Friday, January 29, 2010

Michael Attias Blends the Cool and the Hot in New CD

There are times when you welcome an unfamiliar name and sound to the music corpus that constitutes your listening and playing life. Other times perhaps you can be satiated and nothing gets through the jaded ears into the appreciative consciousness. Then too, it can be that only the last few listenings in a cycle of familiarity can make everything clear to your musical head.

Michael Attias got through to me as a voice that should be heard only after a couple of listens to his excellent Renku In Columbra (Clean Feed).This is a showcase for his cool-hot alto playing, a subtle commodity that charms and caresses the senses with a real facility but also a sensitive sense of phrase and form.

The album runs through several originals by Michael and the formidably propellant bassist on the date, John Hebert. Then there are rather unknown but interesting pieces by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons, one apiece.

Besides Hebert, drummer Satoski Takeishi adds a groovingly out presence. Russ Lossing joins the fray on piano for one cut.

This is improvisation as high art. Attias and Hebert are masterful, impressive, loquacious. Takeishi is alternately bombastic and playful, subtle and driving.

It shows that Michael Attias can create a sound on the alto that has a classic ring to it--cool like the coolists, hot like the new thingers, but filled with really interesting and original phrasing. These cats can swing and they can tumble out of time. They do either like they own their music, authoritatively. I am happy to get a chance to hear Attias and company hold forth so effectively on Renku. You might well feel the same way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dave Rempis and Frank Rosaly Release First Duo

On the Chicago improvisational scene tenor (and alto & baritone) virtuoso Dave Rempis and drummer Frank Rosaly are important figures. We've discussed them on Gapplegate Blogs and in Cadence as some key players in various bands. They've never recorded as a duet, until now and their Cyrillic (482 Music).

It's a good session, rather totally free with various moods represented. Dave Rempis surely plays some very nice sax here and Frank Rosaly drums with forethought. It's one of those records that you'll appreciate if you already know their work or if you like pared-down free improvisation dates. If all that is new to you, this is not the place to start.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Charles Tolliver Big Band at the Blue Note

Charles Tolliver is one of those trumpet/bandleaders whose relative eclipse over time is, from a musical standpoint, inexplicable. I will not attempt to fathom why in this space. Rather, I would like to celebrate his last Half Note release, Emperor March: Live at the Blue Note.

This is excellent big band jazz with the emphasis on what Tolliver has always been into, which is the hard bop/post-bop nexus of Trane, his sidemen and followers, and of course, Tolliver himself. The band is hot, the music steams and Tolliver shows himself still vital. This belongs with the very best big-band releases of last year. Much ink has been spilled about it so I will only reaffirm. Dig in and dig yourself out of the winter doldrums with this one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pianist Greg Burk and His Latest CD

Greg Burk has a new CD out today, his fourth for 482 Music. Many Worlds spotlights the involved pianism of Burk with a new quartet: Henry Cook on reeds, Ron Seguin on bass and drummer Michel Lambert. Burk and Cook were a part of Boston's Either Orchestra, which made some excellent music. Burk, Cook and Seguin have done some playing in and around Burk's current home base, Rome. The rhythm team has done some playing together in Canada. All of that is only to establish that this quartet has formed musical bonds previous to this particular configuration, and that the music on this disk shows a group that has already established a keenly attuned rapport.

This is freely flowing improvisation of a high level. The band can soar with a sort of rubato timelessness that later Trane, Tyner, Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders have made use of--though Burk and company do it in their own way; or they can freely pulsate and swing with charm and poise.

Burk himself plays a form of piano that has a thoroughly contemporary feel, yet also shows he can forge a style out of disparate elements. It can be lyrical or biting, but always musically astute. Henry Cook does very nice work here as well. The rhythm section plays inventively and flowingly. The 11 tracks on this disk show a sophisticated conceptual-compositional simplicity-in-complexity. It's what really sets this band off, I think. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stephen Gauci, Notable Tenor Saxist and Bandleader

Stephen Gauci has one of those well-developed, well-burnished freebop tenor sax styles. He has been making a number of records under his own name and with the Michael Bisio group, mostly for CIMP Records. We've looked at some of them on this and the other Gapplegate Blogs.

