Click here to [close]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Piano, piano, piano - from tradition to the future

 Truth be told, I like horns. The way they can twist, bend, split and torture sounds, or make them whisper in sad sensitivity, or sing in voluptuous joy, or scream in tormented agony, or wail in mad intoxication. Horns are so close to the human voice and so emotionally recognizable. Not so with the piano. It's a more intellectual, more academic instrument, often less direct, less raw, less physical than those horn players who blow their lungs out. And although I love the piano, piano albums tend to pile up for your humble servant, who usually jumps at any occasion to review a new record with lots of blowing. So, here you get the worthwhile stuff, all in a row, from the very traditional over the wild and free, ending with modern day avant-garde classicism : from solo piano to solo piano, with a duo and three trios in between.

Freakish - Anthony Coleman Plays Jerry Roll Morton (Tzadik, 2009) ***

Anthony Coleman plays tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, if not the inventor of jazz, then in any case close enough to have been present at its birth. Coleman is a wonderful pianist, and Tzadik his regular label. Don't expect any of Coleman's more avant-garde leanings here: what you get is straight ragtime piano, simple and fun. Although a sincere tribute, it also very much a stylistic exercise.

Ulrich Gumpert & Günter Baby Sommer - Das Donnernde Leben (Intakt, 2009) ***

The "Thundering Live" is the second album by Ulrich Gumper on piano and Günter "Baby" Sommer on drums, no less than thirty years after their first album "Versaumnisse". Despite both musicians' strong presence in European free jazz and free improv, this album is very much linked to the blues tradition of jazz, with even a couple of Wolf Bierman songs thrown into the mix (a German leftist singer/songwriter of some decades ago) and what is rare these days, it is all fun and joy, no high-brow pretense or artsy endeavors, you - YOU - the listener, are welcomed in from the very first notes, to participate in the joy, not to just sit there and listen. There are shouts, fun interactions, mutual jokes, but also great music: sensitive and compelling, and the blues, well, it is omnipresent, if not in form, then at least in spirit.

John Blum - In The Shade Of The Sun (Ecstatic Peace!, 2009)***

Now moving into the realm of free jazz: pianist John Blum is probably best known for his work with his Astrogeny Quartet, but he also recorded with Sunny Murray, Steve Swell and Butch Morris to name but a few. Here plays in the great presence of William Parker on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. Don't expect themes, nor fixed rhythmic patterns, you get six intense pieces of direct interaction and wild excursions. Cecil Taylor comes to mind in his relentless thundering forward movement, a little too much to my taste, but well, you're the judge.

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi (NoBusiness, 2009)****

Marilyn Lerner is a Canadian pianist, here accompanied by Ken Filiano on bass and Lou Grassi on drums. Classically trained, maybe, but what you hear on this album is as wild as it gets, free from conventions, idioms and automatisms. It takes you by the throat from the very first notes. What you get here, and what is missing on the John Blum trio, is an incredibly powerful sense of direction, not going into the extreme of one journey, but exploring various options consecutively, or at the same time, flowing one into the other, which makes this album a great listening experience: soft musings, painful beauty, avant-garde string plucking, dark atmospheres, disturbing anxiety, ... it's here. Filiano and Grassi are also absolutely stellar, they are the music, not just the rhythm section to a lead instrument. A greater level of musical focus could have given the entire album a stronger feeling of unity. Although nice by itself, the long boppish "Hommage à Coco Schulmann" (unfortunately misspelled), does not really fit into the overall sound. Less could have been more.

David Arner Trio - Out In The Open (NotTwo, 2009) ****½

And if you want to hear a great musical voice on the piano, try the David Arner Trio, with Michael Bisio on bass and Jay Rosen on drums. Arner's music is something else, light-footed yet with gravity, subtle and sensitive without resorting to any phrases of the "romantic" catalogue, permanently challenging himself, and coming up with insteresing solutions. It's hard to define what makes his music different, yet it has a kind of natural lyricism and a permanent level of surprise, with phrases that end in questions marks, sparse at moments, dense at others. Bisio and Rosen are fabulous, moving along and often driving the upcoming waves of intensity that you feel coming up from deep in this musical ocean, approaching breaking and disappearing again. Tasteful power. Intense sensitivity.

Alberto Braida - Talus (Nuscope, 2009)****

Jazz is not dead (I thought I would never write that), it defines and determines new music. Music had to go through jazz to reinvent itself, and come out all the richer, more subtle, with lots of technical skills, but only as a functional means, not as a goal per se. Next step is to make it more popular while keeping its uncompromising but - in principle - potential for universal appeal.

Alberto Braida is a great example of this. Impossible to say which genre he plays, but this record will probably be filed in the jazz section in the record shops. I already praised the Italian's quality of restraint and discipline : he plays his keys with absolute deliberation, note by note almost - no long phrases or runs or fills or other embellishments that you hear with the less mature players. Braida reduces his music to the essence: no show, but music. No entertainment, but authentic art. It makes listening a little harder, but all the more rewarding. Great stuff.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef