Friday, April 29, 2011

Bob Gluck's Exceptional Piano Trio Outing: "Returning"

Bob Gluck goes his own way. He is an excellent pianist, with harmonic and melodic ideas to spare. His recent Returning (FMR 292-0710) finds him in formidable company. Drummer Dean Sharp has the sensitivity and big ears to thrive in the intimate free-oriented trio setting. Michael Bisio has basso profundo status these days. He has become a major player (see my recent interview with him in All About Jazz), and for good reason. You have to have independent inventive prowess plus good team-interactivity to thrive in an open piano trio setting as a bassist now (and mostly always), and Michael surely has both.

Returning shows the integrity and artistic brilliance of those early Paul Bley trios, then affirms that this is the Bob Gluck Trio, with certain affinities, but with the compunction and talent to extend the forms and personalize them.

The level of playing has consistency. It is high throughout. The music can be forceful, or whisper to you. It can get a head of steam in the linear swing-zone, then turn around and head into space. The improvisations revel in thematic logic and yet remain open to spontaneity.

Gluck is a stylist of stature. The trio has six hands, and at least three feet (in the musical sense) and they are put magnificently to use here.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elliott Caine Sextet Live On "Hippie Chicks" CD

Despite the psychedelic title (Hippie Chicks On Acid)(Wondercap 07006) and the tongue-in-cheek cover art, this CD documents a modern hard bop sextet date shading into energy territory (something like Lee Morgan in the Lighthouse period).

Trumpeter Elliott Caine has that extroverted, big brassy sound of the Navarro-Brown through Morgan-Shaw school. His sextet has notable other solo voices too--Carl Randall on tenor, Maheesh Balasooriya on piano, Nick Mancini, vibes; and a crack bass-drums team of Bill Markus and Kenny Elliott, respectively.

This puts you into gear with 65 minutes of live immediacy. The tunes are effective blowing vehicles written by Mr. Caine in a later Blue Note boldness of style.

Your enjoyment of Hippie Chicks will have a direct relation to where you stand vis-a-vis this style. It's music that brims over with life. While it probably won't win any awards this year, it will find a welcome place in your collection for its fire and honest free-swinging approach.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nordic Connect Weigh In With The Tuneful "Spirals"

Nordic Connect? Yes. We have the band's Spirals, their second CD (Artist Share 0097), a jazz-rock present day program with some tuneful originals penned by the various band members. Ingrid Jensen appears to be the bandleader and she turns in some very nice trumpet, fluegel and songs; her sister Christine has definite prowess and imagination on alto and soprano; Maggie Olin gives a good showing on piano and Rhodes; then there's a capable rhythm section of Mattias Welin on contrabass and Jon Wikan, drums & percussion.

It's mildly electric music with a lyrical side, a little ECM-like, gossamer-winged free floating alternating with loose jazz-rock grooves. The trumpet and sax effusions are exemplary; Olin's keys charm. It's quite beautiful really.

There's more to be said. I am pressed for time today though, so I apologize to Nordic Connect and my readers for the brevity. This is a good one. A pleasure to hear. Please, I want some more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Matt Bauder Fields Excellent Quintet for "Day in Pictures"

Reed-tenor jazzologist Matt Bauder has integrity. He writes well. He plays with the assurance of someone who has internalized the music, grasped its essentials and communed with his instruments to emerge with a kind of brilliance and right-sounding quality. And as a bandleader he can pick the right people too.

A Day In Pictures (Clean Feed 210) gives you plenty of evidence to consider, and plenty of inspired moments to appreciate. He's gathered together a quintet that gells nicely. Matt's tenor sets the in-and-out clock to midnight, and the time flies by. He's lucid, he's given it all some thought and brims with good ideas, well executed. He does not ape somebody else. He apes himself. His clarinet playing goes someplace too.

Nate Wooley brings the seasoned polish and flexibly masterful playing style that gets him more and more attention on the scene in recent years. He forms a perfect foil in the front line. Bauder and Wooley meld as one in their approach, but remain themselves in the process.

The new voice of Angelica Sanchez on piano gets good exposure on Pictures. She, the complete pianist: beautifully concise in her phrasing on the inside moments; logically lucid in the free-er spots. She has real talent and does much to make this session hum.

The rhythm team of Jason Ajemian on bass and Tomas Fujiwara at the drums brings the ideal balance of swinging drive and daring looseness that beautifully suits them for Bauder's in-and-out.

Finally, the pieces. They are brilliant as well. There's a nod to the history of the music, some classic Blue-Note-like referencing that shimmers when placed in a more modern context. And there's much else about these pieces. They show the hand of a talented jazz composer.

So there you have it. Five excellent players playing first-rate modern jazz. One excellent jazz scrivener showing seven of his best numbers. The combination has real heft, power, excitement.

Very much recommended.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Joel Douek's Soundtrack for "The Wildest Dream"

When you think about it, a good movie soundtrack gives the opportunity for any old average everyday person to be exposed to forms of music that might not otherwise reach his or her ears. While a person is busy watching a movie they get the music without having the pressure of a "pure listening" situation.

Historically the orchestral soundtrack was a given, though the early days of the medium sometimes found an orchestra recorded in less-than-ideal conditions, playing less-than-ideal music. Who hasn't watched an otherwise wonderful old movie and winced at the content-bowdlerized romantic cliches, the orchestra sounding like it has been crammed into an old shoebox? Soundtrack examples by Korngold, Copland, and their ilk were exceptions to the rule of painful mediocrity that more or less prevailed, both in content and sound quality.

Things of course have changed. For those soundtracks that still rely upon a full orchestra, the sound quality is at worst acceptable to the sensitive ear. And the movietone cliches have mostly gone the way of obsolescence, like the "sweet" bands of the '20s-'40s and the easy listening sounds of a Mantovani.

Of course that is not to say that every soundtrack is a gem or that cliches never occur. It's just a different breed of them one encounters.

With all that as an introduction on this Easter Monday morning, I bring to your consideration Joel Douek's soundtrack to an Everest exploration adventure recounting of George Mallory's final, tragic expedition to climb Mt. Everest in 1924, as portrayed in the movie The Wildest Dream (Altitude AF01CD). Now I have not seen the movie, so I cannot comment on the soundtrack's effectiveness vis-a-vis the unfolding of the story. I approach it here as pure music.

The sound quality is excellent. The Prague Symphony Orchestra turns in a convincing performance, as does vocalist Lisbeth Scott for her cameo. So now what of the music? If we take Joel Douek's engaging score as paradigmatic of what is happening now (perhaps a dubious proposition if this were some scholarly diatribe, but it isn't) we see some interesting tendencies. Yes Romanticism is still with us with these sorts of things, but it has been evolved and altered over time so that it no longer sounds like B-grade Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninov pastiche. It's a late sort of Romanticism for one thing. And newly present is the cavernous soundscaping, along with a modern ambiancy, a more highly evolved orchestrational usage that comes out of the past 100 years of orchestral composition--from the Impressionists through to the high-classic Avant Garde and the Minimalists that followed. Corigliani's music for The Red Violin comes to mind, and not necessarily to the detriment of Douek and his score.

No, there is nothing inferior going on with this soundtrack. The awesome bleakness of Everest comes alive here in singularly ravishing beauty, especially in those passages where choir joins orchestra. At the very end there is a kind of singer-songwriter thing, a song sung by Lisbeth Scott that no doubt might get some sort of crossover radio play. It's a very attractive song. But it's the orchestral-choral music that most captivates to my ears. I am reminded of Sibelius, spaced-out in a post-everything-that-came-after context.

So if beauty grabs you and you don't care what modern things are missing from a piece of music (you can get that elsewhere in any event) I think you'll find this thrilling, ravishing, irresistible. It most certainly stands on its own. It stands tall. We've come a long way from the cheesy Tchaikovsky-orchestra-in-a-shoebox days.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Plunge Brings Chamber Jazz to a Good Place in "Tin Fish Tango"

New Orleans is a trombone town. Aside from Kid Ory and the tailgate players. Today for example you have Delfeayo Marsalis, Jeff Albert and . . . Mark McGrain. It is with the latter of the three that we concern ourselves today. He is an integral member of the trio Plunge, the others being James Singleton on contrabass and and Tim Green on alto. They are joined by guests reedman Tom Fitzpatrick and Kirk Joseph on Sousaphone for several numbers of the new CD Tin Fish Tango (Immersion 10-05).