Today we consider his Absolute, Absolutely (CIMP), a quartet date recorded a few years ago but no less current for it. The CD provides a long, generous set of music that shows Gauci at his best, as player and as a writer of originals. With him is a crack group of associates: there's Nate Wooley on trumpet, who has little by little created a commanding position among New York based trumpeters of the freebop stripe; the very seasoned, extraordinarily capable Ken Filiano holds the bass chair and teams with drumming vet Lou Grassi, a man who swings infectiously and coaxes a wide spectrum of sounds and attack weights from his kit in the free-er sections.

This is Gauci's show, though, and he turns in a set of performances that demonstrate ably his utter command and inventiveness on the sax family's big brother. He can be robust, bursting with energy and musical ideas, or subdued, spinning phrases that cajole Nate Wooley to counter with equally interesting musical sounds.

This is new jazz of the best sort and there is much to hear, appreciate and revel in. Absolute, Absolutely is absolute in setting the standard for a well-schooled, exhilarating brand of new jazz.

Check out the details by going to, then clicking on the CIMP section.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Symphonies of Gian Francesco Malipiero

Gian Francesco Malipiero (1883-1973) belongs to the generation of Italian composers that includes Respighi, Pizzetti and Casella. His music is generally not well known, but Naxos has undertaken to release his complete symphonic output in a number of volumes. We look at Volume Four today. Antonio de Almeida conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in respectable performances of Malipiero's Symphony Number 7, his Sinfonia in un tempo, and Sinfonia per Antigenida, all works dating from 1948 and later.

This is rather dark music on the whole. After repeated listenings, I have come to respect his uncompromising seriousness. Having not heard the rest of these volumes I do not know if this quality is characteristic of his entire opus. I honestly cannot say that these works have imprinted themselves on my musical consciousness. They have not. Either that means I should listen more, which I no doubt will, or they just do not have enough in the way of distinguishing features to garner my attention. That is not to say that his music isn't well-crafted. I find some composers' works do not stay in my mind for whatever reason. The symphonies of Elgar are an example. So far, Malipiero's symphonies are as well.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Zorn as Present-Day Composer

Late last year Tzadik Records released John Zorn's Femina, his chamber composition dedicated to women in the arts. It comes with an interesting booklet of photographs by Kiki Smith, but the music is the main attraction.

Femina utilizes a small chamber ensemble of piano, harp, percussion, violin, electronics, recitation and cello to create a multi-stylistic work that combines minimalist ostinatos, free sounding passages, modern contemporary classical writing and other elements as well. The combination itself is not extraordinary; it's the music itself.

Everything comes together on this recording to create a memorable experience. It has a Zen-like largess in the way it spans outward into music of spacious expanse. It is music that is truly open, in the best sense of the word. I find it exhilarating. Zorn has managed here to recapture the feeling of wonder and enchantment that sometimes has been lost from modern music.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Paul Fetler, American Composer

Paul Fetler (b. 1920) only now enjoys a CD exclusively devoted to his music (Naxos 8.559606). Arie Lipsky conducts the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra in a program of three works that seemingly give you a good idea of this relatively unknown American composer. His composition teachers are one place to start to give you an idea of his musical style; they are David Van Vactor, Quincy Porter and Paul Hindemith. While Fetler is in no way a clone of these masters, he does share with them a kind of modernist, tonal lyricism. The "Three Poems by Walt Whitman (1976)," "Capriccio (1985)," and "Violin Concerto No. 2 (1980)" share a skillful use of orchestral color, atmospheric evocativeness and the long-phrased quality of late romantic tone poem exposition.

