz into a real art. Ornette was a visionary, with no great skills on the sax (or any instrument for that), but someone who turned music inside out, and despite the scorn he received in the early sixties, it is amazing to see how many of his compositions survive today without sounding dated. Dolphy was a stylist, a wonderful technician, who kept pushing the boundaries of jazz and improvisation from the inside out. Five tracks were penned by Dolphy (Miss Ann; GW; Something Sweet, Something Tender; The Madrig Speaks, The Panther Walks; Hat And Beard) and four by Ornette Coleman (Dee Dee; The Sphinx; Free Jazz; Researching Has No Limits). This last track by Coleman is unknown to me and only seems to appear on a Joachim Kühn album. If anyone has more info on this, please let me know.

The music on this album varies between real boppy tunes, highly rhythmic and clearly structured around the core themes on the one hand, and free explorations on the other. On the first track the two saxes twirl around each other, now in unison, then in counterpoint, then improvising next to each other but with great sense of timing and great listening skills. "Dee Dee" starts as free as it gets : drums and sax (Vandermark), but then halfway the joyful Coleman theme emerges, again in full unison, as a relay for Nagl to improvise over the bass in a more boppish mode. With "Free Jazz" the whole thing turns more experimental than Coleman ever was on this tune, with lots of extended techniques, Thomas on arco and Vandermark on bass clarinet, and it is only after two thirds of the track that Nagl starts playing the tune, as a sign for the band to join. After that piece, even the Dolphy tunes get their abstract versions, with lots of free improv, yet with great reverence for the composition and the composer. "The Madrig ..." brings us back to the bop tradition. The highlight of the album is "Something Sweet ..." which is played relatively outside, deeply emotional, with the bass playing a key role, and now it is halfway that the boppish harmolodic concepts of Coleman's "The Sphinx" is played, a nice turnaround and reversing of the roles between the two composers, moving back to more inside playing. A nice album with lots of variation, played by four great musicians.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef


Anonymous said...

Ornette had no great skills on the sax? lolwut

Anonymous said...

Hey there, I love this blog, buy stuff you recommend, but "Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy... both played a major role in turning jazz into a real art"--what? It wasn't an art before in the hands of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Monk? And so many others?

Just sayin'.

Stef said...

Sure, Armstrong and Ellington made great art, so did Parker and Monk. I am not saying they didn't. I am just saying that Coleman and Dolphy moved it even further away from the entertainment circuit, into the realms of art for it's own sake.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. I would look at all these cats and consider the difference between their compositions/playing and their venues--Coleman priced himself out of nightclubs, Dolphy died before he stopped playing clubs; I think Parker and the boppers played an art music compared to swing, but they played it in nightclubs and occasionally in concerts; and Ellington composed and played art music in concert at the same time he did tours where he played his hits for listeners and dancers.... I like Coleman and Dolphy a lot, but I do think you're giving them too much credit. Just my opinion, though! You are absolutely entitled to yours. Keep up the good work on this blog and thanks for your open ears.

Anonymous said...

Don't say "was" so fast,stef;Ornette's playing Chapel Hill,NC,Thursday night!

Last show of tour.One of FOUR in US.stef's line of reasoning makes sense.


Anonymous said...

Ornette got noticed and perceived as an artist(in a more specialized sense than the boppers) when he hit NYC, that's true.

(And just so no one gets the wrong idea, I just have some time on my hands and enjoy replying, not trying to get up in anyone's grille.)