Monday, September 24, 2018

Congs for Brums – A Complete and Tonal Disaster (Preposterous Bee Music, 2018)

This is a project of percussionist and electronic musician Ches Smith, well known as one of the most interesting drummers and musical concept artists on the jazz scene, sideman of choice to many improvised music luminaries and a well regarded leader in his own right. A Complete and Tonal Disaster is the fourth album for Smith in this configuration, ostensibly solo, but with considerable overdubbing as he plays drums, percussion, vibraphone and a wide range of synthesizers and electronic instruments. The music is daring and quite interesting, although traditional jazz fans may may be put off by the unrepentant use of electronics. The music moves between short snippets of ideas lasting a minute or two to longer electro acoustic constructions that will use the ringing sustain of the vibraphone and place that against powerfully rhythmic percussion playing in free or groove based sensibilities and then using the electronics to create pieces that evolve episodically and thematically over time. The longer pieces are able to able to breathe and grow creating a varied sense when compared against the deliberately claustrophobic shorter pieces. But overall this album works quite well, the experimental nature of the music is exciting and it it also tempered by thoughtfully melodic performances. Congs for Brums - a Complete and Tonal Disaster - Bandcamp.

Send comments to Tim.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Doug Webb - Fast Friends (Posi-Tone, 2018)

This is a strong and well produced album of modern mainstream jazz featuring Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, Michael Dease on trombone, Mitchel Forman on piano, Chris Colangelo on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums. They play tightly arranged versions of originals and jazz standards with energy and wit, beginning with "Last Train to Georgia" which has a bright full band melody, setting a medium uptempo propelling the tenor saxophone to break out for a sunny sounding solo with a pleasant tone, followed by smoothly articulated trombone. The cohesive rhythm section plays well, adding to the flow of the music with its confident nature. The uptempo "Friends Again" has fast flurries of notes propelling the music forward, spotlighting nimble trombone playing in an extended and impressive solo over bubbling rhythm then ceding to the leader's saxophone that carves up the music, playing a very fast and focused improvisation. "High Groove" uses the deep connection of the band to create a large pocket that allows them to come together in a bluesy sound that percolates at a relaxed medium pace, gracefully elaborating on the hard bop concept, with crisp short solo statements. There is fast paced energy at play on "Surfing the Webb" with tight interplay of instruments in the theme and then plenty of space for the leader to stretch out and solo, using the bebop vocabulary as a basis for an excellent tenor saxophone solo. Not to be outdone, there is a sparkling trombone section in response, aided by strong piano, bass and drums, before everyone trades short phrases to close the piece. "Ah-Leu-Cha" is a Charlie Parker song well suited for this unit to create a fine presentation of, playing with confidence and wit, blustery trombone and shiny saxophone adding solos to a firm foundation of piano, bass and drums. The trombonist is appropriately featured on "Dease Things" a fast paced vehicle for quicksilver soloing from Webb, who employs a light and nimble tone and the trombonist who has a little more grit in his approach and uses it well in a memorable feature. After a rippling piano solo, the music comes together with a strong and rapid fire conclusion. They hit another bebop standard  on "A Night in Tunisia" with the trombone brashly intoning the melody as the rhythm section roils beneath him, leading to a solid saxophone solo that connects bop to the modern jazz of today. Fast Friends - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Robbie Lee and Mary Halvorson - Seed Triangular (New Amsterdam Records, 2018)