Violinist Aaron Berofsky does a fine job with the solo role in the Poems and the Concerto, and a vivid sound stage on this recording brings Felter's music to life. He may not be one of the prime movers of his musical age, but his music has charm. Hindemith he isn't. He is Fetler.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


If you are in the States, you may not be familiar with Alberto Pinton (baritone sax, clarinet), Jonas Kullhammar (tenor and baritone sax), Torbjorn Zetterberg, (acoustic bass) and Kjell Nordeson (drums, vibes). Yet if you listen to their recent Chant (Clean Feed) you will realize that it has been your loss.

The unusual line up of two baritones (doubling on other saxes) plus rhythm gives the session a bottom heavy texture much of the time but it sounds fresh. The band winds its way through ten compositional vehicles that they feel comfortable playing within. It's a free-ish date with lots of improvisational space for all the players. None of them strikes me as on the verge of becoming a major stylist but that does not stop the music from being captivating and well-thought out.

Those who love the baritone will find this album to their liking. Those who like a free date with some melodic heads and a steady pulse (at least half of the time) will also find this enjoyable.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Antoinette Montague, 2010

Antoinette Montague has a new album that's coming out shortly. It's Behind the Smile (In the Groove). Now I've gotten a bit of a dose of "jazz singers" in the recent past, and I find that there are many out there who don't quite have the talent or instrument to qualify.

Based on her new CD, however, Antoinette Montague doesn't displease. She is accompanied by a quartet that can play accompaniment and swing out with good soloing, and her choice of repertoire is not cliched. There's "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," OK, but it's given a kind of New Orleans marching lilt. Then there are the lesser covered numbers, like Brubeck's "Summer Song," Big Bill Broonzy's "Give Your Mama One Smile," Duke's "23rd Psalm," and a soul classic or two, like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

Her voice is drenched with the blues, has nice nuances in pitch, is dead-on for intonation, and has an appealing sound.

I've been disappointed by many contemporary singers, but not Antoinette. If you like the genre I think you'll dig her and the latest CD.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lyell Cresswell, New Zealand's Worthy Composer

If you aren't familiar with the music of Lyell Cresswell you aren't alone. Before I heard the new Naxos CD under consideration today, I had no exposure to him. He was born in 1944. He is a living presence. The Voice Inside showcases four of his compositions for orchestra. There is the title piece, The Voice Inside, and Cassandra's Songs, both of which feature the very appealing mezzo-soprano of Madeleine Picard. Then there is Alas! How Swift and Kaea, with solo spots for trumpet and trombone, respectively. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd provide seemingly definitive performances of the music.

And what of it? Cresswell has a beautiful feel for the orchestral possibilities available to him and makes fine use of the various combinations at hand. His music is firmly in the modern mainstream. It is neither highly romantic nor is it especially abstract or dissonant.

The two works for mezzo-soprano and orchestra show that he has a definite flair for evoking sound-pictures that complement and extend the meaning of the lyrics. All the works give you plenty of evidence of a lucid musical mind at work. This Cresswell program should provide the serious listener with much to appreciate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A New One From Marty Ehrlich's Rites Quartet

I've come to expect very good things from Marty Ehrlich. He takes care formulating the approach each of his ensembles puts across, and they stand out for composition, interplay and individual soloists. His Rites Quartet is an excellent example. The recent Things Have Got to Change (Clean Feed) CD bears this out.

Marty sets this group up partly to pay tribute to the memory of Julius Hemphill and his wonderful music. Around half the pieces on the disk are by Julius, including a very nice rendition of "Dogon AD;" the other half are Ehrlich originals.

Erik Friedlander here plays cello somewhat in the manner of Abdul Wadud, Hemphill's bandmate of note. Erik's funky pizzicato has lots of soul, clearly giving himself over to the Wadud's way of musical thinking. I don't believe I've ever heard Eric sound quite this rootsy. Of course he is untouchable as a flowingly moving arco player and that side shows up on this disk as well. He adds much to the session. Pheeroan Aklaff drives the group in his irrepressibly vigorous manner. Trumpet man James Zollar has imagination and pluck and works well in the front line as a contrasting voice to the always interesting Ehrlich on alto.