Mr. McGrain's trombone and his compositions are front and center throughout. He is a fine player and writes fully realized material that suits the player resources well. There are times when I am reminded of the Giuffre Trio in the classic days when Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall teamed with Giuffre for a music that favored paired-down jazz roots, arranged effectively and cleverly for the resources at hand and swung pretty hard, yet with a free element as well. Plunge does that, only in a way that somehow suggests NOLA roots and occasionally such rootsy offshots as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (maybe that's because of the lively entrance of the Sousaphone on those numbers that have it).

Everyone plays well. James Singleton in particular benefits from the small-group density. But all are on their game.

It's a very attractive outing. It gets down to the bone, in this case a fish bone? Very very nice. Bravo and I look forward to an encore!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pianist Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line

Some free improv dates are neither here nor there. Ricardo Gallo's The Great Fine Line (Clean Feed 209) manages to avoid that. It's here. By that I mean it has an immediacy. The composed sections structure the freedom in ways that bop heads frame the improvisations. Only this is not bop derived in any palpable way.

But like for example one of those Sonny Simmons ESP dates from the '60s, there is the framework of the melodic head routines and there are rhythmic-harmonic and melodic turning-pivoting points that the soloists work within. Those structural elements provide a scaffolding to the proceedings. And they do so in varying ways.

On the level of the players themselves there is good musical event making. Gallo is a pianist who works out of structures himself, regardless of whether they are those set up for the band's improvisations or just self-imposed. So in that way his playing is a microcosm of the larger group context.

Trombonist Ray Anderson plays himself, which makes him a good addition to just about any date I can think of that he has been on. He can get flat-out boisterous but there is a more introspective side to his playing as well.

And he makes a good contrast with fellow front-liner Dan Blake, who is mostly on soprano but straps on his tenor for two numbers. Blake is a little chameleon-like, tailoring his improvisations to the moment. His soprano work comes off more convincingly than his tenor on this date, but of course that may just be the luck of the draw and what take ends up being used? That's only speculation. At any rate the two engage in effective and consistently interesting two-part improvised counterpoint at times, and that gives you some of the high points of the set.

Mark Helias is his dependable inspired self here, whether arco or pizz. Satoshi Takeishi and/or he and Pheeroan Aklaff provide a dynamically loose and entirely appropriate percussive foundation for what is going on.

Gallo the bandleader is quite present here in the choices made on who does what and when; Gallo the pianist I would like to hear more of in a smaller context to get a better handle on where he would go, but what he is doing on this one shows that he is a player of promise--like Andrew Hill in his prime, Gallo is dedicated to doing what fits his compositional stance. And finally Gallo the composer of heads, tails and centers certainly comes through here in good ways. He DOES do a short duet with Aklaff on "Improbability," and it comes off as slightly tentative but not uninteresting.

Those who don't have the money for everything may find this one less indispensable than some other new releases. But protracted listens may well make you a believer. It is a fine band and Gallo puts a singular stamp onto the proceedings in ways that make me want to hear more of him. I am glad I have heard this one and will most definitely be listening more. So there you are.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Capella Choral Works By Messiaen and His Students Stockhausen and Xenakis

The high-modernists did not typically work within an a capella choral framework. In fact the heyday of such a grouping belongs to the Middle Ages and the Rennaissance. After that there is a precipitous decline, except in religious-based music where of course liturgical traditions help encourage the continued emergence of new compositions for vocal groupings.

Given that, todays CD (Chandos 9663) (which has been around for several years) of unaccompanied choral music by Messiaen and his pupils Stockhausen and Xenakis is especially welcome. The Danish National Choir under Jesper Grove Jorgensen capably perform seven mostly shorter works by the three master composers.

There is something about more complex harmonies when sung by a choral group. They have a kind of potency not always present if those note clusters are sounded by instrumental ensembles. Somehow you feel the beating of the tones and overtones against one another more directly--and that may have something to do with our biological construction as humans and the way we instinctively respond to the human voice.

Be that as it may I only wish to suggest that the CD at hand provides you with a rather different glimpse into the musical minds of these musical architects. For that reason alone the CD is fascinating and should be heard by all those interested in modernism and its development in music.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mostly Other People Do the Killing Go Live in "The Coimbra Concert"

Live jazz has traditionally gained a certain cache among the cognoscenti. In the age of the 78, artists were limited to the three or four minute cut; live playing allowed them the stretch out. With the advent of the LP, artists could go on for quite a bit longer, which they started to do on Prestige albums in the early '50s and everywhere else after that. The CD enabled even longer stretches, as we all know. Nonetheless the live situation puts improvisers in less clinical environments, ideally in front of an appreciative audience. So there has still been something to be said about the live appearance and the live recording for capturing jazz at its uninhibited best.

