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Monday, September 20, 2021

Out on Intakt (Day 2 of 2)

Angelika Niescier - Alexander Hawkins - Soul In Plain Sight (Intakt, 2021) ****½

Germany based saxophonist Angelika Niescier and British pianist Alexander Hawkins share an intimate and explosive 52 minutes together on Soul in Plain Sight. The album, which was recorded after a series of concert dates last year in Europe was committed to tape (or hard-drive) at the somewhat legendary Loft in Cologne in September 2020. The music is a rich mix of improvisation and compositions. Most are credited to the duo, while "Un:Tamed", "Nexus" and "Tar'ai" are by Angelika Niescier and "Scops" and "As Hemispheres at Home" are by Alexander Hawkins, and "Arhythm Songy" is a track composed by Muhal Richard Abrams.

The album kicks off with a series of notes from the piano and then a quick run and squall from the saxophonist introduces the aptly titled 'Brawls and Squabbles'. After the explosive start, the two carry on in a dynamic choreograph of energetic enjoinders and punctuating phrases. The aforementioned 'Arhtym Songy' follows and is captivating as the two get into an ever accelerating centrifuge of melodic ideas.  The third track 'Why Don't You' takes the concise energy of the first track with the precision of the second and fuses it into an fascinating swirl of sound. The longest track, 'Nexus', begins with a jaunty be-bop influenced sax riff that intersects with some choice clipped chordal accompaniment before unrolling into a dynamic dialog comprised of syncopated phrases and  extemporaneous outpourings, while 'Metamorphose einer Karelle' is a lovely, dark hued ballad.

A rather stunning album that basically asks does 1 + 1 really equal 2? There is a hell of lot happening on Soul in Plain Sight.

Michael Formanek - Imperfect Measures (Intakt, 2021) *****

I think it was the long-COVID-year talking. Many artists had turned inward and developed solo projects due to the various social restrictions during the pandemic, and I thought for a moment that maybe I'd pass on bassist Michael Formanek's solo release Imperfect Measures. I suppose I was looking for something with 'more' instruments on it. In my minds eye, I see you already shaking your head at me, and you're right to do so: Imperfect Measures is absolutely riveting. Formanek delivers a performance that draws out all the gravitas and sonority from his upright bass possible and shares it generously with his listeners.

I am going to skip talking about the individual tracks, I think this is a really best considered as a single piece. I hear a painting, rich images arranged alluringly on a canvas, even though the work is composed of thick, boldly suggestive brush strokes. My ears readily fill in the details. It is these impressions (fill in your own, please!) that Formanek communicates through the hearty resonance of plucked and bowed tones. He builds musical structures full of rhythm, melody, and counter melodies that feel as complete and detailed as if there were a drummer, piano and saxophone at his side. 

Just wow.  

Broken Shadows - Broken Shadows (Intakt, 2021) ***½

By Stephen Griffith

Tim Berne likes to keep a lot of irons in the fire. Although Snakeoil relieved a long dry spell of the alto player not leading a working group, it was only a matter of time until his other interests started chafing for attention. While Berne, along with Marty Ehrlich, has carried the torch of his mentor Julius Hemphill for years, it's difficult for an alto player of this type of music not to be influenced by the fellow Fort Worth, Texas saxophonist, Ornette Coleman and his longtime tenor associate Dewey Redman. In fact Tim was one of three altoists playing Zorn’s thunderous thrash rock versions of Coleman’s music on Spy vs Spy on Tzadik in 1988. But Broken Shadows addresses a lot of empty spaces in the Berne oeuvre: playing cover versions, no rehearsals, no sheet music and short solos. Tenor player Chris Speed was in the mid 90's Bloodcount and very familiar with Berne's way of doing things (plus he often employs a big open Dewey Redman tone). The Bad Plus rhythm section, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King, have played together for 35 years so are obviously simpatico. So book some gigs in Brooklyn restaurants when schedules permit and see what happens.

What happened was obviously a success as they raced through the persistently appealing melodies and created instantly well crafted solos. Coleman’s songs have an almost immediate familiarity but a surprise on this recording is how well Hemphill’s “Body” fits in (a new version of “Dogon A.D.” is always welcome particularly with different instrumentation). If nothing else the Coleman songs remind the listener of the consistency of the quality of songwriting that seemed almost effortless. The songs were originally released as part of a vinyl subscription package by Newvelle Records in 2019. Thanks to Intakt for making it more widely and conveniently available.

Aki Takase, Christian Weber, Michael Griener - Auge (Intakt, 2021) ****

Apologies, you just read my colleagues take on Auge yesterday. Unthinkingly, I did not follow my own coordination efforts and also wrote about it. So, for better or worse ...

Berlin based pianist Aki Takase's musical styles and approaches is rather sweeping. She is inventive re-interpreter of classic styles of jazz, like her work with Fats Waller's music to the music of Eric Dolphy, as well her duos with her husband, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and so much more. Her music also can have a sly wink to it, often expressed by the blending of these different styles and approaches like for example, her duo with saxophonist Daniel Erdmann on the recent Isn't it Romantic (BMC, 2021). Anyway, here, with swiss bassist Christian Weber and German drummer Michael Griener, Takase explores the traditional piano trio set-up but with the idea that no one instrument is front and center. 

The opening track 'Last Winter' at first seems to both undermine and underscore this notion of equality. Takase's delicate piano introduction is front and center, with Weber and Griener offering subtle support. However, the piece wouldn't work as well with piano alone, the bassists counter melody lends important counterweight and the drums fill in the gaps. It's a short piece, and soon we are at 'Drops of Light' which kicks off with a rapidly percolating melody and rhythmic uncertainty. The piece thrives on the interactions between the trio - a figure introduced by Takase is reflected by Weber and refactored by Griener - and is lively a demonstration of their musical compatibility.  'Are Eyes Open' is a reminder of the humor and playfulness that ripples through Takase's music. The sunny melody, which seems straight forward quickly starts revealing quirks and then seemingly dies out. 'No Tears' is a rather stately ballad that would seem to be quite at home on an ECM recording,  with all three developing a somewhat shimmering but unsettling atmosphere. The 'Face of the Bass' is another fun one. Takase and Weber seems to be locked into a frantic, friendly melee of sorts. This one seems to be more freely improvised than the other lightly structured pieces, but it's actually quite hard to say what it and isn't composed as the musicians seems to be deeply in tune with each other.

Read Day 1