Did you miss me?
In my wont to beat the drum one last (first?) time in 2012, I find myself forced to adopt a shorter form than usual, which is a pity, as all of these recordings deserve extended dialectic for one reason or another.
The Charles Gayle Trio – Look Up (ESP, 2012) ****½
When confronted with the list of those recordings available for review—no doubt a tiny portion of the many sent to freejazz-stef each year—Look Up was the one I listened to first. I've been loving the music of Charles Gayle now for over 20 years. Yippee A “new” recording from 1994, when Gayle was is in full flower.
And full flower power it is. Gayle is “an end” to the saxophone. We get to hear it. How much further (in that direction) can the tenor saxophone be pushed? What hasn't Gayle played on that horn? On Look Up, Gayle covers a great deal of ground on the Bass Clarinet as well, all the while supported and punctuated by Michael Bisio on bass and an exceptionally effervescent Michael Wimberly on drums.
Gayle also takes the time shares some Christian beliefs. While many will find those beliefs unbearably odious, if you are able to yell “LA LA LA” over the really Christian parts and can focus on the tone and phrasing of Gayle's spoken word, a new perspective on (and appreciation of) Gayle's horn playing awaits.
David Liebman, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Marino & Jim Black – Non Sequiturs (Hatology – 2012) ***½
Keeping the theme of New York Tenor players, I must admit it was my interest in Catherine Sikora's music that brought me to Non Sequiturs. Alas, wrong as usual, it is George Garzone and not David Liebman who can claim Sikora as pupil.
The mistake is honest, as Garzone, Liebman and Eskelin inhabit (and thrive) in the “inside-outside” musical ecology. The demands of that environment are many, and many of those demands are diametrically opposed, i.e., reconciling the parent culture's expectations of clever, public radio segue friendly heads and compositions with a now 50 year history of (and continued migration towards) anti-capital screeching noises within the realm of composition.
Make no mistake, the “inside-outside” composer/improviser has it tough. On the one hand, the “inside” composer is up against 500 years of tonal music and such hit makers as Bach, Brahams, Beethoven, Berlioz, Bruckner, Boulez, Beiber as well as the other 25 letters of the alphabet. The “outside”, the improviser, is up against Charles Gayle, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, William Parker, Evan Parker, and so on. To be barely conversant in either language, let alone fluid in both, is no simple feat.
While I choose Gayle and all things outside, there is no denying the craftsmanship and dedication exhibited inNon Sequiturs. A distinct gestalt emerges from the writing, rather than a gray plop of difficult to sight read tedium. A most treasured edition to the inside-outside canon.
Michael Attias – Spun Tree (Clean Feed, 2010) ****½
At no point were Attias' composition a burden, insult, or a segue to the next segment on The Weather Channel. It is as if Attias got out his best pen, opened up to the greater vibration and let the music write it self through him. And while it is by no means made for TV movie twaddle...this is the kind of music in which TV, NPR, the Weather Channel should partner. Attias' music could elevate all three without offending. There is an ease of listening without that shame feelings that comes after too fluff.
Attias also surrounds himself with similarly minded bar raisers, like Sean Conly on bass (cf Grass Roots) and Kevin Reilly YouTube channel regular, Tom Rainey on Drums. In their instantly evident musicality and ability, the ensemble follow the high road by whipping out just enough to “win,” keeping the understood ample technical reserves sheltered in tastefulness.
So when is Attias getting his MacArthur?
Steve Lehman Trio – Dialect Flourescent (pi recordings, 2012) ***½
And (obviously) there's nothing wrong with that. If there was, why, in the year of our lord 2012, would anyone go to the trouble of crafting, ornamenting, maintaining and managing the facilities necessary to pound outMoment's Notice, let alone with Lehman's verve? Lehman's trio is a tidy, tight ship. It has to be. Or does it? There will only ever be one John Coltrane, and I wouldn't trade Lehman's Moment's Notice for Coltrane's.
And so I ask my self (and, rhetorically, Mr. Lehman) why go there?
And yet at the same time, why not go there? That's the fun of post modernity and late capital—all things all the time. Besides, the Lehman trio's reading of that piece is hardly shabby—and it is only one of the many tunes on the album for heavens sake. Stop shouting at me.
More immaculate musicianship, clever writing and arranging for those of you for whom that is important or interesting.
Darius Jones - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (AUM Fidelty, 2012) ***½
In other NYC alto saxophone trio news, we have Darius Jones' Big Gurl (Smell My Dream). My personal (irrelevant) sorrow with Jones is a familiar one, namely the imbalance between actual and perceived (and later advertised) accomplishment. Bill Dixon often talked about how once something became popular, he ran the other way. He also talked about how Down Beat was a fantastic guide to new music—ignore the 5 star recordings and check out the 1 stars. I am starting to get that very feeling from the New York Times—the larger the article, the more tepid the work, and once they are on to it, it's time to check out something else. That is neither Mr. Jones fault, and I hardly imagine he (or anyone else) sees it as a “problem.”