The appearance of a live 2-CD set of Mostly Other People Do the Killing [The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed 214)] naturally brought out a set of heightened expectations when I took it out of its mailer several weeks ago. MOPDTK in the studio can be boisterous and wild. What will the band live sound like? More so? To jump ahead, I was not disappointed.

This is a fine band. Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (tenor and sopranino), Moppa Elliot (double bass) and Kevin Shea (drums) are some very impressive new players on the scene individually, and together they rise to some high places indeed.

So we have the band in a live concert. As is often the case with this band, the cover is a send-off--this time of a Keith Jarrett album. It has a shot of an intensely introspective pianist going to it on the cover. Between the gatefold and outside covers, all four band members are shown being expressive and intense at the piano, only, of course, the joke is that there is no piano on this record or as a part of the group!

The music? Like the ICP Orchestra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, MOPDTK can indulge in outrageously exuberent semi-parodies and pastiches of past jazz styles. The approach shows a profound respect for the forms, but also a kind of over-the-top playfulness that is not unlike a kid getting out of hand with the fingerpaint. There is no adult present (so far as I can determine) to stop the "nonsense" and so it beautifully and delightfully continues through the course of two long CDs worth of music. And they do some "serious" playing here throughout as well.

It's another fine outing from a band that has become an essential part of what's going on that's good in today's jazz. They combine the "in" of tradition with the "out" of near-perdition in their own very considerably musical and very considerably hysterical way. I mean that in a good way.

MOPDTK has become a group one should not miss. This set shows them growing as a band, glowing as individual players, and having a hell of a lot of fun in the process. Yeah!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jane Ira Bloom Continues Her Journey of Originality with "Wingwalker"

Jane Ira Bloom is no mimeograph. No Xerox copy. For many years she has been in a place of her own. As a soprano sax master she has developed her unmistakably own sound combined with a sense of phrasing that hangs together with great spatial presence and lucidity. Her compositions parallel the originality of her playing.

All this is amply evident on her new CD Wingwalker (Out-Line 140). It's a quartet date with three very compatible fellow-musical artists. Dawn Clement plies the keys of the piano and Rhodes, and though I have missed her to date, she has facility and good sense of what to do when. Bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte probably need no introduction to readers. They too have forged distinct identities, well-suited to Jane I B's vision.

So then what of the music? It's contemporary. It's original. It's not filled with quotations and marginalia on earlier jazz styles. There are beautiful ballads, rock-tinged pieces, things that swing along, some stunning "a capella" soprano, all in a place that Jane Ira Bloom occupies more-or-less by herself. It's in, it's out. It goes where it needs to to express what it needs to.

I read on the promo handout that Jane is the first musician to be commissioned by NASA. That's fitting because she is most definitely out of this world. Oh, there's an interesting 59 second MP3 bonus track that condenses the entire album down to a kind of concentrated nub. That is certainly cool but it's Ms. Bloom in all the fullness of real-time that most impresses. Among sopranos active today, she is in the very select few that qualify as original masters. Wingwalker gives you about an hour of excellent examples of how that is so. Do not dawdle, then, if you have the money to spare. Grab this one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The ICP Orchestra Continue Their Remarkable Odyssey in Self-Titled Album

The Netherlands have as one of their most enduring and worthy cultural exports the madcap ICP Orchestra. They've just concluded a US tour and their rather recent self-titled CD (ICP 049) maps out why they remain a vital musical organization, whether caught live or, the next best thing, through the electronic medium.

The ICP folks have been "post-modern" long before the term had currency; and they continue to be now that the term is on the outs. Just like most musical categorization catch-phrases (except perhaps the ill-fated "Boston Sound" moniker attached to rock bands like Ultimate Spinach in the late '60s), a phrase for all its reification does point to a certain stylistic bundle of features. So if you try to apply the phrase to the ICP, you would not be incorrect to point out how the big band combines the avant with the street-corner song of some early 20th-century iceman, bebop and swing with a dusty old polka refrain, dead serious art with a giant pie-in-the-face. Polystylistic tendencies, then. But what's so interesting is that whatever they do, it has a recognizable ICP sound. Like the Art Ensemble, or to go further afield, Spike Jones and his band of the swing era.