Things Have Got to Change falls together as vitally communicative music from the first cut to the last. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Igor Markevitch, Forgotten 20th Century Composer

If you are between ages 11 and 60-something, you know the 20th century almost exclusively from the last half, and perhaps not all of it. So if you know the name Igor Markevitch (1912-1983), it's probably as a conductor. Yet between 1929-1943, he was considered one of the most advanced and formidable European composers.

He gave up all composing activity after this period. Both he and the musical world passively or actively let his body of works slide into oblivion. Only now, thanks in part to Naxos' thus far three-volume survey of his orchestral works, can we listen again to his music. And that is what I have been doing, namely the third volume of his Complete Orchestral Works, performed with respectable verve and panache by the Arnheim Philharmonic under Christopher Lyndon-Gee.

Incredibly the three works in this volume, Cantique d'Amour, L'Envol d'Icare, and Concerto Grosso have never been commercially recorded before.

A close listen to this volume reveals a major stylist, a modernist with his own palette of orchestral color, an inventive craftsman of ambitiously dramatic works.

His is a music less manic than early Prokofiev, more somber and dark than Stravinsky, less cellular-motival than Varese. It is the music of Markevitch! Naxos does us all a service with this series. No serious student of the music of pre-World War II Europe can afford to ignore this release. It's revelatory. Now I need to hear the first two volumes!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Samuel Blaser, His Trombone, His Quartet

Samuel Blaser is not somebody I am very familiar with. He plays an impeccably solid balladic trombone, at least on his Pieces of Old Sky CD (Clean Feed). He is well served by his quartet, which includes Todd Neufeld on electric guitar, Thomas Morgan on contrabass and Tyshan Sorey on drums. We took a look at the latter's Koan in the August 19, 2009 posting of my Gapplegate Music Blog at That CD has Sorey, Neufeld and Morgan minus Blaser.

Like Koan, Pieces of Sky has meditative moments and a kind of sprawling free balladic style that owes something to Charlie Haden and Paul Motian's earlier work, though not in any direct sense. Blaser's trombone builds expressive musical sequences that are a pleasure to hear and the trio gives a subtle, nuanced accompaniment.

It's not all balladic though. "Red Hook," for example gets a head of steam going and Todd Neufeld sounds terrific combining unusual chording and impassioned single lines.

This is a record that deserves your attentive ear. Blaser genuinely contends as a trombonist deserving recognition and the trio has something good to say musically. Recommended.

Friday, January 8, 2010

John Surman, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette, Drew Gress

Brewster's Rooster (ECM) celebrates John Surman's forty-plus years as an influential musician, a soprano-baritonist of distinction and a creative force as a bandleader-conceptualist. He is joined by two who have collaborated with him and with themselves in some classic recordings, namely, Abercrombie and DeJohnette. And bassist Drew Gress of course has been a player of excellence for a long time.

This is the straightforwardly swinging date that one might expect of these folks. It has some ECM-type mellowness, a little bit of fire here and there, and a standard or two to show the breadth of their abilities.

Now if we were still bombarded by ECM releases in the States like we used to be, I might find myself a little jaded with it all. But that is not the case. In the hands of these masters, the well-worn spacious cosmic element sounds ever renewed and given their ability to do something their own with a bountiful harvest of roots, who would complain? Sure these guys don't show all the fire here that they have been known to give birth to, especially in earlier recordings. But perhaps that's not what they intend to be about right now. As it is everybody is in synch and playing quite well. The material is interesting and the sound is of the impeccable ECM variety.