This is a very interesting album that ranges from folk to jazz and beyond, with the duet of Robbie Lee on multiple woodwind and reed instruments and Mary Halvorson on multiple stringed instruments. Much like when Sun Ra asked his Arkestra to play instruments they were unfamiliar with on the Strange Strings LP, Halvorson is playing many of these for the first time including harp guitar, 1930 Gibson L-2 guitar, and a 6-string banjo. But what could seem like a gimmick in other hands turns into a voyage of discovery with these two musicians, playing mostly short improvisations and getting a wide range of exciting sounds and textures. Tracks like "A Forest Viol" are enchanting with the instruments sounding cool and exotic as tightly strung strings and swooping unusual wind instruments give an unusual tactile quality to the surface of the music, moving both with and against the grain of their improvisation. "Fireproof-brick Dust" with choppy acoustic guitar adding filigrees of notes and flutes that move in a twisting or spiraling pattern and "Rock Flowers" demonstrate this dynamic further with a cool pinched sound from the strings and a sawing reed instrument that becomes loud before dropping off in a wildly exciting duet improvisation. "Spring Up There" has piercing flute and nimble string work, almost hinting at the hypnotic quality of Native American flute music, before shifting to shimmering and spare abstraction. This mysterious and beguiling vibe continues on "Shoots Have Shot" which sounds fast and free, as the music is unmoored in time and space and Lee's flute drones against the spikes of guitar. "The Tawny Orange" has an esoteric and haunting sound, opening to a mystical experience like a wordless secret transmitted through music. The album concludes with two excellent performances, "Early Willows" and the title composition, "Seed Triangular." The former uses chimes or bells like an incantation, creating a sound ceremony for contemplating the wheezing reed instrument and strings, leading into the latter which ends with flute and carefully plucked strings in a long flowing stream of music that juxtaposes the pastel tones of the flute with jagged guitar playing in an appealing fashion. album preview, live in studioSeed Triangular - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Winged Serpents - Six Encomiums For Cecil Taylor (Tzadik, 2018)

Cecil Taylor passed away this year, after decades of remaking what it meant to play and compose for the piano, impressing and influencing a wide range of musicians across genres for generations. Tzadik brings together six pianists who fall into that category for very imaginative tributes to Taylor, along with impressionistic liner notes from poet Cecil Bernstein and cover artwork from label chief John Zorn himself, painted in ink, gold and blood. The music is unique to each artist and their approach to improvisation, whether short pointed tracks like "Genuflect" and "Quauhnahuac" by Craig Taborn and Sylvie Courvoisier to meditations on the method and fearlessness of Taylor's music apparent in "Minor Magus" by Brian Marsella and "Grass and Trees on the Other Side of the Tracks" by Kris Davis. The centerpiece of the recording is by "Unveiling Urban Pointillism" by Aruan Ortiz, a thirteen and a half minute fantasia that compares well with some of Taylor's most well known solo excursions like Live in Willisau and Silent Tongues. Ortiz builds his piece episodically, using the entire length and breadth of the keyboard, crashing low end notes and chords and letting them ring in the silence that follows. It's a masterful performance on a stunning tribute, one that is concluded by Anthony Coleman's "April 5th, 2018" which echoes the elegiac nature of Taylor's passing with the string will and fearless attitude that he displayed in life. This was an excellent album, one of the most memorable of the year, in fact. Each of these musicians was given the space they needed to create their own memorial, saying more through their instruments than the most heartfelt eulogy ever could. Winged Serpents - Encomiums For Cecil Taylor - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dave Rempis - Ithra and ICOCI (Aerophonic Records, 2018)


Saxophonist, composer and label head Dave Rempis is as hardworking a musician as you are likely to find in modern scene. He arranges for a wide range of releases on his Aerophonic Records label as a leader or collaborator in both digital and physical format. Late this summer he has two interesting new releases available as both compact discs or digital downloads. Ithra has a trio consisting of Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Tomeka Reid on cello and Joshua Abrams on bass, and they come together to create a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric album. This isn't a blowout, but rather a deftly arranged series of miniatures, with long tones of cello and bass that arc across the songs presented here, at times giving it a feeling of a chamber music recital or a daring experiential abstract improvisation. The three musicians use their unique talents to develop voicings upon their respective instruments that fit the music perfectly allowing the compositions to evolve slowly and gracefully and granting plenty of open space and liberal interpretations of the source material. The album ICOCI moves into a completely different direction with the group consisting of Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Jasper Stadhouders on guitar and electric bass and Frank Rosaly on drums for a brawny, Chicago style free jazz explosion. There are only two tracks on this album, both well over twenty twenty minutes in length and that allows the musicians to really develop a focused three way conversation that has has episodes of outright blowing, but it is the dynamic range of the music and the tension and resolution of these cells within the larger improvisation which provide much of the forward thrust powering a very exciting and engaging session. Stadhouders alternating between guitar and bass, and Rempis deftly switching between horns allows the music to open up with a wide range of textures and approaches that are are given excellent support from Rosaly's powerful drumming. These are both fine albums, and are easily recommended to open minded jazz fans. Dave Rempis deserves a lot of credit for putting together these diverse collections and releasing them to the public, because they are high quality recordings and packages that are deserving of attention. Aerophonic Records.