The self-titled album is quite typically brilliant. It documents two 2009 ICP appearances at their famed Amsterdam home, the Bimhuis. It's a ten-piece lineup with a potency derived (like Duke's) from the unique musical personalities of the key members of the unit over the years, i.e. Mengelberg and Bennink along with Baars, Moore, Wierbos and so on. The rest, the pieces, the arrangements. . .

It's the combination of virtuostic anything-goes free improvising with anything-also-goes arrangements, here of a couple of Herbie Nichols and Duke Ellington gems along with a host of wildly varying sonic onslaughts of fun and work; originals that is.

They have become more and more influential as they continue to thrive. If you missed their tour of the States like I did, the next best thing is this CD, which I do highly recommend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Peter Evans Quintet, "Ghosts": Further Adventures in Chop-Bop Land

Peter Evans is headed somewhere. Have trumpet, will travel to a new netherland. It's been unfolding bit by bit for those who are following. His work in Mostly Others Do the Killing (more on that in a few days), his last Cleanfeed album as a leader (all this see below for reviews), and now this new one, Ghosts (More Is More III).

It's a quintet with Evans, Carlos Homs, piano, Tom Blancarte, bass, Jim Black, drums (one of my new favorites BTW), and perhaps most tellingly, Sam Pluta doing live processing.

It's a hot group that swings and pummels forward with Evans playing a LOT of trumpet. All that would be interesting enough. But they continue their bop chop-shop stylings. Take "All the Things You Are," or the changes and such, and imagine it as a plate glass window. Then smash the window and reassemble the pieces a little differently than how they "should" be. With the help of the live processing this is taken even further than Peter has taken it previously. The music breaks off chunks and places them smack in the middle of the linear bop road, making for little and sometime big detours out of the linear usuality of a typical point-A-to-point-B bop soloing routine.

It's breathtakingly interesting. It's out-coming, all the way from a trad premise to a space tumble out of bop-orbit into electronic free-fall and on from there.

It is one of the more interesting ways to skin a cat that I've heard in years. And it would have been enough for Peter Evans just to do the out virtuoso trumpeting he started us with a few years ago. This is not your Grandpop's bop either (see yesterday's review). But it digs up Grandpop (or his music) and sends him into space. And out there in space, his standard starts to mutate into something it wasn't. Until it isn't.

Well now, this is very cool and needs to be HEARD. Don't like people messing with the old ways? You'll hate it. Take offense at the use of electronic manipulation? You'll hate it. If you do hate it, that should tell you something. That means something. To get a hate reaction means that somebody is onto something. New. Peter is.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Laurence Cook and Eric Zinman Show Musical Vision in "Double Action" Duet CD

New-England based avant jazzmen Laurence Cook and Eric Zinman each have an impressive track record in improvisatory music. Laurence has played drums and percussion in a number of important ensembles over the years; Eric Zinman's pianism has been a central part of significant live and recorded dates.

For all that, one might nonetheless be unprepared for what happened when the two began working on a series of duets in 2009. The fruits of that collaboration can be heard on Double Action (Ayler 085). Eric plays on a Yamaha Stage Piano throughout; Laurence alternates between drums, percussion (including mallets) and a Casio keyboard. What you get with the increased timbral palette of this set-up is an almost orchestral ambiance. The two make maximal imaginative use of the wide variety of musical sounds available to create a series of sound poems, "free" yet the opposite of random; serious yet playful; self-determined yet almost selfless in their dedication to the ensemble whole. This is not your grandpop's bebop; it's not your dad's "free jazz" either, should you have had a free-jazz dad (I didn't, but I digress).

This is sound-color painting of an ingenious and musically stimulating sort. It has electronics and acoustics woven together in a fabric that dazzles with its colorful patterns yet can be "worn" frequently without aesthetic fatigue setting in. It is a tribute to their impressive musicality and imaginative timbral sensitivity. It is a bold statement of intent, a declaration of independence from rote repetition and an enslavened compulsion to repeat what has gone before.