If you are a fan of these players, you will find this a good addition to your collection. If you are coming on them for the first time this is an accessible way to hear them. Sure, they've made some better albums in the past. But they are still vibrant improvisers and this one is definitely worthwhile.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Will Holshouser Trio with Bernardo Sassetti

There are CDs that come along that don't fit in with one's preconceptions. Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (Clean Feed) is one such recording. It's a meeting of accordionist Will Holshouser's trio with Portuguese pianist Bernardo Sassetti. Joining Holshouser in the trio is Ron Horton on trumpet and David Phillips on bass.

I can't tell you exactly what my preoccupations were before I listened. They were a bit murky and undefined. What you get is good music, rather outside the norm of various categorical forms of "jazz." There's a version of a piece by famed Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes and there are originals.

This is music of a tonally straightforward kind. There is a European folkish element and otherwise there is no easy categorization. Sassetti plays some wonderfully expressive, lyrical piano which is seconded by Holshouser's adventurous accordion. Horton's trumpet plays some nice obligatto parts and forms an important part of the proceedings, as does Phillips.

There are playfully free elements, such as on "East River Breeze." All of it reflects a careful musicianship that is in part a product of the trio's ten-year tenure, but also of Sassetti's palpable musical sensitivity.

It's not quite the usual musical offering. And that difference makes for refreshing chamber jazz that shows off the considerable musical-compositional capabilities of the group. Collaborations are especially successful if the members involved come to new aural territories as a result of the inspiring presence of the fellow travellers involved. I believe that happened here. This is a set that's easy on the ears yet substantial. It should provided open-minded listeners with much pleasure.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Folkways' Music of Indonesia II

As promised, today a little more about Folkways Records' Music of Indonesia series, this time Volume 2. As with the previously discussed first volume (see below) these are pretty early recordings as far as what was available in the USA on LP. I believe this was released in 1961. The actual recordings are from an earlier time, the '50s?

Volume two has three interesting cuts of traditional music from Sumatra, one from Ambon, the rest from Bali. The latter selections are more or less standard traditional Gamelan, with excerpts of the Barong Dance and some all metallophone cremation music. It's not a comprehensive introduction, but it's a fine set of extracts. The Sumatran cuts show some of the lesser known sounds of the region, duets for a kind of stringed lute and a double reed instrument. The Ambon selection has a different sort of chamber Gamelan sound. It's all worthwhile and as a download or CD-Rom copy, the price is right. You can grab this or any of the many Indonesian music releases at the Smithsonian Folkways website.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Masterful Clarinet of Ben Goldberg

Depending on how you count, Ben Goldberg has just come out with his third or fourth CD for Tzadik, "Speech Communication," and it's a good one. He is one hell of a clarinet player and he is joined on this trio outing by the sympathetic accompanists Greg Cohen (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums).

Ben has absorbed improvisational clarinet stylists from the Klezmer greats through Perry Robinson and forged anew a personal style. He has remarkable control over his sound and plays some really intriguing music.

Master of the standard clarinet, he also plays some really notable contra alto clarinet (which is similar to the bass clarinet, only even deeper in range). His music combines Jewish influences with modern postbop jazz strains. Goldberg has internalized and re-melded all of this so that it is seamlessly coherent. It's a CD that should establish him in the top ranks of clarinetists working today, if he hasn't already done that. Can you tell I liked "Speech Communication?"

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rodrigo Amado, Portuguese Tenor in Good Form on "The Abstract Truth"

Rodrigo Amado shows once again that he is an important new voice in the free-er stratosphere of improvisation with an excellent album The Abstract Truth (European Echoes). He is joined by two first-rate improvisers, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Both sidemen have made their marks in the past decade or so, Kessler as the solid bassist with Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble and others following Russell's death; Norwegian Paal Nilssen-Love with Didrik Ingvaldsen, Frode Gerstad and Chris Potter.

This is a focused improvisational romp. Amado plays great sounding tenor and baritone here, with a sure conceptualization of what notes to play when. The rhythm team stays right with him for results that catapult this session to the high levels of some of the best free trio dates I've heard of late.

Amado has a mature approach and we can only expect him to get even better as he progresses. He is someone you need to hear if you have an interest in the improv music of today.