While there is nothing wrong with Big Gurl, and indeed there is much to like, set against the mountains of hosannas churned out by the culture machine, I was left wanting more. I guess you can never recapture the feelings that come from that initial shattering of the musical mind—especially when dealt by Marco Eneidi in the late 80's. Times have changed. The music has changed. Expectations of changed. Standards have changed. The self congratulating culture machine's insidiousness has changed in so much as it has increased, and it is ruining my experiences with music. Thanks culture!
Big Gurl brings to mind a Joshua Redman I innocently attended back in the mid 90's. All I can remember from that well managed experience was drummer Brian Blades. While the difference isn't nearly as stark on Big Gurl, I must admit there were times during my listening when paid more attention to the rhythm section ass kickery that is Adam Lane on bass and Jason Nazary on drums.
Dennis Rea, Wally Shoup, Tom Zdonc – Subduction Zone (2012) ***½
Another alto trio, this time with the guitar, Subduction Zone by Dennis Rea, Wally Shoup and Tom Zdonc, merits attention, at least in the Pacific North West of North America, if not beyond. Before I moved to “America's Hat” I lived in Portland, Oregon for about a decade. My understanding is that during that time Rea and Shoup (though I don't know about Zdonc) lived a mere 3 hours north, in jolly olde Seattle, Washington. Though totally incidental to the music at hand, I can't help but pause and marvel at the fact that in that 10 years, I never met either and never saw them once perform in Portland. That is not to say that they have never performed Portland...I just never never recall them perform live there, nor any recollection of any press announcing their presence. I assume exactly 33 1/3 % responsibility for that.
This is remarkable only when you consider when I did live in Portland, I saw Frode Gerstad, Evan Parker, Han Bennik with The Ex--all of whom live a lot further from Portland than Rea and Shoup. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Evan Parker, and I like Gerstad well enough to put on my pants and leave the house. Hard though it may be to believe, I also think the sense of self-worth of many Portlanders was even further elevated with the presence of such undisputed giants of music from that far away, mythical Europe, where improvised music comes from.
And yet a mere 3 hours away were Rea, Shoup and all the rest of the Seattle improvisers whom I never met, who rarely came to Portland, and if/when they did, never received the welcome quite like our esteemed colleagues from across the pond. Why is that?
As for Subduction Zone, if Dr. Albert Hoffman were Improvised Music, the guitar would be his problem child. When the guitar (like LSD) is good, it's great. When the guitar (like LSD) is not good, it's a nightmarish experience unlike any other. Rea never dips into the nightmarishly bad, and occasionally makes it to great psychedelic heights. As with just about all the improvised recordings I've listened to since 1988, that which sounds composed sounds composed, that which sounds improvised sounds improvised. I like the latter. I also like when Rea is using his guitar more like a sound generating device and less of a thing requiring “technique.” Shoup also shines when he's putting knuckle to cheek, which he does occasionally, than when “making nice.”
Is Subduction Zone better or worse than Big Gurl? Is it better or worse than the Frode Gerstad trio with William Parker and Hamid Drake? Should one command more attention than the other? I guess that depends on who you ask and which label put out the recording.
Steve Lacy – Lost in June (Ictus, 2012) ****½
We continue our survey of the trio with one of the largest gaps in my listening, the music of Steve Lacy, namelyLost In June, recorded in 1977.
My first introduction to the music of Steve Lacy came with the video Lift the Bandstand. While I didn't hate it, it didn't capture my attention the same way as did Cecil Taylor's Call it the Eighth or Charles Gayle's' then releases on Silkheart. In 2012 I did attend the ICTUS tribute to Steve Lacy at the comfortable and redolent Stone in beautiful Down Town Manhattan. The performance was quite compelling, featuring 5 soprano saxophones and, coincidentally, the same Andrea Centazzo on percussion as on Lost in June.
It is the lost-ness of this trio that makes it on to the short list of my favorite recordings of 2012. If the taut, well turned out precision and professionalism that permeates Lehman's recording were to reside on on side of a spectrum, Lacy's Lost In June, exists on the other. Just as Attias' music sounds as if it was composed throughhim (as opposed to by him) the same is true with Lacy, both in terms of his composition and improvisation. There is a grace, a connection to a higher vibration that is bigger than the quantized gesture. Even the “heads”--the composed parts—are a reflection less of culture and more of nature, of a musical pureness that is rarely heard 35 years later.