So do I like this music, then? Yes, I most certainly do. If you are looking for something rather authentically "new" out there, Double Action is that. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blaise Siwula, Solo Tenor Sax, "Live in London"

How many solo saxophone records have I heard? A good many. Are they all wonderful? No. If the player is not imspired or comes to the date unprepared, it can be slow going for the listener. Happily that is not the case with Blaise Siwula's Live in London (No Frills Music 001).

It's from two separate live appearances in 2008. He switches to clarinet on one track and Alan Wilkinson joins him on the baritone for the final number.

What I find excellent is how Blaise creates differing spontaneous compositions (free playing, if you like) by concentrating on the rich possibilities that the tenor offers. Siwula channels the big, timbrally complex sound worlds. Like Ayler and the Texas tenors, Blaise Siwula gets a sound that has wide expressive impact. Yet he doesn't really sound like those players because he has worked through his own take on the sounds.

It's free saxology from the nether regions of the land of Wail. And it's about as good an example as I've heard in a few years. Just as Blaise and Alan Wilkerson go out with a madcap flourish on the final number, you should do the same. Go out and get this--or Google Blaise and find a way to order it. But don't expect toe tapping. Do expect to set your MIND tapping.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Anthony Branker and Ascent, "Dance Music" A Treat for the Ears

Anthony Branker's ensemble Ascent serves as a vehicle for his jazz writing and arranging. At the time of his new recording Dance Music (Origin 82579) it consisted of seven instrumentalist and a vocalist. What they do is modern jazz that has roots in the music McCoy Tyner and related players were doing in the early '70s, a sort of acoustic Afro-post-hard-bop if you will, with some ventures into funky things here and there. But before you start pegging them note that this is music that has been well thought-out. Branker never goes into things like funk or Tynerisms without bringing something to the situation that marks a distinctive ear for putting it together a little differently. It may be subtle but that's the point I think.

The seven-piece ensemble has star soloists in tenor-soprano-man Ralph Bowen and pianist Jonny King; Kenny Davis and Adam Cruz make for an effective bass-drums team; the ensembles are rich; and vocalist Kadri Voorand puts in some quite nice appearances.

What more to say? This is pleasing without pandering. It shows you that something can be solid and filled with good charts and well-burnished playing, and can still find general popularity, I should think. Nice job!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Delmark Now Distributes Sackville Records; Roscoe Mitchell's "Quartet," 1975

Good news for modern jazz appreciators: selected titles in the legendary Sackville Records catalog will now be available through Delmark. It involves the avant jazz catalog and, so I hear, may eventually include unreleased recordings.

In keeping with the welcome turn of events I'll be looking today at one of the early Sackville masterworks, Roscoe Mitchell's 1975 live recording Quartet (Sackville SKCD2-2009). I've had this recording on vinyl since it first came out, so I view it as an old friend. For the purpose of today's article I have to step back a few paces and try to hear it like it was a new experience. I must say that it sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it.

It's a bassless-drummerless ensemble that operates in a zone that does not stress rhythmic periodicity. So one could say that it is in a kind of "new music" realm--not classical necessarily, but the kind of chamber composition-improvisation that Roscoe and his AACM associates would so successfully explore during this and successive periods. Do not expect a swinging version of "Odwalla," then. It is a difference that makes a difference and distinguishes this on the whole from a typical Art Ensemble date from the era. That is not to say that the music is any more--or any less compelling. And it IS compelling.

This is a quartet of some definite significance. There's Roscoe on soprano, alto and tenor sax, Muhal Richard Abrams, piano, George Lewis, trombone, and Spencer Barefield, guitar. Mr. Barefield is quite effective on this and one can only regret that he has been somewhat underexposed. The rest of the players all should know of course. The four have a rapport that comes out of common dedication and mutual respect.

There are four pieces on the recording; three by Mitchell ("Tnoona," "Cards," and "Olobo") and George Lewis's "Music for Trombone and B-Flat Soprano." All are in the high realm of the keenly expressed compositional-conceptual-improvisational mode for which Roscoe and company have become so deservedly known. It is a high point of the era and an interesting contrast to the Art Ensemble brand of excellence that was flourishing at the same time.

If this album is less touted than some more-or-less similar endeavors of the '70s, I believe it is because the Sackville recording has not been as readily available as some of the others over the last 35 years. With Delmark now involved in getting this out that I hope will change.