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans - Know What I Mean? (Riverside, 1961)

It may seem like an unusual combination for a bluesy alto saxophonist like Cannonball Adderley to play with an impressionistic pianist like Bill Evans. But they played together on the epochal Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, and putting them with a class rhythm section of Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums allows the group to come together for an interesting set of ballads, standards and originals. Evans own "Waltz for Debby" opens for unaccompanied piano, allowing the lilting melody to hang in space before kicking into gear as the bass and drums enter, clearing space for Adderley to hang a clear toned solo at a medium tempo. The group swings together graciously and while the music may be a tad polite, there is no doubt that it is from the heart, with bright soloing from Adderley and Evans and a deep pocketed groove from the bass and drums. "Venice" is anchored by subtle bass and drums allowing Adderley to blow in a sultry and smooth fashion, before the band bursts into the joyous hard bop of "Toy" with strong saxophone soloing rippling across the grooving rhythm and crisp piano comping of Evans. The saxophonist gets a lot of space to really stretch out and improvise playing fast and exciting while still remaining an accessible tone and approach. Evans own solo is bright and crisp, buoyed with this propulsive bass and a scaffolding of percussion before everyone returns together for a tight and concise conclusion. The ballad "Elsa" has Evans playing over the most skeletal accompaniment, setting the pace for Adderley's entry with sultry and late night saxophone playing. The music flows together well, everyone is patient, allowing the music to develop at its own pace, with Kay's wonderful brushwork and Heath's anchoring bass keys to this successful performance. Another impressive ballad performance is "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)" which presents Adderley's evocative saxophone playing in a bed of delicate brushes and soft piano comping. He plays with the format, inserting quick bursts of notes alongside the longer slower lines, keeping everyone on their toes. This was an interesting and thoughtful album, and the most recent reissue includes several alternate takes if you want to dig deep into the methodology of the music, or you can just enjoy top flight musicians performing at a very high level. Know What I Mean? (OJC Remasters) - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Peter Brotzmann and Heather Leigh - Crowmoon (Self-released, 2018)

Crowmoon is the latest collaboration between Peter Brotzmann, playing clarinet, tenor saxophone and tarogato and pedal steel guitar player Heather Leigh. These two musicians create a powerful and endlessly developing improvisation that clocks in at nearly an hour in length. The music works very well, with Brotzmann gradually cycling though his battery of instruments with each one adding just a little tweak to the proceedings whether it is the blustery tenor saxophone blowing gales of raw free jazz rooted in the new thing experiments of the 1960's or his swirling clarinet and pinched and exotic tarogato, a reed instrument originating in eastern Europe centuries ago and re-purposed by Brotzmann as a uniquely personal vehicle for expressive improvisation. Heather Leigh is a wonder on the pedal steel guitar, something that is often thought of in the context of country music and western swing, but as evocative as the instrument is in those settings, letting it loose in this freely improvised setting makes for an inspired partnership. The sole track "Cowmoon, the Auckland Concert" (the disc was recorded in New Zealand during 2017) moves from unfettered free improvisations to areas where the music becomes a force of nature, and it unfolds gradually, with Brotzmann at turns blustery and raw which is how we know him best, but also patient and thoroughly empathetic as a partner that allows the music to build over time, simmering shimmering waves of guitar that move to and fro. At times the music becomes ethereal or develops a cinematic sweep of soaring reeds and pastel toned guitar that evokes a wide range of textures and feelings. Leigh is key to the success of the music, alternatively providing a sympathetic and thoughtful setting for Brotzmann, but also providing direct engagement presenting musical textures that allow for collective improvisation and duo interaction on a very high level. This was a very successful album, and the musicians trust each other implicitly allowing for sections of solo areas which alternate with the complexity and power of the duet sections. Cowmoon - discogs

Send comments to Tim.