Needless to say this one is most heartily recommended.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Orchestral Music of Jack Gallagher, Beautifully Performed by the LSO

Present-day American composer Jack Gallagher may not be a name that is heard often in the music chatter that flows through the internet and, alas to a lesser extent these days, the printed medium. But it probably should be. The composer was kind enough to send me a copy of this Orchestral Music (Naxos 8.559652) and I am very glad he did.

The first thing that hit me was the lush beauty of the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of his works under the direction of JoAnn Falletta, and the brilliant soundstaging achieved at London's famed Abbey Road studios.

Then there is Jack Gallagher's music. It is orchestrated excellently. It is quite lyrical. I'd say it reminds me a little of the symphonic Howard Hanson, in the sense that there is a melding of craft and passion that has an American robustness to it, and it has a traditional neo-romantic quality about it. But that would miss out on what strikes me a little more about these works--that is the very fertile melodic inventiveness that pervades every movement. So perhaps think of Roy Harris and his long melodic phrasing. Only, of course, this is Jack Gallagher's music, which is something unto itself.

The CD covers works spanning a wide period, from the short 1977 "Berceuse," the lively "Diversions Overture" from 1986, and on to the two major works represented, his "Sinfonietta" written in 1990/2007, and the "Symphony in One Movement: Threnody" from 1991. The latter two works are the most substantial and rewarding for this listener.

All I can tell you is that I've gotten a great deal of pleasure listening to the music on this Naxos disk. From the evidence of this recording Dr. Gallagher is not one of the explorers of the frontiers of musical practice. He stays in a place where he is obviously quite comfortable and then creates music that has richly lyrical overtones.

If you like the idea of that I have little doubt that the music will give you the same pleasure it is giving me!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Matthew Shipp's "Art of the Improviser": A Strong Voice Takes Center Stage

After a number of years as a key member of David Ware's Quartet, Matthew Shipp has found his own pianistic voice and brings it to the forefront on the new 2-CD set Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear 57197).

Matthew shows two facets of his playing on this set. The second disk is a live solo piano spot. It gives you Mr. Shipp the creative harmonic-melodist, a very inventive, musically imaginative improviser who makes music that stays in the mind.

The first disk too is a live date, this time with his new, formidable trio of piano plus Whit Dickey on drums and Michael Bisio, bass. Here we experience memorable compositional vehicles that open the way for inspired virtuoso bass work, barrages of quietly hip drumming in and out of time, and Shipp, the man who works in an advanced zone with his own take on the improvisatory tradition. You hear influences well transformed to suite his expressive needs, and an emerging original voice on the verge of greatness.

Both disks give you a bird's-eye view of creative work in progress, of the Shipp approach as it is evolving, of a trio that already creates goodly magic but can be expected to grow as they continue together.

I would venture to say that each disk ranks among the most interesting and important work being done right now in the solo and trio fields of improvisatory music. This is new music in the best sense of the term. It is music to be digested and understood over time, not an immediate toe-tapping kick in the teeth. Miss it and miss something vital in today's music world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Naxos Recording of Wuorinen's Chamber Music

Naxos has done a fine job producing and making available at budget prices state-of-the-art recordings of modern American composers in an extended series of individual volumes. The music of Charles Wuorinen is a good example. By my count the CD up for discussion today is at least the fifth one released, and it's a good one.

Chamber Music (Naxos 8.559694) covers three works from the past decade, all getting their world-premier recording, and one classic work from 1971, the First String Quartet. If the new works represented are any indication of an overall trend, Charles Wuorinen seems to be returning to and rethinking his stance on the modified high-modernism that made his earlier reputation and in which he showed such brilliance. By around 1971 he had received a Pulitzer Prize for his electronic work Times Ecomium, was an influential member of the music faculty at Columbia University, and was well-represented in recordings of his music. His String Quartet was made available in a Turnabout recording released at the time, and it remains an excellent example of the logic and lyricism he brought to the sound and operating procedures of the serial/post-serial music then current. The work wears well, as the fine version of the piece on the Naxos release attests.

As time went on Wuorinen modified his compositional stance somewhat to incorporate more conventionally tonal elements and linear form that recalled the styles of the classical past. His music remained seminal but perhaps the predominance he enjoyed in the early '70s became a lesser factor as other composers and other stylistic trends came to the fore. But he has continued to create music that I believe will hold up well in the years to come.

And so we move on to today and the three later works included in the present volume. They are very well-performed by pianist Peter Serkin, celloist Fred Sherry, violist Lois Martin and the Brentano String Quartet. The centerpiece surely is the Second Piano Quintet (2008), a four movement work of great energy and expressiveness, with an unusual return of the third movement at the end of the work.

I will not attempt to describe the working means by which Wuorinen creates his music, past or present. I leave you to the excellent liner notes accompanying the disk. For the lay listener, what matters ultimately is the modernist beauty that combines stark, somewhat severe passages with passages of great momentum and cumulative kinetic flow.

Wuorinen continues to be one of the most important compositional voices active today. He and Elliot Carter form the Yin and Yang of contemporary American modernism in many ways. This recording combines exceptional compositions with superior performances. Anyone interested in modern music should hear it. Very much recommended.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Billy Fox's Blackbirds and Bullets and their "Dulces"

Billy Fox writes and arranges music for a modern jazz sextet (plus Fox doing maracas and a violin player guesting on one track) on his album Dulces (Clean Feed 204). It's music that's well worth hearing.

There are quasi-world grooves, soulful riffs that build up with rootsy ensemble lines and funked out grooves. The soloists are cool, the music engaging.

What's most interesting here is Fox's straightforwardly effective music and the way it is arranged.

It's modern; it's not slick; it's not that out; it dwells in a timeless realm of earthiness. If Trane's album Dial Africa had a modern equivalent it would be this.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tony Malaby's Tamarindo Live!

Soprano-Tenorman Tony Malaby has been getting around much of late, appearing as a sideman or co-leader on quite a few dates, and putting together some very worthy sides as a leader. I'm now catching up with his latest, out a month or so, Tony Malaby's Tamarindo Live (Clean Feed 200). It certainly has clout and brilliance aplenty. There's Tony, the bass master himself--Mr. William Parker, a drive-and-bash specialist in drummer Nasheet Waits, and one of the most creative and prolific trumpet wielders active today, Mr. Leo Smith. "OK," you might say, "You don't need to say anything more." Ah, but words-r-us here, so I will go on.

Tamarindo isn't just a gathering of some heavy cats, an all-star avantiana. No. It's the ever-shifting variety of combinations and moods that makes this music especially brilliant. Trumpet and bass have a moment to reflect, then drums and trumpet give the moment a little more linear expansiveness, then sax-bass-drums get kicking, and on from there, to give an example.

Each player has something good to say, the ideas flow, the scene changes, something new pops in. It's a cliche to say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is also not entirely true. The sum of the parts of this quartet date are great to begin with and nobody becomes something other than who they are as players. Yet still there is some kinetic transformation that takes place, as in any great group improvisational moment, that brings the music onto another level. It happens here frequently.

I recently heard a tape of Coltrane practicing "Oleo" from around 1956. It was fascinating. Ultimately though he was running some ideas through with a thought to what ways around the changes he could devise. Hear him do it with the classic Miles group and there's much more in the way of emphatic speech-making going on. Tamarindo caught live is about the same thing. These are heavy cats speechifying, making musical statements in a collective zone, rather than kind of mumbling through some various ideas as one might do in practice.

And the opposite side of the coin is when players become too concerned with what an audience expects them to do, so that playing in a live situation becomes almost a matter of them playing at playing themselves, each playing a role as an actor that represents himself, but is not actually that self. Perhaps some of the moments of JATP have that quality on occasion, and I think it is not ideal for the best improvisation.

Tamarindo Live has neither of those tendencies--tentativeness or too much of a meta-self-awareness (perhaps a fancy way of saying that somebody is "hamming it up.")

The point though is the four masters that make up Tamarindo on this disk are making definitive collective statements on some un-expressible subject. They may repeat themselves (as a musical way to proceed), they may backtrack or "change the subject," but what they are doing has conviction, pacing, eloquence and drama. And I believe that great improvisation, free or otherwise--whatever that might mean, has those qualities. All four of these players have been musicians to watch for a long time. When they get together as Tamarindo and selected other gatherings, they are THERE. Watch for some other cats; Malaby-Parker-Waits-Smith are doing what you were watching for in the first place!